When Michael Corleone arrived at his father’s house in Long Beach he found the narrow entrance mouth of the mall blocked off with a link chain. The mall itself was bright with the floodlights of all eight houses, outlining at least ten cars parked along the curving cement walk.
Two men he didn’t know were leaning against the chain. One of them asked in a Brooklyn accent, “Who’re you?”
He told them. Another man came out of the nearest house and peered at his face. “That’s the Don’s kid,” he said. “I’ll bring him inside.” Mike followed this man to his father’s house, where two men at the door let him and his escort pass inside.
The house seemed to be full of men he didn’t know, until he went into the living room. There Michael saw Tom Hagen’s wife, Theresa, sitting stiffly on the sofa, smoking a cigarette. On the coffee table in front of her was a glass of whiskey. On the other side of the sofa sat the bulky Clemenza. The caporegime’s face was impassive, but he was sweating and the cigar in his hand glistened slickly black with his saliva.
Clemenza came to wring his hand in a consoling way, muttering, “Your mother is at the hospital with your father, he’s going to be all right.” Paulie Gatto stood up to shake hands. Michael looked at him curiously. He knew Paulie was his father’s bodyguard but did not know that Paulie had stayed home sick that day. But he sensed tension in the thin dark face. He knew Gatto’s reputation as an up-and-coming man, a very quick man who knew how to get delicate jobs done without complications, and today he had failed in his duty. He noticed several other men in the corners of the room but he did not recognize them. They were not of Clemenza’s people. Michael put these facts together and understood. Clemenza and Gatto were suspect. Thinking that Paulie had been at the scene, he asked the ferret-faced young man, “How is Freddie? He OK?”
“The doctor gave him a shot,” Clemenza said. “He’s sleeping.”
Michael went to Hagen’s wife and bent down to kiss her cheek. They had always liked each other. He whispered, “Don’t worry, Tom will be OK. Have you talked to Sonny yet?”
Theresa clung to him for a moment and shook her head. She was a delicate, very pretty woman, more American than Italian, and very scared. He took her hand and lifted her off the sofa. Then he led her into his father’s corner room office.
Sonny was sprawled out in his chair behind the desk holding a yellow pad in one hand and a pencil in the other. The only other man in the room with him was the caporegime Tessio, whom Michael recognized and immediately realized that it must be his men who were in the house and forming the new palace guard. He too had a pencil and pad in his hands.
When Sonny saw them he came from behind his desk and took Hagen’s wife in his arms. “Don’t worry, Theresa,” he said. “Tom’s OK. They just wanta give him the proposition, they said they’d turn him loose. He’s not on the operating end, he’s just our lawyer. There’s no reason for anybody to do him harm.”
He released Theresa and then to Michael’s surprise he too, got a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He pushed Sonny away and said grinning, “After I get used to you beating me up I gotta put up with this?” They had often fought when they were younger.
Sonny shrugged. “Listen, kid, I was worried when I couldn’t get ahold of you in that hick town. Not that I gave a crap if they knocked you off, but I didn’t like the idea of bringing the news to the old lady. I had to tell her about Pop.”
“How’d she take it?” Michael asked.
“Good,” Sonny said. “She’s been through it before. Me too. You were too young to know about it and then things got pretty smith while you were growing up.” He paused and then said, “She’s down at the hospital with the old man. He’s gonna pull through.”
“How about us going down?” Michael asked.
Sonny shook his head and said dryly, “I can’t leave this house until it’s all over.” The phone rang. Sonny picked it up and listened intently. While he was listening Michael sauntered over to the desk and glanced down at the yellow pad Sonny had been writing on. There was a list of seven names. The first three were Sollozzo, Phillip Tattaglia, and John Tattaglia. It struck Michael with full force that he had interrupted Sonny and Tessio as they were making up a list of men to be killed.
When Sonny hung up the phone he said to Theresa Hagen and Michael, “Can you two wait outside? I got some business with Tessio we have to finish.”
Hagen’s wife said, “Was that call about Tom?” She said it almost truculently but she was weeping with fright. Sonny put his arm around her and led her to the door. “I swear he’s going to be OK,” he said. “Wait in the living room. I’ll come out as soon as I hear something.” He shut the door behind her. Michael had sat down in one of the big leather armchairs. Sonny gave him a quick sharp look and then went to sit down behind the desk.
“You hang around me, Mike,” he said, “you’re gonna hear things you don’t wanta hear.”
Michael lit a cigarette. “I can help out,” he said.
“No, you can’t,” Sonny said. “The old man would be sore as hell if I let you get mixed up in this.”
Michael stood up and yelled. “You lousy bastard, he’s my father. I’m not supposed to help him? I can help. I don’t have to go out and kill people but I can help. Stop treating me like a kid brother. I was in the war. I got shot, remember? I killed some Japs. What the hell do you think I’ll do when you knock somebody off? Faint?”
Sonny grinned at him. “Pretty soon you’ll want me to put up my dukes. OK, stick around, you can handle the phone.” He turned to Tessio. “That call I just got gave me dope we needed.” Hd turned to Michael. “Somebody had to finger the old man. It could have been Clemenza, it could have been Paulie Gatto, who was very conveniently sick today. I know the answer now, let’s see how smart you are, Mike, you’re the college boy. Who sold out to Sollozzo?”
Michael sat down again and relaxed back into the leather armchair. He thought everything over very carefully. Clemenza was a caporegime in the Corleone Family structure. Don Corleone had made him a millionaire and they had been intimate friends for over twenty years. He held one of the most powerful posts in the organization. What could Clemenza gain for betraying his Don? More money? He was rich enough but then men are always greedy. More power? Revenge for some fancied insult or slight? That Hagen had been made the Consigliere? Or perhaps a businessman’s conviction that Sollozzo would win out? No, it was impossible for Clemenza to be a traitor, and then Michael thought sadly it was only impossible because he didn’t want Clemenza to die. The fat man had always brought him gifts when he was growing up, had sometimes taken him on outings when the Don had been too busy. He could not believe that Clemenza was guilty of treachery.
But, on the other hand, Sollozzo would want Clemenza in his pocket more than any other man in the Corleone Family.
Michael thought about Paulie Gatto. Paulie as yet had not become rich. He was well thought of, his rise in the organization was certain but he would have to put in his time like everybody else. Also he would have wilder dreams of power, as the young always do. It had to be Paulie. And then Michael remembered that in the sixth grade he and Paulie had been in the same class in school and he didn’t want it to be Paulie either.
He shook his head. “Neither one of them,” he said. But he said it only because Sonny had said he had the answer. If it had been a vote, he would have voted Paulie guilty.
Sonny was smiling at him. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Clemenza is OK. It’s Paulie.”
Michael could see that Tessio was relieved. As a fellow caporegime his sympathy would be with Clemenza. Also the present situation was not so serious if treachery did not reach so high. Tessio said cautiously, “Then I can send my people home tomorrow?”
Sonny said, “The day after tomorrow. I don’t want anybody to know about this until then. Listen, I want to talk some family business with my brother, personal. Wait out in the living room, eh? We can finish our list later. You and Ctemenza will work together on it.”
“Sure,” Tessio said. He went out.
“How do you know for sure it’s Paulie?” Michael asked.
Sonny said, “We have people in the telephone company and they tracked down all of Paulie’s phone calls in and out. Clemenza’s too. On the three days Paulie was sick this month he got a call from a street booth across from the old man’s building. Today too. They were checking to see if Paulie was coming down or somebody was being sent down to take his place. Or for some other reason. It doesn’t matter.” Sonny shrugged. “Thank God it was Paulie. We’ll need Clemenza bad.”
Michael asked hesitantly, “Is it going to be an all-out war?”
Sonny’s eyes were hard. “That’s how I’m going to play it as soon as Tom checks in. Until the old man tells me different.”
Michael asked, “So why don’t you wait until the old man can tell you?”
Sonny looked at him curiously. “How the hell did you win those combat medals? We are under the gun, man, we gotta fight. I’m just afraid they won’t let Tom go.”
Michael was surprised at this. “Why not?”
Again Sonny’s voice was patient. “They snatched Tom because they figured the old man was finished and they could make a deal with me and Tom would be the sit-down guy in the preliminary stages, carry the proposition. Now with the old man alive they know I can’t make a deal so Tom’s no good to them. They can turn him loose or dump him, depending how Sollozzo feels. If they dump him, it would be just to show us they really mean business, trying to bulldoze us.”
Michael said quietly, “What made Sollozzo think he could get a deal with you?”
Sonny flushed and he didn’t answer for a moment. Then he said, “We had a meeting a few months ago, Sollozzo came to us with a proposition on drugs. The old man turned him down. But during the meeting I shot off my mouth a little, I showed I wanted the deal. Which is absolutely the wrong thing to do; if there’s one thing the old man hammered into me it’s never, to do a thing like that, to let other people know there’s a split of opinion in the Family. So Sollozzo figures he gets rid of the old man, I have to go in with him on the drugs. With the old man gone, the Family power is cut at least in half. I would be fighting for my life anyway to keep all the businesses the old man got together. Drugs are the coming thing, we should get into it. And his knocking off the old man is purely business, nothing personal. As a matter of business I would go in with him. Of course he would never let me get too close, he’d make sure I’d never get a clean shot at him, just in case. But he also knows that once I accepted the deal the other Families would never let me start a war a couple of years later just for revenge. Also, the Tattaglia Family is behind him.”
“If they had gotten the old man, what would you have done?” Michael asked.
Sonny said very simply, “Sollozzo is dead meat. I don’t care what it costs. I don’t care if we have to fight all the five families in New York. The Tattaglia Family is going to be wiped out. I don’t care if we all go down together.”
Michael said softly, “That’s not how Pop would have played it.”
Sonny made a violent gesture. “I know I’m not the man he was. But I’ll tell you this and he’ll tell you too. When it comes to real action I can operate as good as anybody, short-range. Sollozzo knows that and so do Clemenza and Tessio, I ‘made my bones’ when I was nineteen, the last time the Family had a war, and I was a big help to the old man. So I’m not worried now. And our Family has all the horses in a deal like this. I just wish we could get contact with Luca.”
Michael asked curiously, “Is Luca that tough, like they say? Is he that good?”
Sonny nodded. “He’s in a class by himself. I’m going to send him after the three Tattaglias. I’ll get Sollozzo myself.”
Michael shifted uneasily in his chair. He looked at his older brother. He remembered Sonny as being sometimes casually brutal but essentially warmhearted. A nice guy. It seemed unnatural to hear him talking this way, it was chilling to see the list of names he had scribbled down, men to be executed, as if he were some newly crowned Roman Emperor. He was glad that he was not truly part of all this, that now his father lived he did not have to involve himself in vengeance. He’d help out, answering the phone, running errands and messages. Sonny and the old man could take care of themselves, especially with Luca behind them.
At that moment they heard a woman scream in the living room. Oh, Christ, Michael thought, it sounded like Tom’s wife. He rushed to the door and opened it. Everybody in the living room was standing. And by the sofa Tom Hagen was holding Theresa close to him, his face embarrassed. Theresa was weeping and sobbing, and Michael realized that the scream he had heard had been her calling out her husband’s name with joy. As he watched, Tom Hagen disentangled himself from his wife’s arms and lowered her back onto the sofa. He smiled at Michael grimly. “Glad to see you, Mike, really glad.” He strode into the office without another look at his still-sobbing wife. He hadn’t lived with the Corleone Family ten years for nothing, Michael thought with a queer flush of pride. Some of the old man had rubbed off on him, as it had on Sonny, and he thought, with surprise, even on himself.