Joe popped another black olive in his mouth and washed it down with a raw-egg protein shake. These numbers ain’t adding up, he thought to himself. Something ain’t right here. He wasn’t the smartest guy, he knew that, but he was a numbers guy who paid close attention to his money—what came in and what went out. And something just wasn’t adding up here. Literally.
Joe Scroi, better known as “Joe Zaps,” was one of Detroit’s most feared and tenured street captains, falling under the Malacci Family flag. In his younger years he had been a competitive bodybuilder, actually having been once crowned “Mr. Michigan.” But that was when he was in his twenties. Now in his mid-fifties, his days of competitive bodybuilding were long behind him. Nevertheless, he was still powerfully built, with massive arms that were corded with veins, much in part because of the high levels of steroids he still took. Unlike many of the Syndicate’s captains, Joe had been indoctrinated into the Family without having any blood ties to its five ruling families. He’d had grown up in the “Black District” of Detroit, named so for the Mafia’s “Black Hand” influence over all the local businesses. That is to say, back then every business had to pay for the protection of the local Mafia faction, known back then simply as “The Partnership.” The area from the Eastern Market to Conner Avenue, and from Jefferson Avenue to Gratiot Avenue, made up the Black District. Roughly ten square miles not far from Downtown. Every business was either owned by the Mafia or paid it to do business there. Period. There were no exceptions.
Growing up, Joe quickly made a name for himself as a fighter and neighborhood tough guy. A local capo named Vincenzo “Vinny” Malacci took notice. It wasn’t long before Vinny had Joe running errands for him. At first, it was nothing major. Mostly things like managing the numbers racket in the black neighborhoods. But soon things evolved into more nefarious activities, such as extorting business owners who thought they couldn’t get away with paying The Hand. These rare holdouts were usually people unfamiliar with the Mafia’s influence in the area. Oftentimes they were Polish immigrants who opened businesses in the small city of Hamtramck. These hard-headed immigrants were known for their stubbornness. They also had a propensity for violence themselves. So, violence was often required to “educate” them on the benefits of paying The Black Hand for protection.
One day, when Joe was in is twenties, he returned to Vinny’s headquarters—a meat market and bakery in the Eastern Market—and told Vinny he was unable to extort one particularly stubborn Polish store owner.
“Joe, the guys came out the back,” he explained, pleading his case. “Big bastards too. All of them. What the hell was I supposed to do? They were all screaming and yelling at me in Russian, or whatever the fuck language they speak.”
Vinny, who made his bones in the 1950s, gave him a disappointed look. “What the hell is wrong with you? You some kind of finook? Scared of a couple dumb Pollocks? I’m disappointed in you, Joey. I thought you had more balls than that. Guess I was wrong about you. And to think, I had big plans for you.”
Joe walked out both furious and dejected. But Vince Malacci was a master manipulator, which was exactly how he had come to be one of the Syndicate’s five capiregime. He knew exactly what he was doing by digging at Joe’s pride. His harsh reprimand was intended to motivate him. And it worked. The very next day, Joe returned to the Polish store with a gun and baseball bat. Before the immigrant store owner even saw it coming, Joe clubbed him over the head, splitting his skull wide open. This time, when the sons came running from the back of the store, Joe drew his pistol and aimed it at them.
“Now listen, you foreign fucks!” he barked
…pointing his menacing Colt .45 at the biggest one. “Here’s the deal. You pay $500 a week or I’ll burn this fuckin’ place to the ground and kill your whole family! That’s the deal. Understand?”
The big Polishman barely nodded.
“Say it!” Joe roared.
“Say it, you dumb Polish fuck! I know you speak English. Say you understand or I’ll blow your fuckin’ head off right here!”
“Yes… yes… I understand. Don’t shoot. Please, we will play… we understand.”
From that day on, the Polish store owner paid Joe $500 a week without fail. When other store owners in the area heard what Joe did, he began shaking them down, too, for a protection tax. As the years wore on, he became Vince Malacci’s right-hand man, running many of his street operations. But the Boss of the whole Syndicate, Don Falcone, was still leery about making an outsider like Joe a full member of the family. Then one day an event changed all that.
Joe had a thing for one of Vince’s daughters, and always hung around the butcher shop where she worked. He would bring her flowers and candy, often hanging around the store for hours, flirting and doing his best to making her laugh. Vincent knew about it, but wasn’t sure if he approved. He wanted her to be happy, but also didn’t want his daughter to end up with a guy from “the life.” On the other hand, he liked Joe a lot and knew he was a good man, that he would be good to her. So, he was leaving it to her. If she decided she wanted to marry him, he would give his blessing, even if it wasn’t necessarily what he wanted for her.
Then one day something happened that changed everything. Joe was hanging around the butcher shop, like he so often did, when a pair of young black thugs walked in and held the place up at gunpoint—guns pointed directly at Vincent’s daughter. As luck would have it, Joe was in the back talking to one of the butchers. When he heard what was happening out front, he snuck out the back door and circled around to the front of the store, just as the thugs were making their getaway. They never got away. Before they knew what hit them, Joe opened fire with his trusty .45 Colt auto, which he never left home without. He killed them both in a hailstorm of gunfire. When the local police arrived to make a report, they found Joe at no fault—naturally, they were on Vince Malacci’s payroll. Shortly after that, Joe married Tina Marie Malacci, daughter of Vince Malacci, who immediately sanctioned him to take the oath that would make him a full Made member of La Borgata, The Community. Don Falcone gave his blessing. In fact, the Boss of Bosses even attended the ceremony.
Now, almost thirty years later, Joe sat in his office and again did a count of his earnings over the last month. And just like the previous month, he was down almost twenty percent. Having been his father-in-law’s numbers guy for many years when he was young, he had developed an aptitude for numbers. And right now, something wasn’t adding up. His illicit monies from gambling and other rackets were stable, roughly $300,000 a month. But his legal numbers were down. He owned three nightclubs and all of them seemed to be down about 20-30%.
“How is this possible?” he mused aloud, staring down at his computer screen.
“How is what possible?” asked his driver and bodyguard, Mike DeStefano, a lifelong friend from the old neighborhood.
“The clubs are down,” Joe replied. “Way down. What the hell is going on? Kids stop partying all of a sudden?”
Mike thought for a minute and shrugged. “I tried to tell you a while back, it’s that fuckin’ Falcone kid and his crew. They opened up that place in the Shores. They’ve been advertising the shit out of it on the radio. I heard the kid’s got the place packed to capacity every night.”
Joe did remember Mike mentioning the place. And he had looked into it. The Boss’s grandson had opened a little club in his district. Back then he hadn’t thought much of it because the place was relatively small, with a max capacity of maybe 500. At the time Joe figured why should he care? Most of his regulars were extremely loyal to his nightclubs.
“Nah, that kid can’t be cutting that deep into our business,” Joe replied. “No way. Place only holds a few hundred.”
Mike shook his head. “Nah, Joe, they added a second floor to the place. Plus they pack it way over capacity. Probably 2,000 easy. I’m sure a lot of them are ours.”
Joe leaned back in his chair and popped an olive in his mouth, feeling mildly annoyed. “So first this fuckin’ kid opens a club in my territory and now he’s scabbing all my business?”
Mike shrugged, as if he had no answers. “Whaddya gonna do? He’s the Boss’s golden child.”
Joe popped another olive in his mouth and thought for a moment. “I know what to do. Fuckin’ kid has no idea. He’s got nonno, but I got Leo Gianolla. He hates that fuckin’ kid and he owns half the uniforms and suits in this town.”
Club Vanzetti’s was indeed doing well. When King opened it three months previous, his intention had been to use it for base of operations and a legitimate laundromat to clean some of the illicit proceeds he and his crew were taking in from the streets. But much to his delight, the club soon began turning a legitimate profit. And no small amount. On the advice of a Family associate in Miami, he had hired a seasoned manager who had previously run a series of very successful nightclubs in South Beach, Florida. That manager had quickly plied his marketing knowledge to this new market, using radio and local media to promote various events, such as Hawaiian Tropics bikini contests, Jello wrestling, and karaoke contests. Within weeks people were lined up outside to get in. The club was designed to have max capacity of 800 patrons, but on weekends King was crowding in almost triple that. It became so busy that he started charging a cover charge at the door. Women were free until 10:00, which brought them in by the hundreds to drink and party early with their friends. Of course, crowds of women always attracted droves of young men. After 10:00 cover charge became $10 for girls and $20 for guys. By 11:00 PM a line would be wrapped halfway around the building. It wasn’t uncommon for the club to take in $40,000 a night just from cover charge.
For King, Club Vanzetti’s was a goldmine, and everything was going well until he began running into trouble with the local fire department and police. First it was the fire department. They began fining him for ignoring the club’s maximum capacity limits, citing that he was violating certain safety codes. Even an attempt to bribe them failed to help. At first the fines were minimal. Only a few thousand dollars. No big deal. But within weeks the fines began to grow exponentially. A local judge warned that he would fine him $25,000 a night and eventually shut him down altogether if he continued to ignore the fire codes.
Then came the cops. At closing time, they began hanging out in the parking lot, harassing patrons, arresting people for being drunk and disorderly. When King confronted them, they even threatened to arrest him for interfering. When King’s lawyer contacted the police chief, threating a lawsuit over officers coming onto private property uninvited just to harass the club’s patrons, the cops began hanging out across the street, pulling over people as they left, arresting them for drunk driving. It didn’t take King long to figure out what was going on. Someone was trying to muscle him out of business. So, he decided to take it to his grandfather.
“I know it’s the Scroi brothers,” he said to Don Falcone, his face flushed with anger. “These fuckin’ scumbags are taking food out of my mouth. They’re pissed that I’m stealing all their business.”
Don Falcone took a sip of his espresso and slowly nodded.
“I had a feeling this might happen, Omnio. In this Family, there are many toes. It is easy to step on one.”
King gave him a pleading look. “Can’t you bring them in? Order them to call off the dogs?”
“Omnio, that’s not how it works. Who are you? To them you’re just a kid. Joe Scroi is a Made man. He’s a big earner for Vince Malacci. You say he is taking food out of your mouth? What do you think you are doing to him? He has a family to feed. You don’t. He has a whole crew who depends on him.”
“So do I!” King countered.
Don Falcone gave him a look. “Omnio, listen to what you are saying. The Borgata is made up of Five Families. I am simply the peace keeper and overseer of those Five Families, including our own. I am not a dictator. What do you expect me to do, make an enemy out of Vince Malacci and the Scroi crew because you, an 18-year-old kid, and this nightclub business? Don’t forget, you opened the club in their territory. I sanctioned it because I thought you’d run a little operation that could help you and your guys clean some of your dirty money. That’s it. I didn’t expect you to bring in a bigshot manager from Miami and try to take over the local market.”
“There was an opportunity there. The Scroi’s clubs are the same old bullshit. Boring as hell. Watered down drinks. Shit DJs. That’s why everyone loves our place. It’s like something you find in L.A. or Miami. I’m making a killing, Grandpa. There has to be something you can do. Give me the word and I burn one of their clubs to the ground. That should make us even.”
Don Falcone gave him a sharp look. “That’s how you start a war.”
“I was joking, Grandpa,” King countered, half-lying. “I wasn’t serious.”
Don Falcone thought for a long moment, pensively rubbing his chin, looking more like an Ivy League professor than the leader of one of the most powerful Mafia factions in the country.
“I will talk to Vince,” he finally said, in a tone denoting the conversation was over.
Don Falcone preferred to drive himself and not depend on a driver like most of the other Bosses. He didn’t need one. Nor did he believe in such displays of show and pomp. He was the Boss and everyone who needed to know, knew. But there were times when he did have his longtime “protettore,” his faithful bodyguard and brother-in-law, Alonso “Il Diavolo” Profaci, do his driving for him. There were occasions when it was good to have someone close you could trust. Someone who was good at making a statement. And there were few better at this than Alonso.
Alonso Profaci had once been a capo in New York’s Colombo Family until he had married Don Falcone’s younger sister, a marriage that had been arranged to strengthen the relationship between the Detroit and New York Families. Alonso had earned his moniker, The Devil, because he was known for his ruthlessness. Having worked for Don Falcone most of his life, in his younger years he was the don’s primary street enforcer, having killed over a dozen men on the don’s orders. When violence was required to make a statement or protect an interest, Alonso was always the don’s go-to man. Twice he had been indicted for murder, extortion, racketeering, and a litany of other crimes. But much to the chagrin of the FBI, not once did he agree to testify against his beloved Boss. In the end, one case was dismissed after the don bribed a prosecutor to tamper evidence. The second case was thrown out due to the star witness, the victim’s brother, suddenly refusing to testify, the result of the don’s men secretly getting a message to him—“We will kill your whole family if you take the stand….”
Today, on this blustery fall morning, as he set out to see Vince Malacci, one of the Syndicate’s five capiregime, Don Falcone decided to bring Alonso along. Though he knew Vince had never been a big fan of his, he also knew Vince was a smart man. A personal visit from the Boss, accompanied by his personal henchman, would be received as a clear message. A warning. But of course when they walked into Vince’s plush office at the back of his butcher shop, Vince jumped up and greeted him like he was a beloved brother.
“Goombadi!” Vince exclaimed, stepping over to embrace him in a powerful hug, completely ignoring Alonso. “What a treat! It’s so rare that I get to see you these days. How’s Gracie and the girls?”
“They’re all good, Vince,” Don Falcone answered, offering him a disarming smile. “Mary said she saw you at Ronnie’s a few weeks back?”
“Yes, that’s right. I forgot about that. She’s as beautiful as ever…” He gave Alonso a glance. “Everything okay, Pete? What brings you boys in? Looking for a game of penny poker? Paulie Fats and the boys are stopping by later. Say they got a big bag of pennies they want to give me.”
Don Falcone chuckled, a low rumble that seemed to vibrate the windows. “Ah, penny poker. I miss our regular games. You always had such a great bluff. Drove Tony Z. crazy. Wish we could get together more often but…” He glanced around, knowing there might be FBI bugs in the room. “Well, our government friends will think we’re up to no good and charge us with conspiracy.”
Vince laughed. “Yeah, a bunch of old men conspiring to bluff each other out of a few rolls of pennies. Bastards will hit us with RICO and try to lock us up forever.” This was a joke, but bringing up penny poker was his way of trying to lighten the mood, since the very presence of the Boss of Bosses and his henchman made him nervous. The Don was getting older, but by no means was he weak. In fact, he looked more menacing than ever, with his slicked silver hair, trench coat, and those dark eyes that seem to have the ability to read one’s thoughts.
The don’s countenance seemed to harden. “Yes, the feds, they’re like a bad cold. They never seem to go away.”
Vince nodded, sensing it was time to get to business. “Well, you’re looking great, goombadi. I swear you never age. Must be all that good cooking momma does for you…” He studied the Boss for a moment and again glanced at Alonso. “Well, it’s good to see you. Wish I could see you and Grace more often.” He snapped his fingers, as if he remembered something. “Oh, that reminds me, before you go, I’ll have Gina wrap up a nice package of veal. The best in the city. Just came in yesterday. Momma can use it to make spiedini.”
Don Falcone offered him a smile. “I appreciate that. You know how I love spiedini…” He then nodded towards the door that led into a back alley. “Listen, Vince, I need to have a quick word with you outside.”
Again Vince glanced nervously at Alonso, who returned a cold blank stare. A rush of fear washed over him. He knew things could go very wrong in this situation, because so many times he had been the facilitator of hits that started and ended just like this.
When Don Falcone saw what Vince was thinking, he looked at Alonso and said in Italian, “Attendere qui.” Wait here.
Looking mildly relieved, Vince led the don into the alley, which was cold and smelled like all the alleys in the Eastern Market—like rotting garbage and expired produce. Vince was relieved to see that there was no hit squad there waiting. It was just the two of them in the deserted alley.
Don Falcone stepped up and stood close to him. “Listen, Vince, do me a favor. This business with Joe Scroi and my grandson. This nightclub bullshit. It has to end before things escalate. Tell Joe, Omnio will stop running the big promotions. He will only fill his club to its maximum capacity for a while. Joe will get most of his patrons back. In exchange, you tell Joe and Leoni to call off the dogs, eh? That shit don’t fly. He’s my grandson. I gave him the green light to open that place. I bankrolled him. So now your guy is taking food out of my mouth, too. Not that I need it, Vince. You know I don’t. It’s the principle. Let the kid wet his beak a little. There is more than enough pie to go around.” He grinned and glanced at the door, where he knew Alonso was waiting on the other side. “You’ll handle this for me, yes?”
Vince nodded. “Yes, of course, Don Falcone. I didn’t know things were getting that serious. This is no big deal. Joe is my guy. I’ll send word today. I’m sure he meant no offense.”
Don Falcone inwardly grinned, not failing to notice that Vince had addressed him as ‘don,’ a show of both fear and respect. “Good, Vince. I appreciate your cooperation with this. Tell Joe I understand it was just business, but also let him know I wasn’t happy about how he went about it. Using the cops and the fire department. That’s not how we do things. In another life, I would make Joe pay a heavy penalty for that. Now I’m too old to stir up the beehive over such trivial matters. We can all make money. That’s what ‘Our Thing’ is about. Now let’s get out of this cold and take a look at the veal. I think I might have Momma make that spiedini tonight, now that you got me thinking about it.”
Vincent Malacci relayed the Boss’s orders. Joe Scroi immediately had Leoni Gianolla “call off the dogs,” that is to say, have the fire department and local police stop harassing King and his club patrons. In exchange, King reduced his club promotions and began adhering to its maximum capacity limit, which cut his profits in more than half. This irked him to no end, and he let Joe Scroi know it when he ran into him one day at the local World’s Gym.
“I know it was you and your brother who fucked up my operation. Using the cops to do your dirty work. That was a coward move.”
Joe, who was huge, nearly twice King’s size, turned red in the face with anger.
“You just call me a coward, kid?”
King, who was a teen bodybuilder himself, stepped right up in his face. “Yeah, as a matter of fact, I did. You broke the code and involved cops in family business.”
Joe, looking ready to kill, clenched his fists. “You know who the fuck you’re talking to, boy?”
King, knowing he was treading dangerous ground, took a step back and grinned. “Yeah, Joe, I know exactly who you are. And now I know what you are. A coward. You broke the rules, and I won’t forget it.” He then turned around and walked away. “See ya around, Joe.”
Joe was left standing there seething, his chest heaving with outrage. He wanted to run after him, clobber him, but he reminded himself who the kid was—The Butcher’s young prodigy.
For stories about Alan Lindbloom’s real life as a one-time Mob enforcer for the Detroit Partnership: See The Lindbloom Chronicles