Friday, February 18, 2011


“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 298
ten paces up the villa’s driveway and then he realized she was motioning him to stay where he was, that she meant to drive the car to where he stood. Calo stood grinning beside the car, his lupara dangling in his hand. But there was still no sign of Fabrizzio. At that moment; without any conscious reasoning process, everything came together in his mind, and Michael shouted to the girl, “No! No!” But his shout was drowned in the roar of the tremendous explosion as Apollonia switched on the ignition. The kitchen door shattered into fragments and Michael was hurled along the wall of the villa for a good ten feet. Stones tumbling from the villa roof hit him on the shoulders and one glanced off his skull as he was lying on the ground. He was conscious just long enough to see that nothing remained of the Alfa Romeo but its four wheels and the steel shafts which held them together.
* * *
He came to consciousness in a room that seemed very dark and heard voices that were so low that they were pure sound rather than words. Out of animal instinct he tried to pretend he was still unconscious but the voices stopped and someone was leaning from a chair close to his bed and the voice was distinct now, saying, “Well, he’s with us finally.” A lamp went on, its light like white fire on his eyeballs and Michael turned his head. It felt very heavy, numb. And then he could see the face over his bed was that of Dr. Taza.
“Let me look at you a minute and I’ll put the light out,” Dr,. Taza said gently. He was busy shining a small pencil flashlight into Michael’s eyes. “You’ll be all right,” Dr. Taza said and turned to someone else in the room. “You can speak to him.”
It was Don Tommasino sitting on a chair near his bed, Michael could see him clearly now. Don Tommasino was saying, “Michael, Michael, can I talk to you? Do you want to rest?”
It was easier to raise a hand to make a gesture and Michael did so and Don Tommasino said, “Did Fabrizzio bring the car from the garage?”
Michael, without knowing he did so, smiled. It was in some strange way, a chilling smile, of assent. Don Tommasino said, “Fabrizzio has vanished. Listen to me, Michael. You’ve been unconscious for nearly a week. Do you understand? Everybody thinks you’re dead, so you’re safe now, they’ve stopped looking for you. I’ve sent messages to your father and he’s sent back instructions. It won’t be long now, you’ll be back in America. Meanwhile you’ll rest here quietly. You’re safe up in the mountains, in a special
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 299
farmhouse I own. The Palermo people have made their peace with me now that you’re supposed to be dead, so it was you they were after all the time. They wanted to kill you while making people think it was me they were after. That’s something you should know. As for everything else, leave it all to me. You recover your strength and be tranquil.”
Michael was remembering everything now. He knew his wife was dead, that Calo was dead. He thought of the old woman in the kitchen. He couldn’t remember if she had come outside with him. He whispered, “Filomena?” Don Tommasino said quietly, “She wasn’t hurt, just a bloody nose from the blast. Don’t worry about her.”
Michael said, “Fabrizzio. Let your shepherds know that the one who gives me Fabrizzio will own the finest pastures in Sicily.”
Both men seemed to sigh with relief. Don Tontmasino lifted a glass from a nearby table and drank from it an amber fluid that jolted his head up. Dr. Taza sat on the bed and said almost absently, “You know, you’re a widower. That’s rare in Sicily.” As if the distinction might comfort him.
Michael motioned to Don Tommasino to lean closer. The Don sat on the bed and bent his head. “Tell my father to get me home,” Michael said. “Tell my father I wish to be his son.”
But it was to be another month before Michael recovered from his injuries and another two months after that before all the necessary papers and arrangements were ready. Then he was flown from Palermo to Rome and from Rome to New York. In all that time no trace had been found of Fabrizzio.
Book Seven
Chapter 25
When Kay Adams received her college degree, she took a job teaching grade school in her New Hampshire hometown. The first six months after Michael vanished she made weekly telephone calls to his mother asking about him. Mrs. Corleone was always friendly and always wound up saying, “You a very very nice girl. You forget about Mikey and find a nice husband.” Kay was not offended at her bluntness and understood that the mother spoke out of concern for her as a young girl in an impossible situation.
When her first school term ended, she decided to go to New York to buy some decent clothes and see some old college girl friends. She thought also about looking for some sort of interesting job in New York. She had lived like a spinster for almost two years,
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 300
reading and teaching, refusing dates, refusing to go out at all, even though she had given up making calls to Long Beach. She knew she couldn’t keep that up, she was becoming irritable and unhappy. But she had always believed Michael would write her or send her a message of some sort. That he had not done so humiliated her, it saddened her that he was so distrustful even of her.
She took an early train and was checked into her hotel by midafternoon. Her girl friends worked and she didn’t want to bother them at their jobs, she planned to call them at night. And she didn’t really feel like going shopping after the exhausting train trip. Being alone in the hotel room, remembering all the times she and Michael had used hotel rooms to make love, gave her a feeling of desolation. It was that more than anything else that gave her the idea of calling Michael’s mother out in Long Beach.
The phone was answered by a rough masculine voice with a typical, to her, New York accent. Kay asked to speak to Mrs. Corelone. There was a few minutes’ silence and then Kay heard the heavily accented voice asking who it was.
Kay was a little embarrassed now. “This is Kay Adams, Mrs. Corleone,” she said. “Do you remember me?”
“Sure, sure, I remember you,” Mrs. Corleone said. “How come you no call up no more? You get a married?”
“Oh, no,” Kay said. “I’ve been busy.” She was surprised at the mother obviously being annoyed that she had stopped calling. “Have you heard anything from Michael? Is he all right”
There was silence at the other end of the phone and then Mrs. Corleorie’s voice came strong. “Mikey is a home. He no call you up? He no see you?”
Kay felt her stomach go weak from shock and a humiliating desire to weep. Her voice broke a little when she asked, “How long has he been home?”
Mrs. Corleone said, “Six months.”
“Oh, I see,” Kay said. And she did. She felt hot waves of shame that Michael’s mother knew he was treating her so cheaply. And then she was angry. Angry at Michael, at his mother, angry at all foreigners, Italians who didn’t have the common courtesy to keep up a decent show of friendship even if a love affair was over. Didn’t Michael know she would be concerned for him as a friend even if he no longer wanted her for a bed companion, even if he no longer wanted to marry her? Did he think she was one of
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 301
those poor benighted Italian girls who would commit suicide or make a scene after giving up her virginity and then being thrown over? But she kept her voice as cool as possible. “I see, thank you very much,” she said. “I’m glad Michael is home again and all right. I just wanted to know. I won’t call you again.”
Mrs. Corleone’s voice came impatiently over the phone as if she had heard nothing that Kay had said. “You wanta see Mikey, you come out here now. Give him a nice surprise. You take a taxi, and I tell the man at the gate to pay the taxi for you. You tell the taxi man he gets two times his clock, otherwise he no come way out the Long Beach. But don’t you pay. My husband’s man at the gate pay the taxi.”
“I couldn’t do that, Mrs. Corleone,” Kay said coldly. “If Michael wanted to see me, he would have called me at home before this. Obviously, he doesn’t want to resume our relationship.”
Mrs. Corleone’s voice came briskly over the phone. “You a very nice girl, you gotta nice legs, but you no gotta much brains.” She chuckled. “You come out to see me, not Mikey. I wanta talk to you. You come right now. An’ no pay the taxi. I wait for you.” The phone clicked. Mrs. Corleone had hung up.
Kay could have called back and said she wasn’t coming but she knew she had to see Michael, to talk to him, even if it was just polite talk. If he was home now, openly, that meant he was no longer in trouble, he could live normally. She jumped off the bed and started to get ready to see him. She took a great deal of care with her makeup and dress. When she was ready to leave she stared at her reflection in the mirror. Was she better-looking than when Michael had disappeared? Or would he find her unattractively older? Her figure had become more womanly, her hips rounder, her breasts fuller. Italians liked that supposedly, though Michael had always said he loved her being so thin. It didn’t matter really, Michael obviously didn’t want anything to do with her anymore, otherwise he most certainly would have called in the six months he had been home.
The taxi she hailed refused to take her to Long Beach until she gave him a pretty smile and told him she would pay double the meter. It was nearly an hour’s ride and the mall in Long Beach had changed since she last saw it. There were iron fences around it and an iron gate barred the mall entrance. A man wearing slacks and a white jacket over a red shirt opened the gate, poked his head into the cab to read the meter and gave the cab driver some bills. Then when Kay saw the driver was not protesting and was happy
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 302
with the money paid, she got out and walked across the mall to the central house.
Mrs. Corleone herself opened the door and greeted Kay with a warm embrace that surprised her. Then she surveyed Kay with an appraising eye. “You a beautiful girl,” she said flatly. “I have stupid sons.” She pulled Kay inside the door and led her to the kitchen, where a platter of food was already set out and a pot of coffee perked on the stove. “Michael comes home pretty soon,” she said. “You surprise him.”
They sat down together and the old woman forced Kay to eat, meanwhile asking questions with great curiosity. She was delighted that Kay was a schoolteacher and that she had come to New York to visit old girl friends and that Kay was only twenty-four years old. She kept nodding her head as if all the facts accorded with some private specifications in her mind. Kay was so nervous that she just answered the questions, never saying anything else.
She saw him first through the kitchen window. A car pulled up in front of the house and the two other men got out. Then Michael. He straightened up to talk with one of the other men. His profile, the left one, was exposed to her view. It was cracked, indented, like the plastic face of a doll that a child has wantonly kicked. In a curious way it did not mar his handsomeness in her eyes but moved her to tears. She saw him put a snow-white handkerchief to his mouth and nee and hold it there for a moment while he turned away to come into the house.
She heard the door open and his footsteps in the hall turning into the kitchen and then he was in the open space, seeing her and his mother. He seemed impassive, and then he smiled ever so slightly, the broken half of his face halting the widening of his mouth. And Kay, who had want just to say “Hello, how are you,” in the coolest possible way, slipped out of her seat to run into his arms, bury her face against his shoulder. He kissed her wet cheek and held her until she finished weeping and then he walked her out to his car, waved his bodyguard away and drove off with her beside him, she repairing her makeup by simply wiping what was left of it away with her handkerchief.
“I never meant to do that,” Kay said. “It’s just that nobody told me how badly they hurt you.”
Michael laughed and touched the broken side of his face. “You mean this? That’s nothing. Just gives me sinus trouble. Now that I’m home I’ll probably get it fixed. I couldn’t write you or anything,” Michael said. “You have to understand that before anything else.”
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 303
“OK,” she said.
“I’ve got a place in the city,” Michael said. “Is it all right if we go there or should it be dinner and drinks at a restaurant?”
“I’m not hungry,” Kay said.
They drove toward New York in silence for a while. “Did you get your degree?” Michael asked.
“Yes,” Kay said. “I’m teaching grade school in my hometown now. Did they find the man who really killed the policeman, is that why you were able to come home?”
For a moment Michael didn’t answer. “Yes, they did,” he said. “It was in all the New York papers. Didn’t you read about it?”
Kay laughed with the relief of him denying he was a murderer. “We only get The New York Times up in our town,” she said. “I guess it was buried back in page eighty-nine. If I’d read about it I’d have called your mother sooner.” She paused and then said, “It’s funny, the way your mother used to talk, I almost believed you had done it. And just before you came, while we were drinking coffee, she told me about that crazy man who confessed.”
Michael said, “Maybe my mother did believe it at first.”
“Your own mother?” Kay asked.
Michael grinned. “Mothers are like cops. They always believe the worst.”
Michael parked the car in a garage on Mulberry Street where the owner seemed to know him. He took Kay around the corner to what looked like a fairly decrepit brownstone house which fitted into the rundown neighborhood. Michael had a key to the front door and when they went inside Kay saw that it was as expensively and comfortably furnished as a millionaire’s town house. Michael led her to the upstairs apartment which consisted of an enormous living room, a huge kitchen and door that led to the bedroom. In one corner of the living room was a bar and Michael mixed them both a drink. They sat on a sofa together and Michael said quietly, “We might as well go into the bedroom.” Kay took a long pull from her drink and smiled at him. “Yes,” she said.
For Kay the lovemaking was almost like it had been before except that Michael was rougher, more direct, not as tender as he had been. As if he were on guard against her. But she didn’t want to complain. It would wear off. In a funny way, men were more sensitive in a situation like this, she thought. She had found making love to Michael after
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 304
a two-year absence the most natural thing in the world. It was as if he had never been away.
“You could have written me, you could have trusted me,” she said, nestling against his body. “I would have practiced the New England omerta. Yankees are pretty closemouthed too, you know.”
Michael laughed softly in the darkness. “I never figured you to be waiting,” he said. “I never figured you to wait after what happened.”
Kay said quickly, “I never believed you killed those two men. Except maybe when your mother seemed to think so. But I never believed it in my heart. I know you too well.”
She could hear Michael give a sigh. “It doesn’t matter whether I did or not,” he said. “You have to understand that.”
Kay was a little stunned by the coldness in his voice. She said, “So just tell me now, did you or didn’t you?”
Michael sat up on his pillow and in the darkness a light flared as he got a cigarette going. “If I asked you to marry me, would I have to answer that question first before you’d give me an answer to mine?”
Kay said, “I don’t care, I love you, I don’t care. If you loved me you wouldn’t be afraid to tell me the truth. You wouldn’t be afraid I might tell the police. That’s it, isn’t it? You’re really a gangster then, isn’t that so? But I really don’t care. What I care about is that you obviously don’t love me. You didn’t even call me up when you got back home.”
Michael was puffing on his cigarette and some burning ashes fell on Kay’s bare back. She flinched a little and said jokingly, “Stop torturing me, I won’t talk.”
Michael didn’t laugh. His voice sounded absentminded. “You know, when I came home I wasn’t that glad when I saw my family, my father, my mother, my sister Connie, and Tom. It was nice but I didn’t really give a damn. Then I came home tonight and saw you in the kitchen and I was glad. Is that what you mean by love?”
“That’s close enough for me,” Kay said.
They made love again for a while. Michael was more tender this time. And then he went out to get them both a drink. When he came back he sat on an armchair facing the bed. “Let’s get serious,” he said. “How do you feel about marrying me?” Kay smiled at him and motioned him into the bed. Michael smiled back at her. “Be serious,” he said. “I can’t tell you about anything that happened. I’m working for my father now. I’m being
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 305
trained to take over the family olive oil business. But you know my family has enemies, my father has enemies. You might be a very young widow, there’s a chance, not much of one, but it could happen. And I won’t be telling you what happened at the office every day. I won’t be telling you anything about my business. You’ll be my wife but you won’t be my partner in life, as I think they say. Not an equal partner. That can’t be.”
Kay sat up in bed. She switched on a huge lamp standing on the night table and then she lit a cigarette. She leaned back on the pillows and said quietly, “You’re telling me you’re a gangster, isn’t that it? You’re telling me that you’re responsible for people being killed and other sundry crimes related to murder. And that I’m not ever to ask about that part of your life, not even to think about it. Just like in the horror movies when the monster asks the beautiful girl to marry him.” Michael grinned, the cracked part of his face turned toward her, and Kay said in contrition, “Oh, Mike, I don’t even notice that stupid thing, I swear I don’t.”
“I know,” Michael said laughing. “I like having it now except that it makes the snot drip out of my nose.”
“You said be serious,” Kay went on. “If we get married what kind of a life am I supposed to lead? Like your mother, like an Italian housewife with just the kids and home to take care of? And what about if something happens? I suppose you could wind up in jail someday.”
“No, that’s not possible,” Michael said. “Killed, yes; jail, no.”
Kay laughed at this confidence, it was a laugh that had a funny mixture of pride with its amusement. “But how can you say that?” she said. “Really.”
Michael sighed. “These are all the things I can’t talk to you about, I don’t want to talk to you about.”
Kay was silent for a long time. “Why do you want me to marry you after never calling me all these months? Am I so good in bed?”
Michael nodded gravely. “Sure,” he said. “But I’m getting it for nothing so why should I marry you for that? Look, I don’t want an answer now. We’re going to keep seeing each other. You can talk it over with your parents. I hear your father is a real tough guy in his own way. Listen to his advice.”
“You haven’t answered why, why you want to marry me,” Kay said.
Michael took a white handkerchief from the drawer of the night table and held it to his
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 306
nose. He blew into it and then wiped. “There’s the best reason for not marrying me,” he said. “How would that be having a guy around who always has to blow his nose?”
Kay said impatiently, “Come on, be serious, I asked you a question.”
Michael held the handkerchief in his hand. “OK,” he said, “this one time. You are the only person I felt any affection for, that I care about. I didn’t call you because it never occurred to me that you’d still be interested in me after everything that’s happened. Sure, I could have chased you, I could have conned you, but I didn’t want to do that. Now here’s something I’ll trust you with and I don’t want you to repeat it even to your father. If everything goes right, the Corleone Family will be completely legitimate in about five years. Some very tricky things have to be done to make that possible. That’s when you may become a wealthy widow. Now what do I want you for? Well, because I want you and I want a family. I want kids; it’s time. And I don’t want those kids to be influenced by me the way I was influenced by my father. I don’t mean my father deliberately influenced me. He never did. He never even wanted me in the family business. He wanted me to become a professor or a doctor, something like that. But things went bad and I had to fight for my Family. I had to fight because l love and admire my father. I never knew a man more worthy of respect. He was a good husband and a good father and a good friend to people who were not so fortunate in life. There’s another side to him, but that’s not relevant to me as his son. Anyway I don’t want that to happen to our kids. I want them to be influenced by you. I want them to grow up to be All-American kids, real All-American, the whole works. Maybe they or their grandchildren will go into politics.” Michael grinned. “Maybe one of them will be President of the United States. Why the hell not? In my history course at Dartmouth we did some background on all the Presidents and they had fathers and grandfathers who were lucky they didn’t get hanged. But I’ll settle for my kids being doctors or musicians or teachers. They’ll never be in the Family business. By the time they are that old I’ll be retired anyway. And you and I will be part of some country club crowd, the good simple life of well-to-do Americans. How dote that strike you for a proposition?”
“Marvelous,” Kay said. “But you sort of skipped ones the widow part.”
“There’s not much chance of that. I just mentioned it to give a fair presentation.” Michael patted his nose with the handkerchief.
“I can’t believe it, I can’t believe you’re a man like that, you’re just not,” Kay said. Her face had a bewildered look. “I just don’t understand the whole thing, how it could
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 307
possibly be.”
“Well, I’m not giving any more explanations,” Michael said gently. “You know, you don’t have to think about any of this stuff, it has nothing to do with you really, or with our life together if we get married.”
Kay shook her head. “How can you want to marry me, how can you hint that you love me, you never say the word but you just now said you loved your father, you never said you loved me, how could you if you distrust me so much you can’t tell me about the most important things in your life? How can you want to have a wife you can’t trust? Your father trusts your mother. I know that.”
“Sure,” Michael said. “But that doesn’t mean he tells her everything. And, you know, he has reason to trust her. Not because they got married and she’s his wife. But she bore him four children in times when it was not that safe to bear children. She nursed and guarded him when people shot him. She believed in him. He was always her first loyalty for forty years. After you do that maybe I’ll tell you a few things you really don’t want to hear.”
“Will we have to live in the mall?” Kay asked.
Michael nodded. “We’ll have our own house, it won’t be so bad. My parents don’t meddle. Our lives will be our own. But until everything gets straightened out, I have to live in the mall.”
“Because it’s dangerous for you to live outside it,” Kay said.
For the first time since she had come to know him, she saw Michael angry. It was cold chilling anger that was not externalized in any gesture or change in voice. It was a coldness that came off him like death and Kay knew that it was this coldness that would make her decide not to marry him if she so decided.
“The trouble is all that damn trash in the movies and the newspapers,” Michael said. “You’ve got the wrong idea of my father and the Corleone Family. I’ll make a final explanation and this one will be really final. My father is a businessman trying to provide for his wife and children and those friends he might need someday in a time of trouble. He doesn’t accept the rules of the society we live in bgcause those rules would have condemned him to a life not suitable to a man like himself, a man of extraordinary force and character. What you have to understand is that he considers himself the equal of all those great men like Presidents and Prime Ministers and Supreme Court Justices and Governors of the States. He refuses to live by rules set up by others, rules which
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 308
condemn him to a defeated life. But his ultimate aim is to enter that society with a certain power since society doesn’t really protect its members who do not have their own individual power. In the meantime he operates on a code of ethics he considers far superior to the legal structures of society.”
Kay was looking at him incredulously. “But that’s ridiculous,” she said. “What if everybody felt the same way? How could society ever function, we’d be back in the times of the cavemen. Mike, you don’t believe what you’re saying, do you?”
Michael grinned at her. “I’m just telling you what my father believes. I just want you to understand that whatever else he is, he’s not irresponsible, or at least not in the society which he has created. He’s not a crazy machine-gunning mobster as you seem to think. He’s a responsible man in his own way.”
“And what do you believe?” Kay asked quietly.
Michael shrugged. “I believe in my family,” he said. “I believe in you and the family we may have. I don’t trust society to protect us, I have no intention of placing my fate in the hands of men where only qualification is that they managed to con a block of people to vote for them. But that’s for now. My father’s time is done. The things he did can no longer be done exeept wilt a great deal of risk. Whether we like it or not the Corleone Family has to join that society. But when they do I’d like us to join it with plenty of our own power; that is, money and ownership of other valuables. I’d like to make my children as secure as possible before they join that general destiny.”
“But you volunteered to fight for your country, you were a war hero,” Kay said. “What happened to make you change?”
Michael said, “’This is really getting us no place. But maybe I’m just one of those real old-fashioned conservatives they grow up in your hometown. I take care of myself, individual. Governments really don’t do much for their people, that’s what it comes down to, but that’s not it really. All I can say, I have to help my father, I have to be on his side. And you have to make your decision about being on my side.” He smiled at her. “I guess getting. married was a bad idea.”
Kay patted the bed. “I don’t know about marrying, but I’ve gone without a man for two years and I’m not letting you off so easy now. Come on in here.”
When they were in bed together, the light out, she whispered to him, “Do you believe me about not having a man since you left?”
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 309
“I believe you,” Michael said.
“Did you?” she whispered in a softer voice.
“Yes,” Michael said. He felt her stiffen a little. “But not in the last six months.” It was true. Kay was the first woman he had made love to since the death of Apollonia.
Chapter 26
The garish suite overlooked the fake fairyland grounds in the rear of the hotel; transplanted palm trees lit up by climbers of orange lights, two huge swimming pools shimmering dark blue by the light of the desert stars. On the horizon were the sand and stone mountains that ringed Las Vegas nestling in its neon valley. Johnny Fontane let the heavy, richly embroidered gray drape fall and turned back to the room.
A special detail of four men, a pit boss, a dealer, extra relief man, and a cocktail waitress in her scanty nightclub costume were getting things ready for private action. Nino Valenti was lying on the sofa in the living room part of the suite, a water glass of whiskey in his hand. He watched the people from the casino setting up the blackjack table with the proper six padded chairs around its horseshoe outer rim. “That’s great, that’s great,” he said in a slurred vote that was not quite drunken. “Johnny, come on and gamble with me against these bastards. I got the luck. We’ll beat their crullers in.”
Johnny sat on a footstool opposite the couch. “You know I don’t gamble,” he said: “How you feeling, Nino?”
Nino Valenti grinned at him. “Great. I got broads coming up at midnight, then some supper, then back to the blackjack table. You know I got the house beat for almost fifty grand and they’ve been grinding me for a week?”
“Yeah;” Johnny Fontane said. “Who do you want to leave it to when you croak?”
Nino drained his glass empty. “Johnny, where the hell did you get your rep as a swinger? You’re a deadhead, Johnny. Christ, the tourists in this town have more fun than you do.”
Johnny said, “Yeah. You want a lift to that blackjack table?”
Nino struggled erect on the sofa and pleated his feet firmly on the rug. “I can make it,” he said. He let the glass slip to the floor and got up and walked quite steadily to where the blackjack table had been set up. The dealer was ready. The pit boss stood behind the dealer watching. The relief dealer sat on a chair away from the table. The cocktail
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 310
waitress sat on another chair in a line of vision so that she could see any of Nino Valenti’s gestures.
Nino rapped on the green baize with his knuckles. “Chips,” he said.
The pit boss took a pad from his pocket and filled out a slip and put it in front of Nino with a small fountain pen. “Here you are, Mr. Valenti,” he said. “The usual five thousand to start.” Nino scrawled his signature on the bottom of the slip and the pit boss put it in his pocket. He nodded to the dealer.
The dealer with incredibly deft fingers took stacks of black and gold one-hundred-dollar daps from the built-in racks before him. In not more than fire seconds Nino had five even stacks of one-hundred-dollar chips before him, each stack had ten chips.
There were six squares a little larger than playing card shapes etched in white on the green baize, each square placed to correspond to where a player would sit. Now Nino was placing bets on three of these squares, single chips, and so playing three hands each for a hundred dollars. He refused to take a hit on ail three hands because the dealer had a six up, a bust card, and the dealer did bust. Nino raked in his chips and turned to Johnny Fontane. “That’s how to start the night, huh, Johnny?”
Johnny smiled. It was unusual for a gambler like Nino to have to sign a chit while gambling. A word was usually good enough for the high rollers. Maybe they were afraid Nino wouldn’t remember his take-out because of his drinking. They didn’t know that Nino remembered everything.
Nino kept winning and after the third round lifted a finger at the cocktail waitress. She went to the bar at the end of the room and brought him his usual rye in a water glass. Nino took the drink, switched it to his other hand so he could put an arm around the waitress. “Sit with me, honey, play a few hands; bring me luck.”
The cocktail waitress was a very beautiful girl, but Johnny could see she was all cold hustle; no real personality, though she worked at it. She was giving Nino a big smile but her tongue was hanging out for one of those black and gold chips. What the hell, Johnny thought, why shouldn’t she get some of it? He just regretted that Nino wasn’t getting something better for his money.
Nino let the waitress play his hands for a few rounds and then gave her one of the chips and a pat on the behind to send her away from the table. Johnny motioned to her to bring him a drink. She did so but she did it as if she were playing the most dramatic moment in the most dramatic movie ever made. She turned all her charm on the great
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 311
Johnny Fontane. She made her eyes sparkle with invitation, her walk was the sexiest walk ever walked, her mouth was, very slightly parted as if she were ready to bite the nearest object of her obvious passion. She resembled nothing so much as a female animal in heat, but it was a deliberate act. Johnny Fontane thought, oh, Christ, one of them. It was the most popular approach of women who wanted to take him to bed. It only worked when he was very drunk and he wasn’t drunk now. He gave the girl one of his famous grins and said, “Thank you, honey.” The girl looked at him and parted her lips in a thank-you smile, her eyes went all smoky, her body tensed with the torso leaning slightly back from the long tapering legs in their mesh stockings. An enormous tension seemed to be building up in her body, her breasts seemed to grow fuller and swell burstingly against her thin scantily cut blouse. Then her whole body gave a slight quiver that almost let off a sexual twang. The whole impression was one of a woman having an orgasm simply because Johnny Fontane had smiled at her and said, “Thank you, honey.” It was very well done. It was done better than Johnny had ever seen it done before. But by now he knew it was fake. And the odds were always good that the broads who did it were a lousy lay.
He watched her go back to her chair and nursed his drink slowly. He didn’t want to see that little trick again. He wasn’t in the mood for it tonight.
It was an hour before Nino Valenti began to go. He started leaning first, wavered back, and then plunged off the chair straight to the floor. But the pit boss and the relief dealer had been alerted by the first weave and caught him before he hit the ground. They lifted him and carried him through the parted drapes that led to the bedroom of the suite.
Johnny kept watching as the cocktail waitress helped the other two men undress Nino and shove him under the bed covers. The pit boss was counting Nino’s chips and making a note on his pad of chits, then guarding the table with its dealer’s chips. Johnny said to him, “How long has that been going on?”
The pit boss shrugged. “He went early tonight. The first time we got the house doc and he fixed Mr. Valenti up with something and gave him some sort of lecture. Then Nino told us that we shouldn’t call the doc when that happened, just put him to bed and he’d be OK in the morning. So that’s what we do. He’s pretty lucky, he was a winner again tonight, almost three grand.”
Johnny Fontane said, “Well, let’s get the house doc up here tonight. OK? Page the casino floor if you have to.”
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 312
It was almost fifteen minutes before Jules Segal came into the suite. Johnny noted with irritation that this guy never looked like a doctor. Tonight he was wearing a blue loose-knit polo shirt with white trim, some sort of white suede shoes and no socks. He looked funny as hell carrying the traditional black doctor’s bag.
Johnny said, “You oughta figure out a way to carry your stuff in a cut-down golf bag.”
Jules grinned understandingly, “Yeah, this medical school carryall is a real drag. Scares the hell out of people. They should change the color anyway.”
He went over to where Nino was lying in bed. As he opened his bag he said to Johnny. “Thanks for that check you sent me as a consultant. It was excessive. I didn’t do that much.”
“Like hell you didn’t,” Johnny said. “Anyway, forget that, that was a long time ago. What’s with Nino?”
Jules was making a quick examination of heartbeat, pulse and blood pressure. He took a needle out of his bag and shoved it casually into Nino’s arm and pressed the plunger. Nino’s sleeping face lost its waxy paleness, color came into the cheeks, as if the blood had started pumping faster.
“Very simple diagnosis,” Jules said briskly. “I had a chance to examine him and run some tests when he first came here and fainted. I had him moved to the hospital before he regained consciousness. He’s got diabetes, mild adult stabile, which is no problem if you take care of it with medication and diet and so forth. He insists on ignoring it. Also he is firmly determined to drink himself to death. His liver is going and his brain will go. Right now he’s in a mild diabetic coma. My advice is to have him put away.”
Johnny felt a sense of relief. It couldn’t be too serious, all Nino had to do was take care of himself. “You mean in one of those joints where they dry you out?” Johnny asked.
Jules went over to the bar in the far corner of the room and made himself a drink. “No,” he said. “I mean committed. You know, the crazy house.”
“Don’t be funny,” Johnny said.
“I’m not joking,” Jules said. “I’m not up on all the psychiatric jazz but I know something about it, part of my trade. Your friend Nino can be put back into fairly good shape unless the liver damage has gone too far, which we can’t know until an autopsy really. But the real disease is in his head. In essence he doesn’t care if he dies, maybe he even wants to kill himself. Until that is cured there’s so hope for him. That’s why I say, have him
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 313
committed and then he can undergo the necessary psychiatric treatment.”
There was a knock on the door and Johnny went to answer it. It was Lucy Mancini. She came into Johnny’s arms and kissed him. “Oh, Johnny, it’s so good to see you,” she said.
“It’s been a long time,” Johnny Fontane said. He noticed that Lucy had changed. She had gotten much slimmer, her clothes were a hell of a lot better and she wore them better. Her hair style fitted her face in a sort of boyish cut. She looked younger and better than he had ever seen her and the thought crossed his mind that she could keep him company here is Vegas. It would be a pleasure hanging out with a real broad. But before he could turn on the charm he remembered she was the doc’s girl. So it was out. He made his smile just friendly and said, “What are you doing coming to Nino’s apartment at night, eh?”
She punched him in the shoulder. “I heard Nino was sick and that Jules came up. I just wanted to see if I could help. Nino’s OK, isn’t he?”
“Sure,” Johnny said. “He’ll be fine.”
Jules Segal had sprawled out on the couch. “Like hell he is,” Jules said. “I suggest we all sit here and wait for Nino to come to. And then we all talk him into committing himself. Lucy, he likes you, maybe you can help. Johnny, if you’re a real friend of his you’ll go along. Otherwise old Nino’s liver will shortly be exhibit A in some university medical lab.”
Johnny was offended by the doctor’s flippant attitude. Who the hell did he think he was? He started to say so but Nino’s voice came from the bed, “Hey, old buddy, how, about a drink.
Nino was sitting up in bed. He grinned at Lucy and said, “Hey, baby, come to old Nino.” He held his arms wide-open. Lucy sat on the edge of the bed and gave him a hug. Oddly enough Nino didn’t look bad at all now, almost normal.
Nino snapped his fingers. “Come on, Johnny, gimme a drink. The night’s young yet. Where the hell’s my blackjack table?”
Jules took a long slug from his own glass and said to Nino, “You can’t have a think. Your doctor forbids it.”
Nino scowled. “Screw my actor.” Then a play-acting look of contrition came on his face. “Hey, Julie, that’s you. You’re my doctor, right? I don’t mean you, old buddy. Johnny, get
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 314
me a drink or I get up out of bed sad get it myself.”
Johnny shrugged and moved toward the bar. Jules said indifferently, “I’m saying he shouldn’t have it.”
Johnny knew why Jules irritated him. The doctor’s voice was always cool, the words never stressed so matter how dire, the voice always low and controlled. If he gave a warning the warning was in the words alone, the voice itself was neutral, as if uncaring. It was this that made Johnny sore enough to bring Nino his water glass of whiskey. Before he handed it over he said to Jules, “This won’t kill him, right?”
“No, it won’t kill him,” Jules said calmly. Lucy gave him an anxious glance, started to say something, then kept still. Meanwhile Nino had taken the whiskey and poured it down his throat.
Johnny was smiling down at Nino; they had shown the punk doctor. Suddenly Nino gasped, his face seemed to turn blue, he couldn’t catch his breath and was choking for air. His body leaped upward like a fish, his face was gorged with blood, his eyes bulging. Jules appeared on the other side of the bed facing Johnny and Lucy. He took Nino by the neck and held him still and plunged the needle into the shoulder near where it joined the neck. Nino went limp in his hands, the heaves of his body subsided, and after a moment he slumped down back onto his pillow. His eyes closed in sleep.
Johnny, Lucy and Jules went back into the living room part of the suite and sat around the huge solid coffee table. Lucy picked up one of the aquamarine phones and ordered coffee and some food to be sent up. Johnny had gone over to the bar and mixed himself a drink.
“Did you know he would have that reaction from the whiskey?” Johnny asked.
Jules shrugged. “I was pretty sure he would.”
Johnny said sharply, “Then why didn’t you warn me?”
“I warned you,” Jules said.
“You didn’t warn me right,” Johnny said with cold anger. “You are really one hell of a doctor. You don’t give a shit. You tell me to get Nino in a crazy house, you don’t bother to use a nice word like sanitorium. You really like to stick it to people, right?”
Lucy was staring down in her lap. Jules kept smiling at Fontane. “Nothing was going to stop you from giving Nino that drink. You had to show you didn’t have to accept my warnings, my orders. Remember when you offered me a job as your personal physician
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 315
after that throat business? I turned you down because I knew we could never get along. A doctor thinks he’s God, he’s the high priest in modern society, that’s one of his rewards. But you would never treat me that way. I’d be a flunky God to you. Like those doctors you guys have in Hollywood. Where do you get those people from anyway? Christ, don’t they know anything or don’t they just care? They must know what’s happening to Nino but they just give him all kinds of drugs to keep him going. They wear those silk suits and they kiss your ass because you’re a power movie man and so you think they are great doctors. Show biz, docs, you gotta have heart? Right? But they don’t give a fuck if you live or die. Well, my little hobby, unforgivable as it is, is to keep people alive. I let you give Nino that drink to show you what could happen to him.” Jules leaned toward Johnny Fontane, his voice still calm, unemotional. “Your friend is almost terminal. Do you understand that? He hasn’t got a chance without therapy and strict medical care. His blood pressure and diabetes and bad habits can cause a cerebral hemorrhage in this very next instant. His brain will blow itself apart. Is that vivid enough for you? Sure, I said crazy house. I want you to understand what’s needed. Or you won’t make a move. I’ll put it to you straight. You can save your buddy’s life by having him committed. Otherwise kiss him good-bye.”
Lucy murmured, “Jules, darling, lutes, don’t be so tough. Just tell him.”
Jules stood up. His usual cool was gone, Johnny Fontane noticed with satisfaction. His voice too had lost its quiet unaccented monotone.
“Do you think this is the first time I’ve had to talk to people like you in a situation like this?” Jules said. “I did it every day. Lucy says don’t be so tough, but she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. You know, I used to tell people, “Don’t eat go much or you’ll die, don’t smoke so much or you’ll die, don’t work so much or you’ll die, don’t drink so much or you’ll die.’ Nobody listens. You know why? Because I don’t say, `You will die tomorrow.’ Well, I can tell you that Nino may very well die tomorrow.”
Jules went over to the bar and mixed himself another drink. “How about it, Johnny, are you going to get Nino committed?”
Johnny said, “I don’t know.”
Jules took a quick drink at the bar and filled his glass again. “You know, it’s a funny thing, you can smoke yourself to death, drink yourself to death, work yourself to death and even eat yourself to death. But that’s all acceptable. The only thing you can’t do medically is screw yourself to death and yet that’s where they put all the obstacles.” He
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 316
paused to finish his drink. “But even that’s trouble, for women anyway. I used to have women who weren’t supposed to have any more babies. ‘It’s dangerous,’ I’d tell them. ‘You could die,’ I’d tell them. And a month later they pop in, their faces all rosy, and say, ‘Doctor, I think I’m pregnant,’ and sure enough they’d kill the rabbit. ‘But it’s dangerous,’ I’d tell them. My voice used to have expression in those days. And they’d smile at me and say, ‘But my husband and I are very strict Catholics,’ they’d say.”
There was a knock on the door and two waiters wheeled in a cart covered with food and silver service coffeepots. They took a portable table from the bottom of the cart and set it up. Then Johnny dismissed them.
They sat at the table and ate the hot sandwiches Lucy had ordered and drank the coffee. Johnny leaned back and lit up a cigarette. “So you save lives. How come you became an abortionist?”
Lucy spoke up for the first time. “He wanted to help girls in trouble, girls who might commit suicide or do something dangerous to get rid of the baby.”
Jules smiled at her and sighed. “It’s not that simple. I became a surgeon finally. I’ve got the good hands, as ballplayers say. But I was so good I scared myself silly. I’d open up some poor bastard’s belly and know he was going to die. I’d operate and know that the cancer or tumor would come back but I’d send them off home with a smile and a lot of bullshit. Some poor broad comes in and I slice off one tit. A year later she’s back and I slice off the other tit. A year after that, I scoop out her insides like you scoop the seeds out of a cantaloupe. After all that she dies anyway. Meanwhile husbands keep calling up and asking, ‘What do the tests show? What do the tests show?’
“So I hired an extra secretary to take all those calls. I saw the patient only when she was fully prepared for examination, tests or operation. I spent the minimum possible time with the victim because I was, after all, a busy man. And then finally I’d let the husband talk to me for two minutes. ‘It’s terminal,’ I’d say. And they could never hear that last word. They understood what it meant but they never heard it. I thought at first that unconsciously I was dropping my voice on the last word, so I consciously said it louder. But still they never heard it. One guy even said, ‘What the hell do you mean, it’s germinal?’” Jules started to laugh. “Germinal, terminal, what the hell. I started to do abortions. Nice and easy, everybody happy, like washing the dishes and leaving a clean sink. That was my class. I loved it, I loved being an abortionist. I don’t believe that a two-month fetus is a human being so no problems there. I was helping young girls and
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 317
married women who were in trouble, I was making good money. I was out of the front tines. When I got caught I felt like a deserter that had been hauled in. But I was lucky, a friend pulled some strings and got pie off but now the big hospitals won’t let me operate. So here I am. Giving good advice again which is being ignored just like in the old days.”
“I’m not ignoring it,” Johnny Fontane said. “I’m thinking it over.”
Lucy finally changed the subject. “What are you doing in Vegas, Johnny? Relaxing from your duties as big-time Hollywood wheel or working?”
Johnny shook his head. “Mike Corleone wants to see me and have a talk. He’s flying in tonight with Tom Hagen. Tom said they’ll be seeing you, Lucy. You know what it’s all about?”
Lucy shook her head. “We’re all having dinner tether tomorrow night. Freddie too. I think it might have something to do with the hotel. The casino has been dropping money lately, which shouldn’t be. The Don might want Mike to check it out.”
“I hear Mike finally got his face fixed,” Johnny said.
Lucy laughed. “I guess Kay talked him into it. He wouldn’t do it when they were married. I wonder why? It looked so awful and made his nose drip. He should have had it done sooner.” She paused for a moment. “Jules was called in by the Corleone Family for that operation. They used him as a consultant and as observer.”
Johnny nodded and said dryly, “I recommended him for it.”
“Oh,” Lucy said. “Anyway, Mike said he wanted to do something for Jules. That’s why he’s having us to dinner tomorrow night.”
Jules said musingly, “He didn’t trust anybody. He warned me to keep track of what everybody did. It was fairly straight, ordinary surgery. Any competent man could do it.”
There was a sound from the bedroom of the suite and they looked toward the drapes. Nino had become concious again. Johnny went and sat on the bed. Jules and Lucy went over to the foot of the bed. Nino gave them a wan grin. “OK, I’ll stop being a wise guy. I feel really lousy. Johnny, remember about a year ago, what happened when we were with those two broads down in Palm Springs? I swear to you I wasn’t jealous about what happened. I was glad. You believe me, Johnny?”
Johnny said reassuringly, “Sure, Nino, I believe you.”
Lucy and Jules looked at each other. From everything they had heard and knew about
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 318
Johnny Fontane it seemed impossible that he would take a girl away from a close friend like Nino. And why was Nino saying he wasn’t jealous a year after it happened? The same thought crossed both their minds, that Nino was drinking himself to death romantically because a girl had left him to go with Johnny Fontane.
Jules checked Nino again. “I’ll get a nurse to be in the room with you tonight,” Jules said. “You really have to stay in bed for a couple of days. No kidding.”
Nino smiled. “OK, Doc, just don’t make the nurse too pretty.”
Jules made a call for the nurse and then he and Lucy left. Johnny sat in a chair near the bed to wait for the nurse. Nino was falling asleep again, an exhausted took on his face. Johnny thought about what he had said, about not being jealous about what had happened over a year ago with those two broads down in Palm Springs. The thought had never entered his head that Nino might be jealous.
* * *
A year ago Johnny Fontane had sat in his plush office, the office of the movie company he headed, and felt as lousy as he had ever felt in his life. Which was surprising because the first movie he had produced, with himself as star and Nino in a featured part, was making tons of money. Everything had worked. Everybody had done their job. The picture was brought in under budget. Everybody was going to make a fortune out of it and Jack Woltz was losing ten years of his life. Now Johnny had two more pictures in production, one starring himself, one starring Nino. Nino was great on the screen as one of those charming, dopey lover-boys that women loved to shove between their tits. Little boy lost. Everything he touched made money, it was rolling in. The Godfather was getting his percentage through the bank, and that made Johnny feel really good. He had justified his Godfather’s faith. But today that wasn’t helping much.
And now that he was a successful independent movie producer he had as much power, maybe more, than he had ever had as a singer. Beautiful broads felt all over him just like before, though for a more commercial reason. He had his own plane, he lived more lavishly even, with the special tax benefits a businessman had that artists didn’t get. Then what the hell was bothering him?
He knew what it was. The front of his head hurt, his nasal passages hurt, his throat itched. The only way he could scratch and relieve that itch was by singing and he was afraid to even try. He had called Jules Segal about it, when it would be safe to try to sing and Jules had said anytime he felt like it. So he’d tried and sounded so hoarse and
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 319
lousy he’d given up. And his throat would hurt like hell the next day, hurt in a different way than before the warts had been taken off. Hurt worse, burning. He was afraid to keep singing, afraid that he’d lose his voice forever, or ruin it.
And if he couldn’t sing, what the hell was the use of everything else? Everything else was just bullshit. Sing was the only thing he really knew. Maybe he knew more about singing and his kind of music than anybody else in the world. He was that good, he realized now. All those years had made him a real pro. Nobody could tell him, the right and the wrong, he didn’t have to ask anybody. He knew. What a waste, what a damn waste.
It was Friday and he decided to spend the weekend with Virginia and the kids. He called her up as he always did to tell her he was coming. Really to give her a chance to say no. She never said no. Not in all the years they had been divorced. Because she would never say no to a meeting of her daughters and their father. What a broad, Johnny thought. He’d been lucky with Virginia. And though he knew he cared more about her than any other woman he knew it was impossible for them to live together sexually. Maybe when they were sixty-five, like when you retire, they’d retire together, retire from everything.
But reality shattered these tests when he arrived there and found Virginia was feeling a little grouchy herself and the two girls not that crazy to see him because they had been promised a weekend visit with some girl friends on a California ranch where they could ride horses.
He told Virginia to send the girls off to the ranch and kissed them good-bye with an amused smile. He understood them so well. What kid wouldn’t rather go riding horses on a ranch than hang around with a grouchy father who picked his own spots as a father. He said to Virginia, “I’ll have a few drinks and then I’ll shove off too.”
“All right,” she said. She was having one of her bad days, rare, but recognizable. It wasn’t too easy for her leading this kind of life.
She saw him taking an extra large drink. “What are you cheering yourself up for?” Virginia asked. “Everything is going so beautifully for you. I never dreamed you had it in you to be such a good businessman.”
Johnny smiled at her. “It’s not so hard,” he said. At the same time he was thinking, so that’s what was wrong. He understood women and he understood now that Virginia was down because she thought he was having everything his own way. Women really hated
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 320
seeing their men doing too well. It irritated them. It made them less sure of the hold they exerted over them through affection, sexual custom or marriage ties. So more to cheer her up than voice his own complaints, Johnny said, “What the hell difference does it make if I can’t sing.”
Virginia’s voice was annoyed. “Oh, Johnny, you’re not a kid anymore. You’re over thirty-five. Why do you keep worrying about that silly singing stuff? You make more money as a producer anyhow.”
Johnny looked at her curiously and said, “I’m a singer. I love to sing. What’s being old got to do with that?”
Virginia was impatient. “I never liked your singing anyway. Now that you’ve shown you can make movies, I’m glad you can’t sing anymore.”
They were both surprised when Johnny said with fury, “That’s a fucking lousy thing to say.” He was shaken. How could Virginia feel like that, how could she dislike him so much?
Virginia smiled at his being hurt and because it was so outrageous that he should be angry at her she said, “How do you think I felt when all those girls came running after you because of the way you sang? How would you feel if I went ass-naked down the street to get men running after me? That’s what your singing was and I used to wish you’d lose your voice and could never sing again. But that was before we got divorced.”
Johnny finished his drink. “You don’t understand a thing. Not a damn thing.” He went into the kitchen and dialed Nino’s number. He quickly arranged for them both to go down to Palm Springs for the weekend and gave Nino the number of a girl to call, a real fresh young beauty he’d been meaning to get around to. “She’ll have a friend for you,” Johnny said. “I’ll be at your place in an hour.”
Virginia gave him a cool good-bye when he left. He didn’t give a damn, it was one of the few times he was angry with her. The hell with it, he’d just tear loose for the weekend and get all the poison out of his system.
Sure enough, everything was fine down in Palm Springs. Johnny used his own house down there, it was always kept open and staffed this time of year. The two girls were young enough to be great fun and not too rapacious for some kind of favor. Some people came over to keep them company at the pool until suppertime. Nino went to his room with his girl to get ready for supper and a quick bang while he was still warm from the sun. Johnny wasn’t in the mood, so he sent his girl, a short bandbox blonde named
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 321
Tina, up to shower by herself. He never could make love to another woman after he’d had a fight with Virginia.
He went into the glass-walled patio living room that held a piano. When singing with the band he had fooled around with the piano just for laughs, so he could pick out a song in a fake moonlight-soft ballad style. He sat down now and hummed along a bit with the piano, very softly, muttering a few words but not really singing. Before he knew it Tina was in the living room making him a drink and sitting beside him at the piano. He played a few tunes and she hummed with him. He left her at the piano and went up to take his shower. In the shower he sang short phrases, more like speaking. He got dressed and went back down. Tina was still alone; Nino was really working his girl over or getting drunk.
Johnny sat down at the piano again while Tina wandered off outside to watch the pool. He started singing one of his old songs. There was no burning in his throat. The tones were coming out muted but with proper body. He looked at the patio. Tina was still out there, the glass door was closed, she wouldn’t hear him. For some reason he didn’t want anybody to hear him. He started off fresh on an old ballad that was his favorite. He sang full out as if he were singing in public, letting himself go, waiting for the familiar burning rasp in his throat but there was none. He listened to his voice, it was diferent somehow, but he liked it. It was darker, it was a man’s voice, not a kid’s, rich he thought, dark rich. He finished the song easing up and sat there at the piano thinking about it.
Behind him Nino said, “Not bad, old buddy, not bad at all.”
Johnny swiveled his body around. Nino was standing in the doorway, alone. His girl wasn’t with him. Johnny was relieved. He didn’t mind Nino hearing him.
“Yeah,” Johnny said. “Let’s get rid of those two broads. Send them home.”
Nino said, “You send them home. They’re nice kids, I’m not gonna hurt their feelings. Besides I just banged mine twice. How would it look if I sent her away without even giving her dinner?” The hell with it, Johnny thought. Let the girls listen even if he sounded lousy. He called up a band leader he knew in Palm Springs and asked him to send over a mandolin for Nino. The band leader protested, “Hell, nobody plays a mandolin in California.” Johnny yelled, “Just get one.”
The house was loaded with recording equipment and Johnny had the two girls work the turn-off and volumes. After they had dinner, Johnny went to work. He had Nino playing the mandolin as accompaniment and sang all his old songs. He sang them all the way
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 322
out, not nursing his voice at all. His throat was fine, he felt that he could sing forever. In the months he had not been able to sing he had often thought about singing, planned out how he would phrase lyrics differently now than as a kid. He had sung the songs in his head with more sophisticated variations of emphasis. Now he was doing it for real. Sometimes it would go wrong in the actual singing, stuff that had sound good when he heard it just in his head didn’t work out when he tried it really singing out loud. OUT LOUD, he thought. He wasn’t listening to himself now, he was concentrating on performing. He fumbled a little on timing but that was OK, just rusty. He had a metronome in his head that would never fail him. Just a little practice was all he needed.
Finally he stopped singing. Tina came over to him with eyes shining and gave him a long kiss. “Now I know why Mother goes to all your movies,” she said. It was the wrong thing to say at any time except this. Johnny and Nino laughed.
They played the feedback and now Johnny could really listen to himself. His voice had changed, changed a hell of a lot but was still unquestionably the voice of Johnny Fontane. It had become much richer and darker as he had noticed before but there was also the quality of a man singing rather than a boy. The voice had more true emotion, more character. And the technical part of his singing was far superior to anything he had ever done. It was nothing less than masterful. And if he was that good now, rusty as hell, how good would he be when he got in shape again? Johnny grinned at Nino. “Is that as good as I think it is?”
Nino looked at his happy face thoughtfully. “It’s very damn good,” he said. “But let’s see how you sing tomorrow.”
Johnny was hurt that Nino should be so downbeat. “You son of a bitch, you know you can’t sing like that. Don’t worry about tomorrow. I feel great.” But he didn’t sing any more that night. He and Nino took the girls to a party and Tina spent the night in his_bed but he wasn’t much good there. The girl was a little disappointed. But what the hell, you couldn’t do everything all in one day, Johnny thought.
He woke up in the morning with a sense of apprehension, with a vague terror that he had dreamed his voice had come back. Then when he was sure it was not a dream he got scared that his voice would be shot again. He went to the window and hummed a bit, then he went down to the living room still in his pajamas. He picked out a tune on the piano and after a while tried singing with it. He sang mutedly but there was no pain, no hoarseness in his throat, so he turned it on. The cords were true. and rich, he didn’t
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 323
have to force it at all. Easy, easy, just pouring out. Johnny realized that the bad time was over, he had it all now. And it didn’t matter a damn if he fell on his face with movies, it didn’t matter if he couldn’t get it up with Tina the night before; it didn’t matter that Virginia would hate him being able to sing again. For a moment he had just one regret. If only his voice had come back to him while trying to sing for his daughters, how lovely that would have been. That would have been so lovely.
* * *
The hotel nurse had come into the room wheeling a cart loaded with medication. Johnny got up and stared down at Nino, who was sleeping or maybe dying. He knew Nino wasn’t jealous of his getting his voice back. He understood that Nino was only jealous because he was so happy about getting his voice back. That he cared so much about singing. For what was very obvious now was that Nino Valenti didn’t care enough about anything to make him want to stay alive.
Chapter 27
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,
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 324
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
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 325
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
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 326
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
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 327
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
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 328
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
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 329
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.”
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 330
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.”
Chapter 28
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
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 331
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
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 332
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
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 333
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
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 334
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 Godfather” By Mario Puzo 335
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.
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 336
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
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 337
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 Godfather” By Mario Puzo 338
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
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 339
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
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 340
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.”
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 341
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?”
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 342
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.”
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 343
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
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 344
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.
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 345
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.
Book Eight
Chapter 29
Michael Corleone had taken precautions against every eventuality. His planning was faultless, his security impeccable. He was patient, hoping to use the full year to prepare. But he was not to get his necessary year because fate itself took a stand against him, and in the most surprising fashion. For it was the Godfather, the great Don himself, who failed Michael Corleone.
* * *
On one sunny Sunday morning, while the women were at church, Don Vito Corleone dressed in his gardening uniform: baggy gray trousers, a faded blue shirt, battered dirty-brown fedora decorated by a stained gray silk hatband. The Don had gained considerable weight in his few years and worked on his tomato vines, he said, for the sake of his health. But he deceived no one.
The truth was, he loved tending his garden; he loved the sight of it early on a morning. It brought back his childhood in Sicily sixty years ago, brought it back without the terror, the sorrow of his own father’s death. Now the beans in their rows grew little white flowers on top; strong green stalks of scallion fenced everything in. At the foot of the garden a spouted barrel stood guard. It was filled with liquidy cow manure, the finest garden fertilizer. Also in that lower part of the garden were the square wooden frames he had built with his own hands, the sticks cross-tied with thick white string. Over these frames crawled the tomato vines.
The Don hastened to water his garden. It must be done before the sun waxed too hot and turned the water into a prism of fire that could burn his lettuce leaves like paper. Sun was more important than water, water also was important; but the two, imprudently mixed, could cause great misfortune.
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 346
The Don moved through his garden hunting for ants. If ants were present, it meant that lice were in his vegetables and the ants were going after the lice and he would have to spray.
He had watered just in time. The sun was becoming hot and the Don thought, “Prudence. Prudence.” But there were just a few more plants to be supported by sticks and he bent down again. He would go back into the house when he finished this last row.
Quite suddenly it felt as if the sun had come down very close to his head. The air filled with dancing golden specks. Michael’s oldest boy came running through the garden toward where the Don knelt and the boy was enveloped by a yellow shield of blinding light. But the Don was not to be tricked, he was too old a hand. Death hid behind that flaming yellow shield ready to pounce out on him and the Don with a wave of his hand warned the boy away from his presence. Just in time. The sledgehammer blow inside his chest made him choke for air. The Don pitched forward into the earth.
The boy raced away to call his father. Michael Corleone and some men at the mall gate ran to the garden and found the Don lying prone, clutching handfuls of earth. They lifted the Don up and carried him to the shade of his stone-flagged patio. Michael knelt beside his father, holding his hand, while the other men called for an ambulance and doctor.
With a great effort the Don opened his eyes to see his son once more. The massive heart attack had turned his ruddy face almost blue. He was in extremis. He smelled the garden, the yellow shield of light smote his eyes, and he whispered, “Life is so beautiful.”
He was spared the sight of his women’s tears, dying before they came back from church, dying before the ambulance arrived, or the doctor. He died surrounded by men, holding the hand of the son he had most loved.
The funeral was royal. The Five Families sent their Dons and caporegimes, as did the Tessio and Clemenza Families. Johnny Fontane made the tabloid headlines by attending the funeral despite the advice of Michael not to appear. Fontane gave a statement to the newspapers that Vito Corleone was his Godfather and the finest man he had ever known and that he was honored to be permitted to pay his last respects to such a man and didn’t give a damn who knew it.
The wake was held in the house of the mall, in the old-fashioned style. Amerigo Bonasera had never done finer work, had discharged all obligations, by preparing his
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 347
old friend and Godfather as lovingly as a mother prepares a bride for her wedding. Everyone commented on how not even death itself had been able to erase the nobility and the dignity of the great Don’s countenance and such remarks made Amerigo Bonasera fill with knowing pride, a curious sense of power. Only he knew what a terrible massacre death had perpetrated on the Don’s appearance.
All the old friends and servitors came. Nazorine, his wife, his daughter and her husband and their children, Lucy Mancini came with Freddie from Las Vegas. Tom Hagen and his wife and children, the Dons from San Francisco and Los Angeles, Boston and Cleveland. Rocco Lampone and Albert Neri were pallbearers with Clemenza and Tessio and, of course, the sons of the Don. The mall and all its houses were filled with floral wreaths.
Outside the gates of the mall were the newspapermen and photographers and a small truck that was known to contain FBI men with their movie cameras recording this epic. Some newspapermen who tried to crash the funeral inside found that the gate and fence were manned with security guards who demanded identification and an invitation card. And though they were treated with the utmost courtesy, refreshment sent out to them, they were not permitted inside. They tried to speak with some of the people coming out but were met with stony stares and not a syllable.
Michael Corleone spent most of the day in the corner library room with Kay, Tom Hagen and Freddie. People were ushered in to see him, to offer their condolences. Michael received them with all courtesy even when some of them addressed him as Godfather or Don Michael, only Kay noticing his lips tighten with displeasure.
Clemenza and Tessio came to join this inner circle and Michael personally served them with a drink. There was some gossip of business. Michael informed them that the mall and all its houses were to be sold to a development and construction company. At an enormous profit, still another proof of the great Don’s genius.
They all understood that now the whole empire would be in the West. That the Corleone Family would liquidate its power in New York. Such action had been awaiting the retirement or death of the Don.
It was nearly ten years since there had been such a celebration of people in this house, nearly ten years since the wedding of Constanzia Corleone and Carlo Rizzi, so somebody said. Michael walked to the window that looked out on the garden. That long time ago he had sat in the garden with Kay never dreaming that so curious a destiny
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 348
was to be his. And his father dying had said, “Life is so beautiful.” Michael could never remember his father ever having uttered a word about death, as if the Don respected death too much to philosophize about it.
It was time for the cemetery. It was time to bury the great Don. Michael linked his arm with Kay’s and went out into the garden to join the host of mourners. Behind him came the caporegimes followed by their soldiers and then all the humble people the Godfather had blessed during his lifetime. The baker Nazorine, the widow Colombo and her sons and all the countless others of his world he had ruled so firmly but justly. There were even some who had been his enemies, come to do him honor.
Michael observed all this with a tight, polite smile. He was not impressed. Yet, he thought, if I can die saying, “Life is so beautiful,” then nothing else is important. If I can believe in myself that much, nothing else matters. He would follow his father. He would care for his children, his family, his world. But his children would grow in a different world. They would be doctors, artists, scientists. Governors. Presidents. Anything at all. He would see to it that they joined the general family of humanity, but he, as a powerful and prudent parent would most certainly keep a wary eye on that general family.
* * *
On the morning after the funeral, all the most important officials of the Corleone Family assembled on the mall. Shortly before noon they were admitted into the empty house of the Don. Michael Corleone received them.
They almost filled the corner library room. There were the two caporegimes, Clemenza and Tessio; Rocco Lampone, with his reasonable, competent air; Carlo Rizzi, very quiet, very much knowing his place; Tom Hagen forsaking his strictly legal role to rally around in this crisis; Albert Neri trying to stay physically close to Michael, lighting his new Don’s cigarette, mixing his drink, all to show an unswerving loyalty despite the recent disaster to the Corleone Family.
The death of the Don was a great misfortune for the Family. Without him it seemed that half their strength was gone and almost all their bargaining power against the Barzini-Tattaglia alliance. Everyone in the room knew this and they waited for what Michael would say. In their eyes he was not yet the new Don; he had not earned the position or the title. If the Godfather had lived, he might have assured his son’s succession; now it was by no means certain.
Michael waited until Ned had served drinks. Then he said quietly, “I just want to tell
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 349
everybody here that I understand how they feel. I know you all respected my father, but now you have to worry about yourselves and your families. Some of you wonder how what happened is going to affect the planning we’ve done and the promises I made. Well, the answer to that is: nothing. Everything goes on as before.”
Clemenza shook his great shaggy buffalo head. His hair was an iron gray and his features, more deeply embedded in added layers of fat, were unpleasant. “The Barzinis and Tattaglias are going to move in on us real hard, Mike. You gotta fight or have a ‘sit-down’ with them.” Everyone in the room noticed that Clemenza had not used a formal form of address to Michael, much less the title of Don.
“Let’s wait and see what happens,” Michael said. “Let them break the peace first.”
Tessio spoke up in his soft voice. “They already have, Mike. They opened up two ‘books’ in Brooklyn this morning. I got the word from the police captain who runs the protection list at the station house. In a month I won’t have a place to hang my hat in all Brooklyn.”
Michael stared at him thoughtfully. “Have you done anything about it?”
Tessio shook his small, ferretlike head. “No,” he said. “I didn’t want to give you any problems.”
“Good,” Michael said. “Just sit tight. And I guess that’s what I want to say to all of you. Just sit tight. Don’t react to any provocation. Give me a few weeks to straighten things out, to see which way the wind is going to blow. Then I’ll make the best deal I can for everybody here. Then we’ll have a final meeting and make some final decisions.”
He ignored their surprise and Albert Neri started ushering them out. Michael said sharply, “Tom, stick around a few minutes.”
Hagen went to the window that faced the mall. He waited until he saw the caporegimes and Carlo Rizzo and Rocco Lampone being shepherded through the guarded gate by Neri. Then he turned to Michael and said, “Have you got all the political connections wired into you?”
Michael shook his head regretfully. “Not all. I needed about four more months. The Don and I were working on it. But I’ve got all the judges, we did that first, and some of the more important people in Congress. And the big party boys here in New York were no problem, of course. The Corleone Family is a lot stronger than anybody thinks, but I hoped to make it foolproof.” He smiled at Hagen. “I guess you’ve figured everything out
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 350
by now.”
Hagen nodded. “It wasn’t hard. Except why you wanted me out of the action. But I put on my Sicilian hat and I finally figured that too.”
Michael laughed. “The old man said you would. But that’s a luxury I can’t afford anymore. I need you here. At least for the next few weeks. You better phone Vegas and talk to your wife. Just tell her a few weeks.”
Hagen said musingly, “How do you think they’ll come at you?”
Michael sighed. “The Don instructed me. Through somebody close. Brazini will set me up through somebody close that, supposedly, I won’t suspect.”
Hagen smiled at him. “Somebody like me.”
Michael smiled back. “You’re Irish, they won’t trust you.”
“I’m German-American,” Hagen said.
“To them that’s Irish,” Michael said. “They won’t go to you and they won’t go to Neri because Neri was a cop. Plus both of you are too close to me. They can’t take that gamble. Rocco Lampone isn’t close enough. No, it will be Clemenza, Tessio or Carlo Rizzi.”
Hagen said softly, “I’m betting it’s Carlo.”
“We’ll see,” Michael said. “It won’t be long.”
* * *
It was the next morning, while Hagen and Michael were having breakfast together. Michael took a phone call in the library, and when he came back to the kitchen, he said to Hagen, “It’s all set up. I’m going to meet Barzini a week from now. To make new peace now that the Don is dead.” Michael laughed.
Hagen asked, “Who phoned you, who made the contact?” They both knew that whoever in the Corleone Family had made the contact had turned traitor.
Michael gave Hagen a sad regretful smile. “Tessio,” he said.
They ate the rest of their breakfast in silence. Over coffee Hagen shook his head. “I could have sworn it would have been Carlo or maybe Clemenza. I never figured Tessio. He’s the best of the lot.”
“He’s the most intelligent,” Michael said. “And he did what seems to him to be the smart
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 351
thing. He sets me up for the hit by Barzini and inherits the Corleone Family. He sticks with me and he gets wiped out; he’s figuring I can’t win.”
Hagen paused before he asked reluctantly, “How right is he figuring?”
Michael shrugged. “It looks bad. But my father was the only one who understood that political connections and power are worth ten regimes. I think I’ve got most of my father’s political power in my hands now, but I’m the only one who really knows that.” He smiled at Hagen, a reassuring smile. “I’ll make them call me Don. But I feel lousy about Tessio.”
Hagen said, “Have you agreed to the meeting with Barzini?” ’
“Yeah,” Michael said. “A week from tonight. In Brooklyn, on Tessio’s ground where I’ll be safe.” He laughed again.
Hagen said, “Be careful before then.”
For the first time Michael was cold with Hagen. “I don’t need a Consigliere to give me that kind of advice,” he said.
* * *
During the week preceding the peace meeting between the Corleone and Barzini Families, Michael showed Hagen just how careful he could be. He never set foot outside the mall and never received anyone without Neri beside him. There was only one annoying complication. Connie and Carlo’s oldest boy was to receive his Confirmation in the Catholic Church and Kay asked Michael to be the Godfather. Michael refused.
“I don’t often beg you,” Kay said. “Please do this just for me. Connie wants it so much. And so does Carlo. It’s very important to them. Please, Michael.”
She could see he was angry with her for insisting and expected him to refuse. So she was surprised when he nodded and said, “OK. But I can’t leave the mall. Tell them to arrange for the priest to confirm the kid here. I’ll pay whatever it costs. If they run into trouble with the church people, Hagen will straighten it out.”
And so the day before the meeting with the Barzini Family, Michael Corleone stood Godfather to the son of Carlo and Connie Rizzi. He presented the boy with an extremely expensive wristwatch and gold band. There was a small party in Carlo’s house, to which were invited the caporegimes, Hagen, Lampone and everyone who lived on the mall, including, of course, the Don’s widow. Connie was so overcome with emotion that she hugged and kissed her brother and Kay all during the evening. And even Carlo Rizzi
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 352
became sentimental, wringing Michael’s hand and calling him Godfather at every excuse– old country style. Michael himself had never been so affable, so outgoing. Connie whispered to Kay, “I think Carlo and Mike are going to be real friends now. Something like this always brings people together.”
Kay squeezed her sister-in-law’s arm. “I’m so glad,” she said.
Chapter 30
Albert Neri sat in his Bronx apartment and carefully brushed the blue serge of his old policeman’s uniform. He unpinned the badge and set it on the table to be polished. The regulation holster and gun were draped over a chair. This old routine of detail made him happy in some strange way, one of the few times he had felt happy since his wife had left him, nearly two years ago.
He had married Rita when she was a high school kid and he was a rookie policeman. She was shy, dark-haired, from a straitlaced Italian family who never let her stay out later than ten o’clock at night. Neri was completely in love with her, her innocence, her virtue, as well as her dark prettiness.
At first Rita Neri was fascinated by her husband. He was immensely strong and she could see people were afraid of him because of that strength and his unbending attitude toward what was right and wrong. He was rarely tactful. If he disagreed with a group’s attitude or an individual’s opinion, he kept his mouth shut or brutally spoke his contradiction. He never gave a polite agreement. He also had a true Sicilian temper and his rages could be awesome. But he was never angry with his wife.
Neri in the space of five years became one of the most feared policemen on the New York City force. Also one of the most honest. But he had his own ways of enforcing the law. He hated punks and when he saw a bunch of young rowdies making a disturbance on a street corner at night, disturbing passersby, he took quick and decisive action. He employed a physical strength that was truly extraordinary, which he himself did not fully appreciate.
One night in Central Park West he jumped out of the patrol car and lined up six punks in black silk jackets. His partner remained in the driver’s seat, not wanting to get involved, knowing Neri. The six boys, all in their late teens, had been stopping people and asking them for cigarettes in a youthfully menacing way but not doing anyone any real physical harm. They had also teased girls going by with a sexual gesture more French than American.
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 353
Neri lined them up against the stone wall that closed off Central Park from Eighth Avenue. It was twilight, but Neri carried his favorite weapon, a huge flashlight. He never bothered drawing his gun; it was never necessary. His face when he was angry was so brutally menacing, combined with his uniform, that the usual punks were cowed. These were no exception.
Neri asked the first youth in the black silk jacket, “What’s your name?” The kid answered with an Irish name. Neri told him, “Get off the street. I see you again tonight, I’ll crucify you.” He motioned with his flashlight and the youth walked quickly away. Neri followed the same procedure with the next two boys. He let them walk off. But the fourth boy gave an Italian name and smiled at Neri as if to claim some sort of kinship. Neri was unmistakably of Italian descent. Neri looked at this youth for a moment and asked superfluously, “You Italian?” The boy grinned confidently.
Neri hit him a stunning blow on the forehead with his flashlight. The boy dropped to his knees. The skin and flesh of his forehead had cracked open and blood poured down his face. But it was strictly a flesh wound. Neri said to him harshly, “You son of a bitch, you’re a disgrace to the Italians. You give us all a bad name. Get on your feet.” He gave the youth a kick in the side, not gentle, not too hard. “Get home and stay off the street. Don’t ever let me catch you wearing that jacket again either. I’ll send you to the hospital. Now get home. You’re lucky I’m not your father.”
Neri didn’t bother with the other two punks. He just booted their asses down the Avenue, telling them he didn’t want them on the street that night.
In such encounters all was done so quickly that there was no time for a crowd to gather or for someone to protest his actions. Neri would get into the patrol car and his partner would zoom it away. Of course once in a while there would be a real hard case who wanted to fight and might even pull a knife. These were truly unfortunate people. Neri would, with awesome, quick ferocity, beat them bloody and throw them into the patrol car. They would be put under arrest and charged with assaulting an officer. But usually their case would have to wait until they were discharged from the hospital.
Eventually Neri was transferred to the beat that held the United Nations building area, mainly because he had not shown his precinct sergeant the proper respect. The United Nations people with their diplomatic immunity parked their limousines all over the streets without regard to police regulations. Neri complained to the precinct and was told not to make waves, to just ignore it. But one night there was a whole side street that was
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 354
impassable because of the carelessly parked autos. It was after midnight, so Neri took his huge flashlight from the patrol car and went down the street smashing windshields to smithereens. It was not easy, even for high-ranking diplomats, to get the windshields repaired in less than a few days. Protests poured into the police precinct station house demanding protection against this vandalism. After a week of windshield smashing the truth gradually hit somebody about what was actually happening and Albert Neri was transferred to Harlem.
One Sunday shortly afterward, Neri took his wife to visit his widowed sister in Brooklyn. Albert Neri had the fierce protective affection for his sister common to all Sicilians and he always visited her at least once every couple of months to make sure she was all right. She was much older than he was and had a son who was twenty. This son, Thomas, without a father’s hand, was giving trouble. He had gotten into a few minor scrapes, was running a little wild. Neri had once used his contacts on the police force to keep the youth from being charged with larceny. On that occasion he had kept his anger in check but had given his nephew a warning. “Tommy, you make my sister cry over you and I’ll straighten you out myself.” It was intended as a friendly pally-uncle warning, not really as a threat. But even though Tommy was the toughest kid in that tough Brooklyn neighborhood, he was afraid of his Uncle Al.
On this particular visit Tommy had come in very late Saturday night and was still sleeping in his room. His mother went to wake him, telling him to get dressed so that he could eat Sunday dinner with his uncle and aunt. The boy’s voice came harshly through the partly opened door, “I don’t give a shit, let me sleep,” and his mother came back out into the kitchen smiling apologetically.
So they had to eat their dinner without him. Neri asked his sister if Tommy was giving her any real trouble and she shook her head.
Neri and his wife were about to leave when Tommy finally got up. He barely grumbled a hello and went into the kitchen. Finally he yelled in to his mother, “Hey, Ma, how about cooking me something to eat?” But it was not a request. It was the spoiled complaint of an indulged child.
His mother said shrilly, “Get up when it’s dinnertime and then you can eat. I’m not going to cook again for you.”
It was the sort of little ugly scene that was fairly commonplace, but Tommy still a little irritable from his slumber made a mistake. “Ah, fuck you and your nagging, I’ll go out
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 355
and eat.” As soon as he said it he regretted it.
His Uncle Al was on him like a cat on a mouse. Not so much for the insult to his sister this particular day but because it was obvious that he often talked to his mother in such a fashion when they were alone. Tommy never dared say such a thing in from of her brother. This particular Sunday he had just been careless. To his misfortune.
Before the frightened eyes of the two women, Al Neri gave his nephew a merciless, careful, physical beating. At first the youth made an attempt at self-defense but soon gave that up and begged for mercy. Neri slapped his face until the lips were swollen and bloody. He rocked the kid’s head back and slammed him against the wall. He punched him in the stomach, then got him prone on the floor and slapped his face into the carpet. He told the two women to wait and made Tommy go down the street and get into his car. There he put the fear of God into him. “If my sister ever tells me you talk like that to her again, this beating will seem like kisses from a broad,” he told Tommy. “I want to see you straighten out. Now go up the house and tell my wife I’m waiting for her.”
It was two months after this that Al Neri got back from a late shift on the force and found his wife had left him. She had packed all her clothes and gone back to her family. Her father told him that Rita was afraid of him, that she was afraid to live with him because of his temper. Al was stunned with disbelief. He had never struck his wife, never threatened her in any way, had never felt anything but affection for her. But he was so bewildered by her action that he decided to let a few days go by before he went over to her family’s house to talk to her.
It was unfortunate that the next night he ran into trouble on his shift. His car answered a call in Harlem, a report of a deadly assault. As usual Neri jumped out of the patrol car while it was still rolling to a stop. It was after midnight and he was carrying his huge flashlight. It was easy spotting the trouble. There was a crowd gathered outside a tenement doorway. One Negro woman said to Neri, “There’s a man in there cutting a little girl.”
Neri went into the hallway. There was an open door at the far end with light streaming out and he could hear moaning. Still handling the flashlight, he went down the hall and through the open doorway.
He almost fell over two bodies stretched out on the floor. One was a Negro woman of about twenty-five. The other was a Negro girl of no more than twelve. Both were bloody from razor cuts on their faces and bodies. In the living room Neri saw the man who was
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 356
responsible. He knew him well.
The man was Wax Baines, a notorious pimp, dope pusher and strong-arm artist. His eyes were popping from drugs now, the bloody knife he held in his hand wavered. Neri had arrested him two weeks before for severely assaulting one of his whores in the street. Baines had told him, “Hey, man, this none of your business.” And Neri’s partner had also said something about letting the niggers cut each other up if they wanted to, but Neri had hauled Baines into the station house. Baines was bailed out the very next day.
Neri had never much liked Negroes, and working in Harlem had made him like them even less. They all were on drugs or booze while they let their women work or peddle ass. He didn’t have any use for any of the bastards. So Baines’ brazen breaking of the law infuriated him. And the sight of the little girl all cut up with the razor sickened him. Quite coolly, in his own mind, he decided not to bring Baines in.
But witnesses were already crowding into the apartment behind him, some people who lived in the building and his partner from the patrol car.
Neri ordered Baines, “Drop your knife, you’re under arrest.”
Baines laughed. “Man, you gotta use your gun to arrest me.” He held his knife up. “Or maybe you want this.”
Neri moved very quickly, so his partner would not have time to draw a gun. The Negro stabbed with his knife, but Neri’s extraordinary reflexes enabled him to catch the thrust with his left palm. With his right hand he swung the flashlight in a short vicious arc. The blow caught Baines on the side of the head and made his knees buckle comically like a drunk’s. The knife dropped from his hand. He was quite helpless. So Neri’s second blow was inexcusable, as the police departmental hearing and his criminal trial later proved with the help of the testimony of witnesses and his fellow policeman. Neri brought the flashlight down on the top of Baines’ skull in an incredibly powerful blow which shattered the glass of the flashlight; the enamel shield and the bulb itself popping out and flying across the room. The heavy aluminum barrel of the flashlight tube bent and only the batteries inside prevented it from doubling on itself. One awed onlooker, a Negro man who lived in the tenement and later testified against Neri, said, “Man that’s a hard-headed nigger.”
But Baines’ head was not quite hard enough. The blow caved in his skull. He died two hours later in the Harlem Hospital.
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 357
Albert Neri was the only one surprised when he was brought up on departmental charges for using excessive force. He was suspended and criminal charges were brought against him. He was indicted for manslaughter, convicted and sentenced to from one to ten years in prison. By this time he was so filled with a baffled rage and hatred of all society that he didn’t give a damn. That they dared to judge him a criminal! That they dared to send him to prison for killing an animal like that pimp-nigger! That they didn’t give a damn for the woman and little girl who had been carved up, disfigured for life, and still in the hospital.
He did not fear prison. He felt that because of his having been a policeman and especially because of the nature of the offense, he would be well taken care of. Several of his buddy officers had already assured him they would speak to friends. Only his wife’s father, a shrewd old-style Italian who owned a fish market in the Bronx, realized that a man like Albert Neri had little chance of surviving a year in prison. One of his fellow inmates might kill him; if not, he was almost certain to kill one of them. Out of guilt that his daughter had deserted a fine husband for some womanly foolishness, Neri’s father-in-law used his contacts with the Corleone Family (he paid protection money to one of its representatives and supplied the Corleone itself with the finest fish available, as a gift), he petitioned for their intercession.
The Corleone Family knew about Albert Neri. He was something of a legend as a legitimately tough cop; he had made a certain reputation as a man not to be held lightly, as a man who could inspire fear out of his own person regardless of the uniform and the sanctioned gun he wore. The Corleone Family was always interested in such man.. The fact that he was a policeman did not mean too much. Many young men started down a false path to their true destiny. Time and fortune usually set them aright.
It was Pete Clemenza, with his fine nose for good personnel, who brought the Neri affair to Tom Hagen’s attention. Hagen studied the copy of the official police dossier and listened to Clemenza. He said, “Maybe we have another Luca Brasi here.”
Clemenza nodded his head vigorously. Though he was very fat, his face had none of the usual stout man’s benignity. “My thinking exactly. Mike should look into this himself.”
And so it was that before Albert Neri was transferred from the temporary jail to what would have been his permanent residence upstate, he was informed that the judge had reconsidered his case on the basis of new information and affidavits submitted by high police officials. His sentence was suspended and he was released.
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 358
Albert Neri was no fool and his father-in-law no shrinking violet. Neri learned what had happened and paid his debt to his father-in-law by agreeing to get a divorce from Rita. Then he made a trip out to Long Beach to thank his benefactor. Arrangements had been made beforehand, of course. Michael received him in his library.
Neri stated his thanks in formal tones and was surprised and gratified by the warmth with which Michael received his thanks.
“Hell, I couldn’t let them do that to a fellow Sicilian,” Michael said. “They should have given you a goddamn medal. But those damn politicians don’t give a shit about anything except pressure groups. Listen, I would never have stepped into the picture if I hadn’t checked everything out and saw what a raw deal you got. One of my people talked to your sister and she told us how you were always worried about her and her kid, how you straightened the kid out, kept him from going bad. Your father-in-law says you’re the finest fellow in the world. That’s rare.” Tactfully Michael did not mention anything about Neri’s wife having left him.
They chatted for a while. Neri had always been a taciturn man, but he found himself opening up to Michael Corleone. Michael was only about five years his senior, but Neri spoke to him as if he were much older, older enough to be his father.
Finally Michael said, “There’s no sense getting you out of jail and then just leaving you high and dry. I can arrange some work for you. I have interests out in Las Vegas, with your experience you could be a hotel security man. Or if there’s some little business you’d like to go into, I can put a word in with the banks to advance you a loan for capital.”
Neri was overcome with grateful embarrassment. He proudly refused and then added, “I have to stay under the jurisdiction of the court anyway with the suspended sentence.”
Michael said briskly, “That’s all crap detail, I can fix that. Forget about that supervision and just so the banks won’t get choosy I’ll have your yellow sheet pulled.”
The yellow sheet was a police record of criminal offenses committed by any individual. It was usually submitted to a judge when he was considering what sentence to give a convicted criminal. Neri had been long enough on the police force to know that many hoodlums going up for sentencing had been treated leniently by the judge because a clean yellow sheet had been submitted by the bribed Police Records Department. So he was not too surprised that Michael Corleone could do such a thing; he was, however, surprised that such trouble would be taken on his account.
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 359
“If I need help, I’ll get in touch,” Neri said.
“Good, good,” Michael said. He looked at his watch and Neri took this for his dismissal. He rose to go. Again he was surprised.
“Lunchtime,” Michael said. “Come on and eat with me and my family. My father said he’d like to meet you. We’ll walk over to his house. My mother should have some fried peppers and eggs and sausages. Real Sicilian style.”
That afternoon was the most agreeable Albert Neri had spent since he was a small boy, since the days before his parents had died when he was only fifteen. Don Corleone was at his most amiable and was delighted when he discovered that Neri’s parents had originally come from a small village only a few minutes from his own. The talk was good, the food was delicious, the wine robustly red. Neri was struck by the thought that he was finally with his own true people. He understood that he was only a casual guest but he knew he could find a permanent place and be hazy in such a world.
Michael and the Don walked him out to his car. The Don shook his hand and said, “You’re a fine fellow. My son Michael here, I’ve been teaching him the olive business, I’m getting old, I want to retire. And he comes to me and he says he wants to interfere in your little affair. I tell him to just learn about the olive oil. But he won’t leave me alone. He says, here is this fine fellow, a Sicilian and they are doing this dirty trick to him. He kept on, he gave me no peace until I interested myself in it. I tell you this to tell that he was right. Now that I’ve met you, I’m glad we took the trouble. So if we can do anything further for you, just ask the favor. Understand? We’re at your service.” (Remembering the Don’s kindness, Neri wished the great man was still alive to see the service that would be done this day.)
It took Neri less than three days to make up his mind. He understood he was being courted but understood more. That the Corleone Family approved that act of his which society condemned and had punished him for. The Corleone Family valued him, society did not. He understood that he would be happier in the world the Corleones had created than in the world outside. And he understood that the Corleone Family was the more powerful, within its narrower limits.
He visited Michael again and put his cards on the table. He did not want to work in Vegas but he would take a job with the Family in New York. He made his loyalty clear. Michael was touched, Neri could see that. It was arranged. But Michael insisted that Neri take a vacation first, down in Miami at the Family hotel there, all expenses paid and
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 360
a month’s salary in advance so he could have the necessary cash to enjoy himself properly.
That vacation was Neri’s first taste of luxury. People at the hotel took special care of him, saying, “Ah, you’re a friend of Michael Corleone.” The word had been passed along. He was given one of the plush suites, not the grudging small room a poor relation might be fobbed off with. The man running the nightclub in the hotel fixed him up with some beautiful girls. When Neri got back to New York he had a slightly different view on life in general.
He was put in the Clemenza regime and tested carefully by that masterful personnel man. Certain precautions had to be taken. He had, after all, once been a policeman. But Neri’s natural ferocity overcame whatever scruples he might have had at being on the other side of the fence. In less than a year he had “made his bones.” He could never turn back.
Clemenza sang his praises. Neri was a wonder, the new Luca Brasi. He would be better than Luca, Clemenza bragged. After all, Neri was his discovery. Physically the man was a marvel. His reflexes and coordination such that he could have been another Joe DiMaggio. Clemenza also knew that Neri was not a man to be controlled by someone like himself. Neri was made directly responsible to Michael Corleone, with Tom Hagen as the necessary buffer. He was a “special” and as such commanded a high salary but did not have his own living, a bookmaking or strong-arm operation. It was obvious that his respect for Michael Corleone was enormous and one day Hagen said jokingly to Michael, “Well now you’ve got your Luca.”
Michael nodded. He had brought it off. Albert Neri was his man to the death. And of course it was a trick learned from the Don himself. While learning the business, undergoing the long days of tutelage by his father, Michael had one time asked, “How come you used a guy like Luca Brasi? An animal like that?”
The Don had proceeded to instruct him. “There are men in this world,” he said, “who go about demanding to be killed. You must have noticed them. They quarrel in gambling games, they jump out of their automobiles in a rage if someone so much as scratches their fender, they humiliate and bully people whose capabilities they do not know. I have seen a man, a fool, deliberately infuriate a group of dangerous men, and he himself without any resources. These are people who wander through the world shouting, ‘Kill me. Kill me.’ And there is always somebody ready to oblige them. We read about it in
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 361
the newspapers every day. Such people of course do a great deal of harm to others also.
“Luca Brasi was such a man. But he was such an extraordinary man that for a long time nobody could kill him. Most of these people are of no concern to ourselves but a Brasi is a powerful weapon to be used. The trick is that since he does not fear death and indeed looks for it, then the trick is to make yourself the only person in the world that he truly desires not to kill him. He has only that one fear, not of death, but that you may be the one to kill him. He is yours then.”
It was one of the most valuable lessons given by the Don before he died, and Michael had used it to make Neri his Luca Brasi.
* * *
And now, finally, Albert Neri, alone in his Bronx apartment, was going to put on his police uniform again. He brushed it carefully. Polishing the holster would be next. And his policeman’s cap too, the visor had to be cleaned, the stout black shoes shined. Neri worked with a will. He had found his place in the world, Michael Corelone had placed his absolute trust in him, and today he would not fail that trust.
Chapter 31
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
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 362
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
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 363
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.
* * *
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 364
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.
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 365
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.
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 366
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
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 367
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.
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 368
* * *
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.”
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 369
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
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 370
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
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 371
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.
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 372
Book Nine
Chapter 32
The bloody victory of the Corleone Family was not complete until a year of delicate political maneuvering established Michael Corleone as the most powerful Family chief in the United States. For twelve months, Michael divided his time equally between his headquarters at the Long Beach mall and his new home in Las Vegas. But at the end of that year he decided to close out the New York operation and sell the houses and the mall property. For that purpose he brought his whole family East on a last visit. They would stay a month, wind up business, Kay would do the personal family’s packing and shipping of household goods. There were a million other minor details.
Now the Corleone Family was unchallengeable, and Clemenza had his own Family. Rocco Lampone was the Corleone caporegime. In Nevada, Albert Neri was head of all security for the Family-controlled hotels. Hagen too was part of Michael’s Western Family.
Time helped heal the old wounds. Connie Corleone was reconciled to her brother Michael. Indeed not more than a week after her terrible accusations she apologized to Michael for what she had said and assured Kay that there had been no truth in her words, that it had been only a young widow’s hysteria.
Connie Corleone easily found a new husband; in fact, she did not wait the year of respect before filling her bed again with a fine young fellow who had come to work for the Corleone Family as a male secretary. A boy from a reliable Italian family but graduated from the top business college in America. Naturally his marriage to the sister of the Don made his future assured.
Kay Adams Corleone had delighted her in-laws by taking instruction in the Catholic religion and joining that faith. Her two boys were also, naturally, being brought up in that church, as was required. Michael himself had not been too pleased by this development. He would have preferred the children to be Protestant, it was more American.
To her surprise, Kay came to love living in Nevada. She loved the scenery, the hills and canyons of garishly red rock, the burning deserts, the unexpected and blessedly refreshing lakes, even the heat. Her two boys rode their own ponies. She had real servants, not bodyguards. And Michael lived a more normal life. He owned a construction business; he joined the businessmen’s clubs and civic committees; he had
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 373
a healthy interest in local politic without interfering publicly. It was a good life. Kay was happy that they were closing down their New York house and that Las Vegas would be truly their permanent home. She hated coming back to New York. And so on this last trip she had arranged all the packing and shipping of goods with the utmost efficiency and speed, and now on the final day she felt chat same urgency to leave that longtime patients feel when it is time to be discharged from the hospital.
On that final day, Kay Adams Cory woke at dawn. She could hear the roar of the truck motors outside on the mall. The trucks that would empty all the houses of furniture. The Corleone Family would be flying back to Las Vegas in the afternoon, including Mama Corleone.
When Kay came out of the bathroom, Michael was propped up on his pillow smoking a cigarette. “Why the hell do you have to go to church every morning?” he said. “I don’t mind Sundays, but why the hell during the week? You’re as bad as my mother.” He reached over in the darkness and switched on the tablelight.
Kay sat at the edge of the bed to pull on her stockings. “You know how converted Catholics are,” she said. “They take it more seriously.”
Michael reached over to touch her thigh, on the warm skin where the top of her nylon hose ended. “Don’t,” she said. “I’m taking Communion this morning.”
He didn’t try to hold her when she got up from the bed. He said, smiling slightly, “If you’re such a strict Catholic, how come you let the kids duck going to church so much?”
She felt uncomfortable and she was wary. He was studying her with what she thought of privately as his “Don’s” eye. “They have plenty of time,” she sate. “When we get back home, I’ll make them attend more.”
She kissed him good-bye before she left. Outside the house the air was already getting warm. The summer sun rising in the east was red. Kay walked to where her car was parked near the gates of the mall. Mama Corleone, dressed in her widow black, was already sitting in it, waiting for her. It had become a set routine, early Mass, every morning, together.
Kay kissed the old woman’s wrinkled cheek, then got behind the wheel. Mama Corleone asked suspiciously, “You eata breakfast?”
“No,” Kay said.
The old woman nodded her head approvingly. Kay had once forgotten that it was
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 374
forbidden to take food from midnight on before receiving Holy Communion. That had been a long time ago, but Mama Corleone never trusted her after that and always checked. “You feel all right?” the old woman asked.
“Yes,” Kay said.
The church was small and desolate in the early morning sunlight. Its stained-glass windows shielded the interior from heat, it would be cool there, a place to rest. Kay helped her mother-in-law up the white stone steps and then let her go before her. The old woman preferred a pew up front, close to the altar. Kay waited on the steps for an extra minute. She was always reluctant at this last moment, always a little fearful.
Finally she entered the cool darkness. She took the holy water on her fingertips and made the sign of the cross, fleetingly touched her wet fingertips to her parched lips. Candles flickered redly before the saints, the Christ on his cross. Kay genuflected before entering her row and then knelt on the hard wooden rail of the pew to wait for her call to Communion. She bowed her head as if she were praying, but she was not quite ready for that.
* * *
It was only here in these dim, vaulted churches that she allowed herself to think about her husband’s other life. About that terrible night a year ago when he had deliberately used all their trust and love in each other to make her believe his lie that he had not killed his sister’s husband.
She had left him because of that lie, not because of the deed. The next morning she had taken the children away with her to her parents’ house in New Hampshire. Without a word to anyone, without really knowing what action she meant to take. Michael had immediately understood. He had called her the first day and then left her alone. It was a week before the limousine from New York pulled up in front of her house with Tom Hagen.
She had spent a long terrible afternoon with Tom Hagen, the most terrible afternoon of her life. They had gone for a walk in the woods outside her little town and Hagen had not been gentle.
Kay had made the mistake of trying to be cruelly flippant, a role to which she was not suited. “Did Mike send you up here to threaten me?” she asked. “I expected to see some of the ‘boys’ get out of the car with their machine guns to make me go back.”
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 375
For the first time since she had known him, she saw Hagen angry. He said harshly, “That’s the worst kind of juvenile crap I’ve ever heard. I never expected that from a woman like you. Come on, Kay.”
“All right,” she said.
They walked along the green country road. Hagen asked quietly, “Why did you run away?”
Kay said, “Because Michael lied to me. Because he made a fool of me when he stood Godfather to Connie’s boy. He betrayed me. I can’t love a man like that. I can’t live with it. I can’t let him be father to my children.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Hagen said.
She turned on him with now-justified rage. “I mean that he killed his sister’s husband. Do you understand that?” She paused for a moment. “And he lied to me.”
They walked on for a long time in silence. Finally Hagen said, “You have no way of really knowing that’s all true. But just for the sake of argument let’s assume that it’s true. I’m not saying it is, remember. But what if I gave you what might be some justification for what he did. Or rather some possible justifications?”
Kay looked at him scornfully. “That’s the first time I’ve sees the lawyer side of you, Tom. It’s not your best side.”
Hagen grinned. “OK. Just hear me out. What if Carlo had put Sonny on the spot, fingered him. What if Carlo beating up Connie that time was a deliberate plot to get Sonny out in the open, that they knew he would take the route over the Jones Beach Causeway? What if Carlo had been paid to help get Sonny killed? Then what?”
Kay didn’t answer. Hagen went on. “And what if the Don, a great man, couldn’t bring himself to do what he had to do, avenge his son’s death by killing his daughter’s husband? What if that, finally, was too much for him, and he made Michael his successor, knowing that Michael would take that load off his shoulders, would take that guilt?”
“It was all over with,” Kay said, tears springing into her eyes. “Everybody was happy. Why couldn’t Carlo be forgiven? Why couldn’t everything go on and everybody forget?”
She had led across a meadow to a tree-shaded brook. Hagen sank down on the grass and sighed. He looked around, sighed again and said, “In this world you could do it.
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 376
Kay said, “He’s not the man I married.”
Hagen laughed shortly. “If he were, he’d be dead now. You’d be a widow now. You’d have no problem.”
Kay blazed out at him. “What the hell does that mean? Come on, Tom, speak out straight once in your life. I know Michael can’t, but you’re not Sicilian, you can tell a woman the truth, you can treat her like an equal, a fellow human being.”
There was another long silence. Hagen shook his head. “You’ve got Mike wrong. You’re mad because he lied to you. Well, he warned you never to ask him about business. You’re mad because he was Godfather to Carlo’s boy. But you made him do that. Actually it was the right move for him to make if he was going to take action against Carlo. The classical tactical move to win the victim’s trust.” Hagen gave her a grim smile. “Is that straight enough talk for you?” But Kay bowed her head.
Hagen went on. “I’ll give you some more straight talk. After the Don died, Mike was set up to be killed. Do you know who set him up? Tessio. So Tessio had to be killed. Carlo had to be killed. Because treachery can’t be forgiven. Michael could have forgiven it, but people never forgive themselves and so they would always be dangerous. Michael really liked Tessio. He loves his sister. But he would be shirking his duty to you and his children, to his whole family, to me and my family, if he let Tessio and Carlo go free. They would have been a danger to us all, all our lives.”
Kay had been listening to this with tears running down her face. “Is that what Michael sent you up here to tell me?”
Hagen looked at her in genuine surprise. “No,” he said. “He told me to tell you you could have everything you want and do everything you want as long as you take good care of the kids.” Hagen smiled. “He said to tell you that you’re his Don. That’s just a joke.”
Kay put her hand on Hagen’s arm. “He didn’t order you to tell me all the other things?”
Hagen hesitated a moment as if debating whether to tell her a final truth. “You still don’t understand,” he said. “If you told Michael what I’ve told you today, I’m a dead man.” He paused again. “You and the children are the only people on this earth he couldn’t harm.”
It was a long five minutes after that Kay rose from the grass and they started walking back to the house. When they were almost there, Kay said to Hagen, “After supper, can you drive me and the kids to New York in your car?”
“That’s what I came for,” Hagen said.
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 377
A week after she returned to Michael she went to a priest for instruction to become a Catholic.
* * *
From the innermost recess of the church the bell tolled for repentance. As she had been taught to do, Kay struck her breast lightly with her clenched hand, the stroke of repentance. The bell tolled again and there was the shuffling of feet as the communicants left their seats to go to the altar rail. Kay rose to join them. She knelt at the altar and from the depths of the church the bell tolled again. With her closed hand she struck her heart once more. The priest was before her. She tilted back her head and opened her mouth to receive the papery thin wafer. This was the most terrible moment of all. Until it melted away and she could swallow and she could do what she came to do.
Washed clean of sin, a favored supplicant, she bowed her head and folded her hands over the altar rail. She shifted her body to make her weight less punishing to her knees.
She emptied her mind of all thought of herself, of her children, of all anger, of all rebellion, of all questions. Then with a profound and deeply willed desire to believe, to be heard, as she had done every day since the murder of Carlo Rizzi, she said the necessary prayers for the soul of Michael Corleone.

No comments:

Post a Comment