CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

Bellarosa had been notified by Bell Security that I was on my way, and he’d also seen me on his security monitor, so he didn’t feign any surprise when he opened the door and greeted me by saying, “Hey, glad you could make it. Come on in.”

Anthony was wearing a shiny black shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and the shirt was tucked into a pair of charcoal gray pleated pants held up by a pencil-thin belt. His loafers, I noticed, were made of some sort of reptilian leather. I didn’t think anyone from the New York Times Style section would be calling soon.

Anyway, I said, “Thank you for inviting me.”

“Yeah. And you’re not gonna run off this time.”

Wanna bet?

I thought, out of habit, he was going to ask me if I wanted to check my gun, but instead, he asked, “Any problem at the guard booth?”

I assumed the guard had ratted me out about the don Bellarosa thing, and Anthony wanted me to know he wasn’t amused. I replied, “He seemed hard of hearing.”

“Yeah? Hard to get good help.”

And speaking of hard of hearing, an Italian male vocalist was belting out a lively song, which was booming out of the wall speakers, and Anthony announced my arrival by shouting over the music, “Hey, Megan! We got company!”

Anthony went to a control panel on the wall, turned down the music, and said to me, “Great album. It’s called Mob Hits.” He laughed. “Get it?”

I smiled.

While we waited for Megan, and while Anthony played with the bass and treble knobs, I looked around the big foyer and into the living and dining rooms. To be honest, it wasn’t all that bad. I’d expected an ornate Italian version of Mr. Nasim’s horrid faux French, but Megan, and probably a decorator, had played it safe with Chairman-of-the-Board contemporary in muted tones. There were, however, a lot of paint-by-number oils of sunny Italy on the walls, and I spotted two crucifixes.

Megan Bellarosa entered the foyer, and I was pleasantly surprised. She was in her late twenties, tall and thin, and she had a pretty freckled Irish face and blue eyes. Also, she had what looked like natural red hair, so from personal experience I knew she was either bitchy, high-strung, or just plain crazy.

She gave me a sort of tentative smile, wondering, I’m sure, what the hell her husband was thinking when he invited me to a family dinner. I said to her, “It was very nice of you to invite me.”

She replied, “I’m glad you could make it. We have lots of food,” which removed any concern I may have had about eating the last of the family rations. She asked, “Can I take your coat?”

I didn’t have a coat – only a blue blazer – and I don’t part with it very easily, so I said, “I’ll just wear it.” I remembered to say, “You have a beautiful home.”

She replied, “Thanks. Anthony can show you around later.”

Her accent was distinctly low-class, as was her pink polyester tunic and her black polyester stretch pants. Considering, though, her good features, Professor Higgins could do wonders with her.

I handed her the jar of crabapple jelly and said, “This is homemade.”

She took the jar, looked at the label, smiled and exclaimed, “Oh, geez – my grandmother used to make this.”

So we were really off to a good start. In fact, Megan gave me a nice big smile, and for a second she reminded me of Susan. The swarthy Bellarosa men, apparently, liked the northern European, fair-skinned type. Dear Sigmund

Before I could analyze this further, Anthony said, “Hey, my mother is excited to see you. Come on.”

I followed Anthony and Megan through the foyer into a big sunny kitchen, and standing at the center island, cutting cheese on a board, was Anna Bellarosa. She saw me, dropped her knife, wiped her hands on her apron, and charged toward me exclaiming, “John! Oh my God!”

I braced myself right before impact, put out my arms, and we collided. BAM! She hugged me tight, and I was able to get my arms around her and managed to wheeze, “Anna… you look great…”

In fact, before impact, I’d seen that she’d put on a few pounds, and I was feeling them now as she squeezed the air out of my lungs. To add to my breathing problem, she was wearing a floral scent that overpowered whatever was cooking.

We unclenched, and I held her hands so she couldn’t get her arms around me again, and I looked at her. Her face was still cherub-like and made more so by too much red lipstick and rouge, but under the paint, her skin looked young. Mediterranean diet?

I caught my breath and said, “It’s so good to-”

She interrupted, “John, you look great. I’m so happy you came.” She went on awhile, asking about my children, but not about my evil seductress man-killing wife, and quizzed me on what I was up to.

Anna used to wear enough jewelry to interfere with radio transmissions, but today all she had on was a pair of gold earrings and her wedding band. Plus, she wore a black pantsuit, to denote her widowed status, and I noticed a gold crucifix nestled in her cleavage, which reminded me now, as it did when we first met, of Christ of the Andes.

Anna went on, and I replied as best I could before she interrupted each reply. I noticed that Megan had left the kitchen, and I recalled that the two Mrs. Bellarosas were not on good culinary terms, or any terms at all.

Finally, Anthony interrupted his mother’s interruptions and said, “Okay, let him catch his breath, Ma. Hey, John, wine, beer, or hard stuff?”

I needed a triple Scotch, but I asked for a white wine.

Anthony opened the refrigerator and retrieved an uncorked bottle of something and poured two wines into cut crystal glasses.

Anna informed me, “John, I made lasagna for you. Anthony said you liked my lasagna.”

“I do.” It had been my favorite from Anna’s takeout kitchen at Alhambra, and Susan, too, liked her lasagna, though I shouldn’t mention that.

Anna continued, “We got hot and cold antipasto, we got stracciatelle, we got a beautiful bronzini that I got in Brooklyn, we got veal-”

“Ma, he doesn’t need-”

“Anthony, sta’ zitto.”

I think that means shut up. I have to remember that.

Anna recited her menu as though reciting the Rosary. I never completely understood why she liked me – except that I’m charming – but when men and women are friends, there’s almost always a sexual element present. Not romantic sex, perhaps, but a sort of Freudian concept of sex that acknowledges the attraction as more than platonic, but not quite rising to the level of “let’s fuck.” With Susan and Frank, however, it was libido from the get-go, and maybe, later, they fell in love. Interestingly, Anna never caught on to this, and she remained very fond of Susan until Susan whacked her dear husband.

Anyway, as far as why Anna liked me, I also knew from what she’d said once that she believed that John Whitman Sutter would be a good influence on Frank, who was being influenced by bad people. That would have been funny if it weren’t so sad. In any case, I’m sure Anna had similar thoughts about her son’s budding friendship with me.

As Anna prattled on, and as Anthony tried to get a word in edgewise, and I made an appropriate sound now and then, I realized that when I informed Anthony that Susan and I were together again, that would put Anthony in an awkward position in regard to Mom, who understandably was no longer so fond of Susan – and that might just end Anthony’s interest in making me his trusted advisor. In fact, I was sure of it.

As I was thinking about this, Anna was thinking that I looked not so great after all, and she pushed a platter of cheese and salami across the counter and informed me, “You look too skinny. Eat.”

Anthony laughed and mimicked Mom. “Mangia! Mangia! You’re too skinny.”

Anna turned her attention to her son and said, “You, too. You’re too skinny, Anthony.”

Anthony laughed again and poured his mother a glass of red wine, saying, “You don’t drink enough vino. Beva, beva.”

Anna ignored the wine, but did sample most of the cheese and salami. Atkins diet?

Anthony and I took some cheese, which to me smelled like the Bay of Naples, but it tasted good. So, if I had my choice between an Italian mother and a WASP mother, I’d pick orphan.

Anna was examining the jar of jelly that Megan had left on the counter, and she asked her son, “What’s this?”

Anthony explained, “John brought it over.”

That seemed to make it okay, but she asked me, apropos of the label, “How’s she doing? The old lady.”

“Not too well.”

Anna seemed to be thinking, then said, “I remember the husband. He used to come over, looking for… your wife.” I didn’t respond, and Anna added, “I don’t remember the old lady too much. But we had a nice chat once.”

“I’ll pass on your regards.”

“Yeah. I hope she gets better.” She asked me, “So, you’re living there?”

“I am.” I was.

I had no doubt that Anna was on the verge of warning me that the killer had returned to the guest cottage, and Anthony, perhaps also sensing that Mom was starting to relive bad memories, said to me, “Hey, let’s go outside. I want to check on the kids.”

Anna instructed him, “Tell them it’s almost time to eat.”

We went through a sliding glass door onto a huge slate patio that was large enough to accommodate an emergency space shuttle landing, and beyond the patio, surrounded by a six-foot-high metal picket fence, was a swimming pool whose dimensions qualified it as an inland sea.

Beyond the pool, I could see a long wire dog run, and tethered to the wire was a big German shepherd, who even at this distance noticed me, stopped pacing, and began pulling at his leash and barking at me. Anthony shouted, “Sta’ zitto!” and the dog, who was apparently bilingual, stopped barking. I walked with Anthony to the pool, and he opened the gate and called out to the two children, who were paddling around with water wings, “Hey, kids! Say hello to Mr. Sutter.”

They looked at me, waved, and said simultaneously, “Hi,” then went back to their paddling.

The boy, I recalled, was Frank, age five, and the girl was Kelly Ann, and she looked a year or so older. They were good-looking kids, and under their tans probably fair-skinned like their mother. They reminded me of Edward and Carolyn when they were that age, enjoying the summer in comfortable surroundings and enjoying the world without a care.

I noticed now a middle-aged lady sitting in a lawn chair under the shade of an umbrella, and she was watching the two children like a hawk. Anthony called to her, “Eva, get the kids ready for dinner!”

Anthony turned and we walked back to the patio, and I thought we were going back inside, but Anthony moved toward a striped pavilion on the patio, and I now noticed a man and a woman sitting there.

We walked into the shade of the pavilion, and Anthony said to me, “You remember my uncle Sal.”

This sort of took me by surprise, and I was momentarily speechless.

Sitting in a cushioned chair, holding a cocktail glass and smoking a cigarette, was none other than Salvatore D’Alessio, a.k.a. Sally Da-da. I mean, it’s nice to have family over for dinner, but it could be awkward if the invited family member once tried to have your father killed. Maybe, though, I was being ethnocentric, and I was making too much of that.

Uncle Sal stayed seated, looked at me, and gave a half nod, mumbling, “How ya doin’?”

I replied, “Hangin’ in.”

I thought that our reunion after ten years should have caused him more joy, but he just sat there with his cigarette and cocktail and looked off into space.

The first time I’d seen Sally Da-da was at the Plaza Hotel, where Frank had invited half the Mafia in New York to his suite to celebrate his being sprung on bail. It was more than a celebration, however, it was also a show of force, where the don’s capos and lesser henchmen came to kiss his ring, and where his affiliated partners and even his rivals had come, by command, to witness this great outpouring of support for the capo di tutti capi.

I had been accosted in the room by a man who I classified as Cro-Magnon and who asked me some questions that made little sense to me. I later learned that this man was Salvatore D’Alessio, brother-in-law to don Bellarosa. Much later, I learned that Mr. D’Alessio, who was the don’s underboss, wanted to be capo di tutti capi, so Frank had to go.

Anyway, Mr. D’Alessio, sitting now a few feet from me, was a big, powerfully built man with thick dyed black hair and thick eyebrows that met in the middle, like you see in the Prehistoric Man dioramas at the Museum of Natural History. He could have been wearing an animal skin, and no one would have commented, but he was in fact wearing baggy black dress pants and a white dress shirt half unbuttoned, with the sleeves rolled up, exposing lots of hair. I didn’t think he’d be carrying a gun to a family dinner, but if he was, it might be concealed in his chest hair.

Anthony asked me, “Did you ever meet my aunt Marie?”

I turned my attention to Aunt Marie, who looked like a thinner and older version of her sister Anna. I said to her, “I believe we’ve met.”

She nodded, but didn’t say anything.

In fact, I’d met Marie D’Alessio at Frank Bellarosa’s funeral Mass, and she’d sat next to Anna, and they took turns crying. It was at this funeral Mass where I’d seen Uncle Sal for the second time, then again at graveside where he kept staring at the coffin, avoiding eye contact with young Anthony Bellarosa.

Marie didn’t seem to have anything to say to the ex-husband of Susan Sutter, so I turned my attention back to Uncle Sal, and I noticed now that he was giving me an appraising look. We made eye contact, and he said to me, “Long time.”

I guess that meant “Long time no see,” which actually means “It’s been ages, John, since we’ve seen each other.” I replied, “Long time.”

I understood why Uncle Sal wanted to clip his brother-in-law, but I was annoyed that he’d picked the night I was having dinner with Frank and our wives. Though, as Felix Mancuso explained to me later, Sally Da-da probably knew that Frank Bellarosa would never think anyone would break the strict rule of not whacking someone in the presence of their family or in the company of upstanding citizens, which I guess included John and Susan Sutter. So Salvatore D’Alessio had calendared in “Whack Frank” on the same night that my calendar showed “Dinner with Bellarosas/NYC/limo.” I would have written in the name of the restaurant, Giulio’s, but with Frank, you never knew your exact destination until you got there. Someone else, however, probably Frank’s driver, Lenny the Snake, knew the name of the restaurant and passed it on to Sally Da-da, who couldn’t resist the opportunity.

I looked again at Salvatore D’Alessio, who was still looking at me, and I had to wonder about a man who would arrange to have his brother-in-law killed in front of his own wife’s sister.

Regarding the timing of the whack, Frank Bellarosa never had a day in his life when he wasn’t on his guard, and he’d been wearing a bulletproof vest under his tailored suit, so aside from some broken ribs and a severed carotid artery that was not protected by the Kevlar, he’d survived, with a little help from me.

Anthony broke the silence with some good news and announced, “My aunt and uncle just dropped by to say hello.”

Uncle Sal stood, and I was struck at how huge this guy was. I mean, even if you shaved off all his hair, he was still pretty big. He said, “Yeah. We’re goin’.”

Aunt Marie also stood, and said to her nephew, “Anthony, take care of your mother.”

“I do.”

“You gotta call her.”

“I do.”

“Have her over more. Not just Sundays, Anthony.”

“My brothers come in from Jersey and see her all the time.”

She ignored this and further advised Anthony, “Since your father died” – she glanced at me for some reason – “since he’s been gone, she’s all alone.”

“She’s got fifty cousins and sisters in Brooklyn.”

“They got their own lives.”

“Okay, okay. Thanks, Aunt Marie.”

While this was going on, Uncle Sal just stood there, expressionless, but perhaps thinking that his wife was wasting her time talking to a dead man. Well, I didn’t know that, of course, and certainly Uncle Sal had already had ample time and opportunity to put Anthony on the permanently dead list. So maybe they’d worked out some sort of power-sharing arrangement, like, “Anthony, you get the drugs, prostitution, and loan-sharking, and I take the gambling, extortion, and stealing from the docks and airports.” That’s what I would recommend.

Anthony said to his uncle, “Thanks for stopping by.”

Uncle Sal dropped his cigarette on the patio, stepped on it, and said, “Your mother looks good.”

Anthony glanced at the cigarette butt on his nice slate patio, but he didn’t say anything. So maybe he was thinking, “Why bother? He’s dead anyway.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if Anthony Bellarosa and Salvatore D’Alessio somehow managed to have each other whacked?

I hope I didn’t say that out loud, and I guess I didn’t because Uncle Sal turned to me and asked, “So, whaddaya up to?”

“Same old shit.”

“Yeah? Like?”

Anthony interrupted this windy conversation and said, “John’s my tax guy.”

“Yeah?” Uncle Sal looked at me for a long time, as if to say, “Sorry my boys missed you at Giulio’s.” Well, maybe I was imagining that.

Aunt Marie announced, “I’m going in,” but before she left, she reminded Anthony, “Your mother needs you.” She should remind her husband of that, too.

So I stood there with Anthony and Salvatore in manly silence, then I realized I was supposed to leave them alone. But I didn’t want to go back in the kitchen with the women – only faggots would do that – so I said, “I’m going to take a walk.” I addressed Uncle Sal. “Well, great seeing you again.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you have a card?”

What?

“Ciao.” I walked out toward the pool, well out of earshot and gunshot range. I looked at the shimmering pool, then out to where the German shepherd was glaring at me, which for some reason reminded me of Salvatore D’Alessio.

Salvatore D’Alessio – Sally Da-da to his friends, and Uncle Sal to his nephew – was the real thing. I mean, this guy was not playacting the part of a Mafia boss like so many of these characters did. This was one mean and dangerous man. If I had to put money on who would whack whom first, I’d bet on Uncle Sal being at Anthony’s funeral, and not the other way around.

And yet Anthony had the major motivation – personal vendetta – and also he seemed to have more brains, which I know is not saying too much.

Bottom line here was this: Anthony wanted to kill Uncle Sal; Uncle Sal wanted to kill Anthony; Uncle Sal might still be annoyed at me for saving Frank’s life and making him look incompetent; Anthony wanted to kill Susan; I wanted Anthony Bellarosa and Salvatore D’Alessio dead.

Who said that Sunday family dinners were boring?

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