بخش 07

کتاب: پدرخوانده / فصل 7

بخش 07

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The home of Jack Woltz looked like an implausible movie set. There was a plantation-type mansion, huge grounds girdled by a rich black-dirt bridle path, stables and pasture for a herd of horses. The hedges, flower beds and grasses were as carefully manicured as a movie star’s nails.

Woltz greeted Hagen on a glass-paneled air-conditioned porch. The producer was informally dressed in blue silk shirt open at the neck, mustard-colored slacks, soft leather sandals. Framed in all this color and rich fabric his seamed, tough face was startling. He handed Hagen an outsized martini glass and took one for himself from the prepared tray. He seemed more friendly than he had been earlier in the day. He put his arm over Hagen’s shoulder and said, “We have a little time before dinner, let’s go look at my horses.” As they walked toward the stables he said, “I checked you out, Tom; you should have told me your boss is Corleone. I thought you were just some third-rate hustler Johnny was running in to bluff me. And I don’t bluff. Not that I want to make enemies, I never believed in that. But let’s just enjoy ourselves now. We can talk business after dinner.” Surprisingly Woltz proved to be a truly considerate host. He explained his new methods, innovations that he hoped would make his stable the most successful in America. The stables were all fire-proofed, sanitized to the highest degree, and guarded by a special security detail of private detectives. Finally Woltz led him to a stall which had a huge bronze plaque attached to its outside wall. On the plaque was the name “Khartoum.”

The horse inside the stall was, even to Hagen’s inexperienced eyes, a beautiful animal. Khartoum’s skin was jet black except for a diamond-shaped white patch on his huge forehead. The great brown eyes glinted like golden apples, the black skin over the taut body was silk. Woltz said with childish pride, “The greatest racehorse in the world. I bought him in England last year for six hundred grand. I bet even the Russian Czars never paid that much for a single horse. But I’m not going to race him, I’m going to put him to stud. I’m going to build the greatest racing stable this country has ever known.” He stroked the horse’s mane and called out softly, “Khartoum, Khartoum.” There was real love in his voice and the animal responded. Woltz said to Hagen, “I’m a good horseman, you know, and the first time I ever rode I was fifty years old.” He laughed. “Maybe one of my grandmothers in Russia got raped by a Cossack and I got his blood.” He tickled Khartoum’s belly and said with sincere admiration, “Look at that cock on him. I should have such a cock.” They went back to the mansion to have dinner. It was served by three waiters under the command of a butler, the table linen and ware were all gold thread and silver, but Hagen found the food mediocre. Woltz obviously lived alone, and just as obviously was not a man who cared about food. Hagen waited until they had both lit up huge Havana cigars before he asked Woltz, “Does Johnny get it or not?”

“I can’t,” Woltz said. “I can’t put Johnny into that picture even if I wanted to. The contracts are all signed for all the performers and the cameras roll next week. There’s no way I can swing it.”

Hagen said impatiently, “Mr. Woltz, the big advantage of dealing with a man at the top is that such an excuse is not valid. You can do anything you want to do.” He puffed on his cigar. “Don’t you believe my client can keep his promises?”

Woltz said dryly, “I believe that I’m going to have labor trouble. Goff called me up on that, the son of a bit@h, and the way he talked to me you’d never guess I pay him a hundred grand a year under the table. And I believe you can get that fag he-man star of mine off heroin. But I don’t care about that and I can finance my own pictures. Because I hate that bastard Fontane. Tell your boss this is one favor I can’t give but that he should try me again on anything else. Anything at all.” Hagen thought, you sneaky bastard, then why the hell did you bring me all the way out here? The producer had something on his mind. Hagen said coldly, “I don’t think you understand the situation. Mr. Corleone is Johnny Fontane’s godfather. That is a very close, a very sacred religious relationship.” Woltz bowed his head in respect at this reference to religion. Hagen went on. “Italians have a little joke, that the world is so hard a man must have two fathers to look after him, and that’s why they have godfathers. Since Johnny’s father died, Mr. Corleone feels his responsibility even more deeply. As for trying you again, Mr. Corleone is much too sensitive. He never asks a second favor where he has been refused the first.” Woltz shrugged. “I’m sorry. The answer is still no. But since you’re here, what will it cost me to have that labor trouble cleared up? In cash. Right now.”

That solved one puzzle for Hagen. Why Woltz was putting in so much time on him when he had already decided not to give Johnny the part. And that could not be changed at this meeting. Woltz felt secure; he was not afraid of the power of Don Corleone. And certainly Woltz with his national political connections, his acquaintanceship with the FBI chief, his huge personal fortune and his absolute power in the film industry, could not feel threatened by Don Corleone. To any intelligent man, even to Hagen, it seemed that Woltz had correctly assessed his position. He was impregnable to the Don if he was willing to take the losses the labor struggle would cost. There was only one thing wrong with the whole equation. Don Corleone had promised his godson he would get the part and Don Corleone had never, to Hagen’s knowledge, broken his word in such matters.

Hagen said quietly, “You are deliberately misunderstanding me. You are trying to make me an accomplice to extortion. Mr. Corleone promises only to speak in your favor on this labor trouble as a matter of friendship in return for your speaking in behalf of his client. A friendly exchange. of influence, nothing more. But I can see you don’t take me seriously. Personally, I think that is a mistake.”

Woltz, as if he had been waiting for such a moment, let himself get angry. “I understood perfectly,” he said. “That’s the Mafia style, isn’t is? All olive oil and sweet talk when what you’re really doing is/making threats. So let me lay it on the line. Johnny Fontane will never get that part and he’s perfect for it. It would make him a great star. But he never will be because I hate that pinko punk and I’m going to run him out of the movies. And I’ll tell you why. He ruined one of my most valuable protégées. For five years I had this girl under training, singing, dancing, acting lessons, I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. I was going to make her a star. I’ll be even more frank, just to show you that I’m not a hard-hearted man, that it wasn’t all dollars and cents. That girl was beautiful and she was the greatest piece of ass I’ve ever had and I’ve had them allover the world. She could suck you out like a water pump. Then Johnny comes along with that olive-oil voice and guinea charm and she runs off. She threw it all away just to make me ridiculous. A man in my position, Mr. Hagen, can’t afford to look ridiculous. I have to pay Johnny off.” For the first time, Woltz succeeded in astounding Hagen. He found it inconceivable that a grown man of substance would let such trivialities affect his judgment in an affair of business, and one of such importance. In Hagen’s world, the Corleones’ world, the physical beauty, the s@xual power of women, carried not the slightest weight in worldly matters. It was a private affair, except, of course, in matters of marriage and family disgrace. Hagen decided to make one last try.

“You are absolutely right, Mr. Woltz,” Hagen said. “But are your grievances that major? I don’t think you’ve understood how important this very small favor is to my client. Mr. Corleone held the infant Johnny in his arms when he was baptized. When Johnny’s father died, Mr. Corleone assumed the duties of parenthood, indeed he is called ‘Godfather’ by many, many people who wish to show their respect and gratitude for the help he has given them. Mr. Corleone never lets his friends down.” Woltz stood up abruptly. “I’ve listened to about enough. Thugs don’t give me orders, I give them orders. If I pick up this phone, you’ll spend the night in jail. And if that Mafia goombah tries any rough stuff, he’ll find out I’m not a band leader. Yeah, I heard that story too. Listen, your Mr. Corleone will never know what hit him. Even if I have to use my influence at the White House.”

The stupid, stupid son of a bit@h. How the hell did he get to be a pezzonovante, Hagen wondered. Advisor to the President, head of the biggest movie studio in the world. Definitely the Don should get into the movie business. And the guy was taking his words at their sentimental face value. He was not getting the message.

“Thank you for the dinner and a pleasant evening,” Hagen said. “Could you give me transportation to the airport? I don’t think I’ll spend the night.” He smiled coldly at Woltz. “Mr. Corleone is a man who insists on hearing bad news at once.”

While waiting in the floodlit colonnade of the mansion for his car, Hagen saw two women about to enter a long limousine already parked in the driveway. They were the beautiful twelve-year-old blond girl and her mother he had seen in Woltz’s office that morning. But now the girl’s exquisitely cut mouth seemed to have smeared into a thick, pink mass. Her sea-blue eyes were filmed over and when she walked down the steps toward the open car her long legs tottered like a crippled foal’s. Her mother supported the child, helping her into the car, hissing commands into her ear. The mother’s head turned for a quick furtive look at Hagen and he saw in her eyes a burning, hawk-like triumph. Then she too disappeared into the limousine.

So that was why he hadn’t got the plane ride from Los Angeles, Hagen thought. The girl and her mother had made the trip with the movie producer. That had given Woltz enough time to relax before dinner and do the job on the little kid. And Johnny wanted to live in this world? Good luck to him, and good luck to Woltz.

Paulie Gatto hated quickie jobs, especially when they involved violence. He liked to plan things ahead. And something like tonight, even though it was punk stuff, could turn into serious business if somebody made a mistake. Now, sipping his beer, he glanced around, checking how the two young punks were making out with the two little tramps at the bar.

Paulie Gatto knew everything there was to know about those two punks. Their names were Jerry Wagner and Kevin Moonan. They were both about twenty years old, good-looking, brown-haired, tall, well-built. Both were due to go back to college out of town in two weeks, both had fathers with political influence and this, with their college student classification, had so far kept them out of the draft. They were both also under suspended sentences for assaulting the daughter of Amerigo Bonasera. The lousy bastards, Paulie Gatto thought. Draft dodging, violating their probation by drinking in a bar after midnight, chasing floozies. Young punks. Paulie Gatto had been deferred from the draft himself because his doctor had furnished the draft board with documents showing that this patient, male, white, aged twenty-six, unmarried, had received electrical shock treatments for a mental condition. All false, of course, but Paulie Gatto felt that he had earned his draft exemption. It had been arranged by Clemenza after Gatto had “made his bones” in the family business.

It was Clemenza who had told him that this job must be rushed through, before the boys went to college. Why the hell did it have to be done in New York, Gatto wondered. Clemenza was always giving extra orders instead of just giving out the job. Now if those two little tramps walked out with the punks it would be another night wasted.

He could hear one of the girls laughing and saying, “ Are you crazy, Jerry? I’m not going in any car with you. I don’t want to wind up in the hospital like that other poor girl.” Her voice was spitefully rich with satisfaction. That was enough for Gat to. He finished up his beer and walked out into the dark street. Perfect. It was after midnight. There was only one other bar that showed light. The rest of the stores were closed. The precinct patrol car had been taken care of by Clemenza. They wouldn’t be around that way until they got a radio call and then they’d come slow.

He leaned against the four-door Chevy sedan. In the back seat two men were sitting, almost invisible, although they were very big men. Paulie said, “Take them when they come out.”

He still thought it had all been set up too fast. Clemenza had given him copies of the police mug shots of the two punks, the dope on where the punks went drinking every night to pick up bar girls. Paulie had recruited two of the strong-arms in the family and fingered the punks for them. He had also given them their instructions. No blows on the top or the back of the head, there was to be no accidental fatality. Other than that they could go as far as they liked. He had given them only one warning: “If those punks get out of the hospital in less than a month, you guys go back to driving trucks.” The two big men were getting out of the car. They were both ex-boxers who had never made it past the small clubs and had been fixed up by Sonny Corleone with a little loanshark action so that they could make a decent living. They were, naturally, anxious to show their gratitude.

When Jerry Wagner and Kevin Moonan came out of the bar they were perfect setups. The bar girl’s taunts had left their adolescent vanity prickly. Paulie Gat to, leaning against the fender of his car, called out to them with a teasing laugh, “Hey, Casanova, those broads really brushed you off.”

The two young men turned on him with delight. Paulie Gatto looked like a perfect outlet for their humiliation. Ferret-faced, short, slightly built and a wise guy in the bargain. They pounced on him eagerly and immediately found their arms pinned by two men grabbing them from behind. At the same moment Paulie Gatto had slipped onto his right hand a specially made set of brass knuckles studded with one-sixteenth-inch iron spikes. His timing was good, he worked out in the gym three times a week. He smashed the punk named Wagner right on the nose. The man holding Wagner lifted him up off the ground and Paulie swung his arm, uppercutting into the perfectly positioned groin. Wagner went limp and the big man dropped him. This had taken no more than six seconds.

Now both of them turned their attention to Kevin Moonan, who was trying to shout. The man holding him from behind did so easily with one huge muscled arm. The other hand he put around Moonan’s throat to cut off any sound.

Paulie Gatto jumped into the car and started the motor. The two big men were beating Moonan to jelly. They did so with frightening deliberation, as if they had all the time in the world. They did not throw punches in flurries but in timed, slow-motion sequences that carried the full weight of their massive bodies. Each blow landed with a splat of flesh splitting open. Gatto got a glimpse of Moonan’s face. It was unrecognizable. The two men left Moonan lying on the sidewalk and turned their attention to Wagner. Wagner was trying to get to his feet and he started to scream for help. Someone came out of the bar and the two men had to work faster now. They clubbed Wagner to his knees. One of the men took his arm and twisted it, then kicked him in the spine. There was a cracking sound and Wagner’s scream of agony brought windows open all along the street. The two men worked very quickly. One of them held Wagner up by using his two hands around Wagner’s head like a vise. The other man smashed his huge fist into the fixed target. There were more people coming out of the bar but none tried to interfere. Paulie Gatto yelled, “Come on, enough.” The two big men jumped into the car and Paulie gunned it away, Somebody would describe the car and read the license plates but it didn’t matter. It was a stolen California plate and there were one hundred thousand black Chevy sedans in New York City.

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