On that same day two limousines parked on the Long Beach mall. One of the big cars waited to take Connie Corleone, her mother, her husband and her two children to the airport. The Carlo Rizzi family was to take a vacation in Las Vegas in preparation for their permanent move to that city. Michael had given Carlo the order, over Connie’s protests. Michael had not bothered to explain that he wanted everyone out of the mall before the Corleone-Barzini Families’ meeting. Indeed the meeting itself was top secret. The only ones who knew about it were the capos of the Family.
The other limousine was for Kay and her children, who were being driven up to New Hampshire for a visit with her parents. Michael would have to stay in the mall; he had affairs too pressing to leave.
The night before Michael had also sent word to Carlo Rizzi that he would require his presence on the mall for a few days, that he could join his wife and children later that week. Connie had been furious. She had tried to get Michael on the phone, but he had gone into the city. Now her eyes were searching the mall for him, but he was closeted with Tom Hagen and not to be disturbed. Connie kissed Carlo good-bye when he put her in the limousine. “If you don’t come out there in two days, I’ll come back to get you,” she threatened him.
He gave her a polite husbandly smile of sexual complicity. “I’ll be there,” he said.
She hung out the window. “What do you think Michael wants you for?” she asked. Her worried frown made her look old and unattractive.
Carlo shrugged. “He’s been promising me a big deal. Maybe that’s what he wants to talk about. That’s what he hinted anyway.” Carlo did not know of the meeting scheduled with the Barzini Family for that night.
Connie said eagerly, “Really, Carlo?”
Carlo nodded at her reassuringly. The limousine moved off through the gates of the mall.
It was only after the first limousine had left that Michael appeared to say good-bye to Kay and his own two children. Carlo also came over and wished Kay a good trip and a good vacation. Finally the second limousine pulled away and went through the gate.
Michael said, “I’m sorry I had to keep you here, Carlo. It won’t be more than a couple of days.”
Carlo said quickly, “I don’t mind at all.”
“Good,” Michael said. “Just stay by your phone and I’ll call you when I’m ready for you. I have to get some other dope before. OK?”
“Sure, Mike, sure,” Carlo said. He went into his own house, made a phone call to the mistress he was discreetly keeping in Westbury, promising he would try to get to her late that night. Then he got set with a bottle of rye and waited. He waited a long time. Cars started coming through the gate shortly after noontime. He saw Clemenza get out of one, and then a little later Tessio came out of another. Both of them were admitted to Michael’s house by one of the bodyguards. Clemenza left after a few hours, but Tessio did not reappear.
Carlo took a breath of fresh air around the mall, not more than ten minutes. He was familiar with all the guards who pulled duty on the mall, was even friendly with some of them. He thought he might gossip a bit to pass the time. But to his surprise none of the guards today were men he knew. They were all strangers to him. Even more surprising, the man in charge at the gate was Rocco Lampone, and Carlo knew that Rocco was of too high a rank is the Family to be pulling such menial duty unless something extraordinary was afoot.
Rocco gave him a friendly smile and hello. Carlo was wary. Rocco said, “Hey, I thought you were going an vacation with the Don?”
Carlo shrugged. “Mike wanted me to stick around for a couple of days. He has something for me to do.”
“Yeah,” Rocco Lampone said. “Me too. Then he tells me to keep a check on the gate. Well, what the hell, he’s the boss.” His tones implied that Michael was not the man his father was; a bit derogatory.
Carlo ignored the tone. “Mike knows what he’s doing,” he said. Rocco accepted the rebuke in silence. Carlo said so long and walked back to the house. Something was up, but Rocco didn’t know what it was.
* * *
Michael stood in the window of his living room and watched Carlo strolling around the mall. Hagen brought him a drink, strong brandy. Michael sipped at it gratefully. Behind him, Hagen said, gently, “Mike, you have to start moving. It’s time.”
Michael sighed. “I wish it weren’t so soon. I wish the old man had lasted a little longer.”
“Nothing will go wrong,” Hagen said. “If I didn’t tumble, then nobody did. You set it up real good.”
Michael turned away from the window. “The old man planned a lot of it. I never realized how smart he was. But I guess you know.”
“Nobody like him,” Hagen said. “But this is beautiful. This is the best. So you can’t be too bad either.”
“Let’s see what happens,” Michael said. “Are Tessio and Clemenza on the mall?”
Hagen nodded. Michael finished the brandy in his glass. “Send Clemenza in to me. I’ll instruct him personally. I don’t want to see Tessio at all. Just tell him I’ll be ready to go to the Barzini meeting with him in about a half hour. Clemenza’s people will take care of him after that.”
Hagen said in a noncommittal voice, “There’s no way to let Tessio off the hook?”
“No way,” Michael said.
* * *
Upstate in the city of Buffalo, a small pizza parlor on a side street was doing a rush trade. As the lunch hours passed, business finally slackened off and the counterman took his round tin tray with its few leftover slices out of the window and put it on the shelf on the huge brick oven. He peeked into the oven at a pie baking there. The cheese had not yet started to bubble. When he turned back to the counter that enabled him to serve people in the street, there was a young, tough-looking man standing there. The man said, “Gimme a slice.”
The pizza counterman took his wooden shovel and scooped one of the cold slices into the oven to warm it up. The customer, instead of waiting outside, decided to come through the door and be served. The store was empty now. The counterman opened the oven and took out the hot slice and served it on a paper plate. But the customer, instead of giving the money for it, was staring at him intently.
“I hear you got a great tattoo on your chest,” the customer said. “I can see the top of it over your shirt, how about letting me see the rest of it?”
The counterman froze. He seemed to be paralyzed.
“Open your shirt,” the customer said.
The counterman shook his head. “I got no tattoo,” he said in heavily accented English. “That’s the man who works at night.”
The customer laughed. It was an unpleasant laugh, harsh, strained. “Come on, unbutton your shirt, let me see.”
The counterman started backing toward the rear of the store, aiming to edge around the huge oven. But the customer raised his hand above the counter. There was a gun in it. He fired. The bullet caught the counterman in the chest and hurled him against the oven. The customer fired into his body again and the counterman slumped to the floor. The customer came around the serving shelf, reached down and ripped the buttons off the shirt. The chest was covered with blood, but the tattoo was visible, the intertwined lovers and the knife transfixing them. The counterman raised one of his arms feebly as if to protect himself. The gunman said, “Fabrizzio, Michael Corleone sends you his regards.” He extended the gun so that it was only a few inches from the counterman’s skull and pulled the trigger. Then he walked out of the store. At the curb a car was waiting for him with its door open. He jumped in and the car sped off.
Rocco Lampone answered the phone installed on one of the iron pillars of the gate. He heard someone saying, “Your package is ready,” and the click as the caller hung up. Rocco got into his car and drove out of the mall. He crossed the Jones Beach Causeway, the same causeway on which Sonny Corleone had been killed, and drove out to the railroad station of Wantagh. He parked his car there. Another car was waiting for him with two men in it. They drove to a motel ten minutes farther out on Sunrise Highway and turned into its courtyard. Rocco Lampone, leaving his two men in the car, went to one of the little chalet-type bungalows. One kick sent its door flying off its hinges and Rocco sprang into the room.
Phillip Tattaglia, seventy years old and naked as a baby, stood over a bed on which lay a young girl. Phillip Tattaglia’s thick head of hair was jet black, but the plumage of his crotch was steel gray. His body had the soft plumpness of a bird. Rocco pumped four bullets into him, all in the belly. Then he turned and ran back to the car. The two men dropped him off in the Wantagh station. He picked up his car and drove back to the mall. He went in to see Michael Corleone for a moment and then came out and took up his position at the gate.
* * *
Albert Neri, alone in his apartment, finished getting his uniform ready. Slowly he put it on, trousers, shirt, tie and jacket, holster and gunbelt. He had turned in his gun when he was suspended from the force, but, through some administrative oversight they had not made him give up his shield. Clemenza had supplied him with a new.38 Police Special that could not be traced. Neri broke it down, oiled it, checked the hammer, put it together again, clicked the trigger. He loaded the cylinders and was set to go.
He put the policeman’s cap in a heavy paper bag and then put a civilian overcoat on to cover his uniform. He checked his watch. Fifteen minutes before the car would be waiting for him downstairs. He spent the fifteen minutes checking himself in the mirror. There was no question. He looked like a real cop.
The car was waiting with two of Rocco Lampone’s men in front. Neri got into the back seat. As the car started downtown, after they had left the neighborhood of his apartment, he shrugged off the civilian overcoat and left it on the floor of the car. He ripped open the paper bag and put the police officer’s cap on his head.
At 55th Street and Fifth Avenue the car pulled over to the curb and Neri got out. He started walking down the avenue. He had a queer feeling being back in uniform, patrolling the streets as he had done so many times. There were crowds of people. He walked downtown until he was in front of Rockefeller Center, across the way from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. On his side of Fifth Avenue he spotted the limousine he was looking for. It was parked, nakedly alone between a whole string of red NO PARKING and No STANDING signs. Neri slowed his pace. He was too early. He stopped to write something in his summons book and then kept walking. He was abreast of the limousine. He tapped its fender with his nightstick. The driver looked up in surprise. Neri pointed to the NO STANDING sign with his stick and motioned the driver to move his car. The driver turned his head away.
Neri walked out into the street so that he was standing by the driver’s open window. The driver was a tough-looking hood, just the kind he loved to break up. Neri said with deliberate insultingness, “OK, wise guy, you want me to stick a summons up your ass or do you wanta get moving?”
The driver said impassively, “You better check with your precinct. Just give me the ticket if it’ll make you feel happy.”
“Get the hell out of here,” Neri said, “or I’ll drag you out of that car and break your ass.”
The driver made a ten-dollar bill appear by some sort of magic, folded it into a little square using just one hand, attd tried to shove it inside Neri’s blouse. Neri moved back onto the sidewalk and crooked his finger at the driver. The driver came out of the car.
“Let me see your license and registration,” Neri said. He had been hoping to get the driver to go around the block but there was no hope for that now. Out of the corner of his eye, Neri saw three short, heavyset men coming down the steps of the Plaza building, coming down toward the street. It was Barzini himself and his two bodyguards, on their way to meet Michael Corleone. Even as he saw this, one of the bodyguards peeled off to come ahead and see what was wrong with Barzini’s car.
This man asked the driver, “What’s up?”
The driver said curtly, “I’m getting a ticket, no sweat. This guy must be new in the precinct.”
At that moment Barzini came up with his other bodyguard. He growled, “What the hell is wrong now?”
Neri finished writing in his summons book and gave the driver back his registration and license. Then he put his summons book back in his hip pocket and with the forward motion of his hand drew the.38 Special.
He put three bullets in Barzini’s barrel chest before the other three men unfroze enough to dive for cover. By that time Neri had darted into the crowd and around the corner where the car was waiting for him. The car sped up to Ninth Avenue and turned downtown. Near Chelsea Park, Neri, who had discarded the cap and put on the overcoat and changed clothing, transferred to another car that was waiting for him. He had left the gun and the police uniform in the other car. It would be gotten rid of. An hour later he was safely in the mall on Long Beach and talking to Michael Corleone.
* * *
Tessio was waiting in the kitchen of the old Don’s house and was sipping at a cup of coffee when Tom Hagen came for him. “Mike is ready for you now,” Hagen said. “You better make your call to Barzini and tell him to start on his way.”
Tessio rose and went to the wall phone. He dialed Barzini’s office in New York and said curtly, “We’re on our way to Brooklyn.” He hung up and smiled at Hagen. “I hope Mike can get us a good deal tonight.”
Hagen said gravely, “I’m sure he will.” He escorted Tessio out of the kitchen and onto the mall. They walked toward Michael’s house. At the door they were stopped by one of the bodyguards. “The boss says he’ll come in a separate car. He says for you two to go on ahead.”
Tessio frowned and turned to Hagen. “Hell, he can’t do that; that screws up all my arrangements.”
At that moment three more bodyguards materialized around them. Hagen said gently, “I can’t go with you either, Tessio.”
The ferret-faced caporegime understood everything in a flash of a second. And accepted it. There was a moment of physical weakness, and then he recovered. He said to Hagen, “Tell Mike it was business, I always liked him.”
Hagen nodded. “He understands that.”
Tessio paused for a moment and then said softly, “Tom, can you get me off the hook? For old times’ sake?”
Hagen shook his head. “I can’t,” he said.
He watched Tessio being surrounded by bodyguards and led into a waiting car. He felt a little sick. Tessio had been the best soldier in the Corleone Family; the old Don had relied on him more than any other man with the exception of Luca Brasi. It was too bad that so intelligent a man had made such a fatal error in judgment so late in life.
* * *
Carlo Rizzi, still waiting for his interview with Michael, became jittery with all the arrivals and departures. Obviously something big was going on and it looked as if he were going to be left out. Impatiently he called Michael on the phone. One of the house bodyguards answered, went to get Michael, and came back with the message that Michael wanted him to sit tight, that he would get to him soon.
Carlo called up his mistress again and told her he was sure he would be able to take her to a late supper and spend the night. Michael had said he would call him sin, whatever he had planned couldn’t take more than an hour, or two. Then it would take him about forty minutes to drive to Westbury. It could be done. He promised her he would do it and sweet-talked her into not being sore. When he hung up he decided to get properly dressed so as to save time afterward. He had just slipped into a fresh shirt when there was a knock on the door. He reasoned quickly that Mike had tried to get him on the phone and had kept getting a busy signal so had simply sent a messenger to call him. Carlo went to the door and opened it. He felt his whole body go weak with terrible sickening fear. Standing in the doorway was Michael Corleone, his face the face of that death Carlo Rizzi saw often in his dreams.
Behind Michael Corleone were Hagen and Rocco Lampone. They looked grave, like people who had come with the utmost reluctance to give a friend bad news. The three of them entered the house and Carlo Rizzi led them into the living room. Recovered from his first shock, he thought that he had suffered an attack of nerves. Michael’s words made him really sick, physically nauseous.
“You have to answer for Santino,” Michael said.
Carlo didn’t answer, pretended not to understand. Hagen and Lampone had split away to opposite walls of the room. He and Michael faced each other.
“You fingered Sonny for the Barzini people,” Michael said, his voice flat. “That little farce you played out with my sister, did Barzini kid you that would fool a Corleone?”
Carlo Rizzi spoke out of his terrible fear, without dignity, without any kind of pride. “I swear I’m innocent. I swear on the head of my children I’m innocent. Mike, don’t do this to me, please, Mike, don’t do this to me.”
Michael said quietly, “Barzini is dead. So is Phillip Tattaglia. I want to square all the Family accounts tonight. So don’t tell me you’re innocent. It would be better for you to admit what you did.”
Hagen and Lampone stared at Michael with astonishment. They were thinking that Michael was not yet the man his father was. Why try to get this traitor to admit guilt? That guilt was already proven as much as such a thing could be proven. The answer was obvious. Michael still was not that confident of his right, still feared being unjust, still worried about that fraction of an uncertainty that only a confession by Carlo Rizzi could erase.
There was still no answer. Michael said almost kindly, “Don’t be so frightened. Do you think I’d make my sister a widow? Do you think I’d make my nephews fatherless? After all I’m Godfather to one of your kids. No, your punishment will be that you won’t be allowed any work with the Family. I’m putting you on a plane to Vegas to join your wife and kids and then I want you to stay there. I’ll send Connie an allowance. That’s all. But don’t keep saying you’re innocent, don’t insult my intelligence and make me angry. Who approached you, Tattaglia or Barzini?”
Carlo Rizzi in his anguished hope for life, in the sweet flooding relief that he was not going to be killed, murmured, “Barzini.”
“Good, good,” Michael said softly. He beckoned with his right hand. “I want you to leave now. There’s a car waiting to take you to the airport.”
Carlo went out the door first, the other three men very close to him. It was night now, but the mail as usual was bright with floodlights. A car pulled up. Carlo saw it was his own car. He didn’t recognize the driver. There was someone sitting in the back but on the far side. Lampone opened the front door and motioned to Carlo to get in. Michael said, “I’ll call your wife and tell her you’re on your way down.” Carlo got into the car. His silk shirt was soaked with sweat.
The car pulled away, moving swiftly toward the gate. Carlo started to turn his head to see if he knew the man sitting behind him. At that moment, Clemenza, as cunningly and daintily as a little girl slipping a ribbon over the head of a kitten, threw his garrot around Carlo Rizzis neck. The smooth rope cut into the skin with Clemenza’s powerful yanking throttle, Carlo Rizzi’s body went leaping into the air like a fish on a line, but Clemenza held him fast, tightening the garrot until the body went slack. Suddenly there was a foul odor in the air of the car. Carlo’s body, sphincter released by approaching death, had voided itself. Clemenza kept the garrot tight for another few minutes to make sure, then released the rope and put it back in his pocket. He relaxed himself against the seat cushions as Carlo’s body slumped against the door. After a few moments Clemenza rolled the window down to let out the stink.
The victory of the Corleone Family was complete. During that same twenty-four-hour period Clemenza and Lampone turned loose their regimes and punished the infiltrators of the Corleone domains. Neri was sent to take command of the Tessio regime. Barzini bookmakers were put out of business; two of the highest-ranking Barzini enforcers were shot to death as they were peaceably picking their teeth over dinner in an Italian restaurant on Mulberry Street. A notorious fixer of trotting races was also killed as he returned home from a winning night at the track. Two of the biggest shylocks on the waterfront disappeared, to be found months later in the New Jersey swamps.
With this one savage attack, Michael Corleone made his reputation and restored the Corleone Family to its primary place in the New York Families. He was respected not only for his tactical brillance but because some of the most important caporegimes in both the Barzini and Tattaglia Families immediately went over to his side.
It would have been a perfect triumph for Michael Corleone except for an exhibition of hysteria by his sister Connie.
Connie had flown home with her mother, the children left in Vegas. She had restrained her widow’s grief until the limousine pulled into the mall. Then, before she could be restrained by her mother, she ran across the cobbled street to Michael Corleone’s house. She burst through the door and found Michael and Kay in the living room. Kay started to go to her, to comfort her and take her in her arms in a sisterly embrace but stopped short when Connie started screaming at her brother, screaming curses and reproaches. “You lousy bastard,” she shrieked. “You killed my husband. You waited until our father died and nobody could stop you and you killed him. You killed him. You blamed him about Sonny, you always did, everybody did. But you never thought about me. You never gave a damn about me. What am I going to do now, what am I going to do?” She was wailing. Two of Michael’s bodyguards had come up behind her and were waiting for orders from him. But he just stood there impassively and waited for his sister to finish.
Kay said in a shocked voice, “Connie, you’re upset, don’t say such things.”
Connie had recovered from her hysteria. Her voice held a deadly venom. “Why do you think he was always so cold to me? Why do you think he kept Carlo here on the mall? All the time he knew he was going to kill my husband. But he didn’t dare while my father was alive. My father would have stopped him. He knew that. He was just waiting. And then he stood Godfather to our child just to throw us off the track. The coldhearted bastard. You think you know your husband? Do you know how many men he had killed with my Carlo? Just read the papers. Barzini and Tattaglia and the others. My brother had them killed.”
She had worked herself into hysteria again. She tried to spit in Michael’s face but she had no saliva.
“Get her home and get her a doctor,” Michael said. The two guards immediately grabbed Connie’s arms and pulled her out of the house.
Kay was still shocked, still horrified. She said to her husband, “What made her say all those things, Michael, what makes her believe that?”
Michael shrugged. “She’s hysterical.”
Kay looked into his eyes. “Michael, it’s not true, please say it’s not true.”
Michael shook his head wearily. “Of course it’s not. Just believe me, this one time I’m letting you ask about my affairs, and I’m giving you an answer. It is not true.” He had never been more convincing. He looked directly into her eyes. He was using all the mutual trust they had built up in their married life to make her believe him. And she could not doubt any longer. She smiled at him ruefully and came into his arms for a kiss.
“We both need a drink,” she said. She went into the kitchen for ice and while there heard the front door open. She went out of the kitchen and saw Clemenza, Neri and Rocco Lampone come in with the bodyguards. Michael had his back to her, but she moved so that she could see him in profile. At that moment Clemenza addressed her husband, greeting him formally.
“Don Michael,” Clemenza said.
Kay could see how Michael stood to receive their homage. He reminded her of statues in Rome, statues of those Roman emperors of antiquity, who, by divine right, held the power of life and death over their fellow men. One hand was on his hip, the profile of his face showed a cold proud power, his body was carelessly, arrogantly at ease, weight resting on one foot slightly behind the other. The caporegimes stood before him. In that moment Kay knew that everything Connie had accused Michael of was true. She went back into the kitchen and wept.