The hospital was small and private with just one entrance. Michael looked through the window down into the street. There was a curved courtyard that had steps leading down into the street and the street was empty of cars. But whoever came into the hospital would have to come through that entrance. He knew he didn’t have much time so he ran out of the room and down the four flights and through the wide doors of the ground floor entrance. Off to the side he saw the ambulance yard and there was no car there, no ambulances either.
Michael stood on the sidewalk outside the hospital and lit a cigarette. He unbuttoned his coat and stood in the light of a lamppost so that his features could be seen. A young man was walking swiftly down from Ninth Avenue, a package under his arm. The young man wore a combat jacket and had a heavy shock of black hair. His face was familiar when he came under the lamplight but Michael could not place it. But the young man stopped in front of him and put out his hand, saying in a heavy Italian accent, “Don Michael, do you remember me? Enzo, the baker’s helper to Nazorine the Paniterra; his son-in-law. Your father saved my life by getting the government to let me stay in America.”
Michael shook his hand. He remembered him now.
Enzo went on, “I’ve come to pay my respects to your father. Will they let me into the hospital so late?”
Michael smiled and shook his head. “No, but thanks anyway. I’ll tell the Don you came.” A car came roaring down the street and Michael was instantly alert. He said to Enzo, “Leave here quickly. There may be trouble. You don’t want to get involved with the police.”
He saw the look of fear on the young Italian’s face. Trouble with the police might mean being deported or refusal of citizenship. But the young man stood fast. He whispered in Italian. “If there’s trouble I’ll stay to help. I owe it to the Godfather.”
Michael was touched. He was about to tell the young man to go away again, but then he thought, why not let him stay? Two men in front of the hospital might scare off any of Sollozzo’s crew sent to do a job. One man almost certainly would not. He gave Enzo a cigarette and lit it for him. They both stood under the lamppost is the cold December night. The yellow panes of the hospital, bisected by the greens of Christmas decorations, twinkled down on them. They had almost finished their cigarettes when a long low black car turned into 30th Street from Ninth Avenue and cruised toward them, very close to the curb. It almost stopped. Michael peered to see their faces inside, his body flinching involuntarily. The car seemed about to stop, then speeded forward. Somebody had recognized him. Michael gave Enzo another cigarette and noticed that the baker’s hands were shaking. To his surprise his own hands were steady.
They stayed in the street smoking for what was no more than ten minutes when suddenly the night air was split by a police siren. A patrol car made a screaming turn from Ninth Avenue and pulled up in front of the hospital. Two more squad cars followed right behind it. Suddenly the hospital entranceway was flooded with uniformed police and detectives. Michael heaved a sigh of relief. Good old Sonny must have gotten through right away. He moved forward to meet them.
Two huge, burly policemen grabbed his arms. Another frisked him. A massive police captain, gold braid on his cap, came up the steps, his men parting respectfully to leave a path. He was a vigorous man for his girth and despite the white hair that peeked out of his cap. His face was beefy red. He came up to Michael and said harshly, “I thought I got all you guinea hoods locked up. Who the hell are you and what are you doing here?”
One of the cops standing beside Michael said, “He’s clean, Captain.”
Michael didn’t answer. He was studying this police captain, coldly searching his face, the metallic blue eyes. A detective in plain clothes said, “That’s Michael Corleone, the Don’s son.”
Michael said quietly, “What happened to the detectives who were supposed to be guarding my father? Who pulled them off that detail?”
The police captain was choleric with rage. “You fucking hood, who the hell are you to tell me my business? I pulled them off. I don’t give a shit how many dago gangsters kill each other. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t lift a finger to keep your old man from getting knocked off. Now get the hell out of here. Get out of this street, you punk, and stay out of this hospital when it’s not visiting hours.”
Michael was still studying him intently. He was not angry at what this police captain was saying. His mind was racing furiously. Was it possible that Sollozzo had been in that first car and had seen him standing in front of the hospital? Was it possible that Sollozzo had then called this captain and said, “How come the Corleones’ men are still around the hospital when I paid you to lock them up?” Was it possible that all had been carefully planned as Sonny had said? Everything fitted in. Still cool, he said to the captain, “I’m not leaving this hospital until you put guards around my father’s room.”
The captain didn’t bother answering. He said to the detective standing beside him, “Phil, lock this punk up.”
The detective said hesitantly, “The kid is clean, Captain. He’s a war hero and he’s never been mixed up in the rackets. The papers could make a stink.”
The captain started to turn on the detective, his face red with fury. He roared out, “Goddamn it, I said lock him up.”
Michael, still thinking clearly, not angry, said with deliberate malice, “How much is the Turk paying you to set my father up, Captain?”
The police captain turned to him. He said to the two burly patrolmen, “Hold him.” Michael felt his arms pinned to his sides. He saw the captain’s massive fist arching toward his face. He tried to weave away but the fist caught him high on the cheekbone. A grenade exploded in his skull. His mouth filled with blood and small hard bones that he realized were his teeth. He could feel the side of his head puff up as if it were filling with air. His legs were weightless and he would have fallen if the two policemen had not held him up. But he was still conscious. The plainclothes detective had stepped in front of him to keep the captain from hitting him again and was saying, “Jesus Christ, Captain, you really hurt him.”
The captain said loudly, “I didn’t touch him. He attacked me and he fell. Do you understand that? He resisted arrest.”
Through a red haze Michael could see more cars pulling up to the curb. Men were getting out. One of them he recognized as Clemenza’s lawyer, who was now speaking to the police captain, suavely and surely. “The Corleone Family has hired a firm of private detectives to guard Mr. Corleone. These men with me are licensed to carry firearms, Captain. If you arrest them, you’ll have to appear before a judge in the morning and tell him why.”
The lawyer glanced at Michael. “Do you want to prefer charges against whoever did this to you?” he asked.
Michael had trouble talking. His jaws wouldn’t come together but he managed to mumble. “I slipped,” he said. “I slipped and fell.” He saw the captain give him a triumphant glance and he tried to answer that glance with a smile. At all costs he wanted to hide the delicious icy chilliness that controlled his brain, the surge of wintry cold hatred that pervaded his body. He wanted to give no warning to anyone in this world as to how he felt at this moment. As the Don would not. Then he felt himself carried into the hospital and he lost consciousness.
When he woke up in the morning he found that his jaw had been wired together and that four of his teeth along the left side of his mouth were missing. Hagen was sitting beside his bed.
“Did they drug me up?” Michael asked.
“Yeah,” Hagen said. “They had to dig some bone fragments out of your gums and they figured it would be too painful. Besides you were practically out anyway.”
“Is there anything else wrong with me?” Michael asked.
“No,” Hagen said. “Sonny wants you out at the Long Beach house. Think you can make it?”
“Sure,” Michael said. “Is the Don all right?”
Hagen flushed. “I think we’ve solved the problem now. We have a firm of private detectives and we have the whole area loaded. I’ll tell you more when we get in the car.”
Clemenza was driving, Michael and Hagen sat in the back. Michael’s head throbbed. “So what the hell really happened last night, did you guys ever find out?”
Hagen spoke quietly. “Sonny has an inside man, that Detective Phillips who tried to protect you. He gave us the scoop. The police captain, McCluskey, is a guy who’s been on the take very heavy ever since he’s been a patrolman. Our Family has paid him quite a bit. And he’s greedy and untrustworthy to do business with. But Sollozzo must have paid him a big price. McCluskey had all Tessio’s men around and in the hospital arrested right after visiting hours. It didn’t help that some of them were carrying guns. Then McCluskey pulled the official guard detectives off the Don’s door. Claimed he needed them and that some other cops were supposed to go over and take their place but they got their assignments bollixed. Baloney. He was paid off to set the Don up. And Phillips said he’s the kind of guy who’ll try it again. Sollozzo must have given him a fortune for openers and promised him the moon to come.”
“Was my getting hurt in the papers?”
“No,” Hagen said. “We kept that quiet. Nobody wants that known. Not the cops. Not us.”
“Good,” Michael said. “Did that boy Enzo get away?”
“Yeah,” Hagen said. “He was smarter than you. When the cops came he disappeared. He claims he stuck with you while Sollozzo’s car went by. Is that true?”
“Yeah,” Michael said. “He’s a good kid.”
“He’ll be taken care of,” Hagen said. “You feeling OK?” His face was concerned. “You look lousy.”
“I’m OK,” Michael said. “What was that police captain’s name?”
“McCluskey,” Hagen said. “By the way, it might make you feel better to know that the Corleone Family finally got up on the scoreboard. Bruno Tattaglia, four o’clock this morning.”
Michael sat up. “How come? I thought we were supposed to sit tight.”
Hagen shrugged. “After what happened at the hospital Sonny got hard. The button men are out all over New York and New Jersey. We made the list last night. I’m trying to hold Sonny in, Mike. Maybe you can talk to him. This whole business can still be settled without a major war.”
“I’ll talk to him,” Michael said. “Is there a conference this morning?”
“Yeah,” Hagen said. “Sollozzo finally got in touch and wants to sit down with us. A negotiator is arranging the details. That means we win. Sollozzo knows he’s lost and he wants to get out with his life.” Hagen paused. “Maybe he thought we were soft, ready to be taken, because we didn’t strike back. Now with one of the Tattaglia sons dead he knows we mean business. He really took an awful gamble bucking the Don. By the way, we got the confirmation on Luca. They killed him the night before they shot your father. In Bruno’s nightclub. Imagine that?”
Michael said, “No wonder they caught him off guard.”
* * *
At the houses in Long Beach the entrance to the mall was blocked by a long black car parked across its mouth. Two men leaned against the hood of the car. The two houses on each side, Michael noticed, had opened windows on their upper floors. Christ, Sonny must really mean business.
Clemenza parked the car outside the mall and they walked inside it. The two guards were Clemenza’s men and he gave them a frown of greeting that served as a salute. The men nodded their heads in acknowledgment. There were no smiles, no greetings. Clemenza led Hagen and Michael Corleone into the house.
The door was opened by another guard before they rang. He had obviously been watching from a window. They went to the corner office and found Sonny and Tessio waiting for them. Sonny came to Michael, took his younger brother’s head in his hands and said kiddingly, “Beautiful. Beautiful.” Michael knocked his hands away, and went to the desk and poured himself some scotch, hoping it would dull the ache in his wired jaw.
The five of them sat around the room but the atmosphere was different from their earlier meetings. Sonny was gayer, more cheerful, and Michael realized what that gaiety meant. There were no longer any doubts in his older brother’s mind. He was committed and nothing would sway him. The attempt by Sollozzo the night before was the final straw. There could no longer be any question of a truce.
“We got a call from the negotiator while you were gone,” Sonny said to Hagen. “The Turk wants a meeting now.” Sonny laughed. “The balls on that son of a bitch,” he said admiringly. “After he craps out last night he wants a meeting today or the next day. Meanwhile we’re supposed just to lay back and take everything he dishes out. What fucking nerve.”
Tom asked cautiously, “What did you answer?”
Sonny grinned. “I said sure, why not? Anytime he says, I’m in no hurry. I’ve got a hundred button men out on the street twenty-four hours a day. If Sollozzo shows one hair on his asshole he’s dead. Let them take all the time they want.”
Hagen said, “Was there a definite proposal?”
“Yeah,” Sonny said. “He wants us to send Mike to meet him to hear his proposition. The negotiator guarantees Mike’s safety. Sollozzo doesn’t ask us to guarantee his safety, he knows he can’t ask that. No point. So the meeting will be arranged on his side. His people will pick Mike up and take Mike to the meeting place. Mike will listen to Sollozzo and then they’ll turn him loose. But the meeting place is secret. The promise is the deal will be so good we can’t turn it down.”
Hagen asked, “What about the Tattaglias? What will they do about Bruno?”
“That’s part of the deal. The negotiator says the Tattaglia Family has agreed to go along with Sollozzo. They’ll forget about Bruno Tattaglia. He pays for what they did to my father. One cancels out the other.” Sonny laughed again. “The nervy bastards.”
Hagen said cautiously, “We should hear what they have to say.”
Sonny shook his head from side to side. “No, no, Consigliere, not this time.” His voice held a faint trace of Italian accent. He was consciously mocking his father just to kid around. “No more meetings. No more discussions. No more Sollozzo tricks. When the negotiator gets in touch with us again for our answer I want you to give him one message. I want Sollozzo. If not, it’s all-out war. We’ll go to the mattresses and we’ll put all the button men out on the street. Business will just have to suffer.”
“The other Families won’t stand for an all-out war,” Hagen said. “It puts too much heat on everybody.”
Sonny shrugged. “They have a simple solution. Give me Sollozzo. Or fight the Corleone Family.” Sonny paused, then said roughly, “No more advice on how to patch it up, Tom. The decision is made. Your job is to help me win. Understand?”
Hagen bowed his head. He was deep in thought for a moment. Then he said, “I spoke to your contact in the police station. He says that Captain McCluskey is definitely on Sollozzo’s payroll and for big money. Not only that, but McCluskey is going to get a piece of the drug operation. McCluskey has agreed to be Sollozzo’s bodyguard. The Turk doesn’t poke his nose out of his hole without McCluskey. When he meets Mike for the conference, McCluskey will be sitting beside him. In civilian clothes but carrying his gun. Now what you have to understand, Sonny, is that while Sollozzo is guarded like this, he’s invulnerable. Nobody has ever gunned down a New York police captain and gotten away with it. The heat in this town would be unbearable what with the newspapers, the whole police department, the churches, everything. That would be disastrous. The Families would be after you. The Corleone Family would become outcasts. Even the old man’s political protection would run for cover. So take that into consideration.”
Sonny shrugged. “McCluskey can’t stay with the Turk forever. We’ll wait.”
Tessio and Clemenza were puffing on their cigars uneasily, not daring to speak, but sweating. It would be their skins that would go on the line if the wrong decision was made.
Michael spoke for the first time. He asked Hagen, “Can the old man be moved out of the hospital onto the mall here?”
Hagen shook his head. “That’s the first thing I asked. Impossible. He’s in very bad shape. He’ll pull through but he needs all kinds of attention, maybe some more surgery. Impossible.”
“Then you have to get Sollozzo right away,” Michael said. “We can’t wait. The guy is too dangerous. He’ll come up with some new idea. Remember, the key is still that he gets rid of the old man. He knows that. OK, he knows that now it’s very tough so he’s willing to take defeat for his life. But if he’s going to get killed anyway, he’ll have another crack at the Don. And with that polite captain helping him who knows what the hell might happen. We can’t take that chance. We have to get Sollozzo right away.”
Sonny was scratching his chin thoughtfully. “You’re right, kid,” he said. “You got right to the old nuts. We can’t let Sollozzo get another crack at the old man.”
Hagen said quietly, “What about Captain McCluskey?”
Sonny turned to Michael with an odd little smile. “Yeah, kid, what about that tough police captain?”
Michael said slowly, “OK, it’s an extreme. But there are times when the most extreme measures are justified. Let’s think now that we have to kill McCluskey. The way to do it would be to have him heavily implicated so that it’s not an honest police captain doing his duty but a crooked police official mixed up in the rackets who got what was coming to him, like any crook. We have newspaper people on our payroll we can give that story to with enough proof so that they can back it up. That should take some of the heat off. How does that sound?” Michael looked around deferentially to the others. Tessio and Clemenza had gloomy faces and refused to speak. Sonny said with the same odd smile, “Go on, kid, you’re doing great. Out of the mouths of infants, as the Don always used to say. Go ahead, Mike, tell us more.”
Hagen was smiling too a little and averting his head. Michael flushed. “Well, they want me to go to a conference with Sollozzo. It will be me, Sollozzo and McCluskey all on our own. Set up the meeting for two days from now, then get our informers to find out where the meeting will be held. Insist that it has to be a public place, that I’m not going to let them take me into any apartments or houses. Let it be a restaurant or a bar at the height of the dinner hour, something like that, so that I’ll feel safe. They’ll feel safe too. Even Sollozzo won’t figure that we’ll dare to gun the captain. They’ll frisk me when I meet them so I’ll have to be clean then, but figure out a way you can get a weapon to me while I’m meeting them. Then I’ll take both of them.”
All four heads turned and stared at him. Clemenza and Tessio were gravely astonished. Hagen looked a little sad but not surprised. He started to speak and thought better of it. But Sonny, his heavy Cupid’s face twitching with mirth, suddenly broke out in loud roars of laughter. It was deep belly laughter, not faking. He was really breaking up. He pointed a finger at Michael, trying to speak through gasps of mirth. “You, the high-class college kid, you never wanted to get mixed up in the Family business. Now you wanta kill a police captain and the Turk just because you got your face smashed by McCluskey. You’re taking it personal, it’s just business and you’re taking it personal. You wanta kill these two guys just because you got slapped in the face. It was all a lot of crap. All these years it was just a lot of crap.”
Clemenza and Tessio, completely misunderstanding, thinking that Sonny was laughing at his young brother’s bravado for making such an offer, were also smiling broadly and a little patronizingly at Michael. Only Hagen warily kept his face impassive.
Michael looked around at all of them, then stared at Sonny, who still couldn’t stop laughing. “You’ll take both of them?” Sonny said. “Hey, kid, they won’t give you medals, they put you in the electric chair. You know that? This is no hero business, kid, you don’t shoot people from a mile away. You shoot when you see the whites of their eyes like we got taught in school, remember? You gotta stand right next to them and blow their heads off and their brains get all over your nice Ivy League suit. How about that, kid, you wanta do that just because some dumb cop slapped you around?” He was still laughing.
Michael stood up. “You’d better stop laughing,” he said. The change in him was so extraordinary that the smiles vanished from the faces of Clemenza and Tessio. Michael was not tall or heavily built but his presence seemed to radiate danger. In that moment he was a reincarnation of Don Corleone himself. His eyes had gone a pale tan and his face was bleached of color. He seemed at any moment about to fling himself on his older and stronger brother. There was no doubt that if he had had a weapon in his hands Sonny would have been in danger. Sonny stopped laughing, and Michael said to him in a cold deadly voice, “Don’t you think I can do it, you son of a bitch?”
Sonny had got over his laughing fit. “I know you can do it,” he said. “I wasn’t laughing at what you said. I was just laughing at how funny things turn out. I always said you were the toughest one in the Family, tougher than the Don himself. You were the only one who could stand off the old man. I remember you when you were a kid. What a temper you had then. Hell, you even used to fight me and I was a lot older than you. And Freddie had to beat the shit out of you at least once a week. And now Sollozzo has you figured for the soft touch in the Family because you let McCluskey hit you without fighting back and you wouldn’t get mixed up in the Family fights. He figures he got nothing to worry about if he meets you head to head. And McCluskey too, he’s got you figured for a yellow guinea.” Sonny paused and then said softly, “But you’re a Corleone after all, you son of a bitch. And I was the only one who knew it. I’ve been sitting here waiting for the last three days, ever since the old man got shot, waiting for you to crack out of that Ivy League, war hero bullshit character you’ve been wearing. I’ve been waiting for you to become my right arm so we can kill those fucks that are trying to destroy our father and our Family. And all it took was a sock on the jaw. How do you like that?” Sonny made a comical gesture, a punch, and repeated, “How do you like that?”
The tension had relaxed in the room. Mike shook his head. “Sonny, I’m doing it because it’s the only thing to do. I can’t give Sollozzo another crack at the old man. I seem to be the only one who can get close enough to him. And I figured it out. I don’t think you can get anybody else to knock off a police captain. Maybe you would do it, Sonny, but you have a wife and kids and you have to run the Family business until the old man is in shape. So that leaves me and Freddie. Freddie is in shock and out of action. Finally that leaves just me. It’s all logic. The sock on the jaw had nothing to do with it.”
Sonny came over and embraced him. “I don’t give a damn what your reasons are, just so long as you’re with us now. And I’ll tell you another thing, you’re right all the way. Tom, what’s your say?”
Hagen shrugged. “The reasoning is solid. What makes it so is that I don’t think the Turk is sincere about a deal. I think he’ll still try to get at the Don. Anyway on his past performance that’s how we have to figure him. So we try to get Sollozzo. We get him even if we have to get the police captain. But whoever does the job is going to get an awful lot of heat. Does it have to be Mike?”
Sonny said softly, “I could do it.”
Hagen shook his head impatiently. “Sollozzo wouldn’t let you get within a mile of him if he had ten police captains. And besides you’re the acting head of the Family. You can’t be risked.” Hagen paused and said to Clemenza and Tessio, “Do either one of you have a top button man, someone really special, who would take on this job? He wouldn’t have to worry about money for the rest of his life.”
Clemenza spoke first. “Nobody that Sollozzo wouldn’t know, he’d catch on right away. He’d catch on if me or Tessio went too.”
Hagen said, “What about somebody really tough who hasn’t made his rep yet, a good rookie?”
Both caporegimes shook their heads. Tessio smiled to take the sting out of his words and said, “That’s like bringing a guy up from the minors to pitch the World Series.”
Sonny broke in curtly, “It has to be Mike. For a million different reasons. Most important they got him down as faggy. And he can do the job, I guarantee that, and that’s important because this is the only shot we’ll get at that sneaky bastard Turk. So now we have to figure out the best way to back him up. Tom, Clemenza, Tessio, find out where Sollozzo will take him for the conference, I don’t care how much it costs. When we find that out we can figure out how we can get a weapon into his hands. Clemenza, I want you to get him a really ‘safe’ gun out of your collection, the ‘coldest’ one you got. Impossible to trace. Try to make it short barrel with a lot of blasting power. It doesn’t have to be accurate. He’ll be right on top of them when he uses it. Mike, as soon as you’ve used the gun, drop it on the floor. Don’t be caught with it on you. Clemenza, tape the barrel and the trigger with that special stuff you got so he won’t leave prints. Remember, Mike, we can square everything, witnesses, and so forth, but if they catch you with the gun on you we can’t square that. We’ll have transportation and protection and then we’ll make you disappear for a nice long vacation until the heat wears off. You’ll be gone a long time, Mike, but I don’t want you saying good-bye to your girl friend or even calling her. After it’s all over and you’re out of the country I’ll send her word that you’re OK. Those are orders.” Sonny smiled at his brother. “Now stick with Clemenza and get used to handling the gun he picks out for you. Maybe even practice a little. We’ll take care of everything else. Everything. OK, kid?”
Again Michael Corleone felt that delicious refreshing chilliness all over his body. He said to his brother, “You didn’t have to give me that crap about not talking to my girl friend about something like this. What the hell did you think I was going to do, call her up to say good-bye?”
Sonny said hastily, “OK, but you’re still a rookie so I spell things out. Forget it.”
Michael said with a grin, “What the hell do you mean, a rookie? I listened to the old man just as hard as you did. How do you think I got so smart?” They both laughed.
Hagen poured drinks for everyone. He looked a little glum. The statesman forced to go to war, the lawyer forced to go to law. “Well, anyway, now we know what we’re going to do,” he said.