Peter Clemenza slept badly that night. In the morning he got up early and made his own breakfast of a glass of grappa, a thick slice of Genoa salami with a chunk of fresh Italian bread that was still delivered to his door as in the old days. Then he drank a great, plain china mug filled with hot coffee that had been lashed with anisette. But as he padded about the house in his old bathrobe and red felt slippers he pondered on the day’s work that lay ahead of him. Last night Sonny Corleone had made it very clear that Paulie Gatto was to be taken care of immediately. It had to be today.
Clemenza was troubled. Not because Gatto had been his protege and had turned traitor. This did not reflect on the caporegime’s judgment. After all, Paulie’s background had been perfect. He came from a Sicilian family, he had grown up in the same neighborhood as the Corleone children, had indeed even gone to school with one of the sons. He had been brought up through each level in the proper manner. He had been tested and not found wanting. And then after he had “made his bones” he had received a good living from the Family, a percentage of an East Side “book” and a union payroll slot. Clemenza had not been unaware that Paulie Gatto ‘supplemented his income with free-lance stickups, strictly against the Family rules, but even this was a sign of the man’s worth. The breaking of such regulations was considered a sign of high-spiritedness, like that shown by a fine racing horse fighting the reins.
And Paulie had never caused trouble with his stickups. They had always been meticulously planned and carried out with the minimum of fuss and trouble, with no one ever getting hurt: a three-thousand-dollar Manhattan garment center payroll, a small chinaware factory payroll in the slums of Brooklyn. After all, a young man could always use some extra pocket money. It was all in the pattern. Who could ever foretell that Paulie Gatto would turn traitor?
What was troubling Peter Clemenza this morning was an administrative problem. The actual execution of Gatto was a cut-and-dried chore. The problem was, who should the caporegime bring up from the ranks to replace Gatto in the Family? It was an important promotion, that to “button” man, one not to be handed out lightly. The man had to be tough and he had to be smart. He had to be safe, not a person who would talk to the police if he got in trouble, one well saturated in the Sicilians’ law of omerta, the law of silence. And then, what kind of a living would he receive for his new duties? Clemenza had several times spoken to the Don about better rewards for the all-important button man who was first in the front line when trouble arose, but the Don had put him off. If Paulie had been making more money, he might have been able to resist the blandishments of the wily Turk, Sollozzo.
Clemenza finally narrowed down the list of candidates to three men. The first was an enforcer who worked with the colored policy bankers in Harlem, a big brawny brute of a man of great physical strength, a man with a great deal of personal charm who could get along with people and yet when necessary make them go in fear of him. But Clemenza scratched him off the list after considering his name for a half hour. This man got along too well with the black people, which hinted at some flaw of character. Also he would be too hard to replace in the position he now held.
The second name Clemenza considered and almost settled on was a hard-working chap who served faithfully and well in the organization. This man was the collector of delinquent accounts for Family-licensed shylocks in Manhattan. He had started off as a bookmaker’s runner. But he was not quite yet ready for such an important promotion.
Finally he settled on Rocco Lampone. Lampone had served a short but impressive apprenticeship in the Family. During the war he had been wounded in Africa and been discharged in 1943. Because of the shortage of young men, Clemenza had taken him on even though Lampone was partially incapacitated by his injuries and walked with a pronounced limp. Clemenza had used him as a black-market contact in the garment center and with government employees controlling OPA food stamps. From that, Lampone had graduated to trouble-shooter for the whole operation. What Clemenza liked about him was his good judgment. He knew that there was no percentage in being tough about something that would only cost a heavy fine or six months in jail, small prices to pay for the enormous profits earned. He had the good sense to know that it was not an area for heavy threats but light ones. He kept the whole operation in a minor key, which was exactly what was needed.
Clemenza felt the relief of a conscientious administrator who has solved a knotty personnel problem. Yes, it would be Rocco Lampone who would assist. For Clemenza planned to handle this job himself, not only to help a new, inexperienced man “make his bones,” but to settle a personal score with Paulie Gatto. Paulie had been his protege, he had advanced Paulie over the heads of more deserving and more loyal people, he had helped Paulie “make his bones” and furthered his career in every way. Paulie had not only betrayed the Family, he had betrayed his padrone, Peter Clemenza. This lack of respect had to be repaid.
Everything else was arranged. Paulie Gatto had been instructed to pick him up at three in the afternoon, and to pick him up with his own car, nothing hot. Now Clemenza took up the telephone and dialed Rocco Lampone’s number. He did not identify himself. He simply said, “Come to my house, I have an errand for you.” He was pleased to note that despite the early hour, Lampone’s voice was not surprised or dazed with sleep and he simply said, “OK.” Good man. Clemenza added, “No rush, have your breakfast and lunch first before you come see me. But not later than two in the afternoon.”
There was another laconic OK on the other end and Clemenza hung up the phone. He had already alerted his people about replacing caporegime Tessio’s people in the Corleone mall so that was done. He had capable subordinates and never interfered in a mechanical operation of that kind.
He decided to wash his Cadillac. He loved the car. It gave him such a quiet peaceful ride, and its upholstery was so rich that he sometimes sat in it for an hour when the weather was good because it was more pleasant than sitting in the house. And it always helped him think when he was grooming the car. He remembered his father in Italy doing the same thing with donkeys.
Clemenza worked inside the heated garage, he hated cold. He ran over his plans. You had to be careful with Paulie, the man was like a rat, he could smell danger. And now of course despite being so tough he must be shitting in his pants because the old man was still alive. He’d be as skittish as a donkey with ants up his ass. But Clemenza was accustomed to these circumstances, usual in his work. First, he had to have a good excuse for Rocco to accompany them. Second, he had to have a plausible mission for the three of them to go on.
Of course, strictly speaking, this was not necessary. Paulie Gatto could be killed without any of these frills. He was locked in, he could not run away. But Clemenza felt strongly that it was important to keep good working habits and never give away a fraction of a percentage point. You never could tell what might happen and these matters were, after all, questions of life and death.
As he washed his baby-blue Cadillac, Peter Clemenza pondered and rehearsed his lines, the expressions of his face. He would be curt with Paulie, as if displeased with him. With a man so sensitive and suspicious as Gatto this would throw him off the track or at least leave him uncertain. Undue friendliness would make him wary. But of course the curtness must not be too angry. It had to be rather an absentminded sort of irritation. And why Lampone? Paulie would find that most alarming, especially since Lampone had to be in the rear seat. Paulie wouldn’t like being helpless at the wheel with Lampone behind his head. Clemenza rubbed and polished the metal of his Cadillac furiously. It was going to be tricky. Very tricky. For a moment he debated whether to recruit another man but decided against it. Here he followed basic reasoning. In years to come a situation might arise where it might be profitable for one of his partners to testify against him. If there were just one accomplice it was one’s word against the other. But the word of a second accomplice could swing the balance. No, they would stick to procedure.
What annoyed Clemenza was that the execution had to be “public.” That is, the body was to be found. He would have much preferred having it disappear. (Usual burying grounds were the nearby ocean or the swamplands of New Jersey on land owned by friends of the Family or by other more complicated methods.) But it had to be public so that embryo traitors would be frightened and the enemy warned that the Corleone Family had by no means gone stupid or soft. Sollozzo would be made wary by this quick discovery of his spy. The Corleone Family would win back some of its prestige. It had been made to look foolish by the shooting of the old man.
Clemenza sighed. The Cadillac gleamed like a huge blue steel egg, and he was nowhere near the solving of his problem. Then the solution hit him, logical and to the point. It would explain Rocco Lampone, himself and Paulie being together and give them a mission of sufficient secrecy and importance.
He would tell Paulie that their job today was to find an apartment in case the Family decided to “go to the mattresses.”
Whenever a war between the Families became bitterly intense, the opponents would set up headquarters in secret apartments where the “soldiers” could sleep on mattresses scattered through the rooms. This was not so much to keep their families out of danger, their wives and little children, since any attack on noncombatants was undreamed of. All parties were too vulnerable to similar retaliation. But it was always smarter to live in some secret place where your everyday movements could not be charted either by your opponents or by some police who might arbitrarily decide to meddle.
And so usually a trusted caporegime would be sent out to rent a secret apartment and fill it with mattresses. That apartment would be used as a sally port into the city when an offensive was mounted. It was natural for Clemenza to be sent on such an errand. It was natural for him to take Gatto and Lampone with him to arrange all the details, including the furnishing of the apartment. Also, Clemenza thought with a grin, Paulie Gatto had proved he was greedy and the first thought that would pop into his head was how much he could get from Sollozzo for this valuable intelligence.
Rocco Lampone arrived early and Clemenza explained what had to be done and what their roles would be. Lampone’s face lit up with surprised gratitude and he thanked Clemenza respectfully for the promotion allowing him to serve the Family. Clemenza was sure he had done well. He clapped Lampone on the shoulder and said, “You’ll get something better for your living after today. We’ll talk about that later. You understand the Family now is occupied with more critical matters, more important things to do.” Lampone made a gesture that said he would be patient, knowing his reward was certain.
Clemenza went to his den’s safe and opened it. He took out a gun and gave it to Lampone. “Use this one,” he said.. “They can never trace it. Leave it in the car with Paulie. When this job is finished I want you to take your wife and children on a vacation to Florida. Use your own money now and I’ll pay you back later. Relax, get the sun. Use the Family hotel in Miami Beach so I’ll know where I can get you when I want.”
Clemenza’s wife knocked on the door of the den to tell them that Paulie Gatto had arrived. He was parked in the driveway. Clemenza led the way through the garage and Lampone followed him. When Clemenza got into the front seat with Gatto he merely grunted in greeting, an exasperated look on his face. He looked at his wristwatch as if he expected to find that Gatto was late.
The ferret-faced button man was watching him intently, looking for a clue. He flinched a little when Lampone got into the rear seat behind him and said, “Rocco, sit on the other site. A big guy like you blocks up my rear-view mirror.” Lampone shifted dutifully, so that he was sitting behind Clemenza, as if such a request was the most natural thing in the world.
Clemenza said sourly to Gatto, “Damn that Sonny, he’s running scared. He’s already thinking of going to the mattresses. We have to find a place on the West Side. Paulie, you and Rocco gotta staff and supply it until the word comes down for the rest of the soldiers to use it. You know a good location?”
As he had expected, Gatto’s eyes became greedily interested. Paulie had swallowed the bait and because he was thinking how much the information was worth to Sollozzo, he was forgetting to think about whether he was in danger. Also, Lampone was acting his part perfectly, staring out the window in a disinterested, relaxed way. Clemenza congratulated himself on his choice.
Gatto shrugged. “I’d have to think about it,” he said.
Clemenza grunted. “Drive while you think, I want to get. to New York today.”
Paulie was an expert driver and traffic going into the city was light at this time in the afternoon, so the early winter darkness was just beginning to fall when they arrived. There was no small talk in the car. Clemenza directed Paulie to drive up to the Washington Heights section. He checked a few apartment buildings and told him to park near Arthur Avenue and wait. He also left Rocco Lampone in the car. He went into the Vera Mario Restaurant and had a light dinner of veal and salad, nodding his hellos to some acquaintances. After an hour had gone by he walked the several blocks to where the car was parked and entered it. Gatto and Lampone were still waiting. “Shit,” Clemenza said, “they want us back in Long Beach. They got some other job for us now. Sonny says we can let this one go until later. Rocco, you live in the city, can we drop you off?”
Rocco said quietly, “I have my car out at your place and my old lady needs it first thing in the morning.”
“That’s right,” Clemenza said. “Then you have to come back with us, after all.”
Again on the ride back to Long Beach nothing was said. On the stretch of road that led into the city, Clemenza said suddenly, “Paulie, pull over, I gotta take a leak.” From working together so long, Gatto knew the fat caporegime had a weak bladder. He had often made such a request. Gatto pulled the car off the highway onto the soft earth that led to the swamp. Clemenza climbed out of the car and took a few steps into the bushes. He actually relieved himself. Then as he opened the door to get back into the car he took a quick look up and down the highway. There were no lights, the road was completely dark. “Go ahead,” Clemenza said. A second later the interior of the car reverberated with the report of a gun. Paulie Gatto seemed to jump forward, his body flinging against the steering wheel and then slumping over to the seat. Clemenza had stepped back hastily to avoid being hit with fragments of skull bone and blood.
Rocco Lampone scrambled out of the back seat. He still held the gun and he threw it into the swamp. He and Clemenza walked hastily to a car parked nearby and got in. Lampone reached underneath the seat and found the key that had been left for them. He started the car and drove Clemenza to his home. Then instead of going back by the same route, he took the Jones Beach Causeway right on through to the town of Merrick and onto the Meadowbrook Parkway until he reached the Northern State Parkway. He rode that to the Long Island Expressway and then continued on to the Whitestone Bridge and through the Bronx to his home in Manhattan.