This past Thursday, I had the distinct honor of sharing a podium with the renown author, Lawrence Block. We were both at the KGB Bar in the West Village to preview our new material at the Mystery Writers of America's Author Reads Program. I previewed a segment of my upcoming novel, A Reckoning in Brooklyn. Mr. Block read a portion of his upcoming novella in his celebrated Matthew Scudder series.
I will share my selection with you now. I would share his, but copyright laws prevent me. Also, I forgot to ask his permission. In my defense, I was a little star-struck. Please enjoy this excerpt from A Reckoning in Brooklyn.
When Butchie got to Fat Sam’s clubhouse, in the former storefront of Bruno Badlamenti’s latticini, he was prevented from entering by two of Sam’s goons.
“This is private property, Copper. You don’t get to come in here,” Butchie was told by Donato Trinchera, the larger of Fat Sam’s bodyguards.
“I need a word with your boss,” Butchie told him.
“He’s not seeing visitors,” he was informed by Vito Meloro, the other bodyguard. “Least of all, Italian cops who hate their own.”
Meloro hit the ground with a thud after Butchie shattered his jaw with a lead sap. Trinchera took two shots to knock out, but his jaw was just as broken. He leaned over the two goons to admire his work and ensure they didn’t require any more of his tender administration. Satisfied, he stepped over the fallen thugs and entered the clubhouse.
He spied Fat Sam at the card table in front of the espresso bar. He was playing pinochle with a group of the older Italian men from the neighborhood. Also in the group was Father Alphonso Spinatro, one of the parish priests from St. Brigid’s. He said the Italian mass on Sunday mornings which Butchie’s parents attended.
“Hi, Father,” Butchie greeted the priest as he advanced on the card table. Fat Sam looked up, confused.
“How the fuck did you get in here?” the gangster demanded.
“I let myself in,” Butchie informed him as he overturned the card table, scattering cards, the bets, the players and their espresso cups in all directions.
He grabbed Fat Sam by the throat and lifted him out of his chair. Then he drove him to the floor. Standing over him, Butchie took out his five shot off-duty revolver and shoved it into his mouth. Fat Sam looked into Butchie’s impassive, dead eyes and instantly appreciated the very great peril he was in. Indelicato’s face became a mask of terror.
“Listen carefully,” Butchie cautioned him. “Because you only get to hear this once. The Bucciogrossos are now exempt from paying you for protection. If you set one foot in the bakery, if you come near any member of my family, I will end you. If anything should happen—a broken window for instance, or an electrical fire, even an act of God—I’m coming to talk to you about it. But be assured, if I come back here, my face will be the last thing you ever see in this life. Capisce?”
Butchie took the gun out of Sam’s mouth to let him answer.
“I’m not going to fuck with you, Butchie. But when Lilo hears what you did today, he’s not going to like it. He’ll have something to say about it.”
“That’s why he’s next on my list of phony-baloney tough guys who get a visit. I’ll discuss it with him when I see him.”
Butchie put his gun away and got off the frightened gangster. He made a point of not helping Fat Sam off the floor, slapping his hand away when he reached up.
“One other thing,” Butchie told him before he left. “You will not come to the bakery for the rent. You want it, you get it from me. But you’re going to have to come to the precinct for it.”
As Butchie stepped over Trinchera and Meloro, still laying in the doorway, he knew Fat Sam would never come within a block of the ancient precinct-house on DeKalb Avenue. The bakery was now rent free, as well as unencumbered by the fictitious protection fee. Now Butchie just had to make Carmine Gigante understand the new rules.
Before heading down to the Magic Lantern Bar on Bath Avenue in Bensonhurst, from where Lilo Gigante was known to hold court and run the Bonanno business, Butchie called his partner to let him know where he was going, and why—just in case he didn’t come back.
Eamon Fast Eddie Curran had been a boxer in his native Belfast. He got the nickname because of his lightning-fast hands, and propensity for quick knockouts. Butchie had volunteered to work with Curran for the very reason every other cop in the command refused to. Curran was assiduously honest, and would have nothing to do with the payoffs from the mobsters which were a common practice in the NYPD at the time. This rectitude cast suspicion on him from the other cops, who routinely took money to look the other way. Butchie heard about it, and asked Curran directly why he wouldn’t take the money.
“I come tree tousand miles to enforce the law in Brooklyn, Boyo. Dat’s exactly what I intend to do,” Eddie told him, in his thick Irish brogue.
Butchie had noticed Curran’s brogue was as much for effect as it was ingrained in his manner of speech. He seemed to get more Irish when he wanted to drive home his point. Evidently, he wanted to be sure he was understood on this particular subject.
“It’s just a little gambling and whores,” Butchie challenged. “What’s the harm?”
“There’s a plague over dis land, Boyo, and it’s called La Cosa Nostra. If you don’t tink every dollar of bribe money isn’t geared to further dat very ting, then you’re a shite and an ijit. They are enslaving and killing the people of dis neighborhood as surely as if they were to put them in shackles. And every cop who takes their money is complicit. It’s no different than Judas and his tirty pieces of silver. But ye already know that, Giuseppe. You don’t drink from the poisoned trough either. So, what do ye say ye stop pulling me wire and get to the fookin point?”
“I wanna work with you, Eddie,” Butchie said. “You do the right thing for the right reasons. I won’t take their money either. I want to hurt them. I want to drive them out of Bushwick.”
“I don’t tink we are enough to be rid of dem. Sure, we’ll get no other help. We can make their lives miserable though. So, if yer’ willing, Boyo, then I’m in.”
Much to the chagrin of the mobsters, miserable and more is exactly what the two cops made them. Together they became an ever-present nuisance to the gamblers, pimps and drug peddlers. Early on, several of their more entrenched and corrupt fellow officers tried to intervene on the gangsters’ behalf. After the first few were beaten bloody in the locker room, they stopped asking. Everyone finally realized these two cops would never relent. They would just have to be avoided. The most obvious solution was out of the question.The mob knew that killing two uniform police officers would bring down such swift and absolute retribution, La Cosa Nostra would cease to exist.
When Butchie told Eddie what he intended to do, Curran had only one question.
“Are we taking my car, or yours?”
Butchie and Eddie got to the Magic Lantern in Eddie’s beat up Dodge Dart. At the trunk, they armed themselves with cut-down shotguns. Over those, they wore knee-length trench-coats with the pockets cut out. They entered the bar with their fingers already on the triggers beneath their coats. Butchie spotted Lilo in the back of the bar reading a racing form. He walked directly over to him. Meanwhile, Eddie spied the two Sicilian henchmen who were Lilo’s bodyguards ensconced at the front of the bar. He brought his shotgun up and cautioned them.
“Right about now would be a good time to stay perfectly still, unless ye want me to make it a permanent fookin condition,” Eddie said.
The two zips held their hands up in compliance.
Butchie walked right up to Lilo’s booth and slid into the bench across from him. Gigante looked up and registered recognition. But Lilo was confused. He knew who Butchie was. He just didn’t know why he was here. He was particularly curious as to why the angry cop had a shotgun pointed at his groin from across the table.
“Do you know who I am?” Butchie asked.
“Of course, I do,” Lilo said. “You’re the Italian cop in the 83rd who hates Italians. You work with that Irish lunatic who has my bodyguards playing Simon says right now at the front of the bar.”
“Close, but not exactly,” Butchie corrected him. “What I hate are you Mafia scumbags preying on the innocent people in the neighborhood. You’re like carrion picking at the flesh of a dying animal. But I’m not here on behalf of them. You’ve got them so scared shitless, they wouldn’t let me help them anyway. I can’t save everybody. I’m here for one family only—my own.”
“How does this concern me?” Lilo asked.
“This morning I straightened out one of your Capos. I had to put his bodyguards in the hospital to get in to see him. I explained some new rules to him. I also treated him somewhat less cordially than he is accustomed to. I wanted you to hear about it from me. I’m not apologizing. I just want you aware of the new rules. Your life depends on you and your people adhering to them.”
“Does it?” Lilo said, smiling. “So, what’s this new arrangement?”
“The Bucciogrossos are no longer to be touched. We are not paying you vermin—for anything. If any of his goons or yours’ should come to the bakery—if so much as a window gets broken, or a truck gets vandalized—I will wipe you out from the bottom to the top. I want you to understand; this is your problem now. You need to make it an edict. Because if it’s not upheld, you’ll be the one to pay for it.”
“What’s my end in all of this?”
“You get to live.”
“Nothing else for my trouble?”
“Not one other fucking thing,” Butchie said. “Eddie and I are going to enforce the law—no special dispensations. If your goons want to avoid our attention, they need to stop doing stupid shit when we’re working.”
“I gotta hand it to you, Bucciogrosso. You got some set of balls on you.”
“It’s not balls, Lilo. I’m mad dog, batshit crazy, and I don’t give a fuck anymore. I’m not afraid of jail, and I don’t care if I live or die. That’s bad news for you. Because if you cross me on this, your survivability drops to zero. Now, you need to sound off that we have an agreement, or should I just make a modern-art masterpiece out of your guts on the wall behind you?”
Lilo considered his options briefly. In the end, his business acumen and instincts reasoned that giving a pass to a bakeshop was an indignity which was not so hard to swallow. Lilo understood his bread and butter was the narcotics trade. He knew Butchie and Eddie were still just uniform cops. The damage they could do with respect to the heroin racket was minimal. But Gigante needed the last word.
“We have a deal,” he said. “But you and that insane Irishman better behave. If either of you gets jammed up, the minute you’re not cops anymore, I’ll make grease spots in the street out of the both of you.”
“Thanks for the heads up, Lilo. But I have faith in you. I got a funny feeling when you go down for the dirt nap, I’m gonna be there to tuck you in. It will be my pleasure to send you straight to hell.”
Butchie and Eddie left the Magic Lantern, having the agreement they came for. They went back to Bushwick to continue to treat the Bonannos with the same contempt they always had.
Check out this Youtube video filmed over lunch at the Chelsea Market;https://youtu.be/Me34hNymmG4
If you're in Farmingdale, come see me Monday Night, June 11th, @ 7:PM at the Farmingdale Public library. There will be coffee and donuts! What did you expect. Once a cop always a cop.