On the plane ride back to New York, Michael Corleone relaxed and tried to sleep. It was useless. The most terrible period of his life was approaching, perhaps even a fatal time. It could no longer be put off. Everything was in readiness, all precautions had been taken, two years of precautions. There could be no further delay. Last week when the Don had formally announced his retirement to the caporegimes and other members of the Corleone Family, Michael knew that this was his father’s way of telling him the time was ripe.
It was almost three years now since he had returned home and over two years since he had married Kay. The three years had been spent in learning the Family business. He had put in long hours with Tom Hagen, long hours with the Don. He was amazed at how wealthy and powerful the Corleone Family truly was. It owned tremendously valuable real estate in midtown New York, whole office buildings. It owned, through fronts, partnerships in two Wall Street brokerage houses, pieces of banks on Long Island, partnerships in some garment center firms, all this in addition to its illegal operations in gambling.
The most interesting thing Michael Corleone learned, in going back over past transactions of the Corleone Family, was that the Family had received some protection income shortly after the war from a group of music record counterfeiters. The counterfeiters duplicated and sold phonograph records of famous artists, packaging everything so skillfully they were never caught. Naturally on the records they sold to stores the artists and original production company received not a penny. Michael Corleone noticed that Johnny Fontane had lost a lot of money owing to this counterfeiting because at that time, just before he lost his voice, his records were the most popular in the country.
He asked Tom Hagen about it. Why did the Don allow the counterfeiters to cheat his godson? Hagen shrugged. Business was business. Besides, Johnny was in the Don’s bad graces, Johnny having divorced his childhood sweetheart to marry Margot Ashton. This had displeased the Don greatly.
“How come these guys stopped their operation?” Michael asked. “The cops got on to them?”
Hagen shook his head. “The Don withdrew his protection. That was right after Connie’s wedding.”
It was a pattern he was to see often, the Don helping those in misfortune whose misfortune he had partly created. Not perhaps out of cunning or planning but because of his variety of interests or perhaps because of the nature of the universe, the interlinking of good and evil, natural of itself.
Michael had married Kay up in New England, a quiet wedding, with only her family and a few of her friends present. Then they had moved into one of the houses on the mall in Long Beach. Michael was surprised at how well Kay got along with his parents and the other people living on the mall. And of course she had gotten pregnant right away, like a good, old-style Italian wife was supposed to, and that helped. The second kid on the way in two years was just icing.
Kay would be waiting for him at the airport, she always came to meet him, she was always so glad when he came back from a trip. And he was too. Except now. For the end of this trip meant that he finally had to take the action he had been groomed for over the last three years. The Don would be waiting for him. The caporegimes would be waiting for him. And he, Michael Corleone, would have to give the orders, make the decisions which would decide his and his Family’s fate.
* * *
Every morning when Kay Adams Corleone got up to take care of the baby’s early feeding, she saw Mama Corleone, the Don’s wife, being driven away from the mall by one of the bodyguards, to return an hour later. Kay soon learned that her mother-in-law went to church every single morning. Often on her return, the old woman stopped by for morning coffee and to see her new grandchild.
Mama Corleone always started off by asking Kay why she didn’t think of becoming a Catholic, ignoring the fact that Kay’s child had already been baptized a Protestant. So Kay felt it was proper to ask the old woman why she went to church every morning, whether that was a necessary part of being a Catholic.
As if she thought that this might have stopped Kay from converting the old woman said, “Oh, no, no, some Catholics only go to church on Easter and Christmas. You go when you feel like going.”
Kay laughed. “Then why do you go every single morning?”
In a completely natural way, Mama Corleone said, “I go for my husband,” she pointed down toward the floor, “so he don’t go down there.” She paused. “I say prayers for his soul every day so he go up there.” She pointed heavenward. She said this with an impish smile, as if she were subverting her husband’s will in some way, or as if it were a losing cause. It was said jokingly almost, in her grim, Italian, old crone fashion. And as always when her husband was not present, there was an attitude of disrespect to the great Don.
“How is your husband feeling?” Kay asked politely.
Mama Corleone shrugged. “He’s not the same man since they shot him. He lets Michael do all the work, he just plays the fool with his garden, his peppers, his tomatoes. As if he were some peasant still. But men are always like that.”
Later in the morning Connie Corleone would walk across the mall with her two children to pay Kay a visit and chat. Kay liked Connie, her vivaciousness, her obvious fondness for her brother Michael. Connie had taught Kay how to cook some Italian dishes but sometimes brought her own more expert concoctions over for Michael to taste.
Now this morning as she usually did, she asked Kay what Michael thought of her husband, Carlo. Did Michael really like Carlo, as he seemed to? Carlo had always had a little trouble with the Family but now over the last years he had straightened out. He was really doing well in the labor union but he had to work so hard, such long hours. Carlo really liked Michael, Connie always said. But then, everybody liked Michael, just as everybody liked her father. Michael was the Don all over again. It was the best thing that Michael was going to run the Family olive oil business.
Kay had observed before that when Connie spoke about her husband in relation to the Family, she was always nervously eager for some word of approval for Carlo. Kay would have been stupid if she had not noticed the almost terrified concern Connie had for whether Michael liked Carlo or not. One night she spoke to Michael about it and mentioned the fact that nobody ever spoke about Sonny Corleone, nobody even referred to him; at least not in her presence. Kay had once tried to express her condolences to the Don and his wife and had been listened to with almost rude silence and then ignored. She had tried to get Connie talking about her older brother without success.
Sonny’s wife, Sandra, had taken her children and moved to Florida, where her own parents now lived. Certain financial arrangements had been made so that she and her children could live comfortably, but Sonny had left no estate.
Michael reluctantly explained what had happened the night Sonny was killed. That Carlo had beaten his wife and Connie had called the mall and Sonny had taken the call and rushed out in a blind rage. So naturally Connie and Carlo were always nervous that the rest of the Family blamed her for indirectly causing Sonny’s death. Or blamed her husband, Carlo. But this wasn’t the case. The proof was that they had given Connie and Carlo a house in the mall itself and promoted Carlo to an important job in the labor union setup. And Carlo had straightened out, stopped drinking, stopped whoring, stopped trying to be a wise guy. The Family was pleased with his work and attitude for the last two years. Nobody blamed him for what had happened.
“Then why don’t you invite them over some evening and you can reassure your sister?” Kay said. “The poor thing is always so nervous about what you think of her husband. Tell her. And tell her to put those silly worries out of her head.”
“I can’t do that,” Michael said. “We don’t talk about those things in our family.”
“Do you want me to tell her what you’ve told me?” Kay said.
She was puzzled because he took such a long time thinking over a suggestion that was obviously the proper thing to do. Finally he said, “I don’t think you should, Kay. I don’t think it will do any good. She’ll worry anyway. It’s something nobody can do anything about.”
Kay was amazed. She realized that Michael was always a little colder to his sister Connie than he was to anyone else, despite Connie’s affection. “Surely you don’t blame Connie for Sonny being killed?” she said.
Michael sighed. “Of course not,” he said. “She’s my kid sister and I’m very fond of her. I feel sorry for her. Carlo straightened out, but he’s really the wrong kind of husband. It’s just one of those things. Let’s forget about it.”
It was not in Kay’s nature to nag; she let it drop. Also she had learned that Michael was not a man to push, that he could become coldly disagreeable. She knew she was the only person in the world who could bend his will, but she also knew that to do it too often would be to destroy that power. And living with him the last two years had made her love him more.
She loved him because he was always fair. An odd thing. But he always was fair to everybody around him, never arbitrary even in little things. She had observed that he was now a very powerful man, people came to the house to confer with him and ask favors, treating him with deference and respect but one thing had endeared him to her above everything else.
Ever since Michael had come back from Sicily with his broken face, everybody in the Family had tried to get him to undergo corrective surgery. Michael’s mother was after him constantly; one Sunday dinner with all the Corleones gathered on the mall she shouted at Michael, “You look like a gangster in the movies, get your face fixed for the sake of Jesus Christ and your poor wife. And so your nose will stop running like a drunken Irish.”
The Don, at the head of the table, watching everything, said to Kay, “Does it bother you?”
Kay shook her head. The Don said to his wife. “He’s out of your hands, it’s no concern of yours.” The old woman immediately held her peace. Not that she feared her husband but because it would have been disrespectful to dispute him in such a matter before the others.
But Connie, the Don’s favorite, came in from the kitchen, where she was cooking the Sunday dinner, her face flushed from the stove, and said, “I think he should get his face fixed. He was the most handsome one in the family before he got hurt. Come on, Mike, say you’ll do it.”
Michael looked at her in an absentminded fashion. It seemed as if he really and truly had not heard anything said. He didn’t answer.
Connie came to stand beside her father. “Make him do it,” she said to the Don. Her two hands rested affectionately on his shoulders and she rubbed his neck. She was the only one who was ever so familiar with the Don. Her affection for her father was touching. It was trusting, like a little girl’s. The Don patted one of her hands and said, “We’re all starving here. Put the spaghetti on the table and then chatter.”
Connie turned to her husband and said, “Carlo, you tell Mike to get his face fixed. Maybe he’ll listen to you.” Her voice implied that Michael and Carlo Rizzi had some friendly relationship over and above anyone else’s.
Carlo, handsomely sunburned, blond hair neatly cut and combed, sipped at his glass of homemade wine and said, “Nobody can tell Mike what to do.” Carlo had become a different man since moving into the mall. He knew his place in the Family and kept to it.
There was something that Kay didn’t understand in all this, something that didn’t quite meet the eye. As a woman she could see that Connie was deliberately charming her father, though it was beautifully done and even sincere. Yet it was not spontaneous. Carlo’s reply had been a manly knuckling of his forehead. Michael had absolutely ignored everything.
Kay didn’t care about her husband’s disfigurement but she worried about his sinus trouble which sprang from it. Surgery repair of the face would cure the sinus also. For that reason she wanted Michael to enter the hospital and get the necessary work done. But she understood that in a curious way he desired his disfigurement. She was sure that the Don understood this too.
But after Kay gave birth to her first child, she was surprised by Michael asking her, “Do you want me to get my face fixed?”
Kay nodded. “You know how kids are, your son will feel bad about your face when he gets old enough to understand it’s not normal. I just don’t want our child to see it. I don’t mind at all, honestly, Michael.”
“OK.” He smiled at her. “I’ll do it.”
He waited until she was home from the hospital and then made all the necessary arrangements. The operation was successful. The cheek indentation was now just barely noticeable.
Everybody in the Family was delighted, but Connie more so than anyone. She visited Michael every day in the hospital, dragging Carlo along. When Michael came home, she gave him a big hug and a kiss and looked at him admiringly and said, “Now you’re my handsome brother again.”
Only the Don was unimpressed, shrugging his shoulders and remarking, “What’s the difference?”
But Kay was grateful. She knew that Michael had done it against all his own inclinations. Had done it because she had asked him to, and that she was the only person in the world who could make him act against his own nature.
* * *
On the afternoon of Michael’s return from Vegas, Rocco Lampone drove the limousine to the mall to pick up Kay so that she could meet her husband at the airport. She always met her husband when he arrived from out of town, mostly because she felt lonely without him, living as she did in the fortified mall.
She saw him come off the plane with Tom Hagen and the new man he had working for him, Albert Neri. Kay didn’t care much for Neri, he reminded her of Luca Brasi in his quiet ferociousness. She saw Neri drop behind Michael and off to the side, saw his quick penetrating glance as his eyes swept over everybody nearby. It was Neri who first spotted Kay and touched Michael’s shoulder to make him look in the proper direction.
Kay ran into her husband’s arms and he quickly kissed her and let her go. He and Tom Hagen and Kay got into the limousine and Albert Neri vanished. Kay did not notice that Neri had gotten into another car with two other men and that this car rode behind the limousine until it reached Long Beach.
Kay never asked Michael how his business had gone. Even such polite questions were understood to be awkward, not that he wouldn’t give her an equally polite answer, but it would remind them both of the forbidden territory their marriage could never include. Kay didn’t mind anymore. But when Michael told her he would have to spend the evening with his father to tell him about the Vegas trip, she couldn’t help making a little frown of disappointment.
“I’m sorry,” Michael said. “Tomorrow night we’ll go into New York and see a show and have dinner, OK?” He patted her stomach, she was almost seven months pregnant. “After the kid comes you’ll be tied down again. Hell, you’re more Italian than Yankee. Two kids in two years.”
Kay said tartly, “And you’re more Yankee than Italian. Your first evening home and you spend it on business.” But she smiled at him when she said it. “You won’t be home late?”
“Before midnight,” Michael said. “Don’t wait up for me if you feel tired.”
“I’ll wait up,” Kay said.
* * *
At the meeting that night, in the corner room library of Don Corleone’s house, were the Don himself, Michael, Tom Hagen, Carlo Rizzi, and the two caporegimes, Clemenza and Tessio.
The atmosphere of the meeting was by no means so congenial as in former days. Ever since Don Corleone had announced his semiretirement and Michael’s take-over of the Family business, there had been some strain. Succession in control of such an enterprise as the Family was by no means hereditary. In any other Family powerful caporegimes such as Clemenza and Tessio might have succeeded to the position of Don. Or at least they might have been allowed to split off and form their own Family.
Then, too, ever since Don Corleone had made the peace with the Five Families, the strength of the Corleone Family had declined. The Barzini Family was now indisputably the most powerful one in the New York area; allied as they were to the Tattaglias, they now held the position the Corleone Family had once held. Also they were slyly whittling down the power of the Corleone Family, muscling into their gambling areas, testing the Corleones’ reactions and, finding them weak, establishing their own bookmakers.
The Barzinis and Tattaglias were delighted with the Don’s retirement. Michael, formidable as he might prove to be, could never hope to equal the Don in cunning and influence for at least another decade. The Corleone Family was definitely in a decline.
It had, of course, suffered serious misfortunes. Freddie had proved to be nothing more than an innkeeper and ladies’ man, the idiom for ladies’ man untranslatable but connotating a greedy infant always at its mother’s nipple— in short, unmanly. Sonny’s death too, had been a disaster. Sonny had been a man to be feared, not to be taken lightly. Of course he had made a mistake in sending his younger brother, Michael, to kill the Turk and the police captain. Though necessary in a tactical sense, as a long-term strategy it proved to be a serious error. It had forced the Don, eventually, to rise from his sickbed. It had deprived Michael of two years of valuable experience and training under his father’s tutelage. And of course an Irish as a Consigliere had been the only foolishness the Don had ever perpetrated. No Irishman could hope to equal a Sicilian for cunning. So went the opinion of all the Families and they were naturally more respectful to the Barzini-Tattaglia alliance than to the Corleones. Their opinion of Michael was that he was not equal to Sonny in force though more intelligent certainly, but not as intelligent as his father. A mediocre successor and a man not to be feared too greatly.
Also, though the Don was generally admired for his statesmanship in making the peace, the fact that he had not avenged Sonny’s murder lost the Family a great deal of respect. It was recognized that such statesmanship sprang out of weakness.
All this was known to the men sitting in the room and perhaps even believed by a few. Carlo Rizzi liked Michael but did not fear him as he had feared Sonny. Clemenza, too, though he gave Michael credit for a bravura performance with the Turk and the police captain, could not help thinking Michael too soft to be a Don. Clemenza had hoped to be glven permission to form his own Family, to have his own empire split away from the Corleone. But the Don had indicated that this was not to be and Clemenza respected the Don too much to disobey. Unless of course the whole situation became intolerable.
Tessio had a better opinion of Michael. He sensed something else in the young man: a force cleverly kept hidden, a man jealously guarding his true strength from public gaze, following the Don’s precept that a friend should always underestimate your virtues and an enemy overestimate your faults.
The Don himself and Tom Hagen were of course under no illusions about Michael. The Don would never have retired if he had not had absolute faith in his son’s ability to retrieve the Family position. Hagen had been Michael’s teacher for the last two years and was amazed at how quickly Michael grasped all the intricacies of the Family business. Truly his father’s son.
Clemenza and Tessio were annoyed with Michael because he had reduced the strength of their regimes and had never reconstituted Sonny’s regime. The Corleone Family, in effect, had now only two fighting divisions with less personnel than formerly. Clemenza and Tessio considered this suicidal, especially with the Barzini-Tattaglia encroachments on their empires. So now they were hopeful these errors might be corrected at this extraordinary meeting convened by the Don.
Michael started off by telling them about his trip to Vegas and Moe Greene’s refusing the offer to buy him out. “But we’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse,” Michael said. “You already know the Corleone Family plans to move its operations West. We’ll have four of the hotel casinos on the Strip. But it can’t be right away. We need time to get things straightened out.” He spoke directly to Clemenza. “Pete, you and Tessio, I want you to go along with me for a year without questioning and without reservations. At the end of that year, both of you can split off from the Corleone Family and be your own bosses, have your own Families. Of course it goes without saying we’d maintain our friendship, I wouldn’t insult you and your respect for my father by thinking otherwise for a minute. But up until that time l want you just to follow my lead and don’t worry. There are negotiations going on that will solve problems that you think are not solvable. So just be a little patient.”
Tessio spoke up. “If Moe Greene wanted to talk to your father, why not let him? The Don could always persuade anybody, there was never anyone who could stand up to his reasonableness.”
The Don answered this directly. “I’ve retired, Michael would lose respect if I interfered. And besides that’s a man I’d rather not talk to.”
Tessio remembered the stories he’d heard about Moe Greene slapping Freddie Corleone around one night in the Vegas hotel. He began to smell a rat. He leaned back. Moe Greene was a dead man, he thought. The Corleone Family did not wish to persuade him.
Carlo Rizzi spoke up. “Is the Corleone Family going to stop operating in New York altogether?”
Michael nodded. “We’re selling the olive oil business. Everything we can, we turn over to Tessio and Clemenza. But, Carlo, I don’t want you to worry about your job. You grew up in Nevada, you know the state, you know the people. I’m counting on you being my right-hand man when we make our move out there.”
Carlo leaned back, his face flushed with gratification. His time was coming, he would move in the constellations of power.
Michael went on. “Tom Hagen is no longer the Consigliere. He’s going to be our lawyer in Vegas. In about two months he’ll move out there permanently with his family. Strictly as a lawyer. Nobody goes to him with any other business as of now, this minute. He’s a lawyer and that’s all. No reflection on Tom. That’s the way I want it. Besides, if I ever need any advice, who’s a better counselor than my father?” They all laughed. But they had gotten the message despite the joke. Tom Hagen was out; he no longer held any power. They all took their fleeting glances to check Hagen’s reaction but his face was impassive.
Clemenza spoke up in his fat man’s wheeze. “Then in a year’s time we’re on our own, is that it?”
“Maybe less,” Michael said courteously. “Of course you can always remain part of the Family, that’s your choice. But most of our strength will be out West and maybe you’d do better organized on your own.”
Tessio said quietly, “In that case I think you should give us permission to recruit new men for our regimes. Those Barzini bastards keep chiseling in on my territory. I think maybe it would be wise to teach them a little lesson in manners.”
Michael shook his head. “No. No good. Just stay still. All that stuff will be negotiated, everything will be straightened out before we leave.”
Tessio was not to be so easily satisfied. He spoke to the Don directly, taking a chance on incurring Michael’s ill will. “Forgive me, Godfather, let our years of friendship be my excuse. But I think you and your son are all wrong with this Nevada business. How can you hope for success there without your strength here to back you up? The two go hand in hand. And with you gone from here the Barzini and the Tattaglia will be too strong for us. Me and Pete will have trouble, we’ll come under their thumb sooner or later. And Barzini is a man not to my taste. I say the Corleone Family has to make its move from strength, not from weakness. We should build up our regimes and take back our lost territories in Staten Island at least.”
The Don shook his head. “I made the peace, remember, I can’t go back on my word.”
Tessio refused to be silenced. “Everybody knows Bartini gave you provocation since then. And besides, if Michael is the new chief of the Corleone Family, what’s to stop him from taking any action he sees fit? Your word doesn’t strictly bind him.”
Michael broke in sharply. He said to Tessio, very much the chief now, “There are things being negotiated which will answer your questions and resolve your doubts. If my word isn’t enough for you, ask your Don.”
But Tessio understood he had finally gone too far. If he dared to question the Don he would make Michael, his enemy. So he shrugged and said, “I spoke for the good of the Family, not for myself. I can take care of myself.”
Michael gave him a friendly smile. “Tessio, I never doubt you in any way. I never did. But trust in me. Of course I’m not equal to you and Pete in these things, but after all I’ve my father to guide me. I won’t do too badly, we’ll all come out fine.”
The meeting was over. The big news was that Clemenza and Tessio would be permitted to form their own Families from their regimes. Tessio would have his gambling and docks in Brooklyn, Clemenza the gambling in Manhattan and the Family contacts in the racing tracks of Long Island.
The two caporegimes left not quite satisfied, still a little uneasy. Carlo Rizzi lingered hoping that the time had come when he finally would be treated as one of the family, but he quickly saw that Michael was not of that mind. He left the Don, Tom Hagen and Michael alone in the corner library room. Albert Neri ushered him out of the house and Carlo noticed that Neri stood in the doorway watching him walk across the floodlit mall.
In the library the three men had relaxed as only people can who have lived years together in the same house, in the same family. Michael served some anisette to the Don and scotch to Tom Hagen. He took a drink for himself, which he rarely did.
Tom Hagen spoke up first. “Mike, why are you cutting me out of the action?”
Michael seemed surprised. “You’ll be my number one man in Vegas. We’ll be legitimate all the way and you’re the legal man. What can be more important than that?”
Hagen smiled a little sadly. “I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about Rocco Lampone building a secret regime without my knowledge. I’m talking about you dealing direct with Neri rather than through me or a caporegime. Unless of course you don’t know what Lampone’s doing.”
Michael said softly, “How did you find out about Lampone’s regime?”
Hagen shrugged. “Don’t worry, there’s no leak, nobody else knows. But in my position I can see what’s happening. You gave Lampone his own living, you gave him a lot of freedom. So he needs people to help him in his little empire. But everybody he recruits has to be reported to me. And I notice everybody he puts on the payroll is a little too good for that particular job, is getting a little more money than that particular exercise is worth. You picked the right man when you picked Lampone, by the way. He’s operating perfectly.”
Michael grimaced. “Not so damn perfect if you noticed. Anyway the Don picked Lampone.”
“OK,” Tom said, “so why am I cut out of the action?”
Michael faced him and without flinching gave it to him straight. “Tom, you’re not a wartime Consigliere. Things may get tough with this move we’re trying to make and we may have to fight. And I want to get you out of the line of fire too, just in case.”
Hagen’s face reddened. If the Don had told him the same thing, he would have accepted it humbly. But where the hell did Mike come off making such a snap judgment?
“OK,” he said, “but I happen to agree with Tessio. I think you’re going about this all wrong. You’re making the move out of weakness, not strength. That’s always bad. Barzini is like a wolf, and if he tears you limb from limb, the other Families won’t come rushing to help the Corleones.”
The Don finally spoke. “Tom, it’s not just Michael. I advised him on these matters. There are things that may have to be done that I don’t want in any way to be responsible for. That is my wish, not Michael’s. I never thought you were a bad Consigliere, I thought Santino a bad Don, may his soul rest in peace. He had a good heart but he wasn’t the right man to head the Family when I had my little misfortune. And who would have thought that Fredo would become a lackey of women? So don’t feel badly. Michael has all my confidence as you do. For reasons which you can’t know, you must have no part in what may happen. By the way, I told Michael that Lampone’s secret regime would not escape your eye. So that shows I have faith in you.”
Michael laughed. “I honestly didn’t think you’d pick that up, Tom.”
Hagen knew he was being mollified. “Maybe I can help,” he said.
Michael shook his head decisively. “You’re out, Tom.”
Tom finished his drink and before he left he gave Michael a mild reproof. “You’re nearly as good as your father,” he told Michael. “But there’s one thing you still have to learn.”
“What’s that?” Michael said politely.
“How to say no,” Hagen answered.
Michael nodded gravely. “You’re right,” he said. “I’ll remember that.”
When Hagen had left, Michael said jokingly to his father, “So you’ve taught me everything else. Tell me how to say no to people in a way they’ll like.”
The Don moved to sit behind the big desk. “You cannot say ‘no’ to the people you love, not often. That’s the secret. And then when you do, it has to sound like a ‘yes.’ Or you have to make them say ‘no.’ You have to take time and trouble. But I’m old-fashioned, you’re the new modern generation, don’t listen to me.”
Michael laughed. “Right. You agree about Tom being out, though, don’t you?”
The Don nodded. “He can’t be involved in this.”
Michael said quietly, “I think it’s time for me to tell you that what I’m going to do is not purely out of vengeance for Apollonia and Sonny. It’s the right thing to do. Tessio and Tom are right about the Barzinis.”
Don Corleone nodded. “Revenge is a dish that tastes best when it is cold,” he said. “I would not have made that peace but that I knew you would never come home alive otherwise. I’m surprised, though, that Barzini still made a last try at you. Maybe it was arranged before the peace talk and he couldn’t stop it. Are you sure they were not after Don Tommasino?”
Michael said, “That’s the way it was supposed to look. And it would have been perfect, even you would never have suspected. Except that I came out alive. I saw Fabrizzio going through the gate, running away. And of course I’ve checked it all out since I’ve been back.”
“Have they found that shepherd?” the Don asked.
“I found him,” Michael said. “I found him a year ago. He’s got his own little pizza place up in Buffalo. New name, phony passport and identification. He’s doing very well is Fabrizzio the shepherd.”
The Don nodded. “So it’s to no purpose to wait any longer. When will you start?”
Michael said, “I want to wait until after Kay has the baby. Just in case anything goes wrong. And I want Tom settled in Vegas so he won’t be concerned in the affair. I think a year from now.”
“You’ve prepared for everything?” the Don asked. He did not look at Michael when he said this.
Michael said gently, “You have no part. You’re not responsible. I take all responsibility. I would refuse to let you even veto. If you tried to do that now, I would leave the Family and go my own way. You’re not responsible.”
The Don was silent for a long time and then he sighed. He said, “So be it. Maybe that’s why I retired, maybe that’s why I’ve turned everything over to you. I’ve done my share in life, I haven’t got the heart anymore. And there are some duties the best of men can’t assume. That’s it then.”
During that year Kay Adams Corleone was delivered of a second child, another boy. She delivered easily, without any trouble whatsoever, and was welcomed back to the mall like a royal princess. Connie Corleone presented the baby with a silk layette handmade in Italy, enormously expensive and beautiful. She told Kay, “Carlo found it. He shopped all over New York to get something extra special after I couldn’t find anything I really liked.” Kay smiled her thanks, understood immediately that she was to tell Michael this fine tale. She was on her way to becoming a Sicilian.
Also during that year, Nino Valenti died of a cerebral hemorrhage. His death made the front pages of the tabloids because the movie Johnny Fontane had featured him in had opened a few weeks before and was a smash hit, establishing Nino as a major star. The papers mentioned that Johnny Fontane was handling the funeral arrangements, that the funeral would be private, only family and close friends to attend. One sensational story even claimed that in an interview Johnny Fontane had blamed himself for his friend’s death, that he should have forced his friend to place himself under medical care, but the reporter made it sound like the usual self-reproach of the sensitive but innocent bystander to a tragedy. Johnny Fontane had made his childhood friend, Nino Valenti, a movie star and what more could a friend do?
No member of the Corleone Family attended the California funeral except Freddie. Lucy and Jules Segal attended. The Don himself had wanted to go to California but had suffered a slight heart attack, which kept him in his bed for a month. He sent a huge floral wreath instead. Albert Neri was also sent West as the official representative of the Family.
Two days after Nino’s funeral, Moe Greene was shot to death in the Hollywood home of his movie-star mistress; Albert Neri did not reappear in New York until almost a month later. He had taken his vacation in the Caribbean and returned to duty tanned almost black. Michael Corleone welcomed him with a smile and a few words of praise, which included the information that Neri would from then on receive an extra “living,” the Family income from an East Side “book” considered especially rich. Neri was content, satisfied that he lived in a world that properly rewarded a man who did his duty.