Carlo Costello turned his collar up against the cold. Tugged his cloth cap down a bit further. Winter in Little Italy, New York sure was colder than his native Sicily. He had left there with his father three years ago, just after his twelfth birthday and the death of his mother. Now he worked making deliveries for his father's bakery. The work was hard and the days were long but, as his father reminded him, at least business was good. His dad reminded him that people always needed to eat. Mangia! He would go onto say that the Lord had eaten bread at the last supper. Carlo would just nod, Si papa.
He went to the back of the small delivery truck. Lugged the box for the next delivery. As he turned he heard the screeching of tyres. A gleaming black car came racing around the corner. The car itself would catch anyone's attention. A brand new 1934 Ford Sedan. It was the kind of car he'd seen photos of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow driving in the newspapers recently. The Sedan skidded to a halt just feet away from Carlo.
He didn't move. Didn't want to get involved in whatever fastidio was going down. Around these streets only certain kinds of people drove flash cars like that. And you didn't mess with those people. You kept your head down and your mouth shut. As he stood clutching his delivery tray a guy jumped out of the passenger side of the sedan. Costello gasped. The guy wore an expensive suit, a fedora hat and clutched a Thompson submachine gun. The expression on his face was a mix of concentration, focus and enjoyment, excitement. He was a man with a job to do but the guy clearly loved his work. Clutching the weapon that was known as the Chicago typewriter he charged like a boxer crossing the ring. Ploughed into a barber shop. Carlo heard raised voices before the sickening rat-a-tat-tat of the Tommy gun. Costello knew the neighbourhood wasn't the nicest place to live, he knew that, but this shocked him. To be a bystander on what the newspapers would call a gangland slaying was deeply disturbing.
The killer appeared back on the sidewalk. Headed back to the sedan. He walked quickly but wasn't running. As he passed Costello he stopped. Turned to look at him. Costello gripped his bread tray to stop his hands from trembling. He could almost heat the killer's mind working. Should he kill this baker's kid? Time seemed to freeze. The world shrank down to this street in a tough part of a tough city.
Carlo Costello said nothing. He had lived in the neighbourhood long enough to know that to beg these Mafiosi to spare you was futile. He stared back. Didn't even blink. The guy nodded to Carlo. Then climbed back in the sedan. The gleaming automobile sped off.
Carlo sighed. The word returned to its normal speed. Shouts and yells came from the barber shop. A few people fussed over the killing but mostly people just went about their business. Costello finished the delivery round but for the rest of the afternoon as he wove the jalopy of a truck through the warren of the city he couldn't get the killer's face out of his mind.
As darkness was crossing the city he pulled up outside the small shop front that served as his father's baker store. He climbed out of the truck. Went into the shop. His father, a painfully thin man with receding hair and a pencil moustache, asked him how the deliveries had gone. Carlo tugged his cloth cap from his head. He wrung the fabric in both hands as he told him what he had witnessed. The older man came over to him.
'Madonna mia!' he whispered.
He gave Carlo a gentle slap on the cheek before returning to clean the store.
The next afternoon an overweight man in a tight fitting police uniform came into the bakers shop. He tucked his cap under his arm. Breathed in the aroma of baking bread. He waved a hand. Carlo's father came over.
'I need to speak to your son. I have some questions for him.
'Carlo, vieni qui.'
The fifteen year old came through from the back of the shop. He stopped and stared at the policeman. His father waved a hand, come and talk to the officer. As he reached the counter his father squeezed his shoulder. Carlo nodded.
'I understand you may have witnessed the murder on Mullberry Street yesterday.'
Carlo said nothing. He rubbed his jaw with the back of his hand.
'One Mario Andolini was gunned down in a barber shop. We believe you may have seen something that could help us find the killer.'
Carlo shook his head. The policeman's eyes locked on his. His gaze repeated the question. Carlo stared blankly. The policeman sighed. Carlo wondered if the cop was on the payroll of the local gangsters. The word around the neighbourhood was that half the police in New York were on the take. He wondered what would happen if he did tell the officer what he had seen. Not that there was much chance of that happening. All across the streets of Little Italy there was Omerta. The code of silence. You didn't talk to the police. As far as the Italian immigrant community were concerned la polizia were part of the problem and certainly not the solution to any of their woes.
'Mi dispiace.' Carlo said, shrugged, palms facing the ceiling.
The policeman cleared his throat. Grabbed a loaf of bread from a shelf. Turned and swaggered out of the shop leaving the door open behind him. Carlo's father rushed and closed the door. Nodded to his son, brushed none existent flour from his apron, then returned to his ovens.
Carlo swore in his native Italian tongue, massaged his temples with his fingers.
Two days later Carlo was making deliveries in the old van. He pulled up outside the restaurant. The owner of the place was always telling him that his father's bread was the best outside of Livorno. As he got out of the van he saw the sedan pull upto the kerb behind him. Before the killer got out of the passenger seat he knew it was the same car as the other day. The killer paused on the sidewalk. Stared at him. The driver got out. He was smaller than the killer, leaner, but dressed in the same style of expensive dark suit and fedora. Carlo dug his fists deep into his coat pockets. If they've come to kill me then there's nothing I can do to stop them. Even the best Sicilian bread wouldn't stop a hail of bullets from a Tommy gun. He was a witness. He could identify the man in front of his as the killer. Both men moved closer, came and stood in front of him. Carlo could smell their strong cologne. Their wide brimmed fedora hats almost hid their eyes.
The killer leaned towards him, smiling. As he spoke his breath caught on the cold winter air.
'Why don't you take a ride with me and Luca?'
Despite the politeness of the request Carlo knew it was not a question. He knew he really didn't have a choice. He looked around. Should he call for help? Make a run for it? How far would he get?
The killer shook his head, as if to say forget it.
'Relax, Carlo. Come on.'
How did this guy know his name? As if reading his thoughts the killer continued.
'This is Luca. I'm Salvatore Gandolfini. My amicos call me Toto. Let's get out of the cold, eh?'
Carlo said nothing. Nodded.
The driver got back behind the wheel. The killer, Salvatore Gandolfini, held the rear door open, waved a hand. Carlo took a look up and down the street. Would this be the last time he saw these streets? Taking a deep breath, he climbed in the back of the sedan. Salvatore slid in beside him.
'Andiamo!' he said and the driver pulled out into the street.
Despite the nerves that he was choking down he couldn't help being impressed with the sedan. The seats were even more comfortable than the worn furniture in his father's apartment. And compared to the jalopy he made his deliveries in, this was something else. You could hardly feel the bumps in the road.
He wondered where he was being taken, who he was being taken to. There was one name he was dreading. One man who nobody wanted to get involved with. His name was synonymous with fear, power and respect. Unfortunately that was the next name he would hear.
The car pulled up outside an office on the far side of town. Carlo was shown through into the back room. The room was clean and tide. Behind a wooden desk sat a man in his thirties. His dark hair was slicked back and he had high Sicilian cheek bones. He wore a grey suit with a watch chain hanging from his waist coat. The man got to his feet as Salvatore and Luca showed him in. Carlo's mind was racing. He was panicking but determined not to show it. Made fists with his hands.
'Buongiorno, Carlo. I'm Angelo Falcone.'
Carlo said nothing. Angelo Falcone. Don Angelo Falcone. Everyone in the neighbourhood knew the name. And nobody spoke it lightly. On the surface he was a legitimate businessman but the whole of Little Italy knew what that really meant.
Falcone smiled. Waved for Carlo to take a seat. Carlo took the hard chair across the desk from the Don's leather backed chair. Falcone leaned back. Studied Carlo with interest. Carlo's heart pounded in his chest. Luca, the driver, and Gandolfini slouched against the office wall near the closed door.
'Can I get you anything? Cigarette?'
'I don't smoke.'
'Bene. Those things will kill you. How about a coffee?'
Carlo waved a hand, I'm fine.
'I wanted to discuss something with you today. There is talk in the neighbourhood. People say that you may have witnessed a murder.'
Carlo's eyes darted in the direction of the men guarding the door. To Gandolfini. He had seen this man. He was the killer. He returned his gaze to Falcone. Shook his head.
'No, senor, I was busy making my deliveries. I saw nothing.'
The Don smiled. Rubbed his jaw with the back of his hand.
'How old are you, young man?'
'How would you like to come and work for me? You would make a good living. Don't worry about your father's bakery. If you were with me then his business would flourish, believe me.'
Carlo's head was spinning. He had been worried that he was going to be killed but now Don Falcone was offering him work. But, no, you'd have to be ubatz to get involved with a man like that.
'Mi dispiace.' He shook his head.
The Don raised the palms of his hands. No problem.
'That is your decision. I respect that. I am, after all, a reasonable man.'
'Grazie, Don Falcone.'
Falcone got to his feet. Carlo stood. The meeting was over.
'Carlo, I wish you buon fortuna. If there's ever anything I can do for you then come and see me.'
Carlo nodded, then rushed out of the door and out into the cold afternoon.
He said nothing to his father of his run in with Falcone. Pop had enough on his plate. He had to keep the bakery going to keep the two of them, while still mourning the death of his wife. He always referred to Carlo's mother as his principessa. His princess. He had never gotten over her death, and Carlo figured, he never would.
Twelve months later.
Carlo entered the shop, back from his deliveries. He found his father at the back of the store. The ovens were off and he was slumped at the table. As he neared Carlo noticed the swelling around his eye and his bloody lip.
'What is it, pop?'
His father cursed in Italian. This wasn't like him.
'I've been robbed. Three young men came into the shop. Grabbed me. Emptied the till.'
'It's only money.'
'They snatched the chain from my neck. The ring, Carlo. They took the ring.'
His father wore his wife's wedding ring on a chain. He said it was like a piece of his princess. His eyes were red., his hands trembled.
After two days of watching his father sink further and further into despair Carlo knew what he had to do.
He took the hard chair across the desk from Don Falcone. The Don smiled warmly.
'Carlo, good to see you. You've grown since you were last in my office.'
'You remember me.'
'A wise man makes it his business to remember people. But you didn't come here to exchange pleasantries. Tell me. What can I do for you?'
Carlo explained about his mother's wedding ring and how distraught his father had been. The Don nodded as he listened to the young man.
'Let me make.. enquiries. Come back in a few days and I will have the ring for you.'
He paused. Pointed a finger.
'You remember I offered you a position in my business? The day I get you the ring is the day you work for me.'
Carlo nodded. On his way over to see the Don he had suspected that this would be in the small print. But he really didn't have a choice. Besides, would working for Don Falcone actually be too bad? He would earn a good living, and, nobody would rob his father again. If he did well enough his father could slow things down. The loss of his wife, raising Carlo on his own, and running the bakery was taking its toll. By joining the Falcone Family he would also be taking care of his own famiglia.
Carlo Costello returned to the office on the day in question. Part of him wondered how Falcone would find his mother's ring, but the other part of him just knew that he would be able to get it. You didn't get into a position like Falcone's without being able to get things done. If the Don wanted that ring then he would get it.
As he was shown into Falcone's office Carlo noticed a man he'd never seen before scrubbing and brushing the wooden floor. Carlo stepped over the deep red stain and left the man to his cleaning. He couldn't help thinking that the marks on the floor were connected to the Don's enquiries about the stolen ring.
Falcone grinned. Waved for him to sit. Carlo took the seat.
'Well, my young friend. How are you today?'
'Bene, Don Falcone.'
Falcone opened a desk drawer. Produced a ring on a gold chain. Carlo's heart sank. His father wore his wife's ring on a dull silver chain. The Don had clearly got the wrong chain.
'I took the liberty of replacing the chain with something more befitting the sentimental value of the ring.'
He tossed the ring to Carlo. He caught it in eager hands. Studied it. It was the ring. Carlo jumped to his feet. The Don stood.
'Grazie, Don Falcone. Grazie.'
'Prego. You will find me a useful man to have on your side. And you haven't forgotten our agreement?'
Carlo shook his head.
'Good. You work for my famiglia now. I am a businessman. I'm as honest as all those pessonavantes in Congress. But like any good businessman, I protect my interests. A poor boy from Trapani doesn't get to my position by letting people take advantage of me.'
He handed Carlo a bunch of dollar bills.
'I am generous to those in my employ. I believe in loyalty but it works both ways.'
The Don held his hand as though offering a handshake. Carlo knew the protocol. He kissed the back of the Don's hand.
'Now, go and tell your pop the good news.'
When Carlo presented the ring to his father and explained what had happened the older man wept. Hugged his son. Carlo didn't know if the tears were for the return of the ring or at the direction his son's career had taken.
In the months that followed Carlo worked hard. He learned a lot. The Falcone Family was involved in all different kinds of business, protection rackets, illegal gambling, running numbers, moneylending or shylocking as it was known. Don Falcone also had the unions at the docks 'all tied up' and any robberies which took place would only happen with the Don's approval and for a slice of the action.
The Don was the boss, the head of the Family. Under him was the Consigliere. His role was like an advisor to the boss. The Don would discuss present and future business ventures, and any problems at hand. Between them they would decide which way was best to proceed. The Consigliere would also pass on the Don's instructions to the caporegimes, or captains as they were known. These capos ran crews of soldiers.
Carlo would call by his father's bakery in his expensive suit and shiny shoes. He would give his father money to help with the shop. His father grumbled about Carlo working for a man like Falcone but Carlo insisted that his boss was just a successful businessman.
Carlo noticed the change in the bakery's success. The shop was always busy. Suddenly people were very keen to buy their bread from them, and always paid on time. Carlo himself was treated differently around the neighbourhood. His money was no good in any of the local restaurants and he always got the best table. People who had ignored him and shoved him around now went out of their way to say buongiorno to him.
Carlo worked directly for a man names Tripodi. He was a short, stocky guy known for his quick temper. He was known by those closest to him as Three Legs, but to those outside the family he was Senor Tripodi.
Under Tripodi's instruction Carlo called to see a building contractor. The Falcones owned a haulage company. Don Falcone wanted the builder to use the Family's firm but so far the builder had been unresponsive to their requests. Carlo was sixteen years old and knew that if he managed to sort the builder out then that would esteem him in the eyes of the Family.
He walked into the builder's site office on the far side of the neighbourhood. Two overweight men in their thirties were behind a desk studying plans and drawings. Carlo closed the door behind him. Both men looked up.
'Joe Del Piero?' asked Carlo.
The guy on the right nodded.
I want to talk to you about your choice of haulage company. Now, I can recommend using Faccia Haulage. We can guarantee-'
'Va fanculo! No deal, goombah. Get off my site.'
'You know who I represent?'
'Tell Falcone he can kiss my ass.'
'Now that,' Carlo wagged a finger. 'is a shame.'
He lit a cigarette. As he left the office he muttered 'A real shame.'
A week later Joe Del Piero was dining in a restaurant with his mistress. He tried to see the girl whenever he could. Had to be careful though. Madonna, if his wife found out then the family life he prided himself on would turn to shit. He knew exactly how Carmella would react. She would be on the next boat back to the old country, and taking the twins with her. But he couldn't resist chasing the skirt. The pasta fazule was on form and the wine was flowing. And he knew he was on a promise. Nights like this made the grind of family life more tolerable. After a release like this he could approach things afresh.
Joe tried to listen to the pianist over the chatter of the other diners. It was a sad tune that his mother used to sing. Candle light glowed from the tables giving the place a cosy yet romantic feel. He sipped his wine. Life was hard but sometimes, on nights like this, it also seemed wonderful.
Joe asked for the bill. The waiter nodded and returned a minute later. When Joe opened the bill he gasped. Instead of the bill with its list of food dishes and bottles of vino, there was a handwritten note. It read : Your bill has been settled, with my compliments. Please reconsider your choice of haulage company. Perhaps Mrs Del Piero would be more responsive to our requests. I trust I can rely on your co-operation.'
Del Piero jumped to his feet. Looked around the small restaurant as Carlo closed the door behind him and moved out into the night.
The next day Joe Del Piero took out the haulage contract with Falcone's company.
Carlo would always look back on the 1940s as the decade that belonged to him. The decade changed him and moulded him into the man he would become.
In 1940, when he was aged twenty one years old, he was called to Falcone's office. He went in. The Don was behind his desk. Tripodi leaned against the filing cabinet.
'Oh! Here he is!' said Tripodi.
The Don grinned.
'We have good news, Carlo. Tomorrow you are to become a friend of ours.'
'Madonna. Thank you.'
The Don stood.
'I know you wont let me down.'
Carlo shook his head.
He barely slept that night. The next day he would be a 'made man'. He knew that was a major turning point. A friend of ours. The words went around his head.
The next day passed so quickly. He would recall the events through a haze. He arrived at the back room in one of the neighbourhood's best restaurants. He, like the Don and the captains gathered there, was in his finest suit. He didn't have a hair out of place and his shoes had never been polished so well.
Don Falcone opened his arms as though he was about to embrace him. Carlo stepped forward. A sacred vow was uttered in Italian. Carlo repeated the words sincerely. Falcone produced a card. It was the size of a playing card and bore the image of a Saint. The Don took a silver cigarette lighter, set fire to the card. Carlo cupped his hands. The flaming card was placed in his hands. Carlo repeated the oath that may his soul burn as this card burns should he betray this thing of ours, La Cosa Nostra.
As he rubbed the burning ashes in his hands the caporegimes applauded. The Don nodded.
After a splendid meal of baked ziti and a few glasses of vino, Carlo made his excuses and left. As he was leaving the Don told him to give his father his best wishes. His father was not a well man. He had been in and out of hospital for months. Now he weighed next to nothing and his eyes seemed to be sinking further and further back into his head. Carlo made the Sign of the Cross, said a silent prayer at his father's bedside.
'Carlo, how are you?' he whispered.
Carlo knew what he was asking. He was asking, will you be okay when I'm gone.
'Si, pop. Things are good.'
His thin fingers gripped Carlo's hand tightly. His gaze told him to take care of himself.
Just after three o'clock in the morning he got a phone call from the hospital. His father had passed away in his sleep. Carlo replaced the receiver. Sat on the bed, tears stinging his cheeks. In his mind he saw them both as they had been years ago, he also saw his mother back in the old country. He sighed. At least pop was in no more agony. His days of hard graft in front of hot ovens were over.
Carlo drifted in and out of sleep for the next few hours. He dreamed of his parents. Around nine o'clock that morning there was a knock on his apartment door. He patted his hair down. Threw a dirty shirt over his shoulders, climbed into a pair of trousers. Then opened the door.
Don Angelo Falcone had his fedora in his hands and a sad expression on his face. Carlo waved him in. The Don sat on the hard wooden chair while Carlo slumped back on the unmade bed. Carlo knew that Don Falcone didn't make house calls. If he wanted to see you, you went to him. You were summoned. But out of respect for Carlo and his late father, he had come to see him.
'A sad day.' said the Don. 'Your father was a good man. An honest man.' He pointed a finger. 'These days, that counts for something.'
Carlo blinked back the tears.
'Don't worry about the funeral arrangements. I know a guy in Jersey. He will take care of everything.'
Falcone patted him on the shoulder.
The funeral was a simple affair in keeping with what his father would have wanted. The attendance was something else. Carlo had never seen half the people. From the number of people gathered by the graveside most of Little Italy had turned out to pay their respects.
The July sun beat down. Carlo smiled. His father used to describe weather like this as good Sicilian weather. The priest, an elderly Italian man with trembling hands, prayed in Latin for his father's soul. The casket was lowered down into the earth. Carlo choked back the tears.
'Arriverderci, papa.' he whispered.
From that moment the Falcone's were his family in every sense of the word.
In the years that followed Carlo Costello worked hard. He made money, did well for himself and for the Family. By 1945 he was a caporegime, a captain, with a crew of soldiers working for him. His father would have used words like gangster and murderer to describe men like him but Carlo thought of himself and the Falcone family as businessmen. Sure, sometimes things had to get done to protect the family and their interests, but that was life. Besides, more often than not, the schifuso on the receiving end of their kind of justice knew the risks of la cosa nostra. Carlo had recently had to take care of a business matter. One of their associates was a mouthy punk. He was bad for business, ruffling feathers, not just among the Falcones but with the other Families that controlled New York and the surrounding areas. This kid, Salvatore, was running amok. He thought he could do what he pleased. This thing of ours hadn't survived so long because people did just as they liked. The rules were there for a reason.
Carlo got word from one of his soldiers that Sal was 'banging' the wife of an associate of another Family. He had heard enough. He made a couple of calls to verify what he was hearing was true. Then he called one of his 'button men'. The so-called button men were assassins. If the Family needed to 'push a button' on somebody you gave the job to them. Carlo gave the name to the killer. Three days later Salvatore Dunanno was gunned down at a newspaper stall. That was simply the nature of their business.
Carlo also had personal interests in doing well. His wife, Ninetta had given birth to their first child, a son, Francisco. The responsibility to his young family made him want to succeed even more. He wanted his wife and son to be short of nothing.
The Don called his caporegimes to his office one morning. Most of the capos sat on the chairs positioned around the desk. Carlo slouched against the wall, arms folded across his chest. To be called here like this meant something big. Good news or bad, it was importante. He wanted to know what was going on.
Don Angelo Falcone entered the room. Made his way to his desk. Still standing, he smoothed down his greying hair.
'I'm sure you all want to know why I have called you all here today. Well, let me put you out of suspense. Gino Tessutti, you all know him, my Consigliere. He's been diagnosed with cancer.
A volley of Italian swear words rang out.
'The doctore says that Gino has a matter of months left. This news is to stay with in la nostra famiglia. I don't want this difficult time compounded by outside matters. If any other Family discovers that my consigliere has a terminal illness then… then they may get ideas unbecoming of men of honour.'
The caporegimes nodded. Carlo rubbed his jaw. Don Falcone was right. The Five Families, including the Falcones, existed alongside each other. There were occaisional meetings, and some small meetings known as sit downs. The sit downs were arranged to sort problems out. But if word got out that Don Falcone's right hand man, his advisor had the big casino then some of the other families may decide that the time is right to muscle in on their operation.
In ten weeks that followed Gino Tessutti's condition worsened. When Carlo visited the consigliere he was shocked at his appearance. He looked like a ghost, looked like he had died already. The guy was in his forties, a similar age to the Don. Indeed they had been childhood friends, and as the Don rose to power, he'd brought Tessutti along with him.
The Don attended a meeting across the city. He had his car waiting. The automobile was riddled with bullets, hospitalising the driver. Word that Falcone's position could be vulnerable had clearly gotten out. All through the Family there was talk. Associates, soldiers, and caporegimes, all spoke of the fragile state of the Family. After all, right then, with Tessutti lying on his deathbed, Don Falcone had no consigliere. And what good was a Don without his consigliere? Talk also turned to the prospect of war, of which of the Families would side with each other against them and which would support them. These were certainly troubling days.
Carlo walked into a coffee shop one morning. Grabbed a cappuccino. Took a seat with a couple of guys on his crew. They were deep in conversation.
'What's this?' Carlo asked.
'We were just talking about who is gonna be the new consigliere. Who's your money on?'
Carlo slammed his cup down on the table. Looked at the two men in disgust.
'No me interesso un cazzo! Poor Gino's on his way out in the hospital, we're on the verge of war with one or all of the Families, and you two finooks are wondering who'll be consigliere? Get out of my sight. Go and earn the Family some money.'
Mumbling apologies they downed their coffee, grabbed their hats and overcoats and left.
One night as one of the Family's capos was leaving home he was hit by a car. The car came speeding down the street and caught him on the sidewalk. He had a few broken bones but would survive. The attack was deliberately provocative as it had taken place outside the guy's home. That was a major insult. Got a problem with somebody? They need taking care of, fair enough. Push a button on them. Make them disappear. But you didn't attack a made man outside his home.
A few nights later one of the Falcone's high rolling, big stakes card games was robbed. Men in trench coats, fedora hats and handkerchiefs knotted over their faces, had charged into the apartment. They had taken the money and shot one of Carlo's soldiers in the leg. This was not a simple robbery. It was not about the money. It was clear that messages were being sent.
Whichever of the other Families were behind the recent events the point was clear. Word was that the Falcone Family were on their way out along with their consigliere. So, the waters were being tested. Points were being made. As Carlo told one of his soldiers, 'they say we're weak, we're losing it, and the other families are circling like vultures.'
Don Angelo Falcone, meanwhile, said very little to anybody concerning the recent troubles. He got on with business. He changed his movements and routine to avoid assassination attempts. If travelling across the city he would be driven halfway in one car and have another meet him en route. He would dive into the second vehicle and be whisked away. He visited Gino Tessutti often, never going at the same time twice. His consigliere was out of it with the illness and the medication. The Don did not attempt to discuss business with his advisor. They spoke fondly of the old days, of Sicily, of arriving in New York, of old business partners who had helped them on their way to the top.
Don Falcone was at his bedside when Gino died. He closed the dead man's eyes, tears flooding from his own. He kissed him on both cheeks. He whispered grazie di tutto, vecchio amico. Thank you for everything, old friend.
The next day in a warehouse off Mullberry Street the Don met with his caporegimes. Amongst all the pallets packed with food produce from the old country they sat on wooden chairs in a rough circle.
The Don stood, patted his greying hair. Then spoke.
'As you know our old friend Gino has passed. May God have mercy on his soul. My consigliere was an important part of the Family. He will be sorely missed. Certain parties reaction to our difficult time has been disappointing. The days we are living in!' He sighed.
An overweight captain called Nino spoke up.
'They are saying we've lost it. That we aint nothing. If we don't do something soon then we wont be around in twelve months. We have to act now.'
'We are going to do something. We're going to bury a dear friend of mine. A friend of ours.'
'And then?' Nino asked.
'Then,' said Carlo. 'we show these schifuso exactly who they're messing with. We send a few messages of our own.'
Don Falcone wagged a finger at Carlo.
For security reasons a dozen funeral directors were asked to make arrangements. Their enemies would have no idea which plans were genuine and which were fugesi.
The rain lashed down, tapping on the lid of the casket as the priest prayed for Gino's soul. Anybody connected to the Falcone Family was there. Those not in attendance sent floral tributes. As people began leaving the graveside Falcone waved Carlo over. He approached his Don.
'Mi dispiace, Don Falcone.'
Falcone nodded. Stared down at the grave. Then turned. He put his arm around Carlo.
'I wonder if you would do your Don a service.'
'I want you to be my new consigliere.'
Carlo was stunned. He had worked hard, earned well, kept a level head and had progressed to captain. The role of consigliere had never even occurred to him.
'It would be my honour.'
The Don held out his hand. Carlo leaned in, kissed his hand.
'Andiamo, Carlo. Let's go raise a glass to Gino.'
The wake was a celebration of Gino Tessutti. The pasta was excellent, the vino was the best. One of the older capos sang a ballad in Italian.
The next day when Carlo went for a coffee his soldiers greeted him with calls of 'here he is!' and 'hey, consigliere'. Carlo shrugged, asked what was he gonna do, refuse? He accepted the congratulations and best wishes. He smiled. But being made consigliere right now was a bit like Churchill taking over being Prime Minister six years ago. Sure, it was an honour, a respected position in the Family, but everyone knew they were on the verge of war. And with the privileged position came more responsibility. He told himself that Angelo Falcone had not become the Don by making bad decisions. If his Don decided that Carlo Costello was the man for the job then so be it. Carlo had been involved in the family business for years. He knew the intricate workings of this thing of ours. Maybe he'd do okay as the consigliere.
That afternoon he had his first one on one meeting with the Don. As he entered the office the Don came from behind his desk. He grinned at Carlo.
'Buongiorno, consigliere. Come stai?'
'Va bene, grazie.'
Falcone waved for Costello to sit. As Carlo sat the Don paced behind the desk.
'You know the way of our business. The associates do work for the soldiers, the soldiers work for the captains. These caporegimes report to me. But you, consigliere mia, your position is different. The old timers say that the key to a successful Family lies with the consigliere. You need a Don, sure, but the consigliere-' He pointed to the heavens.
They spoke long into the evening. Carlo had entered the office that day as another goombah on Falcone's payroll but he left almost as an equal. The boss had final say but Carlo, as consigliere, would be a major influence on the decision being made.
It was no surprise to Carlo that his principle task was to find out which of the other families were moving against them. Carlo instructed the caporegimes to tell their soldiers to report anything, any wisecrack, any gossip, concerning who was behind the attacks. He wanted them to report directly to him. He hoped that with the entire family on the look out it wouldn't be too long before the culprit was found.
The attacks continued. One of the Falcone betting shops was robbed. Men in dark overcoats had stormed the place. A capo in the Falcone Family had been there at the time. The attackers had recognised him and beaten him up. Carlo shook his head when he heard the news. At one time even being associated with the Falcones would earn you respect. Now, it seemed, being with the Family only brought you trouble. Carlo visited the capo in hospital. As he entered the small medical room the captain shifted, wincing in discomfort.
'Ciao, Carlo. Come stai?'
'Better than you by the looks of it.'
The capo, a stocky guy called Speranza, shrugged, waved his hands, I've been through worse.
'Get you anything?'
Speranza shook his head.
'Guys came crashing in. Six of them, waving pistols. Grabbed the takings, trashed the joint. I did what I could to stop them.'
'I'm sure you did, Frank. Did you get a good look at any of them?'
'They had handkerchiefs over their faces. Hats pulled down low too.'
'Can you tell me anything at all?'
'Yeah. One guy, the guy who seemed to be in charge, he had a scar on the back of his hand. Looked like a burn or something.'
'You think of anything else you let me know.'
Don Falcone was keeping a low profile. Whoever was moving against them, the Don would be their main target. He was in regular contact with Carlo. They met in random places, talked on telephones or sent messages.
Carlo knew it was important to try and smooth things over with the other Families. They had to be reassured that the Falcones were still in a strong position. He crossed New York, went to Brooklyn and New Jersey as he visited the bosses of the other Families.
In these meetings he drank coffee, discussed business, and assured them that his Family was still able to operate and that they were doing all they could to sort out the trouble. Each family boss was welcoming but Carlo tried to see beneath that. He knew that in this business killers came at you with smiles. You could be having a glass of vino with a guy only for him to blow your brains out as you went for a cab.
The last family Carlo visited was the Gattussos. The head of the family was a man called Carmine Gattusso. He had thick greying hair and a slight belly but you could still see that in his youth he would have been a man you would not have messed with. Where Angelo Falcone had used his ruthless determination to get to his position, Carmine had clearly used his intimidating physical presence. Carlo got the impression that he had risen from childhood bully to organised crime.
Gattusso welcomed Carlo like they were old friends, even enquiring after his young family. The Don of the Gattusso Family had clearly done his homework. Knowing that the consigliere wanted the meeting he had found out all he could. Carmine had a couple of his men in the room beside him. The boss sat behind the large desk with his goombah hoods hanging around.
As with the other Families he had met with Carlo assured the boss that this trouble was only temporary and these problems were in the process of being straightened out. Carlo accepted the offer of coffee. Carmine waved to one of his guys. The hoodlum went to get the espressos.
A minute later the guy returned. He handed Carlo a small cup of coffee. Carlo thanked him. Then notice the scar on the back of his hand. Carlo swallowed. The scar matched the description of the thug who'd trashed their betting shop. He took a sip of coffee. He carried on as if nothing had happened. He told himself that if he pulled this off it would be a performance to rival Humphrey Bogart for next year's Academy Award.
He managed to keep the conversation going while the voice in his head yelled I know it was you. He finished his coffee. Then stood. Thanked Don Gattusso for his time. The boss wished him and the Falcones all the best. Carlo smiled. Thanked him for his support.
'It means a lot, especially coming from a man as respected as yourself.'
Carlo drove across the city, raced through the night. He pulled up outside Don Falcone's house. The guard on the gate told him the Don was asleep. Carlo barked that he better wake him up.
Carlo was drinking coffee in the kitchen when the Don entered. He wore a navy dressing gown over silk pyjamas. His hair was ruffled. He took a seat across the table from Carlo. Poured himself a coffee.
'I assume that you're here to see your Don and not because my wife does great coffee.'
Carlo explained about his visit to Gattusso and the man with the scar on his hand. The Don nodded. Said nothing for a few moments.
'Good work, consigliere. There are arrangements to be made in light of this revelation. You woke me up but I'm afraid it will be me keeping you from sleep for the rest of the night. We have a lot of work to do.'
The days that followed were the busiest that Carlo had known. Talks were had, phone calls were made, plans were hatched. By the time Carlo made it home to his wife and son his head was spinning.
A meeting of the heads of the families was called by Don Falcone. The gathering was to be held in Manhattan in the Hotel Metro on West 34th Street. All the families would be involved in security. It was to take place in a week's time. Carlo, who always had an ear to what was going on, knew the talk on the street. Word was going round that Falcone would be killed before the week was out. Carlo spoke to the Don, security was tightened. The Don's routine and location changed regularly.
Carlo, the caporegimes, and the entire family worked hard that week.
There were several desperate attacks on the Family through the week. One innocent man was gunned down in a nearby restaurant. The only thing he did wrong was to bear a resemblance to Falcone. To Carlo it felt like the last week of a world war. Hopefully peace would be declared at the meeting. There were those that were holding on for the meeting, biding their time, but it looked like a certain party were wanting to wreak as much havoc as they could, and take as many of the Falcones down while they had the chance. Carlo and the Don knew exactly who was behind it. Carmine Gattusso and his family. Some of the Falcone caporegimes wanted blood and wanted it immediately. Carlo told those getting impatient that they had to sit tight and stick to the plans.
The day of the meeting. Carlo woke. Took a second to recognise his surroundings. He had spent the night before in a secure house. The Don had done the same. Carlo dressed, shrugged into his suit jacket, knotted his tie. Placed his fedora hat on his head. Tucked his pistol into his trousers. He felt like a soldier going into battle. He knew today would go one of two ways. Either everything would go well, work out just how they wanted it to, or it would be a bloodbath and he would make his Ninetta a widow and his son would grow up without a father. He shook his head. Straightened his tie.
He crossed the city. He drove fast, jumped red lights. Changed cars several times. Doubled back on himself a few times. The Don would be driven in a similar fashion.
Carmine Gattusso took a shave in his usual barber shop. This guy gave you a shave like nobody else. The barber told his customers that his father had taught him when he was a boy. Don Gattusso then drank a coffee with a couple of his men. They laughed and joked. He wasn't worried about the meeting. He had nothing to lose. Those Falcones, they were in a precarious position. And the fact that Angelo Falcone had called this meeting confirmed that his family was on the ropes. If he had had his way the Falcones would have been wiped out before this day arrived. Now, though, he would just have to make his point to the other heads of the families. The Falcone Family were old news. And with the passing of the old consigliere their reign was over. He would put it to the other bosses that they move in and take over their operation. It was time to put the old dog to sleep.
When it was time to go he called Andiamo to his driver, waved his consigliere over. The three men headed for the car. He swaggered out to the sedan. He wasn't concerned for his safety. You'd have to be completely ubatz to pull anything on him.
Ten minutes into the journey Don Gattusso was confused. He tapped his driver on the shoulder.
'We're going to Manhattan, Vito. You got lost or something? Che cazzo! Why are we heading towards New Jersey?'
'All those road works, boss. Aint no other way. I'll get you there.'
'You better had.'
'You'll be fine boss.'
Don Falcone arrived at the Hotel Metro. Nice place, he thought, as he crossed the foyer. It has the feel of the 1920s about it. Although nearly thirty years out of date it kind of suited the place. It made the Don yearn for the early days. Maybe that was the decorator's intention. He smiled. He was sure this place would have stocked his bootleg hooch during the years of prohibition. He saw his consigliere in the lobby.
Carlo showed his Don through to the meeting room. Most of the other bosses were there. Around the large glass topped table sat the bosses. Their consiglieres sat nearby, waiting to be called for counsel if necessary. They were also there for protection should things get heated. Carlo showed Falcone to his seat. As he made his way he greeted each of the other bosses by name, kissing each man on both cheeks. Carlo had been involved in La Cosa Nostra for years but even he was impressed at the scene. Gathered around the table drinking coffee, chatting in Italian and in English were the most powerful crimelords in the country. He noticed that behind the fugesi smiles the other bosses eyes Falcone carefully. They were trying to judge if this aging Don and his family were the weak link in their chain. The eyes, Carlo thought, were like sharks.
Don Gattusso's gleaming sedan approached the New Jersey turnpike. The driver slowed the vehicle as he neared the toll booth. Usually the tolls across the states took one look at the men of respect travelling in the back of the automobiles and waved them through. As if they would insult these men of honour by asking them for the toll fare. The driver stopped at the booth.
The toll guy slid the glass back. Handed the driver a package instead of the normal ticket. The driver passed the parcel back to Don Gattusso.
'It's for you.' said the driver.
Don Gattusso tore the brown paper away. Ripped open the lid of the cardboard box. Then swore in Italian. Inside the box was a scarred severed hand. He would know that hand anywhere. Those burn marks were distinctive. He shouted at the driver to step on it. Instead of putting his foot down the driver opened his door and rushed away across the road.
The Don and his consigliere went for the doors of the sedan. Tried to flee. Men in long overcoats and hats appeared as if from nowhere. They clutched machine guns.
'Madonna mia!' whispered the Don.
Bullets ripped through the automobile and the two men. Gattusso made it out of the door. His large frame dropped to the tarmac. His suit was tore to ribbons and blood ran across to the gutter like summer rain.
Only the Gattusso familiy were missing. The bosses and their consiglieres made small talk, glanced at their watches. The room had an impressive view of Grand Central Station. There were clouds in the sky but it could develop into a lovely day. Carlo hoped for the best. Perhaps when this was over, after today's business was done, he would take Ninetta and his son to Coney Island. There was a gentle tap on the door.
'Che vuoi?' someone called.
A pale man in his twenties poked his head around the door.
'Excuse me. There's a telephone call for a Mr Costello.'
Falcone waved a hand. Carlo got to his feet.
Mumbled mi dispiace as he left the room.
Moments later Carlo returned. He crossed the room not returning any of the gazes directed at him. Went over to his Don. Leaned in close and spoke. The Don rubbed his jaw with the back of his hand. Nodded. Then got to his feet. Cleared his throat.
'I would like to thank you who are gathered here today for your respect and your support. Unfortunately the Gattusso Family were not so generous. They were found to be wanting things that did not belong to them. They had designs on my business. So my Family had to ensure that this did not happen. These things must be nipped in the bud. Carmine Gattusso has been taken care of and certain parts of his operation have joined forces with me. Of course if anyone here has any matters they would like to discuss then feel free to approach me. We are all reasonable men, after all.
'I also want to thank every one of you for your continued loyalty to my Family. La Famiglia Falcone has been through testing times but rest assured, this is only the first chapter in the story of my family.'
The Don waved a hand, he had finished speaking. The room burst into applauase. Still standing Don Angelo Falcone turned and nodded to his consigliere.