Unlike most 19-year-olds, King started his day early, a trait instilled in him by his grandfather.
“A lazy man sleeps in and waits to meet his fate. An ambitious man is up early and makes his own,” his grandfather would always say.
And King lived by those words. He hung on his grandfather’s every word, for his grandfather was the man he aspired to be.
King now sat in the office of his new headquarters, a modern nightclub he and his crew had recently opened on Detroit’s eastside. He named it Vanzetti’s, although he had never told anyone why. Not even Vonni, his closet friend and confidant, knew the origins of the name, which was in fact the name of the Italian anarchist, Bartolomeo Vanzetti. It was an inside joke he kept to only himself, because in many ways he saw himself as a young anarchist, born to disrupt the natural order of things. Every time Vonni asked him what was behind the name, King would grin and say, “Someday you’ll figure it out.” Even though there were several other mob-owned nightclubs in the area, Vanzetti’s was doing well for having only been open six weeks. It was bringing in significant legitimate profits, but more importantly it was helping him and his crew launder some of their illicit street proceeds, which was the primary reason they had opened it in the first place.
Though King was young, he was mature well beyond his years. At only 19, he already commanded a small crew of faithful followers, hustlers, and street soldiers who worked any number of petty street rackets. He was a thinking man, a listener, not a talker. He didn’t watch TV or play video games. Instead, he read books on history and foreign cultures. He was a huge fan of military history, and one of his favorite pastimes was playing chess. He considered the game to be a metaphor for life. He also liked to stay abreast of politics and current events by reading the local newspaper, as he was doing now—a Detroit News sprawled across his mahogany desk, his eyes scanning the features as he sipped a protein shake.
“I think this Ford strike is a bluff,” he half-mused, glancing at Vonni, his faithful prottetore, who was stretched out on the couch, exchanging texts with one of their guys. “The union is bluffing. My uncle says they’re just squeezing the company for a few more bucks and retirement benefits”
“Same ol’ bullshit,” Vonni shrugged, his Brooklyn accent prominent as ever. “It’s why American cars cost as much as a house. Bunch of fuckin’ leeches. Half of ‘em get drunk while they sit on a stool and pull a lever for thirty-five fuckin’ bucks an hour.”
King shook his head and was about to resume reading when his second-in-command, Joey “Hollywood” Lombardo, walked in and set several stacks of small bills on his desk, all of them neatly banded and separated by denomination.
“How much?” King asked.
“Twelve and some change,” Joey answered matter-of-factly, referencing the weekend take from their sports betting operation.
King sat back and looked at Joey, an extremely handsome 20-year-old who was one of his closest childhood friends and the member of his crew he considered to be his underboss. Unofficially, of course. But he had intentionally structured his crew the in same way the Family itself was structured, with him as the Boss, Joey his underboss, Tony (the eldest of crew at 25) his consigliere, and Gino his street boss. Vonni was his bodyguard and the usual go-between for everyone below him.
“Twelve and some change?” King echoed. “Seems light.”
Joey dropped onto the couch next to Vonni and shrugged. “Tony ain’t kicked in yet,” he said, lighting a cigarette. “He’s usually good for at least two, three a week.”
This seemed to appease King, who sat back and was about to resume reading the paper when there was a knock on the doorframe. When he looked up, Tommy “Guns” Moceri was standing in the doorway looking in. Tommy, a musclebound bodybuilder with huge arms, was the club’s general manager but also one of the crew’s chief enforcers.
“What’s up, Tommy?” King asked.
Tommy looked at Vonni questioningly. “Some lady is out here asking for you?”
“Some lady?” King echoed, glancing at Vonni. “What do you mean ‘some lady?’”
“Some lady with an accent,” Tommy shrugged. “She walked in and said she was here to see Vonni.”
Vonni flashed them a smile. “Whaddya want from me?” he said, with his usual New York cockiness. “Ladies love good ol’ Johnny New York.” He made an arm motion. “Send her back. Let’s see how she looks.”
But to his surprise, the lady was not what he expected. She really was a lady. Older. Maybe 40. Tall, thin, with long brown hair. For a woman her age, she was quite attractive. But her face had some barely distinguishable bruises, as if she had been beaten and was now almost completely healed. And there was something else. It was in her eyes. A desperation. Or maybe fear. Perhaps both.
“You lookin’ for me?” Vonni asked.
“Yes,” she said timidly, barely a whisper, watching them stare back at her like she was an alien species. “Am I interrupting? I can come back another time. Maybe tomorrow? Next week? I’m sorry. How stupid of me to just walk in here like this. I can come back when–”
“Please, come in,” King said, cutting her off. “It’s fine. Tell me, how do you know Giovanni and what is it that we can do for you?”
She only moved maybe a half of step and looked at Vonni, again with a certain desperation in her eyes. “I don’t actually know him,” she said sheepishly. “My daughter goes to school with his cousin Erika. She said you and your friends might be able to help me.”
“Help you with what?” Vonni asked, narrowing his eyes at her, thinking that she was probably looking for a loan.
She turned to King, already sensing he was in charge. “It’s complicated. I mean, I…” She glanced at the door. “I’ll just come back another day. I can see you boys are busy.”
But before she could move, King was next to her, one hand gently gripping her arm, the other pressed into the small of her back. “Please, stay. I insist,” he said, smiling down at her. He made a motion towards Vonni and Joey, and they immediately vacated the couch. “Sit down. Tell us your name and what you think we can do for you.”
“My name is Carola,” she said, smiling up at him as he seated her on the couch. Something about him was very soothing. His eyes were dark and menacing, yet also very kind and gentle. And wow, was he handsome! The personification of tall, dark, and handsome. In another life, she thought to herself. In another life.
King sat himself on the couch next to her and offered her another disarming smile. “Can I get you something? Our kitchen is closed, but would you like a soda? A water?” When she glanced at the small dry bar against the wall, he motioned to Joey. “Joe, pour her a drink.”
A moment later, Joey handed her a double shot of scotch. “Here you go, ma’am,” he said, also offering her a disarming smile.”
“Please, don’t call me that,” she said, taking a sip. “I know I’m old enough to be your boys’ mother, but I’m not that old. Just call me Carola.”
“Okay, Carola,” King said, wondering about her strange accent. “Thant’s a pretty name. It could be Italian but something tells me you’re not Italian.”
She smiled at him coyly. “I’m German.”
“Well, it’s a beautiful name for a beautiful lady,” King said, already having pegged her accent for German. “Now what is it that you think we can help you with?”
She looked at all three of them, all of them waiting on her to speak. At first she hesitated, but then she decided it made no difference. She had nothing to lose. And really, they were just kids. Albeit dangerous kids. Or so she heard. With tears welling in her eyes, she began telling them why she was there. And by the time she was finished, she was crying and shaking uncontrollably.
“So, let me get this straight,” King said, motioning for Joey to get her another drink. “This guy, your ex-boyfriend, was supposed to marry you so you could gain citizenship. But before that happened, he ran off with a bunch of money you recently inherited from your grandmother?”
“Yes,” she nodded, wiping tears off her cheeks. “He just drained my accounts and ran off with some young whore. I have two kids and nothing to even survive on. I was going to try to become a nurse, but I guess that dream is over. I have nothing. If I don’t find a job soon, I’m going to get evicted from my apartment, and then we will be out on the streets.”
King immediately felt his anger rising. He had a soft spot for women, especially vulnerable women, a result of dealing with his mother’s mental illness. There was nothing worse than taking advantage of an innocent woman.
“Okay, I get that part,” he said, rubbing his chin pensively. “But I’m confused as to how you ended up working as an escort for Bruno DiCarlo.”
“You know the guy?” Vonni asked, never having heard of him.
King gave him a look, a message passing between them. “I know of him,” he said, and then turned back to the woman. “But how did you end up working for him?”
An ashamed look appeared in her eyes. “When my car started driving funny, I brought to his garage to have them look at it. I mean, the last thing I needed was my car breaking down. It was the only thing I had left.” She looked down at the floor to avoid eye contact. “Of course, he hustled me. He said my car needed a new transmission and it would cost almost $3,000 to fix.” She looked up at them. “When I told him I couldn’t afford that much, he said he could help me make some extra cash. All I had to do was hang out with a few guys. Just go on some dates. Go to dinner. Parties. That sort of thing. Just some lonely old men looking for companionship. They’d pay me $300 a night and he’d get a cut. I was so naïve. I had kids to feed so I agreed. At first that’s all it was. A few dates. But then the guys wanted more than companionship. They wanted me to sleep with them. When I refused, Bruno became insistent. I would have never done it, but he said he would find my ex and make him give me all my money back. So, I did it. I thought it would only be a few times, but that bastard made me keep doing it. He strung me along for months. He wouldn’t even give my car back. Just gave me some cheap piece of shit to drive. He showed me videos of me with the men, and lorded them over me in case I tried to go to the cops. He even threatened to call immigration and have me deported if I didn’t keep doing it. He’s a fuckin’ monster!”
Vonni, whose face was flushed with anger, shook his head. “Yo, I don’t like this type of shit, King. I say we go see this fuckin’ guy and handle him.”
King gave him another look. “I wish it was that simple, paisan. But it’s more complicated than that.” He then turned to her. “Listen, Carola. I don’t like what’s happening to you. This whole business with your ex screwing you over the way he did. Do you know where we can find him?”
Her eyes suddenly became wide with concern. “You’re not going to kill him, are you? I just want my money back. I don’t want you boys getting in trouble over this.” She thought for a moment and grinned. “Well, maybe you can hurt him a little. He has it coming for what he did.”
King grinned. “We’re not going to kill him. But do you know where we can find him?”
“Yes, of course. But what about Bruno? That bastard beat me up when I told him I wouldn’t sleep with his pervy friends anymore.”
King shot Vonni furtive glance. “We’ll see what we can do. Maybe we can persuade him to be reasonable.”
After writing down her number and the address to where they could find her ex, she politely thanked them and left.
When she was gone, Vonni gave King a look. “So, what’s the story with this Bruno guy? You know him or somethin’?”
King nodded. “I’m familiar with him. He does work for the Family. Mostly contract work. They call him ‘The Hammer.’ Likes to bust guys up with a hammer when they don’t pay up.”
Vonni shrugged and took a bite of the half-eaten protein bar on the coffee table. “Okay, so he works for the family. So we tell him to back off. No big deal.”
“It’s not that simple,” King said, shaking his head. “The escort service he runs is owned by little Nino Boccio. Nino’s one of Andre Licovoli’s guys.”
Vonni thought for a moment. “Nino who runs the strip club on 8 Mile?”
“The same,” King answered, his eyes glazing over in deep thought. “If Bruno is an earner for Nino and the Licovoli crew…” He shrugged and let his words trail off. “I think I’ll bring this to my grandpa. He’ll know how to handle it.”
That night, after dinner, King followed his grandfather into the atrium, where they had their regular post-dinner palavers. During these evening sitting sessions, they talked about everything from family business to the mysteries of the universe. The don considered the atrium a sanctuary, a place where he felt most comfortable. The smells of the plants and flowers that his wife so meticulously pruned each day reminded him of his beloved Sicily, the home from which he had fled so long ago. He could relax for hours in the atrium, listing to his favorite opera singer, Enrico Caruso. But as he now turned up the stereo’s volume, it wasn’t to appreciate the tenor of Caruso belting out his famous “Ave Maria.” It was to thwart any listening devices that the FBI may have surreptitiously planted in the room. He had his entire home swept regularly for bugs by an ex-FBI agent he employed, but he could never be too careful.
“So, tell me, Omnio, what is this business with Bruno DiCarlo?” asked the don, settling into his favorite recliner, which was positioned so he could look over the beautiful Lake St. Clair behind his home.
King sat on the couch and began relaying how an older German woman had walked into his club this morning asking for help. The don listened without saying a word, but he soon found his anger building. The exploitation of women was something he had never approved of. At least on a personal level. But he understood that things like prostitution and escort services were rackets that brought in considerable revenue for the Family. It often made him feel guilty that some of the envelopes he received were filled with cash made from prostitution. He he had been raised to hold women in the highest regard. They were something to be cherished and protected, not exploited for profit. But sex-for-sale was man’s oldest racket, and every crew in the Family was involved in some form or fashion, be it strip clubs, escort services, or flat out prostitution.
When King finally finished, Don Falcone nodded pensively. “This is a problem,” he said, taking a sip of his espresso. “I don’t like to interfere with how the others run their businesses. Bruno is independent, but it sounds like this escort service is flying under the Licovoli flag. As you know, Andre Licovoli and his brother Frank are good earners. And we have a good relationship. I don’t want to cause any friction over this. I suggest you go see Andre. Explain the situation. He’s a reasonable man. Tell him this woman has paid her debt and now Bruno is just taking advantage of her. See what he says.”
The following afternoon, King and Vonni paid a visit to “Licovoli Concrete Removal,” the headquarters for Andre Licovoli, a Made capo and head of the Licovoli crew, one of the Syndicate’s most powerful factions. When they walked in, they found the Mafioso seated behind his desk, eating lunch, stuffing food into his mouth. He was a huge man who had once been a star lineman at the University of Michigan. Back then he had been muscular and powerfully built, but these days he was far from the physical powerhouse he once was. Nevertheless, he was still very intimidating—an enormous hulk of a man at 6’5” and well over 400 pounds. He had a cocky disposition, and even for a man in his late forties he still carried himself like was he was always looking for a fight. But few dared take the challenge, which could be fatal.
As he listened to King and Vonni talk, he devoured two huge pastrami sandwiches from the deli next door. He acted like he had no idea who they were, but he did. He was aware that King was the Boss’s grandson. And not just any grandson, but his favorite. A cocky half-breed difetto who had a Jewish mother and a father who died twenty years ago. Most of the bosses didn’t like him because he received preferential treatment from his grandfather. Everyone, especially Andre himself, thought this special treatment was bullshit. He’d heard about how the young punk had been scabbing poker and dice players from games that were run by some of the other skippers. The kid also opened a new night club in the Scroi’s territory, which shouldn’t have been allowed. And then there was the whole incident with Tony “The Limp,” Sal Toccio’s guy. Killing a guy in Tony’s place with a baseball bat. In front of witnesses. Now the feds were all over Tony, and Sal was losing money because of it. The Boss didn’t even say shit about it. Who the fuck does this punk ass kid think he is? He thought to himself, washing down half a sandwich with swig of Pepsi.
“So, who is this woman to you?” he asked, taking another bite of sandwich. “And what concern is this of yours?”
King glanced at Vonni before answering. “With all due respect, Mr. Licovoli, what does it matter? Bruno is taking advantage of her. She’s not a voluntary working girl. He’s extorting a woman. That’s not how we are supposed to do things.”
Andre stopped chewing and gave him an almost offended look. “We?” he asked, knowing this half-breed difetto was nothing more than the coddled grandson of the Boss.
King’s dark eyes became hard, lined with a tinge of malice. “You know what I mean, Mr. Licovoli. She’s not a hooker. She got fucked over by her scumbag boyfriend. You don’t have a problem with what Bruno is doing? Because I brought it up with my grandfather, and he does have a problem with it.”
Andre stared at him, thinking to himself, this cocky little punk thinks he can press me by getting his grandpa involved. But then he inwardly chuckled and thought, I guess I’d do the same thing if the tables were turned. You always use your best weapons when you go into battle. And really, the kid had a point. Bruno was a scumbag for what he was doing to that woman. Men of Cosa Nostra were sworn to respect women, and to never take advantage of innocent civilian women. Had he known about this sooner, he would have already put an end to it. But he figured he would flex his power anyway. Show this young punk who was in charge.
“I’ll tell you what, boys,” he said, wiping his mouth with a napkin. “I’ll talk to Bruno myself and see what he has to say. Maybe this woman isn’t telling you the whole story. If she is, I’ll tell him to lay off. Fair enough? Come see me in a couple days. I’ll see what I can find out.” But he had no intention of ordering Bruno to do anything.
That evening, Carola’s ex-boyfriend, Mike, heard a knock on the front door of the home he had recently bought with her stolen inheritance. But rather than get up to answer it, he sent his new girlfriend to see who it was, too busy watching a baseball game to give much thought as to who it might be. He figured it was probably some solicitor, or maybe the neighbor kid, who was constantly bouncing his damn basketball into their backyard. But then he heard the voices of what sounded like two young men. One had an accent that was distinctly New York. When he turned to see who they were, he saw his girlfriend escorting two handsome guys into the family room.
“They said they needed to speak to you,” she said, grinning almost salaciously at King.
“How you doing, boys?” he said, looking them over. “What can I do for you?”
King glanced at the girlfriend, who was fairly attractive and not much older than himself. “Would you mind giving us a moment?”
She gave Mike a look and shrugged. “Um, sure. I guess I’ll go get dinner started.”
“Thank you,” King said, flashing her a smile. “We will only be a minute.”
When she was gone, Mike gave them a perplexed look. “Do I know you boys? Are you friends of my daughter?”
“Sort of,” King said, dropping into a chaise lounge, while Vonni remained standing in the doorway. He then removed a large automatic pistol from under his jacket and gently set it on his knee. “We’re friends of Carola’s. And what I’m about to tell you, Mike, is something you need to take very seriously. The money you ran off with? You have to give it back. All of it. Every dime. I don’t care if you have to sell this house and that new Mercedes out front, you sell it. If you don’t, we are going to kill you. It’s that simple.” He raised the pistol and aimed it at him. “Do you understand this? Every dime or we will come back and kill you. Do you understand?”
Mike, an intrinsic coward, sat paralyzed in shock. “I… I don’t…”
“No,” King said, cocking the hammer for effect. “That’s the wrong answer. Tell me you understand, otherwise there is no point in continuing this conversation. I’ll just kill you now.”
“I… okay!” Mike stammered. “I’ll give it back. Please, relax. I’ll give it back. I’ll just need some time.”
King stood and tucked the pistol back under his coat. “You have one month. That’s it. If the money isn’t repaid by then, there will be no place for you to hide. And if you’re thinking of calling the police when we leave, that would be a big mistake. We have friends in the police, so if you report this, we will know. In which case, you won’t have to worry about repaying the money. You’ll be dead.”
With that, he stood, offered him once last threatening look, and then led Vonni from the house, leaving Mike to change his underwear.
Several days went by and there was no call from Andre, so King and Vonni paid him another visit. And once again they found the massive old mob boss seated behind his desk, eating what appeared to be an entire pot roast, his face smeared with grease and gravy.
“So, I talked to Bruno,” Andre said, making a perfunctory attempt to wipe his face clean with a soiled napkin. “Said the woman is a solid earner. Said a lot of his young johns like older women like her. MILFs, or whatever the hell they call ‘em.” He took a long pull from the straw of his fountain drink. “Anyway, Bruno don’t want to let her go. But he’s a reasonable man. I told him to give me a buy-out number. You know, to pay her way out. He told me for ten grand and he’ll let her go. I tried to reason with him but that’s the number he got stuck in his head. Tell her she can just bring me the money. I’ll make sure he gets it and lets her go.”
King stared at him and felt his blood boiling. Extorting an innocent woman was an atrocity in his eyes. It broke the rules of Cosa Nostra. Worst still was that the woman didn’t have $10,000. At least not yet, not until her slimeball ex returned what he had stolen. But there was nothing he could do, so before he said something he would regret, he simply got up and left.
A few hours later, King returned to Andre’s office and threw a stack of bills on his desk. “Ten grand,” he said, staring down at him. “She’s a free woman.” Then, without saying another word, he turned to leave. But before he made it out the room, Andre called out to him.
“Hey kid, not so fast. Now you need to go tell Bruno two things for me. First, he has to let the woman go. That’s my order. From me. Second, tell him I’m keeping the ten grand for having to deal with this bullshit. Capisce?”
King narrowed his eyes on him, biting back the words he wanted to say. “Capisce,” he nodded, knowing he had just been swindled.
The following afternoon, King and Vonni walked into Bruno DiCarlo’s auto repair garage on Detroit’s 8 Mile Road. Even King, who was rarely intimidated by anyone, was nervous about confronting “The Hammer,” a man known for his bad temperament and intrinsic dislike for everyone, including most of the bosses. It was an ongoing joke that he was the “Luca Brasi” of the Family. Big, dumb, and fearless. Rumor had it that he had killed over twenty men, several with a ballpeen hammer, the origins of his moniker. His grandfather had said of him, “He’s a homicidal maniac who finds pleasure in killing. That’s why he has never been recruited to be a full member of “Our Thing.” He’s too unpredictable. Too violent. He’s like a wild dog, liable to turn on you at any moment.”
“Yeah, what can I do for you boys?” Bruno asked, popping up from under the hood of an old Buick he was working on.
King stood tall and tried to seem unfazed by the menacing brute. “I have a message from Andre Licovoli. He wants me to tell you that the woman, Carola, is free to go. She no longer works for you.”
Bruno nodded. “Okay, so where’s my money? I told him ten grand and she can walk away.”
Again King did his best to seem unfazed. “He said he’s keeping the money for having to straighten this out. If you have a problem with that, take it up with him. I’m only here to relay the message.”
Bruno stepped over and sized him up, purposely trying to intimidate him. “So, you punks are the ones who went crying to him about her?” he said, whipping his greasy hands on his overalls. “Is that it? She your momma or aunt or somethin’? She told me she ain’t have no family here.”
King stood his ground and looked him in the eye. “What you were doing to her was wrong. It goes against the rules.”
Bruno burst into laughter, a booming guffaw that indeed sounded like the howl of a rabid dog. “Rules? Whose rules? Not my rules. I make my own fuckin’ rules, kid.”
King glanced at Vonni, who was carrying a pistol and was known to be trigger happy. “Whatever the case, she’s free to go. If you have a problem with that, take it up with Andre.”
Bruno stepped even closer to him, so their faces were only inches apart. “What’s your name, kid? I wanna know who just took ten grand out my pocket.”
The slightest grin appeared on King’s face. “My name is Omnio Falcone.”
Bruno showed no outward reaction, but of course he immediately recognized the name. Sure, he operated under his own set of rules, independent from any one crew, but nobody dared cross the infamous Don Falcone. At least not in the past. But the don was getting old. And the feds were squeezing him. Rumor had it that he was headed back to prison and his son-in-law, Leoni Gianolla, was going to take over the Family. Bruno liked Leoni. He had done lots of jobs for him over the years. But he didn’t like Don Falcone, the old man, with all of his rules and honor bullshit. And now here stood one of the old man’s teenage grandsons. As much as he wanted to let the young punk have a piece of his mind, he decided it was better to let things stand as they were. The Boss was still the Boss. He could wave a finger and make anyone in the city vanish like a puff of smoke. But Bruno now made note of King’s name and face for future reference. At some point, he planned to get even with him. Nobody took money out of his pocket and got away with it.
“See you around, kid,” he said, spitting on the floor. “And when you see that bitch, make sure to tell her I had a lot of fun using her face for a punching bag. She was a tough one, that old German putana. I’ll give her that.”
King felt his hands trembling with anger. It would bring him great pleasure to kill this man. But doing so would only cause him more trouble than it was worth. It was a bad chess move, one that would make enemies out of men he needed on his side. He would meet this Neanderthal another day, when the chess pieces were more in his favor. For now, he had to get Vonni, who was known for his uncontrollable temper, out of there before things escalated.
“See you around, Bruno,” he said, shoving Vonni towards the door.
Bruno followed behind them, glaring at them the whole way, even until they pulled out of the parking lot.
King knew he had just made a mortal enemy. One more to add to the list, he figured. But in the end, he knew he had done the right thing. Sure, he was out of out of pocket ten grand, but it was good karma. He was young, and had never sworn any kind of oath, but he still operated on the rules Cosa Nostra was founded on, instilled in him by his grandfather. Rules built on honor and respect, rules that fewer and fewer members of the Family were adhering to these days. But, someday, he would change all that. Someday he would make them all follow the rules.
For stories about Alan Lindbloom’s real life as a one-time Mob enforcer for the Detroit Partnership: See The Lindbloom Chronicles