Episode 2: The Secret
Reading Time: 17 minutes
As the limo slowed down, Carmine felt his heart begin to race. His hands were clammy and he felt himself sweating under his suit. Feeling such anxiety and nervousness was foreign to him. Usually he was a model of composure. It was an odd sensation. But something had recently changed. For the first time in his young life, he felt the early pangs of love.
Although, it was more than young love that had him sweating. The object of his affection, Angelina Franucci, had a very menacing father, one Mr. Lorenzo Franucci, a man who had a reputation for being a hard-ass. An old school Italiano with a bad temper, he had a natural dislike for any young man who even looked at his youngest daughter. And that was bad enough. But there more. He had a secret. Lorenzo Franucci was a Made capo in the Tropia Family, one of the Syndicate’s five ruling Families. Many years ago, he had worked a number of illicit rackets with Carmine’s grandfather. Primarily loan-sharking and sports books, but for many years he had run a crew of UAW workers who stole brand-new car parts from the rail cars in Detroit, and then sold those parts to retail suppliers at wholesale prices. His front business was a used car dealership that specialized in European imports, which is how he got his moniker “The Car Man.”
How Carmine came to know all of this, and much more, was serendipitous. Several years back, when he was maybe 13 or 14, he was at his grandparents’ home for the Family’s regular Sunday dinner gathering. All of his aunts, uncles, and cousins were there. As it was every Sunday, his grandparents’ big Grosse Pointe home was loud and boisterous, with little Italian kids darting through the house, playing tag and hide-and-seek. All of the women were gathered in the kitchen, gossiping and chattering away in Italian as they helped Grandma make their Sunday feast. But Carmine, no longer a child like his younger cousins, decided to head back to the family room to watch football with the men. They all seemed happy to have him join them, and they joked about someday watching him play college football, or even professional, on TV, as he was already a football star at his middle school. The conversation was light and jocular, mostly about various football games and point-spreads, but at some point the men took on a serious tone and switched to speaking in Italian. Carmine wasn’t stupid. On the contrary, he was exceptionally intelligent and knew why they had switched to Italian. They were saying things that they didn’t want him to hear. So, he did what he had been doing for years. He listened for a while, trying to remember as many words as he could, then went into the kitchen and asked his mother or aunts what the words meant. This is how he had taught himself to speak Italian. He was far from fluent, but over the years he had learned enough to discern what they were talking about most of the time. And on this day, when they broke into their Sicilian dialect of Italian, he heard them talking about something that really piqued his interest.
“According to the book,” his uncle said, looking at his younger brother Peter, “Pops is the master lay-off bookie.”
Carmine’s Uncle Peter laughed.
“Stupid fuckin’ feds have no clue. That Jew, Fat Freddy, runs all the lay-off weight.”
He smiled and winked at his father.
“Pops ain’t taken a bet in years. Right pop?”
Carmine’s grandfather let out a low rumbling chortle.
“The feds can’t grab their own ass with two hands. I think half the time they just make shit up as they go.”
Peter burst into laughter and took a drink of his beer.
“Yeah, and the other half is the bullshit we feed them.”
Carmine’s Uncle Sal, the more serious of the two brothers, gave Peter a concerned look.
“Speaking of the book, where you keep that thing?”
“In my attic,” Peter shrugged indifferently.
“Under some insulation. You couldn’t find it if you were looking for it.”
The conversation eventually returned back to English, but Carmine had discerned enough to know there was some kind of book stashed in his uncle’s attic. So, a few weeks later, when he was at his uncle’s house baby-sitting his two young cousins, he decided to see if he could find this book. The entrance to the attic was in his uncle’s bedroom closet. He had to get a chair so he could reach the latch that pulled down a set of folding stairs. The book was not that hard to find. After flipping up several layers of pink asbestos insulation, there it was. But it wasn’t really a book. It was a huge dossier of some kind. Like a giant file.
The front page read:
Federal Bureau of Investigations
Internal Revenue Service
Joint Task Force
When Carmine snatched it up and opened it to the first page, he was instantly taken aback by the first words he saw.
Detroit La Cosa Nostra
It was dated from the previous year, but the pages were worn and dog-eared, as if it had been read dozens of times. Carmine quickly began scanning the pages, and what he saw was shocking. There was a family tree, at the top of which sat Todi Marsciano, who was listed as “Boss of Bosses.” Below Marsciano were five “capiregimes,” one of which was his Uncle Bud, Salvatore Contello. Below the capiregimes were a couple dozen capos, one of which was Lorenzo Franucci, Angelina’s father. Below the capos were nearly 200 soldiers and even more associates. Carmine recognized many of the names, since they were close family friends and associates. Lots of them were blood relatives or related through marriage. There was nearly 400 pages of pictures and detailed descriptions of anyone who was even remotely related to the Family. After each bio was a brief description of the various criminal activities the FBI and IRS thought the individual was involved in, everything from bank robbery and conspiracy, to drugs and murder.
Carmine felt his heart racing as he flipped through the pages, his young mind getting a dose of sensory overload. He couldn’t believe that the FBI and IRS knew so much. Even more unbelievable was the fact that his uncles and grandfather had spoken so flippantly about this book, as if it were just a big joke. He wanted to sit there and read it all, but there was far too much information for him to take in at one time. So, over the next few years, when he was alone at his uncle’s house baby-sitting his cousins, he would sneak up into the attic and spend a few minutes learning the who’s who of the Family, memorizing all the most powerful players and their various rackets. For him it was more than enlightening. It was a treasure trove of information that taught him how The Syndicate worked, how it operated as a single cohesive unit, and how each crew was delegated various rackets and territories.
The book was like a written tutorial on how Detroit’s underworld rackets were ran and who ran them. He became obsessed with it all, and felt a great sense of honor knowing that he was somehow part of it, if just because he had been born into it. It was not long after he first discovered the book that he told his mother that he wanted to change his last name to Contello, the Family name. At first, she had pushed back, knowing that someday he would grow up and find himself under scrutiny just for having that name, but he was insistent and his mother eventually capitulated. He knew there was a small part of her that was proud that he now bore her Family name.
Carmine rubbed his clammy hands dry with a linen napkin he snatched off the limousine’s bar. Angelina Franucci, he thought, picturing her in his mind. Of all the girls, she was the one girl he had always overlooked. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Her family and his were close. Her mother worked in the hospital with his mother, and they had also grown up together. Carmine had known “little Angie” all his life. They had played together as babies, and as they grew older she had developed a crush on him, one that both his parents and hers thought was cute. But he never had any interest in her. She had been a skinny, shy, bespectacled homebody who read books for fun and took great pride in being a member of the student council. She was, in every sense of the word, a nerd. Carmine, on the other hand, had always been exceptionally handsome, gregarious, athletic, and popular. The neighborhood girls loved him, and he had always had the pick of the litter. For Carmine, girls had always come easy. They practically threw themselves at him. Which he both loved and hated. He loved the attention and sex, of course, but he had an intrinsic distaste for promiscuous girls.
That was one of the things that he now found so appealing about Angie. She had class, and he had no doubt that she was still a virgin. But it was more than her virtue that he found so irresistible. The once gangly little girl that he had always overlooked, had blossomed. She had ended her junior year a girl. But a few weeks ago, when she returned as a senior, she was a full-grown woman. It was almost as if she had sprouted breasts and a perfectly round behind overnight. Once skinny and virtually figureless, she now had curves in all the right places. And it immediately caught Carmine’s attention. But he wasn’t the only one. Every guy at school had their eye her. She was the topic of many locker room conversations. All the guys were hoping to have a shot at her. She was getting asked out almost daily, by the most popular guys in school. They all wanted to be the one to deflower the beautiful new swan that was Angelina Franucci. But then she started tentatively seeing Johnnie DeLuca.
Carmine had never been a fan of Johnnie Deluca. They lived on the same street, yet they had never been close friends. Johnnie and his crew of friends were a bunch of muscle-heads, but none played sports. They all thought they were tough guys, but they rarely proved it. Carmine knew they were all bark and no bite. He didn’t like any of them, especially their leader, Johnnie DeLuca. Maybe it was because they were both alpha males. Or maybe it was because Carmine always thought Johnnie was a bit of a dolt, the kind of guy who always thought he was tough just because he was a little bigger than everyone else. Whatever the case, there had been an unspoken beef between them ever since the day Carmine’s best friend, Sammy Clemente, had gotten in a fight with Johnnie. The fight started over a girl, of course. Sammy had the hots for Lisa Gambino, the voluptuous blond who lived around the corner. She had been seeing Johnnie, but also seeing Sammy on the side. Johnnie inevitably found out and confronted Sammy at a party. He called him outside, and the two of them commenced to a good old fashioned front lawn fist fight, while a crowd of half-drunken teenagers stood around and cheered them on. Carmine, who was sober because didn’t like to drink, stood on and watched closely, in case his best friend needed help. Eventually, Johnnie, who was the bigger of the two, ended up on top of Sammy, swinging wildly at Sammy’s face. That was when Carmine could take no more. Unable to watch his boy getting pummeled, he ran in and tackled Johnnie off of Sammy. He then held Johnnie down as Sammy threw a few cheap shots at Johnnie. After a moment, Carmine jumped up and pushed Sammy back and told Johnnie it was over. Johnnie, who was bloody and exhausted, voiced no argument, but he did not look happy.
Johnnie started going around telling people that Carmine and Sammy jumped him, and that the only reason he hadn’t retaliated was because there were rumors that Carmine’s family was “connected.” Carmine knew this was bullshit. Though Johnnie was a little bigger than Carmine, he was not nearly as tough or athletic. Carmine had been in a boxing league for two years, and his uncle was a boxing trainer at Kronk Gym, a famous boxing hub in Detroit. He knew Johnnie was just blowing smoke to save face, and Carmine was fine with this. At the time, he had no real beef with him. He hadn’t liked the guy, but he had no beef with him. But then Johnnie started seeing Angie.
Over the summer, Carmine had only seen Angie a few times. Mostly because she wasn’t allowed to go to parties or be out past 10:00 PM, as her father and two older brothers kept her heavily guarded. One of those times was at his cousin Larry’s graduation party. When she came over to say hi, it had taken him a moment to recognize her. He was used to seeing her with her hair pulled back, glasses on, and baggy shirts to hide what little breasts she had. But on this night, she had her hair down, no glasses, and a low-cut V-neck shirt that showcased large, full, pert breasts. Her tight jeans hugged the roundness of her buttocks, and Carmine could hardly believe who he was looking at.
“Well, look who it is,”
he said, pinching her playfully on the back of her arm.
“Your old man let you off the porch?”
He chuckled and looked her over.
“You wearing a chastity belt under there, girl?”
“No, I told him I was running away to elope with you,”
she said, smiling up at him.
He gave her a look of genuine concern.
“Great, then I guess this is good-bye. I’ll be booking a flight to Singapore in the morning.”
“Why” she asked, offering him a pouty face.
“Because you’re scared of my dad?”
He grinned down at her.
“No, because there is no way in hell I’m eloping with your ass! I’m out of here!”
She giggled and walked off to find her friends, but for the rest of the night he found his eyes drawn to her. Which was confusing to him. After all, she had always been the nerdy daughter of his mother’s friend. Almost like a surrogate sister. Present but invisible. And yet, the mere sight of her now made him feel a stirring in his loins that he had never felt before.
As soon as their senior year started, Carmine began discretely paying attention to her every move, noting her routines, where her classes were, what lunch she had, and who she hung around. He didn’t tell anyone, not even Sammy, about his new secret crush. He really didn’t know how to approach it. Normally, girls came to him so easily. He never had to put in much effort. And Angie should have been easy for him to talk to. After all, he had known her all his life. And most of it she had a crush on him. Or so his mother had told him at least a thousand times. But now that she had grown into a beautiful woman, he felt shy around her and had no idea how to approach her. It was so out of the norm for him, that he just kept his little secret and studied her, hoping that at some point she would come to him. After all, he was Carmine Contello, captain of the football team and a front runner for prom king. Why should he have to chase a girl? Especially one he knew deep down had a crush on him.
But then came along Johnnie DeLuca, who changed everything. As soon as he came into the picture, Carmine knew something had to be done. There was no way that he could stand by and let that big dumb oaf end up with someone like her. She was too good for him. No, right away, he decided he had to do something. But what?
He considered just flat out warning Johnnie to leave her alone. If Johnnie gave him any push back, he would beat his ass. Simple but effective. Angie would know why he did it and think it was chivalrous. She would then be his. But what if she really liked Johnnie? She would think Carmine was a barbaric bully, and his shot would be blown. No, he decided he would have to be more tactful than that. He didn’t want her to think he was a bully. Not with ubiquitous anti-bully campaigns being championed in schools across America.
For nearly three weeks, Carmine brainstormed on how he could get Johnnie DeLuca out of the picture. One easy way would be to pay a hooker to set him up. A simple play. Johnnie was a drinker and known for getting drunk at parties. Carmine would just send some hooker into a party to really pour the “charm” on Johnnie. She would seduce him back to a hotel, where hidden camera would capture their coitus escapades. Carmine would then anonymously email the video to Angie. This would likely end any chance Johnnie had at deflowering her. But there was one problem with this. Johnnie could claim it was an old video, that it was from him and a girl before he started seeing Angie.
No, Carmine wanted to be certain that Johnnie DeLuca had zero chance with Angie, that she would never again want anything to do with him. But how to do this? He was almost out of ideas when the answer literally came walking down the hall. He was at his locker, talking to his buddy Myles, when he saw Jason Jerry walking towards him. There were several gay kids at their school, but Jason was by far the gayest. He was super flamboyant with his homosexuality, and made sure that everyone knew he loved him some men. He particularly liked big, strong, alpha males. He had playfully flirted with Carmine on several occasions, calling him “the perfect man.” Carmine, secure in his sexuality, just laughed it off. But he now decided that Jason could be the answer to his problems.
A few days later, Carmine told Jason to call him after school, that he needed a favor from him. Jason, hoping that his fantasy about the perfect man was about to come true, called as soon as he left school. But, much to his chagrin, Carmine was not interested in a secret coitus interlude. What he did want, however, was almost as good. Jason loved drama, and loved to be in the middle of it even more.
“You’ll owe me for this bigtime!”
Jason had said to him on the phone.
The following day, while Angie was having lunch with her friends and Johnnie DeLuca, Jason Jerry came storming over to their table, slammed his books down, and began yelling at Johnnie.
“I’m tired of our secret, Mr. Ladies’ Maaan! I’ve had enough of your lies, telling me you love me every night, that I’m the only man for you!”
He turned and looked at Angie, who appeared to be in shock.
“He has been sneaking over to my house every night, making love to me. And then he comes to school every day and acts like he’s all into you! It’s bullshit, sweetie. He is as gay as they get. I don’t know how you haven’t seen it!”
He turned back to Johnnie, who was stifling a laugh but looked just as dumbfounded as Angie and everyone else in the lunch room.
“Don’t you bother calling me anymore. I’ve had enough of you and your little three-inch dick anyway.”
As soon as Jason stormed off, Johnnie dove into a diatribe about how he had no idea what Jason was talking about. But the damage was done. High school is like that. Rumors of his homosexual exploits rippled through the student body like shockwaves. By the end of the week, most everyone at school was certain Johnnie DeLuca was a full-blown homosexual. Including Angie and her friends. After that day, Angie was no longer seen walking the halls with him, or sitting in the cafeteria with him and his little crew of wannabe tough guy misfits.
Carmine waited a few weeks and then made his move. He got himself transferred to Angie’s gym class. But not so he could showcase his physical prowess and athletic skills. No, she was already well aware of those. What he wanted was time. Because her father was such a hard ass, she rarely got to spend much time out of school. So, what needed was time with her. And gym class was the perfect place. Before every class, he began walking laps with her to warm up. At first, he was a little nervous, but it wasn’t long before his natural charm kicked in. Right away, he knew she still had a thing for him, as she was very receptive to his flirting and playful innuendos. But the turning point was when he gathered the courage to ask her to homecoming.
“Want to go to homecoming?” he blurted out.
She giggled and replied,
“Aren’t you supposed to be in Singapore?”
“I’ll probably have to move there once your dad finds out you’re my girlfriend.”
She stopped walking and looked up at him with innocent doe eyes.
“Are you asking me to homecoming or to go out with you?”
“I…. I mean….” he began stammering.
“I guess, yeah. You know I…”
She smiled up at him, and before he even realized it she stood up on her tippy-toes and pecked him on the lips.
“You know the answer is yes to both. I’ve loved you since I was a little girl, Carmine. I just wish it hadn’t taken you so long to realize it.”
As the limo driver now held the door open for him, Carmine stepped out of the car into the cool fall air. It felt good on his flushed skin. After taking a couple deep breaths, he gathered his courage and began walking up to her house. But before he got there, the front door opened and there stood the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, Angelina in her gauzy, princess-style homecoming dress in the palest shade of blue. Never had he seen such a perfection of beauty. As he made his way up onto the porch, already his mind was thinking about what it would be like to strip her out of that dress and touch her flawless naked body. He had her dress almost off when suddenly a large, menacing man appeared behind her. It was her father, “The Car Man,” and he did not look happy to see him.
“Daddy, you remember Carmine,”
she said, gesturing to Carmine after giving him a quick hug.
Her father gave him a once-over.
“Yeah, I remember Carmine,” her father answered, extending a hand to him.“Me and your grandfather used to work together.”
Carmine shook his hand firmly.
“Yes, that’s what I heard.”
“Yeah?” her father asked, studying him intently.
“Where did you hear that?”
“Uh…”Carmine began, looking uncomfortable.
“My Uncle Bud, I think.”
Her father studied him for a brief moment.
“Bud? Oh, you mean Sal? Yes, we’ve done some work together also…”
He glanced at the limo.
“Listen, kiddo, you have a good time tonight, but Angelina is a lady. Remember that. You treat her with respect and have her home by ten o’clock, capisce?”
Carmine smiled at Angie.
“Yes sir. Of course, she is a woman. You can be assured that I will always treat her with the utmost respect. I promise I’ll have her home by ten.”
When Carmine opened his eyes and looked down at Angie’s naked body pressed against him, he felt the searing heat of panic wash over him. Glancing at the clock, he saw that it was after midnight. Somehow, they had both fallen asleep. For a brief moment, his panic was muted as his mind drifted back to what he and Angie had done. Rather than meet their friends at some of the parties, they headed straight to the hotel and drank a bottle of champagne. After that it was all sort of a blur. Before he knew it, they were naked in the bed. But it was more than sex. It was the most incredible thing he had ever felt. He suddenly realized why it was called “love-making.” It was so much more powerful than plain sex. It was ecstasy!
But there was no more time to reminisce. It was time to move. Keeping her out past midnight, breaking his promise to have her home by 10:00 PM, was a bad way to start things off with her father. But it was too late to cry about now. He would face whatever consequences came his way. Right now, time was of the essence.
“Angie, wake up!” he blurted, shaking her awake.
“Hurry, get dressed. It’s after midnight!”
If you would like to sample more of Gunner’s work, checkout his novels, “To Be A King,” and see for yourself why it is being called “the next Godfather…