Michael Corleone arrived late in the evening and, by his own order, was not met at the airport. Only two men accompanied him: Tom Hagen and a new bodyguard, named Albert Neri.
The most lavish suite of rooms in the hotel had been set aside for Michael and his party. Already waiting in that suite were the people it would be necessary for Michael to see.
Freddie greeted his brother with a warm embrace. Freddie was much stouter, more benevolent-looking, cheerful, and far more dandified. He wore an exquisitely tailored gray silk and accessories to match. His hair was razor cut and arranged as carefully as a movie star’s, his face glowed with perfect barbering and his hands were manicured. He was an altogether different man than the one who had been shipped out of New York four years before.
He leaned back and surveyed Michael fondly. “You look a hell of a lot better now that you got your face fixed. Your wife finally talked you into it, huh? How is Kay? When she goons come out and visit us out here?”
Michael smiled at his brother. “You’re looking pretty good too. Kay would have come out this time, but she’s carrying another kid and she has the baby to look after. Besides this is business, Freddie, I have to fly back tomorrow night or the morning after.”
“You have to eat something first,” Freddie said. “We’ve got a great chef in the hotel, you’ll get the best food you ever ate. Go take your shower and change and everything will be set up right here. I have all the people you want to see lined up, they’ll be waiting around for when you’re ready, I just have to call them.”
Michael said pleasantly, “Let’s save Moe Greene to the end, OK? Ask Johnny Fontane and Nino up to eat with us. And Lucy and her doctor friend. We can talk while we eat.” He turned to Hagen. “Anybody you want to add to that, Tom?”
Hagen shook his head. Freddie had greeted him much less affectionately than Michael, but Hagen understood. Freddie was on his father’s shit list and Freddie naturally blamed the Consigliere for not straightening things out. Hagen would gladly have done so, but he didn’t know why Freddie was in his father’s bad graces. The Don did not give voice to specific grievances. He just made his displeasure felt.
It was after midnight before they gathered around the special dinner table set up in Michael’s suite. Lucy kissed Michael and didn’t comment on his face looking so much better after the operation. Jules Segal boldly studied the repaired cheekbone and said to Michael, “A good job. It’s knitted nicely. Is the sinus OK?”
“Fine,” Michael said. “Thanks for helping out.”
Dinner focused on Michael as they ate. They all noted his resemblance in speech and manner to the Don. In some curious way he inspired the same respect, the same awe, and yet he was perfectly natural, at pains to put everyone at their ease. Hagen as usual remained in the background. The new man they did not know; Albert Neri was also very quiet and unobtrusive. He had claimed he was not hungry and sat in an armchair close to the door reading a local newspaper.
After they had had a few drinks and food, the waiters were dismissed. Michael spoke to Johnny Fontane. “Hear your voice is back as good as ever, you got all your old fans back. Congratulations.”
“Thanks,” Johnny said. He was curious about exactly why Michael wanted to see him. What favor would he be asked?
Michael addressed them all in general. “The Corleone Family is thinking of moving out here to Vegas. Selling out all our interests in the olive oil business and settling here. The Don and Hagen and myself have talked it over and we think here is where the future is for the Family. That doesn’t mean right now or next year. It may take two, three, even four years to get things squared away. But that’s the general plan. Some friends of ours own a good percentage of this hotel and casino so that will be our foundation. Moe Greene will sell us his interest so it can be wholly owned by friends of the Family.”
Freddie’s moon face was anxious. “Mike, you sure about Moe Greene selling? He never mentioned it to me and he loves the business. I really don’t think he’ll sell.”
Michael said quietly, “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
The words were said in an ordinary voice, yet the effect was chilling, perhaps because it was a favorite phrase of the Don’s. Michael turned to Johnny Fontane. “The Don is counting on you to help us get started. It’s been explained to us that entertainment will be the big factor in drawing gamblers. We hope you’ll sign a contract to appear five times a year for maybe a week-long engagement. We hope your friends in movies do the same. You’ve done them a lot of favors, now you can call them in.”
“Sure,” Johnny said. “I’ll do anything for my Godfather, you know that, Mike.” But there was just the faint shadow of doubt in his voice.
Michael smiled and said, “You won’t lose money on the deal and neither will your friends. You get points in the hotel, and if there’s somebody else you think important enough, they get some points too. Maybe you don’t believe me, so let me say I’m speaking the Don’s words.”
Johnny said hurriedly, “I believe you, Mike. But there’s ten more hotels and casinos being built on the Strip right now. When you come in, the market may be glutted, you may be too late with all that competition already there.”
Tom Hagen spoke up. “The Corleone Family has friends who are financing three of those hotels.” Johnny understood immediately that he meant the Corleone Family owned the three hotels, with their casinos. And that there would be plenty of points to give out.
“I’ll start working on it,” Johnny said.
Michael turned to Lucy and Jules Segal. “I owe you,” he said to Jules. “I hear you want to go back to cutting people up and that hospitals won’t let you use their facilities because of that old abortion business. I have to know from you, is that what you want?”
Jules smiles. “I guess so. But you don’t know the medical setup. Whatever power you have doesn’t mean anything to them. I’m afraid you can’t help me in that.”
Michael nodded absentmindedly. “Sure, you’re right. But some friends of mine, pretty well-known people, are going to build a big hospital for Las Vegas. The town will need it the way it’s growing and the way it’s projected to grow. Maybe they’ll let you into the operating room if it’s put to them right. Hell, how many surgeons as good as you can they get to come out to this desert? Or any half as good? We’ll be doing the hospital a favor. So stick around. I hear you and Lucy are going to get married?”
Jules shrugged. “When I see that I have any future.”
Lucy said wryly, “Mike, if you don’t build that hospital, I’ll die an old maid.”
They all laughed. All except Jules. He said to Michael, “If I took a job like that there couldn’t be any strings attached.”
Michael said coldly, “No strings. I just owe you and I want to even out.”
Lucy said gently, “Mike, don’t get sore.”
Michael smiled at her. “I’m not sore.” He turned to Jules. “That was a dumb thing for you to say. The Corleone Family has pulled some strings for you. Do you think I’m so stupid I’d ask you to do things you’d hate to do? But if I did, so what? Who the hell else ever lifted a finger to help you when you were in trouble? When I heard you wanted to get back to being a real surgeon, I took a lot of time to find out if I could help. I can. I’m not asking you for anything. But at least you can consider our relationship friendly, and I assume you would do for me what you’d do for any good friend. That’s my string. But you can refuse it.”
Tom Hagen lowered his head and smiled. Not even the Don himself could have done it any better.
Jules was flushing. “Mike, I didn’t mean it that way at all. I’m very grateful to you and your father. Forget I said it.”
Michael nodded and said, “Fine. Until the hospital gets built and opens up you’ll be medical director for the four hotels. Get yourself a staff. Your money goes up too, but you can discuss that with Tom at a later time. And Lucy, I want you to do something more important. Maybe coordinate all the shops that will be opening up in the hotel arcades. On the financial side. Or maybe hiring the girls we need to work in the casinos. something like that. So if Jules doesn’t marry you, you can be a rich old maid.”
Freddie had been puffing on his cigar angrily. Michael turned to him and said gently, “I’m just the errand boy for the Don, Freddie. What he wants you to do he’ll tell you himself, naturally, but I’m sure it will be something big enough to make you happy. Everybody tells us what a great job you’ve been doing here.”
“Then why is he sore at me?” Freddie asked plaintively. “Just because the casino has been losing money? I don’t control that end, Moe Greene does. What the hell does the old man want from me?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Michael said. He turned to Johnny Fontane. “Where’s Nino? I was looking forward to seeing him again.”
Johnny shrugged. “Nino is pretty sick. A nurse is taking care of him in his room. But the doc here says he should be committed, that he’s trying to kill himself. Nino!”
Michael said thoughtfully, really surprised, “Nino was always a real good guy. I never knew him to do anything lousy, say anything to put anybody down. He never gave a damn about anything. Except the booze.”
“Yeah,” Johnny said. “The money is rolling in, he could get a lot of work, singing or in the movies. He gets fifty grand a picture now and he blows it. He doesn’t give a damn about being famous. All the years we’ve been buddies I’ve never known him to do anything creepy. And the son of a bitch is drinking himself to death.”
Jules was about to say something when there was a knock on the door of the suite. He was surprised when the man in the armchair, the man nearest the door, did not answer it but kept reading the newspaper. It was Hagen who went to open it. And was almost brushed aside when Moe Greene came striding into the room followed by his two bodyguards.
Moe Greene was a handsome hood who had made his rep as a Murder Incorporated executioner in Brooklyn. He had branched out into gambling and gone west to seek his fortune, had been the first person to see the possibilities of Las Vegas and built one of the first hotel casinos on the Strip. He still had murderous tantrums and was feared by everyone in the hotel, not excluding Freddie, Lucy and Jules Segal. They always stayed out of his way whenever possible.
His handsome face was grim now. He said to Michael Corleone, “I’ve been waiting around to talk to you, Mike. I got a lot of things to do tomorrow so I figured I’d catch you tonight. How about it?”
Michael Corleone looked at him with what seemed to be friendly astonishment. “Sure,” he said. He motioned in Hagen’s direction. “Get Mr. Greene a drink, Tom.”
Jules noticed that the man called Albert Neri was studying Moe Greene intently, not paying any attention to the bodyguards who were leaning against the door. He knew there was no chance of any violence, not in Vegas itself. That was strictly forbidden as fatal to the whole project of making Vegas the legal sanctuary of American gamblers.
Moe Greene said to his bodyguards, “Draw some chips for all these people so that they can gamble on the house.” He obviously meant Jules, Lucy, Johnny Fontane and Michael’s bodyguard, Albert Neri.
Michael Corleone nodded agreeably. “That’s a good idea.” It was only then that Neri got out of his chair and prepared to follow the others out.
After the good-byes were said, there were Freddie, Tom Hagen, Moe Greene and Michael Corleone left in the room.
Greene put his drink down on the table and said with barely controlled fury, “What’s this I hear the Corleone Family is going to buy me out? I’ll buy you out. You don’t buy me out.”
Michael said reasonably, “Your casino has been losing money against all the odds. There’s something wrong with the way you operate. Maybe we can do better.”
Greene laughed harshly. “You goddamn Dagos, I do you a favor and take Freddie in when you’re having a bad time and now you push me out. That’s what you think. I don’t get pushed out by nobody and I got friends that will back me up.”
Michael was still quietly reasonable. “You took Freddie in because the Corleone Family gave you a big chunk of money to finish furnishing your hotel. And bankroll your casino. And because the Molinari Family on the Coast guaranteed his safety and gave you some service for taking him in. The Corleone Family and you are evened out. I don’t know what you’re getting sore about. We’ll buy your share at any reasonable price you name, what’s wrong with that? What’s unfair about that? With your casino losing money we’re doing you a favor.”
Greene shook his head. “The Corleone Family don’t have that much muscle anymore. The Godfather is sick. You’re getting chased out of New York by the other Families and you think you can find easier pickings here. I’ll give you some advice, Mike, don’t try.”
Michael said softly, “Is that why you thought you could slap Freddie around in public?”
Tom Hagen, startled, turned his attention to Freddie. Freddie Corleone’s face was getting red. “Ah, Mike, that wasn’t anything. Moe didn’t mean anything. He flies off the handle sometimes, but me and him are good friends. Right, Moe?”
Greene was wary. “Yeah, sure. Sometimes I got to kick asses to make this place run right. I got sore at Freddie because he was banging all the cocktail waitresses and letting them goof off on the job. We had a little argument and I straightened him out.”
Michael’s face was impassive when he said to his brother, “You straightened out, Freddie?”
Freddie stared sullenly at his younger brother. He didn’t answer. Greene laughed and said, “The son of a bitch was taking them to bed two at a time, the old sandwich job. Freddie, I gotta admit you really put it to those broads. Nobody else could make them happy after you got through with them.”
Hagen saw that this had caught Michael by surprise. They looked at each other. This was perhaps the real reason the Don was displeased with Freddie. The Don was straitlaced about sex. He would consider such cavorting by his son Freddie, two girls at a time, as degeneracy. Allowing himself to be physically humiliated by a man like Moe Greene would decrease respect for the Corleone Family. That too would be part of the reason for being in his father’s bad books.
Michael rising from his chair, said, in a tone of dismissal, “I have to get back to New York tomorrow, so think about your price.”
Greene said savagely, “You son of a bitch, you think you can just brush me off like that? I killed more men than you before I could jerk off. I’ll fly to New York and talk to the Don himself. I’ll make him an offer.”
Freddie said nervously to Tom Hagen, “Tom, you’re the Consigliere, you can talk to the Don and advise him.”
It was then that Michael turned the full chilly blast of his personality on the two Vegas men. “The Don has sort of semiretired,” he said. “I’m running the Family business now. And I’ve removed Tom from the Consigliere spot. He’ll be strictly my lawyer here in Vegas. He’ll be moving out with his family in a couple of months to get all the legal work started. So anything you have to say, say it to me.”
Nobody answered. Michael said formally, “Freddie, you’re my older brother, I have respect for you. But don’t ever take sides with anybody against the Family again. I won’t even mention it to the Don.” He turned to Moe Greene. “Don’t insult people who are trying to help you. You’d do better to use your energy to find out why the casino is losing money. The Corleone Family has big dough invested here and we’re not getting our money’s worth, but I still didn’t come here to abuse you. I offer a helping hand. Well, if you prefer to spit on that helping hand, that’s your business. I can’t say any more.”
He had not once raised his voice but his words had a sobering effect on both Greene and Freddie. Michael stared at both of them, moving away from the table to indicate that he expected them both to leave. Hagen went to the door and opened it. Both men left without saying good night.
* * *
The next morning Michael Corleone got the message from Moe Greene: he would not sell his share of the hotel at any price. It was Freddie who delivered the message. Michael shrugged and said to his brother, “I want to see Nino before I go back to New York.”
In Nino’s suite they found Johnny Fontane sitting on the couch eating breakfast. Jules was examining Nino behind the closed drapes of the bedroom. Finally the drapes were drawn back. Michael was shocked at how Nino looked. The man was visibly disintegrating. The eyes were dazed, the mouth loose, all the muscles of his face slack. Michael sat on his bedside and said, “Nino, it’s good to catch up with you. The Don always asks about you.”
Nino grinned, it was the old grin. “Tell him I’m dying. Tell him show business is more dangerous than the olive oil business.”
“You’ll be OK,” Michael said. “If there’s anything bothering you that the Family can help, just tell me.”
Nino shook his head. “There’s nothing,” he said. “Nothing.”
Michael chatted for a few more moments and then left. Freddie accompanied him and his party to the airport, but at Michael’s request didn’t hang around for departure time. As he boarded the plane with Tom Hagen and Al Neri, Michael turned to Neri and said, “Did you make him good?”
Neri tapped his forehead. “I got Moe Greene mugged and numbered up here.”