The Reconstructed Man: (A Novella)
Central New Jersey, the Eastern Seaboard, and South Carolina: Late Spring 1958
He was checking out the rear end of the waitress who had taken his order, at the diner in central New Jersey. Two in the morning. March Third. On this, The Year of Our Lord 1958. His name was Ollie Stanton, Anglicized from the original Imperiole Santini-Ciccolo. Someone had passed him word that his capo, Giusseppi, wanted to see him.
So that's what he was doing there, at two in the morning, at this greasy spoon, having a bite just for something to do while he waited, trying to make time with the waitress just for the hell of it. He had asked for: scrambled eggs with cheese, ham, biscuits with jam, buttered toast, home fries, coffee, and apple crumb with vanilla ice cream for desert. "I'll start with that," he told her, handing back the menu.
"Big appetite," she said, expessionless and with complete neutrality.
"For many things," had been his oh so subtle reply.
As he waited for Giusseppi, Ollie was as impatient and fidgety as a kid stuck in church when he'd rather been outside playing stickball with his friends in the street. A feeling that had come over him many times in his youth, as a matter of fact. He had just decided to have a cigarette when she came back with his food. He thanked her, calling her 'sweetheart,' as had been customary in those days.
He couldn't remember a time when he saw Giusseppi, when the guy wasn't smackin' with the gum. Giusseppi came in chewing, spotted Ollie in the back and joined him at the booth. As usual, he was smiling like he had caught Ollie out at something. Ollie wanted to say, as usual, "What the hell are you leering at?" Putting a real intimidating steel in his voice.
But he couldn't do that. You had to show respect to the 'made' guys. Having a fit of pique with a made guy could get you rubbed-out in a hurry. Besides, Giusseppi was, technically, his boss.
"You want something?" Ollie said, only asking because seniority demanded deference.
Giusseppi shook his head. Apparently the flavor had gone out of his gum. He spit it out into a napkin, pulled out a pack, and went to work stuffing his jowls with a fresh new wad.
Once he had gotten it broken in, Giusseppi said, "That thing's on for tomorrow night."
"What 'thing'?" Ollie said.
"That thing we talked about. Its on for tomorrow night. Know what I mean?"
Ollie nodded. Yeah, he remembered now.
"You scared?" Giusseppi said.
Scared? Who, him, the Great and Powerful Ollie Stanton? How dare he! Ollie had a good mind to make him regret his insult, 'made' guy or no 'made' guy, capo or no capo. He started to fashion a response that would, civilly but firmly dramatize his mafioso, tough-minded cold-bloodedness...
Giusseppi waved him off. "Forget it, you can drop the mask for a minute. Its just you and me here. I was scared the first time I made my bones." He dropped his voice: "It is a scary thing to kill a man."
Ollie waited, saying nothing, showing how tough-mindedly cold-blooded he was---as any hardcore mafioso should be.
Giusseppi laughed. "Okay, okay, so you're not 'scared.' Are you nervous---even a little bit?"
"I've never done that kind of work before," Ollie said.
"Sure," Giusseppi said.
"I want to do a good job," Ollie said.
"Right?" Giusseppi said.
"And." Ollie took a breath. "It is a shame a guy's gotta get bumped off." There, Ollie would concede that. He would admit that. He would go that far but no farther. He had his pride. He was a tough-mindedly cold-blooded mafioso after all.
Ollie lit a cigarette and held the pack out to Giusseppi, offering him one. His capo shook his head and waved them away. Ollie had never seen the man eat anything, drink anything, or smoke anything. Too busy chewing his weight in bubble gum.
The waitress came over to see if there was anything else the glutton wanted; and to ask if 'everything was alright' with his food. And leave the check for "... whenever you're ready."
Ollie said "nah" to the first question and "just great" to the second. Calling her "dollface" this time. He said something else flirty to her -- to little apparent effect. Mainly he'd just wanted to demonstrate to Giusseppi that even so gruesome a subject as murder wasn't enough to take him---the great and powerful Ollie Stanton---off his game.
Giusseppi had never taken his eyes off him during the exhibition. Hands folded primly in front of him on the tabletop. Chewing his gum in slow motion.
As she turned to leave, Ollie had considered swatting her underhanded on the keister. But the stroke would have been awkward from his low-seated position; and, as a consequence, come off creepy instead of flirty.
Unfortunately for him, his capo had not failed to notice the anticipatory but stifled twitch of the muscles needed to do this. Giusseppi smiled at him again, chewing the gum in even slower motion.
What the hell are you gawking at?! Ollie always seemed to lose ground whenever Giusseppi was around. For some reason.
"Look," Giusseppi said, rising to leave. "Let's meet right here tomorrow at five in the afternoon. Okay?"
"Okay," Ollie said.
"And bring two shovels with you. Understand?" Giusseppi said.
Ollie nodded. "Okay. Why two shovels?"
"Information's on a need-to-know basis. Just be here at five with two shovels, right?"
Giusseppi grabbed up the check. "I'll get this for you." He went up front to the cash register. He paid his soldier's bill along with a hefty tip for the waitress, the "dollface." He said something to her, making her laugh and they both looked over at Ollie.
Ollie stewed in his own juices. He had no choice but to take it. You had to be careful with the made guys in this outfit. One wrong move, a hint of disrespect or even discourtesy, any sign that you were anything less than a good sport in the face of your superior's ribbing, and a poor schlub might not get to see the next day no matter how good an earner he was.
Giusseppi waved goodbye to him. Twinkling his fingers. Kind of like a dame would do. Catching Ollie by surprise. Hey was his capo, Giusseppi Lucanza, one of them...?
They met the next afternoon in the parking lot. Giusseppi said to Ollie, "You got the shovels?"
Ollie froze, saying nothing. Holy crap! He'd forgotten the shovels!
Giusseppi, as always, chewing his infernal gum. Smiling. Never caught off balance. "I got the shovels." He took them out of the back seat of his car and came over to Ollie. "We'll go in your car. You drive, okay?"
Didn't that guy ever get upset? Mad? Pissed off?
"Wait," Ollie said, "you're going with me... on the 'thing'?"
"That's who the shovels are for, you and me." Giusseppi said.
"But, you're gonna do this with me?" Let Ollie get this straight!
"That's right, partner. You and me, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," Giusseppi said.
"Why stick your neck out?"
"I wanna make sure everything goes right. This guy really needs to be taken care of, and I don't want anything to go wrong." He put a fatherly hand on his underling's shoulder. "Look, Ollie, I'm just looking out for you. You're my best earner and I want to make sure you get everything you got coming to you---for your future."
"Thanks." Yeah, his capo was one of them "sweet" guys!
They got into Ollie's car and left the parking lot. Giusseppi pointing and indicating. Telling Ollie to "turn left" here and "turn right" there, "go straight for two miles," and so forth until they got onto the highway.
Giusseppi said to "stay in the middle lane for ten miles." Going along, Ollie said, "So, how're we gonna do this?"
"As simply as possible," Giusseppi said. "We get hold of the guy, kill him, dig a deep hole, and put him in it. Then put the dirt back on top of the hole. I'm a sucker for the classics."
"Sweet" or not, Giusseppi was a stone killer. There simply wasn't any doubt about that. Before he'd been given his own crew, he had run with Albert Anastasia's gang of killers, Murder Incorporated, the internal disciplinary arm of the national Cosa Nostra. They went all over the country wackin' guys who had run afoul of the organization.
You would never know it to look at him, but Giusseppi Lucanza was a savant of murder, a living encyclopedia of homicidal techniques. He was expert with the gun, knife, garrote, or his bare hands. He'd never bothered learning martial arts or anything like that---though he had been a wrestler in high school... He just knew all about leverage and how hard and where to hit a guy to kill him, no matter how big he was.
He could kill you with a fork, a playing card, a book---paperback or hardcover. Just about anything the man picked up could become an instrument of most efficient and precise lethality. It was a gift.
He was also rather ahead of his time when it came to art of murder. For it was an art when he did the dance. He preferred to kill his victims in such a way as to not spill any blood. Even though his career began and would end decades before even the word 'forensics' came into use by the authorities, Giusseppi had always, nevertheless, been guided by the strange conviction that it was better to leave behind as little of himself as possible on a job; and to take away as little as possible of his victims.
"What about weapons?" Ollie said.
"Don't worry about it," Giusseppi said. "I brought along a garrote, a blackjack, and an ice pick." Thinking out loud Giusseppi said, "Yeah, maybe the ice pick."
The ice pick. Puncture the base of the skull. Lance and skewer the brain. Do it right and there was no bleeding. And Giusseppi Lucanza knew how to do it right.
"We're gonna be digging the hole first," the capo said. "More efficient that way, see?"
Whatever the man said!
"So, whose the guy?" Ollie said.
His capo was craning his neck forward, squinting. "Take this exit coming up."
"This one right here?"
"No, the one after it. Go up the ramp. Make a right turn and stay in the middle lane for awhile."
"The guy's name," said Giusseppi, "is Tommy Figuerolla."
"What'd he do?"
Giusseppi explained that the Midwest bosses had been putting up a luxury, combination hotel/casino/vacation resort with tennis courts, pools, golf courses, a horse racing track, and a professional indoor Jai Lai court, just outside of Las Vegas. It was gonna be huge. Still would be despite the little hiccup. Tommy Figuerolla was their man on the scene, the front man, the good-looking, smooth-talking guy who talked to the banks, the city council, the celebrities out west, convincing them to make their show-stopping appearances, and so forth.
"What went wrong?" Ollie said.
"Ah, what always goes wrong. The oldest story in the book."
"Caught with his hand in the cookie jar?"
"What made him think he could get away with it?" Ollie wanted to know.
"That, too, is an ancient, monotonous story," Giusseppi said.
"True love?" Ollie said.
"Apparently the kind that can make a man feel like Superman. Like he can do anything."
"Who is she?"
Giusseppi stared at his soldier until he caught his underling's eye. "You mean, 'who WAS she'?"
They were weaving a little on the highway. Giusseppi said to his man, "Keep your eyes on the road."
Ollie put his eyes back on the road, pulled himself together, and cut out the weaving on the highway.
"Who was she?"
"A former actress whose glory had passed her by. Her career overlapped the tail end of the silent movie era. She was still very beautiful. Ella Valozne was her name."
"Was that really necessary?" Ollie said. "The woman too?"
"Sure, she corrupted him," Giusseppi said. "As you know, our organization isn't known for mercy." The capo would have looked his underling in the eye with this, but Ollie wouldn't have been able to take it. The jellyfish fool would have lost control and gotten them both killed on this highway.
Still... "The Don is gonna want proof that we did him," said Giusseppi.
"Proof? What do you mean? What kind of proof?"
"Body parts," Giusseppi said. "We'll have to cut out his eyes, tongue, ears, and nose; as well as both hands and feet." He didn't have to look to know that Ollie was turning good and green at the gills.
"Don Dellaventura is... a hard man," Ollie managed to say.
"Don Dellaventura is a freakin' barbarian, if you want to know the truth," Giusseppi said. "But don't tell him I said that."
Yes, old man Dellaventura was a savage, bloodthirsty brute, possessed of a conquering ferocity to rival Genghis Khan. But the old man was rarely bereft of a method to his madness. Giusseppi pointed out that this mutilation of Figuerolla's body would make it difficult for the authorities to identify him, should his remains ever be found in the first place.
"Now, make this left turn right here. Right here," Giusseppi said. "And then take the second left, not the first one but the second left you can take."
Ollie took the immediate right turn and the second left.
A couple of miles later, they passed by the big sign welcoming them to the state of Virginia.
A few more straight miles found them on a lonely stretch of road with trees, trees, trees everywhere, on either side of the road. There was nothing around but trees.
Giusseppi said, "Pull over right here. I gotta take a piss."
"The sign said a rest stop's coming up," Ollie said.
"No way, I can't wait," the capo said. "Pull it over right here. My bladder's gonna bust."
Ollie pulled the car off the road to the side. Giusseppi got out hurriedly, walking funny like a man with a bladder about to blow. He disappeared behind a tree.
Four men came out from behind the trees on one side of the road. Another four came from out of the foliage on the other side of the road. All eight of them had automatic weapons. They fired into the car where Ollie was sitting. The gunmen mercilessly shredded him and the vehicle, not stopping until their weapons were all empty.
Giusseppi Lucanza re-materialized. Though he had exaggerated, he really needed to piss. But he had refused to do so while his former number one earning soldier was dying. It would have been like literally pissing on his grave.
Another one of Giusseppi's men drove up in what looked like a white ice cream truck. There was plenty of room to put a body on ice in the refrigerated conveyance. Two of the men put Ollie's dead body in there.
Giusseppi got in the truck along with two of his men, dismissing the other six. The capo had to go now to see an old friend. Since he knew the way, the capo simply took the wheel himself.
The first thing they had to do was to properly attend to the dead body of Ollie Stanton. Giusseppi wanted some coffee and something to chew on. His two men with him probably could use something as well. Time to leave the Land of Trees and find civilization again.
He started her up and got underway. The gum he was chewing had long lost its flavor, so he spit it out---and just happened to hit a deer right on the nose with it. Remarkable! Giusseppi thought the whole thing was hysterical.
"Did you see that?" he said to his men. "I got him right on the nose." The capo laughed and laughed. Leaning out of the window going the other way he yelled, "Sorry Bambi!"
The other thing Giusseppi needed to do was take that piss he'd been holding. He decided he could hold it a bit longer. He'd unload when they came back to the Land of Trees to fix the dead body of Ollie Stanton. He really didn't feel like getting out of the truck just now. He'd send Mike and Petey into the store for him.
They found a strip mall with a Walgreens and pulled into the lot. He asked Petey and Mike to go into Walgreens for him. "You know what I want?" said Giusseppi. "Those chewable kind of candies. Not the hard, sucking kind and I don't want gum. Grab me any kind of chewable candies they have. If they got those big old buckets of chewable peppermints---hot damn!---get me one of those, okay?"
Giusseppi pulled out some bills and handed them over. "And also a cup of black coffee, okay? Get whatever you guys want out of this as well. Blow it all."
They went in and Giusseppi faced forward, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.
The boys made it back with the stuff. Hot damn! Giusseppi took a swig of the hot black coffee and while they were on the road again, he shoved a few of the chewable peppermints, from the bucket, into his eager mouth. The flavors soothed his soul.
His inner prosecutor said, "Your teeth are gonna fall out one of these days, Giusseppi." To which his inner defense counsel said, "Yeah, maybe. But that's what dentures are for."
They returned to the Land of Trees, quite a ways away from where they had hit Ollie. Giusseppi veered the truck off the highway into the interior of the forest, along what looked like a bicycle trail. When he judged their obscurity from the road to be suitable and when the truck really couldn't go any further---whichever came first, he stopped.
Giusseppi and Mike got out. Petey started to but the capo said, "Nah, that's alright Petey. Stay in the truck and watch things." Giusseppi excused himself to duck behind a tree and take that piss he'd been holding ever since they had hit Ollie---at long last!
Relieved, he rejoined Mike. Giusseppi put on some coveralls, a smock, a pair of gloves that went up to his elbows, and a welder's mask. He grabbed the coil of rope out of the truck and put it around his shoulder. He had a kind of utility belt wrapped around his waist, and in it, a lightweight, handheld, battery-powered saw he hoped would suffice.
Mike and Giusseppi grabbed Ollie's body out of the truck and started carrying it. "Look for a tree with a protruding branch we can hang him from," he said to Mike about the body.
They eventually found something suitable. Giusseppi tied the rope around Ollie's throat and threw the other end over the branch; and he and Mike hoisted the body up; Mike leaned back with all his weight and strength as Giusseppi tied the other end off around the trunk of another tree right next to this hanging post.
Ollie's body was hanging now. Twisting slowly, slowly in the wind. The next thing they had to do was dig a trench around the tree to catch the blood. Before Giusseppi could see his old friend, he would need to bleed this body dry and extract all of the bullets.
"Do me a favor, go back and get the two shovels," he told Mike.
Mike left and returned in a jiffy with the two shovels. The two of them dug a circular trench around the tree to catch the blood. That done, he dismissed his man. "Thanks Mike. You can go back to the truck. I think Petey's getting lonely."
Alone at last, Giusseppi used the battery-powered handsaw to sever the feet. He had a little trouble with the bones but he persevered. Dashed, however, were his hopes of coming out of the operation splotch-free. The blood dropped into the circular trench surrounding the tree. This would take some time.
He took a seat somewhere and waited. Drinking his coffee and chomping his chewable peppermints. He chuckled. People were a trip. While he had been waiting for Mike and Petey, back at the Walgreen's, people had come up to him with their dollars out, looking to buy some ice cream.
He turned them away, of course, since he wasn't an ice cream truck. But every third or fourth person would say, "But you look like an ice cream truck."
What was he supposed to say to that? Did they think he was holding out on them? Did they think he was merely refusing to sell his inventory? That he had given up on capitalism? That he had turned Communist or something?
It's as if they thought the words "But you look like an ice cream truck," were a sorcery spell that would suddenly cause the chocolate pops and orange creamsicles and bubble gum Yazoos to miraculously appear.
Excuse me, Mr. Mystical Dragon. Yes, you sir in front of the cave. Would you mind moving to one side, please? You are blocking the most valuable treasure of the milk-based delights of ice cream: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, butter pecan, vanilla fudge, chocolate fudge, fudge fudge...
What is the magic word? said the Dragon. And its not 'please.'
Abra Cadabra Ali Kazaan, one-two buckle my shoe: But you look like an ice cream truck!
God love 'em, thought Giusseppi. It was that kind of magical thinking that made them suckers at the gambling tables. Made them go to the tables in the first place.
He got up and started shadowboxing. Bouncing around on his toes. Throwing one-twos, two-ones. Jabs-right cross combinations. Bobbing and weaving. Right-cross leads. Uppercuts. Downstairs, working the body.
Not stopping. Taking it seriously now. Tight stance: hands up, elbows tucked, chin pointed at the chest, eyes forward, seeing everything. Catching punches on his gloves, shoulders. Slipping blows. Never giving the guy a clear, fixed target.
Elusive but not running. Stick and move. Planting his feet when on the attack. Jab like a piston. Taking the fool's head off with it. Stick and move. Jab-right cross. Fight when you want to. Move when you have to. Clinch to take a breather.
Working up a sweat now. Throwing blistering combinations. Upstairs-downstairs. Mixing it up. The other guy's on the ropes. Pummel the living crap out of him. But he's not going down. The dude's playing possum. Back up. Regain your composure. Box him. Box him. Go back to your jab.
Finally, the guy makes a mistake. Practically falls into your left hook. His legs turn to spaghetti. Move in for the kill. Throw the kitchen sink at him. Kill! Kill! Kill!
Lay into the guy leaning against the ropes. The ref steps in between and waves it off. The fight is over.
Ladies and gentlemen. The referee has halted the bout at two minutes and forty-two seconds of the tenth round. The winner by technical knockout and the NEW LIGHTHEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WOOOOOOORRRRLLLLLDDDDD..... GIUSSEPPI 'THE ITALIAN TORNADO' LUCANZA.... LUCANZA!
Now he's waiting in the wings, ready to be announced to the crowd. His posture relaxed but erect. His tuxedo is impeccable. Black hair greased back. Freshly whitened teeth gleaming like star lights. Dimpled chin.
The man says: And now, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a very warm welcome to the Palladium Room... Here he is girls, the one, the only 'Gable from Naples,' the 'Neopolitan Dream,' the 'Mediterranean Bohemian,' Giusseppii... wait, they would probably give him a new name, something Anglicized to go over better with a mainstream audience.... Joseph? Yeah, Joseph Lucas... Joseph Lucas! Put your hands together for Joseph Lucas!
He glides onto the stage. The applause is deafening. "How's everybody doing tonight?" he says, when the clapping finally dies down... Pretty good, he reckons...
He turns to the orchestra. "Mr. Popper, 'Stella by Starlight,' if you please. The music starts. He turns back to the crowd with that legendary smile. He's got them in the palm of his hands. Especially the women, as he sways his body from side to side. Eyes half-closed. Clasping the microphone sincerely close to his body with both hands...
He always best admired the way Ray Charles covered that song.
Coming in for the wind up he sings "A great symophonic theme."
"That's Stella by Starlight"
"And not a dream."
"Oh, my heart and I agree."
"She's everything on earth to me."
And the chorus sings: "On earth to me."
The crowd is on their feet. He brought the house down again. 'Joseph Lucas' has brought the sold out house down again. He bows again and again. Blows kisses.
"Thank you, Thank you. I love you all." The trees have been a most appreciative audience.
Now he was on the big screen (and maybe he'd occasionally stoop to do television and radio sometimes). In this picture he's playing opposite Marilyn Monroe. In that pictures he's opposite Lauren Bacall. Now, Jane Mansfield. Now, Barbara Stanwyck. Now Jane Russell.
Now he's sizzling the celluloid. Crackling it with tension as he plays against the likes of Robert Mitchum.... Gregory Peck... Alan Ladd... John Wayne.... William Powell.... Humphrey Bogart..
He, "Joseph Lucas" gets mobbed everywhere he goes out in public... It got to be so bad that he sometimes has to go about town in disguise...
Admired by men... Adored by women... "May I have your autograph, Mr. Lucas?" "Make it out to 'My pal, George.' Oh, thank you. I will cherish this forever."
On the screen, "Joseph Lucas" is heroic... wise... bold... adventurous... brave.... patriotic... even villainous(but always charmingly so)...
Now he's seated among his peers at the Academy Awards ceremony. Nothing but black tuxedos and glamorous white gowns everywhere. Joseph Lucas sitting next to a gorgeous, buxom twenty-something: his date who dotes on him---even if she does have "father issues."
And the Academy Award for Best Lead Actor goes to.... Joseph Lucas for his role as General John J. Walker in the film "U.S. Airborne Troopers Over The Rhineland."
He gets to his feet somehow. He is positively overcome. He gives his juicy date a squeeze. Everybody around him is shaking hands with him. Hugging and kissing him. Congratulations! It couldn't have happened to a better guy; a more wonderful actor; a more legendary talent. You deserve this and so much more, they seem to say.
As he makes his way to the stage, everybody and his mother seems to want to touch him. These people are his peers and yet they're going all ga-ga over him like their simple fans.
He steps behind the microphone. The announcer shakes hands with him. The showgirl eye-candy gives him a pleasantly, slightly titillating hug.
Tears well up... This is so unexpected... It's just a honor being nominated... He chokes up several times, unable to continue. Constantly stopping and starting..
"I'd like to thank the Good Lord, first of all..."
"My mother and father who raised me with decent, patriotic, hardworking American values..."
"... my school teachers back in Long Island..... my best friends with whom I played stick ball growing up..."
".... my acting coach, Mr. Little, who made me hate him at times but he wouldn't stop pushing me until he got every bit of talent out of me.... Thank you Mr. Little..."
"I'd like to thank the fabulous organization of MGM/Goldwyn-Mayer Studios... my agent, the best little publicity man in all North America."
"I really want to thank all my co-stars and supporting cast..." Hoisting the golden statue above his head he says, "I want you all to know that this award is not mine alone.... This belongs to all of us. ALL OF US!"
"You know," Joseph Lucas, the dreamboat says, "I scarcely know what to say. But when I first read this script, I said to myself..."
And he goes on like that, "not knowing what to say" for two hours.
The trees are a very supportive audience. Giusseppi sat down and again and entertained more sedate fantasies...
Like being a great author, taking the baton from Hemmingway, Faulkner, Proust, and that bunch. Writing his Great American Novel. Revolutionizing literature. Winning the Nobel Prize. Making a dignified speech of acceptance before that August body in Switzerland. And happily taking the check for a million bucks of course!
Like being a famous magician. Smooth, mesmerizing stage presence. Assisted by the beautiful Zelda who distracts the audience; misdirection. Putting her in a box and sawing her in half. And putting her back together. The audience roars. Clamors for more. Hmm, indication of mass misogyny? Moving on, taking the baton from Houdini. The Greatest Escape Artist of All Time. Put me in chains, lock me in a trunk, and sink me to the bottom of the ocean---Davey Jones's locker. Put me in a coffin, in chains, and bury me alive. Put me---bound and gagged---in a car and have the car smashed in one of those junkyard crushers.
DO ALL THIS AND MORE TO ME AND WATCH ME ESCAPE IT! NO BONDAGE, NO ENCUMBRANCE, NO PRISON CAN HOLD ME!
Or, what about being a simple but elegant classical pianist? That Liberace guy seems to do alright with it.
Giusseppi forced himself to snap out of it and drank the rest of his, now, long-gone-cold, coffee. Just some of the ways his life could have gone---if his life had gone different kind of ways.
He went back to the truck and got Mike again. They came back to the spot, and, together, got the body down from over the blood pit. Mike cut the rope as Giusseppi held onto the body, leaning back, away from the pit, hoping he didn't fall in and hoping that he didn't twist, fracture, sprain, or break something of his own in the process.
Praise The Lord! They had managed this without the boss getting bloody or hurt in any way. Giusseppi took the battery-powered hand saw and took off both hands. He got out his pocket knife and dug out the eyes. He used a pair of pliers and carefully removed the teeth one-by-one.
He looked at Mike---not accusingly, just absently, in thought---and said, "F*#k me!"
Giusseppi shook his head. "Nothing."
"Didn't sound like nothing."
"That's okay, Mike. Thank you, I won't need your help anymore. You can go back to the truck with Petey. When I'm done here, I'll just carry the body back over my shoulder. I can handle it alone."
"Don't you want me to at least fill in the pit?"
"No, I'll take care of it."
Mike shook his head and sighed. "You work too hard, boss," he said and went back to the truck.
Giusseppi realized that he had not made even the simplest provision for transporting the body parts. They had been expected to butcher the guy, and bring back the body parts to show Don Dellaventura. But Giusseppi had not planned things out very well at all.
Nothing! He had nothing: not a bag, not a box, not anything to carry the eyes, hands, feet, and teeth all the way back to New Jersey.
He swore to the heavens once again. He made a circle with his hands, flexing them, imagining Don Dellaventura's neck between them. With that out of his system, he deflated into resignation. He'd just have to think of something to tell the Don. Maybe the Godfather would be satisfied with a photo, just this once.
He threw the eyes, teeth, hands, and feet into the blood pit and covered it back up with the previously displaced dirt. He slung the body over his shoulder and went back to the truck.
As he was making his way, Giusseppi thought about what he would have done if someone had happened to come upon him, doing what he had been doing to a corpse. Depending on who it was. A woman?: He couldn't kill a woman; and unless she was at least a little psychotic, she would try to tell the police. He couldn't allow that, could he?
But he wouldn't kill a woman. It was not women who made the world a fetid jungle with everybody clawing to survive. Besides, all she would have seen is he, Giusseppi, mutilating a body that had, in truth, already been dead. It was one thing to establish that; it was quite another to actually prove that he had had something to do with Ollie's death. There would be nothing to do but walk away.
A child, someone under the age of 18? Under 21?: Again, it was not the young who made the world a fetid, steaming jungle of competing vermin struggling to survive. In addition to that, you had to hold out hope that the next generation might just make things at least a little better.
A man, say, between 25-55? Alone, just one man?: Snap his neck? Kill him and have two dead bodies in his lap? Unless he was a homeless derelict, someone might come looking for him. Still, mightn't Giusseppi have time enough to do what he needed to do and escape?
Two or more men?: Well, if there were two men, he might have a long-shot chance of breaking both of their necks. Maybe. But what if they were armed?
But if they were psychotic?: Then they would find the whole thing groovy, maybe, and offer to help. But they would, no doubt, want in on the criminal conspiracy. They would probably think they had stumbled upon a way cool murder club or something.
But psychotics are always liabilities, as Don Dellaventura demonstrates so colorfully, on an almost daily basis; as such, they would need to be killed eventually, sooner rather than later.
Fine. Let the psychotics help him. Let them think they had stumbled upon a way cool murder club. Even let them meet Mike and Petey. Hang out. Party. Scope out a likely target. But, of course, what comes next is that we slit the throats of the two psychotics while they sleep. Do the world an A-Number One-Primo-Favor in the process.
Giusseppi got back to the truck, dumped the body in without help, and got behind the wheel. "Let's find a motel. I gotta sleep."
Giusseppi had thought about trying to dig out the bullets. They were going to place the body in the care of one of his oldest friends, an undertaker. Giusseppi did not want to show his friend disrespect by giving over to him a body riddled with bullets. But as he had been poised over the body, pocket knife in hand, considering it, he had decided that he would probably make more of a mess in digging out the bullets.
Anyway, they drove around, stopped at a supermarket, picked up some more ice for the body, looked for a motel, found some place decent, and checked into separate rooms.
Giusseppi would not remember getting out of his clothes, down to his underwear, but he had done so. He turned on the television just in time for the six o'clock news. He got into bed, looking at the grandfatherly, utterly trustworthy face of Walter Cronkite.
He imagined himself in that role. Joseph Lucas. Rolled up shirt sleeves. Tie unwound around his neck. Distinguished-looking salt-and-pepper hair. Maybe some glasses; Giusseppi had a face for horn-rimmed glasses. Chiseled cheek bones. Holding some papers in his hands. Shuffling them all the time. Rich, baritone voice, soothing, comforting, authoritative
This is the six o'clock news. I'm Joseph Lucas. In the news this evening....
He went to sleep.
What a thing: filling a man full of holes; hauling his dead carcass across multiple state lines; chopping it up and draining it like a butcher; and worrying about bringing back pieces of the body to satisfy the sick gratification of his Don.
This is not what he had signed up for, twelve years ago, when he got straightened out in Jersey City. Standing in front of various eminent gentlemen of the enterprise. Some of whom he had looked up to his whole life. Taking the oath of fealty to the organization. Holding a burning image of a saint in his hands. Vowing to protect This Thing of Ours, if necessary, with the gun, the knife, the rope, or even his bare hands. Promising to hold it above all else: above himself; above his mother; above his blood; above his family; above his country; above his God.
Don Dellaventura was an idiot, no doubt about it, a maniacal psychopath who never should have been elevated to Godfather. Actually, by rights, he should have been killed years ago. But it was his general psychopathy that was so bad for business. If it hadn't been for the fact that he was Sicilian, a thug, and as such, eligible for membership within the somewhat formalizing, disciplinarian, restraining organization of what some newspapers call the 'Mafia,' Dellaventura, surely, would have turned out to be your garden variety lone, sick, twisted sonofabitch of a serial killer.
The Godfather was always ordering people to be killed. Always demanding to be brought back 'trophies,' which he said were just confirmations that his enemies had been destroyed. But Giusseppi knew better. The sick freak derived cannibalistic titillation from severed body parts.
Dellaventura was a necrophiliac who couldn't get it up unless the broad was dead. How did Giusseppi know all this? Don't ask. Ten years later and he still couldn't get that image out of his head. He felt corrupted and filthy every time his mind tripped over it!
Anyway, you know that favorite coffee mug of his? The white one with the inlaid gold picture of the Tree of Life or some such? Made from the skull of a hated rival twenty-five years ago. It breaks your heart. To think of the man who had preceded Dellaventura as Don: a prince of a man---Dellaventura's own father! The difference was like going from Julius and Augustus Caesar to Caligula and Nero.
The dumb Guido didn't know the first thing about honor, about tradition. Dellaventura wasn't the only one to be sure. So many Gumbas didn't understand what This Thing of Ours was all about. It wasn't about sticking your chest out and acting tough. It wasn't about being an outlaw. It wasn't about giving decent society the finger. It wasn't about running wild, like a bull in a China shop, doing whatever you wanted, to whomever you wanted, whenever you wanted. It wasn't about acting like you were Jesse and Frank James, Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and John Dillinger all rolled up into one.
It was about broadening America's prosperity. Don't laugh! It was about honoring capitalism. Not taking a crap all over the free enterprise system. It was about accommodation, communication, and cooperation. Not competition. There was enough to go around for all legitimate participants.
It was about doing business in a businesslike way, while keeping violence to an absolute minimum. After all, you didn't see Ford and Chevrolet salesmen shooting at each other, did you? Of course not. That was why the visionaries, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky had needed to engineer the great purge of the 1930s. Wiping out anachronisms like Joe 'The Boss' Messeria and Salvatore Maranzano, the old guard like that. They had been old fashioned and provincial in their outlook and methods of operation.
They didn't even want to do business with anybody but Sicilians. Petty, venal, mean-spirited, small-minded, suspicious, and paranoid. Drive-by shoot-outs every week. It got to be so bad that an entrepreneur couldn't turn over an honest buck.
You know what This Thing of Ours is all about---really about---at the end of the day? Its about supplying the needs and wants of the people. Its about being on the ground floor of enterprises, which, at present, are illegal, but which might, one day, become legal. It happened with booze. With luck---as well as the assiduous maintenance of the right relationships with the right people in the legislatures and the courts---the same might very well be said for prostitution, narcotics, and especially gambling (Giusseppi was basically a bookie at heart).
This generation probably wouldn't live to see it. Nor their children. But what a world it could be for their grandchildren or great grandchildren, who could very well, almost literally, inherit the Earth.
But only if this generation was smart. Only if they kept violence to a minimum. So that the public wouldn't associate narcotics, prostitution, and gambling with some kind of necessarily subsequent increase in violence and 'other criminality.' That was certainly the philosophy Giusseppi Lucanza brought to bear upon running his little corner of the universe. He took a page out of the book of Angelo Bruno, the man who ran things in Philadelphia. The man everybody called the 'Gentle Don.'
When it came to smoothing out the inevitable bumps in the road of commerce, Don Bruno's first, second, and third options were patient negotiation, patient negotiation, and patient negotiation. However, once in a while, you got a guy who proved to be intractable. Happily though, his horrific death---body hanging from a rusty meat hook, relieved of his entrails, with a nominal amount of cash stuffed in his mouth---tended to serve an educative function. Once again reminding all of his peers that an attitude of reasonableness was just the best thing for fostering an environment of harmony in business.
Giusseppi Lucanza himself, personally planned to retire from the game rich, very rich. And to enjoy the fruits of his ill-gotten gains without looking over his shoulder. Move to Miami or Tampa. Buy a condo. And bust a move with a hot, sixty-something babe on the dance floor.
He was roused from his reveries by a knock at his door.
He jerked awake and said, "Come in."
It was Mike and Petey. "Hey, boss," Mike said. "We got you a black coffee and orange juice."
"And a bagel with a schmear," Petey said.
Giusseppi sat up on the edge of the bed. "Thanks. Say, what time is it?"
"Three o'clock," Mike said.
"Monday?" Giusseppi said.
"Tuesday," Petey said.
"Tuesday? You mean to tell me I been in here, sleeping straight through since Sunday afternoon?"
Yep. Mike and Petey thought that was about right.
"Why didn't you guys check on me to see if I was still alive?"
"We knew you were still alive," Mike said.
"Sure," Petey said.
"Heard you snoring through these thin walls," Mike said.
"Poor thing," Petey said, "you needed your rest."
In no time at all Giusseppi had guzzled his O.J. in three big gulps, destroyed three-quarters of his bagel-with-schmear, and he was sipping his coffee. "You two all situated," he said, "and ready to roll?"
Mike and Petey indicated that they were.
"So what did you two get up to while I was unconscious? Did you at least get laid?"
"Sure, boss," Mike said. "Several times."
Petey was suddenly wearing a goofy grin. "We had twins. We kept switching them back and forth between us."
"And front to back, I might add," Mike said.
Giusseppi smiled and shook his head. Even in his fondness for them, he could still be surprised at how coarse they could be. "You dirty, dirty boys!"
"That's us," Mike agreed.
"Rankin' filthy," Petey said.
Giusseppi took twenty minutes to shower, shave, and dress. He finished up his coffee.
"Boss?" Petey said.
"What are we doing?"
Giusseppi waited. ".... on this earth? Is that a philosophical question?"
"No," Petey said, "as fascinating as I know your insights would be. I was thinking more practically. I was wondering why we're traveling all over creation, with a body."
Giusseppi did not look at Mike. "We're going to put him somewhere no one will ever think to look for him."
"Couldn't we do that anywhere?" Petey said.
Giusseppi looked at him, thinking. "Remember I told you that the Godfather wanted him tortured for information before we killed him?"
"But you didn't want to do that," Mike said.
"You see, Petey, we're sort of... wasting a little time," Giusseppi said. "If we got back too soon, the Don might think we had been lax in the carrying out of our assignment."
"Which we were, in a way," Mike said, "since we didn't torture old Ollie before putting him out of his misery."
"So... it's like we're padding the clock?" Petey said.
"Something like that," Giusseppi said.
"Hey, you guys I don't like to work harder than I have to; and I don't mind milking the clock. But I still don't understand why we have to cart a corpse around with us while we see America."
Giusseppi did not look at Mike; and Mike did not look at him.
"I'm going to have to ask you to just trust me on this, Petey," the boss said.
Petey shrugged. It was cool. He had been curious, so he asked. He asked because the boss was the kind of guy you could question. He didn't lay on the 'Yours is not to question why but to obey,' routine, so Petey had asked. He had worked for some authoritarian a-holes in The Life, so he was grateful for where he had wound up; he just might have a future working for this guy.
The boss had his reasons, whatever they were, for being mysterious. The Life was all about mystery. The boss asked Petey to trust him; he already did, in spades! But come to think of it, in all his life, no one had ever asked for Petey's trust. It felt good.
It was time to go and they were ready to shove off. The boys gave Giusseppi a few packs of Big Red gum in a brown paper bag.
"Thanks," he said. That ought to hold him until they got to South Carolina. Giusseppi was working on a wad before they hit the door.
They went to the truck, checked the refrigeration to make sure the corpse remained chilled. Then they got in, Mike took the wheel for a while, and they got underway.
Out of all the guys Giusseppi Lucanza knew or associated with in the Mob, the Life, Petey and Mikey were the guys he most enjoyed spending time with. They were guys a lot like himself. Most other Mob guys, guys in the Life---most other Italians he knew, for that matter---had all kinds of social hang ups around race.
They were so obsessed with assimilation, with being Americans; they were so happy to be told that they were being accepted as good Anglos, so happy to go from a bad social condition in the old country to one in which they would be part of the favored castes in the United States, that it drove them just a little bit crazy with hate for Negroes, Latinos, not to mention Indians, and every other non-Anglo. It was 'shine,' this and 'coon' that. Here a 'spook,' there a 'jungle bunny.'
That Negro leader (relax people, 'Negroes' is what they called themselves in those days) Malcom X sure said it right when he said; 'The first word immigrants learn when they come over here is okay, and the second word is nigger.'
But Giusseppi, Petey, and Mike did not have such hang up; and didn't feel the need to put on a good show for their colleagues and other fellow Italians. The three of them really dug on aspects of American Negro culture.
For this reason the three of them could amuse themselves for hours, singing along to the top forty on the radio to the musical stylings of The Flamingos, Fred Paris and The Satins, The Four Tops, The Dell Vikings, and others---which is what they did.
Petey had the best voice, so he sang the leads. Petey was pretty good. Giusseppi thought that Petey, had he so chosen, could have made a real, honest-to-God living with his singing. He also played a little piano: jazz and bebop. And believe it or not, he could tap dance a step or two.
"I like tap dancing," Petey once said. "Its the only form of dance you can both watch and just listen to and get a kick out of it."
Petey knew better than to share this simple personal taste with other Mob guys or even many other Italians, so obsessed were they with assimilation into good Anglo-Americans. "They're so obsessed," he said one time, "they're giving away what James Brown calls 'Soul Power.'"
Giusseppi wondered if Petey had ever thought about a career in show business. Perhaps, though, the call of The Life had been too strong. Best song and dance man in the Mob.
They came to a rest stop, got out and stretched their legs, went to the restroom, got something to eat, and got back on the road. Petey took the wheel for a little bit.
After the singing, the horsing around, and conversation died down, each man had time to spend with his own thoughts.
Giusseppi tried not to think about anything. And failed spectacularly!
He thought about the fact that, perhaps, most of the so-called Mafia 'Dons'/'Godfathers' in America, were, at the end of the day, two-bit thugs who were profoundly unworthy of the tremendous wealth and power they wielded.
But this was not just his opinion or feeling that comes out of nowhere, he felt. In Giusseppi Lucanza's opinion, the Dons themselves had proven that that was precisely how they viewed themselves! Their behavior ratted them out. It was late Springtime, 1958. The Appalachian fiasco had taken place a year ago.
All the Godfathers from all over the country gathered in upstate New York. They were just talking. The cops come and what happens? Those old fools, those depraved, old, dough-fleshed so-called 'Godfathers' take off running like punk hoods who snatched some old ladies' purses.
The Mob was supposed to be organized. Since when do men of their station run from cops? You don't run from cops! You pay them off and send them to the store to get you a cup of coffee and a pack of cigarettes.
Sure, those punks got rounded up by the cops. Too many years of rich food and easy living had made it unlikely that those ancients could out-foot young, fit patrolmen.
And then the Godfathers get all scared. Praying to God. Praying to his mother. Praying to the Holy Ghost. Praying to all the saints.
And what happens? What happens? I ask you: what happens? Those garbage charges get thrown out of court and everybody goes home. After all, is it a crime to visit with your friends over barbeque?
But them running like that---the footage had been played endlessly on the television---really showed Giusseppi something. There hadn't been a day that went by that he didn't think about that: long and hard.
And the whole thing about... the whole thing about it... was the fact that his Don, Godfather Dellaventura---in addition to being a sick, psychopathic, cannibal, freak necrophiliac---had been at that meeting. He had been doing the headless---gutless---poultry trot along with the rest of them.
The secret community, fraternity, This Thing of Ours, had been shamed that day. There was not telling what the Friends back in Italy, who surely must have seen that... that... disgraceful display, thought!
But hey, you take purse snatchers and kiddie porn peddlers, and put them in charge of multimillion dollar, national enterprises, it doesn't matter. They're still purse snatchers and kiddie porn peddlers. B&E artists more interested in sniffing panties and peeping women in the showers. Ambushing grandma and grandpa for their Social Security checks. Taking candy from babies. Wrenching it out of their little hands in their mothers' strollers.
That whole 'honor' and 'respect' thing sure goes out the window fast when the pressure gets turned on!
What was there to be afraid of? The plan was unbeatable; the structure unbreakable. This Thing of Ours had been around forever, going back centuries in Sicily. It would continue for centuries more, both back home and in America. In spite of the deranged, cowardly, and incompetent helmsman-ship of people like Don Dellaventura and some of his colleagues.
Were they supposed to be afraid of the government? Were they supposed to fear the Kennedys? Old man Joe Kennedy was in no position to throw stones. In fact, he'll probably reach out to the organization for help getting one of his snot-nosed sons elected President of the United States (1). Probably Bobby.
Everybody knows old man Kennedy was 'mobbed up,' going back to Prohibition (2). He was a thug with a briefcase. Giusseppi knew hardened Mob guys who wouldn't go as far as Kennedy had gone to build his fortune (3).
Were they supposed to start quaking in their boots because a couple of Kennedy brats were putzing around on some Senate committee, looking into the involvement of organized crime in the labor unions (4)? Jack and Bobby.
Jack probably wouldn't live long enough to see anything come of it. Have you seen that guy? He looks like a refugee (5). Something wrong with his adrenal system. His body can't make enough adrenaline. Something like that (6).
Okay, so a few of their people were getting deported. But still, were they all supposed to raise their hands to heaven just because some careless macaroni heads hadn't gotten their paperwork straight?
They were in Tennessee now, stopping over in Nashville. It was time for the boss to take some personal time for himself. Whenever he traveled down south, he liked to look in on brothel owner, Rachel Laran.
She and Giusseppi had met when she was twenty and he was nineteen. She had been a call girl then. After their first negotiated encounter, Giusseppi sought her out exclusively; and simply kept it zipped when she wasn't available.
He wanted to know everything about her: where she had come from; what had happened to her, both good and bad, to have made her so very wonderful. She laughed at him for his foolishness; and one night had pushed him off her, sat up in bed, lit a cigarette, and let him have it.
Her father, though never indicted, had almost certainly killed his wife, her mother to: get his hands on the life insurance money; prevent her from getting a divorce and suing him for his assets, not to mention crippling alimony and child support; and to prevent her from taking custody of their only child, whom he professed to love.
There had been no physical or sexual abuse. But when Rachel had turned sixteen, her father took her to a brothel. He said it was time she learned a trade. When she said: What about college? He said: Whose brain was she going to use to pass the classes? Life with dad had been punctuated with just such Hallmark moments up to this point.
She took great pride in the secret fact that she had, later, been able to have her father killed. Having made circumspect arrangements for his boat to be blown to Kingdom Come, as he was sailing Biscayne Bay. Of course, just exactly what happened to the kid dynamite, who had actually pulled the job, was a bit of a mystery...
She had gone unsuspected and undetected. She had already changed her name and her identity so thoroughly that no one ever made the family connection between her and dear old dad. The murder went on the books and stayed on the books as an unsolved homicide.
Giusseppi asked her to marry him.
She said, "No."
She said, "Its not you, its me."
She said, "I'm fond of you. You know that."
She said, "I love you, but I'm not in love with you."
She said, "I'm not the marrying kind."
She said, "I'm not what you want and I'm not what you need."
She said, "I'm too jaded and broken a girl for a boy like you."
She said, "You're so innocent."
She said, "Don't laugh, you are. I know your in the 'Mafia' but... right, okay, I know, don't say that word. But you are. Innocent, I mean. Otherwise you'd be on Wall Street where the real stealing happens."
Giusseppi went home to his record collection. He played songs specifically about worshipful, unrequited love. He played the Flamingos, "I Only Have Eyes for You," over and over again, wearing the record out. He played "Since I Don't Have You" by the Skyliners, over and over again. He played "Tears on My Pillow," by Little Anthony and The Imperials, over and over and over again. He played "Stella by Starlight,"---the way Ray Charles did it---over and over again. And on and on and on. Smoke was coming off the forty-five records when he finally laid off.
Rachel's pimp was known as Greene Browne---that was his legal name, two colors like that. He was a snappy dresser. He was a white man, but his wardrobe had clearly been influenced by the Negro and Mexican zoot suiters (7).
Well, it came to pass that Browne was feeling insecure about his operation. He felt a mutinous spirit in the air, as though his girls were about to bolt on him. He had taken to going on long road trips with his girls. Trying to shore up the bonds that had drawn them together in mutually beneficial business arrangements in the first place.
Greene Browne made it a practice to impregnate his girls. He wanted them to have his children, so that they would feel more powerfully bound to him. Rachel had refused his good loving, and he raped her.
Giusseppi heard about this. Not from Rachel. It was not her style to cry on a man's shoulder, or look for a White Knight to protect her.
Somebody put the snatch on Greene Browne. He was not seen again until his naked body turned up, one afternoon, floating majestically in the East River. Face up, family jewels stuffed in his mouth. Sealed with waterproof tape. His whole head mummified with the stuff.
One after another would-be successor came forward to take control of the stable of girls. But one-by-one they 'poofed' into thin air, never to be seen or heard from again, anywhere, in any form.
Pretty soon the girls got the nickname 'The Haunted Whores.' Giusseppi made arrangement for the girls to come under the protection of his Family, when it was run by the good man, who had preceded the psychopathic Don Dellaventura, under the direct, day-to-day management of Rachel, who had a first-class mind for business in spite of her late father's opinion.
She was the natural choice. She had been a mother/older sister/auntie figure to the girls already, and they had been used to deferring to her. Rachel refined, expanded, and classed up the operation, making it a wildly successful arm of the Family business.
Giusseppi asked Rachel to marry him.
He said, "Rachel, I love you. I adore you."
He said, "I'm doing well now, financially, and its only gonna get better. I can give you the life you deserve."
He said, "I understand what you say about loving me but not being in love with me. But that kind of thing can grow with time."
He said, "If two people, like you and me, can start with a foundation of mutual respect, caring; if two people like each other as close friends, like you and me, love can grow."
He said, "Rachel, if you give me a chance, I know I can make you love me."
He said, "Marry me, Rachel, and I will make you love me."
He said, "No one can love you like I can. No one understands you like I do."
He said, "I am the One you were meant for, Rachel; and you are the One I was meant for."
His pleas had had no effect.
The psychopathic Gregorio Dellaventura made his climb to power, unleashing a vicious, bloody intramural conflict. It was no longer safe for Rachel and her girls. He made other arrangements. She had saved up a big chunk of money and he gave her some more (which she insisted on treating as a loan, and which, she, long ago, paid back).
Anyone who expressed objections about Rachel and her girls extricating themselves from obligation to the Family.... Anybody Giusseppi and his fellows, loyal to him, could get their hands on were skinned alive, scalped, or otherwise untraceably disappeared.
Rachel and her girls set up shop in Tennessee.
He asked her to marry him.
She said, "No. If I did, you would regret it for the rest of your life."
Giusseppi has been faithful to her for the past twenty-two years.
When he came to see her, she had known better than to ask his pleasure. She was his pleasure. Always had been. Always would be. Their visit, this time though, was a chaste one. They removed themselves to her suite of rooms on the top floor of the brothel.
She owned and operated several around the state of Tennessee. But she kept her residence at the establishment which she still considered to be the nerve center of the operation. She brewed coffee and they ate vanilla bean ice cream.
He told her she looked fantastic.
She told him that he hadn't held up too badly himself.
He asked her how business was?
She said that it had never been better; it was thriving beautifully.
She asked him how his business was.
He said that it was going through its usual ups and downs.
He asked her if she thought this 'country music' thing would amount to anything more than a fad.
She said she didn't know. She didn't have a strong opinion about music. Her artistic passion, as a consumer, was the cinema, particularly films from the silent era, which she collected. Rachel especially grooved on horror films from that period.
She had a projector and screen, which she set up. She put a film onto the spools. One of her favorites was The Penalty (1920), starring Lon Chaney,. Senior. The Man of a Thousand Faces.
The story goes like this: A young boy was hurt in a traffic accident and he is brought to a young doctor, who, in his incompetence, amputated the boy's legs quite unnecessarily. The boy grows into the bitter, vengeful, psychopathic criminal mastermind called 'Blizzard' (Lon Chaney). Blizzard then hatches a plan to kidnap a doctor and a young man with nice, healthy legs. Blizzard wants the doctor to sever the legs from their original owner and graft them onto Blizzard's body. The doctor, eventually, does operate, but not on legs. What he does is remove a brain tumor from Blizzard. It turns out that the brain tumor had been the source of Blizzard's insanity and criminality after all.
Not bad, Giusseppi said after the movie was done.
He asked Rachel to marry him.
She said no.
"I've told you why not."
Their visit ended with Giusseppi taking both Rachel's hands into his own, and kissing them. He told her that if she did not agree to marry him by the time he turned sixty, he would put himself back on the open market.
Giusseppi sulked and brooded all the rest of the way to the state of South Carolina. But since you can't stay down in the dumps forever, his mood lifted as they passed the huge billboard sign welcoming them to S.C.
They were singing along with the radio. Stella by Starlight---the way Ray did it. Although Petey had the best voice, Giusseppi took the lead on this one since he could make his voice sound the most like Ray Charles's.
Petey and Mike did the background stuff: mostly going AAAAh, AAAAAAh
Giusseppi (and Ray): The song a robin sings; through years of endless spring; The murmur of a brook at eventide; that ripples by a nook where true lovers hide... A great symophonic theeeeeme-----he couldn't hit that high note like Ray----that's Stella by starlight; She's everything on earth to me.
Petey and Mike: The murmur of a brook at eventide; That ripples by a nook where true lovers hide.
Giusseppi (and Ray): bringing it home: Oh! My heart and I agree; She's everything on earth to me...
Petey and Mike: On earth to meeeeee.....
"Yeah," Giusseppi said.
"You know," Mike said, "if we could find a fourth, we could have a decent barber shop quartet going."
"Hey, let's do one more," Petey said.
"You call it," Giusseppi said.
"In the Still of the Night by Fred Parris and The Satins," Petey said.
"In the Still of the Night," Giusseppi said.
"In the Still of the Night," Mike said.
Petey took his rightful lead vocal.
MIke and Giusseppi started things off with a credible rendering of the do-bop stuff they do at the beginning, harmonizing.
Mike and Giusseppi: shodoo doobie doo, shodoo doobie dooo and so forth
Petey: In the still of the night; how I held you, held you tight; cause I love, love you so; promise I'll never let you go; in the still of the night
Mike and Giusseppi: in the still of the ni-ight
Mike and Giusseppi: keeping up with the harmonizing bebop
Petey: winding it up sings: hold me again with all of your might; in the still of the night.
Mike and Giusseppi: shodoo doobie doo, shodoo doobie doo, shodoo doobie doo
Petey: in the still of the ni-ight
Mike and Giusseppi: in the still of the ni-ight
Petey, Mike, and Giusseppi: wind up with the harmonizing bebop
Yeah man! Yeah!
They eventually got to where they were going: the way punctuated as had been the drive down the eastern seaboard, by constant getting lost, stopping at gas stations for directions, forgetting the directions, getting even more lost than they had before they got the directions, arguing among themselves about the right way to get there, stopping at more gas stations for gas and additional directions, forgetting those, picking up hitchhikers who claimed to know the way but had just been scamming them for a ride, and so forth.
But they made it to where they were going because they had to.
Where did they end up?
Take a look at a map of the fifty states of the American Union. Note South Carolina and its shape.
Then---because its easier to see this way---replace that map with a big ole map of S.C. Take your index finger and place it dead center of the state. Draw it diagonally up and to the left until you get to the edge, and that will be close enough.
The place: an area known as Eli Whitney Country County. Named for that great benefactor of mankind, the inventor of the cotton gin, who inadvertently prolonged the institution of chattel slavery because of it.
On the knees. Pounding the ground. Voice roaring to the Heavens. Damn you, Eli Whitney! Damn you to Hell! Damn you!
They were here to procure the services of an old friend of Giusseppi's: a man called Giancarlo Lopez. The two were paisans, who had literally came over from the old country on the same boat.
Giancarlo Lopez was half Italian and half Mexican, if you must know. He even had a full-blooded Cherokee Indian for a great-grandfather.
"Gee whiz," and eight-year Giusseppi Lucanza had said, "how did an American Indian get way over here?"
"Same way anybody gets 'way over' anywhere, I guess," said Giancarlo Lopez from the depths of his then twelve-year-old experience.
For some reason, it had amused Giusseppi mightily that he and his new friend had the same initials. He tried to get people to call them the 'GL Brothers,' to no avail. It never took hold. The GL Brothers.
At any rate, years after they had emigrated, Giancarlo had pulled himself up by his bootstraps; and through equal measures hard work, careful planning, ruthlessness as well as cunning, he had built himself up to become The Funeral Parlor Emperor of the South, a sobriquet he was rather proud of.
They stopped at a rest stop a few miles away and found a pay phone. Giusseppi made a phone call because this was America, where nobody drops around unannounced.
Giusseppi: Mr. Giancarlo Lopez please.
Giusseppi: Oh, I'm an old friend. My name's Giusseppi.
Giusseppi: Yes?... Hello, old friend. How've you been?
Giusseppi: Good, good,... well, I'm in town... right.
Giusseppi: How's business?... (laughs)... You The Funeral Parlor Emperor of North America yet?
Giusseppi: (laughs)... Well, you know, not as big as you. Yeah, struggling to make a living. You know how it is.
Giusseppi: (clears his throat)... right, we should. We really should... as a matter of fact, like I said, I am in town.
Giusseppi: ... I'm in town, very close by actually... what's that?
Giusseppi: A little of both to tell you the truth.
Giusseppi: .... yeah, I do need a favor... Nothing much, its up your alley alright.
Giusseppi:.... Well, I got a 'customer' for you.... yeah, afraid so...
Giusseppi: .... well, he's not in the most pristine of condition, you see... yeah, true
Giusseppi: No, we had no choice... yeah, orders.... he was a traitor, talking to the FBI
Giusseppi: No, the cancer had to be removed... yeah.... here's the thing...
Giusseppi: Well, I'm afraid the boys were a little trigger happy, let's say...
Giusseppi: ... filled him full of holes....
Giusseppi:... no, I thought about it though. I didn't want to bring him to you like that....
Giusseppi: ... would have made more of a mess trying to dig all the bullets out... sorry....
Giusseppi: Look, if its not too inconvenient, I thought I'd drop around today....
Giusseppi: Can you do that?... five o'clock, good. Can you have all of the help out of the house by then?
Giusseppi: Good... yes, thank you, old friend.... Yes, you know I wouldn't ask this of you if it weren't absolutely necessary.... Right
Giusseppi: Look, I'll see you then. I have to get off now. A line's starting to form and people are staring daggers at me.
Giusseppi shrugged and smiled sheepishly at the tough-looking guy waiting for the phone. "All yours, buddy."
Petey, MIke, and Giusseppi stretched their legs, used the restroom, and had something to eat, before hitting the road again.
They got back in the truck and Petey slid behind the wheel, heading them in a westerly direction. No need to turn on the radio, Petey broke into "My Funny Valentine," the way Chet Baker did it. His voice was so smooth on this one, Mike and Giusseppi let him go by himself; they just sat back and listened.
My funny valentine; sweet, comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable, unphotographable
Yet your my favorite work of art...
Years back in Chicago, Petey had run with a rowdy bunch with a cute gimmick. The whole motley lot of them had been musicians-doubling-as-thieves, B&E artists, 'second story' guys---like that.
Looking back on it now Petey shook his head: bunch of third-rate musicians! Wait, that wasn't fair; half of them had been solidly second-rate. They played the gin joints and suds shops. When the band was on stage, there was always someone missing from the ensemble. One number there was no piano man: because he had excused himself to commit a B&E. One number the drummer was gone: gone off letting himself into a second story window, while the homeowners were right there, at the club, lazily bopping their heads to the lazily played bebop. One number there was no mandolin man: because he was off somewhere, listening to the tumblers of a safe with a doctor's stethoscope, opening it and relieving the owner of any cash, jewelry, stock certificates, bonds, and anything else of value. Where's the horn man?: maybe off somewhere doing a quick smash-and-grab, ski mask on and gun bulging, relieving the establishment of the day's receipts, both from the cash register and the safe in the back---at first pops doesn't want to admit that there is a safe; a few love taps upside his head with the butt of the gun convinces the old timer to give it up---that is, unless he has a heart attack first.
He had thought it a slick, cute idea when he had thought it up. But he downplays that chapter of his criminal career these days. He feels bad about it now: not the burglaries but dishonoring the music like that.
So don't change your hair for me; not if you care for me
Stay little valentine, stay
Each day is valentine's day.
What had jaded him? Maybe it was the talent contest he had entered in 1952. He had clearly been the best talent on that stage. But the judges had awarded First Prize, and the one thousand dollars that went with it, to some clown named Elvis Presley.
It had all the earmarks of a fixed contest in Petey's professional judgment. And he was a guy who knew about fixed contests. He had a great uncle who had played in tiny role in the fixing of the 1919 World Series.
Colonel Parker still owed him fifty bucks.
Giancarlo Lopez lived in one of those houses that couldn't be seen from any road. It was one of those residences that had its own name. His 'estate' was called White Crown Manor. All you had to do was look for the gaudiest mansion in the area. It had a green marble statue, out front, of two female mermaids doing it sixty-nine style.
It was a good thing he wasn't married. What woman would have him? It was said that the Funeral Parlor King's sexual proclivities ran to the... exotic.
They drove the truck around to the back, where Giancarlo met them and directed Petey and Mike to take body down to his basement workshop, where he continued to work on perfecting his embalming technique. The body was laid to rest inside a simple pine box.
Giusseppi gave Mike and Petey some money. "Here take this. First thing you do is wipe the whole truck down, inside and out. Then get rid of it somewhere, somehow. Next thing you do is burn those clothes you're wearing, right down to the socks and underwear. Understand? Buy yourself some new clothes. Then go rent a car and pick me up here. One more thing: when we get back to New Jersey, I'm going to take you two to my tailor, and teach you both how to dress properly."
The cash register in Mike's mind went ca-ching! This was significant. In the underworld, when your padrone took you to his tailor, this represented a profound deepening of the mentor-protégé relationship. It was symbolic, of course.
The boss was reaffirming his special loyalty to them. He had big plans. Things were going to happen. He was going places and he was taking them, Mike and Petey, with him. The bottom line was that they were all going to get rich!
While Giusseppi had been giving his two men last minute instructions, Giancarlo had been below, where he prepared and administered a shot of something to the corpse, which would delay its decomposition. Giving them time enough to do what needed to be done. But decay could not be staved off forever. They needed to get this poor man---in spite of the great offense he had committed against the Brotherhood---into the ground as soon as possible; and say words over him so that God would remember to have mercy on his soul.
Visitors were required to remove their shoes upon entry into Giancarlo's home. With its wooden floors and not a trace of carpet to be found anywhere. There were strange pictures on the walls: oil paintings of both humans and human-beast hybrid creatures, all engaged in the sex act: doing every conceivable thing from every conceivable position.
"Are we alone?" Giusseppi said.
Of course they were, the funeral parlor emperor assured him. Giancarlo had gotten rid of the household staff hours ago.
Giusseppi asked for permission to take a shower and change his clothes. "I really should burn what I have on," he said.
No problem, Giancarlo showed him where a bathroom was upstairs and his wardrobe. He waved a hand at his wardrobe. "Anything you want."
Giusseppi took a shower, cleaned out the tub with Ajax, rubbed a peach-scented moisturizer into his skin, and then changed into a double-breasted, gray pinstriped suit with a pink shirt and solid white tie and white loafers, which he would have to put on later as he was leaving the house.
When he went downstairs, Giancarlo said, "Ah, you look better in my suits than I do."
Giancarlo and Giusseppi finally had a chance to greet each other properly. With a hug and a kiss on each cheek, with the warmth of the old world style. It was yet another custom American-born Italians seemed to disdain.
Anxious to be accepted as good Anglos, they stuck out their hands. Said, "Glad to know you, sir," and "A pleasure," "Pleasure's all mine." And gave a hearty handshake with no warmth, no real joy. Even old friends they greeted impersonally: "Good to see you again, Bill." "Ah, Steven. You're looking well! How's business? How's the family? Ha-Ha! Yes, how 'bout those Dodgers? We really must get together two weeks after Thanksgiving! Yes indeed, we should go fishing one of these days. Do you bowl, Ralph?" Like that.
Without even asking, Giancarlo took Giusseppi into the kitchen and prepared some food. That was another thing about the Anglos, Giusseppi thought. They asked you, "Do you want some coffee or something?" But the way they asked, you could tell that they didn't want to give it to you, so you just said no even if you really did want something to put into your stomach.
The kitchen looked sort of rickety; rustic, but not in a charming way; thrown together slapdash; anachronistic, like something from the 1850s rather than the 1950s. What was that about? Was it because this was a room for servants to work in (and who cares about the working conditions of servants)?
Giusseppi kept the thought to himself. It didn't matter. The set up was still more than adequate to the needs of a couple of paisans from the old country, to prepare some food. Real food. A meal worthy of two very prosperous peasants.
They took off their jackets, rolled up their sleeves, put on smocks, and went to work like gangbusters, if you'll forgive the pun. Somehow, out of the cacophony, a meal emerged: macaroni with Swiss cheese, American cheese, cheddar cheese, provolone cheese, and chicken; garlic and parmesan ravioli---dumplings the size of softballs; mozzarella-stuffed meatballs; meatball-stuffed mozzarella---just kidding; a fruit salad of bananas, pears, pineapples, oranges, coconut, and lemons; logs of hard, crunchy, unprocessed, dark Italian bread.
Crying with a loaf of bread under your arm: an old Italian saying.
They wrapped things up with apple and marshmallow dumplings, inundated with sugar and cinnamon and served with whipped cream and maple syrup; and Italian desert wine.
When they were finished they leaned back in their chairs, loosened their belts, and let out loud belches. Ah, almost better than sex.
And because you can't have a meal like that without celebrating the triumph with a Havana cigar and a glass of brandy, that is what they did.
The old friends' tastes in music did not coincide or overlap. So, since this was Giancarlo's house, the ambience was provided by Enrico Caruso records. Giancarlo Lopez was president of something called the S.P.F.I.O--Society for the Preservation and Furtherance of Italian Opera.
In between the beginning of the meal preparation, the gluttonous consumption, and the sweet aftermath, Giusseppi had expressed to the undertaker what he needed and what he wanted. Their conversation had gone something like this:
Giancarlo: The formula can keep his body together for, maybe, another two weeks.
Giusseppi: That's fine. A week, ten days and I'll be done with him. Maybe less.
Giancarlo: You're boy is pretty well shredded up.
Giusseppi: What can I say? Some of the boys got lead fingers on their trigger hands.
Giancarlo: They're overzealous.
Giusseppi: Maybe, but on the other hand, you know what they say.
Giusseppi: Extremism in defense of the Family is no vice.
Giancarlo: I like that.
Giusseppi: It does rather roll off the tongue, doesn't it?
Giancarlo: It does. Tell me, how is Don Dellaventura?
Giusseppi: Still a psychopath, if that's what you mean.
Giancarlo: Ah, does he... still... enjoy.... relations with...
Giusseppi: He still scews corpses, yes. You don't break a habit like that. I learned that the clinical term is 'necrophilia.'
Giancarlo: So the Godfather is a... necrophiliac?
Giusseppi: And psychopath, don't forget about that. A psychopathic general practitioner, you might say. Twisted, cannibalistic psychopathic freak. The man actually eats human flesh.
Giancarlo: Does he still have the coffee mug made out of a human skull?
Giusseppi: (nods) And still loves it more than life!
Giusseppi: No. (points to the floor) the other guy!
Giancarlo: Does the Godfather know what you can do?
Giusseppi: Or you for that matter, my mentor.
Giancarlo: Does he?
Giusseppi: Of course not. Can you imagine how he'd get off? But I'll use that to threaten Ollie when I wake him up to ask him some questions.
Giancarlo: What's going on with that?
Giusseppi: It has to do with the reason we had to ice him to begin with. He's been talking to the FBI. We've got to find out how far the rot has spread.
Giancarlo: What brought on his betrayal?
Giusseppi: I had to do some backtracking to get the story. When Ollie crossed over, started talking to the authorities, we didn't have any sources in the New Jersey State Police at the time. Once we established a network, we got a tip, and the story came out.
Giusseppi: Four years ago, Ollie was pulled over on Route 80 by a rookie state trooper. But he hit the jackpot, from the perspective of law enforcement. Ollie had a gun in the glove compartment, a gun under the driver seat, and a gun in his pants.
Giancarlo: All unregistered of course.
Giusseppi: Of course.
Giancarlo: Serial numbers filed off?
Giusseppi: Naturally. Standard operating procedure. (shakes his head in disgust). I tell my guys all the time: Don't be carrying guns around! The only time you should have a gun on you is when your doing a job. You do the job, pick up the spent shell casings, and take the gun to be melted down. I tell my guys: Don't throw it away---someone might find it and you don't want that! Ever! You can always get a gun from somewhere. Guns are not precious babies. But that wasn't the worst of it.
Giancarlo: What was the worst of it?
Giusseppi: Ollie had a small tote bag full of pistols in the back seat. (laughs). Just lying there. Pistols. Ammo. Silencers... But that wasn't even the worst of it.
Giancarlo: Tell me.
Giusseppi: The trunk.
Giancarlo: The trunk?
Giusseppi: (nods). Filled with pure, uncut heroin.
Giusseppi: But that wasn't even the worst of it.
Giancarlo: Keep going.
Giusseppi: Ollie was in a double bind. The dumb macaroni head was going away for twenty years, if he was lucky.
Giancarlo: Never mind if he wasn't lucky.
Giusseppi: Whatever he was going to do with all those guns and drugs, none of it had been authorized.
Giancarlo: Which means he was gonna skimp on his taxes.
Giancarlo: And that's a big no-no.
Giusseppi: You can say that again.
Giancarlo: I knew it was a mistake to 'make' that guy.
Giusseppi: He was a cousin of Don Dellaventura's wife's half sister, so a place was found for him. And he hadn't been 'made' yet. We ran the usual ruse. You know, 'Hey, take so and so out and you'll be all set.'
Giancarlo: Did he have any family?
Giusseppi: Everybody's got family.
Giancarlo: Anybody who'll care that he's gone missing?
Giusseppi: He's got two brothers and a sister. They aren't actually in The Life. On the surface they look legit. But they each got action on the side.
Giancarlo: Such as?
Giusseppi: The sister's got a pharmacy in Secaucus. She sells candy bars, tampons, and fills legit prescriptions out the front door, and sells blow out the back door. One of the brothers has an import-export business. Its legit but he'll import-export any damn thing he can get away with. Through his connections the sister's even got mail-order customers in Moldavia and Guam.
Giancarlo: And the other brother?
Giusseppi: He was the runt of the family. He used to be a jockey before they threw him out for doping horses. He works as a ranch hand, farm laborer. He trains horses, still dopes them up. He probably got the stuff from his sister; she was dating a veterinarian at one time. He may be involved with some prostitution. We know he organizes dog fights and sells various pills and potions. And---maybe I shouldn't mention this---there are rumors that he, well, gets a little too friendly with the horses, when he thinks nobody's watching.
Giancarlo: You don't mean?
Giusseppi: I sure do.
GIusseppi: I know. But they knew that Ollie was in The Life, and the risks that it brought, They'll take his disappearance in stride, put their heads down, and get on with their lives.
Giancarlo: Is there a father in the picture?
Giusseppi: The father was in The Life as a small-time hood in the Midwest. Eight years ago he got himself gunned down by an off-duty cop, during a jewelry store hold up.
Giancarlo: What about his mother?
Giusseppi: The mother is still alive and kicking. She's sixty. Runs a dry cleaners in Jersey City. As far as we know, she's not into anything else, legal or illegal.
Giancarlo: Is she likely to become overwrought?
Giusseppi: I think what I'm going to do is to send her letters and postcards from Ollie. I'm going to tell her that he's gone off to Hollywood to try to become a star.
Giancarlo: Will she believe that?
Giusseppi: Cash will accompany those occasional letters and postcards. She will make herself believe what is necessary for her to believe.
Giancarlo: So why'd you cut out his eyes, pull out his teeth, and chop off his hands and feet?
Giusseppi: To obfuscate identification.
Giancarlo: That's not an issue. Nobody will ever find him.
Giusseppi: Orders. The Don wanted to have little pieces of him to look at. But I realized that I hadn't made any provision to transport those body parts. So I just said 'to hell with it,' and chucked them. I'll have to think of something to tell him.
Giancarlo: Maybe a picture would help.
Giusseppi: It might. But would you mind?
Giancarlo: Not at all.
Giusseppi: Thank you.
Giancarlo: Is there anything else?
Giusseppi: No, you're fully up to date now. Can you have the body ready in a week?
Giancarlo: Yes. And I will. Maybe sooner.
It happens every time you have a complicated conversation. Every time you try to wrap it up; every time somebody tries to say, 'That's all, folks,' that not all folks. There's always more to say, more details that really shouldn't be left out.
Giusseppi and Giancarlo went over more necessary details. After that they washed, dried, and put away the dishes, wiped down the countertops, swept the floor, and straightened out the place. Giancarlo had wanted to leave it for the help to attend to. But Giancarlo gently chided him, saying that he had gotten too used to living like a Big Man, and that peasants always clean up their own messes. Always.
In the fullness of time Mike and Petey drove up to collect their boss. Just outside the front door Giusseppi put on his loafers and said good bye to Giancarlo.
Giusseppi got into the back seat. "How'd it go?" He was referring to the disposal of the truck.
Standard. They had scrubbed the vehicle inside and out, and abandoned it at a McDonald's parking lot to be stolen. They gave the thief a hand by leaving the key in the ignition. On the surface the truck looked like crap. But its real value lay in the return you could get for the parts; and this truck had some good parts: the tires were Firestone steel-belted radials; the headlights were good; mirrors; the radio was decent; and you could melt the body down for valuable scrap metal. And indeed, it had not taken very long at all for a discerning thief to arrive at the same conclusion. Mike and Petey had still been on hand to watch said discerning thief happily drive away with his latest score.
"Well boys, we're down here for another week or ten days. Think of it like a vacation. Let's find a hotel, okay?" Giusseppi said.
As the world turns the trio found a decent hotel with vacancies. They checked in. Giusseppi said that he was going to rest. Mike and Petey took the car and went off somewhere, looking for amusement.
Giusseppi got undressed, got into bed, and watched television. He fell asleep as the late evening news came on. This is Joseph Lucas with today's headlines....
The next morning he got up. He found that Mike and Petey weren't around. Giusseppi shrugged this off, thinking he would see his guys later. In the meantime he showered, got dressed, and went down stairs to have breakfast in the hotel dining room.
Then he decided to go somewhere to buy some clothes, since he should probably wear something other than the gray pinstriped suit for the next seven to ten days in South Carolina. He got a cab, which upon his request, took him to a mall.
He went into a J.C. Penny and bought socks, underwear, two pairs of khaki pants, collared shirts, and the like. On a whim he got himself a pair of boots, a pair of blue jeans, and one of those multi-colored, plaid, checkered shirts.
He regarded the boots, blue jeans, and checkered shirt. I'm a lumberjack, he thought. A mighty lumberjack like Paul Bunyan and his big blue ox Abe-- I mean 'Babe.'
He walked around uselessly, hit the food court and had Thai food for lunch, and ho-hummed it until he couldn't stand the boredom any more, and got a cab to take him back to the hotel. Back at his room, he was back at his room. He was bored. He stuffed his cheeks full of Big Red chewing gum and exaggeratedly smacked it. He turned on the television and switched channels looking for something to watch.
There was nothing good on, so he turned the idiot box off. He took off his clothes and sprawled on the bed, telling himself that he would take a nap. But he wasn't sleepy and couldn't get to sleep. After giving it the old 'college try' anyhow and failing, he got off the bed.
He dressed in the blue jeans, boots, and checkered shirt. He stood in front of the mirror with his hands on his hips. I'm a lumberjack!
Hi, honey. I'm home. I'm a lumberjack and I cut down a whole forest by myself!
Giusseppi Lucanza had never been a lumberjack, and had never entertained the ambition. The closest he had ever come was the time he'd had to kill a man with an axe: with a perfect two-handed, overhand, end-over-end throw, splitting the man's chest open like an over-ripe watermelon.
Needless to say, the would-be assassin had given up the ghost long before he hit the ground.
Giusseppi had been running from the gunman, picking up an axe from somewhere in flight. He had hopped into a lake, submerged and stayed perfectly still. The gunman had done exactly what Giusseppi had hoped he would do: shot bullets wildly into the water, not coming anywhere near where he was.
When the bullets stopped coming, Giusseppi assumed, correctly, that the gunman had run out of bullets and had needed to reload. Giusseppi made his move first, and the hit man never did get a chance to reload.
He kept looking at himself in the mirror. Daniel Boone was a man, was a big man. Etc., etc. He was the rippinest, roarinest, fightenest man the frontier ever knew. There was more to that theme song but Giusseppi couldn't remember it.
I'm a lumberjack!
Giusseppi had awakened the man, briefly, to demand an explanation. Who are you and why did you try to kill me?
The man had been trying to carry out a contract. He'd been hired by someone, who had believed that he, Giusseppi Lucanza, had had something to death of the father of his paramour, Rachel Laran; someone who had felt strongly enough about the loss of this man to avenge it.
Of course, he had had nothing to do with Mr. Laran's death. But he was frequently a target of such misunderstandings. He got credit for hits he hadn't pulled. This is what accounted for his exaggerated reputation as a killer. On the other hand, he did end up killing people who were sent to kill him because of murders they had erroneously believed he had killed in the first place. Get it?
Anyway, maybe his reputation was deserved. But Giusseppi didn't feel any more bloodthirsty than the next guy.
He took off his boots and got on the bed. He would take a nap. He closed his eyes and instead of counting sheep, he counted falling trees. Trees that had fallen to his mighty lumberjack's axe. This worked and he went to sleep.
He dreamed that he was a lumberjack. A plaid-shirted manly man among other plaid-shirted manly men. Living and working at a logging camp. Getting up together at the crack of dawn and sitting at long wooden tables during breakfast.
Sleeves rolled up revealing brawny forearms everywhere. Axe handles leaning against thighs. Eating stacks of flapjacks. With syrup pulled from a tree just minutes before. Then off to work. Axes slung over shoulders. Singing lumberjack songs.
Middle of the day: lumberjack fun. Log rolling: two lumberjacks on a log in a creek. Spin the log with their feet. Try to put the other guy into the splash first.
Giusseppi rolled over and said, "Knock it off," and went back to sleep.
The next morning Giusseppi rose, showered, changed into his woodsman outfit---I'm a lumberjack!---and went down for pancakes.
Two days later the boys found a spot in Charleston. The Jumbalaya Smorgasborg: World's Finest International Cuisine! The cuisine selection was indeed internationally diverse; and the quality wasn't bad.
You could get Indian curry dishes, Mexican quesadillas and refried beans, authentic Szechuan Chinese, English corn beef and cabbage and black pudding, Japanese sushi and sake, lion and antelope meat on special occasions, wines from Australia and New Zeeland, Italian pasta, cannoli, and gelato---something like ice cream but richer, French bread and deserts, New Orleans gumbo, fine looking, whole, scorched hog stuffed with caramelized apples, pineapples, and other fruits, sesame seeds and various nuts, Swedish, Dutch, and German chocolates, cookies, and coffees, and more.
There was a well-ventilated lower level, with crazy, surrealist and impressionist paintings on the walls. For twenty-five dollars you could go down and smoke a joint in peace. You had to use the in-house stuff; you could bring your own. Management knew the quality of their own stuff; but they didn't know about other junk one might bring in from outside of their own quality-control network. The last thing they wanted was for someone to keel over because of tainted crap they had brought with them.
Just marijuana and pills (uppers and downers), no other narcotics. That was the understanding management had with the Charleston PD, with whom they enjoyed a long-standing, mutual back-scratching relationship.
Mike was working on a plate of barbeque spare ribs, licking his fingers. His eyes were closed; and he had an expression on his face that made Petey say to Giusseppi, "Goddamn! Is he having an orgasm?" He half-seriously looked under the table to see if Mike had an erection.
The place had live music every night and an in-house band. Petey watched the band play. Regarded them with his inner vision. He had never seen any of them before; and they had a clean, white-bread look about them. Nevertheless, Petey made them for small-time hoods. He figured they pulled burglaries on the side.
"You know," Mike said, "this is a pretty nice area. I think I'd like to buy my mom a house down here one day."
Petey looked at him and grunted agreeably. The remark seemed to require no other response than that. He glanced at Giusseppi, who appeared to be lost in his own thoughts at the moment. Giusseppi was still thinking about being a lumberjack. Perhaps a singing lumberjack.
Petey sipped his beer---a good, dark, rich brew from Spain---and returned his attention to the band. The mandolin player was missing for this number. The piano man had been AWOL last number. And the number before that the horn player had been missing-in-action.
The thing about it: if these guys worked really hard at music, they could develop into very solid second-rate musicians.
Maybe his standards were too high. Maybe he was too harsh. Maybe he was too critical. Maybe his attitude was a manifestation of his ongoing psychic self-flagellation.
Petey had been a music whore. He found himself on quite a journey to forgiving himself for that. Petey kept watching the band. He made eye contact with each player in turn; and when he had done so, he raised his glass to them and nodded. Could they sense in him, a kindred spirit? Could they sense, somehow, that he felt their pain? He hoped so.
It was Amateur Night, this night. A Talent Competition. Anybody was invited to get up on stage and do whatever it was they could do. First prize was a thousand bucks. Petey said, "How 'bout it, guys?"
Mike was amenable. He didn't care. He'd been a spotlight seeker his whole life. Whether it was hijacking trucks on the interstate or acting a fool in front of a hundred people, Mike was a natural born ham.
Giusseppi was similarly agreeable. What the hell, he said. These people didn't know who they were, and would, most likely, never see them again. Why not?
They found the guy with the sign up sheet, nursing a bottle of beer. The boys asked if it was too late to sign up for the talent competition.
The old man looked up at them from beneath his cowboy hat. "You three?"
"What are you calling yourselves?"
"Pete and the Heartbreakers."
Giusseppi and Mike grinned.
"You guys will be the last act of the night."
They watched three brothers do some fancy juggling with all kinds of objects. They watched a young man do some acrobatic stuff on a unicycle. There was a woman who could and did twist her body into various shapes. There was a performance of magic and a separate mind-reading scam. There was a ventriloquist---pretty funny. An old woman who played the banjo and sang blues---she could be trouble.
There was a girl in some kind of cheerleader uniform, twirling a baton. Then two batons. Then three batons. Then she put the ends to flame. Wasn't that a fire hazard?
Now it was the boys turn. They took the stage with Petey, of course, singing the lead. They went through: "I Only Have Eyes For You," by the Flamingoes; The Skyliners "Since I Don't Have You; "Earth Angel" by The Penguins; "Come and Go With Me" by the Dell Vikings; and then "There's A Moon Out Tonight" by The Capris.
Petey's performance was inspired. He seemed to make love to the microphone. Because he had not been seeking female approval, he had received it in torrents. He did subtle movements with his legs and hips. He swerved and wiggled. All the girls swooned.
He sang with his whole body, his whole mind, and his whole soul. He relived heartbreak and joy, love and loss, the ups and downs. He brought the world in and made you feel it. He was so good, his partners had to raise their game. And they did.
Three men in their off-the-rack suits. Hearts on their sleeves. Tears on their pillows. If you don't have a woman, go get one! If you don't have a man, go get one! If you got a man, love him. If you got a woman, love her.
If you had a fight, pick up the phone and call her. If you had a fight, pick up the phone and call him! The world's too cold a place to face it alone.
If it don't work out, part as friends.
Visit your mother and take her a bouquet of flowers and a big box of chocolate candy. Thank her for giving you life; and tell her you love her. Take your father out fishing all day, sit on the boat and drink beer; and don't worry about catching anything. Thank him for making you a man. Tell him you love him.
Petey's performance did all that. The audience felt it; and when Pete and The Heartbreakers were done there wasn't a dry eye in the house. They got a seven-minute standing ovation, just as Petey had finished off a high note of the last song, on his knees, eyes closed, head down, psychically more than physically exhausted.
There was no question about who the winner was. A man came up on the stage with them----evidently the proprietor of the place: snow-white hair, beard but no mustache, as rolly polly and apparently as jolly as Kris Kringle. He declared Pete and The Heartbreakers the First Place winners, handed them an envelope with a thousand bucks in it, and called for the crowd to give them another round of applause---which the crowd gladly did.
The boys each shook hands with Kris Kringle and took another bow. Petey raised his arms and absorbed the love. They loved him but he loved all of them more. He absorbed the love, letting it swell him, feeling one with the cosmos. At that moment he had perfect love for every single one of God's creatures, wherever they might be.
Drunk with love, Petey turned to the band and tossed them the envelope with all of the prize money in it. He said, "Boys, thanks for making us sound so good." The band members gaped.
Kris Kringle said, "Wow! What a gesture. Are you guys professionals?"
"Professionals what?" Petey said, only half in touch with reality, love-drunk as he was.
"Professional singers. You guys are certainly good enough."
"No, not us," Mike said. "Singing's just a hobby for us."
"What do you fellas do for a living, if you don't mind my asking?"
Mike said, "We three run a plumbing business together in New Jersey."
"Reason I ask," Kris Kringle said, "is because you must be doing pretty well to casually toss up a thousand bucks."
"We're comfortable," Mike said.
"Tell you what," Kris Kringle said. "Next time you boys stop by, food and drink will be on the house."
"Thanks, appreciate that."
When the boys were outside, Giusseppi clamped a hand on Petey's shoulder. "Hey man, what are you doing being a gangster?"
Giusseppi found a pay phone and put in a call to Giancarlo. He asked if everything was ready. Giancarlo said no but give him one more day. Giusseppi said okay and rang off.
The following night Giusseppi called again. This time Giancarlo told him that everything, down to the last detail they had discussed, was in readiness. Giusseppi thanked him and rang off.
The night after that found the boys eating pizza and watching a ball game back at the hotel. Petey was on his way to unconsciousness because Mike had slipped some knockout drops into his soda. Petey was yelling at the television because one of the officials, in his opinion, had made a bad call. Going-Going-Gone-Out!
They checked him. Petey's breathing was regular, his heartbeat strong, and his pulse rocked steady. He would be alright in the morning.
Giusseppi and Mike helped Petey back to his room, each grabbing an arm. Looking for all the world to see, like a couple of buddies helping out another who'd had a little too much to drink. They got him settled in his room, taking off his shoes, socks, jacket, tie, and shirt. They put him in bed and turned on the television.
After the ball game, would come the Jack Parr program, then the evening news, and then the late movie, and then the television test pattern. Petey would awake feeling refreshed. Thinking he must have been exhausted without knowing it. Thinking he'd obviously fallen asleep watching television; though he would fail to recall, just exactly at what point he had broken away from his two comrades to retire for the evening. Thinking... well, not thinking very much beyond that.
When they were sure Petey would be okay, they left, and hung the 'Do not disturb' sign on the door.
Giusseppi and Mike got into the car and headed south. They had a map with them; but in the end, it had done more harm than good. They got lost, found, incredibly lost again, found again,---Saints preserve us!---turned around, un-turned around, diverted and misdirected by various well-meaning Good Samaritans at gas stations, convenience stores, and other places. The two of them fell to bickering over the way like an old married couple, whose constant fussing was their way of showing their love for one another.
Only by the grace of God did they find themselves, finally, ultimately, and triumphantly---their perseverance rewarded---pulling up on the street, in front of the Laramie Road To Heaven Cemetery.
They stopped the car, got out, passed through the wrought iron gate, which was unlocked---What was there to steal?---and entered into the spooky, spooky cemetery. They found the small stone mausoleum, the burial house of the lamented and beloved Ella Wilma Rudolph Valozne: Beloved Wife, Mother, Grandmother, Notary Public, Church Organist, Blue Ribbon-Winning Baker and Gardner, and Tireless Charity Organizer, Visitor of the Sick, Shut-In, and Shunned. And so on. Born: December 12, 1892 Died: March 1, 1958. Survived by: Husband Franklin "Buddy" Valozne, 60, a truck driver; Daughters: Elaine, 26, a grade school teacher and Charlotte, 30, a librarian.
Nobody would ever think to look for Ollie here. Giancarlo had said that it had been a nice service (and Giusseppi was certainly glad of that). A few stragglers had been gathered up. "There are people who just like to attend funerals," Giancarlo said. "You know, just like people who like to go and sit in on trials at court."
A few professional wailers had been rounded up. These were middle aged women who balled their eyes out over the deaths of people they had never seen.
"They have those in America?" Giusseppi said.
"Total cultural transplantation, my man," Giancarlo said, "as we started coming over to this country at the turn of the century."
Mike and Giusseppi pushed through the stone door, which merely looked heavier and more substantial than it was. The coffin was there, to the right. Both of them went over and lifted off the lid. Inside was Ollie's somewhat reconstructed corpse.
Giusseppi took something out of his pocket and showed it to Mike.
"This belonged to Ollie," Giusseppi said. It was Ollie's St. Jude medallion. "Like so many of us, he had been an altar boy."
A priest had tried to molest Ollie. Bad move by the priest. Ollie had been thirteen at the time. But he had already been with somebody. As a consequence, then, the priest's body had been found, one day, in the back of a flatbed truck: naked, hands and feet tied behind his back; in the 69-position with a dog. Were those two poor creatures forced into that position before or after asphyxiation and death? Who can say?
Giusseppi held the medal in his palm and closed his eyes in concentration. He opened one eye and said, "Hey Mike? Do me a favor. Get ready to hold down his legs. They tend to jump. Grab his left arm, if you can also."
He closed the eye again and concentrated. After a couple of minutes he said, "Give me the one who belongs to this!" He clapped the medallion on the corpse's forehead; and Ollie's soul had, indeed, been slammed back into the shell of his former body with force. He jumped and buckled.
After Ollie had been settled down, the one who had summoned him leaned over and said in a quiet voice, "Ollie can you hear me?"
Ollie mumbled some things, went through the whole---what? what? what?---where am I? who are you? Oh I'm so disoriented!---routine.
After all that jazz had been put to one side, the one who had summoned him said, "Dig this, Ollie. You are returned to your body for the present. I have questions. You have glass eyes, so that you can see. You have wooden teeth, so that you can bite. You have plastic hands, so that you can grasp. You have plastic feet so that you can walk, should I command it."
He smiled at the Reconstructed Man. "You'll forgive me, of course, but I had to remove the originals for purposes of identification. To prevent identification, that is."
The Reconstructed Man blinked. One of his glass eyes rotated in its socket clockwise; the other counterclockwise. "I was on a beach... no, an island... yeah, I had a whole little island all for myself...
"You were that rich, hunh?" his Summoner said.
The Reconstructed Man's eyes each took turns, rotating clockwise and counterclockwise. "Jane Russell, Ava Gardner, and Ida Lupino..."
The Summoner was surprised. Ida Lupino was an attractive woman, smart, talented actress and director. But he never imagined she was what male sexual fantasies were made of. "No Marilyn Monroe?"
"Not my type."
"She doesn't do anything for you?"
"I guess I wouldn't kick her out of bed if that's what you mean..."
"But you prefer dark, exotic looking women."
"Yeah... that thing you said."
Apparently the Summoner had interrupted an orgy, with Jane Russell about to service him fellatio.
"Your wildest dreams," the Summoner said.
Your wildest dreams. You are experiencing your wildest dreams. Apparently that's the way it is before we move on."
"Move on? Am I dead?"
The Reconstructed Man's eyes stopped rotating and focused on the Summoner. "F#@k! You had me killed!"
"Sorry about that. Had to, though. Orders."
"Because you were talking to the FBI. You committed a great offense, betraying the Family."
Ollie denied this with a single expletive.
"Really?" Giusseppi said.
"What if I told you the information came from directly inside the New Jersey State Police Department?"
"You remember the New Jersey State Police, don't you?" Mike said. I'm here too!
The Reconstructed Man's eyes rotated and spun around, trying to focus. "Who are you?"
"You remember Mike," the Summoner said. "He's my new right hand man in the business; and my apprentice in other things. Now then, we were talking about how you betrayed the family--"
The Reconstructed Man's response was denials, couched in language which decency does not permit us to reproduce here.
The Summoner looked at his Apprentice. "Did I call it or what?"
"You called it, boss," the Apprentice said.
"Didn't I tell you?" the Summoner said.
"You told me," the Apprentice said.
Some guys would not, could not stop lying, even when they were dead.
The Summoner said, "Don't think that just because you're dead, that I can't hurt you." With that the Summoner touched his cheek, somehow scalding the flesh and causing the spirit of the Reconstructed Man to howl with pain.
In any case, what they wanted from the Reconstructed Man, was to know how far the rot had spread. What other no-good, sniveling, belly-crawling, motherless, treacherous macaroni heads were talking to the authorities, state or federal.
It took some doing even after that. But with torture and certain threats, which were meaningful even to a dead man, the Reconstructed Man gave up the goods.
When they were finished with him, they released his soul so that Ollie could go back to doing.... whatever it was he had been doing in that way station leading to the afterlife.
Mike and Giusseppi lifted the lid back onto the coffin and left. Giusseppi was looking at a notebook with eleven names on it---other traitors to the Brotherhood---and details of the exact nature of their treacheries. They would be dealt with presently. If only something could happen to Don Dellaventura as well.
He took out a pack of Big Red chewing gum, unwrapped the end, and offered some to Mike. "Gum?"
Mike shook his head.
Giusseppi stopped walking, put the notebook between his legs to hold it, and then unwrapped all seventeen sticks of the big pack of gum, and packed them into his mouth one-by-one. A sugar rush hit his head.
Back at the hotel, Mike and Giusseppi checked on Petey. They knocked on his door, he yelled for whoever it was to come in, they did so, and Giusseppi asked how he was feeling.
Petey was sitting up in bed. He yawned. "I must've dozed off."
"Who won the game?"
They had checked on who had won the game. They told him who won and the final score. The game had been a low-scoring affair, after all.
"How'd I get back here?"
"We helped you," Giusseppi said.
"Boy! I must've really been out of it."
"Its been an exhausting couple of weeks."
"Guess so. Where'd you guys go?"
"We got bored with the game," Mike said, "and we were still hungry after the pizza, so we took a drive and got something to eat. We went to that Smorgasborg place."
"Did you get the free meal that guy promised?"
"Yeah." Mike put a big paper bag on the table. "We brought you back some." Meatloaf. Peas and carrots. Cheese fries. Fried sweet potato rounds. Garlic bread. A couple of apple pockets.
"We better get some rest," Giusseppi said. "Our business is done here, so we're moving out early in the morning. We need to return the rental car first. By the way, did you two get the airline tickets?"
Mike winced and Petey smacked his forehead. "I knew there was something we forgot to do," he said.
Giusseppi reached into his breast pocket. "I got the airline tickets. I found a pretty good diner where we can get some breakfast on our way to the airport. Its called The Sunny Side Up. I'm gonna get the Denver omelet and pancakes." I'm a lumberjack.
Mike and Giusseppi went back to their rooms.
The next morning the three got up, showered, dressed, checked out, and got into the car with Petey taking the wheel.
When he put the key into the ignition and turned it, the car was blown to Kingdom Come. All four doors were blown off. The trunk and hood lids were blown off, to say nothing of the tremendous spray of glass that had occurred. The tires had been blown off and the roof had almost been torn off.
The force of the blast had been enough to knock people off their feet, who had been two hundred feet away. There had been a fireball. Scraps of metal had been flung, causing injuries to people who happened to be in the vicinity. Someone had taken no chances, wanting to be absolutely sure of the result.
There had been remains of the three men. But not many. There had been noise, commotion, the cacophonic official response of the police, fire department, paramedics, homicide squad, and curious bystanders.
Meanwhile the souls of Giusseppi, Petey, and Mike seemed to be riding to the clouds in the ghost of the very car in which they had lost their lives.
"What happened?" one of them said.
"We got blown up, boys," Giusseppi said. "We're dead."
"What do we do now?" one of them said.
"Keep singing, boys. Sing onto the Pearly Gates."
Giusseppi taught them a song. A song that starts like this: Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home....
References and Notes
1. "Joseph P. Kennedy did more than invest his time and money in his unrelenting drive in 1960 to elect his oldest surviving son president. He risked the family's reputation---and the political future of his sons Bobby and Teddy---by making a bargain with Sam Giancana and the powerful organized crime syndicate in Chicago. Joe Kennedy's goal was to ensure victory in Illinois and in other states where the syndicate had influence, and he achieved it, after arranging a dramatic and until now unrevealed summit meeting with Sam Giancana in the chambers of one of Chicago's most respected judges. The deal included an assurance that Giancana's men would get out the Kennedy vote among the rank and file in the mob-controlled unions in Chicago and elsewhere, and a commitment for campaign contributions from the corrupt Teamsters Union pension fund."
Source: Hersh, Seymour. M. The Dark Side of Camelot. Little, Brown And Company, 1997. 131
2. "What is known, one biographer wrote, is that money began to 'flood into the family' in the early 1920s, at the same time that federal agents, who knew nothing of Joe Kennedy, began to track huge shipments of illicit liquor into the United States, triggered by the insatiable American demand for liquor and the advent of Prohibition.
"Kennedy was one of the first to seize a dominant position in the liquor importing business. He used medicinal permits to avoid the restrictions of Prohibition, gaining intimate knowledge of the industry that would place him ahead of his competitors for the legal trade when the moment arrived."
Source: ibid, 46
"Kennedy's rapid and highly profitable shift into the liquor importing business helped trigger what would become an unverified national rumor by the time his son entered the White House: that Joe Kennedy had been deeply involved in the bootleg liquor business since the first days of Prohibition---a business that was dominated by such organized crime leaders as New York's Frank Costello, Newark's Abner 'Longy' Zwillman, and Chicago's Al Capone. The rumors were made more plausible by Joe's shipbuilding experience at Fore River during World War I---most bootleg liquor came to America by boat---and by the sheer number of Kennedy and Fitzgerald family members who had been in the liquor business before Prohibition began in 1920."
Source: ibid, 47
3. About Joe Kennedy's ruthlessness, let me tell you a bed time story. Once upon a time, old man Joe Kennedy wanted to take over Pantages movie theater chain. When the owner, Alexander Pantages, resisted, Kennedy paid a seventeen-year-old girl to claim that Pantages had raped her.
Pantages was charged and sentenced to fifty years. Thankfully, the verdict was later reversed. Nevertheless, Kennedy got the theater chain at a greatly discounted price. Four years later, the now twenty-one-year old girl admitted to the conspiracy between her and Kennedy. It seems that Kennedy had promised to make her a film star.
By the way, this was a DEATHBED confession. She had suddenly died of cyanide poisoning.
Source: Russo, Gus. The Outfit: The Role of Chicago's Underworld In The Shaping of Modern America. Bloomsbury, 2001. 53
4. Hersh, Seymour M. The Dark Side of Camelot. Little, Brown And Company, 1997. 134
5. Jack Kennedy's lifelong health problems (Addison's disease): ibid, 5, 14, 15, 123, 232, 233
7. Zoot suiter. The 'zoot suit' is a World War Two reference. It refers to a suit of extra fabric, seen to be an antiestablishment statement by African-American and Italian-American young men---a deliberate flouting of fabric rationing.
Retrieved 8/20/14 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoot_suit
More by this Author
This is part six of the story: "My Face is on Fire."
This story is political satire, meant to try to capture the spirit of the political Right, especially as manifested in this presidential election cycle.
- 0On the Occasion of the Death of Fidel Castro at Ninety: The Cuban Revolution in Historical and Sociological Perspective
What I want to try to do is to help us achieve clarity on just exactly what the Cuban Revolution of January 1, 1959 was all about.