By Thom L. Jones
This story is a work of fiction. All the characters and events (except Carlo Gambino) are the product of the author's imagination.
They'd been sitting in the car for thirty minutes and were loosing the feeling in their feet and hands.
Sal kept squeezing his toes together, trying to keep the blood moving, and Joe rubbed his hands back and forward on the front of his overcoat, wondering if the fingers would just break off like unwanted icicles. It was too risky to keep the engine running. Although the black, tinted glass kept them hidden from observation, the exhaust would have spotted them straight away; cop car patrolling, wonder why they’re sitting here, dawdling in this awful weather. The windscreen was slowly frosting over and if the target didn't arrive soon, they would have to start up and drive away, around the block, but then knowing their luck, he would choose that moment to come down the street and they would be deep in brown town.
Joe struggled with his pack of Camels, offering one across to the driver, and they lit up, cupping their hands around the Zippo, relishing the brief heat spot.
"Fuckin' thing is, it's bad for us, how the hell's Vinny coping with this, I wanna know? Hope he's got his thermals on and a decent pair of boots. It must be like being in an ice cooler that alley an' all."
Sal nodded, drawing deep on the smoke, holding the nicotine in his throat and lungs, feeling heat there at least.
"Why the fuck we have to do this to night?" he said. "What's so fuckin' special about tonight, eh? I mean it's not as if this thing wouldn't have kept, is it? Gerry G. had to have it go down now, this fucking minute?"
He knew why of course.
"Probably ten fuckin' below out there, we're fuckin' polar bears, take a rain-check, stay in the cave for a bit of nooky, let the blizzard ease off. Shit in a brick, what a night."
It was coming up close to ten now. The street was deserted, snow falling lightly through the weak gleam cast by the overhead lighting. The tavern at the far end, on the corner, gave off a misted kind of glow, throwing a yellow patch onto the sidewalk, like dog's piss, staining the virgin white surface, up to the edge of the ally where Vinny would be waiting, ready, anxious, moving up and down, stamping his feet. Wondering.
Joe rubbed his side of the windscreen, hopelessly smearing it, making it harder to see out. He slouched back, stuffing his hands deep into his pea coat pockets, holding the cigarette between his lips, puffing in and out like an old bellows.
"You set with the piece?" Sal asked.
Joe nodded, slipping the automatic out of his jacket, clicking the safety off and on.
"Careful, with that," Sal admonished, "don't want the fuckin' thing going off in here, like a Treble Bob in a ringing room."
"The fuck you talking about?" Joe asked, putting the gun back in his jacket.
"You never heard that before eh? You need to get up to speed with a bit of learning Giuseppe, that's what I think." Sal smiled at his friend. "Broaden the mind, explore new horizons, go where no man has gone before. You're such a guito at times, you know that, eh?"
Joe stubbed out his cigarette in the ash tray set into the dashboard.
"You know, you talk like that to the wrong guy, you'll get your gazzo in a vice, and you'll be yapping like a girl the rest of your fuckin' life. Think on that Mr Smart Ass."
Sal leaned over and punched Joe lightly in the arm.
"Hi, I'm just pulling your chain. It's just music terms; they use them in bell ringing, you know, like in a church. They call it campanology, except serious ringers hate that name. Never use it. Maisie's cousin, Bella, she and her old man do it at a church up near Patchogue, on the island. We've been there a few times, and watched them workin' the ropes, you know. It's very serious stuff to these people, very serious." He cracked his side window and threw his butt out into the snow, re-closing it quickly, before any flakes could drift into the car.
"Ringing a bell, we're gonna' do that to-night Joe, soon as the fucker shows up that is."
Sal checked his watch, tilting his wrist to catch some of the street light.
"It's just after ten, he can't be too far-off; he tell you which way he's coming in?"
"Nah, but I guess he'll take the Ocean Parkway down to Avenue X, come in along there. The way, I would." Joe scratched the side of his face. "Then again, I guess he might come down Utica to the Kings Highway, if he's been to see his ma at the King's County. She went in a couple of days ago for some treatment, an' he told me he was gonna' go see her yesterday or to-day."
"What's wrong with her?"
"Varicose veins, I think. That or cancer."
" Fuckin' quantum fuckin' leap there Joe. I know what I'd rather have."
Joe grinned, his notoriously weird grin, like a hyena with gas problems, the kind of rictus twitch so many men had seen before going to sleep for good.
"Hey, I may not be as smart as you Sal, but you gotta admit I got a sense of humour."
The two men sit for a while, the white flakes drifting down, filling the street with a soft blanket, smoothing out the corners and curves and rough edges of the urban neighbourhood, edging away the drabness of this miserable part of the city.
"So, this thing with Gino, what's so important we gotta pop him to-night?" Joe asking Sal, offering the Camels around again, lighting up, talking casual as though they were discussing the odds on Mondays football game.
"Gerry G. says he's a rat. Fucker's rolled, working for the Feds. He has to go now before he does more damage. The G. doesn't know just how much damage he's done, so he wants him away as soon as possible. Word came down from the administration today. No fuckin' arguing with those guys at the best of times, so we go with the flow, do the job, get the brownie points. The pecking order Joe. You know how it works."
Joe nodded, drawing deep on his Camel. The family hierarchy made the decisions, the capos and soldiers carried it out. The ultimate pyramid scheme, the Mafia: the boss and his cronies on the peak, skippers and workers lower down, making up the mass. The never-ending money earners, generating always upwards. The proletariat selling their labour to the chiefs and in return getting their protection and benediction, and a shute down into the money pit. At least that was the theory. In practice, it was more about shafting everyone who got in your way, watching your back and hoping you best friend didn't come along one night and hit you with two in the head. The way it was planned to happen tonight.
Gino and Joe went back a long way. Came into the family at the same time as associates, working under Vinny, a soldier, one of a dozen or so answering to Sal who was the skipper of their crew.
Joe had been best man at Gino's wedding, who in turn was godfather to Joe's oldest boy, Ally. All in the family so to speak. And tonight Gino was going, and Joe was the dispatcher. Everyone in this little group gathering here in this dark and dismal corner of Sheepshead Bay had known each other for years. They had worked together, socialized together, lived closer together than they sometimes did with their wives or girlfriends. Stranger than fiction, the way the mob worked. More or less the same way it had for over a hundred years since those first immigrants from Sicily and Calabria and Naples had merged into criminal units, some of them becoming Black Hand gangsters, then some morphing into the Mafia, to forage and plunder all the other Italian immigrants, setting up their new lives in the brave new world.
Sal stretched and leaned over towards the rear of the SUV and pulled a leather hold-all back over the centre consol. Joe watched him, wondering. Sal laughed.
"Been keeping this until we got fuckin' desperate. Madonn' I don't know about you, but I'm ready now."
He un-zipped the flap, and pulled out a large, silver thermos and then two enamel mugs, unscrewing the lid of the jug and passing a cup over to Joe.
"Here Joe, here's some jo, to warm you up," pouring the thick, dark brown liquid into the cup."
"You bring some sfogliatelle?" asks Joe.
"What you think this, a fuckin' mobile deli?" laughs Sal.
The two men lean forward, sipping on the scalding coffee, their hot breath misting up the windscreen, enjoying the warmth, feeling it leaking through their bodies, like fresh lava, outing from a volcano, looking for the crooks and crevices. Sal's toes came alive again, and Joe's fingers went from off-white back to red.
Sal pulled out his pack of English Ovals and offered one to Joe.
"Shit man, I needed that," said Joe leaning back into the soft black leather seat, closing his eyes, blowing smoke down his nose. "I really can't stand this weather. This time of year, I'd rather been down in Boca Raton, or Vegas, or anywhere but here. Lived all my life in New York and I just can't figure while people actually choose to move here. The summers are piss evil and the winters even worse, so you got this little bit of spring and autumn that is like bearable, the rest of the time, is just strunzo. Shit whichever way you look at it. The older I get the more I notice how bad my circulation is getting that and my fuckin' piles. Don't talk to me about my cholesterol, what my doctor calls my impending diabetes, and the state of my liver. I just wish I could retire, and Bobby and me, we'd be off like rabbits in heat."
Sal drank some coffee, looking at his friend over the cup's rim.
"Not that easy though is it. You'd need plenty of money. To-day's prices, a thousand large wouldn't let you roll around in easy street. You got no fuckin' IRA, right? Unless it's in a big tin box hidden away somewhere.
So you gonna cut back on all the things you like: the good restaurants most nights of the week, the thousand dollar Brioni's, nice new car every year, all that stuff, you gonna trade in for Sears Roebuck off the peg, Denny's three times a week, Thunderbird instead of Johnny Walker Black, a new Toyota every five years.
Nah, I don't see it Joe, not you. You're a leather furniture man, not a Naugahyde one. Then, even if you found the money, no matter where you went, you'd still be with us, you know that, right. This life of ours Joe, you're in for the duration. Dieing, fuck that's easy man. Living is what's hard. It'll never happen, you know that."
Joe opened his eyes and stared at the frozen windscreen.
"You think anyone would really care if I walked away? I mean I wouldn't be the first guy to do it. Sonny's kid, Michael, he kissed it all goodbye. Johnny Junior, Gotti's son did a runner. Christ, go back nearly forty years, Joe Banana, boss of his own fuckin' borgata did it. How many more? You think anyone would care."
Sal looked hard at Joe, his eyes black as the night outside.
"I'd fuckin' care Joe. You're mine and I'm responsible to the boss. You walk away, makes me look bad. That's not something I'd be happy about, you know?"
Joe laughed. "Hi Sal, loosen up, I'm only thinking out loud. Nothings gonna come of it. You know me, I'm a dreamer, always have been. Bobbie says I'm a floater; half the time I'm listening to different drums. She's always moaning I never hear her, claims I'm not even there some of the time, like a twin of who I am."
"Doppleganger," Sal says, "that's what they call the double of a living person."
"That's what I am?" asks Joe. "Fuck, bells in the belfry, and now something weird. Sounds like it's Kraut."
"You're on the nail Joe, that's where the word comes from, means somethin' like double-goer."
Joe sips from his now cold cup of coffee. "How the fuck you know all this stuff, anyway Sal. You're a fuckin' gangster like me. Guys like us, never got past eighth grade. Words are things we use to make up a sentence. You use them differently, like they mean something special."
"A few years back," Sal says, "I'm in the waiting room at the dentists on 86th Street, in Bay Ridge, and I picked up a copy of Reader's Digest. There's a page in there called 'Improve you word power,' showing all these words and you have to pick the right meaning. Started in on at it, and I got hooked. Next day, I went out buying up back copies and paid a subscription; been getting it every month ever since. Found I was addicted, like smokes or liquor, you know. Just couldn't stop learning about words. It's called etymology, what words are all about, where they come from, things like that.
Fuckin' fascinating thing Joe.
Like I mean why do we use a word like 'pop' to describe a hit?
That's what we sometimes call our old man, isn't it? Where's the fuckin' sense in that?
Or clip? Now there's a real beauty. That word probably comes from Middle English, old times like, originating from the Norse people. You can just see this bunch of big, hairy Vikings, pillaging and raping some town, and the boss guy shouting "Let's go and clip the fuckin' mayor now boys."
Sal smiles, lost in his love of words. "It's what separates us from the animals, Joe, like we can talk, we can communicate with each other, don't have to go around sniffing each other's ass to find out what makes us tick. We can ask each other, you know?"
"What's he like?" asks Sal.
"What's who like?"
"Oh, him. Doctor Wolkoweitz. He's okay. Talks a lot, which is frustrating, 'cause like any dentist, he does it when your sitting there in the chair with your fuckin' mouth wide open and he's in there poking about with his scrapers and mirrors an' things and you can't say a fuckin' thing except aaaaaaargh! He's good at what he does though, tells you everything before he starts, keeps you in the loop so to speak. A good communicator. Likes words as well, like me."
They sit quietly for a few moments, topics exhausted. Joe wonders if he's up to the job. He's killed a lot of people in his twenty-five years in the mob, but he's always rationalized it by believing that each of them simply deserved it. Targets lined up to be shot down: his kewpie dolls, always another notch on the measuring stick for eligibility into the society, and the merit points beyond.
Gino though, he's a lot different. One of their own, and a good and personal friend. He'd broken a lot more than bread with Gino over the years. Can he really kill him? He knows he has no choice. He turns it down, one dark night, he's walking a street somewhere in this shit of a city, someone walks up behind him and boom, he's gone as well. Gino will still go, no matter what, so he has to do it. Gino's become a C.W., a rat, an informer, the worst of things, the lowest you can become in the life they all lead. Especially if the man is made, is a sworn member, has his button. The strength of Cosa Nostra, our thing, is its invincibility forged through loyalty. One weak link, the whole chain can fall apart. So you find one, it has to be removed and replaced.
To-night he'll be the jumbo bolt chain cutter. Poor Gino, he has no idea he's being set up. As far as he knows, he's meeting up with his skipper and two of his closest pals to organize a scam. He thinks he's part of a team that's going to knock over a drug dealer whose just collected a huge take-in from a street operation based in the area. Sal told him to bring a piece, so he'll feel relaxed and secure; armed and dangerous, ready to glome, big time.
The scam, the heist, the hi-jack; the nucleotides, the building blocks that make up the DNA of the mob, along with gambling, shylocking, union manipulation, numbers, drug peddling. So many schemes, never enough time to satisfy them all. Sal and his peers would spend up to eighteen hours a day grafting on any of these to ensure they didn't have to work, legitimately, anyway. Gino jumped at the chance to meet up with them this evening, probably salivating at the thought of his share of the easy money on this kind of score. He would never be expecting the way the night will end for him.
"You want another cup?" Sal's voice breaks into Joe's ruminations.
"Sure, that would be great," Joe offering his mug and watching the steam rising from the thermos as Sal pours it.
"Can't be long now. I told him around ten and it's," Sal shoots the cuff on his jacket again, "close to fifteen past. I hope he hasn't gotten held up with this fuckin' snow. It's coming down real strong now. I'm betting Vinny's found himself a doorway or something, otherwise he's gonna be a fuckin' snowman, time we get there."
They are parked on the north side of the street, facing west. Sal cracks the window again and brushed the snow of the wind mirror. Joe does the same so they have a clear view of the street behind them. The windows back up, they both brush the flakes off their jackets.
Sal looks across at Joe.
"You gonna be alright on this? I know you and Gino are pretty close. It's the pits when they make you do it on a buddy, but that's the way it is. I don't have to tell you that, right?"
"I'm loose, don't worry Sal. I hit enough guys to handle it, okay? It won't be the highlight of my day, or month or year, but I'll get over it. Don't worry about it. It'll go down okay."
"Good boy. I knew I could rely on you. Gerry G. wanted you 'cause he knew you and Gino were copacetic. Knew that would help Gino relax, you being here. Make him easier to get to. We don't know if Gino has any idea that he's suspect. You know, rats live right on the edge the whole time, they develop a special sense, have a kinda radar that's bleeping away, warning them."
"How do you live with it Sal?"
"This sort of thing. Killing a good friend, someone you've known for years. I mean you go to their home, play with their kids, pat the wives on the fanny, say how adorable they are and what lovely homes they run. Enjoy their hospitality, then push comes to shove, kill their husband."
"You doing a lotta thinking, Joe. Looking at retiring, getting a conscience, wondering at the meaning of life. It's all pretty serious stuff, right?
Let me tell you how I live with it.
I have a job to do in this fuckin' business, and I do it. Damn good, even if I say it. Why I'm a skipper. And the reason I do it good is I don't let it crawl inside me and eat away like the fuckin' cancer Gino's mom might or might not have. There's no place in this thing of ours for sentiment, no place for conscience, no place for self fuckin' righteous, patronizing indulgence. We're in the business of death, like it or not. We don't fuckin' sack people they do serious wrong, we kill 'em. That's the way our thing works; it’s a privilege we're blessed with, being in it. Even the people we've known for years and even the people we might love, they do wrong, they have to go. If we don't exercise that privilege, might as well close the shop and go home. End of story. What the hell. Everybody dies. Send flowers to the widow."
There's a long pause, the car fills with blue smoke. Outside, the snow keeps falling.
"Remember Steve Borelli? I was the guy who whacked him."
Joe stared at his friend, sitting in the driving seat. The man he'd worked under and with, for twenty years.
"You killed Stevie? But he was like a brother to you. You guys grew up together, you were inseparable. When he died you went into mourning for weeks. You couldn't have killed
Sal lit another English Oval. He sucked in the nicotine, holding it long enough to make him breathless, then exhaled in a long, slow breath.
"I grew up in a family of women, you know. Six sisters. My parents kept on trying until I came along, then they gave away their Catholic abstinence shit. I always wanted a brother, someone I could play with, tossing a ball in the yard, doing the hoops, stick-ball, whatever. Just another guy, someone with the same parts as me, someone who thought arm farts and blowing rasp-berries was as hilarious as I thought it was. Kids stuff, boy kids stuff. So Steve became my brother by default. I loved him as if we came from the same womb. We did everything together. Same schools, double-dated, shit, our wives were best friends as well, both of us worked construction, started the first drywall company together. It was just so fuckin' perfect in so many ways. We came into this thing as a pair, and we even got our badge at the same time. Incredible eh?
Somehow, it all went wrong. He got into drugs, one thing led to another and then the ultimate sin: he started playing around with a goodfella's wife, when the guy was in the joint. He wouldn't break it off. Benny Diamond, ya remember, the guy before Gerry G., he gave him three warnings, then that was that. Stevie was a big earner, and Benny didn't wanna loose him, but it got too much. He had to go. He didn't just play around with this goumada, he fuckin' flaunted it. Clubs, bars, cafes, he took her everywhere. It somehow seemed to me that he was actually sticking it in our faces, proving he didn't care. Fuckin' oobatz. The laws didn't fuckin' apply to him. But they fuckin' did. Sex with a made guy's wife is no-no land for us. He knew that.
I was his best friend, the guy he relied on the most, so it fell to me. I got the contract to knock him down." There's a long pause, then Sal turned to face his friend in the passenger seat.
"You know, I've often wondered. If we honour and trust each other so much, how come we have to kill each other so often?"
Joe shrugged. "Fuckin' beats me."
The two men sat in the big SUV, the snow slowly drifting around them. Now and again, a car or a truck would slowly slide by. There was no one out walking, except the lone figure making his way up towards them from the rear, hugging the buildings, trying to keep out of the worst of the bad weather. Joe checked his wing mirror.
"He's coming up, behind."
Sal un-popped the door locks, and Gino scrambled into the back seat. He was wrapped in a big, flowing trench coat, wearing a black Kangol cap. He slipped it off, wiping his face with the back of a hand.
"Jesus F. Christ, what a night to pick to do this fuckin' job."
Sal leaned over, playfully slapping him on the knee.
"Nothing you can't handle Gino. You good apart from all the snow you been collecting. Where'd you park? You come heavy?"
"Yeah, I'm with it Sal, no problem. Car's a couple of blocks down, off Avenue X. Fuckin' nowhere to park to-night around here, everybody must be home in front of a warm fire. I've got a piece. Where we meeting up with Vinny?"
"He's just down the street. Keeping an eye of the place, making sure nobody leaves before we get there. So, we all ready. Locked and loaded? Let's go."
The three men left the car and started on down the street, Sal leading. The alley was only a minute away. They turned the corner and saw a shape huddled in a doorway, next to a garbage dumpster, stamping his feet, flapping his arms, trying to keep warm. As they walked toward him, Sal and Joe slowed down, letting Gino go first. They reached the doorway and Gino moved forward, grabbing Vinny by the arms shaking him, joshing him about turning into a snowman.
Joe slipped his automatic out of his jacket, and started to raise it, when Sal stepped forward and shot Joe in the back of the head, twice. It was a small, .25 calibre semi, and made almost no noise in the thick snow drifting down. Joe collapsed like an empty sack, tumbling to the ground, legs splaying out, like a giraffe bending to feed. Turning the snow red as his head haemorrhaged blood. The three men gathered around the corpse.
"You got a place ready for him?" Vinny asked.
Sal nodded, "You're standing next to it."
Gino looked around, and down at the body sprawled at his feet. Vinny looked at Sal through the snowflakes. "The garbage skip?"
"Yeah. One of our trucks is picking it up at midnight. Joe's gone forever."
The three men manhandled the body up from the ground, and tumbled it into the skip.
It's near midnight in a back room at John's Bar at the bottom of Conover Street in Red Hook. This neighbourhood tavern in Brooklyn has been serving booze and food since 1890.
Carlo Gambino, the Don of all Dons used to come here, driving up from his apartment in Gravesend, to meet his people, the big earners, talk over their latest scams.
There's a half full jug of Dago red and a bottle of Chivas Regal on the table and the three men sitting here, smoking and sipping, have the room to themselves, talking quietly, the snow still drifting down outside, covering the streets and buildings, the city turning into something like a white, crumpled bedspread. Everything soft and comfortable.
"Fuck Sal, I had no idea it was Joe, until you popped him." Gino talking. "I thought we were going out to whack some guy out or do a job, but shit, not Joe. What's it all about?"
Sal smoked away, quietly, as though collecting his thoughts.
"He had some sorta beef with Gerry G. I don't know what it was all about. About a month ago, they were in the clubhouse in Bensonhurst. It's a Friday night, lot a guys’ there, everyone drinking and shouting, having fun. Joe's smashed, starts a quarrel with Gerry, and then, fuckin' get this, slaps the G. in the face. He didn't fuckin' punch him, that's bad enough, but he slaps him, a motsada ya know, a back-hander, like he's dealing with a broad. We all know the rules. We don't lift our hands to another wise guy.
It's just not done.
Gerry walked away, but Joe was dead that fuckin' minute and he should have known it. I think he was so drunk he didn't really know what he'd done; in denial, or maybe he was just wanting to commit suicide. It's beyond me. All the time I'm in this thing of ours, never seen anything like it. What happened to-night was just the postponement of what should have happened four weeks ago. Rules are fuckin' rules. We all know that, right? You never know how you look ‘till you get your picture took."
"So that's why Joe had to disappear. He's gone and nobody really knows what's happened to him, but everyone really knows what's happened to him," Vinny chiming in, sipping his red wine, hoping his frozen feet don't fall off before he can make it home, thinking about the way the mob is always good at sending a message.
"That's the way it works," says Sal, lifting his glass in a toast to a friend now gone, "always has, always will. Gerry G. knew the bad weather was coming in. Told me to get it over with to-night. No one in their right mind out and about in this fuckin' snow. No one to bother us. So bye-bye to our friend.
Buon' anima Joe."
Inside the bar the three men continue talking in low voices. Outside, the snow keeps falling on Brooklyn.
© Thom L. Jones 2010