Chapter 9

When Michael Corleone went into the city that night it was with a depressed spirit. He felt that he was being enmeshed in the Family business against his will and he resented Sonny using him even to answer the phone. He felt uncomfortable being on the inside of the Family councils as if he could be absolutely trusted with such secrets as murder. And now, going to see Kay, he felt guilty about her also. He had never been completely honest with her about his family. He had told her about them but always with little jokes and colorful anecdotes that made them seem more like adventurers in a Technicolor movie than what they really were. And now his father had been shot down in the street and his eldest brother was making plans for murder. That was putting it plainly and simply but that was never how he would tell it to Kay. He had already said his father being shot was more like an “accident” and that all the trouble was over. Hell, it looked like it was just beginning. Sonny and Tom were off-center on this guy Sollozzo, they were still underrating him, even though Sonny was smart enough to see the danger. Michael tried to think what the Turk might have up his sleeve. He was obviously a bold man, a clever man, a man of extraordinary force. You had to figure him to come up with a real surprise. But then Sonny and Tom and Clemenza and Tessio were all agreed that everything was under control and they all had more experience than he did. He was the “civilian” in this war, Michael thought wryly. And they’d have to give him a hell of a lot better medals than he’d gotten in World War II to make him join this one.

Thinking this made him feel guilty about not feeling more sympathy for his father. His own father shot fall of holes and yet in a curious way Michael, better than anyone else, understood when Tom had said it was just business, not personal. That his father had paid for the power he had wielded all his life, the respect he had extorted from all those around him.

What Michael wanted was out, out of all this, to lead his own life. But he couldn’t cut loose from the family until the crisis was over. He had to help in a civilian capacity. With sudden clarity he realized that he was annoyed with the role assigned to him, that of the privileged noncombatant, the excused conscientious objector. That was why the word “civilian” kept popping into his skull in such an irritating way.

When he got to the hotel, Kay was waiting for him in the lobby. (A couple of Clemenza’s people had driven him into town and dropped him off on a nearby corner after making sure they were not followed.)

They had dinner together and some drinks. “What time are you going to visit your father?” Kay asked.

Michael looked at his watch. “Visiting hours end at eight-thirty. I think I’ll go after everybody has left. They’ll let me up. He has a private room and his own nurses so I can just sit with him for a while. I don’t think he can talk yet or even know if I’m there. But I have to show respect.”

Kay said quietly, “I feel so sorry for your father, he seemed like such a nice man at the wedding. I can’t believe the things the papers are printing about him. I’m sure most of it’s not true.”

Michael said politely, “I don’t think so either.” He was surprised to find himself so secretive with Kay. He loved her, he trusted her, but he would never tell her anything about his father or the Family. She was an outsider.

“What about you?” Kay asked. “Are you going to get mixed up in this gang war the papers are talking about so gleefully?”

Michael grinned, unbuttoned his jacket and held it wide open. “Look, no guns,” he said. Kay laughed.

It was getting late and they went up to their room. She mixed a drink for both of them and sat on his lap as they drank. Beneath her dress she was all silk until his hand touched the glowing skin of her thigh. They fell back on the bed together and made love with all their clothes on, their mouths glued together. When they were finished they lay very still, feeling the heat of their bodies burning through their garments. Kay murmured, “Is that what you soldiers call a quickie?”

“Yeah,” Michael said.

“It’s not bad,” Kay said in a judicious voice.

They dozed off until Michael suddenly started up anxiously and looked at his watch. “Damn,” he said. “It’s nearly ten. I have to get down to the hospital.” He went to the bathroom to wash up and comb his hair. Kay came in after him and put her arms around his waist from behind. “When are we going to get married?” she asked.

“Whenever you say,” Michael said. “As soon as this family thing quiets down and my old man gets better. I think you’d better explain things to your parents though.”

“What should I explain?” Kay said quietly.

Michael ran the comb through his hair. “Just say that you’ve met a brave, handsome guy of Italian descent. Top marks at Dartmouth. Distinguished Service Cross during the war plus the Purple Heart. Honest. Hard-working. But his father is a Mafia chief who has to kill bad people, sometimes bribe high government officials and in his line of work gets shot full of holes himself. But that has nothing to do with his honest hardworking son. Do you think you can remember all that?”

Kay let go his body and leaned against the door of the bathroom. “Is he really?” she said. “Does he really?” She paused. “Kill people?”

Michael finished combing his hair. “I don’t really know,” he said. “Nobody really knows. But I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Before he went out the door she asked, “When will I see you again?”

Michael kissed her. “I want you to go home and think things over in that little hick town of yours,” he said. “I don’t want you to get mixed up in this business in any way. After the Christmas holidays I’ll be back at school and we’ll get together up in Hanover. OK?”

“OK,” she said. She watched him go out the door, saw him wave before he stepped into the elevator. She had never felt so close to him, never so much in love and if someone had told her she would not see Michael again until three years passed, she would not have been able to bear the anguish of it.



* * *

When Michael got out of the cab in front of the French Hospital he was surprised to see that the street was completely deserted. When he entered the hospital he was even more surprised to find the lobby empty. Damn it, what the hell were Clemenza and Tessio doing? Sure, they never went to West Point but they knew enough about tactic to have outposts. A couple of their men should have been in the lobby at least.

Even the latest visitors had departed, it was almost ten-thirty at night. Michael was tense and alert now. He didn’t bother to stop at the information desk, he already knew his father’s room number up on the fourth floor. He took the self-service elevator. Oddly enough nobody stopped him until he reached the nurses’ station on the fourth floor. But he strode right past her query and on to his father’s room. There was no one outside the door. Where the hell were the two detectives who were supposed to be waiting around to guard and question the old man? Where the hell were Tessio and Clemenza’s people? Could there be someone inside the room? But the door was open. Michael went in. There was a figure in the bed and by the December moonlight straining through the window Michael could see his father’s face. Even now it was impassive, the chest heaved shallowly with his uneven breath. Tubes hung from steel gallows beside the bed and ran into his nose. On the floor was a glass jar receiving the poisons emptied from his stomach by other tubes. Michael stayed there for a few moments to make sure his father was all right, then backed out of the room.

He told the nurse, “My name is Michael Corleone, I just want to sit with my father. What happened to the detectives who were supposed to be guarding him?”

The nurse was a pretty young thing with a great deal of confidence in the power of her office. “Oh, your father just had too many visitors, it interfered with the hospital service,” she said. “The police came and made them all leave about ten minutes ago. And then just five minutes ago I had to call the detectives to the phone for an emergency alarm from their headquarters, and then they left too. But don’t worry, I look in on your father often and I can hear any sound from his room. That’s why we leave the doors open.”

“Thank you,” Michael said. “I’ll sit with him for a little while. OK?”

She smiled at him. “Just for a little bit and then I’m afraid you’ll have to leave. It’s the rules, you know.”

Michael went back into his father’s room. He took the phone from its cradle and got the hospital operator to give him the house in Long Beach, the phone in the corner office room. Sonny answered. Michael whispered, “Sonny, I’m down at the hospital, I came down late. Sonny, there’s nobody here. None of Tessio’s people. No detectives at the door. The old man was completely unprotected.” His voice was trembling.

There was a long silence and then Sonny’s voice came, low and impressed, “This is Sollozzo’s move you were talking about.”

Michael said, “That’s what I figured too. But how did he get the cops to clear everybody out and where did they go? What happened to Tessio’s men? Jesus Christ, has that bastard Sollozzo got the New York Police Department in his pocket too?”

“Take it easy, kid.” Sonny’s voice was soothing. “We got lucky again with you going to visit the hospital so late. Stay in the old man’s room. Lock the door from the inside. I’ll have some men there inside of fifteen minutes, soon as I make some calls. Just sit tight and don’t panic. OK, kid?”

“I won’t panic,” Michael said. For the first time since it had all started he felt a furious anger rising in him, a cold hatred for his father’s enemies.

He hung up the phone and rang the buzzer for the nurse. He decided to use his own judgment and disregard Sonny’s orders. When the nurse came in he said, “I don’t want you to get frightened, but we have to move my father right away. To another room or another floor. Can you disconnect all these tubes so we can wheel the bed out?”

The nurse said, “That’s ridiculous. We have to get permission from the doctor.”

Michael spoke very quickly. “You’ve read about my father in the papers. You’ve seen that there’s no one here tonight to guard him. Now I’ve just gotten word some men will come into the hospital to kill him. Please believe me and help me.” He-could be extraordinarily persuasive when he wanted to be.

The nurse said, “We don’t have to disconnect the tubes. We can wheel the stand with the bed.”

“Do you have an empty room?” Michael whispered.

“At the end of the hall,” the nurse said.

It was done in a matter of moments, very quickly and very efficiently. Then Michael said to the nurse, “Stay here with him until help comes. If you’re outside at your station you might get hurt.”

At that moment he heard his father’s voice from the bed, hoarse but full of strength, “Michael, is it you? What happened, what is it?”

Michael leaned over the bed. He took his father’s hand in his. “It’s Mike,” he said. “Don’t be afraid. Now listen, don’t make any noise at all, especially if somebody calls out your name. Some people want to kill you, understand? But I’m here so don’t be afraid.”

Don Corleone, still not fully conscious of what had happened to him the day before, in terrible pain, yet smiled benevolently on his youngest son, wanting to tell him, but it was too much effort, “Why should I be afraid now? Strange men have come to kill me ever since I was twelve years old.”