Friday, February 18, 2011


“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 72
Chapter 3
Counting the driver, there were four men in the car with Hagen. They put him in the back seat, in the middle of the two men who had come up behind him in the street. Sollozzo sat up front. The man on Hagen’s right reached over across his body and tilted Hagen’s hat over his eyes so that he could not see. “Don’t even move your pinkie,” he said.
It was a short ride, not more than twenty minutes and when they got out of the car Hagen could not recognize the neighborhood because darkness had fallen. They led him into a basement apartment and made him sit on a straightbacked kitchen chair. Sollozzo sat across the kitchen table from him. His dark face had a peculiarly vulturine look.
“I don’t want you to be afraid,” he said. “I know you’re not in the muscle end of the Family. I want you to help the Corleones and I want you to help me.”
Hagen’s hands were shaking as he put a cigarette in his mouth. One of the men brought a bottle of rye to the table and gave him a slug of it in a china coffee cup. Hagen drank the fiery liquid gratefully. It steadied his hand and took the weakness out of his legs.
“Your boss is dead,” Sollozzo said. He paused, surprised at the tears that sprang to Hagen’s eyes. Then he went on. “We got him outside his office, in the street. As soon as I got the word, I picked you up. You have to make the peace between me and Sonny.”
Hagen didn’t answer. He was surprised at his own grief. And the feeling of desolation mixed with his fear of death. Sollozzo was speaking again. “Sonny was hot for my deal. Right? You know it’s the smart thing to do too. Narcotics is the coming thing. There’s so much money in it that everybody can get rich just in a couple of years. The Don was an old ‘Moustache Pete,’ his day was over but he didn’t know it. Now he’s dead, nothing can bring him back. I’m ready to make a new deal, I want you to talk Sonny into taking it.”
Hagen said, “You haven’t got a chance. Sonny will come after you with everything he’s got.”
Sollozzo said impatiently, “That’s gonna be his first reaction. You have to talk some sense to him. The Tattaglia Family stands behind me with all their people. The other New York families will go along with anything that will stop a full-scale war between us. Our war has to hurt them and their businesses. If Sonny goes along with the deal, the other Families in the country will consider it none of their affair, even the Don’s oldest
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 73
Hagen stared down at his hands, not answering. Sollozzo went on persuasively. “The Don was slipping. In the old days I could never have gotten to him. The other Families distrust him because he made you his Consigliere and you’re not even Italian, much less Sicilian. If it goes to all-out war the Corleone Family will be smashed and everybody loses, me included. I need the Family political contacts more than I need the money even. So talk to Sonny, talk to the caporegimes; you’ll save a lot of bloodshed.”
Hagen held out his china cup for more whiskey. “I’ll try,” he said. “But Sonny is strong-headed. And even Sonny won’t be able to call off Luca. You have to worry about Luca. I’ll have to worry about Luca if I go for your deal.”
Sollozzo said quietly, “I’ll take care of Luca. You take care of Sonny and the other two kids. Listen, you can tell them that Freddie would have gotten it today with his old man but my people had strict orders not to gun him. I didn’t want any more hard feelings than necessary. You can tell them that, Freddie is alive because of me.”
Finally Hagen’s mind was working. For the first time he really believed that Sollozzo did not mean to kill him or hold him as a hostage. The sudden relief from fear that flooded his body made him flush with shame. Sollozzo watched him with a quiet understanding smile. Hagen began to think things out. If he did not agree to argue Sollozzo’s case, he might be killed. But then he realized that Sollozzo expected him only to present it and present it properly, as he was bound to do as a responsible Consigliere. And now, thinking about it, he also realized that Sollozzo was right. An unlimited war between the Tattaglias and the Corleones must be avoided at all costs. The Corleones must bury their dead and forget, make a deal. And then when the time was right they could move against Sollozzo.
But glancing up, he realized that Sollozzo knew exactly what he was thinking. The Turk was smiling. And then it struck Hagen. What had happened to Luca Brasi that Sollozzo was so unconcerned? Had Luca made a deal? He remembered that on the night Don Corleone had refused Sollozzo, Luca had been summoned into the office for a private conference with the Don. But now was not the time to worry about such details. He had to get back to the safety of the Corleone Family fortress in Long Beach. “I’ll do my best,” he said to Sollozzo. “I believe you’re right, it’s even what the Don would want us to do.”
Sollozzo nodded gravely. “Fine,” he said. “I don’t like bloodshed, I’m a businessman and blood costs too much money.” At that moment the phone rang and one of the men
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 74
sitting behind Hagen went to answer it. He listened and then said curtly, “OK, I’ll tell him.” He hung up the phone, went to Sollozzo’s side and whispered in the Turk’s ear. Hagen saw Sollozzo’s face go pale, his eyes glitter with rage. He himself felt a thrill of fear. Sollozzo was looking at him speculatively and suddenly Hagen knew that he was no longer going to be set free. That something had happened that might mean his death. Sollozzo said, “The old marl is still alive. Five bullets in his Sicilian hide and he’s still alive.” He gave a fatalistic shrug. “Bad luck,” he said to Hagen. “Bad luck for me. Bad luck for you.”
Chapter 4
When Michael Corleone arrived at his father’s house in Long Beach he found the narrow entrance mouth of the mall blocked off with a link chain. The mall itself was bright with the floodlights of all eight houses, outlining at least ten cars parked along the curving cement walk.
Two men he didn’t know were leaning against the chain. One of them asked in a Brooklyn accent, “Who’re you?”
He told them. Another man came out of the nearest house and peered at his face. “That’s the Don’s kid,” he said. “I’ll bring him inside.” Mike followed this man to his father’s house, where two men at the door let him and his escort pass inside.
The house seemed to be full of men he didn’t know, until he went into the living room. There Michael saw Tom Hagen’s wife, Theresa, sitting stiffly on the sofa, smoking a cigarette. On the coffee table in front of her was a glass of whiskey. On the other side of the sofa sat the bulky Clemenza. The caporegime’s face was impassive, but he was sweating and the cigar in his hand glistened slickly black with his saliva.
Clemenza came to wring his hand in a consoling way, muttering, “Your mother is at the hospital with your father, he’s going to be all right.” Paulie Gatto stood up to shake hands. Michael looked at him curiously. He knew Paulie was his father’s bodyguard but did not know that Paulie had stayed home sick that day. But he sensed tension in the thin dark face. He knew Gatto’s reputation as an up-and-coming man, a very quick man who knew how to get delicate jobs done without complications, and today he had failed in his duty. He noticed several other men in the corners of the room but he did not recognize them. They were not of Clemenza’s people. Michael put these facts together and understood. Clemenza and Gatto were suspect. Thinking that Paulie had been at the scene, he asked the ferret-faced young man, “How is Freddie? He OK?”
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 75
“The doctor gave him a shot,” Clemenza said. “He’s sleeping.”
Michael went to Hagen’s wife and bent down to kiss her cheek. They had always liked each other. He whispered, “Don’t worry, Tom will be OK. Have you talked to Sonny yet?”
Theresa clung to him for a moment and shook her head. She was a delicate, very pretty woman, more American than Italian, and very scared. He took her hand and lifted her off the sofa. Then he led her into his father’s corner room office.
Sonny was sprawled out in his chair behind the desk holding a yellow pad in one hand and a pencil in the other. The only other man in the room with him was the caporegime Tessio, whom Michael recognized and immediately realized that it must be his men who were in the house and forming the new palace guard. He too had a pencil and pad in his hands.
When Sonny saw them he came from behind his desk and took Hagen’s wife in his arms. “Don’t worry, Theresa,” he said. “Tom’s OK. They just wanta give him the proposition, they said they’d turn him loose. He’s not on the operating end, he’s just our lawyer. There’s no reason for anybody to do him harm.”
He released Theresa and then to Michael’s surprise he too, got a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He pushed Sonny away and said grinning, “After I get used to you beating me up I gotta put up with this?” They had often fought when they were younger.
Sonny shrugged. “Listen, kid, I was worried when I couldn’t get ahold of you in that hick town. Not that I gave a crap if they knocked you off, but I didn’t like the idea of bringing the news to the old lady. I had to tell her about Pop.”
“How’d she take it?” Michael asked.
“Good,” Sonny said. “She’s been through it before. Me too. You were too young to know about it and then things got pretty smith while you were growing up.” He paused and then said, “She’s down at the hospital with the old man. He’s gonna pull through.”
“How about us going down?” Michael asked.
Sonny shook his head and said dryly, “I can’t leave this house until it’s all over.” The phone rang. Sonny picked it up and listened intently. While he was listening Michael sauntered over to the desk and glanced down at the yellow pad Sonny had been writing on. There was a list of seven names. The first three were Sollozzo, Phillip Tattaglia, and John Tattaglia. It struck Michael with full force that he had interrupted Sonny and Tessio
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 76
as they were making up a list of men to be killed.
When Sonny hung up the phone he said to Theresa Hagen and Michael, “Can you two wait outside? I got some business with Tessio we have to finish.”
Hagen’s wife said, “Was that call about Tom?” She said it almost truculently but she was weeping with fright. Sonny put his arm around her and led her to the door. “I swear he’s going to be OK,” he said. “Wait in the living room. I’ll come out as soon as I hear something.” He shut the door behind her. Michael had sat down in one of the big leather armchairs. Sonny gave him a quick sharp look and then went to sit down behind the desk.
“You hang around me, Mike,” he said, “you’re gonna hear things you don’t wanta hear.”
Michael lit a cigarette. “I can help out,” he said.
“No, you can’t,” Sonny said. “The old man would be sore as hell if I let you get mixed up in this.”
Michael stood up and yelled. “You lousy bastard, he’s my father. I’m not supposed to help him? I can help. I don’t have to go out and kill people but I can help. Stop treating me like a kid brother. I was in the war. I got shot, remember? I killed some Japs. What the hell do you think I’ll do when you knock somebody off? Faint?”
Sonny grinned at him. “Pretty soon you’ll want me to put up my dukes. OK, stick around, you can handle the phone.” He turned to Tessio. “That call I just got gave me dope we needed.” Hd turned to Michael. “Somebody had to finger the old man. It could have been Clemenza, it could have been Paulie Gatto, who was very conveniently sick today. I know the answer now, let’s see how smart you are, Mike, you’re the college boy. Who sold out to Sollozzo?”
Michael sat down again and relaxed back into the leather armchair. He thought everything over very carefully. Clemenza was a caporegime in the Corleone Family structure. Don Corleone had made him a millionaire and they had been intimate friends for over twenty years. He held one of the most powerful posts in the organization. What could Clemenza gain for betraying his Don? More money? He was rich enough but then men are always greedy. More power? Revenge for some fancied insult or slight? That Hagen had been made the Consigliere? Or perhaps a businessman’s conviction that Sollozzo would win out? No, it was impossible for Clemenza to be a traitor, and then Michael thought sadly it was only impossible because he didn’t want Clemenza to die. The fat man had always brought him gifts when he was growing up, had sometimes
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 77
taken him on outings when the Don had been too busy. He could not believe that Clemenza was guilty of treachery.
But, on the other hand, Sollozzo would want Clemenza in his pocket more than any other man in the Corleone Family.
Michael thought about Paulie Gatto. Paulie as yet had not become rich. He was well thought of, his rise in the organization was certain but he would have to put in his time like everybody else. Also he would have wilder dreams of power, as the young always do. It had to be Paulie. And then Michael remembered that in the sixth grade he and Paulie had been in the same class in school and he didn’t want it to be Paulie either.
He shook his head. “Neither one of them,” he said. But he said it only because Sonny had said he had the answer. If it had been a vote, he would have voted Paulie guilty.
Sonny was smiling at him. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Clemenza is OK. It’s Paulie.”
Michael could see that Tessio was relieved. As a fellow caporegime his sympathy would be with Clemenza. Also the present situation was not so serious if treachery did not reach so high. Tessio said cautiously, “Then I can send my people home tomorrow?”
Sonny said, “The day after tomorrow. I don’t want anybody to know about this until then. Listen, I want to talk some family business with my brother, personal. Wait out in the living room, eh? We can finish our list later. You and Ctemenza will work together on it.”
“Sure,” Tessio said. He went out.
“How do you know for sure it’s Paulie?” Michael asked.
Sonny said, “We have people in the telephone company and they tracked down all of Paulie’s phone calls in and out. Clemenza’s too. On the three days Paulie was sick this month he got a call from a street booth across from the old man’s building. Today too. They were checking to see if Paulie was coming down or somebody was being sent down to take his place. Or for some other reason. It doesn’t matter.” Sonny shrugged. “Thank God it was Paulie. We’ll need Clemenza bad.”
Michael asked hesitantly, “Is it going to be an all-out war?”
Sonny’s eyes were hard. “That’s how I’m going to play it as soon as Tom checks in. Until the old man tells me different.”
Michael asked, “So why don’t you wait until the old man can tell you?”
Sonny looked at him curiously. “How the hell did you win those combat medals? We are
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 78
under the gun, man, we gotta fight. I’m just afraid they won’t let Tom go.”
Michael was surprised at this. “Why not?”
Again Sonny’s voice was patient. “They snatched Tom because they figured the old man was finished and they could make a deal with me and Tom would be the sit-down guy in the preliminary stages, carry the proposition. Now with the old man alive they know I can’t make a deal so Tom’s no good to them. They can turn him loose or dump him, depending how Sollozzo feels. If they dump him, it would be just to show us they really mean business, trying to bulldoze us.”
Michael said quietly, “What made Sollozzo think he could get a deal with you?”
Sonny flushed and he didn’t answer for a moment. Then he said, “We had a meeting a few months ago, Sollozzo came to us with a proposition on drugs. The old man turned him down. But during the meeting I shot off my mouth a little, I showed I wanted the deal. Which is absolutely the wrong thing to do; if there’s one thing the old man hammered into me it’s never, to do a thing like that, to let other people know there’s a split of opinion in the Family. So Sollozzo figures he gets rid of the old man, I have to go in with him on the drugs. With the old man gone, the Family power is cut at least in half. I would be fighting for my life anyway to keep all the businesses the old man got together. Drugs are the coming thing, we should get into it. And his knocking off the old man is purely business, nothing personal. As a matter of business I would go in with him. Of course he would never let me get too close, he’d make sure I’d never get a clean shot at him, just in case. But he also knows that once I accepted the deal the other Families would never let me start a war a couple of years later just for revenge. Also, the Tattaglia Family is behind him.”
“If they had gotten the old man, what would you have done?” Michael asked.
Sonny said very simply, “Sollozzo is dead meat. I don’t care what it costs. I don’t care if we have to fight all the five families in New York. The Tattaglia Family is going to be wiped out. I don’t care if we all go down together.”
Michael said softly, “That’s not how Pop would have played it.”
Sonny made a violent gesture. “I know I’m not the man he was. But I’ll tell you this and he’ll tell you too. When it comes to real action I can operate as good as anybody, short-range. Sollozzo knows that and so do Clemenza and Tessio, I ‘made my bones’ when I was nineteen, the last time the Family had a war, and I was a big help to the old man. So I’m not worried now. And our Family has all the horses in a deal like this. I just
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 79
wish we could get contact with Luca.”
Michael asked curiously, “Is Luca that tough, like they say? Is he that good?”
Sonny nodded. “He’s in a class by himself. I’m going to send him after the three Tattaglias. I’ll get Sollozzo myself.”
Michael shifted uneasily in his chair. He looked at his older brother. He remembered Sonny as being sometimes casually brutal but essentially warmhearted. A nice guy. It seemed unnatural to hear him talking this way, it was chilling to see the list of names he had scribbled down, men to be executed, as if he were some newly crowned Roman Emperor. He was glad that he was not truly part of all this, that now his father lived he did not have to involve himself in vengeance. He’d help out, answering the phone, running errands and messages. Sonny and the old man could take care of themselves, especially with Luca behind them.
At that moment they heard a woman scream in the living room. Oh, Christ, Michael thought, it sounded like Tom’s wife. He rushed to the door and opened it. Everybody in the living room was standing. And by the sofa Tom Hagen was holding Theresa close to him, his face embarrassed. Theresa was weeping and sobbing, and Michael realized that the scream he had heard had been her calling out her husband’s name with joy. As he watched, Tom Hagen disentangled himself from his wife’s arms and lowered her back onto the sofa. He smiled at Michael grimly. “Glad to see you, Mike, really glad.” He strode into the office without another look at his still-sobbing wife. He hadn’t lived with the Corleone Family ten years for nothing, Michael thought with a queer flush of pride. Some of the old man had rubbed off on him, as it had on Sonny, and he thought, with surprise, even on himself.
Chapter 5
It was nearly four o’clock in the morning as they all sat in the corner room office– Sonny, Michael, Tom Hagen, Clemenza and Tessio. Theresa Hagen had been persuaded to go to her own home next door. Paulie Gatto was still waiting in the living room, not knowing that Tessio’s men had been instructed not to let him leave or let him out of their sight.
Tom Hagen relayed the deal Sollozzo offered. He told how after Sollozzo had learned the Don still lived, it was obvious that he meant to kill Hagen. Hagen grinned. “If I ever plead before the Supreme Court, I’ll never plead better than I did with that goddamn Turk tonight. I told him I’d talk the Family into the deal even though the Don was alive. I told him I could wrap you around my finger, Sonny. How we were buddies as kids; and
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 80
don’t get sore, but I let him get the idea that maybe you weren’t too sorry about getting the old man’s job, God forgive me.” He smiled apologetically at Sonny, who made a gesture signifying that he understood, that it was of no consequence.
Michael, leaning back in his armchair with the phone at his right hand, studied both men. When Hagen had entered the room Sonny had come rushing to embrace him. Michael realized with a faint twinge of jealousy that in many ways Sonny and Tom Hagen were closer than he himself could ever be to his own brother.
“Let’s get down to business,” Sonny said. “We have to make plans. Take a look at this list me and Tessio made up. Tessio, give Clemenza your copy.”
“If we make plans,” Michael said, “Freddie should be here.”
Sonny said grimly, “Freddie is no use to us. The doctor says he’s in shock so bad he has to have complete rest. I don’t understand that. Freddie was always a pretty tough guy. I guess seeing the old man gunned down was hard on him, he always thought the Don was God. He wasn’t like you and me, Mike.”
Hagen said quickly, “OK, leave Freddie out. Leave him out of everything, absolutely everything. Now, Sonny, until this is all over I think you should stay in the house. I mean sever leave it. You’re safe here. Don’t underrate Sollozzo, he’s got to be a pezzonovante, a real.90 caliber. Is the hospital covered?”
Sonny nodded. “The cops have it locked in and I got my people there visiting Pop all the time. What do you think of that list, Tom?”
Hagen frowned down at the fist of names: “Jesus Christ, Sonny, you’re really taking this personal. The Don would consider it a purely business dispute. Sollozzo is the key. Get rid of Sollozzo and everything falls in line. You don’t have to go after the Tattaglias.”
Sonny looked at his two caporegimes. Tessio shrugged. “It’s tricky,” he said. Clemenza didn’t answer at all.
Sonny said to Clemenza, “One thing we can take care of without discussion. I don’t want Paulie around here anymore. Make that first on your list.” The fat caporegime nodded.
Hagen said, “What about Luca? Sollozzo didn’t seem worried about Luca. That worries me. If Luca sold us out, we’re in real trouble. That’s the first thing we have to know. Has anybody been able to get in touch with him?”
“No,” Sonny said. “I’ve been calling him all night. Maybe he’s shacked up.”
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 81
“No,” Hagen said. “He never sleeps over with a broad. He always goes home when he’s through. Mike, keep ringing his number until you get an answer.” Michael dutifully picked up the phone and dialed. He could hear the phone ringing on the other end but no one answered. Finally he hung up. “Keep trying every fifteen minutes,” Hagen said.
Sonny said impatiently, “OK, Tom you’re the Consigliere, how about some advice? What the hell do you think we should do?”
Hagen helped himself to the whiskey bottle on the desk. “We negotiate with Sollozzo until your father is in shape to take charge. We might even make a deal if we have to. When your father gets out of bed he can settle the whole business without a fuss and all the Families will go along with him.”
Sonny said angrily, “You think I can’t handle this guy Sollozzo?”
Tom Hagen looked him directly in the eye. “Sonny, sure you can outfight him. The Corleone Family has the power. You have Clemenza and Tessio here and they can muster a thousand men if it comes to an all-out war. But at the end there will be a shambles over the whole East Coast and all the other Families will blame the Corleones. We’ll make a lot of enemies. And that’s something your father never believed in.”
Michael, watching Sonny, thought he took this well. But then Sonny said to Hagen, “What if the old man dies, what do you advise then, Consigliere?”
Hagen said quietly, “I know you won’t do it, but I would advise you to make a real deal with Sollozzo on the drugs. Without your father’s political contacts and personal influence the Corleone Family loses half its strength. Without your father, the other New York Families might wind up supporting the Tattaglias and Sollozzo just to make sure there isn’t a long destructive war. If your father dies, make the deal. Then wait and see.”
Sonny was white-faced with anger. “That’s easy for you to say, it’s not your father they killed.”
Hagen said quickly and proudly, “I was as good a son to him as you or Mike, maybe better. I’m giving you a professional opinion. Personally I want to kill all those bastards.” The emotion in his voice shamed Sonny, who said, “Oh, Christ, Tom, I didn’t mean it that way.” But he had, really. Blood was blood and nothing else was its equal.
Sonny brooded for a moment as the others waited in embarrassed silence. Then he sighed and spoke quietly. “OK, we’ll sit tight until the old man can give us the lead. But,
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 82
Tom, I want you to stay inside the mall, too. Don’t take any chances. Mike, you be careful, though I don’t think. even Sollozzo would bring personal family into the war. Everybody would be against him then. But be careful. Tessio, you hold your people in reserve but have them nosing around the city. Clemenza, after you settle the Paulie Gatto thing, you move your men into the house and the mall to replace Tessio’s people. Tessio, you keep your men at the hospital, though. Tom, start negotiation over the phone or by messenger with Sollozzo and the Tattaglias the first thing in the morning. Mike, tomorrow you take a couple of Clemenza’s people and go to Luca’s house and wait for him to show up or find out where the hell he is. That crazy bastard might be going after Sollozzo right now if he’s heard the news. I can’t believe he’d ever go against his Don, no matter what the Turk offered him.”
Hagen said reluctantly, “Maybe Mike shouldn’t get mixed up in this so directly.”
“Right,” Sonny said. “Forget that, Mike. Anyway I need you on the phone here in the house, that’s more important.”
Michael didn’t say anything. He felt awkward, almost ashamed, and he noticed Clemenza and Tessio with faces so carefully impassive that he was sure that they were hiding their contempt. He picked up the phone and dialed Luca Brasi’s number and kept the receiver to his ear as it rang and rang.
Chapter 6
Peter Clemenza slept badly that night. In the morning he got up early and made his own breakfast of a glass of grappa, a thick slice of Genoa salami with a chunk of fresh Italian bread that was still delivered to his door as in the old days. Then he drank a great, plain china mug filled with hot coffee that had been lashed with anisette. But as he padded about the house in his old bathrobe and red felt slippers he pondered on the day’s work that lay ahead of him. Last night Sonny Corleone had made it very clear that Paulie Gatto was to be taken care of immediately. It had to be today.
Clemenza was troubled. Not because Gatto had been his protege and had turned traitor. This did not reflect on the caporegime’s judgment. After all, Paulie’s background had been perfect. He came from a Sicilian family, he had grown up in the same neighborhood as the Corleone children, had indeed even gone to school with one of the sons. He had been brought up through each level in the proper manner. He had been tested and not found wanting. And then after he had “made his bones” he had received a good living from the Family, a percentage of an East Side “book” and a union payroll
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 83
slot. Clemenza had not been unaware that Paulie Gatto ‘supplemented his income with free-lance stickups, strictly against the Family rules, but even this was a sign of the man’s worth. The breaking of such regulations was considered a sign of high-spiritedness, like that shown by a fine racing horse fighting the reins.
And Paulie had never caused trouble with his stickups. They had always been meticulously planned and carried out with the minimum of fuss and trouble, with no one ever getting hurt: a three-thousand-dollar Manhattan garment center payroll, a small chinaware factory payroll in the slums of Brooklyn. After all, a young man could always use some extra pocket money. It was all in the pattern. Who could ever foretell that Paulie Gatto would turn traitor?
What was troubling Peter Clemenza this morning was an administrative problem. The actual execution of Gatto was a cut-and-dried chore. The problem was, who should the caporegime bring up from the ranks to replace Gatto in the Family? It was an important promotion, that to “button” man, one not to be handed out lightly. The man had to be tough and he had to be smart. He had to be safe, not a person who would talk to the police if he got in trouble, one well saturated in the Sicilians’ law of omerta, the law of silence. And then, what kind of a living would he receive for his new duties? Clemenza had several times spoken to the Don about better rewards for the all-important button man who was first in the front line when trouble arose, but the Don had put him off. If Paulie had been making more money, he might have been able to resist the blandishments of the wily Turk, Sollozzo.
Clemenza finally narrowed down the list of candidates to three men. The first was an enforcer who worked with the colored policy bankers in Harlem, a big brawny brute of a man of great physical strength, a man with a great deal of personal charm who could get along with people and yet when necessary make them go in fear of him. But Clemenza scratched him off the list after considering his name for a half hour. This man got along too well with the black people, which hinted at some flaw of character. Also he would be too hard to replace in the position he now held.
The second name Clemenza considered and almost settled on was a hard-working chap who served faithfully and well in the organization. This man was the collector of delinquent accounts for Family-licensed shylocks in Manhattan. He had started off as a bookmaker’s runner. But he was not quite yet ready for such an important promotion.
Finally he settled on Rocco Lampone. Lampone had served a short but impressive
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 84
apprenticeship in the Family. During the war he had been wounded in Africa and been discharged in 1943. Because of the shortage of young men, Clemenza had taken him on even though Lampone was partially incapacitated by his injuries and walked with a pronounced limp. Clemenza had used him as a black-market contact in the garment center and with government employees controlling OPA food stamps. From that, Lampone had graduated to trouble-shooter for the whole operation. What Clemenza liked about him was his good judgment. He knew that there was no percentage in being tough about something that would only cost a heavy fine or six months in jail, small prices to pay for the enormous profits earned. He had the good sense to know that it was not an area for heavy threats but light ones. He kept the whole operation in a minor key, which was exactly what was needed.
Clemenza felt the relief of a conscientious administrator who has solved a knotty personnel problem. Yes, it would be Rocco Lampone who would assist. For Clemenza planned to handle this job himself, not only to help a new, inexperienced man “make his bones,” but to settle a personal score with Paulie Gatto. Paulie had been his protege, he had advanced Paulie over the heads of more deserving and more loyal people, he had helped Paulie “make his bones” and furthered his career in every way. Paulie had not only betrayed the Family, he had betrayed his padrone, Peter Clemenza. This lack of respect had to be repaid.
Everything else was arranged. Paulie Gatto had been instructed to pick him up at three in the afternoon, and to pick him up with his own car, nothing hot. Now Clemenza took up the telephone and dialed Rocco Lampone’s number. He did not identify himself. He simply said, “Come to my house, I have an errand for you.” He was pleased to note that despite the early hour, Lampone’s voice was not surprised or dazed with sleep and he simply said, “OK.” Good man. Clemenza added, “No rush, have your breakfast and lunch first before you come see me. But not later than two in the afternoon.”
There was another laconic OK on the other end and Clemenza hung up the phone. He had already alerted his people about replacing caporegime Tessio’s people in the Corleone mall so that was done. He had capable subordinates and never interfered in a mechanical operation of that kind.
He decided to wash his Cadillac. He loved the car. It gave him such a quiet peaceful ride, and its upholstery was so rich that he sometimes sat in it for an hour when the weather was good because it was more pleasant than sitting in the house. And it always helped him think when he was grooming the car. He remembered his father in Italy
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 85
doing the same thing with donkeys.
Clemenza worked inside the heated garage, he hated cold. He ran over his plans. You had to be careful with Paulie, the man was like a rat, he could smell danger. And now of course despite being so tough he must be shitting in his pants because the old man was still alive. He’d be as skittish as a donkey with ants up his ass. But Clemenza was accustomed to these circumstances, usual in his work. First, he had to have a good excuse for Rocco to accompany them. Second, he had to have a plausible mission for the three of them to go on.
Of course, strictly speaking, this was not necessary. Paulie Gatto could be killed without any of these frills. He was locked in, he could not run away. But Clemenza felt strongly that it was important to keep good working habits and never give away a fraction of a percentage point. You never could tell what might happen and these matters were, after all, questions of life and death.
As he washed his baby-blue Cadillac, Peter Clemenza pondered and rehearsed his lines, the expressions of his face. He would be curt with Paulie, as if displeased with him. With a man so sensitive and suspicious as Gatto this would throw him off the track or at least leave him uncertain. Undue friendliness would make him wary. But of course the curtness must not be too angry. It had to be rather an absentminded sort of irritation. And why Lampone? Paulie would find that most alarming, especially since Lampone had to be in the rear seat. Paulie wouldn’t like being helpless at the wheel with Lampone behind his head. Clemenza rubbed and polished the metal of his Cadillac furiously. It was going to be tricky. Very tricky. For a moment he debated whether to recruit another man but decided against it. Here he followed basic reasoning. In years to come a situation might arise where it might be profitable for one of his partners to testify against him. If there were just one accomplice it was one’s word against the other. But the word of a second accomplice could swing the balance. No, they would stick to procedure.
What annoyed Clemenza was that the execution had to be “public.” That is, the body was to be found. He would have much preferred having it disappear. (Usual burying grounds were the nearby ocean or the swamplands of New Jersey on land owned by friends of the Family or by other more complicated methods.) But it had to be public so that embryo traitors would be frightened and the enemy warned that the Corleone Family had by no means gone stupid or soft. Sollozzo would be made wary by this quick discovery of his spy. The Corleone Family would win back some of its prestige. It had been made to look foolish by the shooting of the old man.
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 86
Clemenza sighed. The Cadillac gleamed like a huge blue steel egg, and he was nowhere near the solving of his problem. Then the solution hit him, logical and to the point. It would explain Rocco Lampone, himself and Paulie being together and give them a mission of sufficient secrecy and importance.
He would tell Paulie that their job today was to find an apartment in case the Family decided to “go to the mattresses.”
Whenever a war between the Families became bitterly intense, the opponents would set up headquarters in secret apartments where the “soldiers” could sleep on mattresses scattered through the rooms. This was not so much to keep their families out of danger, their wives and little children, since any attack on noncombatants was undreamed of. All parties were too vulnerable to similar retaliation. But it was always smarter to live in some secret place where your everyday movements could not be charted either by your opponents or by some police who might arbitrarily decide to meddle.
And so usually a trusted caporegime would be sent out to rent a secret apartment and fill it with mattresses. That apartment would be used as a sally port into the city when an offensive was mounted. It was natural for Clemenza to be sent on such an errand. It was natural for him to take Gatto and Lampone with him to arrange all the details, including the furnishing of the apartment. Also, Clemenza thought with a grin, Paulie Gatto had proved he was greedy and the first thought that would pop into his head was how much he could get from Sollozzo for this valuable intelligence.
Rocco Lampone arrived early and Clemenza explained what had to be done and what their roles would be. Lampone’s face lit up with surprised gratitude and he thanked Clemenza respectfully for the promotion allowing him to serve the Family. Clemenza was sure he had done well. He clapped Lampone on the shoulder and said, “You’ll get something better for your living after today. We’ll talk about that later. You understand the Family now is occupied with more critical matters, more important things to do.” Lampone made a gesture that said he would be patient, knowing his reward was certain.
Clemenza went to his den’s safe and opened it. He took out a gun and gave it to Lampone. “Use this one,” he said.. “They can never trace it. Leave it in the car with Paulie. When this job is finished I want you to take your wife and children on a vacation to Florida. Use your own money now and I’ll pay you back later. Relax, get the sun. Use the Family hotel in Miami Beach so I’ll know where I can get you when I want.”
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 87
Clemenza’s wife knocked on the door of the den to tell them that Paulie Gatto had arrived. He was parked in the driveway. Clemenza led the way through the garage and Lampone followed him. When Clemenza got into the front seat with Gatto he merely grunted in greeting, an exasperated look on his face. He looked at his wristwatch as if he expected to find that Gatto was late.
The ferret-faced button man was watching him intently, looking for a clue. He flinched a little when Lampone got into the rear seat behind him and said, “Rocco, sit on the other site. A big guy like you blocks up my rear-view mirror.” Lampone shifted dutifully, so that he was sitting behind Clemenza, as if such a request was the most natural thing in the world.
Clemenza said sourly to Gatto, “Damn that Sonny, he’s running scared. He’s already thinking of going to the mattresses. We have to find a place on the West Side. Paulie, you and Rocco gotta staff and supply it until the word comes down for the rest of the soldiers to use it. You know a good location?”
As he had expected, Gatto’s eyes became greedily interested. Paulie had swallowed the bait and because he was thinking how much the information was worth to Sollozzo, he was forgetting to think about whether he was in danger. Also, Lampone was acting his part perfectly, staring out the window in a disinterested, relaxed way. Clemenza congratulated himself on his choice.
Gatto shrugged. “I’d have to think about it,” he said.
Clemenza grunted. “Drive while you think, I want to get. to New York today.”
Paulie was an expert driver and traffic going into the city was light at this time in the afternoon, so the early winter darkness was just beginning to fall when they arrived. There was no small talk in the car. Clemenza directed Paulie to drive up to the Washington Heights section. He checked a few apartment buildings and told him to park near Arthur Avenue and wait. He also left Rocco Lampone in the car. He went into the Vera Mario Restaurant and had a light dinner of veal and salad, nodding his hellos to some acquaintances. After an hour had gone by he walked the several blocks to where the car was parked and entered it. Gatto and Lampone were still waiting. “Shit,” Clemenza said, “they want us back in Long Beach. They got some other job for us now. Sonny says we can let this one go until later. Rocco, you live in the city, can we drop you off?”
Rocco said quietly, “I have my car out at your place and my old lady needs it first thing
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 88
in the morning.”
“That’s right,” Clemenza said. “Then you have to come back with us, after all.”
Again on the ride back to Long Beach nothing was said. On the stretch of road that led into the city, Clemenza said suddenly, “Paulie, pull over, I gotta take a leak.” From working together so long, Gatto knew the fat caporegime had a weak bladder. He had often made such a request. Gatto pulled the car off the highway onto the soft earth that led to the swamp. Clemenza climbed out of the car and took a few steps into the bushes. He actually relieved himself. Then as he opened the door to get back into the car he took a quick look up and down the highway. There were no lights, the road was completely dark. “Go ahead,” Clemenza said. A second later the interior of the car reverberated with the report of a gun. Paulie Gatto seemed to jump forward, his body flinging against the steering wheel and then slumping over to the seat. Clemenza had stepped back hastily to avoid being hit with fragments of skull bone and blood.
Rocco Lampone scrambled out of the back seat. He still held the gun and he threw it into the swamp. He and Clemenza walked hastily to a car parked nearby and got in. Lampone reached underneath the seat and found the key that had been left for them. He started the car and drove Clemenza to his home. Then instead of going back by the same route, he took the Jones Beach Causeway right on through to the town of Merrick and onto the Meadowbrook Parkway until he reached the Northern State Parkway. He rode that to the Long Island Expressway and then continued on to the Whitestone Bridge and through the Bronx to his home in Manhattan.
Chapter 7
On the night before the shooting of Don Corleone, his strongest and most loyal and most feared retainer prepared to meet with the enemy. Luca Brasi had made contact with the forces of Sollozzo several months before. He had done so on the orders of Don Corleone himself. He had done so by frequenting the nightclubs controlled by the Tattaglia Family and by taking up with one of their top call girls. In bed with this call girl he grumbled about how he was held down in the Corleone Family, how his worth was not recognized. After a week of this affair with the call girl, Luca was approached by Bruno Tattaglia, manager of the nightclub. Bruno was the youngest son, and ostensibly not connected with the Family business of prostitution. But his famous nightclub with its
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 89
dancing line of long-stemmed beauties was the finishing school for many of the city hookers.
The first meeting was all above-board, Tattaglia offering him a job to work in the Family business as enforcer. The flirtation went on for nearly a month. Luca played his role of man infatuated with a young beautiful girl, Bruno Tattaglia the role of a businessman trying to recruit an able executive from a rival. At one such meeting, Luca pretended to be swayed, then said, “But one thing must be understood. I will never go against the Godfather. Don Corleone is a man I respect. I understand that he must put his sons before me in the Family business.”
Bruno Tattaglia was one of the new generation with a barely hidden contempt for the old Moustache Petes like Luca Brasi, Don Corleone and even his own father. He was just a little too respectful. Now he said, “My father wouldn’t expect you to do anything against the Corleones. Why should he? Everybody gets along with everybody else now, it’s not like the old days. It’s just that if you’re looking for a new job, I can pass along the word to my father. There’s always need for a man like you in our business. It’s a hard business and it needs hard men to keep it running smooth. Let me know if you ever make up your mind.”
Luca shrugged. “It’s not so bad where I’m at.” And so they left it.
The general idea had been to lead the Tattaglias to believe that he knew about the lucrative narcotics operation and that he wanted a piece of it free-lance. In that fashion he might hear something about Sollozzo’s plans if the Turk had any, or whether he was getting ready to step on the toes of Don Corleone. After waiting for two months with nothing else happening, Luca reported to the Don that obviously Sollozzo was taking his defeat graciously. The Don had told him to keep trying but merely as a sideline, not to press it.
Luca had dropped into the nightclub the evening before Don Corleone’s being shot. Almost immediately Bruno Tattaglia had come to his table and sat down.
“I have a friend who wants to talk to you,” he said.
“Bring him over,” Luca said. “I’ll talk to any friend of yours.”
“No,” Bruno said. “He wants to see you in private.”
“Who is he?” Luca asked.
“Just a friend of mine,” Bruno Tattaglia said. “He wants to put a proposition to you. Can
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 90
you meet him later on tonight?”
“Sure,” Luca said. “What time and where?”
Tattaglia said softly, “The club closes at four in the morning. Why don’t you meet in here while the waiters are cleaning ups.
They knew his habits, Luca thought, they must have been checking him out. He usually got up about three or four in the afternoon and had breakfast, then amused himself by gambling with cronies in the Family or had a girl. Sometimes he saw one of the midnight movies and then would drop in for a drink at one of the clubs. He never went to bed before dawn. So the suggestion of a four A.M. meeting was not as outlandish as it seemed.
“Sure, sure,” he said. “I’ll be back at four.” He left the club and caught a cab to his furnished room on Tenth Avenue. He boarded with an Italian family to which he was distantly related. His two rooms were separated from the rest of their railroad flat by a special door. He liked the arrangement because it gave him some family life and also protection against surprise where he was most vulnerable.
The sly Turkish fox was going to show his bushy tail, Luca thought. If things went far enough, if Sollozzo committed himself tonight, maybe the whole thing could be wound up as a Christmas present for the Don. In his room, Luca unlocked the trunk beneath the bed and took out a bulletproof vest. It was heavy. He undressed and put it on over his woolen underwear, then put his shirt and jacket over it. He thought for a moment of calling the Don’s house at Long Beach to tell him of this new development but he knew the Don never talked over the phone, to anyone, and the Don had given him this assignment in secret and so did not want anyone, not even Hagen or his eldest son, to know about it.
Luca always carried a gun. He had a license to carry a gun, probably the most expensive gun license ever issued anyplace, anytime. It had cost a total of ten thousand dollars but it would keep him out of jail if he was frisked by the cops. As a top executive operating official of the Family he rated the license. But tonight, just in case he could finish off the job, he wanted a “safe” gun. One that could not possibly be traced. But then thinking the matter over, he decided that he would just listen to the proposition tonight and report back to the Godfather, Don Corleone.
He made his way back to the club but he did not drink any more. Instead he wandered out to 48th Street, where he had a leisurely late supper at Patsy’s, his favorite Italian
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 91
restaurant. When it was time for his appointment he drifted uptown to the club entrance. The doorman was no longer there when he went in. The hatcheck girl was gone. Only Bruno Tattaglia waited to greet him and lead him to the deserted bar at the side of the room. Before him he could see the desert of small tables with the polished yellow wood dance floor gleaming like a small diamond in the middle of them. In the shadows was the empty bandstand, out of it grew the skeleton metal stalk of a microphone.
Luca sat at the bar and Bruno Tattaglia went behind it. Luca refused the drink offered to him and lit a cigarette. It was possible that this would turn out to be something else, not the Turk. But then he saw Soltozzo emerge out of the shadows at the far end of the room.
Sollozzo shook his hand and sat at the bar next to him. Tattaglia put a glass in front of the Turk, who nodded his thanks. “Do you know who I am?” asked Sollozzo.
Luca nodded. He smiled grimly. The rats were being flushed out of their holes. It would be his pleasure to take care of this renegade Sicilian.
“Do you know what I am going to ask of you?” Sollozzo asked.
Luca shook his head.
“There’s big business to be made,” Sollozzo said. “I mean millions for everybody at the top level. On the first shipment I can guarantee you fifty thousand dollars. I’m talking about drugs. It’s the coming thing.”
Luca said, “Why come to me? You want me to talk to my Don?”
Sollozzo grimaced. “I’ve already talked to the Don. He wants no part of it. All right, I can do without him. But I need somebody strong to protect the operation physically. I understand you’re not happy with your Family, you might make a switch.”
Luca shrugged. “If the offer is good enough.”
Sollozzo had been watching him intently and seemed to have come to a decision. “Think about my offer for a few days and then we’ll talk again,” he said. He put out his hand but Luca pretended not to see it and busied himself putting a cigarette in his mouth. Behind the bar, Bruno Tattaglia made a lighter appear magically and held it to Luca’s cigarette. And then he did a strange thing. He dropped the lighter on the bar and grabbed Lucas right hand, holding it tight.
Luca reacted instantly, his body slipping off the bar stool and trying to twist away. But Sollozzo had grabbed his other hand at the wrist. Still, Luca was too strong for both of
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 92
them and would have broken free except that a man stepped out of the shadows behind him and threw a thin silken cord around his neck. The cord pulled tight, choking off Lucas breath. His face became purple, the strength in his arms drained away. Tattaglia and Sollozzo held his hands easily now, and they stood there curiously childlike as the man behind Luca pulled the cord around Lucas neck tighter and tighter. Suddenly the floor was wet and slippery. Luca’s sphincter, no longer under control, opened, the waste of his body spilled out. There was no strength in him anymore and his legs folded, his body sagged. Sollozzo and Tattaglia let his hands go and only the strangler stayed with the victim, sinking to his knees to follow Lucas falling body, drawing the cord so tight that it cut into the flesh of the neck and disappeared. Lucas eyes were bulging out of his head as if in the utmost surprise and this surprise was the only humanity remaining to him. He was dead.
“I don’t want him found,” Sollozzo said. “It’s important that he not be found right now.” He turned on his heel and left, disappearing back into the shadows.
Chapter 8
The day after the shooting of Don Corleone was a busy time for the Family. Michael stayed by the phone relaying messages to Sonny. Tom Hagen was busy trying to find a mediator satisfactory to both parties so that a conference could be arranged with Sollozzo. The Turk had suddenly become cagey, perhaps he knew that the Family button men of Clemenza and Tessio were ranging far and wide over the city in an attempt to pick up his trail. But Sollozzo was sticking close to his hideout, as were all top members of the Tattaglia Family. This was expected by Sonny, an elementary precaution he knew the enemy was bound to take.
Clemenza was tied up with Paulie Gatto. Tessio had been given the assignment of trying to track down the whereabouts of Luca Brasi. Luca had not been home since the night before the shooting, a bad sign. But Sonny could not believe that Brasi had either turned traitor or had been taken by surprise.
Mama Corleone was staying in the city with friends of the Family so that she could be near the hospital. Carlo Rizzi, the son-in-law, had offered his services but had been told to take care of his own business that Don Corleone had set him up in, a lucrative bookmaking territory in the Italian section of Manhattan. Connie was staying with her mother in town so that she too could visit her father in the hospital.
Freddie was still under sedation in his own room of his parents’ house. Sonny and
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 93
Michael had paid him a visit and had been astonished at his paleness, his obvious illness. “Christ,” Sonny said to Michael when they left Freddie’s room, “he looks like he got plugged worse than the old man.”
Michael shrugged. He had seen soldiers in the same condition on the battlefield. But he had never expected it to happen to Freddie. He remembered the middle brother as being physically the toughest one in the family when all of them were kids. But he had also been the most obedient son to his father. And yet everyone knew that the Don had given up on this middle son ever being important to the business. He wasn’t quite smart enough, and failing that, not quite ruthless enough. He was too retiring a person, did not have enough force.
Late in the afternoon, Michael got a call from Johnny Fontane in Hollywood. Sonny took the phone. “Nah, Johnny, no use coming back here to see the old man. He’s too sick and it would give you a lot of bad publicity, and I know the old man wouldn’t like that. Wait until he’s better and we can move him home, then come see him. OK, I’ll give him your regards.” Sonny hung up the phone. He turned to Michael and said. “That’ll make Pop happy, that Johnny wanted to fly from California to see how he was.”
Late that afternoon, Michael was called to the listed phone in the kitchen by one of Clemenza’s men. It was Kay.
“Is your father all right?” she asked. Her voice was a little strained, a little unnatural. Michael knew that she couldn’t quite believe what had happened, that his father really was what the newspapers called a gangster.
“He’ll be OK,” Michael said.
“Can I come with you when you visit him in the hospital?” Kay asked.
Michael laughed. She had remembered him telling her how important it was to do such things if you wanted to get along with the old Italians. “This is a special case,” he said. “If the newspaper guys get ahold of your name and background you’ll be on page three of the Daily News. Girl from old Yankee family mixed up with son of big Mafia chief. How would your parents like that?”
Kay said dryly, “My parents never read the Daily News.” Again there was an awkward pause and then she said, “You’re OK, aren’t you, Mike, you’re not in any danger?”
Mike laughed again. “I’m known as the sissy of the Corleone family. No threat. So they don’t have to bother coming after me. No, it’s all over, Kay, there won’t be any more
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 94
trouble. It was all sort of an accident anyway. I’ll explain when I see you.”
“When will that be?” she asked.
Michael pondered. “How about late tonight? We’ll have a drink and supper in your hotel and then I’ll go to the hospital and see my old man. I’m getting tired of hanging around here answering phones. OK? But don’t tell anybody. I don’t want newspaper photographers snapping pictures of us together. No kidding, Kay, it’s damned embarrassing, especially for your parents.”
“All right,” Kay said. “I’ll be waiting. Can I do any Christmas shopping for you? Or anything else?”
“No,” Michael said. “Just be ready.”
She gave a little excited laugh. “I’ll be ready,” she said. “Aren’t I always?”
“Yes, you are,” he said. “That’s why you’re my best girl.”
“I love you,” she said. “Can you say it?”
Michael looked at the four hood sitting in the kitchen. “No,” he said. “Tonight, OK?”
“OK,” she said. He hung up.
Clemenza had finally come back from his day’s work and was bustling around the kitchen cooking up a huge pot of tomato sauce. Michael nodded to him and went to the corner office where he found Hagen and Sonny waiting for him impatiently. “Is Clemenza out there?” Sonny asked.
Michael grinned. “He’s cooking up spaghetti for the troops, just like the army.”
Sonny said impatiently, “Tell him to cut out that crap and come on in here. I have more important things for him to do. Get Tessio in here with him.”
In a few minutes they were all gathered in the office. Sonny said curtly to Clemenza, “You take care of him?”
Clemenza nodded. “You won’t see him anymore.”
With a slight electric shock, Michael realized they were talking about Paulie Gatto and that little Paulie was dead, murdered by that jolly wedding dancer, Clemenza.
Sonny asked Hagen, “You have any luck with Sollozzo?”
Hagen shook his head. “He seems to have cooled off on the negotiation idea. Anyway he doesn’t seem to be too anxious. Or maybe he’s just being very careful so that our
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 95
button men won’t nail him. Anyway I haven’t been able to set up a top-notch go-between he’ll trust. But he must know he has to negotiate now. He missed his chance when he let the old man get away from him.”
Sonny said, “He’s a smart guy, the smartest our Family ever came up against. Maybe he figured we’re just stalling until the old man gets better or we can get a line on him.”
Hagen shrugged. “Sure, he figures that. But he still has to negotiate. He has no choice. I’ll get it set up tomorrow. That’s certain.”
One of Clemenza’s men knocked on the office door and then came in. He said to Clemenza, “It just came over the radio, the cops found Paulie Gatto. Dead in his car.”
Clemenza nodded and said to the man, “Don’t worry about it.” The button man gave his caporegime an astonished look, which was followed by a look of comprehension, before he went back to the kitchen.
The conference went on as if there had been no interruption. Sonny asked Hagen, “Any change in the Don’s condition?”
Hagen shook his head. “He’s OK but he won’t be able to talk for another couple of days. He’s all knocked out. Still recovering from the operation. Your mother spends most of the day with him, Connie too. There’s cops all over the hospital and Tessio’s men hang around too, just in case. In a couple of days he’ll be all right and then we can see what he wants us to do. Meanwhile we have to keep Sollozzo from doing anything rash. That’s why I want to start you talking deals with him.”
Sonny grunted. “Until he does, I’ve got Clemenza and Tessio looking for him. Maybe we’ll get lucky and solve the whole business.”
“You won’t get lucky,” Hagen said. “Sollozzo is too smart.” Hagen paused. “He knows once he comes to the table he’ll have to go our way mostly. That’s why he’s stalling. I’m guessing he’s trying to line up support from the other New York Families so that we won’t go after him when the old man gives us the word.”
Sonny frowned. “Why the hell should they do that?”
Hagen said patiently, “To avert a big war which hurts everybody and brings the papers and government into the act. Also, Sollozzo will give them a piece of the action. And you know how much dough there is in drugs. The Corleone Family doesn’t need it, we have the gambling, which is the best business to have. But the other Families are hungry. Sollozzo is a proven man, they know he can make the operation go on a big scale. Alive
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 96
he’s money in their pockets, dead he’s trouble.”
Sonny’s face was as Michael had never seen it. The heavy Cupid mouth and bronzed skin seemed gray. “I don’t give a fuck what they want. They better not mess in this fight.”
Clemenza and Tessio shifted uneasily in their chairs, infantry leaders who hear their general rave about storming an impregnable hill no matter what the cost. Hagen said a little impatiently, “Come on, Sonny, your father wouldn’t like you thinking that way. You know what he always says, ‘That’s a waste.’ Sure, we’re not going to let anybody stop us if the old man says we go after Sollozzo. But this is not a personal thing, this is business. If we go after the Turk and the Families interfere, we’ll negotiate the issue. If the Families see that we’re determined to have Sollozzo, they’ll let us. The Don will make concessions in other areas to square things. But don’t go blood crazy on a thing like this. It’s business. Even the shooting of your father was business, not personal. You should know that by now.”
Sonny’s eyes were still hard. “OK. I understand all that. Just so long as you understand that nobody stands in our way when we want Sollozzo.”
Sonny turned to Tessio. “Any leads on Luca?”
Tessio shook his head. “None at all. Sollozzo must have snatched him.”
Hagen said quietly, “Sollozzo wasn’t worried about Luca, which struck me as funny. He’s too smart not to worry about a guy like Luca. I think he maybe got him out of the picture, one way or the other.”
Sonny muttered, “Christ, I hope Luca isn’t fighting against us. That’s the one thing I’d be afraid of. Clemenza, Tessio, how do you two guys figure it?”
Clemenza said slowly, “Anybody could go wrong, look at Paulie. But with Luca, he was a man who could only go one way. The Godfather was the only thing he believed in, the only man he feared. But not only that, Sonny, he respected your father as no one else respected him and the Godfather has earned respect from everyone. No, Luca would never betray us. And I find it hard to believe that a man like Sollozzo, no matter how cunning, could surprise Luca. He was a man who suspected everyone and everything. He was always ready for the worst. I think maybe he just went off someplace for a few days. We’ll be hearing from him anytime now.”
Sonny turned to Tessio. The Brooklyn caporegime shrugged. “Any man can turn traitor. Luca was very touchy. Maybe the Don offended him some way. That could be. I think
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 97
though that Sollozzo gave him a little surprise. That fits in with what the Consigliere says. We should expect the worst.”
Sonny said to all of them, “Sollozzo should get the word soon about Paulie Gatto. How will that affect him?”
Clemenza said grimly, “It will make him think. He will know the Corleone Family are not fools. He will realize that he was very lucky yesterday.”
Sonny said sharply, “That wasn’t luck. Sollozzo was planning that for weeks. They must have tailed the old man to his office every day and watched his routine. Then they bought Paulie off and maybe Luca. They snatched Tom right on the button. They did everything they wanted to do. They were unlucky, not lucky. Those button men they hired weren’t good enough and the old man moved too quick. If they had killed him, I would have had to make a deal and Sollozzo would have won. For now. I would have waited maybe and got him five, ten years from now. But don’t call him lucky, Pete, that’s underrating him. And we’ve done that too much lately.”
One of the button men brought a bowl of spaghetti in from the kitchen and then some plates, forks and wine. They ate as they talked. Michael watched in amazement. He didn’t eat and neither did Tom, but Sonny, Clemenza and Tessio dug in, mopping up sauce with crusts of bread. It was almost comical. They continued their discussion.
Tessio didn’t think that the loss of Paulie Gatto would upset Sollozzo, in fact he thought that the Turk might have anticipated it, indeed might have welcomed it. A useless mouth off the payroll. And he would not be frightened by it; after all, would they be in such a situation?
Michael spoke up diffidently. “I know I’m an amateur in this, but from everything you guys have said about Sollozzo, plus the fact that all of a sudden he’s out of touch with Tom, I’d guess he has an ace up his sleeve. He might be ready to pull off something real tricky that would put him back on top. If we could figure out what that would be, we’d be in the driver’s seat.”
Sonny said reluctantly, “Yeah, I thought of that and the only thing I can figure is Luca. The word is already out that he’s to be brought here before he’s allowed any of his old rights in the Family. The only other thing I can think of is that Sollozzo has made his deal with the Families in New York and we’ll get the word tomorrow that they will be against us in a war. That we’ll have to give the Turk his deal. Right, Tom?”
Hagen nodded. “That’s what it looks like to me. And we can’t move against that kind of
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 98
opposition without your father. He’s the only one who can stand against the Families. He has the political connections they always need and he can use them for trading. If he wants to badly enough.”
Clemenza said, a little arrogantly for a man whose top button man had recently betrayed him, “Sollozzo will never get near this house, Boss, you don’t have to worry about that.”
Sonny looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. Then he said to Tessio, “How about the hospital, your men got it covered?”
For the first time during the conference Tessio seemed to be absolutely sure of his ground. “Outside and inside,” he said. “Right around the clock. The cops have it covered pretty good too. Detectives at the bedroom door waiting to question the old man. That’s a laugh. The Don is still getting that stuff in the tubes, no food, so we don’t have to worry about the kitchen, which would be something to worry about with those Turks, they believe in poison. They can’t get at the Don, not in any way.”
Sonny tilted back in his chair. “It wouldn’t be me, they have to do business with me, they need the Family machine.” He grinned at Michael. “I wonder if it’s you? Maybe Sollozzo figures to snatch you and hold you for a hostage to make a deal.”
Michael thought ruefully, there goes my date with Kay. Sonny wouldn’t let him out of the house. But Hagen said impatiently, “No, he could have snatched Mike anytime if he wanted insurance. But everybody knows that Mike is not in the Family business. He’s a civilian and if Sollozzo snatches him, then he loses all the other New York Families. Even the Tattaglias would have to help hunt him down. No, it’s simple enough. Tomorrow we’ll get a representative from all the Families who’ll tell us we have to do business with the Turk. That’s what he’s waiting for. That’s his ace in the hole.”
Michael heaved a sigh of relief. “Good,” he said. “I have to go into town tonight.”
“Why?” Sonny asked sharply.
Michael grinned. “I figure I’ll drop in to the hospital and visit the old man, see Mom and Connie. And I got some other things to do.” Like the Don, Michael never told his real business and now he didn’t want to tell Sonny he was seeing Kay Adams. There was no reason not to tell him, it was just habit.
There was a loud murmur of voices in the kitchen. Clemenza went out to see what was happening. When he came back he was holding Luca Brasi’s bulletproof vest in his hands. Wrapped in the vest was a huge dead fish.
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 99
Clemenza said dryly, “The Turk has heard about his spy Paulie Gatto.”
Tessio said just as dryly, “And now we know about Luca Brasi.”
Sonny lit a cigar and took a shot of whiskey. Michael, bewildered, said. “What the hell does that fish mean?” It was Hagen the Irisher, the Consigliere, who answered him. “The fish means that Luca Brasi is sleeping on the bottom of the ocean,” he said. “It’s an old Sicilian message.”
Chapter 9
When Michael Corleone went into the city that night it was with a depressed spirit. He felt that he was being enmeshed in the Family business against his will and he resented Sonny using him even to answer the phone. He felt uncomfortable being on the inside of the Family councils as if he could be absolutely trusted with such secrets as murder. And now, going to see Kay, he felt guilty about her also. He had never been completely honest with her about his family. He had told her about them but always with little jokes and colorful anecdotes that made them seem more like adventurers in a Technicolor movie than what they really were. And now his father had been shot down in the street and his eldest brother was making plans for murder. That was putting it plainly and simply but that was never how he would tell it to Kay. He had already said his father being shot was more like an “accident” and that all the trouble was over. Hell, it looked like it was just beginning. Sonny and Tom were off-center on this guy Sollozzo, they were still underrating him, even though Sonny was smart enough to see the danger. Michael tried to think what the Turk might have up his sleeve. He was obviously a bold man, a clever man, a man of extraordinary force. You had to figure him to come up with a real surprise. But then Sonny and Tom and Clemenza and Tessio were all agreed that everything was under control and they all had more experience than he did. He was the “civilian” in this war, Michael thought wryly. And they’d have to give him a hell of a lot better medals than he’d gotten in World War II to make him join this one.
Thinking this made him feel guilty about not feeling more sympathy for his father. His own father shot fall of holes and yet in a curious way Michael, better than anyone else, understood when Tom had said it was just business, not personal. That his father had paid for the power he had wielded all his life, the respect he had extorted from all those around him.
What Michael wanted was out, out of all this, to lead his own life. But he couldn’t cut loose from the family until the crisis was over. He had to help in a civilian capacity. With
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 100
sudden clarity he realized that he was annoyed with the role assigned to him, that of the privileged noncombatant, the excused conscientious objector. That was why the word “civilian” kept popping into his skull in such an irritating way.
When he got to the hotel, Kay was waiting for him in the lobby. (A couple of Clemenza’s people had driven him into town and dropped him off on a nearby corner after making sure they were not followed.)
They had dinner together and some drinks. “What time are you going to visit your father?” Kay asked.
Michael looked at his watch. “Visiting hours end at eight-thirty. I think I’ll go after everybody has left. They’ll let me up. He has a private room and his own nurses so I can just sit with him for a while. I don’t think he can talk yet or even know if I’m there. But I have to show respect.”
Kay said quietly, “I feel so sorry for your father, he seemed like such a nice man at the wedding. I can’t believe the things the papers are printing about him. I’m sure most of it’s not true.”
Michael said politely, “I don’t think so either.” He was surprised to find himself so secretive with Kay. He loved her, he trusted her, but he would never tell her anything about his father or the Family. She was an outsider.
“What about you?” Kay asked. “Are you going to get mixed up in this gang war the papers are talking about so gleefully?”
Michael grinned, unbuttoned his jacket and held it wide open. “Look, no guns,” he said. Kay laughed.
It was getting late and they went up to their room. She mixed a drink for both of them and sat on his lap as they drank. Beneath her dress she was all silk until his hand touched the glowing skin of her thigh. They fell back on the bed together and made love with all their clothes on, their mouths glued together. When they were finished they lay very still, feeling the heat of their bodies burning through their garments. Kay murmured, “Is that what you soldiers call a quickie?”
“Yeah,” Michael said.
“It’s not bad,” Kay said in a judicious voice.
They dozed off until Michael suddenly started up anxiously and looked at his watch. “Damn,” he said. “It’s nearly ten. I have to get down to the hospital.” He went to the
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 101
bathroom to wash up and comb his hair. Kay came in after him and put her arms around his waist from behind. “When are we going to get married?” she asked.
“Whenever you say,” Michael said. “As soon as this family thing quiets down and my old man gets better. I think you’d better explain things to your parents though.”
“What should I explain?” Kay said quietly.
Michael ran the comb through his hair. “Just say that you’ve met a brave, handsome guy of Italian descent. Top marks at Dartmouth. Distinguished Service Cross during the war plus the Purple Heart. Honest. Hard-working. But his father is a Mafia chief who has to kill bad people, sometimes bribe high government officials and in his line of work gets shot full of holes himself. But that has nothing to do with his honest hardworking son. Do you think you can remember all that?”
Kay let go his body and leaned against the door of the bathroom. “Is he really?” she said. “Does he really?” She paused. “Kill people?”
Michael finished combing his hair. “I don’t really know,” he said. “Nobody really knows. But I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Before he went out the door she asked, “When will I see you again?”
Michael kissed her. “I want you to go home and think things over in that little hick town of yours,” he said. “I don’t want you to get mixed up in this business in any way. After the Christmas holidays I’ll be back at school and we’ll get together up in Hanover. OK?”
“OK,” she said. She watched him go out the door, saw him wave before he stepped into the elevator. She had never felt so close to him, never so much in love and if someone had told her she would not see Michael again until three years passed, she would not have been able to bear the anguish of it.
* * *
When Michael got out of the cab in front of the French Hospital he was surprised to see that the street was completely deserted. When he entered the hospital he was even more surprised to find the lobby empty. Damn it, what the hell were Clemenza and Tessio doing? Sure, they never went to West Point but they knew enough about tactic to have outposts. A couple of their men should have been in the lobby at least.
Even the latest visitors had departed, it was almost ten-thirty at night. Michael was tense and alert now. He didn’t bother to stop at the information desk, he already knew his father’s room number up on the fourth floor. He took the self-service elevator. Oddly
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 102
enough nobody stopped him until he reached the nurses’ station on the fourth floor. But he strode right past her query and on to his father’s room. There was no one outside the door. Where the hell were the two detectives who were supposed to be waiting around to guard and question the old man? Where the hell were Tessio and Clemenza’s people? Could there be someone inside the room? But the door was open. Michael went in. There was a figure in the bed and by the December moonlight straining through the window Michael could see his father’s face. Even now it was impassive, the chest heaved shallowly with his uneven breath. Tubes hung from steel gallows beside the bed and ran into his nose. On the floor was a glass jar receiving the poisons emptied from his stomach by other tubes. Michael stayed there for a few moments to make sure his father was all right, then backed out of the room.
He told the nurse, “My name is Michael Corleone, I just want to sit with my father. What happened to the detectives who were supposed to be guarding him?”
The nurse was a pretty young thing with a great deal of confidence in the power of her office. “Oh, your father just had too many visitors, it interfered with the hospital service,” she said. “The police came and made them all leave about ten minutes ago. And then just five minutes ago I had to call the detectives to the phone for an emergency alarm from their headquarters, and then they left too. But don’t worry, I look in on your father often and I can hear any sound from his room. That’s why we leave the doors open.”
“Thank you,” Michael said. “I’ll sit with him for a little while. OK?”
She smiled at him. “Just for a little bit and then I’m afraid you’ll have to leave. It’s the rules, you know.”
Michael went back into his father’s room. He took the phone from its cradle and got the hospital operator to give him the house in Long Beach, the phone in the corner office room. Sonny answered. Michael whispered, “Sonny, I’m down at the hospital, I came down late. Sonny, there’s nobody here. None of Tessio’s people. No detectives at the door. The old man was completely unprotected.” His voice was trembling.
There was a long silence and then Sonny’s voice came, low and impressed, “This is Sollozzo’s move you were talking about.”
Michael said, “That’s what I figured too. But how did he get the cops to clear everybody out and where did they go? What happened to Tessio’s men? Jesus Christ, has that bastard Sollozzo got the New York Police Department in his pocket too?”
“Take it easy, kid.” Sonny’s voice was soothing. “We got lucky again with you going to
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 103
visit the hospital so late. Stay in the old man’s room. Lock the door from the inside. I’ll have some men there inside of fifteen minutes, soon as I make some calls. Just sit tight and don’t panic. OK, kid?”
“I won’t panic,” Michael said. For the first time since it had all started he felt a furious anger rising in him, a cold hatred for his father’s enemies.
He hung up the phone and rang the buzzer for the nurse. He decided to use his own judgment and disregard Sonny’s orders. When the nurse came in he said, “I don’t want you to get frightened, but we have to move my father right away. To another room or another floor. Can you disconnect all these tubes so we can wheel the bed out?”
The nurse said, “That’s ridiculous. We have to get permission from the doctor.”
Michael spoke very quickly. “You’ve read about my father in the papers. You’ve seen that there’s no one here tonight to guard him. Now I’ve just gotten word some men will come into the hospital to kill him. Please believe me and help me.” He-could be extraordinarily persuasive when he wanted to be.
The nurse said, “We don’t have to disconnect the tubes. We can wheel the stand with the bed.”
“Do you have an empty room?” Michael whispered.
“At the end of the hall,” the nurse said.
It was done in a matter of moments, very quickly and very efficiently. Then Michael said to the nurse, “Stay here with him until help comes. If you’re outside at your station you might get hurt.”
At that moment he heard his father’s voice from the bed, hoarse but full of strength, “Michael, is it you? What happened, what is it?”
Michael leaned over the bed. He took his father’s hand in his. “It’s Mike,” he said. “Don’t be afraid. Now listen, don’t make any noise at all, especially if somebody calls out your name. Some people want to kill you, understand? But I’m here so don’t be afraid.”
Don Corleone, still not fully conscious of what had happened to him the day before, in terrible pain, yet smiled benevolently on his youngest son, wanting to tell him, but it was too much effort, “Why should I be afraid now? Strange men have come to kill me ever since I was twelve years old.”
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 104
Chapter 10
The hospital was small and private with just one entrance. Michael looked through the window down into the street. There was a curved courtyard that had steps leading down into the street and the street was empty of cars. But whoever came into the hospital would have to come through that entrance. He knew he didn’t have much time so he ran out of the room and down the four flights and through the wide doors of the ground floor entrance. Off to the side he saw the ambulance yard and there was no car there, no ambulances either.
Michael stood on the sidewalk outside the hospital and lit a cigarette. He unbuttoned his coat and stood in the light of a lamppost so that his features could be seen. A young man was walking swiftly down from Ninth Avenue, a package under his arm. The young man wore a combat jacket and had a heavy shock of black hair. His face was familiar when he came under the lamplight but Michael could not place it. But the young man stopped in front of him and put out his hand, saying in a heavy Italian accent, “Don Michael, do you remember me? Enzo, the baker’s helper to Nazorine the Paniterra; his son-in-law. Your father saved my life by getting the government to let me stay in America.”
Michael shook his hand. He remembered him now.
Enzo went on, “I’ve come to pay my respects to your father. Will they let me into the hospital so late?”
Michael smiled and shook his head. “No, but thanks anyway. I’ll tell the Don you came.” A car came roaring down the street and Michael was instantly alert. He said to Enzo, “Leave here quickly. There may be trouble. You don’t want to get involved with the police.”
He saw the look of fear on the young Italian’s face. Trouble with the police might mean being deported or refusal of citizenship. But the young man stood fast. He whispered in Italian. “If there’s trouble I’ll stay to help. I owe it to the Godfather.”
Michael was touched. He was about to tell the young man to go away again, but then he thought, why not let him stay? Two men in front of the hospital might scare off any of Sollozzo’s crew sent to do a job. One man almost certainly would not. He gave Enzo a cigarette and lit it for him. They both stood under the lamppost is the cold December night. The yellow panes of the hospital, bisected by the greens of Christmas decorations, twinkled down on them. They had almost finished their cigarettes when a
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 105
long low black car turned into 30th Street from Ninth Avenue and cruised toward them, very close to the curb. It almost stopped. Michael peered to see their faces inside, his body flinching involuntarily. The car seemed about to stop, then speeded forward. Somebody had recognized him. Michael gave Enzo another cigarette and noticed that the baker’s hands were shaking. To his surprise his own hands were steady.
They stayed in the street smoking for what was no more than ten minutes when suddenly the night air was split by a police siren. A patrol car made a screaming turn from Ninth Avenue and pulled up in front of the hospital. Two more squad cars followed right behind it. Suddenly the hospital entranceway was flooded with uniformed police and detectives. Michael heaved a sigh of relief. Good old Sonny must have gotten through right away. He moved forward to meet them.
Two huge, burly policemen grabbed his arms. Another frisked him. A massive police captain, gold braid on his cap, came up the steps, his men parting respectfully to leave a path. He was a vigorous man for his girth and despite the white hair that peeked out of his cap. His face was beefy red. He came up to Michael and said harshly, “I thought I got all you guinea hoods locked up. Who the hell are you and what are you doing here?”
One of the cops standing beside Michael said, “He’s clean, Captain.”
Michael didn’t answer. He was studying this police captain, coldly searching his face, the metallic blue eyes. A detective in plain clothes said, “That’s Michael Corleone, the Don’s son.”
Michael said quietly, “What happened to the detectives who were supposed to be guarding my father? Who pulled them off that detail?”
The police captain was choleric with rage. “You fucking hood, who the hell are you to tell me my business? I pulled them off. I don’t give a shit how many dago gangsters kill each other. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t lift a finger to keep your old man from getting knocked off. Now get the hell out of here. Get out of this street, you punk, and stay out of this hospital when it’s not visiting hours.”
Michael was still studying him intently. He was not angry at what this police captain was saying. His mind was racing furiously. Was it possible that Sollozzo had been in that first car and had seen him standing in front of the hospital? Was it possible that Sollozzo had then called this captain and said, “How come the Corleones’ men are still around the hospital when I paid you to lock them up?” Was it possible that all had been carefully planned as Sonny had said? Everything fitted in. Still cool, he said to the captain, “I’m
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 106
not leaving this hospital until you put guards around my father’s room.”
The captain didn’t bother answering. He said to the detective standing beside him, “Phil, lock this punk up.”
The detective said hesitantly, “The kid is clean, Captain. He’s a war hero and he’s never been mixed up in the rackets. The papers could make a stink.”
The captain started to turn on the detective, his face red with fury. He roared out, “Goddamn it, I said lock him up.”
Michael, still thinking clearly, not angry, said with deliberate malice, “How much is the Turk paying you to set my father up, Captain?”
The police captain turned to him. He said to the two burly patrolmen, “Hold him.” Michael felt his arms pinned to his sides. He saw the captain’s massive fist arching toward his face. He tried to weave away but the fist caught him high on the cheekbone. A grenade exploded in his skull. His mouth filled with blood and small hard bones that he realized were his teeth. He could feel the side of his head puff up as if it were filling with air. His legs were weightless and he would have fallen if the two policemen had not held him up. But he was still conscious. The plainclothes detective had stepped in front of him to keep the captain from hitting him again and was saying, “Jesus Christ, Captain, you really hurt him.”
The captain said loudly, “I didn’t touch him. He attacked me and he fell. Do you understand that? He resisted arrest.”
Through a red haze Michael could see more cars pulling up to the curb. Men were getting out. One of them he recognized as Clemenza’s lawyer, who was now speaking to the police captain, suavely and surely. “The Corleone Family has hired a firm of private detectives to guard Mr. Corleone. These men with me are licensed to carry firearms, Captain. If you arrest them, you’ll have to appear before a judge in the morning and tell him why.”
The lawyer glanced at Michael. “Do you want to prefer charges against whoever did this to you?” he asked.
Michael had trouble talking. His jaws wouldn’t come together but he managed to mumble. “I slipped,” he said. “I slipped and fell.” He saw the captain give him a triumphant glance and he tried to answer that glance with a smile. At all costs he wanted to hide the delicious icy chilliness that controlled his brain, the surge of wintry cold
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 107
hatred that pervaded his body. He wanted to give no warning to anyone in this world as to how he felt at this moment. As the Don would not. Then he felt himself carried into the hospital and he lost consciousness.
When he woke up in the morning he found that his jaw had been wired together and that four of his teeth along the left side of his mouth were missing. Hagen was sitting beside his bed.
“Did they drug me up?” Michael asked.
“Yeah,” Hagen said. “They had to dig some bone fragments out of your gums and they figured it would be too painful. Besides you were practically out anyway.”
“Is there anything else wrong with me?” Michael asked.
“No,” Hagen said. “Sonny wants you out at the Long Beach house. Think you can make it?”
“Sure,” Michael said. “Is the Don all right?”
Hagen flushed. “I think we’ve solved the problem now. We have a firm of private detectives and we have the whole area loaded. I’ll tell you more when we get in the car.”
Clemenza was driving, Michael and Hagen sat in the back. Michael’s head throbbed. “So what the hell really happened last night, did you guys ever find out?”
Hagen spoke quietly. “Sonny has an inside man, that Detective Phillips who tried to protect you. He gave us the scoop. The police captain, McCluskey, is a guy who’s been on the take very heavy ever since he’s been a patrolman. Our Family has paid him quite a bit. And he’s greedy and untrustworthy to do business with. But Sollozzo must have paid him a big price. McCluskey had all Tessio’s men around and in the hospital arrested right after visiting hours. It didn’t help that some of them were carrying guns. Then McCluskey pulled the official guard detectives off the Don’s door. Claimed he needed them and that some other cops were supposed to go over and take their place but they got their assignments bollixed. Baloney. He was paid off to set the Don up. And Phillips said he’s the kind of guy who’ll try it again. Sollozzo must have given him a fortune for openers and promised him the moon to come.”
“Was my getting hurt in the papers?”
“No,” Hagen said. “We kept that quiet. Nobody wants that known. Not the cops. Not us.”
“Good,” Michael said. “Did that boy Enzo get away?”
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 108
“Yeah,” Hagen said. “He was smarter than you. When the cops came he disappeared. He claims he stuck with you while Sollozzo’s car went by. Is that true?”
“Yeah,” Michael said. “He’s a good kid.”
“He’ll be taken care of,” Hagen said. “You feeling OK?” His face was concerned. “You look lousy.”
“I’m OK,” Michael said. “What was that police captain’s name?”
“McCluskey,” Hagen said. “By the way, it might make you feel better to know that the Corleone Family finally got up on the scoreboard. Bruno Tattaglia, four o’clock this morning.”
Michael sat up. “How come? I thought we were supposed to sit tight.”
Hagen shrugged. “After what happened at the hospital Sonny got hard. The button men are out all over New York and New Jersey. We made the list last night. I’m trying to hold Sonny in, Mike. Maybe you can talk to him. This whole business can still be settled without a major war.”
“I’ll talk to him,” Michael said. “Is there a conference this morning?”
“Yeah,” Hagen said. “Sollozzo finally got in touch and wants to sit down with us. A negotiator is arranging the details. That means we win. Sollozzo knows he’s lost and he wants to get out with his life.” Hagen paused. “Maybe he thought we were soft, ready to be taken, because we didn’t strike back. Now with one of the Tattaglia sons dead he knows we mean business. He really took an awful gamble bucking the Don. By the way, we got the confirmation on Luca. They killed him the night before they shot your father. In Bruno’s nightclub. Imagine that?”
Michael said, “No wonder they caught him off guard.”
* * *
At the houses in Long Beach the entrance to the mall was blocked by a long black car parked across its mouth. Two men leaned against the hood of the car. The two houses on each side, Michael noticed, had opened windows on their upper floors. Christ, Sonny must really mean business.
Clemenza parked the car outside the mall and they walked inside it. The two guards were Clemenza’s men and he gave them a frown of greeting that served as a salute. The men nodded their heads in acknowledgment. There were no smiles, no greetings.
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 109
Clemenza led Hagen and Michael Corleone into the house.
The door was opened by another guard before they rang. He had obviously been watching from a window. They went to the corner office and found Sonny and Tessio waiting for them. Sonny came to Michael, took his younger brother’s head in his hands and said kiddingly, “Beautiful. Beautiful.” Michael knocked his hands away, and went to the desk and poured himself some scotch, hoping it would dull the ache in his wired jaw.
The five of them sat around the room but the atmosphere was different from their earlier meetings. Sonny was gayer, more cheerful, and Michael realized what that gaiety meant. There were no longer any doubts in his older brother’s mind. He was committed and nothing would sway him. The attempt by Sollozzo the night before was the final straw. There could no longer be any question of a truce.
“We got a call from the negotiator while you were gone,” Sonny said to Hagen. “The Turk wants a meeting now.” Sonny laughed. “The balls on that son of a bitch,” he said admiringly. “After he craps out last night he wants a meeting today or the next day. Meanwhile we’re supposed just to lay back and take everything he dishes out. What fucking nerve.”
Tom asked cautiously, “What did you answer?”
Sonny grinned. “I said sure, why not? Anytime he says, I’m in no hurry. I’ve got a hundred button men out on the street twenty-four hours a day. If Sollozzo shows one hair on his asshole he’s dead. Let them take all the time they want.”
Hagen said, “Was there a definite proposal?”
“Yeah,” Sonny said. “He wants us to send Mike to meet him to hear his proposition. The negotiator guarantees Mike’s safety. Sollozzo doesn’t ask us to guarantee his safety, he knows he can’t ask that. No point. So the meeting will be arranged on his side. His people will pick Mike up and take Mike to the meeting place. Mike will listen to Sollozzo and then they’ll turn him loose. But the meeting place is secret. The promise is the deal will be so good we can’t turn it down.”
Hagen asked, “What about the Tattaglias? What will they do about Bruno?”
“That’s part of the deal. The negotiator says the Tattaglia Family has agreed to go along with Sollozzo. They’ll forget about Bruno Tattaglia. He pays for what they did to my father. One cancels out the other.” Sonny laughed again. “The nervy bastards.”
Hagen said cautiously, “We should hear what they have to say.”
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 110
Sonny shook his head from side to side. “No, no, Consigliere, not this time.” His voice held a faint trace of Italian accent. He was consciously mocking his father just to kid around. “No more meetings. No more discussions. No more Sollozzo tricks. When the negotiator gets in touch with us again for our answer I want you to give him one message. I want Sollozzo. If not, it’s all-out war. We’ll go to the mattresses and we’ll put all the button men out on the street. Business will just have to suffer.”
“The other Families won’t stand for an all-out war,” Hagen said. “It puts too much heat on everybody.”
Sonny shrugged. “They have a simple solution. Give me Sollozzo. Or fight the Corleone Family.” Sonny paused, then said roughly, “No more advice on how to patch it up, Tom. The decision is made. Your job is to help me win. Understand?”
Hagen bowed his head. He was deep in thought for a moment. Then he said, “I spoke to your contact in the police station. He says that Captain McCluskey is definitely on Sollozzo’s payroll and for big money. Not only that, but McCluskey is going to get a piece of the drug operation. McCluskey has agreed to be Sollozzo’s bodyguard. The Turk doesn’t poke his nose out of his hole without McCluskey. When he meets Mike for the conference, McCluskey will be sitting beside him. In civilian clothes but carrying his gun. Now what you have to understand, Sonny, is that while Sollozzo is guarded like this, he’s invulnerable. Nobody has ever gunned down a New York police captain and gotten away with it. The heat in this town would be unbearable what with the newspapers, the whole police department, the churches, everything. That would be disastrous. The Families would be after you. The Corleone Family would become outcasts. Even the old man’s political protection would run for cover. So take that into consideration.”
Sonny shrugged. “McCluskey can’t stay with the Turk forever. We’ll wait.”
Tessio and Clemenza were puffing on their cigars uneasily, not daring to speak, but sweating. It would be their skins that would go on the line if the wrong decision was made.
Michael spoke for the first time. He asked Hagen, “Can the old man be moved out of the hospital onto the mall here?”
Hagen shook his head. “That’s the first thing I asked. Impossible. He’s in very bad shape. He’ll pull through but he needs all kinds of attention, maybe some more surgery. Impossible.”
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 111
“Then you have to get Sollozzo right away,” Michael said. “We can’t wait. The guy is too dangerous. He’ll come up with some new idea. Remember, the key is still that he gets rid of the old man. He knows that. OK, he knows that now it’s very tough so he’s willing to take defeat for his life. But if he’s going to get killed anyway, he’ll have another crack at the Don. And with that polite captain helping him who knows what the hell might happen. We can’t take that chance. We have to get Sollozzo right away.”
Sonny was scratching his chin thoughtfully. “You’re right, kid,” he said. “You got right to the old nuts. We can’t let Sollozzo get another crack at the old man.”
Hagen said quietly, “What about Captain McCluskey?”
Sonny turned to Michael with an odd little smile. “Yeah, kid, what about that tough police captain?”
Michael said slowly, “OK, it’s an extreme. But there are times when the most extreme measures are justified. Let’s think now that we have to kill McCluskey. The way to do it would be to have him heavily implicated so that it’s not an honest police captain doing his duty but a crooked police official mixed up in the rackets who got what was coming to him, like any crook. We have newspaper people on our payroll we can give that story to with enough proof so that they can back it up. That should take some of the heat off. How does that sound?” Michael looked around deferentially to the others. Tessio and Clemenza had gloomy faces and refused to speak. Sonny said with the same odd smile, “Go on, kid, you’re doing great. Out of the mouths of infants, as the Don always used to say. Go ahead, Mike, tell us more.”
Hagen was smiling too a little and averting his head. Michael flushed. “Well, they want me to go to a conference with Sollozzo. It will be me, Sollozzo and McCluskey all on our own. Set up the meeting for two days from now, then get our informers to find out where the meeting will be held. Insist that it has to be a public place, that I’m not going to let them take me into any apartments or houses. Let it be a restaurant or a bar at the height of the dinner hour, something like that, so that I’ll feel safe. They’ll feel safe too. Even Sollozzo won’t figure that we’ll dare to gun the captain. They’ll frisk me when I meet them so I’ll have to be clean then, but figure out a way you can get a weapon to me while I’m meeting them. Then I’ll take both of them.”
All four heads turned and stared at him. Clemenza and Tessio were gravely astonished. Hagen looked a little sad but not surprised. He started to speak and thought better of it. But Sonny, his heavy Cupid’s face twitching with mirth, suddenly broke out in loud roars
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 112
of laughter. It was deep belly laughter, not faking. He was really breaking up. He pointed a finger at Michael, trying to speak through gasps of mirth. “You, the high-class college kid, you never wanted to get mixed up in the Family business. Now you wanta kill a police captain and the Turk just because you got your face smashed by McCluskey. You’re taking it personal, it’s just business and you’re taking it personal. You wanta kill these two guys just because you got slapped in the face. It was all a lot of crap. All these years it was just a lot of crap.”
Clemenza and Tessio, completely misunderstanding, thinking that Sonny was laughing at his young brother’s bravado for making such an offer, were also smiling broadly and a little patronizingly at Michael. Only Hagen warily kept his face impassive.
Michael looked around at all of them, then stared at Sonny, who still couldn’t stop laughing. “You’ll take both of them?” Sonny said. “Hey, kid, they won’t give you medals, they put you in the electric chair. You know that? This is no hero business, kid, you don’t shoot people from a mile away. You shoot when you see the whites of their eyes like we got taught in school, remember? You gotta stand right next to them and blow their heads off and their brains get all over your nice Ivy League suit. How about that, kid, you wanta do that just because some dumb cop slapped you around?” He was still laughing.
Michael stood up. “You’d better stop laughing,” he said. The change in him was so extraordinary that the smiles vanished from the faces of Clemenza and Tessio. Michael was not tall or heavily built but his presence seemed to radiate danger. In that moment he was a reincarnation of Don Corleone himself. His eyes had gone a pale tan and his face was bleached of color. He seemed at any moment about to fling himself on his older and stronger brother. There was no doubt that if he had had a weapon in his hands Sonny would have been in danger. Sonny stopped laughing, and Michael said to him in a cold deadly voice, “Don’t you think I can do it, you son of a bitch?”
Sonny had got over his laughing fit. “I know you can do it,” he said. “I wasn’t laughing at what you said. I was just laughing at how funny things turn out. I always said you were the toughest one in the Family, tougher than the Don himself. You were the only one who could stand off the old man. I remember you when you were a kid. What a temper you had then. Hell, you even used to fight me and I was a lot older than you. And Freddie had to beat the shit out of you at least once a week. And now Sollozzo has you figured for the soft touch in the Family because you let McCluskey hit you without fighting back and you wouldn’t get mixed up in the Family fights. He figures he got nothing to worry about if he meets you head to head. And McCluskey too, he’s got you
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 113
figured for a yellow guinea.” Sonny paused and then said softly, “But you’re a Corleone after all, you son of a bitch. And I was the only one who knew it. I’ve been sitting here waiting for the last three days, ever since the old man got shot, waiting for you to crack out of that Ivy League, war hero bullshit character you’ve been wearing. I’ve been waiting for you to become my right arm so we can kill those fucks that are trying to destroy our father and our Family. And all it took was a sock on the jaw. How do you like that?” Sonny made a comical gesture, a punch, and repeated, “How do you like that?”
The tension had relaxed in the room. Mike shook his head. “Sonny, I’m doing it because it’s the only thing to do. I can’t give Sollozzo another crack at the old man. I seem to be the only one who can get close enough to him. And I figured it out. I don’t think you can get anybody else to knock off a police captain. Maybe you would do it, Sonny, but you have a wife and kids and you have to run the Family business until the old man is in shape. So that leaves me and Freddie. Freddie is in shock and out of action. Finally that leaves just me. It’s all logic. The sock on the jaw had nothing to do with it.”
Sonny came over and embraced him. “I don’t give a damn what your reasons are, just so long as you’re with us now. And I’ll tell you another thing, you’re right all the way. Tom, what’s your say?”
Hagen shrugged. “The reasoning is solid. What makes it so is that I don’t think the Turk is sincere about a deal. I think he’ll still try to get at the Don. Anyway on his past performance that’s how we have to figure him. So we try to get Sollozzo. We get him even if we have to get the police captain. But whoever does the job is going to get an awful lot of heat. Does it have to be Mike?”
Sonny said softly, “I could do it.”
Hagen shook his head impatiently. “Sollozzo wouldn’t let you get within a mile of him if he had ten police captains. And besides you’re the acting head of the Family. You can’t be risked.” Hagen paused and said to Clemenza and Tessio, “Do either one of you have a top button man, someone really special, who would take on this job? He wouldn’t have to worry about money for the rest of his life.”
Clemenza spoke first. “Nobody that Sollozzo wouldn’t know, he’d catch on right away. He’d catch on if me or Tessio went too.”
Hagen said, “What about somebody really tough who hasn’t made his rep yet, a good rookie?”
Both caporegimes shook their heads. Tessio smiled to take the sting out of his words
“The Godfather” By Mario Puzo 114
and said, “That’s like bringing a guy up from the minors to pitch the World Series.”
Sonny broke in curtly, “It has to be Mike. For a million different reasons. Most important they got him down as faggy. And he can do the job, I guarantee that, and that’s important because this is the only shot we’ll get at that sneaky bastard Turk. So now we have to figure out the best way to back him up. Tom, Clemenza, Tessio, find out where Sollozzo will take him for the conference, I don’t care how much it costs. When we find that out we can figure out how we can get a weapon into his hands. Clemenza, I want you to get him a really ‘safe’ gun out of your collection, the ‘coldest’ one you got. Impossible to trace. Try to make it short barrel with a lot of blasting power. It doesn’t have to be accurate. He’ll be right on top of them when he uses it. Mike, as soon as you’ve used the gun, drop it on the floor. Don’t be caught with it on you. Clemenza, tape the barrel and the trigger with that special stuff you got so he won’t leave prints. Remember, Mike, we can square everything, witnesses, and so forth, but if they catch you with the gun on you we can’t square that. We’ll have transportation and protection and then we’ll make you disappear for a nice long vacation until the heat wears off. You’ll be gone a long time, Mike, but I don’t want you saying good-bye to your girl friend or even calling her. After it’s all over and you’re out of the country I’ll send her word that you’re OK. Those are orders.” Sonny smiled at his brother. “Now stick with Clemenza and get used to handling the gun he picks out for you. Maybe even practice a little. We’ll take care of everything else. Everything. OK, kid?”
Again Michael Corleone felt that delicious refreshing chilliness all over his body. He said to his brother, “You didn’t have to give me that crap about not talking to my girl friend about something like this. What the hell did you think I was going to do, call her up to say good-bye?”
Sonny said hastily, “OK, but you’re still a rookie so I spell things out. Forget it.”
Michael said with a grin, “What the hell do you mean, a rookie? I listened to the old man just as hard as you did. How do you think I got so smart?” They both laughed.
Hagen poured drinks for everyone. He looked a little glum. The statesman forced to go to war, the lawyer forced to go to law. “Well, anyway, now we know what we’re going to do,” he said.

No comments:

Post a Comment