Sometimes, you have a dream harsh enough that you simply have to get it down on paper…
TAKE YOUR SHOT
You don’t get it. The important part of “firepower” isn’t how much fire you can make, though that’s what people always focus on. It’s how much power it gives you. Lemme give you an example.
So I was supposed to do this thing (I can’t go into the details, but you probably read all about it in the newspapers that week), and that meant that I had to take the time to see Stefano Bianchi for his benedizione, since it was in his backyard. I mean, I didn’t have to get his blessing—the thing had already been set up by Tony G. himself, and his weight trumps Bianchi’s any day of the week—but it’s just the smart thing to do, if you want to avoid the kind of headaches that I always try to avoid in my work. And I’ve lived as long as I have within the Outfit because I always do the smart thing. I don’t ever even take my gloves off in public places, okay? I cover all my bases, all the time.
Anyway, so Tony G. asked me to take his favorite nephew along to do this thing, and I told him I would. When Antonio Giancristofaro himself asks you for something, you gotta say, “Sure…” you know? Donny G. wasn’t the sharpest crayon in the box, and he held onto a grudge like my pop holds onto the TV remote control—the Pope himself couldn’t make him give it up—but he was tough as a brick, and he followed orders when I gave them, so he was okay in my book.
We had to drive all the way out to the North Shore to find Bianchi, since he was at someone’s wedding that day, and they’d rented a big hall somewhere on the Lake. When you’re a middle-level boss like Bianchi with a growing franchise to put a polish on, a little family wedding just won’t do… even if it’s only for a niece or cousin or whoever she was to him. Naw, he had to get her a band and a high-class florist and an open bar and a caterer that made their own pasta on site and these awesome little canapés and the whole nine yards.
When Donny G. and I got there, people had already been drinking and dancing for a while, and I kinda hated to break into the party, but Tony G. needed this thing done that night, and I needed to make sure that Stefano Bianchi was on board with it. He had this hair-trigger thug named Bruno Battaglia on his payroll who spent most of his time whacking guys who’d annoyed Bianchi one way or another, and I didn’t want to end up on the wrong end of that nickel-plated .45 anytime soon.
So we got there and everyone was laughing and drinking and singing and dancing. Donny G. wanted to get a drink, but I told him that we don’t drink when we’re on a job. I promised I’d take him to my favorite place downtown afterwards and he could get as hammered as he wanted to then, but never before the job is done. That’s how stupid people get dumber and make even more stupid decisions. That’s how people get dead when there’s no good reason for it. Remember that for later.
Bianchi was there kissing the bride and her bridesmaids, and I gotta admit that he looked like he was enjoying that a little bit more than I’d figure they wanted to be enjoyed. But I don’t judge, and it wasn’t my wedding, so whatever. I told Donny G. to tighten up his tie so we looked presentable, and then I presented us to Bianchi and told him we needed to talk with him privately.
“You gotta do this now?” he growled. “You teppisti gotta do this today, of all days?”
“There’s this thing we gotta do for Tony G.,” I answered him, “and it can’t wait. But I wanted to show you the proper respect by talking with you about it first.” When I mentioned Tony G.’s name, Bianchi stiffened and he stopped complaining.
“Come outside,” he said to me. “Just you—leave your babbuino out of it,” he added, nodding toward Donny G.
“Hey, Donny,” I told him, pulling him aside. “Why don’t you go get a plate of pasta and those canapés I was talking about? Dance with a pretty girl. But stay away from the bar.”
“Yeah, whatever,” he grumbled.
“I mean it,” I said again. “We gotta get going, and I don’t need trouble here.”
“I said I hear you!” he yelled back, and he shuffled off to the food table.
“After you,” I said to Bianchi, and he led me outside. There was this great view on the veranda, looking out on the Lake as the sun was beginning to set behind us. I gotta admit, it would be nice to have the kind of money sitting around to throw these kinds of parties all the time. But I also know that I’d rather have respect and ability than money and responsibility—I got the first two, and the other two are just headaches and targets that people shoot at. I mean, I was rising in the ranks in the Outfit, and Tony G. loved me. When I talked, people did what I told them to do—and whenever someone spoke my name, everybody else in the room shut up. That’s better than money. I may not be able to afford a steak every week at Gene & Georgetti’s, but ain’t nobody there actually gonna make me pay for a meal. With that kind of respect, who needs the kind of complications guys like Bianchi gotta deal with?
So anyway, I told him about this thing, and he gave me his blessing, and then he told me to grab a plate of canapés on my way out. I figured we were done then, you know? In an hour, we’d be back in the city and we’d be doing the thing, and then it would be over.
But Bianchi had a son named Paulie, and Paulie was an idiot. And that evening, Paulie was a drunk idiot, which made him ten times more of an idiot than he was the rest of the time. And Donny G. made the mistake of dancing with a pretty girl Paulie Bianchi thought of as his own property. To this day, I don’t even know if the girl had ever even met Paulie before that night.
So by the time we came back in, Donny G. and Paulie were getting into it, pushing each other around and trying to prove which one was the biggest on the block, you know? Stefano Bianchi just looked embarrassed more than anything else, and he gave some lame, weak excuse for his son and told everyone not to make a thing of it. But I saw Bruno Battaglia coming over with a bulge under his jacket and a look in his eyes like he meant murder. I knew this wasn’t going away easy.
“Outside,” I said, and even Stefano looked a little scared by how I said it. “Now…”
So Papa Bianchi tried to make a joke out of it to the partygoers, laughing and telling everyone to keep drinking and dancing, while Baby Bianchi, Donny G., Bruno Battaglia and I all stepped outside onto the veranda. From what I could piece together on the way out, Battaglia was Paulie’s boy, and they’d both been trying to impress the women at the wedding all day. Battalgia had been showing off his marksmanship by shooting the heads off of spoons, and Paulie had been flashing wads of cash and talking about how he was gonna take over his father’s franchise some day. Half the single women there (and probably a quarter of the married ones) were checking him out and trying to angle themselves to be his next conquest, so I guess he saw Donny G. as just another rat after the same cheese.
“I’m gonna kill you!” Paulie screamed, stripping his jacket off in preparation for a fight. His eyes were bloodshot and glassy, and he was too drunk to even get the coat over his shoulder holster.
“Kill him, Paulie!” Battaglia cheered him on.
“Sei duro come il muro…” Donny G. slipped into Italian for his insults. “Ti strapperò la faccia, bel ragazzo!”
“We don’t got time for this,” I barked, trying to get between them. “You can do this tomorrow, if you have to, but not now!”
“Kill him, Paulie!” Battaglia said again with a giggle.
“I can’t take you anywhere!” I barked at Donny G., pulling him back and turning him away from the fight as Stefano Bianchi finally joined us out on the veranda. “Gl’ha piu’ garbo un ciuco a bere a boccia…”
And that’s when I heard the gunshot.
Donny G. looked up at me in shock and surprise, and I watched the blood start to stain his shirt across his belly. By the time he’d slumped to the ground and passed out, I was already turned to see who’d shot him in the back, my Glock out and ready.
Sure enough, Paul Bianchi was standing there, swaying in the darkening sunset, with his own .45 dangling in his hand. How weird is it that it was nickel-plated, too? Who gets matching guns?
“You idiota!” Stefano was yelling at him, smacking him on the head.
“You coulda shot me!” I yelled at him too.
Bruno Battaglia was just laughing.
I seriously don’t know if Paulie had a clue what just happened.
I leaned down to check on Donny G. Like I said, he was a tough guy, and I figured that if we could get him to a hospital soon enough, he should make it just fine. But I also figured that someone inside would be calling the cops soon, so we’d have maybe ten minutes or so at best to get out of there.
“I… Chiedo scusa…” the elder Bianchi began saying to me. “I don’t have the words for…”
“I’m not the one you gotta apologize to,” I answered him, stuffing a bunch of nearby cocktail napkins into Donny G.’s belly exit wound. “You’re gonna have to square this with Tony G.”
“Why?” he replied, shaking a little. “Who is this kid to Giancristofaro?”
“This is his nephew,” I told him, turning Donny G. over onto his face to stuff more napkins into the entry wound in his back. “Your drunk idiot son just shot Tony G.’s favorite nephew.”
Bianchi went white as the blood drained out of his face and into his gut. You could see he knew what was gonna happen. There’s no way Bianchi and his franchise were getting out of this alive. There was gonna be rivers of blood before this was over.
“Wh-What can I do?” he asked.
I sighed, and I stopped to think for a minute. I had, maybe, five minutes to get Donny G. out of here and off to a hospital if he was gonna make it. But I also had an opportunity here, and I wasn’t stupid enough to pass it up if I could make something out of it. I mean, I was standing right there when Tony G.’s nephew got shot—and that meant that even I was gonna be in a world of trouble if I didn’t play my cards just exactly right. But I also was looking at a lot of money, a lot of power, a lot of gravosità here. Heavy stuff, and pregnant with possibilities.
“Don Stefano,” I said, standing up from Donny’s bleeding body, “what would you give to make this right?”
“Anything!” he answered. “Anything!” And I could tell he meant it.
“Okay, then,” I said, thinking through my options and weighing them carefully. “Okay, then… Then get me a car and the best driver you got out front in two minutes, so I can get Donny G. here to the hospital and maybe save his life.”
“You got it!” he said, and he ran back inside.
“As for you two idioti,” I said, turning toward Paulie and Battaglia, “I gotta figure out what to do with you guys.”
“Paulie didn’t do nothing!” Battaglia said, waving his hands. “That other sfigato started it all!”
“Yeah!” Paulie said, waving his gun in agreement.
“Okay, first things first!” I said to him, pointing to the .45. “Give me that cannone, Paulie.”
“He didn’t do nothing!” Battaglia repeated.
“Yours too, sicario,” I said, reaching out for Battaglia and snapping my fingers. “Don’t neither of you get to have a pistola on you while I’m telling you how stupid you are.”
Paulie dropped the gun at his feet, and I told him to kick it over to me. But Battaglia frowned, and for a minute, I thought he just might do something even more stupid than they’d already done.
“Look into my eyes, Bruno,” I said coldly, turning my Glock at him slowly, “and remember my name.” I saw his lip tremble just a little bit, and his eyes instinctively darted to the end of my gun. “Do you really wanna test to see what your chances are against me? Against me?”
He pulled his gun out very carefully, very slowly, using only his index finger and thumb. And he very carefully, very slowly walked it over to me. And then he very carefully, very slowly stepped back away from me.
That’s what a reputation buys you. That’s more respect than money can ever buy you.
I put my Glock back into its holster, keeping Battaglia’s gun pointed at both of them and picking up Paulie’s off the ground. Gaudy, matching .45s, and no serial numbers on either of them—pretty as a picture. By now, Bianchi had come back out onto the veranda.
“The driver is ready. You want my boys to take your amico out to the car so that—?”
“I got this,” I interrupted him. “But you gotta see how I help you.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I’m gonna solve all of your problems, old man,” I said. “And I’m gonna square everything with Tony G. for you. So you gotta watch.”
“Th-That’s… That’s great!” he said, smiling broadly.
So I shot Bruno Battaglia in the heart with his own gun. And then I shot Paulie Bianchi in the head with his own gun. Problem solved.
“Wh-What?!?” Stefano Bianchi screamed. “Cosa pensi di star facendo?!?” He started pulling out his own gun, but I spun to point both of those matching .45s at his face, and that slowed him down.
“Listen very carefully, Don Stefano,” I said calmly, “because I only got like a minute before I gotta get out to that car and save your life by saving Donny G.’s.”
Bianchi was still in shock, but he wasn’t stupid. He left his weapon in its holster and took a deep breath.
“What are you talking about…?” he asked.
“Your son was dead the moment he pulled that trigger,” I told him. “If Donny G. survives, he would never rest until he’d found Paulie and killed him. And if Donny G. dies, then Tony G. would never rest until he’d found Paulie and killed him—and you know he’d do it slow and nasty. And then he’d do you. And then your wife. And then your daughter. And then that pretty niece or whatever of yours and her new husband and anyone else even remotely connected to your franchise.” I stopped to let that all sink in for a minute. “You understand that, right?”
He just nodded and dropped his hands to his side.
“So here’s the new and improved story,” I continued, stepping over and putting Battaglia’s pistol into Paulie’s hand to get his fingerprints on it, and then Paulie’s pistol into Battaglia’s hand for the same reason. “Bruno here shot Donny G. in the back. I dunno why—you can make that part up yourself when you call Tony G. and tell him about it.” And then I walked over and got into Bianchi’s face. “And lemme make that very clear, in case you missed it—you are the one who’s gonna call Tony G. and tell him about all of this, right?”
He took a deep, hard breath, then nodded again. I stepped back toward Donny G. again.
“So Bruno shot Donny G. in the back, and Paulie—your son—popped Battaglia to stop him from finishing the job. But then Battaglia got one last lucky shot off on his way down that killed Paulie too. You got all that?”
I figured that the guns were close enough matches that no one would know which one was really which, and both guys would’ve had gunshot residue on their hands from shooting today. So ballistics would show that the gun in Battaglia’s hand was the one that shot Donny G. and Paulie, and the one in Paulie’s hand was the one that shot Battaglia. The cops weren’t gonna work too hard to figure anything out much beyond that, and Bianchi wasn’t gonna tell anyone anything different. And there was no way that I could kill just one of those guys without the other one taking it personal—and they were both just stupid enough to try to get even with me later.
“So this way,” I continued, “instead of being tortured to death tomorrow for being an idiota, your son died being a hero tonight, saving Donny G.—and saving your whole family. Hey, if you spin this right, Tony G. might even extend your franchise, since your boy here was willing to kill one of his own to save his favorite nephew, right?”
Bianchi just stood there for a moment, silently looking at his son’s dead body.
“Don Stefano?” I said. It took him another moment before he looked up at me again.
“Sì?” he asked.
“I need you to say, ‘Thank you,’ to me now, so that I know that you understand what just happened.”
He frowned in disbelief.
“Come ti permetti di dirlo?” he snarled. “H-How dare you say that to me?”
I pulled my gun back out and pointed it at him.
“I just saved your life, your wife’s life, your family’s life, and the life of your whole franchise from being lost in a war you couldn’t possibly win, old man.” I made sure that he was looking me in the eye when I said this next part. “You told me you’d give anything for that, so I did what you wanted me to do but would’ve never had the guts to consider—I put a bullet in your son’s brain to save your life. So you need to thank me for that, Don Stefano.”
We just stood there for another ten seconds or so—but it felt like an hour. It was like those staring contests that you had when you were a kid. But whoever blinked first here was gonna lose a lot more than a staring contest.
In the end, he knew that I was right, and that he had no other choice. He looked away.
“Okay, okay…” he said at last. “I see what you mean.” He turned to walk inside.
“Don Stefano…?” I repeated.
“Say it. Say it now so I know you get all of this, or else I gotta tell Tony G. an even better story to save my own skin.”
The old man turned to face me again. He looked like he’d aged at least a decade in the last five minutes. He took one last, deep breath, and then he spoke in a low, harsh whisper.
“Grazie, Signore,” he said.
“Prego, Don Stefano,” I replied, sliding my Glock back into its holster again. And that was the night that I went from being just a part of the Outfit to being a legend. And now, even Don Stefano Bianchi owed me a favor that I would have to collect on some other time. That’s power bought by firepower—the kind of power that no amount of money could ever buy. La fortuna aiuta gli audaci—fortune favors the bold, baby.
“Oh, and Don Stefano?” I called out after him. “On your way back inside, have someone bring me out a plate of those little canapés to the car, will ya?”
Later that night, I did the thing by myself.