بخش 20

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بخش 20

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CHAPTER 11

Captain Mark McCluskey sat in his office fingering three envelopes bulging with betting slips. He was frowning and wishing he could decode the notations on the slips. It was very important that he do so. The envelopes were the betting slips that his raiding parties had picked up when they had hit one of the Corleone Family bookmakers the night before. Now the bookmaker would have to buy back the slips so that players couldn’t claim winners and wipe him out.

It was very important for Captain McCluskey to decode the slips because he didn’t want to get cheated when he sold the slips back to the bookmaker. If there was fifty grand worth of action, then maybe he could sell it back for five grand. But if there were a lot of heavy bets and the slips represented a hundred grand or maybe even two hundred grand, then the price should be considerably higher. McCluskey fiddled with the envelopes and then decided to let the bookie sweat a little bit and make the first offer. That might tip off what the real price should be.

McCluskey looked at the station house clock on the wall of his office. It was time for him to pick up that greasy Turk, Sollozzo, and take him to wherever he was going to meet the Corleone Family. McCluskey went over to his wall locker and started to change into his civilian clothes. When he was finished he called his wife and told her he would not be home for supper that night, that he would be out on the job. He never confided in his wife on anything. She thought they lived the way they did on his policeman’s salary. McCluskey grunted with amusement. His mother had thought the same thing but he had learned early. His father had shown him the ropes., His father had been a police sergeant, and every week father and son had walked through the precinct and McCluskey Senior had introduced his six-year-old son to the storekeepers, saying, “ And this is my little boy.”

The storekeepers would shake his hand and compliment him extravagantly and ring open their cash registers to give the little boy a gift of five or ten dollars. At the end of the day, little Mark McCluskey would have all the pockets of his suit stuffed with paper money, would feel so proud that his father’s friends liked him well enough to give him a present every month they saw him. Of course his father put the money in the bank for him, for his college education, and little Mark got at most a fifty-cent piece for himself.

Then when Mark got home and his policemen uncles asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he would lisp childishly, “ A policeman,” they would all laugh uproariously. And of course later on, though his father wanted him to go to college first, he went right from high school to studying for the police force.

He had been a good cop, a brave cop. The tough young punks terrorizing street corners fled when he approached and finally vanished from his beat altogether. He was a very tough cop and a very fair one. He never took his son around to the storekeepers to collect his money presents for ignoring garbage violations and parking violations; he took the money directly into his own hand, direct because he felt he earned it. He never ducked into a movie house or goofed off into restaurants when he was on foot patrol as some of the other cops did, especially on winter nights. He always made his rounds. He gave his stores a lot of protection, a lot of service. When winos and drunks filtered up from the Bowery to panhandle on his beat he got rid of them so roughly that they never came back. The tradespeople in his precinct appreciated it. And they showed their appreciation.

He also obeyed the system. The bookies in his precinct knew he would never make trouble to get an extra payoff for himself, that he was content with his share of the station house bag. His name was on the list with the others and he never tried to make extras. He was a fair cop who took only clean graft and his rise in the police department was steady if not spectacular.

During this time he was raising a large family of four sons, none of whom became policemen. They all went to Fordham University and since by that time Mark McCluskey was rising from sergeant to lieutenant and finally to captain, they lacked for nothing. It was at this time that McCluskey got the reputation for being a hard bargainer. The bookmakers in his district paid more protection money than the bookmakers in any other part of the city, but maybe that was because of the expense of putting four boys through college.

McCluskey himself felt there was nothing wrong with clean graft. Why the hell should his kids go to CCNY or a cheap Southern college just because the Police Department didn’t pay its people enough money to live on and take care of their families properly? He protected all these people with his life and his record showed his citations for gun duels with stickup men on his beat, strong-arm protection guys, would-be pimps. He had hammered them into the ground. He had kept his little corner of the city safe for ordinary people and he sure as hell was entitled to more than his lousy one C note a week. But he wasn’t indignant about his low pay, he understood that everybody had to take care of themselves.

Bruno Tattaglia was an old friend of his. Bruno had gone to Fordham with one of his sons and then Bruno had opened his nightclub and whenever the McCluskey family spent an infrequent night on the town, they could enjoy the cabaret with liquor and dinner–on the house. On New Year’s Eve they received engraved invitations to be guests of the management and always received one of the best tables. Bruno always made sure they were introduced to the celebrities who performed in his club, some of them famous singers and Hollywood stars. Of course sometimes he asked a little favor, like getting an employee with a record cleared for a cabaret work license, usually a pretty girl with a police dossier as a hustler or roller. McCluskey would be glad to oblige.

McCluskey made it a policy never to show that he understood what other people were up to. When Sollozzo had approached him with the proposition to leave old man Corleone uncovered in the hospital, McCluskey didn’t ask why. He asked price. When Sollozzo said ten grand, McCluskey knew why. He did not hesitate. Corleone was one of the biggest Mafia men in the country with more political connections than Capone had ever had. Whoever knocked him off would be doing the country a big favor. McCluskey took the money in advance and did the job. When he received a call from Sollozzo that there were still two of Corleone’s men in front of the hospital he had flown into a rage. He had locked up all of Tessio’s men, he had pulled the detective guards off the door of Corleone’s hospital room. And now, being a man of principle, he would have to give back the ten grand, money he had already earmarked to insure the education of his grandchildren. It was in that rage that he had gone to the hospital and struck Michael Corleone.

But it had all worked out for the best. He had met with Sollozzo in the Tattaglia nightclub and they had made an even better deal. Again McCluskey didn’t ask questions, since he knew all the answers. He just made sure of his price. It never occurred to him that he himself could be in any danger. That anyone would consider even for a moment killing a New York City police captain was too fantastic. The toughest hood in the Mafia had to stand still if the lowliest patrolman decided to slap him around. There was absolutely no percentage in killing cops. Because then all of a sudden a lot of hoods were killed resisting arrest or escaping the scene of a crime, and who the hell was going to do anything about that?

McCluskey sighed and got ready to leave the station house. Problems, always problems. His wife’s sister in Ireland had just died after many years of fighting cancer and that cancer had cost him a pretty penny. Now the funeral would cost him more. His own uncles and aunts in the old country needed a little help now and then to keep their potato farms and he sent the money to do the trick. He didn’t begrudge it. And when he and his wife visited the old country they were treated like a king and queen. Maybe they would go again this summer now that the war was over and with all this extra money coming in. McCluskey told his patrolman clerk where he would be if he was needed. He did not feel it necessary to take any precautions. He could always claim Sollozzo was an informer he was meeting. Outside the station house he walked a few blocks and then caught a cab to the house where he would meet with Sollozzo.

It was Tom Hagen who had to make all the arrangements for Michael’s leaving the country, his false passport, his seaman’s card, his berth on an Italian freighter that would dock in a Sicilian port. Emissaries were sent that very day by plane to Sicily to prepare a hiding place with the Mafia chief in the hill country.

Sonny arranged for a car and an absolutely trustworthy driver to be waiting for Michael when he stepped out of the restaurant where the meeting would be held with Sollozzo. The driver would be Tessio himself, who had volunteered for the job. It would be a beat-up-looking car but with a fine motor. It would have phony license plates and the car itself would be untraceable. It had been saved for a special job requiring the best.

Michael spent the day with Clemenza, practicing with the small gun that would be gotten to him. It was a .22 filled with soft-nosed bullets that made pinpricks going in and left insulting gaping holes when they exited from the human body. He found that it was accurate up to five of his steps away from a target. After that the bullets might go anywhere. The trigger was tight but Clemenza worked on this with some tools so that it pulled easier. They decided to leave it noisy. They didn’t want an innocent bystander misunderstanding the situation and interfering out of ignorant courage. The report of the gun would keep them away from Michael.

Clemenza kept instructing him during the training session. “Drop the gun as soon as you’ve finished using it. Just let your hand drop to your side and the gun slip out. Nobody will notice. Everybody will think you’re still armed. They’ll be staring at your face. Walk out of the place very quickly but don’t run. Don’t look anybody directly in the eye but don’t look away from them either. Remember, they’ll be scared of you, believe me, they’ll be scared of you. Nobody will interfere. As soon as you’re outside Tessio will be in the car waiting for you. Get in and leave the rest to him. Don’t be worried about accidents. You’d be surprised how well these affairs go. Now put this hat on and let’s see how you look.” He clapped a gray fedora on Michael’s head. Michael, who never wore a hat, grimaced. Clemenza reassured him. “It helps against identification, just in case. Mostly it gives witnesses an excuse to change their identification when we make them see the light. Remember, Mike, don’t worry about prints. The butt and trigger are fixed with special tape. Don’t touch any other part of the gun, remember that.”, Michael said, “Has Sonny found out where Sollozzo is taking me?”

Clemenza shrugged. “Not yet. Sollozzo is being very careful. But don’t worry about him harming you. The negotiator stays in our hands until you come back safe. If anything happens to you, the negotiator pays.”

“Why the hell should he stick his neck out?” Michael asked.

“He gets a big fee,” Clemenza said.” A small fortune. Also he is an important man in the Families. He knows Sollozzo can’t let anything happen to him. Your life is not worth the negotiator’s life to Sollozzo. Very simple. You’ll be safe all right. We’re the ones who catch hell afterwards.”

“How bad will it be?” Michael asked.

“Very bad,” Clemenza said. “It means an all-out war with the Tattaglia Family against the Corleone Family. Most of the others will line up with the Tattaglias. The Sanitation Department will be sweeping up a lot of dead bodies this winter.” He shrugged. “These things have to happen once every ten years or so. It gets rid of the bad blood. And then if we let them push us around on the little things they wanta take over everything. You gotta stop them at the beginning. Like they shoulda stopped Hitler at Munich, they should never let him get away with that, they were just asking for big trouble when they let him get away with that.” Michael had heard his father say this same thing before, only in 1939 before the war actually started. If the Families had been running the State Department there would never have been World War II, he thought with a grin.

They drove back to the mall and to the Don’s house, where Sonny still made his headquarters. Michael wondered how long Sonny could stay cooped up in the safe territory of the mall. Eventually he would have to venture out. They found Sonny taking a nap on the couch. On the coffee table was the remains of his late lunch, scraps of steak and bread crumbs and a half-empty bottle of whiskey.

His father’s usually neat office was taking on the look of a badly kept furnished room. Michael shook his brother awake and said, “Why don’t you stop living like a bum and get this place cleaned up?

Sonny yawned. “What the hell are you, inspecting the barracks? Mike, we haven’t got the word yet where they plan to take you, those bastards Sollozzo and McCluskey. If we don’t find that out, how the hell are we going to get the gun to you?”

“Can’t I carry it on me? Michael asked. “Maybe they won’t frisk me and even if they do maybe they’ll miss it if we’re smart enough. And even if they find it–so what. They’ll just take it off me and no harm done.”

Sonny shook his head. “Nah,” he said. “We have to make this a sure hit on that bastard Sollozzo. Remember, get him first if you possibly can. McCluskey is slower and dumber. You should have plenty of time to take him. Did Clemenza tell you to be sure to drop the gun?”

“A million times,” Michael said.

Sonny got up from the sofa and stretched. “How does your jaw feel, kid?”

“Lousy,” Michael said. The left side of his face ached except those parts that felt numb because of the drugged wire holding it together. He took the bottle of whiskey from the table and swigged directly from it. The pain eased.

Sonny said, “Easy, Mike, now is no time to get slowed up by booze.”

Michael said, “Oh, Christ, Sonny, stop playing the big brother. I’ve been in combat against tougher guys than Sollozzo and under worse conditions. Where the hell are his mortars? Has he got air cover? Heavy artillery? Land mines? He’s just a wise son of a bit@h with a big-wheel cop sidekick. Once anybody makes up their mind to kill them there’s no other problem. That’s the hard part, making up your mind. They’ll never know what hit them.” Tom Hagen came into the room. He greeted them with a nod and went directly to the falsely listed telephone. He called a few times and then shook his head at Sonny. “Not a whisper, “ he said. “Sollozzo is keeping it to himself as long as he can.”

The phone rang. Sonny answered it and he held up a hand as if to signal for quiet though no one had spoken. He jotted some notes down on a pad, then said, “OK, he’ll be there,” and hung up the phone.

Sonny was laughing. “That son of a bit@h Sollozzo, he really is something. Here’s the deal. At eight tonight he and Captain McCluskey pick up Mike in front of Jack Dempsey’s bar on Broadway. They go someplace to talk, and get this. Mike and Sollozzo talk in Italian so that the Irish cop don’t know what the hell they are talking about. He even tells me, don’t worry, he knows McCluskey doesn’t know one word in Italian unless it’s ‘soldi’ and he’s checked you out, Mike, and knows you can understand Sicilian dialect.” Michael said dryly, “I’m pretty rusty but we won’t talk long.”

Tom Hagen said, “We don’t let Mike go until we have the negotiator. Is that arranged?”

Clemenza nodded. “The negotiator is at my house playing pinochle with three of my men. They wait for a call from me before they let him go.”

Sonny sank back in the leather armchair. “Now how the hell do we find out the meeting place? Tom, we’ve got informers with the Tattaglia Family, how come they haven’t given us the word?”

Hagen shrugged. “Sollozzo is really damn smart. He’s playing this close to the vest, so close that he’s not using any men as a cover. He figures the captain will be enough and that security is more important than guns. He’s right too. We’ll have to put a tail on Mike and hope for the best.”

Sonny shook his head. “Nah, anybody can lose a tail when they really want to. That’s the first thing they’ll check out.”

By this time it was five in the afternoon. Sonny, with a worried look on his face, said, “Maybe we should just let Mike blast whoever is in the car when it tries to pick him up.”

Hagen shook his head. “What if Sollozzo is not in the car? We’ve tipped our hand for nothing. Damn it, we have to find out where Sollozzo is taking him.”

Clemenza put in, “Maybe we should start trying to figure why he’s making it such a big secret.”

Michael said impatiently, “Because it’s the percentage. Why should he let us know anything if he can prevent it? Besides, he smells danger. He must be leery as hell even with that police captain for his shadow.”

Hagen snapped his fingers. “That detective, that guy Phillips. Why don’t you give him a ring, Sonny? Maybe he can find out where the hell the captain can be reached. It’s worth a try. McCluskey won’t give a damn who knows where he’s going.”

Sonny picked up the phone and dialed a number. He spoke softly into the phone, then hung up. “He’ll call us back,” Sonny said.

They waited for nearly another thirty minutes and then the phone rang. It was Phillips. Sonny jotted something down on his pad and then hung up. His face was taut. “I think we’ve got it,” he said. “Captain McCluskey always has to leave word on where he can be reached. From eight to ten tonight he’ll be at the Luna Azure up in the Bronx. Anybody know it?” Tessio spoke confidently. “I do. It’s perfect for us. A small family place with big booths where people can talk in private. Good food. Everybody minds their own business. Perfect.” He leaned over Sonny’s desk and arranged stubbed-out cigarettes into map figures. “This is the entrance. Mike, when you finish just walk out and turn left, then turn the corner. I’ll spot you and put on my headlights and catch you on the fly. If you have any trouble, yell and I’ll try to come in and get you out. Clemenza, you gotta work fast. Send somebody up there to plant the gun. They got an old-fashioned toilet with a space between the water container and the wall. Have your man tape the gun behind there. Mike, after they frisk you in the car and find you’re clean, they won’t be too worried about you. In the restaurant, wait a bit before you excuse yourself. No, better still, ask permission to go. Act a little in trouble first, very natural. They can’t figure anything. But when you come out again, don’t waste any time. Don’t sit down again at the table, start blasting. And don’t take chances. In the head, two shots apiece, and out as fast as your legs can travel.”

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