بخش 56کتاب: پدرخوانده / فصل 56
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Neri moved very quickly, so his partner would not have time to draw a gun. The Negro stabbed with his knife, but Neri’s extraordinary reflexes enabled him to catch the thrust with his left palm. With his right hand he swung the flashlight in a short vicious arc. The blow caught Baines on the side of the head and made his knees buckle comically like a drunk’s. The knife dropped from his hand. He was quite helpless. So Neri’s second blow was inexcusable, as the police departmental hearing and his criminal trial later proved with the help of the testimony of witnesses and his fellow policeman. Neri brought the flashlight down on the top of Baines’ skull in an incredibly powerful blow which shattered the glass of the flashlight; the enamel shield and the bulb itself popping out and flying across the room. The heavy aluminum barrel of the flashlight tube bent and only the batteries inside prevented it from doubling on itself. One awed onlooker, a Negro man who lived in the tenement and later testified against Neri, said, “Man that’s a hard-headed nigger.” But Baines’ head was not quite hard enough. The blow caved in his skull. He died two hours later in the Harlem Hospital.
Albert Neri was the only one surprised when he was brought up on departmental charges for using excessive force. He was suspended and criminal charges were brought against him. He was indicted for manslaughter, convicted and sentenced to from one to ten years in prison. By this time he was so filled with a baffled rage and hatred of all society that he didn’t give a damn. That they dared to judge him a criminal! That they dared to send him to prison for killing an animal like that pimp-nigger! That they didn’t give a damn for the woman and little girl who had been carved up, disfigured for life, and still in the hospital.
He did not fear prison. He felt that because of his having been a policeman and especially because of the nature of the offense, he would be well taken care of. Several of his buddy officers had already assured him they would speak to friends. Only his wife’s father, a shrewd old-style Italian who owned a fish market in the Bronx, realized that a man like Albert Neri had little chance of surviving a year in prison. One of his fellow inmates might kill him; if not, he was almost certain to kill one of them. Out of guilt that his daughter had deserted a fine husband for some womanly foolishness, Neri’s father-in-law used his contacts with the Corleone Family (he paid protection money to one of its representatives and supplied the Corleone itself with the finest fish available, as a gift), he petitioned for their intercession.
The Corleone Family knew about Albert Neri. He was something of a legend as a legitimately tough cop; he had made a certain reputation as a man not to be held lightly, as a man who could inspire fear out of his own person regardless of the uniform and the sanctioned gun he wore. The Corleone Family was always interested in such men. The fact that he was a policeman did not mean too much. Many young men started down a false path to their true destiny. Time and fortune usually set them aright.
It was Pete Clemenza, with his fine nose for good personnel, who brought the Neri affair to Tom Hagen’s attention. Hagen studied the copy of the official police dossier and listened to Clemenza. He said, “Maybe we have another Luca Brasi here.”
Clemenza nodded his head vigorously. Though he was very fat, his face had none of the usual stout man’s benignity. “My thinking exactly. Mike should look into this himself.”
And so it was that before Albert Neri was transferred from the temporary jail to what would have been his permanent residence upstate, he was informed that the judge had reconsidered his case on the basis of new information and affidavits submitted by high police officials. His sentence was suspended and he was released.
Albert Neri was no fool and his father-in-law no shrinking violet. Neri learned what had happened and paid his debt to his father-in-law by agreeing to get a divorce from Rita. Then he made a trip out to Long Beach to thank his benefactor. Arrangements had been made beforehand, of course. Michael received him in his library.
Neri stated his thanks in formal tones and was surprised and gratified by the warmth with which Michael received his thanks.
“Hell, I couldn’t let them do that to a fellow Sicilian,” Michael said. “They should have given you a goddamn medal. But those damn politicians don’t give a sh@t about anything except pressure groups. Listen, I would never have stepped into the picture if I hadn’t checked everything out and saw what a raw deal you got. One of my people talked to your sister and she told us how you were always worried about her and her kid, how you straightened the kid out, kept him from going bad. Your father-in-law says you’re the finest fellow in the world. That’s rare.” Tactfully Michael did not mention anything about Neri’s wife having left him.
They chatted for a while. Neri had always been a taciturn man, but he found himself opening up to Michael Corleone. Michael was only about five years his senior, but Neri spoke to him as if he were much older, older enough to be his father.
Finally Michael said, “There’s no sense getting you out of jail and then just leaving you high and dry. I can arrange some work for you. I have interests out in Las Vegas, with your experience you could be a hotel security man. Or if there’s some little business you’d like to go into, I can put a word in with the banks to advance you a loan for capital.”
Neri was overcome with grateful embarrassment. He proudly refused and then added, “I have to stay under the jurisdiction of the court anyway with the suspended sentence.”
Michael said briskly, “That’s all crap detail, I can fix that. Forget about that supervision and just so the banks won’t get choosy I’ll have your yellow sheet pulled.”
The yellow sheet was a police record of criminal offenses committed by any individual. It was usually submitted to a judge when he was considering what sentence to give a convicted criminal. Neri had been long enough on the police force to know that many hoodlums going up for sentencing had been treated leniently by the judge because a clean yellow sheet had been submitted by the bribed Police Records Department. So he was not too surprised that Michael Corleone could do such a thing; he was, however, surprised that such trouble would be taken on his account.
“If I need help, I’ll get in touch,” Neri said.
“Good, good,” Michael said. He looked at his watch and Neri took this for his dismissal. He rose to go. Again he was surprised.
“Lunchtime,” Michael said. “Come on and eat with me and my family. My father said he’d like to meet you. We’ll walk over to his house. My mother should have some fried peppers and eggs and sausages. Real Sicilian style.”
That afternoon was the most agreeable Albert Neri had spent since he was a small boy, since the days before his parents had died when he was only fifteen. Don Corleone was at his most amiable and was delighted when he discovered that Neri’s parents had originally come from a small village only a few minutes from his own. The talk was good, the food was delicious, the wine robustly red. Neri was struck by the thought that he was finally with his own true people. He understood that he was only a casual guest but he knew he could find a permanent place and be happy in such a world.
Michael and the Don walked him out to his car. The Don shook his hand and said, “You’re a fine fellow. My son Michael here, I’ve been teaching him the olive business, I’m getting old, I want to retire. And he comes to me and he says he wants to interfere in your little affair. I tell him to just learn about the olive oil. But he won’t leave me alone. He says, here is this fine fellow, a Sicilian and they are doing this dirty trick to him. He kept on, he gave me no peace until I interested myself in it. I tell you this to tell that he was right. Now that I’ve met you, I’m glad we took the trouble. So if we can do anything further for you, just ask the favor. Understand? We’re at your service.” (Remembering the Don’s kindness, Neri wished the great man was still alive to see the service that would be done this day.) It took Neri less than three days to make up his mind. He understood he was being courted but understood more. That the Corleone Family approved that act of his which society condemned and had punished him for. The Corleone Family valued him, society did not. He understood that he would be happier in the world the Corleones had created than in the world outside. And he understood that the Corleone Family was the more powerful, within its narrower limits.
He visited Michael again and put his cards on the table. He did not want to work in Vegas but he would take a job with the Family in New York. He made his loyalty clear. Michael was touched, Neri could see that. It was arranged. But Michael insisted that Neri take a vacation first, down in Miami at the Family hotel there, all expenses paid and a month’s salary in advance so he could have the necessary cash to enjoy himself properly.
That vacation was Neri’s first taste of luxury. People at the hotel took special care of him, saying, “Ah, you’re a friend of Michael Corleone.” The word had been passed along. He was given one of the plush suites, not the grudging small room a poor relation might be fobbed off with. The man running the nightclub in the hotel fixed him up with some beautiful girls. When Neri got back to New York he had a slightly different view on life in general.
He was put in the Clemenza regime and tested carefully by that masterful personnel man. Certain precautions had to be taken. He had, after all, once been a policeman. But Neri’s natural ferocity overcame whatever scruples he might have had at being on the other side of the fence. In less than a year he had “made his bones.” He could never turn back.
Clemenza sang his praises. Neri was a wonder, the new Luca Brasi. He would be better than Luca, Clemenza bragged. After all, Neri was his discovery. Physically the man was a marvel. His reflexes and coordination such that he could have been another Joe DiMaggio. Clemenza also knew that Neri was not a man to be controlled by someone like himself. Neri was made directly responsible to Michael Corleone, with Tom Hagen as the necessary buffer. He was a “special” and as such commanded a high salary but did not have his own living, a bookmaking or strong-arm operation. It was obvious that his respect for Michael Corleone was enormous and one day Hagen said jokingly to Michael, “Well now you’ve got your Luca.” Michael nodded. He had brought it off. Albert Neri was his man to the death. And of course it was a trick learned from the Don himself. While learning the business, undergoing the long days of tutelage by his father, Michael had one time asked, “How come you used a guy like Luca Brasi? An animal like that?”
The Don had proceeded to instruct him. “There are men in this world,” he said, “who go about demanding to be killed. You must have noticed them. They quarrel in gambling games, they jump out of their automobiles in a rage if someone so much as scratches their fender, they humiliate and bully people whose capabilities they do not know. I have seen a man, a fool, deliberately infuriate a group of dangerous men, and he himself without any resources. These are people who wander through the world shouting, ‘Kill me. Kill me.’ And there is always somebody ready to oblige them. We read about it in the newspapers every day. Such people of course do a great deal of harm to others also.
“Luca Brasi was such a man. But he was such an extraordinary man that for a long time nobody could kill him. Most of these people are of no concern to ourselves but a Brasi is a powerful weapon to be used. The trick is that since he does not fear death and indeed looks for it, then the trick is to make yourself the only person in the world that he truly desires not to kill him. He has only that one fear, not of death, but that you may be the one to kill him. He is yours then.” It was one of the most valuable lessons given by the Don before he died, and Michael had used it to make Neri his Luca Brasi.
And now, finally, Albert Neri, alone in his Bronx apartment, was going to put on his police uniform again. He brushed it carefully. Polishing the holster would be next. And his policeman’s cap too, the visor had to be cleaned, the stout black shoes shined. Neri worked with a will. He had found his place in the world, Michael Corleone had placed his absolute trust in him, and today he would not fail that trust.
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