The day after the shooting of Don Corleone was a busy time for the Family. Michael stayed by the phone relaying messages to Sonny. Tom Hagen was busy trying to find a mediator satisfactory to both parties so that a conference could be arranged with Sollozzo. The Turk had suddenly become cagey, perhaps he knew that the Family button men of Clemenza and Tessio were ranging far and wide over the city in an attempt to pick up his trail. But Sollozzo was sticking close to his hideout, as were all top members of the Tattaglia Family. This was expected by Sonny, an elementary precaution he knew the enemy was bound to take.
Clemenza was tied up with Paulie Gatto. Tessio had been given the assignment of trying to track down the whereabouts of Luca Brasi. Luca had not been home since the night before the shooting, a bad sign. But Sonny could not believe that Brasi had either turned traitor or had been taken by surprise.
Mama Corleone was staying in the city with friends of the Family so that she could be near the hospital. Carlo Rizzi, the son-in-law, had offered his services but had been told to take care of his own business that Don Corleone had set him up in, a lucrative bookmaking territory in the Italian section of Manhattan. Connie was staying with her mother in town so that she too could visit her father in the hospital.
Freddie was still under sedation in his own room of his parents’ house. Sonny and Michael had paid him a visit and had been astonished at his paleness, his obvious illness. “Christ,” Sonny said to Michael when they left Freddie’s room, “he looks like he got plugged worse than the old man.”
Michael shrugged. He had seen soldiers in the same condition on the battlefield. But he had never expected it to happen to Freddie. He remembered the middle brother as being physically the toughest one in the family when all of them were kids. But he had also been the most obedient son to his father. And yet everyone knew that the Don had given up on this middle son ever being important to the business. He wasn’t quite smart enough, and failing that, not quite ruthless enough. He was too retiring a person, did not have enough force.
Late in the afternoon, Michael got a call from Johnny Fontane in Hollywood. Sonny took the phone. “Nah, Johnny, no use coming back here to see the old man. He’s too sick and it would give you a lot of bad publicity, and I know the old man wouldn’t like that. Wait until he’s better and we can move him home, then come see him. OK, I’ll give him your regards.” Sonny hung up the phone. He turned to Michael and said. “That’ll make Pop happy, that Johnny wanted to fly from California to see how he was.”
Late that afternoon, Michael was called to the listed phone in the kitchen by one of Clemenza’s men. It was Kay.
“Is your father all right?” she asked. Her voice was a little strained, a little unnatural. Michael knew that she couldn’t quite believe what had happened, that his father really was what the newspapers called a gangster.
“He’ll be OK,” Michael said.
“Can I come with you when you visit him in the hospital?” Kay asked.
Michael laughed. She had remembered him telling her how important it was to do such things if you wanted to get along with the old Italians. “This is a special case,” he said. “If the newspaper guys get ahold of your name and background you’ll be on page three of the Daily News. Girl from old Yankee family mixed up with son of big Mafia chief. How would your parents like that?”
Kay said dryly, “My parents never read the Daily News.” Again there was an awkward pause and then she said, “You’re OK, aren’t you, Mike, you’re not in any danger?”
Mike laughed again. “I’m known as the sissy of the Corleone family. No threat. So they don’t have to bother coming after me. No, it’s all over, Kay, there won’t be any more trouble. It was all sort of an accident anyway. I’ll explain when I see you.”
“When will that be?” she asked.
Michael pondered. “How about late tonight? We’ll have a drink and supper in your hotel and then I’ll go to the hospital and see my old man. I’m getting tired of hanging around here answering phones. OK? But don’t tell anybody. I don’t want newspaper photographers snapping pictures of us together. No kidding, Kay, it’s damned embarrassing, especially for your parents.”
“All right,” Kay said. “I’ll be waiting. Can I do any Christmas shopping for you? Or anything else?”
“No,” Michael said. “Just be ready.”
She gave a little excited laugh. “I’ll be ready,” she said. “Aren’t I always?”
“Yes, you are,” he said. “That’s why you’re my best girl.”
“I love you,” she said. “Can you say it?”
Michael looked at the four hood sitting in the kitchen. “No,” he said. “Tonight, OK?”
“OK,” she said. He hung up.
Clemenza had finally come back from his day’s work and was bustling around the kitchen cooking up a huge pot of tomato sauce. Michael nodded to him and went to the corner office where he found Hagen and Sonny waiting for him impatiently. “Is Clemenza out there?” Sonny asked.
Michael grinned. “He’s cooking up spaghetti for the troops, just like the army.”
Sonny said impatiently, “Tell him to cut out that crap and come on in here. I have more important things for him to do. Get Tessio in here with him.”
In a few minutes they were all gathered in the office. Sonny said curtly to Clemenza, “You take care of him?”
Clemenza nodded. “You won’t see him anymore.”
With a slight electric shock, Michael realized they were talking about Paulie Gatto and that little Paulie was dead, murdered by that jolly wedding dancer, Clemenza.
Sonny asked Hagen, “You have any luck with Sollozzo?”
Hagen shook his head. “He seems to have cooled off on the negotiation idea. Anyway he doesn’t seem to be too anxious. Or maybe he’s just being very careful so that our button men won’t nail him. Anyway I haven’t been able to set up a top-notch go-between he’ll trust. But he must know he has to negotiate now. He missed his chance when he let the old man get away from him.”
Sonny said, “He’s a smart guy, the smartest our Family ever came up against. Maybe he figured we’re just stalling until the old man gets better or we can get a line on him.”
Hagen shrugged. “Sure, he figures that. But he still has to negotiate. He has no choice. I’ll get it set up tomorrow. That’s certain.”
One of Clemenza’s men knocked on the office door and then came in. He said to Clemenza, “It just came over the radio, the cops found Paulie Gatto. Dead in his car.”
Clemenza nodded and said to the man, “Don’t worry about it.” The button man gave his caporegime an astonished look, which was followed by a look of comprehension, before he went back to the kitchen.
The conference went on as if there had been no interruption. Sonny asked Hagen, “Any change in the Don’s condition?”
Hagen shook his head. “He’s OK but he won’t be able to talk for another couple of days. He’s all knocked out. Still recovering from the operation. Your mother spends most of the day with him, Connie too. There’s cops all over the hospital and Tessio’s men hang around too, just in case. In a couple of days he’ll be all right and then we can see what he wants us to do. Meanwhile we have to keep Sollozzo from doing anything rash. That’s why I want to start you talking deals with him.”
Sonny grunted. “Until he does, I’ve got Clemenza and Tessio looking for him. Maybe we’ll get lucky and solve the whole business.”
“You won’t get lucky,” Hagen said. “Sollozzo is too smart.” Hagen paused. “He knows once he comes to the table he’ll have to go our way mostly. That’s why he’s stalling. I’m guessing he’s trying to line up support from the other New York Families so that we won’t go after him when the old man gives us the word.”
Sonny frowned. “Why the hell should they do that?”
Hagen said patiently, “To avert a big war which hurts everybody and brings the papers and government into the act. Also, Sollozzo will give them a piece of the action. And you know how much dough there is in drugs. The Corleone Family doesn’t need it, we have the gambling, which is the best business to have. But the other Families are hungry. Sollozzo is a proven man, they know he can make the operation go on a big scale. Alive he’s money in their pockets, dead he’s trouble.”
Sonny’s face was as Michael had never seen it. The heavy Cupid mouth and bronzed skin seemed gray. “I don’t give a fuck what they want. They better not mess in this fight.”
Clemenza and Tessio shifted uneasily in their chairs, infantry leaders who hear their general rave about storming an impregnable hill no matter what the cost. Hagen said a little impatiently, “Come on, Sonny, your father wouldn’t like you thinking that way. You know what he always says, ‘That’s a waste.’ Sure, we’re not going to let anybody stop us if the old man says we go after Sollozzo. But this is not a personal thing, this is business. If we go after the Turk and the Families interfere, we’ll negotiate the issue. If the Families see that we’re determined to have Sollozzo, they’ll let us. The Don will make concessions in other areas to square things. But don’t go blood crazy on a thing like this. It’s business. Even the shooting of your father was business, not personal. You should know that by now.”
Sonny’s eyes were still hard. “OK. I understand all that. Just so long as you understand that nobody stands in our way when we want Sollozzo.”
Sonny turned to Tessio. “Any leads on Luca?”
Tessio shook his head. “None at all. Sollozzo must have snatched him.”
Hagen said quietly, “Sollozzo wasn’t worried about Luca, which struck me as funny. He’s too smart not to worry about a guy like Luca. I think he maybe got him out of the picture, one way or the other.”
Sonny muttered, “Christ, I hope Luca isn’t fighting against us. That’s the one thing I’d be afraid of. Clemenza, Tessio, how do you two guys figure it?”
Clemenza said slowly, “Anybody could go wrong, look at Paulie. But with Luca, he was a man who could only go one way. The Godfather was the only thing he believed in, the only man he feared. But not only that, Sonny, he respected your father as no one else respected him and the Godfather has earned respect from everyone. No, Luca would never betray us. And I find it hard to believe that a man like Sollozzo, no matter how cunning, could surprise Luca. He was a man who suspected everyone and everything. He was always ready for the worst. I think maybe he just went off someplace for a few days. We’ll be hearing from him anytime now.”
Sonny turned to Tessio. The Brooklyn caporegime shrugged. “Any man can turn traitor. Luca was very touchy. Maybe the Don offended him some way. That could be. I think though that Sollozzo gave him a little surprise. That fits in with what the Consigliere says. We should expect the worst.”
Sonny said to all of them, “Sollozzo should get the word soon about Paulie Gatto. How will that affect him?”
Clemenza said grimly, “It will make him think. He will know the Corleone Family are not fools. He will realize that he was very lucky yesterday.”
Sonny said sharply, “That wasn’t luck. Sollozzo was planning that for weeks. They must have tailed the old man to his office every day and watched his routine. Then they bought Paulie off and maybe Luca. They snatched Tom right on the button. They did everything they wanted to do. They were unlucky, not lucky. Those button men they hired weren’t good enough and the old man moved too quick. If they had killed him, I would have had to make a deal and Sollozzo would have won. For now. I would have waited maybe and got him five, ten years from now. But don’t call him lucky, Pete, that’s underrating him. And we’ve done that too much lately.”
One of the button men brought a bowl of spaghetti in from the kitchen and then some plates, forks and wine. They ate as they talked. Michael watched in amazement. He didn’t eat and neither did Tom, but Sonny, Clemenza and Tessio dug in, mopping up sauce with crusts of bread. It was almost comical. They continued their discussion.
Tessio didn’t think that the loss of Paulie Gatto would upset Sollozzo, in fact he thought that the Turk might have anticipated it, indeed might have welcomed it. A useless mouth off the payroll. And he would not be frightened by it; after all, would they be in such a situation?
Michael spoke up diffidently. “I know I’m an amateur in this, but from everything you guys have said about Sollozzo, plus the fact that all of a sudden he’s out of touch with Tom, I’d guess he has an ace up his sleeve. He might be ready to pull off something real tricky that would put him back on top. If we could figure out what that would be, we’d be in the driver’s seat.”
Sonny said reluctantly, “Yeah, I thought of that and the only thing I can figure is Luca. The word is already out that he’s to be brought here before he’s allowed any of his old rights in the Family. The only other thing I can think of is that Sollozzo has made his deal with the Families in New York and we’ll get the word tomorrow that they will be against us in a war. That we’ll have to give the Turk his deal. Right, Tom?”
Hagen nodded. “That’s what it looks like to me. And we can’t move against that kind of opposition without your father. He’s the only one who can stand against the Families. He has the political connections they always need and he can use them for trading. If he wants to badly enough.”
Clemenza said, a little arrogantly for a man whose top button man had recently betrayed him, “Sollozzo will never get near this house, Boss, you don’t have to worry about that.”
Sonny looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. Then he said to Tessio, “How about the hospital, your men got it covered?”
For the first time during the conference Tessio seemed to be absolutely sure of his ground. “Outside and inside,” he said. “Right around the clock. The cops have it covered pretty good too. Detectives at the bedroom door waiting to question the old man. That’s a laugh. The Don is still getting that stuff in the tubes, no food, so we don’t have to worry about the kitchen, which would be something to worry about with those Turks, they believe in poison. They can’t get at the Don, not in any way.”
Sonny tilted back in his chair. “It wouldn’t be me, they have to do business with me, they need the Family machine.” He grinned at Michael. “I wonder if it’s you? Maybe Sollozzo figures to snatch you and hold you for a hostage to make a deal.”
Michael thought ruefully, there goes my date with Kay. Sonny wouldn’t let him out of the house. But Hagen said impatiently, “No, he could have snatched Mike anytime if he wanted insurance. But everybody knows that Mike is not in the Family business. He’s a civilian and if Sollozzo snatches him, then he loses all the other New York Families. Even the Tattaglias would have to help hunt him down. No, it’s simple enough. Tomorrow we’ll get a representative from all the Families who’ll tell us we have to do business with the Turk. That’s what he’s waiting for. That’s his ace in the hole.”
Michael heaved a sigh of relief. “Good,” he said. “I have to go into town tonight.”
“Why?” Sonny asked sharply.
Michael grinned. “I figure I’ll drop in to the hospital and visit the old man, see Mom and Connie. And I got some other things to do.” Like the Don, Michael never told his real business and now he didn’t want to tell Sonny he was seeing Kay Adams. There was no reason not to tell him, it was just habit.
There was a loud murmur of voices in the kitchen. Clemenza went out to see what was happening. When he came back he was holding Luca Brasi’s bulletproof vest in his hands. Wrapped in the vest was a huge dead fish.
Clemenza said dryly, “The Turk has heard about his spy Paulie Gatto.”
Tessio said just as dryly, “And now we know about Luca Brasi.”
Sonny lit a cigar and took a shot of whiskey. Michael, bewildered, said. “What the hell does that fish mean?” It was Hagen the Irisher, the Consigliere, who answered him. “The fish means that Luca Brasi is sleeping on the bottom of the ocean,” he said. “It’s an old Sicilian message.”