TO BE A KING
Copyright © 2017 by Gunner Alan Lindbloom
Cover design 2017 by Ryan MacKay
All Rights Reserved.
This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Any reproduction or any unauthorized use of the material, artwork or content herein is strictly prohibited without written, explicit permission from the author.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Harbinger Media Group, LLC
This book is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Grace (Tocco) Lindbloom, and to my grandparents, Peter Paul and Grace Tocco.
“Significantly reduced in numbers—recent FBI accounts place Motor City Mafia membership at roughly 25 made members with about 75-100 associates, compared to nearly triple that in the 1970s—as well as headline grabbing exploits, there have only been five Mob-related homicides in the last two decades, the Detroit crime family is the most functional, healthy, and financially profitable Mafia syndicate in the entire country. While other regional Mob families have been destroyed from within by internal squabbling and government defection, the Motor City Mafia has only had one made member ever turn federal witness, an astronomical feat considering the current underworld landscape. The Detroit faction of La Cosa Nostra remains a silent but ultimately very real and deadly presence in the American gangland culture while exhibiting no signs of slowing down. And, although membership is aging, a new generation will eventually ascend to take the reins of the local Mafia and lead the storied crime family into the future, and most likely, beyond.”
–Scott M. Burnstein, Motor City Mafia
Key Largo, Florida
As Stanley led the don out onto patio terrace behind his beachfront home, he chuckled inwardly, remembering the first time he added the prefix “don” to his friend’s name. The don had mildly rebuked him, saying, “Stan, you don’t have to call me Don. That’s just a bunch of Hollywood bullshit Puzo made up. They only say it to old men back in the Old Country. We’re friends. Call me Pete, capisce?” But Stanley had associates in Miami—upper echelons of the Trafficante Family, Florida’s resident Mafia faction—who had explained to him that Peter Paul Falcone was one of the ten most recognized Mafiosi in the country. Santos Trafficante had come right out and said, “Falcone is a Boss, Stan… From the Old Country. He should always be addressed as ‘Don Falcone’ in private. To not do so is considered a blatant act of disrespect.” So whenever they were alone, Stanley always made sure to address his lifelong friend with the prefix “don.”
As Stanley stepped over to the patio bar, he stole a quick glance back at his old friend. As they locked eyes, the memories came flooding back. They’d made many memories throughout their half-century friendship. Some good, some bad. But the one that always stood out was one he wished he could forget. It happened nearly fifty years ago, yet it was so clear in his mind that it could have happened yesterday. He shivered at the mere thought of it. The savage brutality of it. The manic look in those eyes. Even after all these years a single look into those menacing dark eyes could make him shudder with fear. And for good reason. Peter Falcone was the most dangerous man he’d ever known.
“Please, Don Falcone, take a seat,” Stanley said politely, handing him a cigar, gesturing toward a canopied patio set. “Make yourself comfortable. I’ll get you a drink.”
Don Falcone sat himself at the table and slowly took in his surroundings. He loved the Floridian weather. Even now, in the middle of winter, the weather was warm and pleasant. Far off to the west, the sun was setting below the horizon, casting a ghostly orange iridescence into the evening sky. A distant thunderstorm was quickly making its way across Florida Bay, heading directly toward them, its preceding breeze carrying an ambrosia of impending rain and briny ocean air. On the beach, several hundred feet behind Stanley’s home, a flock of pelicans were waiting patiently for their nightly tidal feast. It was a beautiful tableau that seemed to tug at the don’s soul.[amazon_link asins=’B01N6RQ3AE’ template=’ProductAd’ store=’naticrimsynd-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’0e19d59c-2dd8-11e8-b77c-6bd3cd07336f’]
As Don Falcone watched Stanley pour them drinks, he breathed deeply, filling his aged lungs with the warm air. He savored the heady, humid fullness in his expanded lungs, tasting it, relishing it, his eyelids sagging as if the air itself was some kind of intoxicating drug. It reminded him of another time, another place, another life. Visions of his childhood in Sicily danced through his head. So beautiful and tranquil were the lush Nebrodi Mountains of his beloved Sicily. Since arriving in America so long ago, not a day went by that he didn’t yearn to return home to the temperate climate of his youth. Unfortunately, obligations to La Famiglia, his family, and La Borgata, his community, had always kept him firmly rooted in Detroit, where the winters were long, dreary, and brutally cold. He had always envied Stanley’s life in the tropical Floridian sun, a life of leisure and relaxation the don had never been afforded in his line of work. He sometimes wondered if the man had ever seen snow. But then he remembered their time together in the Marines, when they had fought side-by-side in the biting snow and blistering cold of South Korea.
Stanley Dunn was a retired businessman, six-term Floridian Senator and serial hedonist. He had spent the better part of a century living in Florida, and he planned to live out his remaining days there, relaxing by the beach, indulging in the finest spirits, eating the finest foods, smoking the finest cigars, and sampling the finest young beauties money could buy. He had lived a long life of excess and he was quite proud of his many accomplishments. But he was even more proud of his family. His daughter was a successful plastic surgeon in Miami. His youngest son owned a lucrative financial consulting firm in Houston. However, his eldest son was his true pride and joy. And naturally so. Jonathon Randall Dunn was currently the President of the United States. Who, just as of last week, had been elected to a second term in office.
A self-made millionaire, Stanley had amassed his fortune through a number of lucrative business ventures, some more scrupulous than others. A few of those ventures had involved the menacing old Sicilian now seated on his patio. In fact, Don Falcone had actually helped him get started in business.
Upon completing his obligation to the Marines, Peter Falcone returned to Detroit and quickly made a name for himself in the local underworld, aligning himself with a collective of powerful Italian associates known as the “Combination,” which later became known as the “Partnership” and eventually the “Syndicate.” It was these shadowy underworld associates, many of whom had powerful political allies, who had put Stanley on the road to success. Though it had been many years since he had any actual business dealings with the don, they always tried to stay in touch, albeit discreetly because of the nature of the don’s business. Yet it was a relationship that had lasted over a half-century. From time to time the don and his wife would come down to vacation during the winter months, occasionally bringing with them their entire family. But these winter visits had grown less frequent over the years. Oftentimes, several years would lapse between visits. But the don never lost touch and always made sure to send a gift basket for the holidays.
It had been several years since the old mob boss paid Stanley a personal visit, and the fact that he showed up this evening unannounced, accompanied by two young men who appeared to be bodyguards, had Stanley feeling a bit uneasy. He could tell from the look in the don’s eyes that this was not merely a social call. So why was he there? And why the imposing bodyguards? It was almost as if they were expecting trouble. Whatever the case, Stanley hoped a couple fingers of Glenfiddich single malt scotch would ease the bad feeling he had in is gut.
Doing his best to seem unruffled, Stanley now handed the don a tumbler of scotch. “So, Don Falcone, you didn’t bring Gracie down this time,” he stated matter-of-factly, referring to the don’s wife, hoping a bit of subtle probing would get him some answers.
The don shrugged and took a sip. “No,” he replied tersely, a single syllable delivered in an impassive monotone. “And I’ve told you a thousand times, Stan, you don’t have to call me ‘don.’ That’s just Hollywood malarkey.”
“Sorry, Don Falcone,” Stanley goaded, grinning. “I’m getting old. Sometimes I forget these things.”
Don Falcone gave him a look. “Smartass,” he mumbled, and then turned his attention to the ocean.
Stanley didn’t want to come across as intrusive, so rather than come right out and ask him what was on his mind, he continued to exercise discretion.
“Well, I hope Gracie and the rest of your family are well,” he said, offering him a look of genuine concern.
“This is a damn fine cigar, Stan,” the don said, carefully examining the smoldering stogy as if he hadn’t even heard Stanley’s last remark. He then fell silent again as he pulled deeply from the cigar and continued staring out at the darkening ocean.
“It’s a Cohiba,” Stanley declared proudly, deciding he had no choice but to play along. “Special edition. Best batch to come out of Havana this year…”
For the next hour, the two old Marine comrades sipped scotch and engaged in nostalgic banter, reminiscing on old times as dusk turned to night. Eventually, as the alcohol ran its course, Don Falcone began to relax and loosen up. As always, the two old friends reveled in each other’s company. Life was behind them now. Their wars had been fought. Some lost, but most won. Nowadays, fewer things in life were more precious than a quiet evening with an old friend, sipping good drink with a fine cigar. As the evening wore on, they laughed and caught up on time lost, as well as recounted tales of old. But Stanley was no fool. Studying the old don’s face, he noticed there was something just below the surface. A deep pain. Or was it worry? Could it be fear? It was definitely something. Whatever it was, it was exacerbated by those foreboding obsidian eyes.
“Let me get you a refill,” Stanley offered, taking the don’s empty glass over to the bar.
Don Falcone motioned a finger across his throat. “No more of that Scottish poison,” he said, his peasant Sicilian accent still detectable even after all these years. “Too strong. Gives me heartburn and makes me sluggish. Do you have any decent vino rosso?”
“Vino what?” Stanley asked, hovering over the bar with the expensive bottle of premium scotch.
“Red wine,” Don Falcone chuckled softly. “Sometimes I forget I’m speaking Italian. Part of getting old, I suppose.”
“We’re all getting old, my friend,” Stanley countered, setting the bottle of scotch on the bar. “Let me go inside and check my cellar. I think I have just the thing.”
“Any red will do,” Don Falcone offered, waving a hand indifferently. “I’m not picky.”
“Nonsense,” said Stanley, flashing him a cryptic grin. “I’ve been saving a certain bottle for just such an occasion…”
Ten minutes later, Stanley returned from his wine cellar with an aged bottle of red wine. “The very best I’ve got,” he declared, holding the bottle out to him. “Almost twenty years ago I was vacationing in Tuscany with my second wife, Katrina. We met the Marchese Incisa della Rocchetta’s son. He gave me five bottles of this. It was a gift in memory of his father, who I’d met in Rome while on a diplomatic mission. It’s called Sassicaia, made in the Emilian Apennines of your homeland. Even back then a bottle was worth a couple grand. This is my last one. I’ve been saving it for a special occasion. I figured tonight is as good as any.”
Don Falcone looked surprised but not all that impressed. “Yes, I know of Sassicaia. Very good vino, paisan. But not from my homeland. My homeland is Sicily. How many times have I told you this? There is a big difference between Sicilians and mainland Italians. Starting with Sicilians make better wine. They just don’t share it with the rest of the world. They keep it for themselves. But I’ll give it to you, Sassicaia is a decent red. What year you got there?”
“Eighty-five,” Stanley grinned, twisting in a corkscrew, pleased that he was able to impress the don.
“Ehhh…” Don Falcone shrugged, unimpressed, having no idea that it was the finest vintage the vineyard had ever produced. “It’s all wine to me. It’s made for drinking, not hoarding in some dusty cellar.”
Stanley grinned and yanked the cork out with an audible pop. “My sentiments exactly,” he agreed, filling a crystal wineglass and handing it to the don. “Here you are, old man. Personally, I like the stronger stuff. Brandy, cognac, scotch.” He patted his bulging belly. “Keeps the ol’ fire burning. Helps ward off the aches and pains. Deborah, God rest her soul, always said I liked it a little too much. Said it would kill me someday. But I say to hell with that! I’ve lived this goddamn long. I’ve earned the right to indulge. I’m an old man. I need a little kick in the ass once in a while.”
The don chuckled, a low rumble reminiscent of the approaching thunder. “Salude,” he said, touching his glass to Stanley’s tumbler. As he took a long sip of the aromatic wine, he found himself studying his gracious host. He hated how they had been forced to be distant over the years. He genuinely liked Stanley and they had quite an interesting history, one that spanned almost five decades. At the ripe old age of eighteen, they had met in Korea as platoon-mates with the 26th Marines,
Advanced Recon Squadron Delta. Both had been full of piss and vinegar, high on patriotism and short on common sense. But their friendship had been an unlikely one, especially considering how they had come from two very different worlds. Back then the don was nothing but a bellicose young private with a chip on his shoulder. After witnessing his father’s murder on the streets of Trapani—his hometown in Sicily—his mother had sent him to live with a great aunt in Detroit. He had been a terribly unruly teenager, with a deep-seeded propensity for violence. He spent his days running the streets, hanging around a local gang of hustlers and petty criminals, all of them Italian. Though his aunt did her best to be good surrogate mother, she was unable to control him. Most of his teenage years were spent ducking the law and running errands for a crew of local Mafiosi. Stanley, on the other hand, had been raised by two adoring parents in the middle-class suburb of Sarasota, Florida. While the don had been a raucous, crude, ill-tempered ruffian, Stanley had been an introverted, reserved, genuine intellectual. Yet for reasons neither of them could explain, they forged a unique brotherly bond that had endured a lifetime.
Silently sipping his scotch, Stanley was also studying the don. Memories flooded his head, and he suddenly recalled the story of how the don had ended up in America. He’d never been made privy to the particulars, but one night after drinking heavily the don had slipped up and shared the whole story. Apparently there had been some kind of ongoing war between local Mafia factions in the don’s hometown back in Sicily. A “vendetta” he had called it. Several members of his family had been killed in this vendetta, including his two older brothers and his father, as well as a number of uncles and cousins. When he was the last living male Falcone, his mother put him on a boat and literally shipped him off to live with distant relatives in Detroit, where there was a large Italian community. After six years of legal troubles and living as an illegal alien, he was offered a chance to cleanse his criminal record and gain legal citizenship by volunteering for one of the armed services. Since his mother had died back in Sicily, leaving him nothing to return home to, he enlisted in the Marines, if only because he’d heard that it was the toughest branch of the military. After completing his four-year commitment to the Marines, he returned to Detroit and slowly muscled his way through the ranks of the city’s local mob syndicate. An exceptionally ruthless and cunning young Mafioso, he eventually established himself as a leader in his “borgata,” the Italian word for community. In time, he eventually rose to become Detroit’s Capo de Tutti Cappi, the city’s supreme Boss of Bosses. But that was many, many years ago. He had long since settled into semi-retirement after relinquishing his position as the Syndicate’s leader to his son-in-law, Leoni.[amazon_link asins=’1521254079′ template=’ProductAd’ store=’naticrimsynd-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’16dc1cc0-2dd8-11e8-a827-2fe938e7e378′]
Taking another long pull from his cigar, Stanley now decided it was time they stopped dancing around the subject and got to the real reason the don was there. “It’s great to see you Don Falcone, but…” he began, and then paused, snapping the don from his nostalgic reverie. “It’s been what, four, five years?”
“Probably more like seven,” Don Falcone admitted with a touch of shame, also pulling deeply from his cigar.
“Why?” Stanley asked. “Why so long? You know you and your family are always welcome in my home.” He took a sip of his scotch and gave him an earnest look. “But tell me, Don Falcone… old friend… is there something on your mind? I mean, you’ve never just showed up at my home like this unannounced. And, well… you seem a bit distracted.”
Don Falcone said something in Italian to his bodyguards, dismissing them with a wave of his hand. They immediately stepped out onto the back lawns, out of earshot but close enough to maintain a vigilant eye on him.
“You’re very perceptive, old friend,” said the don, turning softened eyes on him. “There is indeed something serious we need to discuss.”
“And that is?” Stanley asked.
Don Falcone was silent for a long moment before finally answering, “I have a favor to ask, paisan. A big one.”
As the don’s ebon eyes bored into him, Stanley felt a wave of trepidation wash over him. His old friend’s amiable mask had vanished. No longer did he look like a harmless old man. His back suddenly seemed straighter, accentuating his full height and bulk, instantly drawing Stanley’s eyes to shoulders that looked like bowling balls and hands that resembled baseball mitts. Clad in a white linen shirt, suspenders, black slacks and a massive diamond pinky ring, he still very much looked like what he was—a mob boss. Yet imposing as he was physically, it was his eyes that were most unnerving. They were the piercing dark eyes of a hungry lion. Giant pupils without irises. Black as obsidian. Fearless. Threatening. Violent. Stanley remembered those eyes well from their time together in Korea. Even their hardline gunnery sergeants seemed to shrink when he turned those eyes on them. Though he was just above average height at 5’11”, he had always been powerfully built. A solid mass of muscle. And during their tour together in Korea, he’d been a renowned brawler, always ready for a good fight.
Looking at his old friend, Stanley inadvertently shivered as the memory came flooding back. It was the same one that still gave him nightmares. It happened nearly fifty years ago, yet in his mind he could see it with such clarity that it might have happened yesterday. They were on a weekend pass to Seoul, and Stanley witnessed his friend fly into a murderous rampage. In fact, it was the single most terrifying night of his life. It was also the first time he witnessed just how ruthless and bloodthirsty his young Italian platoonmate could be. After a long night of heavy drinking and womanizing, they had found themselves in a bar packed with tough local Koreans and a few American GIs. They were minding their own business, enjoying the company of some local girls, when several Army privates began fighting with a group of local Korean thugs. Apparently the Koreans had grown tired of the American GIs hogging all the hookers. It was an ugly exchange, with the Americans getting the worst of it. That is, until Private Falcone and Corporal Dunn jumped into the fray. For nearly twenty minutes the brawl continued, with bottles flying, tables crashing. Eventually, several American MPs burst in and broke it up before things escalated into something worse than a battle of fisticuffs.
After the fight, with both of them nursing their share of lumps and bruises, Private Falcone and Corporal Dunn followed a pair of nubile and, in hindsight, overly zealous young prostitutes to a seedy back-alley opium brothel, completely unaware that they were being setup. Stanley had just pulled down his pants when five Korean thugs—all of them drunk and hell-bent on revenge—burst in and began beating him savagely. Just down the hall, the same thing was happening to Private Falcone. But being that he was the smaller of the two, the Koreans had only dedicated three of their ranks to Private Falcone. A big mistake. A fatal mistake. Private Falcone had grown up in Sicily, where violence was the norm. Then later, as a teenager, he had made his bones as a young hustler on the mean streets of Detroit, where he had become more than proficient with a knife. Even during his tenure as a Marine, he never left the barracks without his grandfather’s Latama switchblade, which he kept neatly concealed in a custom sheaf strapped to his forearm. So when three Korean thugs burst in on him while receiving fellatio, he didn’t hesitate. Drunk and naked from the waist down, he fought off his attackers with vehement aggression. Within seconds, two of his attackers were thrashing on the floor in bloody heaps, writhing in death throes. The third, stabbed and bleeding out, ran for his life before he met the same fate.
Meanwhile, Stanley was down the hall, on the floor of his own room, naked and fighting for his life as five drunken thugs beat him savagely. But just as he was about to lose consciousness, the door burst open and Private Falcone came charging in. Time seemed to freeze as he watched his platoonmate fly into a murderous rampage. When the bloodbath was over, three more Koreans were dead and Stanley lay quivering on the floor, naked, bloody, clutching his broken ribs. Private Falcone, who was covered head-to-toe in blood, quickly helped him dress and half carried him to a nearby alley, where he stole an Army jeep and drove him to an American Army hospital. It was this night Stanley branded the don with a moniker that would last a lifetime. From that night on, Private Falcone became known as Pete “The Butcher” Falcone.
“A favor?” Stanley asked, blinking away the gruesome images of that distant memory.
“Yes, paisan,” Don Falcone answered, sounding uncharacteristically apprehensive. “A very important favor. One I hate to ask but… I must.”
Stanley looked into those intimidating dark eyes and noticed something he had never seen before. Vulnerability. Even desperation. That’s when he knew this favor would involve Stanley’s eldest son.
“Well, old friend, let me have it,” he prompted, casually taking a sip of his scotch, doing his best to sound indifferent. “We go way back. Favors make the world go ’round. Lord knows you’ve done plenty for me. If it’s within my power, I’ll do anything to help you.”
The old don set his glass of wine on the table and again locked eyes with him. “It’s my grandson,” he said, sounding dejected. “He needs your help…” He then leaned forward and dove into a lengthy explanation of the entire situation.
For nearly twenty minutes Stanley listened attentively, absorbing the don’s every word, captivated by what he was hearing. It was almost like something out of a movie. Some thirty years ago, the don’s only son, Antonio, had been murdered. Stanley actually remembered meeting “Tony” on several occasions. A tall, handsome, powerfully built man who looked like a younger version of the don. They even had the same unnerving dark eyes. The younger Falcone had been an upcoming star in their underworld organization, and was the don’s pride and joy. But Antonio’s murder had left him with a terrible void in his life. Even worse, the loss of his only son had left him with only a single heir who could carry on his family name—Antonio’s infant son Omnio, the last Falcone. At the time, baby Omnio was a mere three months old, but he quickly became the don’s new pride and joy. Now, as Stanley listened to the urgency and emotion in the don’s voice, it was clear that this grandson meant the world to him, for he explained that Omnio was the rightful heir to the Falcone Family throne.
When the don finally made his request clear, Stanley leaned back in his chair and pondered it for a long moment, silently considering the potential fallout. “Don Falcone,” he began in his most saccharine voice, “I’m going to be honest with you because I know you appreciate candor and you have always been straight forward with me.” He paused and looked him in the eye for a moment. “You’re one of my oldest and dearest friends. You know I’d do anything to help you. But I’m sure you
understand that what you’re asking is…” He shrugged and took a sip of scotch to calm his nerves. “Well, it’s complicated. There are many variables to consider. And the timing is bad. Very bad. I mean, if someone on Capitol Hill or in the mainstream media caught wind of it, they’d have a goddamn field day. Congressional oversight committees live for shit like this. Imagine the rumors that would fly. Obviously I mean no disrespect to you or your family, but as you know there have been rumors over the years. Rumors that I have ties to… Well, to you and your associates. And it’s been hard to deflate these rumors.”
Don Falcone nodded pensively. “Yes, I know, Stan. It’s why I’ve kept my distance over the last few years. Believe me, the last thing I want is those fuckin’ hyenas in Washington hurling shit at your boy…”
The don stood and topped off his glass of wine. The fact that his hand was slightly trembling did not go unnoticed by Stanley. After gulping down the entire glass, he took a deep breath and continued, his eyes filled with emotion, his words forced and at times even rambling.
“…But this is very important to me, Stanley. Very important! Not just to me, but to my entire community. My Famiglia! Omnio is very dear to me. We’re cut from the same stone. Sicilian stone. He honors the old decrees. Loyalty. Honor. Respect. He puts Our Thing first over himself. That’s a rare thing in our Community these days. I have other grandsons but he is the only one who can carry on my family name. I know I can’t expect you to understand what that means to someone like me, but you must try. I’m Sicilian. And to a Sicilian the continuance of our Family name is everything. It’s how we honor our ancestors. Omnio must carry on my name or I will dishonor mine. He must be given a second chance…”
Again he paused to revere the memory of his lost son. “Omnio is his father’s legacy,” he continued, his eyes glazing over with emotion. “He’s an extraordinary young man. Just brilliant. He has potential to be something special. He’s not like my other grandsons. They’re a bunch of entitled selfish brats who only think about themselves. They fight and bicker with each other like women. Every last one of them thinks he deserves their button. I can barely keep them from each other’s throats. They weren’t like that when Omnio was still around. They feared him. He kept them all in line. Even the other skippers. But now…”
He stopped and again refilled his glass, the trembling of his hand even more pronounced. “My Family has never had a secure foothold in the Syndicate. Some of the others have been there for three, four generations. They’re bigger and have more men on the street. They have people, even their own family, in the unions and government. I had to fight tooth and nail for my place in the Community. It took me a lifetime to earn the respect of the other caporegime, the Commission. Now I’m afraid my disgraceful son-in-law and his brats are going to destroy it all. As long as I’m alive, they stay in line. At least to some degree. But when I’m gone…”
His words trailed off and again stared up at the foreboding dark clouds that were nearly upon them. For several minutes he just stood there, leaning over the terrace balustrade, watching the approaching storm, his mind flashing back in time, reliving the many mistakes he had made in life. There was so much regret, so many things he wished he could go back and do differently. But it was too late now. He had to deal with the cards he’d been dealt, the choices he had made.
Stanley had never seen the don like this, so downtrodden and emotional. Nor had he expected him to divulge such intimate knowledge of his organization’s inner workings. Most of it was far beyond his comprehension, and frankly it scared him. These were matters not meant for his ears. But the don was a friend. A good friend. Stanley had no idea what to say in response, so he said nothing. He simply sat there silently sipping his scotch and puffing on his cigar, waiting for the don to continue.
“Omnio is not like them,” Don Falcone finally spoke, his words barely a whisper. “And you know what gets me, Stan? Even after how they treated him so unfairly, he still loves them. They’re his blood. To him, there is nothing stronger than blood. That is the true Sicilian way. I wish with all my heart that the Commission would’ve given him a chance to take over. He was my choice, you know. He was always my choice. I knew he was the one even when he was just a little bambino. He was a born leader. His younger cousins used to follow him around like he was some kind celebrity. They called themselves La Quadri Visaconti. The Four Counts.
And he was their Omnio, their King. But when they grew up, they became jealous of him. He was always bigger, stronger, smarter. More cunning. He…”
Again he let his words trail off, unable to continue, overcome with emotion. For several minutes his hands trembled, his face flush with anger as he thought about how unjustly his beloved grandson had been treated by their own family. Their Famiglia.
The don’s prolonged lapses of silence prompted Stanley to finally speak. “You said they treated him unfairly. What do you mean by that, Peter?”
Don Falcone looked at him with much softer eyes. It had been many years since his friend had addressed him without the prefix “don.” But he didn’t mind. After all, they were old friends. Very old. And he’d never been fond of the title anyway. He knew it was intended to be a show of respect, but it always made him feel like he was a character in some kind of Hollywood production.
“My grandson has lived a tough life,” he answered, deciding that he might as well tell him everything. “He’s what is known in Sicily as a dragoni difetto, or tam messosangue, a disparaging term used to describe a member of our community who is not pure Sicilian. It literally means born with a birth-defect. Here in America they just say difetto. Defective. You see, his mother was Jewish. And because of it our rules forbid him from ever rising above the rank of a street soldier. So the others have ostracized him. His uncles and cousins turned their backs on him. But he didn’t care. He struck out on his own, just as I did when I was a young man. And he was well on his way until…” He took a long sip of wine and once again attempted to settle his trembling hands. “There was an incident between him and his cousin Anthony. I can’t get into that with you, but it led to this. The Commission ruled. I was in prison at the time so there was nothing I could do to stop it. They allowed this thing to happen. They said he was a lone wolf. A maverick. Said he was becoming a danger to the Community, that I was giving him special treatment, that I was treating him like he was a full…”
He glanced at Stanley and decided he had already said too much. “Anyway, that’s none of your concern,” he said, a message passing between them. “But it’s true, I did treat him differently. Because he deserved it! He earned it. I didn’t care that he wasn’t pure Siciliano. He was a brilliant young man, a mastermind who could squeeze blood from a rock. Even without the Syndicate’s backing he was making a name for himself on the street. His men loved him. They were completely loyal and dedicated to him. He reminded me of myself at that age. I, too, started out a lone wolf. And look what I accomplished. Omnio may be a difetto dragoncello but his heart is that of a thoroughbred Sicilian. The others, they just never gave him a chance. And now, because of his mixed blood, he’s suffering. As soon as I was sent away, they all conspired to get rid of him. First they tried to kill him.” He jammed a meaty finger at Stanley. “Which of course they deny. He was too crafty for them. Outsmarted them from every angle. When they couldn’t kill him, they took away his police protection. And when that didn’t work, they set him up! The bastards should be ashamed. Where’s their fuckin’ honor? This isn’t how Our Thing works. It goes against everything we’re supposed to stand for. It’s that little shit Anthony’s fault. He’s an emotional, jealous little worm. When he saw Omnio once again upstaging him…”
He took another sip of wine, the alcohol only adding fuel to his anger. “They were scared of him,” he continued, waving a hand in disgust. “Every goddamn last one of them. Not just his uncles and cousins, but the entire Syndicate. Even some of the Commission capi. They feared he would someday become more than even they could handle. Which he probably would’ve had they left him alone. I know they only let him live out of respect for me. Believe me, I know this. If The Round Table wants you dead, that’s it, you’re dead. End of story. But I also know that if they would have given him half a chance he could’ve been a great leader for our borgata. Maybe even the Boss. I know he could have fulfilled this dream if it wasn’t for Anthony, that goddamn cockroach grandson of mine. The only reason I didn’t get rid of his sniveling little ass was because of the love I have for his mother. He’ll never be half the man Omnio is. Men like Omnio founded Our Thing in Sicily over two thousand years ago. Bold and fearless men of honor. Now his life is wasting away in that place because of what? Because his cousin was jealous of him? It disgusts me to even think about. That’s why I’m here tonight, Stanley. You’re the only one who can help him. I would never come to you like this if it wasn’t of the utmost importance. If you do me this one last favor, I’ll be forever in your debt. Without it, my name, my Family dies with me.”
Stanley was bewildered. What the don was asking was next to impossible and considered ethical taboo for someone in his position. Unfortunately, the only person on earth who could grant such a favor was his eldest son, the President of the United States. But he did owe the don. The man had saved his life. More than once, actually. While stationed in Korea, Private Falcone had actually saved his life on several occasions. And later in life it had been a young Don Falcone who introduced him to the world of big business. In fact, the don had been integral to Stanley’s success in business. Then, throughout his political career, it had been the don’s powerful business associates and political contacts in Miami who helped him maintain his tenure as a Floridian Senator. Though the don had never been one of the Mafia’s top chieftains on a national level, he was feared, respected, and well-connected throughout his underworld organization. And he had come through for Stanley on many occasions, never denying him a favor. Stanley knew he owed the man more than he could ever repay. If it weren’t for him, his own children wouldn’t exist, for he would have surely been killed and forgotten in some filthy opium brothel back Seoul, Korea, over fifty years ago.
Stanley now stood and sauntered over to the terrace balustrade to stand next to him. For a moment, he just stood there, sipping his drink while staring out at the approaching thunderstorm. It had been threatening to rain most of the evening, yet the sky had produced nothing more than a few faint flashes of lightning and distant rumbles of thunder. But the storm was nearly upon them now. Mother Nature was about to unleash her full fury on Southern Florida. The temperature had dropped fifteen degrees in the last ten minutes. The sky was an inky, swirly mass of greyish-black clouds, illuminated by occasional bolts of lightning that crackled like Tesla coils from cloud to cloud. The once low rumbles of distant thunder now boomed ferociously from the heavens. Taking it all in, Stanley felt almost as if the gods were talking to him, warning him not to do this. But as he took a long pull from his smoldering cigar, he glanced over at those dangerous obsidian eyes and realized that he feared Don Falcone more than he feared the gods. He had to do this. It was a matter of honor. He owed it to him. It wasn’t going to be easy, that’s for sure. It would have to be kept completely sub rosa. If there were any leaks prior to it, a congressional oversight investigation could result. The FBI would be in an uproar. The Attorney General would be outraged. The media pundits would have a field day.
“Don Falcone…” Stanley began, fumbling for words. “I… I just…”
Don Falcone, sensing his apprehension, set a hand on his shoulder. “Stan, consider this an old friend’s dying wish.”
Those words hit Stanley like a brick and instantly made his trepidation over a potential scandal vanish. He took a step back and looked at the don incredulously. The man was old, yes, but not that old. For a man in his early seventies, he still looked healthy and fit. He was bulky around the waist but his swarthy olive skin lacked the excessive wrinkles and liver spots that were so common with men his age. Although his hair was a whitish-silver, he still had a thick mane of it, every strand slicked back just so with pomade. He still moved with the grace of a predatory cat, and those onyx eyes looked sharp enough to cut diamonds. He did not look like a dying man.
“What do you mean ‘dying wish?’” Stanley asked, confused.
Don Falcone looked up at the undulating clouds and, almost as if right on cue, the heavens above came to life with a brilliant flash of lightning and subsequent thunderclap. “I’m not well, paisan,” he said earnestly. “I have a problem with my prostate. Cancer. And to make matters worse, the goddamn Feds are trying again to pin a RICO case on me. Say they got new evidence. Say I didn’t do enough time the first time around.”
Suddenly feeling in need of another drink, Stanley stepped over to the bar and poured himself two more fingers of scotch. “Not enough time?” he asked, unsure what that even meant. “I don’t understand, I thought you did your time? Eight years, if I remember correctly.”
“To hell with ’em,” the don answered, waving a hand dismissively. “I’m tired of fighting those puttanas. They’ll never give up until they see me die behind bars. But time isn’t on their side. I’m dying, Stan. I got cancer. It’s spreading. The docs say maybe six, seven months at the most. Go figure. I survive a blood vendetta in Sicily when I was a kid. I survive a war in Korea with you. I survive God knows how many indictments. I even make it through eight years in the clink. And it ends up being my goddamn prostate that takes me out. Pretty ironic, don’t you think?”
Stanley, at a loss for words, leaned against the balustrade with a look of utter disbelief. He had always revered his old friend as an almost mythical figure. The eminent Don Falcone. The Butcher. Invincible. Indestructible. An immortal who would live on forever in infamy. But Stanley was now struck with the realization that the man was indeed mortal, subject to the hands of time like everyone else. He was dying. And to literally add insult to injury, the government was still trying to lock him up. The heartless bastards couldn’t just let the old man die in peace. They would chase him to the grave and slap an indictment on his casket. It was sad to see such a once vibrant and powerful man look so tired and impuissant.
Stanley drained the last droplets of his glass and set it down, deciding he’d had enough for now. “Another indictment?” he asked, still confused. “But I thought you retired years ago?”
“I did,” the don shrugged. “But RICO has no statute of limitations. This new indictment dates back ten years, when they charged half the Syndicate with ‘Operation Game Tax. Some shylock banker got pinched for laundering Mexican dope money and the Feds offered him immunity if he ratted us out. Bastard squealed like a stuck pig. Brought up all kinds of shit from way back. Some as far back as thirty years. Said I was in charge of the skim at the Stardust and Frontier hotels in Vegas. Now they have that rat bastard locked away tight in some Arizona Army base. The lawyers say he’s willing to testify at my trial. The feds got him surrounded by a small army of military police. Can’t even get to him. He’s gonna say I helped the Syndicate extort Hoffa out of Teamster money to build the casinos and skim from them. If he makes it to the stand, I’ll get twenty-to-life. Not that it matters. I only got a few more months.”
Stanley studied him for a long moment. The once so menacing Mafioso suddenly looked like a defeated shell of the man he once was—a man who had saved his life and always been there for him when he needed him. Stanley knew he could never deny him this dying wish. He would never be able to live with himself.
“Well, Don Falcone, old friend…” he began, offering him a genuine smile. “I have not forgotten how you and your associates helped John get elected. Your campaign contributions. Your influence over the automotive unions. The help your political friends gave us in the primaries. Shit, now that I think about it, he may have never even gotten elected if it weren’t for you. So, in a sense, I suppose he owes you this favor just as much as I do. I’ll speak to him this week and see what he says.”
The Don’s eyes suddenly turned cold and almost threatening. “Stan, you must insist! I’m counting on you. Your boy is my only hope.”
Stanley looked into those eyes and swallowed the lump in his throat. “I will, Peter,” he assured him, glancing at the two bodyguards, both of them suddenly staring at him with threatening looks of their own. “I’ll tell John this is something he must do. But you have to understand that it won’t happen until the end of this new term. That’s almost four years from now. Not until his last days in office. That’s when they all do it. Less time for the media to turn it into a fiasco. The vultures in the Hoover Building will bitch and moan for a few weeks when they catch wind of it. The A.G. will probably raise a stink. But hopefully we can sweep it under the rug without too many people noticing. If we’re lucky, no one will really notice. Or care. But if they do want to make a fuss about it, fuck ’em. Jonathan will be done in Washington for the most part. And to tell you the truth, I don’t foresee the media, or anyone else for that matter, looking too deeply into this. I mean, Pete, I say this with the utmost respect for you and your grandson, but in the eyes of the government he’s a relative nobody. From what it sounds like he was never even a serious player in your organization. I’m sure the mainstream media won’t even know who he is. And we’ll do our best to keep it that way.”
The don was still glaring at him, but the slightest grin played at the corners of his mouth. “Give me your word,” he insisted, stretching out one of his massive hands. He said it as a request but Stanley knew that it was an order.
“You have my word,” Stanley said, grasping the meaty hand firmly. “Don’t worry, old friend. As God is my witness, I promise you, Don Falcone, that whatever happens with your health between now and then, I will see that this is done when the time comes. I swear it on the lives of my grandchildren.”
The don’s slight grin morphed into a full smile as he pulled Stanley into a powerful embrace. “Thank you, paisan. You’re a good man and a good friend. I knew I could count on you to handle this for me. You have done my Family a great service, one I can never repay. I hope that you get a chance to meet Omnio yourself. He’s a bright star in these darkest of times for Cosa Nostra. In his blood runs the last vestiges of the old ways. We need boys like him to keep Our Thing from dying… to teach and lead the next generation. If there is anything that I can do for you, anything at all, please let me know. My life now belongs to you.”
Stanley stepped back from his embrace and offered him a look of genuine love. “Don Falcone, you’ve already done more than enough for me. It’s my honor to help you. My own family, my children and grandchildren, they wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for you. The success I’ve had and everything I’ve accomplished in life, I owe it much in part to you. What kind of man would I be if I didn’t do this for you?” He grinned and gestured toward the bar. “All I ask is that you stay a bit longer and have another drink with me. Let us reminisce more on the old times, back to when women loved us for more than just our money and power. Tonight we get drunk and recount our war stories. Speaking of, do you remember that night in Seoul, when we took on a bar full of Korean thugs?”
Just as the sky began unleashing a deluge of pelting rain, a manic grin appeared on the don’s face. Paying no attention to the sudden downpour, he rolled up his sleeve and revealed an old leather sheaf strapped to his forearm. In it was his grandfather’s Latama switchblade, the very same knife from that night in Seoul so long ago. “How could I forget?” he said with a wink, and then they both burst into a fit of laughter and dashed inside to escape the rain.