Chapter 1

Copyright © 2017 by Gunner Alan Lindbloom
Cover design 2017 by Ryan MacKay

It was mid-afternoon and for once the inmates were behaving. From the south gun-tower, corrections officers Cox and Younger swept their eyes from inmate to inmate, looking for any signs of trouble. A number of heavily-muscled men were lifting weights under a tin-roofed “weight pit,” the clanks of iron-on-iron creating a dissonant backdrop for the rap music that was blaring from several boom-box radios. A few prisoners were running laps on the dirt track that skirted the barbed-wire perimeter fences. Here and there inmates preformed calisthenics on the pull-up and push-up bars. A crowd had gathered to watch a heated basketball game on the main macadam court. A softball game was underway on the diamond, where a group of spectators had gathered in the bleachers to place wagers on their favorite team. As always, the prisoners were segregated into groups based on ethnicity, gang, or crime. In one set of bleachers a group of high-level drug dealers were smoking cigars and playing dominos. The yard’s north corner was dominated by several Latino gangs. Black Muslims dominated the south corner. A group of computer hackers, identity thieves, and other white-collar criminals occupied the picnic tables in the center of the yard, the most exposed and unsafe place to be. It was a classic scenario of strength in numbers. Some groups were larger and more dangerous than others, and oftentimes they were at odds with each other, but all seemed peaceful on the yard today, most likely a result of spring’s early arrival.


Today the two correctional officers found themselves watching one specific group of inmates, a tight-knit group that always ran together, a group other inmates respected and feared, a group of Italians who were allegedly high-level mobsters. This was a federal penitentiary, not a state prison where criminals were housed with every facet of low-life street thug—rapists, murderers, armed robbers, drug dealers, larcenists, petty thieves, etc. The inmates here tended to be more of society’s upper-crust criminals; high-level drug dealers, upper-echelon gang leaders, corrupt bankers, insider stock traders, book-cooking accountants, gun smugglers, corrupt lawyers, unscrupulous businessmen, various computer fraudulists, and a multitude of other criminal masterminds. And of course there were the mobsters, the Italian Mafiosi who sat firmly atop the criminal totem pole.

Corrections Officer Michael Cox was a fairly new employee of the Federal Department of Corrections, only having worked at Jessup FCF for several months. But he had quickly learned the who’s who of the inmates. “So that’s him?” he asked his partner, peering through a set of Nikon binoculars, referring to one of the Italians.

His partner, Officer Jim Younger, had been working at Jessup FCF for nearly twenty years and planned to retire in less than two. Having grown up in the foothills of southern Georgia, Officer Younger was a backwoods bumpkin with no education beyond eighth grade. He looked, sounded, and acted like what he was—an Appalachian hillbilly. Yet he wasn’t entirely stupid. He was an old veteran who always kept abreast of what was happening on the Jessup FCF compound, which he considered to be “his” compound as much as the warden’s.

“Yeah, that’s him,” Officer Younger confirmed, looking at the same man through the scope of his Mini-14 assault rifle.

“So that’s it, eh?” Officer Cox asked, still studying the heavily-muscled inmate seated in the softball bleachers. “Just like that they’re gonna let him go?”

Officer Younger lowered his rifle, shrugged apathetically and spit a mouthful of chewing tobacco through the tower’s open window. “It seems so,” he answered tersely, preparing himself another wad of chew.

“How?” Officer Cox mused, mystified, finding it hard to believe such a thing was possible.

The Italian in question was one Omnio Falcone. Since transferring to Jessup almost a year ago, he had been a model inmate, always quiet and keeping to himself. For the most part he only associated with what the Jessup faculty had dubbed “The Mob Squad,” a group of roughly twenty Italian/Sicilians, most of whom were from New York. The Mob Squad was one of the most secretive and tight-knit groups in the prison, always sticking together on the yard, in the chow hall, and in the housing units. Upon Falcone’s arrival at Jessup, the Mob Squad’s leader, an old New York mobster named Vittorio Salestro, had taken a special interest in him. They were rarely seen apart. While on the yard, they would sit in the bleachers and talk for hours, or sometimes walk side-by-side on the track, always followed closely by several of Salestro’s henchmen.

Warden Edward Gonzales had issued a staff-wide memorandum requesting that his faculty try to learn why the old mob boss was so infatuated with the new arrival, but the memo had done little good in terms of helping him learn anything. The vast majority of his staff were on Vittorio Salestro’s payroll. And the ones who weren’t had no way of penetrating the Mob Squad’s inner circle, for the mobsters almost exclusively conversed amongst each other in an argotic Sicilian dialect of Italian that was indiscernible to even the most seasoned interpreter. Though the Italians made up the smallest gang on the yard, they were by far the most powerful, controlling the sale of drugs, which the corrections officers brought in for them, and the protection racket, which they enforced using contracted black and Latino gangs. They also controlled all facets of gambling on the compound, collecting a 10% vigorish from every book, every sports ticket, every craps game, and every poker table. For the right price, they could even arrange for a woman to be snuck in during the nightshift for a few hours of indulgence in one of the conjugal visiting trailers, a perk the Italians took full advantage of. They ran nearly every aspect of illicit activity in the prison. And they did it all right under the warden’s nose. Each evening, after the warden went home for the night, Jessup FCF became alive with illicit activity, all of it run by the Mob Squad and overseen by corrupted corrections officers. Assisting the mobsters was very lucrative for corrections officers who traditionally made less than $50,000 a year. Working with the Italians at Jessup could, and often would, result in tripling that.

Officer Younger had learned the monetary perks of assisting the Italians many years ago when he first began his tenure as a corrections officer. Since then, many of the incarcerated Mafiosi at the facility had helped him compile a substantial retirement fund, as well as help him purchase a beautiful home in Savannah and a luxurious hunting cabin in the hills of Kentucky. However, his partner on this peaceful spring afternoon was not yet privy to the financial benefits of assisting the Italians of Jessup FCF.

Nevertheless, today Officer Younger was just as perplexed as Officer Cox about the handsome young Italian they were watching. Not even the warden himself knew how the newest member of the Mob Squad, a young man they had never even heard of before his arrival there a year ago, obtained an actual presidential pardon. On very rare occasions certain federal inmates received such pardons on a President’s last day in office, but these presidential pardons almost always went to white-collar criminals who had powerful friends with vast sums of donative money. This guy appeared to be a relative nobody, from nowhere, just some random thug from Detroit. It made no sense.

“So nobody has a clue as to how he pulled it off?” Officer Cox asked incredulously, watching Omnio Falcone, Inmate #427265, through his binoculars.

“Far as I know, nobody knows how he did it,” Officer Younger answered.

“Not even the warden?” asked Officer Cox, well aware of the fact that his partner was the warden’s personal lapdog and ears of the compound.

“Nope,” Officer Younger answered curtly, working a gob of tobacco into his lower lip. “I spoke to him myself. Said he got the papers from Washington about a month ago. Real hush-hush. Nobody’s saying nothin’. Some hotshot Washington suit warned him to keep his mouth shut about it. I figure CIA. You don’t wanna fuck with them CIA. Brought papers signed by the President himself. Tomorrow morning, the guy walks outta here a free man.”

Officer Cox glanced at his rot-toothed partner and the first thought that popped in his head was that the man must have read too many spy novels. Than a second thought occurred to him: Officer Younger was probably too stupid to read. “So who is this guy?” he asked, pushing such thoughts from his mind. “I mean, he had to know someone way up the ladder.”

“No idea,” Officer Younger answered, spitting a glob of sticky brown tobacco toward the window, some of it landing on his chest, most of it splattering against the wall under the window. “And I really don’t care. Far as I know, he’s just some punk greaseball from Detroit. Nobody special. Had a grandfather who did a stint here a while back. Some kind of shot-caller. Heard he ended up dying in a fire. I remember the old bastard. Real quiet. Had an accent. Always carried a shank. Stabbed a couple niggers for trying to extort him, if I remember right…”

He stopped, frowned, and let loose a fart that seemed to reverberate off the inside of the gun tower. “…Ahhh, I needed that,” he said, shaking his leg, allowing a foul, rotten-egg stench to escape his pants and waft throughout the cramped gun tower. “Anyway, the kid came down with a million-and-one years. A lifer. Mile-long rap sheet. All kind of crazy charges—guns, extortion, conspiracy, armed robbery, you name it. They got him on the RICO this time. They all come down on the RICO. But no headline Godfather shit. Just your basic loser. He’s only been here a year, but them old guineas really seem to like him.”

Officer Cox tried not to gag from the smell. He found Officer Younger to be a crude, foul, disgusting bigot with the intelligence of an adolescent. He hated getting stuck in the gun towers with him. But such was his bad luck of the draw today. So, trying to ignore his wretched partner, he focused his attentions on the group of Italians gathered in the bleachers. There were at least a dozen of them, mostly younger men standing protectively around Vittorio Salestro and Omnio Falcone, both of whom were whispering in hushed tones.

“Yeah, well, Salestro seems to have taken a real liking to him,” he said, stating the obvious. “He must know someone.”

Officer Younger shrugged. “Just another dago thug, far as I’m concerned. They come, they go. Like I said, I remember his grandpappy. Looked just like him. Just older and shorter. They all end up here sooner or later. He’ll probably be back if someone don’t kill him first. Fuckin’ guineas are always killin’ each other. They worse than goddamn niggers. When the feds lock ‘em up they all find a way to get transferred here. I always wonder how they do it. Call in a few favors, I figure. They like the weather down here. And it’s halfway between New York and Miami. That’s where most of them come from. Less travelin’ for their families come visit time…”

He stopped talking and appeared to be in deep thought for nearly a minute. “Funny thing is…” he finally continued, rubbing the grey stubble on his chin, looking as if he was trying to solve a profound riddle. “That Falcone character—they call him King—he’s never even got himself a visit. Not one since he’s been here. Over a year. Most of them get visits, but he don’t even have no one listed on his visiting list. Don’t make no calls neither. Warden had me look at his file. Fuckin’ guy never even gets mail. He lists no family, no emergency contacts, nothin’. Never even put in a phone list. He only got one letter since he’s been here. There’s a copy of it in his file. I read it. Came from Italy, or Sicily, or wherever the fuck they come from. Had no return address. Real short and cryptic.”

“Yeah?” Officer Cox asked, suppressing a smile, surprised his partner even had the word ‘cryptic’ in his lexicon. “What do you mean cryptic?”

Officer Younger thought for a moment, his tiny brain working overtime. “Not really sure,” he answered. “All it said was something about being a leader. Then something about a Duchess. I figure it was some kind of hidden guinea message. It was signed ‘The Butcher.’ The warden asked me to try an’ figure out what it meant. My guess was the guy must’ve worked at a butcher shop or somethin’…”

chairs outside prison

Don Vittorio Salestro was not an old man, but he appeared much older than his 58 years. Short, balding, and an easy fifty pounds overweight, he did not fit the mold of the typical Hollywood Mafioso. Nevertheless, he was an exceptionally dangerous and powerful Mafioso. In fact, he held one of only ten coveted seats on the Mafia’s Commission, AKA “The Round Table,” a reclusive ruling counsel of Mafia chieftains from all over the country, moderated by the five New York Bosses but overseen by a single supreme Boss in Sicily. Salestro, a cutthroat old-school gangster from Brooklyn, had dropped out of high school at age fourteen to work full-time for his mentor, Joe “Scarface” Scarponi, a one-time legendary New York capo who, before being killed by a rival capo in his own Colombo Family, had been the Boss of his Brooklyn-based borgata for almost twenty years. Naturally, after the death of his mentor, Salestro had avenged his mentor and then used violence to take control of his Boss’s Family and subsequent rackets. Since his incarceration, however, his son Gino had been acting as the Family’s interim boss.

Now, with less than four years left on his ten-year sentence, Don Vittorio Salestro sat in the bleachers and studied the handsome young Detroit soldier seated next to him. “Your grandfather was right about you, Omnio,” he said, almost philosophically, taking a pull from his cigar. “After getting to know you I also see your potential. You’re a listener and you believe in the Old Ways. There’s not enough young soldato like you left.”

“I get it from my grandfather,” King said, offering him a smile. “He taught me well.”

Salestro took another pull from his cigar and studied him. “So tomorrow you begin the next leg of your journey,” he said matter-of-factly, giving him a fatherly pat on the knee. “I gave you all I can from here. You have my blessing. My Family will support you. Gino and the rest of our people will assist you when the time comes. But first you have to prove to your own people in Detroit that you deserve to be straightened out. And like we talked about, you’ll need to bring food to the table for this. That’s the key, kiddo. You have to make yourself invaluable. Gino talked to the other members of the Round Table. They say Detroit is a fuckin’ mess. Says all the skippers are at each others’ throats again. Since your grandfather died, there’s been a constant power struggle over who should be Chairman up there. Your Uncle Leoni is still in charge but word is that he’s sick and wants his boy to take over. Sounds like some goddamn bullshit if you ask me. I don’t believe in the whole nepotism thing. Not when it comes to Our Thing. Which, yeah, must sound crazy since my boy is running the Family in my absence. But he earned it. I’m a firm believer that you have to earn your stripes. And Gino earned his. He deserves to be where he is. I dare anyone to tell him he doesn’t.”

He took a quick drink from a water bottle that was filled with cheap Kentucky bourbon. “Anyway…” he continued, savoring the strong whisky. “That’s what I think. Just wanted to give you a heads up. Your people up there have lost control of the casinos.” He gave him a cold look in the eye. “That’s really got The Round Table pissed off. It’s costing everyone money. So if there ever was one, now is the time for you to make your move. The Commission would like to see someone take control of the Detroit Partnership. Even by force. Although, they would never sanction such a thing at the Round Table. Most of the old-timers are still tight with the Detroit skippers. A few of them are family by marriage. Chicago’s Tony LaPina has a daughter married into your Family. Big Al Provazanno, from Jersey’s DeCalvalcante crew, his son married Sal Tocco’s daughter since you’ve been gone. Joe Polizzi’s son is married to the daughter of a Bonanno capo. They’re not looking to start trouble. But clearly something ain’t working up there. Most of the old skippers are dead or locked up. The ones still left, your uncles and cousins, they can’t seem to get along. Who knows, maybe you’re the one who can bring Detroit back under control and reunite the Partnership. I had Gino mention this to The Round Table, but they still have a problem with you being a difetto. Personally, I don’t know why. After all, Lansky was a Jew. Seigel was a difetto. You come from good stock. Don Falcone was from the Old Country. Your father was a caporegime before he was killed…”

He paused to catch his breath and wipe sweat from his brow with a handkerchief. “…Either way, I’m happy to see you go, kiddo. That old Senator in Florida really pulled it off. Nobody gets a fuckin’ Presidential Pardon. At least not one of us. Don Falcone must’ve had somethin’ good on the old fucker. Either that or they were closer than we ever knew. Whatever the case, he pulled it off. This shit is over for you, paisan.” He paused and took in the bustling prison yard. “This is no way to live. Now you can go home and get back to business. But you’ll have to do it without the help of the other Detroit skippers. At least for now. After all, you ain’t took the oath.” He gave him a look and pointed his cigar at him. “And we ain’t gonna get into what happened with your cousin. All the Detroit capi bitched and moaned about that whole incident. Needless to say, Anthony and your uncle aren’t going to be happy to see you back on the streets. But The Round Table has ordered them to leave you alone. We made a promise to your grandfather before he died, and that promise still stands. But you’ll receive none of the Syndicate’s protection. You’ll be completely on your own up there. You’ll have to start from scratch. But if you can gain control of at least some of their major operations and bring the Commission its share, I think you’ll get your button. For now, this is between me, you, and my associates on The Round Table. Not even your allies in the Syndicate need to know about it. Not yet. But the skippers up there have been ordered to let you operate independently. And they will. If they don’t they’ll have to answer to us.”

King suppressed a grin. “Thank you, Don Salestro,” he said warmly. “I appreciate you speaking to the Commission on my behalf. My grandfather tried once but they refused to listen.”
“That was before Detroit stopped bringing bread to the table. They’ve lost control of the streets up there. Their coffers are leaking like a sieve. They even got some melanzana mayor that won’t work with them. Can you imagine? How the fuck did they let that happen?”

“I will do my best to help get things back in order.”

Don Salestro eyed him affectionately. “I think you’ll do fine, kiddo. Just remember what I taught you: Money and fear make the world go ’round. You know how it works. You did it once, you can do it again. Make them fear you and they’ll always fall in line. Bring food to the table and they’ll have to respect you. I knew your grandfather. I met him many times. He was an honorable man. Old-school, like myself. He didn’t contribute much to The Table on a national level, but he never failed to pay his dues. When your borgata was making money, he broke bread with everyone, including The Table. My mentor, Joey Scarface, God rest his soul, was always talking about your nonno. Said he was a true don, a Man of Honor. He followed the rules. He did his part in Vegas. He handled that fuckin’ Jimmy Hoffa. He honored Omerta when the feds put the clamps on him. He helped us get gambling legalized in Motown. He worked to make us stronger as a whole. That’s how a caporegime is supposed to act. And people feared him because he didn’t take no shit from no one. Not even us.”

King grinned as memories of his beloved grandfather flashed through his head. Indeed his grandfather was not the kind of man who was easily bullied or pushed around. King now recalled one particularly humorous incident. A pair of undercover FBI agents had been parked across the street from his grandparents’ home in Grosse Pointe, an affluent suburb just outside the Detroit city limits. He was very young then, no more than four or five, but he had been very perceptive. While playing out front with his Tonka toys, his grandfather was pruning tomatoes in the backyard garden. At some point, he looked up and noticed two strange men parked in an unmarked car across the street. When he noticed the men pointing a camera at him, he immediately ran back to report this to his grandfather, who flew into a fit of rage. After picking up a brick, his grandfather charged out into the street and hurled the brick at the FBI car, smashing out its window as he screamed Italian expletives at the two bewildered agents inside. Nonno Falcone was like that. He definitely did not take any shit.

“You must recruit good cugine,” Don Salestro continued, interrupting King’s nostalgic reverie, sounding as if he were plotting a corporate takeover. “Reliable soldiers. Italians are fine but Sicilians are better. Only from your community. They must know how to take orders and follow them without question. They must love you, respect you, and be prepared to lay down their life for you. Most of all, they must know the consequences of betraying you…”

He paused for a moment as a memory interrupted his train of thought. “…Fear, Omnio, is the key,” he continued, sneering. “I remember, many years ago, Gino came to me with a seemingly trivial problem. Some punk cafoon ran off with ten pounds of his grass. Not much in the grand scheme of things—we were moving thousands of pounds at the time—but it was the principle of it. The kid showed no respect for Gino or the Family. I told Gino to find him and make an example out of him, but the kid went into hiding. After a few weeks we tracked down the kid’s partner and threatened to kill his mother unless he gave up where his partner was hiding. The kid was from Reggio di Calabria. A fuckin’ rat Calabrazzi. Punk had no heart. Gave his partner up quick.” He expelled a rumbling guffaw and took a pull from his cigar. “But my boy is one cold sonofabitch. Rather than off the kid who actually stole the grass, he had the kid who stole the grass whack his rat Calabrazzi partner for giving him up. Put ‘em both in the back seat of a stolen Eldorado and Gino gave the thief a clean piece. Made him pop his rat fink goomba right in the face so his momma couldn’t have an open casket.” He made a pistol with his finger and smiled. “POW! Blew the fucker’s head all over the back seat. Gino ended up letting the thieving little punk keep the ten pounds. It wasn’t the money, you see, it was the principle. An opportunity. The kid who stole the grass learned two valuable lessons. First, the consequences of crossing the Family. Second, the value of loyalty. Instead of losing his life for his infraction against us, it was his disloyal friend who paid the price. And for that the kid swore his life to Gino. He’s been one of our most loyal soldiers ever since. You see? It’s all about fear. This, Omnio, is something that you must always remember.”

King nodded his understanding. “I won’t forget, Don Salestro. I’ll never forget what you’ve taught me. I’m honored that you’ve vouched for me with the Commission.”

Don Salestro grinned a toothy grin. “I’m sure you’ll someday make it up to me. When I get out in a few years, you’ll come to New York and meet my Family. New York is a lot like Detroit.

Sicilians have a long history there. Whole neighborhoods are Italians and Sicilians. We’re like celebrities back in the old neighborhoods. You’ll see. We’ll eat and drink at Gino’s club. He’s the Boss of Brooklyn. They love him there.”

“I’m sure they do, Vittorio.”

“For now,” said Don Salestro, setting a hand on King’s shoulder affectionately, “may Madonna dell’Annunziata be with you. God knows, you have more than a few enemies back home. I’m sure a lot of people up there won’t be happy to see you back in the neighborhood. But fuck ’em. It’s time someone in the Syndicate gets their shit together and sets your borgata back on track.”

King glanced at the softball diamond, where several players had begun arguing. “I have a plan,” he said, offering the old mob boss a conspiratorial grin. “I just need to get out of here.”

“Yes,” said Don Salestro, also turning toward the commotion on the softball diamond. “You’ve told me this plan. It’s bold as hell and won’t be easy, but if your men love you the way you say they do, you already have a head start. Just remember, your men have to fear you before they can love you. They must know the consequences of betrayal. They have to prove their loyalty by eliminating one of your enemies. And they must, must, adhere to Omerta. When Omerta is broken…” He motioned a hand around the prison yard. “This is what happens. A fish never gets caught if it don’t open its mouth. Capisce? Learn from what happened in New York. That rat Graziano, Vinny Massino, Tony Casso, Gotti. They fucked everything up. It all comes down to patience. Col tempo la foglia di gelso diventa seta. Vinny The Chin used to always tell me that. It means time and patience can turn a mulberry leaf into satin. The world belongs to the patient men. Look at us in here. If there is one thing you learn in here, it’s patience. But it’s has only made us stronger, smarter, more ambitious. Remember that, my friend, and maybe someday you’ll be Detroit’s Capo di Tutti Capi.”

Suddenly, without warning, one of the arguing softball players snatched up a baseball bat and began beating one of his antagonists savagely. Pandemonium ensued as the yard erupted into an all-out brawl between two sects of Latino gangs. Shanks and other various weapons were produced. Don Salestro’s bodyguards instantly formed a protective phalanx around him and King. Nobody dared approached them.


Within a minute the emergency alarm was blaring and nearly two-dozen officers came charging out onto the yard, all of them covered head-to-toe in full riot gear. Warning shots were fired from the perimeter gun towers. Cans of tear gas were dispatched. Inmates were tossed to the ground and ordered silent.

Ten minutes later the entire inmate population was back in their respective housing units, locked in their cells, the compound on emergency lockdown for the remainder of the day. Not that it mattered to King Falcone. He had less than fifteen hours before he would be a free man for the first time in eight years.

Several hours later, back in his cell, King Falcone packed an army-style duffle bag with the few meager belongings he had accumulated over the last eight years. There wasn’t much: A cheap MP3 player; several books on Alexander the Great and other famous military strategists; a 13” color TV; several old photographs; and a letter he received nearly two years ago.

As he packed, he found himself staring at the letter. It was signed “The Butcher,” which had been his grandfather’s moniker. But his grandfather had died in a house fire two years before he received the letter, so he knew it wasn’t actually from his grandfather. And the letter had been postmarked from Palermo, Sicily, with no return address. He still had no idea who sent it, but he was forming an idea as to why it was sent. At the bottom of the single page, under the sender’s signature, was a single line that read: “7 & Duchess. A true soldato is loyal till death.”

His thoughts were interrupted when his cellmate, Lucky, a skinny black kid from St. Louis, saw him staring at the letter and decided to speak up. “Eh, King, what the fuck you staring at? You just blanked out.”

King offered him a grin. He genuinely liked the guy. Lucky was young, only 22, and much smarter than he looked. Especially when it came to computers and all things technology. He was in prison serving eight years for hacking into a Federal bank, where he had surreptitiously siphoned one dollar from over a million separate accounts, essentially making himself an instant millionaire. Had his girlfriend not snitched on him for refusing to buy her a new Mercedes-Benz, he would have actually gotten away with it. Women, King had thought to himself when Lucky told him the story of his downfall. They were so often the cause of a man’s ruin.

“This letter,” he answered, holding it up to his young cellmate, “I still don’t know who actually sent it, and I’m trying to figure out what it means.”

“Yeah?” Lucky asked, lighting a joint and holding it out to him. “Well here, Craig. Smoke some weed, Craig. Expand your mind, Craig. It’s Friday… You ain’t got no job… Let’s get hiiiiiiiiii!”
King laughed and gave him a look. “Luck, how long have I been in this cell with you?”

“About a year. Why?”

“How many times have you offered to smoke weed with me?”

“Pretty much every day.”

“And how many times have I actually smoked?”

“None. What’s your point?”

“My point is this: What makes you think, after all this time, I’ll suddenly want to smoke?”

“I don’t know,” Lucky shrugged. “Guess I figured since this is your last night you might want to indulge. You know, celebrate your release with a little puff-puff-give.”

King chuckled and glanced at the smoldering joint, its sweet pungent aroma already filling the cell. It had been many years since he smoked pot or even drank alcohol. He preferred to keep a clear head. But Lucky did have a point: This was a night for celebration. And smoking a little pot might help settle his nerves.

“What the hell,” he said, taking the joint, inhaling deeply. Within seconds he felt a mellow buzz coming on.

“Yeah, mon,” Lucky said, taking on a faux Jamaican accent. “That’s that good gonja, mon. The rasta gonja, mon.”

King shook his head and glanced down at the letter. Within seconds he once again found his eyes transfixed on the words scrolled across it.

“So what’s it mean, brah?” Lucky asked, reverting back to his natural computer geek self.

“I still don’t know who sent it,” King answered, focusing his burning eyes on the piece of paper. “But I’m pretty sure it was sent to make sure I go see an old gumbadi.”

“A gum-what?”

“Gumbadi,” King laughed. “It means best man. You know, like at your wedding.”

“You never told me you were married.”

“I’m not. It can also mean good friend. Like best friend.”

“You fuckin’ Italians,” Lucky said, puffing on the joint. “Ya’ll think you’re the Godfather. There ain’t no Mafia. That shit is all Hollywood.”

King just grinned and returned his attention to the single sheet of paper in his hand. Some people were just naive. People like Lucky would go through life never knowing how Cosa Nostra influenced nearly every aspect of modern society, from the federal government down to local municipalities, all overseen by a small group of powerful men that most of the world would never know existed. And that was exactly how they wanted it.