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One Last Thing to Do

  


One Last Thing to Do

 

            "Success leaves you tied up like a crate with a net around it" said Don Niccolo to himself as he looked in the mirror. Once he loved to work with his hands, now he had to watch out for his carefully manicured nails and cuticles, not to mention his Armani suit and diamond rings. He still had the trim waistline of his youth but wondered how much was left of the young man he used to be. Only a few wrinkles and the gray in his carefully coiffed mane gave his age away. He saw his face and voice as tools with which to manipulate people - his people - the kind who need to be motivated by fear. He could paralyze an underling with an angry glare, 'though his temper rarely got the better of him, because he knew fury isn't as useful as controlled anger. Sixty-six years of living had taught him that mastery of himself led to mastery of others. He would soon need all his carefully accumulated powers of persuasion - and intimidation.

 

            "Hey Papa - how you feeling today?" said his son Joey, who snuck up and put his hands firmly on his father's shoulders.

            "I'll show you how I'm feeling every day." Niccolo raised his hand as if to strike and Joey pretended to fight back. "So, you think you're tough!" said the Don as they carried on a mock battle. Niccolo didn't let on how his joints ached or that two minutes of this would tire him to the point of exhaustion. He was still the head of the family and it wouldn't do to let one of his underlings, even his own son, know he was already over the hill.

            Joey slipped his watch off and rubbed his wrist. "It's almost that time. Is Uncle Angie coming today?" He turned the watch over. On the back it read: 'To Joey with love, from Uncle Angelino'."

            "Not today," answered his father.

 

            Car doors slammed in front of the large Brooklyn house that dated back to the 1920's - Niccolo's house for the last thirty years.

            "Joey, get the door," said Don Niccolo. His wife Frances was never there when the capos and key mafia “soldiers” arrived - she conveniently did her shopping on Friday mornings. Five men bounded up the wooden stairs; there was Two Guns Louie Caro, 55, in his ancient plaid sport jacket, Tommy Assante, 61, another Italian wise guy of the old school, Frankie and Eddie Falcone, jet-black-haired, look-alike brothers in their early 40's and last but not least was tall, thin, dressed-in-black to match his dyed hair, Dominic "Father" Santini, 52, who once studied for the priesthood. No one knew how many men Santini had killed, but enough to make him widely feared. Don Niccolo, who had his own reputation, didn't cultivate Santini's aura of menace because he felt hostility without organization and people skills made one merely an anti-social thug, not a leader. Joey ushered the men into the dining room, where they sat around a very old dinner table, made of solid oak. Before Joey could join the others, his father gave him a quick half-hug and whispered in his ear "there's trouble we got to handle – pay attention, but don't get involved." Don Niccolo gently pushed Joey toward the chair he immediately sat down in then stepped back, listening to the chatter.

            "How'd you'se do last week?" Tommy asked.

            "Bett'n th' week b'fore - not as good as las' month," answered Louie.

            Santini looked around the table. like he was missing something. then glanced toward Eddie Falcone: "I heard you pulled off a good one over on Flatbush."

            "Truck full o' men's stuff last night," said Eddie. "We're still lookin' it over."

            Tommy said "'ey, boss, what you'se doin' over there?

 

            Don Niccolo looked around at the men before him then fixed his gaze on Two Guns Louie Caro. "You're slippin' Louie, I only see a bulge in one pocket and I know you got nothing for the ladies in there."

            There were a few chuckles then Santini piped up: "No coffee and doughnuts?"         

            "Thought we'd do without 'em just for once," said their host and head of the crime family they all belonged to.

            The others engaged in small talk as Don Niccolo stood at the head of the table with a kind of “I know you’re all wondering what this meeting is all about” look on his face. In the few seconds it took for the talk to die down Niccolo recalled a few images from his youth: delivering payoffs to a local detective; extorting money from an old man who owned a grocery store; knifing an interloper who tried to muscle in on his expanding territory. Just as the room quieted down there was a knock at the front door.

            "Get that Joey," said the Don.

 

            Joey answered the door and a few seconds later an enormously fat mafia "soldier" entered the room as if on cue, waddled across it, said a few words into the ear of Don Niccolo, and handed him a handkerchief with an object in it.

            "We know what that is," said Two Guns. "Is that for us, boss?" accompanied by nervous laughter among the others.

            "That's for somebody else" said the Don, putting the handkerchief and the object it contained in one of his pants pockets.

            "Hey, Fat Tony - we's got a meetin' goin' on here" said Tommy, as the fat man squirmed. Fat Tony had started to walk out of the room when Two Guns Louie stopped him with "'ey, 'ey, 'ey … where’s you’se all goin?" in his best Robert DeNiro voice, to which Fat Tony responded "'ey what?" as the others laughed. Tony disappeared into the living room and returned dragging a very large chair, one wide enough to accommodate his considerable girth.

Don Niccolo tried to twirl the diamond pinkie ring on his left hand, but felt only skin. He looked down then remembered he'd left his rings and diamond stick pin on the dresser in his bedroom – they needed to be cleaned. He maintained his poker face, causing the others to quiet down quickly. He finally spoke:

            "I know what everybody's wondering - why so serious today, right? We got something important to discuss. We'll skip the regular business today because I got to explain something to you. There's a little job that has to be done and I need a volunteer. Don't anybody volunteer until I tell you what it is, but first let me say something."

 

            The Don put his hands on the table and leaned on them as he looked into the eyes of his mafia captains and soldiers. "The meeting's different today because we got a situation. I think all of you, except Joey, remember when we owned everybody, right? We even had J. Edgar Hoover in our pocket. What protected us? The code of silence - nobody talks or they get whacked. What do we got now? R.I.C.O. laws, guys wearing wires, goddamn feds like Donnie Brasco. Gotti and his big mouth gets put away because Sammy the Bull talked to saved his own ass. Our own people been talking to cops any time they get into trouble. It's going to be the end of us unless we learn to keep our mouths shut like we used to. Remember this: the rest of us can still take care of anybody who can't shut up. I called you in today because we got a little problem ... it's in the family."

 

            Don Niccolo looked around for a reaction. The facial expressions had gone from amusement to concern to what the Don could almost discern as fright. A "problem in the family" meant somebody working for the mob was an informant - somebody close to the center of power. That would have been rare in the old days, but these days anything went. The informant could be anybody excepting the Don himself. The capos and soldiers eyed each other warily; the informer wasn't likely to be one of them, though that was still a possibility. To have anyone higher up than that squealing to the cops was unthinkable. More likely it was someone in one of their crews - a wise guy or affiliate. A rat in one of their crews was bad enough - after all, FBI agent Joe Pistone, working for the mob under the pseudonym Donnie Brasco, had learned enough to put dozens of key Mafiosi behind bars. If the informant was a "made man," a wise guy, that would be worse. A capo with such a rotten apple in his crew would be seen in a very bad light - it would likely bring him down.

 

            Don Niccolo stood erect again, hiding his fatigue with his posture. He went on: "You all know what I mean. Somebody is out of line; so out of line we gotta take care of him. This ain't like the old days where they're whacking guys right and left, but we still gotta take care of business, 'cause if we don't there won't be a business to take care of. I see the question you all have - do I know who it is - yes, I do. It's my brother Angelino, the consigliere." The capos looked dumbfounded. These days there was always a rat somewhere, but the consigliere? He was the center of the family, a heartbeat from the Don himself. Angelino was the family lawyer, confidant and advisor - the one who stood just below the Don in power. No one had ever heard of a consigliere turning bad. Hidden behind the Don's poker face was not only his physical exhaustion but the heart sickness caused by betrayal. Technically betrayals in the family had started over thirty years ago, when Niccolo married the girl Angelino wanted for himself, but hell, that was ancient history - Angelino couldn't possibly hold a grudge that long - could he?

 

            Don Niccolo wondered if the doubt he saw on the faces before him meant his capos thought he wanted to get rid of Angelino for personal reasons or whether they just had trouble believing Angelino had turned bad.

            "I got it from several sources - they couldn't all be wrong. One's a cop who used to be on our payroll. He just retired from the force, so he can say anything he wants. He personally saw Angie meet with his precinct captain in the Village, in some out of the way place where he thought they wouldn't be seen. My friend the cop overheard his captain say they met there several times and even the feds even showed up. A couple of snitches told me they heard the same thing."

            The Don took out a small piece of paper with names and numbers on it. "You can verify everything I'm saying by calling these numbers."

 

            "I don't know how they did it ... must have flipped him with a better deal for his kid who’s doing time ... doesn't matter. We got to act now, before he testifies. With what Angie's got on most of us we'd never see daylight again. There's one more thing - I can't be a part of this. The day I married my wife I made her one promise - I'd never kill in my family. If I am involved my wife will know, no matter how I try to hide it, so I'm leaving it up to you guys; if you want this organization to stay together you got to stop this thing now. All I can do is tell you who the problem is and that somebody's got to take care of it. I'm stepping outside this room now and I'm going to wait by the front door fifteen minutes. The first guy comes out of here better tell me he's going to handle the problem. If he doesn’t, I'm goin' straight to the Gambinos and offer them part of our action to come over here and straighten this mess out, an' I'll tell 'em 'my own people won't do shit.' The capos' faces now revealed something like shock, though the biggest shock was yet to come. "One more thing. The only way I can show my wife I'm not involved in this thing is to be out altogether, so effective at the end of this week I resign as head of this family. I'll name my successor before I go. My wife and I are movin' to Florida - think of it as early retirement - beats gettin' shot in th' back of the head in some Italian restaurant by one of you guys wants to move up the ladder." Nobody laughed. With that Niccolo turned and left.

 

            For a minute no one moved or said anything. Finally, Tommy Assante said "What the hell? Do you believe that story?"

            "Somebody better tell the boss he's gonna handle it, or we gotta deal with the fuckin' Gambinos," said Eddie Falcone.

            "Maybe we better talk about this first," said his brother Frankie.

            Joey jumped up. "No, we don't. "We don't gotta talk about nothin'." He rose and left the room.           

            "We ain't got time to check it out for ourselves," said Two Guns Louie.

            Santini grabbed the piece of paper the Don left behind and went to the phone hanging on the wall. He held up the piece of paper. "I know this cop. He'd never lie to me about this - he knows I'd kill 'im." He dialed "This is Santini ... I'm at Niccolo's. He just talked to us. You know what I want to know ..."

 

            As Joey approached his father, Niccolo stared at his son.

            "That was great, papa," said Joey. "I knew you were tired ... you wanted to get out. I couldn’t a thought of a better way to do it. But what you said about Uncle Angelino and all that Gambino stuff - you were kiddin', right?"

Niccolo put his right hand to his temple and shook his head then took the handkerchief out of his pocket, revealing a semiautomatic pistol, which he pressed into his son's hand. Joey's face froze as his father gave him one of those scary looks of his.

"You little fool - you're right about one thing - I wanted to get out and this is a good way to do it." He looked down at the gun. "The numbers were filed off - it can't be traced to us. As for the rest of it, I wasn't kidding; before I left I had just one last thing to do. I tried to protect you from it - for your sake, for your mother's - this is life and death business - you just volunteered to do it. I can't help you now."

“I just volun …”

“You’re the first one to walk over here, aren’t you? You heard what I said in there.”

            With that the Don gave his son a big hug, one that felt like goodbye. Joey almost thought he heard a choking sound come from his father's throat. Don Niccolo walked out the door and slammed it behind him. All his young life Joey had wanted to be "the man," the center of attention, the one everybody depends on, like his father. Now that he had what he wanted - he looked down at the gun in his hand and wished he could give it to somebody – anybody - else.

 

Doug Dawson

 

Doug Dawson wrote extensively for the U.S. Defense Dept. and then became a freelance writer. After taking writing classes at Johns Hopkins University he had some 40 articles and fiction published by several nationally distributed car magazines (“Vette Vues,” “Corvette Enthusiast,” “Corvette” magazine).

He has written some 70 short stories, a novella about a new religion, a book on the 1960’s TV series “Route 66” and a poetry collection entitled “Mother Goose for Moderns.” Dawson also writes chamber music, as well as music for both classical and jazz guitar and lives just outside Baltimore, Maryland.

 He would like to thank his writing teachers at Johns Hopkins, especially Mr. Jason Warshof and Ms. Lucy Bucknell. He would also like to thank Bill and Bonnie Wolf of Vette Vues Magazine for publishing his articles and fiction and also Andy Bolig of Corvette Magazine. He would sincerely like to thank actor Ed Asner, for the many Phone calls and valuable insights into the making of the TV show “Route 66” and for being so generous with his time.

 


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