James LePore: Sons and Princes Excerpt

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SONS AND PRINCES front coverI picked this long excerpt for three reasons: 1. it describes devil’s bargain that Chris Massi is offered by his ex-father-in-law, the Mafis don Anthony DiGiglio, which is this: if you want to save your son you will have to become one of us, 2. it gives the reader insight into Chris’s past and current moral and legal struggles, and 3. it refers to the $2 million that plays a crucial role in The Fifth Man, the soon-to-be-released sequel to Sons and Princes.

 

During his conversation with Tess, Chris noticed that Joe Pace, Junior Boy’s weight-lifting driver and mechanic, had been standing silently in the archway that led from the restaurant to the courtyard. Pace had been sent over from Palermo when his parents, distant DiGiglio cousins, were killed in a mysterious explosion in 1976. Now thirty-five, he had been a trusted retainer ever since. In his dark suit, with his blank face and deliberate ways, he looked every bit the Mafia killer and bodyguard that he was. When Tess rose and walked over to her mother and grandmother, Pace immediately walked over to Chris.

“The don would like to speak to you,” he said quietly, when he reached Chris’ table.

“Sure,” said Chris, “where?”

“Upstairs.”

There was more nostalgia in store for Chris in the owner’s second floor flat, whose old world formality brought him swiftly back to the years he had spent on Carmine Street. The white lace doilies on the arms of chairs, the floral design cut into the green carpet, the linoleum in the halls: he would not have been surprised to see Rose crossing under the archway from the kitchen into the living room wiping her hands on an apron that never seemed to get soiled. But it wasn’t Rose who greeted him, it was Anthony DiGiglio, who, turning from a window where he had been peering out through a slit in the Venetian blinds, extended his hand to shake Chris’ then pointed to easy chairs facing each other across an intricately carved mahogany coffee table.

“I’m sorry about those cameramen,” Junior Boy said to Chris when they were seated. To Joe Pace, who was standing with his hands clasped in front of him, DiGiglio said, “You can go. Tell Nick to stay by the door.”

Chris shrugged his shoulders slightly and remained silent, gazing with expectant interest at the man who, for five years, from 1985 to 1990, was his father-in-law. In those years they had built a relationship based largely though not wholly on mutual respect. But they had only infrequently crossed paths in the years since, and even less frequently had they interacted in any meaningful way, though each knew the basic post-divorce history of the other. This included Chris’ indictment in 2000 for conspiracy to commit stock fraud, his trial, acquittal and subsequent bitterly fought battle with the New York Bar Association. Junior Boy, to Chris’ eye, had aged well. Though his classically Italian face had become lined and thickened, the years had done nothing to diminish its proud bearing and the force of character that stamped all of its features.

“Teresa tells me you lost your case.”

“Right,” Chris replied. “I’ve been disbarred.”

“This was recently?”

“I got the letter the day my mother died.”

“That wasn’t a good day, I guess.”

“No.”

“What now?” the don asked.

“I don’t know.”

“What about your father?”

“My father?”

“We know who killed him.”

“Who?”

“Barsonetti.”

“Barsonetti? Why?”

“He heard rumors,” DiGiglio said, “that Joe Black was holding two million in cash that the Boot had entrusted him with before he died. It was supposed to go to his grandsons, but since Barson had killed them both he felt it was rightfully his. He offered Joe Black a position as a capo and a share of the money if he would give it to him. Joe refused. Barsonetti took it as an insult.”

“Is it true?” Chris asked. “About the money?”

“Who knows? It sounds like old man Velardo. He never trusted the banks. And you know Joe Black. He could keep a secret like Fort Knox.”

“That’s it?” Chris said. “Over a rumor? An insult?”

“I believe there’s more to it.”

“Like what?”

“Who do you think wired Paulie Raimo?”

“He wired himself.”

“He wasn’t smart enough. I think it was Barsonetti.”

“The other defendants went down,” Chris said. “They were Barsonetti’s people.”

“He sacrificed them.”

“Why?”

“To get you, to ruin your life.”

Chris remained silent. Paulie Raimo, his last client, had come to him under indictment for securities fraud. Raimo and his two co-defendants worked for Jimmy Barsonetti, a rogue Mafia don who Chris had barely heard of at the time. Raimo, a punk who thought himself clever, began wearing a wire to all of his meetings relating to the case. Chris made the mistake of joining Paulie and his two cohorts for a hastily arranged dinner meeting one night at which there was an obscure discussion of a new scam they were contemplating. Obscure but enough to get Chris indicted.

“This is what I hear.” DiGiglio continued. “When the Boot died your father’s obligation to the Velardo family was over. He turned down Barson’s offer without giving it a second thought. He did not mince words as you probably know. He was done with killing, done with the life. He and Barson were from the same town in Sicily. To Barson, Joe Black was a hero, a legend. When Joe rejected him it was to him the worse kind of insult. It meant that a paisano, a countryman from the same low social status, was contemptuous of him. He couldn’t kill him however. He had just killed the Boot’s grandsons when he moved on their territory in Brooklyn. He knew the other families were angry. He was afraid of starting a war, afraid of Joe’s many friends in the other families, including mine. Then Raimo gets arrested. Who referred him to you?”

“I don’t remember.”

“You were set up,” Junior Boy said. “Barsonetti avenged Joe Black’s insult by destroying his son’s life.”

“But you’re saying he killed him anyway.”

“When Joe Black found out Jimmy Barson was behind Raimo’s wire——had orchestrated your disgrace——he went after him. Something went wrong. Joe Black was killed.”

“A justified killing,” Chris said.

“Yes. There could be no reprisals.”

“Did my father actually have friends in the other families?”

“He allowed no one to get close, but he was highly respected. He was the last of his kind, Chris.”

“What kind is that?”

“Honorable, loyal, tight-lipped, reliable; one hundred percent in all categories.”

“A good honorable tight-lipped killer.”

“When the need arose, yes.”

“How did Barsonetti know about the money?”

“The Boot’s grandsons probably offered it to Barson,” the don replied, “to save their lives. The people who killed Joe Black tortured him to get him to talk. Of course he didn’t. That kind of a story gets around. As to the rest, I’m surmising, connecting dots. For one thing, Raimo would never have worn a wire like he did——one of his co-conspirators was a made guy, a captain——without Barson’s permission. It would have meant instant death.”

Chris shook his head, the full import of what his ex-father-in-law was telling him beginning to sink in. His father had died trying to avenge Chris, and had withstood brutal torture in order to keep his word to his don. This was at once both a comfort and a blow to Chris, whose heart had ached at not knowing how or why Joe Black had died. But that hurt was replaced by a new one. Joe Black had been done with killing, done with looking over his shoulder, freed from the hushed prison of caution and silence that had been his professional life. Yet he had picked up his gun again to avenge his first born son of the wreckage that had been made of his life.

“He still has the head,” Junior Boy said.

“What?”

“They brought Jimmy Barson your father’s head. He boiled it down. He keeps the skull on his desk.”

Chris shook his head. He thought his surprises were over, but it seemed his whole life lately consisted of surprises.

“Do you know how to use a gun, Chris?”

“Yes. Joe Black taught me when I was a kid.”

“I have a proposal. Its one you can refuse if you want.” Chris saw, not amused, a flicker of a smile cross the don’s craggy face as he said this.

“I’m listening.”

“We’ll set Barsonetti up for you. You look him in the eye, then kill him. We’ll take care of the body. Afterwards you’ll have our protection.”

“This,” Chris said, “is a favor you’d be doing for me?”

“Yes.”

Chris did not respond immediately. He looked over toward the front windows, their blinds drawn tightly closed. He could hear an air conditioner humming somewhere in the apartment, which was otherwise as respectfully silent as a church. He had quit smoking ten years before, at the age of thirty-two, but would have gladly lit up now if he could. Junior Boy was appraising him across the coffee table, his arms and hands forming a steeple and resting on his chin. Such was the mundane setting for the pivotal moment of his life.

“I’m worried about my son,” Chris said.

“Matt?”

“Yes. I want him to live with me in New York, go to high school there. I don’t want him in your world.”

“Have you spoken to Teresa?” Junior Boy asked.

“She’s against it,” Chris replied. “She thinks you really are in the trucking business.”

“Is this a condition?”

“Yes.”

“So,” the don said, “you’re putting conditions on a favor I’m doing for you?”

“Something tells me,” Chris replied, “you’ll benefit from Barsonetti’s death.”

Junior Boy smiled broadly, and not without warmth. “So I’ll be doing you two favors,” he said.

“You don’t have to do either.”

“Where can I get in touch with you?”

 

LePore Author Photo

 

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