The death of Santino Corleone sent shock waves through the underworld of the nation. And when it became known that Don Corleone had risen from his sick bed to take charge of the Family affairs, when spies at the funeral reported that the Don seemed to be fully recovered, the heads of the Five Families made frantic efforts to prepare a defense against the bloody retaliatory war that was sure to follow. Nobody made the mistake of assuming that Don Corleone could be held cheaply because of his past misfortunes. He was a man who had made only a few mistakes in his career and had learned from every one of them.
Only Hagen guessed the Don’s real intentions and was not surprised when emissaries were sent to the Five Families to propose a peace. Not only to propose a peace but a meeting of all the Families in the city and with invitations to Families all over the United States to attend. Since the New York Families were the most powerful in the country, it was understood that their welfare affected the welfare of the country as a whole.
At first there were suspicions. Was Don Corleone preparing a trap? Was he trying to throw his enemies off their guard? Was he attempting to prepare a wholesale massacre to avenge his son? But Don Corleone soon made it clear that he was sincere. Not only did he involve all the Families in the country in this meeting, but made no move to put his own people on a war footing or to enlist allies. And then he took the final irrevocable step that established the authenticity of these intentions and assured the safety of the grand council to be assembled. He called on the services of the Bocchicchio Family.
The Bocchicchio Family was unique in that, once a particularly ferocious branch of the Mafia in Sicily, it had become an instrument of peace in America. Once a group of men who earned their living by a savage determination, they now earned their living in what perhaps could be called a saintly fashion. The Bocchicchios’ one asset was a closely knit structure of blood relationships, a family loyalty severe even for a society where family loyalty came before loyalty to a wife.
The Bocchicchio Family, extending out to third cousins, had once numbered nearly two hundred when they ruled the particular economy of a small section of southern Sicily. The income for the entire family then came from four or five flour mills, by no means owned communally, but assuring labor and bread and a minimal security for all Family members. This was enough, with intermarriages, for them to present a common front against their enemies.
No competing mill, no dam that would create a water supply to their competitors or ruin their own selling of water, was allowed to be built in their corner of Sicily. A powerful landowning baron once tried to erect his own mill strictly for his personal use. The mill was burned down. He called on the carabineri and higher authorities, who arrested three of the Bocchicchio Family. Even before the trial the manor house of the baron was torched. The indictment and accusations were withdrawn. A few months later one of the highest functionaries in the Italian government arrived in Sicily and tried to solve the chronic water shortage of that island by proposing a huge dam. Engineers arrived from Rome to do surveys while watched by grim natives, members of the Bocchicchio clan. Police flooded the area, housed in a specially built barracks.
It looked like nothing could stop the dam from being built and supplies and equipment had actually been unloaded in Palermo. That was as far as they got. The Bocchicchios had contacted fellow Mafia chiefs and extracted agreements for their aid. The heavy equipment was sabotaged, the lighter equipment stolen. Mafia deputies in the Italian Parliament launched a bureaucratic counterattack against the planners. This went on for several years and in that time Mussolini came to power. The dictator decreed that the dam must be built. It was not. The dictator had known that the Mafia would be a threat to his regime, forming what amounted to a separate authority from his own. He gave full powers to a high police official, who promptly solved the problem by throwing everybody into jail or deporting them to penal work islands. In a few short years he had broken the power of the Mafia, simply by arbitrarily arresting anyone even suspected of being a mafioso. And so also brought ruin to a great many innocent families.
The Bocchicchios had been rash enough to resort to force against this unlimited power. Half of the men were killed in armed combat, the other half deported to penal island colonies. There were only a handful left when arrangements were made for them to emigrate to America via the clandestine underground route of jumping ship through Canada. There were almost twenty immigrants and they settled in a small town not far from New York City, in the Hudson Valley, where by starting at the very bottom they worked their way up to owning a garbage hauling firm and their own trucks. They became prosperous because they had no competition. They had no competition because competitors found their trucks burned and sabotaged. One persistent fellow who undercut prices was found buried in the garbage he had picked up during the day, smothered to death.
But as the men married, to Sicilian girls, needless to say, children came, and the garbage business though providing a living, was not really enough to pay for the finer things America had to offer. And so, as a diversification, the Bocchicchio Family became negotiators and hostages in the peace efforts of warring Mafia families.
A strain of stupidity ran through the Bocchicchio clan, or perhaps they were just primitive. In any case they recognized their limitations and knew they could not compete with other Mafia families in the struggle to organize and control more sophisticated business structures like prostitution, gambling, dope and public fraud. They were straight-from-the-shoulder people who could offer a gift to an ordinary patrolman but did not know how to approach a political bagman. They had only two assets. Their honor and their ferocity.
A Bocchicchio never lied, never committed an act of treachery. Such behavior was too complicated. Also, a Bocchicchio never forgot an injury and never left it unavenged no matter what the cost. And so by accident they stumbled into what would prove to be their most lucrative profession.
When warring families wanted to make peace and arrange a parley, the Bocchicchio clan was contacted. The head of the clan would handle the initial negotiations and arrange for the necessary hostages. For instance, when Michael had gone to meet Sollozzo, a Bocchicchio had been left with the Corleone Family as surety for Michael’s safety, the service paid for by Sollozzo. If Michael were killed by Sollozzo, then the Bocchicchio male hostage held by the Corleone Family would be killed by the Corleones. In this case the Bocchicchios would take their vengeance on Sollozzo as the source of their clansman’s death. Since the Bocchicchios were so primitive, they never let anything, any kind of punishment, stand in their way of vengeance. They would give up their own lives and there was no protection against them if they were betrayed. A Bocchicchio hostage was gilt-edged insurance.
And so now when Don Corleone employed the Bocchicchios as negotiators and arranged for them to supply hostages for all the Families to come to the peace meeting, there could be no question as to his sincerity. There could be no question of treachery. The meeting would be safe as wedding.
Hostages given, the meeting took place in the director’s conference room of a small commercial bank whose president was indebted to Don Corleone and indeed some of whose stock belonged to Don Corleone though it was in the president’s name. The president always treasured that moment when he had offered to give Don Corleone a written document proving his ownership of the shares, to preclude any treachery. Don Corleone had been horrified. “I would trust you with my whole fortune,” he told the president. “I would trust you with my life and the welfare of my children. It is inconceivable to me that you would ever trick me or otherwise betray me. My whole world, all my faith in my judgment of human character would collapse. Of course I have my own written records so that if something should happen to me my heirs would know that you hold something in trust for them. But I know that even if I were not here in this world to guard the interests of my children, you would be faithful to their needs.”
The president of the bank, though not Sicilian, was a man of tender sensibilities. He understood the Don perfectly. Now the Godfather’s request was the president’s command and so on a Saturday afternoon, the executive suite of the bank, the inference room with its deep leather chairs, its absolute privacy, was made available to the Families.
Security at the bank was taken over by a small army of handpicked men wearing bank guard uniforms. At ten o’clock on a Saturday morning the conference room began to fill up. Besides the Five Families of New York, there were representatives from ten other Families across the country, with the exception of Chicago, that black sheep of their world. They had given up trying to civilize Chicago, and they saw no point in including those mad dogs in this important conference.
A bar had been set up and a small buffet. Each representative to the conference had been allowed one aide. Most of the Dons had brought their Consiglieres as aides so there were comparatively few young men in the room. Tom Hagen was one of those young men and the only one who was not Sicilian. He was an object of curiosity, a freak.
Hagen knew his manners. He did not speak, he did not smile. He waited on his boss, Don Corleone, with all the respect of a favorite earl waiting on his king; bringing him a cold drink, lighting his cigar, positioning his ashtray; with respect but no obsequiousness.
Hagen was the only one in that room who knew the identity of the portraits hanging on the dark paneled walls. They were mostly portraits of fabulous financial figures done in rich oils. One was of Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton. Hagen could not help thinking that Hamilton might have approved of this peace meeting being held in a banking institution. Nothing was more calming, more conducive to pure reason, than the atmosphere of money.
The arrival time had been staggered for between nine-thirty to ten A.M. Don Corleone, in a sense the host since he had initiated the peace talks, had been the first to arrive; one of his many virtues was punctuality. The next to arrive was Carlo Tramonti, who had made the southern part of the United States his territory. He was an impressively handsome middle-aged man, tall for a Sicilian, with a very deep sunburn, exquisitely tailored and barbered. He did not look Italian, he looked more like one of those pictures in the magazines of millionaire fishermen lolling on their yachts. The Tramonti Family earned its livelihood from gambling, and no one meeting their Don would ever guess with what ferocity he had won his empire.
Emigrating from Sicily as a small boy, he had settled in Florida and grown to manhood there, employed by the American syndicate of Southern small-town politicians who controlled gambling. These were very tough men backed up by very tough police officials and they never suspected that they could be overthrown by such a greenhorn immigrant. They were unprepared for his ferocity and could not match it simply because the rewards being fought over were not, to their minds, worth so much bloodshed. Tramonti won over the police with bigger shares of the gross; he exterminated those redneck hooligans who ran their operation with such a complete lack of imagination. It was Tramonti who opened ties with Cuba and the Batista regime and eventually poured money into the pleasure resorts of Havana gambling houses, whorehouses, to lure gamblers from the American mainland. Tramonti was now a millionaire many times over and owned one of the most luxurious hotels in Miami Beach.
When he came into the conference room followed by his aide, an equally sunburned Consigliere, Tramonti embraced Don Corleone, made a face of sympathy to show he sorrowed for the dead son.
Other Dons were arriving. They all knew each other, they had met over the years, either socially or when in the pursuit of their businesses. They had always showed each other professional courtesies and in their younger, leaner days had done each other little services. The second Don to arrive was Joseph Zaluchi from Detroit. The Zaluchi Family, under appropriate disguises and covers, owned one of the horse-racing tracks in the Detroit area. They also owned a good part of the gambling. Zaluchi was a moon-faced, amiable-looking man who lived in a one-hundred-thousand-dollar house in the fashionable Grosse Pointe section of Detroit. One of his sons had married into an old, well-known American family. Zaluchi, like Don Corleone, was sophisticated. Detroit had the lowest incidence of physical violence of any of the cities controlled by the Families; there had been only two execution in the last three years in that city. He disapproved of traffic in drugs.
Zaluchi had brought his Consigliere with him and both men came to Don Corleone to embrace him. Zaluchi had a booming American voice with only the slightest trace of an scent. He was conservatively dressed, very businessman, and with a hearty goodwill to match. He said to Don Corleone, “Only your voice could have brought me here.” Don Corleone bowed his head in thanks. He could count on Zaluchi for support.
The next two Dons to arrive were from the West Coast, motoring from there in the same car since they worked together closely in any case. They were Frank Falcone and Anthony Molinari and both were younger than any of the other men who would come to the meeting; in their early forties. They were dressed a little more informally than the others, there was a touch of Hollywood in their style and they were a little more friendly than necessary. Frank Falcone controlled the movie unions and the gambling at the studios plus a complex of pipeline prostitution that supplied girls to the whorehouses of the states in the Far West. It was not in the realm of possibility for any Don to become “show biz” but Falcone had just a touch. His fellow Dons distrusted him accordingly.
Anthony Molinari controlled the waterfronts of San Francisco and was preeminent in the empire of sports gambling. He came of Italian fishermen stock and owned the best San Francisco sea food restaurant, in which he took such pride that the legend had it he lost money on the enterprise by giving too good value for the prices charged. He had the impassive face of the professional gambler and it was known that he also had something to do with dope smuggling over the Mexican border and from the ships plying the lanes of the oriental oceans. Their aides were young, powerfully built men, obviously not counselors but bodyguards, though they would not dare to carry arms to this meeting. It was general knowledge that these bodyguards knew karate, a fact that amused the other Dons but did not alarm them in the slightest, no more than if the California Dons had come wearing amulets blessed by the Pope. Though it must be noted that some of these men were religious and believed in God.
Next arrived the representative from the Family in Boston. This was the only Don who did not have the respect of his fellows. He was known as a man who did not do right by his “people,” who cheated them unmercifully. This could be forgiven, each man measures his own greed. What could not be forgiven was that he could not keep order in his empire. The Boston area had too many murders, too many petty wars for power, too many unsupported free-lance activities; it flouted the law too brazenly. If the Chicago Mafia were savages, then the Boston people were gavones, or uncouth louts; ruffians. The Boston Don’s name was Domenick Panza. He was short, squat; as one Don put it, he looked like a thief.
The Cleveland syndicate, perhaps the most powerful of the strictly gambling operations in the United States, was represented by a sensitive-looking elderly man with gaunt features and scow-white hair. He was known, of course not to his face, as “the Jew” because he had surrounded himself with Jewish assistants rather than Sicilians. It was even rumored that he would have named a Jew as his Consigliere if he had dared. In any case, as Don Corleone’s Family was known as the Irish Gang because of Hagen’s membership, so Don Vincent Forlenza’s Family was known as the Jewish Family with somewhat more accuracy. But he ran an extremely efficient organization and he was not known ever to have fainted at the sight of blood, despite his sensitive features. He ruled with an iron hand in a velvet political glove.
The representatives of the Five Families of New York were the last to arrive and Tom Hagen was struck by how much more imposing, impressive, these five men were than the out-of-towners, the hicks. For one thing, the five New York Dons were in the old Sicilian tradition, they were “men with a belly” meaning, figuratively, power and courage; and literally, physical flesh, as if the two went together, as indeed they seem to have done in Sicily. The five New York Dons were stout, corpulent men with massive leonine heads, features on a large scale, fleshy imperial noses, thick mouths, heavy folded cheeks. They were not too well tailored or barbered; they had the look of no-nonsense busy men without vanity.
There was Anthony Stracci, who controlled the New Jersey area and the shipping on the West Side docks of Manhattan. He ran the gambling in Jersey and was very strong with the Democratic political machine. He had a fleet of freight hauling trucks that made him a fortune primarily because his trucks could travel with a heavy overload and not be stopped and fined by highway weight inspectors. These trucks helped ruin the highways and then his roadbuilding firm, with lucrative state contracts, repaired the damage wrought. It was the kind of operation that would warm any man’s heart, business of itself creating more business. Stracci, too, was old-fashioned and never dealt in prostitution, but because his business was on the waterfront it was impossible for him not to be involved in the drug-smuggling traffic. Of the five New York Families opposing the Corleones his was the least powerful but the most well disposed.
The Family that controlled upper New York State, that arranged smuggling of Italian immigrants from Canada, all upstate gambling and exercised veto power on state licensing of racing tracks, was headed by Ottilio Cuneo. This was a completely disarming man with the face of a jolly round peasant baker, whose legitimate activity was one of the big milk companies. Cuneo was one of those men who loved children and carried a pocket full of sweets in the hopes of being able to pleasure one of his many grandchildren or the small offspring of his associates. He wore a round fedora with the brim turned down all the way round like a woman’s sun hat, which broadened his already moon-shaped face into the very mask of joviality. He was one of the few Dons who had never been arrested and whose true activities had never even been suspected. So much so that he had served on civic committees and had been voted as “Businessman of the Year for the State of New York” by the Chamber of Commerce.
The closest ally to the Tattaglia Family was Don Emilio Barzini. He had some of the gambling in Brooklyn and some in Queens. He had some prostitution. He had strong-arm. He completely controlled Staten Island. He had some of the sports betting in the Bronx and Westchester. He was in narcotics. He had close ties to Cleveland and the West Coast and he was one of the few men shrewd enough to be interested in Las Vegas and Reno, the open cities of Nevada. He also had interests in Miami Beach and Cuba. After the Corleone Family, his was perhaps the strongest in New York and therefore in the country. His influence reached even to Sicily. His hand was in every unlawful pie. He was even rumored to have a toehold in Wall Street. He had supported the Tattaglia Family with money and influence since the start of the war. It was his ambition to supplant Don Corleone as the most powerful and respected Mafia leader in the country and to take over part of the Corleone empire. He was a man much like Don Corleone, but more modern, more sophisticated, more businesslike. He could never be called an old Moustache Pete and he had the confidence of the newer, younger, brasher leaders on their way up. He was a man of great personal force in a cold way, with none of Don Corleone’s warmth and he was perhaps at this moment the most “respected” man in the group.
The last to arrive was Don Phillip Tattaglia, the head of the Tattagfia Family that had directly challenged the Corleone power by supporting Sollozzo, and had so nearly succeeded. And yet curiously enough he was held in a slight contempt by the others. For one thing, it was known that he had allowed himself to be dominated by Sollozzo, had in fact been led by the nose by that fine Turkish hand. He was held responsible for all this commotion, this uproar that had so affected the conduct of everyday business by the New York Families. Also he was a sixty-year-old dandy and woman-chaser. And he had ample opportunity to indulge his weakness.
For the Tattaglia Family dealt in women. Its main business was prostitution. It also controlled most of the nightclubs in the United States and could place any talent anywhere in the country. Phillip Tattaglia was not above using strong-arm to get control of promising singers and comics and muscling in on record firms. But prostitution was the main source of the Family income.
His personality was unpleasant to these men. He was a whiner, always complaining of the costs in his Family business. Laundry bills, all those towels, ate up the profits (but he owned the laundry firm that did the work). The girls were lazy and unstable, running off, committing suicide. The pimps were treacherous and dishonest and without a shred of loyalty. Good help was hard to find. Young lads of Sicilian blood turned up their noses at such work, considered it beneath their honor to traffic and abuse women; those rascals who would slit a throat with a song on their lips and the cross of an Easter palm in the lapel of their jackets. So Phillip Tattaglia would rant on to audiences unsympathetic and contemptuous. His biggest howl was reserved for authorities who had it in their power to issue and cancel liquor licenses for his nightclubs and cabarets. He swore he had made more millionaires than Wall Street with the money he had paid those thieving guardians of official seals.
In a curious way his almost victorious war against the Corleone Family had not won him the respect it deserved. They knew his strength had come first from Sollozzo and then from the Barzini Family. Also the fact that with the advantage of surprise he had not won complete victory was evidence against him. If he had been more efficient, all this trouble could have been avoided. The death of Don Corleone would have meant the end of the war.
It was proper, since they had both lost sons in their war against each other, that Don Corleone and Phillip Tattaglia should acknowledge each other’s presence only with a formal nod. Don Corleone was the object of attention, the other men studying him to see what mark of weakness had been left on him by his wounds and defeats. The puzzling factor was why Don Corleone had sued for peace after the death of his favorite son. It was an acknowledgment of defeat and would almost surely lead to a lessening of his power. But they would soon know.
There were greetings, there were drinks to be served and almost another half hour went by before Don Corleone took his seat at the polished walnut table. Unobtrusively, Hagen sat in the chair slightly to the Don’s left and behind him. This was the signal for the other Dons to make their way to the table. Their aides sat behind them, the Consiglieres up close so that they could offer any advice when needed.
Don Corleone was the first to speak and he spoke as if nothing had happened. As if he had not been grievously wounded and his eldest son slain, his empire in a shambles, his personal family scattered, Freddie in the West and under the protection of the Molinari Family and Michael secreted in the wastelands of Sicily. He spoke naturally, in Sicilian dialect.
“I want to thank you all for coming,” he said. “I consider it a service done to me personally and I am in the debt of each and every one of you. And so I will say at the beginning that I am here not to quarrel or convince, but only to reason and as a reasonable man do everything possible for us all to part friends here too. I give my word on that, and some of you who know me well know I do not give my word lightly. Ah, well, let’s get down to business.. We are all honorable men here, we don’t have to give each other assurances as if we were lawyers.”
He paused. None of the others spoke. Some were smoking cigars, others sipping their drinks. All of these men were good listeners, patient men. They had one other thing in common. They were those rarities, men who had refused to accept the rule of organized society, men who refused the dominion of other men. There was no force, no mortal man who could bend them to their will unless they wished it. They were men who guarded their free will with wiles and murder. Their wills could be subverted only by death. Or the utmost reasonableness.
Don Corleone sighed. “How did things ever go so far?” he asked rhetorically. “Well, no matter. A lot of foolishness has come to pass. It was so unfortunate, so unnecessary. But let me tell what happened, as I see it.”
He paused to see if someone would object to his telling his side of the story.
“Thank God my health has been restored and maybe I can help set this affair aright. Perhaps my son was too rash, too headstrong, I don’t say no to that. Anyway let me just say that Sollozzo came to me with a business affair in which he asked me for my money and my influence. He said he had the interest of the Tattaglia Family. The affair involved drugs, in which I have no interest. I’m a quiet man and such endeavors are too lively for my taste. I explained this to Sollozzo, with all respect for him and the Tattaglia Family. I gave him my ‘no’ with all courtesy. I told him his business would not interfere with mine, that I had no objection to his earning his living in this fashion. He took it ill and brought misfortune down on all our heads. Well, that’s life. Everyone here could tell his own tale of sorrow. That’s not to my purpose.”
Don Corleone paused and motioned to Hagen for a cold drink, which Hagen swiftly furnished him. Don Corleone wet his mouth. “I’m willing to make the peace,” he said. “Tattaglia has lost a son, I have lost a son. We are quits. What would the world come to if people kept carrying grudges against all reason? That has been the cross of Sicily, where men are so busy with vendettas they have no time to earn bread for their families. It’s foolishness. So I say now, let things be as they were before. I have not taken any steps to learn who betrayed and killed my son. Given peace, I will not do so. I have a son who cannot come home and I must receive assurances that when I arrange matters so that he can return safely that there will be no interference, no danger from the authorities. Once that’s settled maybe we can talk about other matters that interest us and do ourselves, all of us, a profitable service today.” Corleone gestured expressively, submissively, with his hands. “That is all I want.”
It was very well done. It was the Don Corleone of old. Reasonable. Pliant. Soft-spoken. But every man there had noted that he had claimed good health, which meant he was a man not to be held cheaply despite the misfortunes of the Corleone Family. It was noted that he had said the discussion of other business was useless until the peace he asked for was given. It was noted that he had asked for the old status quo, that he would lose nothing despite his having got the worst of it over the past year.
However, it was Emilio Barzini who answered Don Corleone, not Tattaglia. He was curt and to the point without being rude or insulting.
“That is all true enough,” Barzini said. “But there’s a little more. Don Corleone is too modest. The fact is that Sollozzo and the Tattaglias could not go into their new business without the assistance of Don Corleone. In fact, his disapproval injured them. That’s not his fault of course. The fact remains that judges and politicians who would accept favors from Don Corleone, even on drugs, would not allow themselves to be influenced by anybody else when it came to narcotics. Sollozzo couldn’t operate if he didn’t have some insurance of his people being treated gently. We all know that. We would all be poor men otherwise. And now that they have increased the penalties the judges and the prosecuting attorneys drive a hard bargain when one of our people get in trouble with narcotics. Even a Sicilian sentenced to twenty years might break the omerta and talk his brains out. That can’t happen. Don Corleone controls all that apparatus. His refusal to let us use it is not the act of a friend. He takes the bread out of the mouths of our families. Times have changed, it’s not like the old days where everyone can go his own way. If Corleone had all the judges in New York, then he must share them or let us others use them. Certainly he can present a bill for such services, we’re not communists, after all. But he has to let us draw water from the well. It’s that simple.”
When Barzini had finished talking there was a silence. The lines were now drawn, there could be no return to the old status quo. What was more important was that Barzini by speaking out was saying that if peace was not made he would openly join the Tattaglia in their war against the Corleone. And he had scored a telling point. Their lives and their fortunes depended upon their doing each other services, the denial of a favor asked by a friend was an act of aggression. Favors were not asked lightly and so could not be lightly refused.
Don Corleone finally spoke to answer. “My friends,” he said, “I didn’t refuse out of spite. You all know me. When have I ever refused an accommodation? That’s simply not in my nature. But I had to refuse this time. Why? Because I think this drug business will destroy us in the years to come. There is too much strong feeling about such traffic in this country. It’s not like whiskey or gambling or even women which most people want and is forbidden them by the pezzonovante of the church and the government. But drugs are dangerous for everyone connected with them. It could jeopardize all other business. And let me say I’m flattered by the belief that I am so powerful with the judges and law officials, I wish it were true. I do have some influence but many of the people who respect my counsel might lose this respect if drugs become involved in our relationship. They are afraid to be involved in such business and they have strong feelings about it. Even policemen who help us in gambling and other things would refuse to help us in drugs. So to ask me to perform a service in these matters is to ask me to do a disservice to myself. But I’m willing to do even that if all of you think it proper in order to adjust other matters.”
When Don Corleone had finished speaking the room became much more relaxed with more whisperings and cross talk. He had conceded the important point. He would offer his protection to any organized business venture in drugs. He was, in effect, agreeing almost entirely to Sollozzo’s original proposal if that proposal was endorsed by the national group gathered here. It was understood that he would never participate in the operational phase, nor would he invest his money. He would merely use his protective influence with the legal apparatus. But this was a formidable concession.
The Don of Los Angeles, Frank Falcone, spoke to answer. “There’s no way of stopping our people from going into that business..They go in on their own and they get is trouble. There’s too much money in it to resist. So it’s more dangerous if we don’t go in. At least if we control it we can cover it better, organize it better, make sure it causes less trouble. Being in it is not so bad, there has to be control, there has to be protection, there has to be organization, we can’t have everybody running around doing just what they please like a bunch of anarchists.”
The Don of Detroit, more friendly to Corleone than any of the others, also now spoke against his friend’s position, in the interest of reasonableness. “I don’t believe in drugs,” he said. “For years I paid my people extra so they wouldn’t do that kind of business. But it didn’t matter, it didn’t help. Somebody comes to them and says, ‘I have powders, if you put up the three-, four-thousand-dollar investment we can make fifty thousand distributing.’ Who can resist such a profit? And they are so busy with their little side business they neglect the work I pay them to do. There’s more money in drugs. It’s getting bigger all the time. There’s no way to stop it so we have to control the business and keep it respectable. I don’t want any of it near schools, I don’t want any of it sold to children. That is an infamita. In my city I would try to keep the traffic in the dark people, the colored. They are the best customers, the least troublesome and they are animals anyway. They have no respect for their wives or their families or for themselves. Let them lose their souls with drugs. But something has to be done, we just can’t let people do as they please and make trouble for everyone.”
This speech of the Detroit Don was received with loud murmurs of approval. He had hit the nail on the head. You couldn’t even pay people to stay out of the drug traffic. As for his remarks about children, that was his well-known sensibility, his tenderheartedness speaking. After all, who would sell drugs to children? Where would children get the money? As for his remarks about the coloreds, that was not even heard. The Negroes were considered of absolutely no account, of no force whatsoever. That they had allowed society to grind them into the dust proved them of no account and his mentioning them in any way proved that the Don of Detroit had a mind that always wavered toward irrelevancies.
All the Dons spoke. Ail of them deplored the traffic in drugs as a bad thing that would cause trouble but agreed there was no way to control it. There was, simply, too much money to be made in the business, therefore it followed that there would be men who would dare anything to dabble in it. That was human nature.
It was finally agreed. Drug traffic would be permitted and Don Corleone must give it some legal protection in the East. It was understood that the Barzini and Tattaglia Families would do most of the large-scale operations. With this out of the way the conference was able to move on to other matters of a wider interest. There were many complex problems to be solved. It was agreed that Las Vegas and Miami were to be open cities where any of the Families could operate. They all recognized that these were the cities of the future. It was also agreed that no violence would be permitted in these cities and that petty criminals of all types were to be discouraged. It was agreed that in momentous affairs, in executions that were necessary but might cause too much of a public outcry, the execution must be approved by this council. It was agreed that button men and other soldiers were to be restrained from violent crimes and acts of vengeance against each other on personal matters. It was agreed that Families would do each other services when requested, such as providing executioners, technical assistance in pursuing certain courses of action such as bribing jurors, which in some instances could be vital. These discussions, informal, colloquial and on a high level, took time and were broken by lunch and drinks from the buffet bar.
Finally Don Barzini sought to bring the meeting to an end. “That’s the whole matter then,” he said. “We have the peace and let me pay my respects to Don Corleone, whom we all have known over the years as a man of his word. If there are any more differences we can meet again, we need not become foolish again. On my part the road is new and fresh. I’m glad this is all settled.”
Only Phillip Tattaglia was a little worried still. The murder of Santino Corleone made him the most vulnerable person in this group if war broke out again. He spoke at length for the first time.
“I’ve agreed to everything here, I’m willing to forget my own misfortune. But I would like to hear some strict assurances from Corleone. Will he attempt any individual vengeance? When time goes by and his position perhaps becomes stronger, will he forget that we have sworn our friendship? How am I to know that in three or four years he won’t feel that he’s been ill served, forced against his will to this agreement and so free to break it? Will we have to guard against each other all the time? Or can we truly go in peace with peace of mind? Would Corleone give us all his assurances as I now give mine?”
It was then that Don Corleone gave the speech that would be long remembered, and that reaffirmed his position as the most far-seeing statesman among them, so full of common sense, so direct from the heart; and to the heart of the matter. In it he coined a phrase that was to become as famous in its way as Churchill’s Iron Curtain, though not public knowledge until more than ten years later.
For the first time he stood up to address the council. He was short and a little thin from his “illness,” perhaps his sixty years showed a bit more but there was no question that he had regained all his former strength, and had all his wits.
“What manner of men are we then, if we do not have our reason,” he said. “We are all no better than beasts in a jungle if that were the case. But we have reason, we can reason with each other and we can reason with ourselves. To what purpose would I start all these troubles again, the violence and the turmoil? My son is dead and that is a misfortune and I must bear it, not make the innocent world around me suffer with me. And so I say, I give my honor, that I will never seek vengeance, I will never seek knowledge of the deeds that have been done in the past. I will leave here with a pure heart.
“Let me say that we must always look to our interests. We are all men who have refused to be fools, who have refused to be puppets dancing on a string pulled by the men on high. We have been fortunate here in this country. Already most of our children have found a better life. Some of you have sons who are professors, scientists, musicians, and you are fortunate. Perhaps your grandchildren will become the new pezzonovanti. None of us here want to see our children follow in our footsteps, it’s too hard a life. They can be as others, their position and security won by our courage. I have grandchildren now and I hope their children may someday, who knows, be a governor, a President, nothing’s impossible herein America. But we have to progress with the times. The time is past for guns and killings and massacres. We have to be cxmning like the business people, there’s more money in it and it’s better for our children and our grandchildren.
“As for our own deeds, we are not responsible to the.90 calibers the pezzonovantis who take it upon themselves to decide what we shall do with our lives, who declare wars they wish us to fight in to protect what they own. Who is to say we should obey the laws they make for their own interest and to our hurt? And who are they then to meddle when we look after our own interests? Sonna coca nostra,” Don Corleone said, “these are our own affairs. We will manage our world for ourselves because it is our world, cosa nostra. And so we have to stick together to guard against outside meddlers. Otherwise they will put the ring in our nose as they have put the ring in the nose of all the millions of Neapolitans and other Italians in this country.
“For this reason I forgo my vengeance for my dead son, for the common good. I swear now that as long as I am responsible for the actions of my Family there will not be one finger lifted against any man here without just cause and utmost provocation. I am willing to sacrifice my commercial interests for the common good. This is my word, this is my honor, there are those of you here who know I have never betrayed either.
“But I have a selfish interest. My youngest son had to flee, accused of Sollozzo’s murder and that of a police captain. I must now make arrangements so that he can come home with safety, cleared of all those false charges. That is my affair and I will make those arrangements. I must find the real culprits perhaps, or perhaps I must convince the authorities of his innocence, perhaps the witnesses and informants will recant their lies. But again I say that this is my affair and I believe I will be able to bring my son home.
“But let me say this. I am a superstitious man, a ridiculous failing but I must confess it here. And so if some unlucky accident should befall my youngest son, if some police officer should accidentally shoot him, if he should hang himself in his cell, if new witnesses appear to testify to his guilt, my superstition will make me feel that it was the result of the ill will still borne me by some people here. Let me go further. If my son is struck by a bolt of lightning I will blame some of the people here. If his plane show fall into the sea or his ship sink beneath the waves of the ocean, if he should catch a mortal fever, if his automobile should be struck by a train, such is my superstition that I would blame the ill will felt by people here. Gentlemen, that ill will, that bad luck, I could never forgive. But aside from that let me swear by the souls of my grandchildren that I will never break the peace we have made. After all, are we or are we not better men than those pezzonovanti who have killed countless millions of men in our lifetimes?”
With this Don Corleone stepped from his place and went down the table to where Don Phillip Tattaglia was sitting. Tattaglia rose to greet him and the two men embraced, kissing each other’s cheeks. The other Dons in the room applauded and rose to shake hands with everybody in sight and to congratulate Don Corleone and Don Tattaglia on their new friendship. It was not perhaps the warmest friendship in the world, they would not send each other Christmas gift greetings, but they would not murder each other. That was friendship enough in this world, all that was needed.
Since his son Freddie was under the protection of the Molinari Family in the West, Don Corleone lingered with the San Francisco Don after the meeting to thank him. Molinari said enough for Don Corleone to gather that Freddie had found his niche out there, was happy and had become something of a ladies’ man. He had a genius for running a hotel, it seemed. Don Corleone shook his head in wonder, as many fathers do when told of undreamed-of talents in their children. Wasn’t it true that sometimes the greatest misfortunes brought unforeseen rewards? They both agreed that this was so. Meanwhile Corleone made it clear to the San Francisco Don that he was in his debt for the great service done in protecting Freddie. He let it be known that his influence would be exerted so that the important racing wires would always be available to his people no matter what changes occurred in the power structure in the years to come, an important guarantee since the struggle over this facility was a constant open wound complicated by the fact that the Chicago people had their heavy hand in it. But Don Corleone was not without influence even in that land of barbarians and so his promise was a gift of gold.
It was evening before Don Corleone, Tom Hagen and the bodyguard-chauffeur, who happened to be Rocco Lampone, arrived at the mall in Long Beach. When they went into the house the Don said to Hagen, “Our driver, that man Lampone, keep an eye on him. He’s a fellow worth something better I think.” Hagen wondered at this remark. Lampone had not said a word all day, had not even glanced at the two men in the back seat. He had opened the door for the Don, the car had been in front of the bank when they emerged, he had done everything correctly but no more than any well-trained chauffeur might do. Evidently the Don’s eye had seen something he had not seen.
The Don dismissed Hagen and told him to come back to the house after supper. But to take his time and rest a little since they would put in a long night of discussion. He also told Hagen to have Clemenza and Tessio present. They should come at ten P.M., not before. Hagen was to brief Clemenza and Tessio on what had happened at the meeting that afternoon.
At ten the Don was waiting for the three men in his office, the corner room of the house with its law library and special phone. There was a tray with whiskey bottles, ice and soda water. The Don gave his instructions.
“We made the peace this afternoon,” he said. “I gave my word and my honor and that should be enough for all of you. But our friends are not so trustworthy so let’s all be on our guard still. We don’t want any more nasty little surprises.” Then Don turned to Hagen. “You’ve let the Bocchicchio hostages go?”
Hagen nodded. “I called Clemenza as soon as I got home.”
Corleone turned to the massive Clemenza. The caporegime nodded. “I released them. Tell me, Godfather, is it possible for a Sicilian to be as dumb as the Bocchicchios pretend to be?”
Don Corleone smiled a little. “They are clever enough to make a good living. Why is it so necessary to be more clever than that? It’s not the Bocchicchios who cause the troubles of this world. But it’s true, they haven’t got the Sicilian head.”
They were all in a relaxed mood, now that the war was over. Don Corleone himself mixed drinks and brought one to each man. The Don sipped his carefully and lit up a cigar.
“I want nothing set forth to discover what happened to Sonny, that’s done with and to be forgotten. I want all cooperation with the other Families even if they become a little greedy and we don’t get our proper share in this. I want nothing to break this peace no matter what the provocation until we’ve found a way to bring Michael home. And I want that to be first thing on your minds. Remember this, when he comes back he must come back in absolute safety. I don’t mean from the Tattaglias or the Barzinis. What I’m concerned about are the police. Sure, we can get rid of the real evidence against him; that waiter won’t testify, nor that spectator or gunman or whatever he was. The real evidence is the least of our worries since we know about it. What we have to worry about is the police framing false evidence because their informers have assured them that Michael Corleone is the man who killed their captain. Very well. We have to demand that the Five Families do everything in their power to correct this belief of the police. All their informers who work with the police must come up with new stories. I think after my speech this afternoon they will understand it is to their interest to do so. But that’s not enough. We have to come up with something special so Michael won’t ever have to worry about that again. Otherwise there’s no point in him coming back to this country. So let’s all think about that. That’s the most importunt matter.
“Now, any man should be allowed one foolishness in his life. I have had mine. I want all the land around the mall bought, the houses bought. I don’t want any man able to look out his window into my garden even if it’s a mile away. I want a fence around the mall and I want the mall to be on full protection all the time. I want a gate in that fence. In short, I wish now to live in a fortress. Let me say to you now that I will never go into the city to work again. I will be semiretired. I feel an urge to work in the garden, to make a little wine when the grapes are in season. I want to live in my house. The only time I’ll leave is to go on a little vacation or to see someone on important business and then I want all precautions taken. Now don’t take this amiss. I’m not preparing anything. I’m being prudent, I’ve always been a prudent man, there is nothing I find so little to my taste as carelessness in life. Women and children can afford to be careless, men cannot. Be leisurely in all these things, no frantic preparations to alarm our friends. It can be done in such a way as to seem natural.
“Now I’m going to leave things more and more up to each of you three. I want the Santino regime disbanded and the men placed in your regimes. That should reassure our friends and show that I mean peace. Tom, I want you to put together a group of men who will go to Las Vegas and give me a full report on what is going on out there. Tell me about Fredo, what is really happening out there, I hear I wouldn’t recognize my own son. It seems he’s a cook now, that be amuses himself with young girls more than a grown man should. Well, he was always too serious when he was young and he was never the man for Family business. But let’s find out what really can be done out there.”
Hagen said quietly, “Should we send your son-in-law? After all, Carlo is a native of Nevada, he knows his way around.”
Don Corleone shook his head. “No, my wife is lonely here without any of her children. I want Constanzia and her husband moved into one of the houses on the mall. I want Carlo given a responsible job, maybe I’ve been too harsh on him, and”— Don Corleone made a grimace— “I’m short of sons. Take him out of the gambling and put him in with the unions where he can do some paper work and a lot of talking. He’s a good talker.” There was the tiniest note of contempt in the Don’s voice.
Hagen nodded. “OK, Clemenza and I will go over all the people and put together a group to do the Vegas job. Do you want me to call Freddie home for a few days?”
The Don shook his head. He said cruelly, “What for? My wife can still cook our meals. Let him stay out there.” The three men shifted uneasily in their seats. They had not realized Freddie was in such severe disfavor with his father and they suspected it must be because of something they did not know.
Don Corleone sighed. “I hope to grow some good green peppers and tomatoes in the garden this year, more than we can eat. I’ll make you presents of them. I want a little peace, a little quiet and tranquillity for my old age. Well, that’s all. Have another drink if you like.”
It was a dismissal. The men rose. Hagen accompanied Clemenza and Tessio to their cars and arranged meetings with them to thrash out the operational details that would accomplish the stated desires of their Don. Then he went back into the house where he knew Don Conrleone world be waiting for him.
The Don had taken off his jacket and tie and was lying down on the couch. His stern face was relaxed into lines of fatigue. He waved Hagen into a chair and said, “Well, Consigliere, do you disapprove of any of my deeds today?”
Hagen took his time answering. “No,” he said. “But I don’t find it consistent, nor true to your nature. You say you don’t want to find out how Santino was killed or want vengeance for it. I don’t believe that. You gave your word for peace and so you’ll keep the peace but I can’t believe you will give your enemies the victory they seem to have won today. You’ve constructed a magnificent riddle that I can’t solve, so how can I approve or disapprove?”
A look of content came over the Don’s face. “Well, you know me better than anyone else. Even though you’re not a Sicilian, I made you one. Everything you say is true, but there’s a solution and you’ll comprehend it before it spins out to the end. You agree everyone has to take my word and I’ll keep my word. And I want my orders obeyed exactly. But, Tom, the most important thing is we have to get Michael home as soon as possible. Make that first in your mind and in your work. Explore all the legal alleys, I don’t care how much money you have to spend. It has to be foolproof when he comes home. Consult the best lawyers on criminal law. I’ll give you the names of some judges who will give you a private audience. Until that time we have to guard against all treacheries.”
Hagen said, “Like you, I’m not worried so much about the real evidence as the evidence they will manufacture. Also some police friend may kill Michael after he’s arrested. They may kill him in his cell or have one of the prisoners do it. As I see it, we can’t even afford to have him arrested or accused.”
Don Corleone sighed. “I know, I know. That’s the difficulty. But we can’t take too long. There are troubles in Sicily. The young fellows over there don’t listen to their elders anymore and a lot of the men deported from America are just too much for the old-fashioned Dons to handle. Michael could get caught in between. I’ve taken some precautions against that and he’s still got a good cover but that cover won’t last forever. That’s one of the reasons I had to make the peace. Barzini has friends in Sicily and they were beginning to sniff Michael’s trail. That gives you one of the answers to your riddle. I had to make the peace to insure my son’s safety. There was nothing else to do.”
Hagen didn’t bother asking the Don how he had gotten this information. He was not even surprised, and it was true that this solved part of the riddle. “When I meet with Tattaglia’s people to firm up the details, should I insist that all his drug middlemen be clean? The judges will be a little skittish about giving light sentences to a man with a record.”
Don Corleone shrugged. “They should be smart enough to figure that out themselves. Mention it, don’t insist. We’ll do our best but if they use a real snowbird and he gets caught, we won’t lift a finger. We’ll just tell them nothing can be done. But Barzini is a man who will know that without being told. You notice how he never committed himself in this affair. One might never have known he was in any way concerned. That is a man who doesn’t get caught on the losing side.”
Hagen was startled. “You mean he was behind Sollozzo and Tattaglia all the time?”
Don Corleone sighed. “Tattaglia is a pimp. He could never have outfought Santino. That’s why I don’t have to know about what happened. It’s enough to know that Barzini had a hand in it.”
Hagen let this sink in. The Don was giving him clues but there was something very important left out. Hagen knew what it was but he knew it was not his place to ask. He said good night and turned to go. The Don had a last word for him.
“Remember, use all your wits for a plan to bring Michael home.” the Don said. “And one other thing. Arrange with the telephone man so that every month I get a list of all the telephone calls, made and received, by Clemenza and Tessio. I suspect them of nothing. I would swear they would never betray me. But there’s no harm in knowing any little thing that may help us before the event.”
Hagen nodded and went out. He wondered if the Don was keeping a check on him also in some way and then was ashamed of his suspicion. But now he was sure that in the subtle and complex mind of the Godfather a far-ranging plan of action was being initiated that made the day’s happenings no more than a tactical retreat. And there was that one dark fact that no one mentioned, that he himself had not dared to ask, that Don Corleone ignored. All pointed to a day of reckoning in the future.