Blueprints for a Better World Markus Fredericks
SON OF A DON sample

SON OF A DON (chapters 1 & 2)



Chapter 1

“Ring… Ring…”

“Thank you for calling ‘Gino’s Ristorante Italiano’.  How may I help you?”

“Is Mr. Gino Morella available?  This is Vice Principal Lundquist calling from Parkview Elementary School.  His son, Johnny, is in deep trouble.”

“Just a moment, sir.”

“Yo, this is Gino.  So, what’s a matter with Johnny?  He’s such a good boy.  What did he do wrong today?”

“Your son is guilty of bringing in a machine gun to Mrs. Peterson’s class today.  Before I call the police, I insist that you to come to the school’s office for a meeting.”

“No problem, Mr. Lundquist – you don’t need to call no cops.  I’ll be over in a jiffy.”

“Say Camilla, tell the chef to go heavier with the parmesan cheese on the Lasagna.  It keeps the customers happy...  I got to head over to Johnny’s school to straighten out them Democratic queers.  Any jerk off who’d choose Adlai Stevenson over a real man like Eisenhower wouldn’t understand the first thing about our constitutional right to bear arms.  Cover for me until I get back.”

Ten minutes later, a determined looking Gino Morella marched down the school hallway wearing a dark gray, pinstripe suit.  His black and white ‘wing-top shoes’ made a distinct, clickety-clack sound against the linoleum floor.

As he entered the Vice Principal’s office, he saw his eight year old son, Johnny sitting quietly.  Vice Principal Lundquist held his hand out for an attempted handshake, but Gino refused to reciprocate.  He simply asked, “OK, so what’s seems to be the trouble?”

Mr. Lundquist sat down at his desk, while the agitated Gino remained standing up.  He explained, “Your son, Johnny, brought a machine gun to school for Mrs. Peterson’s class.  Today they had ‘show and tell’ day.”

Lundquist brought out the weapon and gently placed it on top of his desk.

“Man, that’s not just a machine gun – that’s a piece of history you’re looking at.  That Tommy gun used to belong to none other than the cult hero, Mr. John Dillinger himself.  His grandfather gave it to him as a present.  I’ll bet that gun has killed at least a dozen Feds.”

“Mr. Morella, I’m sure this firearm must have some historical significance, but guns of any kind are strictly prohibited on school territory.”

Gino turned his focus to his eight year old son and asked, “Johnny, did you bring any ammunition with you to school today?”

“No.  Papa, I didn’t bring any bullets to school.  Mrs. Peterson always asks us to bring something interesting from home for ‘show and tell’.  I just wanted to get an ‘A’ for bringing something extra cool to show everyone.”

“Mr. Lundquist, my son was just trying to be a good student.  I just don’t see how he violated any of your school’s silly policies.  Gee – this weapon wasn’t even loaded, but I do agree that Johnny is a tad on the young side to be packing heat like this.  I promise I’ll safely lock away this Tommy gun in our show case…  Johnny, you’re going to have to wait until your twelfth birthday before I give it back to you...  Say, Mr. Lundquist – the next time Mrs. Peterson requests her students to bring in some interesting items, she needs to explain to her class to not bring in any illegal weapons – capish?”

Vice Principal Lundquist felt quite nervous to deal with Johnny’s Mafioso father, so he just sat there quietly as he watched Gino exit his office with his Tommy gun in hand.  The last thing he overheard was Gino telling his son, “That Mrs. Peterson ought to give you an ‘A+’ for all the crap she put you through.  Come on down to the restaurant with me.  I’ll have Camilla give you two scoops of Spumoni.”

Chapter 2

The moment Gino and his son, Johnny, walked into the restaurant, a worried-looking Camilla said, “Antonio called from the hospital.  Your father’s been hurt.”

Gino immediately wondered if his father had been shot or stabbed again by the Stamboli boys – the Morella family’s arch-rivals.  He asked Camilla, “Did Antonio say who tried to do in Papa?” 

“He didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I think your father got in some altercation with an organ-grinder’s monkey.”

“You don’t say – what’s this world coming to?  In his heyday, Renato Morella could put the fear of God into God himself.  Now he’s losing battles with little monkeys.  I guess he’s getting old.  Camilla, I’m heading straight over to the hospital.  I need to see how he’s doing.  Can you please watch over little Johnny?  Donna is still visiting her folks in Seattle.”

“No problem, Gino.  Johnny can stay with me at the restaurant.  If he gets tired, he can rest on the cot in the back by the bookie’s window.  Just don’t forget, the New York Times food critic is coming for dinner tomorrow night.  We’ll want to give him the red carpet treatment.”

While he drove to the hospital, Gino reflected on the lessons taught to him by his father, and the close friendship he had with his childhood friend, Antonio Orsini.  Antonio wasn’t originally from a Mafioso family, but he was of Italian descent, and Gino’s father – the Don – treated him as if he was his own.  Antonio’s parents divorced when he was in Kindergarten, and they took turns shuffling custody of him back and forth across town throughout his childhood.  Since Renato Morella showed more interest in Antonio’s upbringing than his own parents, Antonio bonded with Gino as if they were brothers, with Papa Renato serving as his surrogate father.

Ever since prohibition ended, the Morella family switched family operations primarily towards ‘bookmaking’.  They operated within the New York City municipality.  They usually covered sports gambling and off-track betting in a reputable, honest fashion, but on occasion when family finances became squeezed they would ‘fix’ certain outcomes in their favor.  The dilemma that Gino faced was that his wife, Donna, had recently given him an ultimatum: concentrate on just being a successful restauranteur and she would stay with him – or continue with his father’s bookmaking business and she would permanently leave.  Gino wanted it all, bookmaking, the restaurant, and Donna too – but he would soon have to make some tough decisions.

Meanwhile, at the hospital’s waiting room, Antonio paced around aimlessly.  After some time, Dr. Anderson, the chief surgeon came out.  Before the doctor could say anything, Antonio asked, “How is Pops doing? – I mean – how is Mr. Renato Morella doing?”

“Are you his next of kin?” asked Dr. Anderson.

“Well, almost – I’ve been calling him ‘Pops’ since I was about yea-high,” said Antonio while holding his hand flat, level with his waistline.  Tell me, doc, is he going to be alright?”

“Mr. Morella is in a bit of discomfort, but he’s a robust, old guy.  He completely shattered his femur when he fell on the edge of the sidewalk.  I had to surgically place two pins into his leg bones.  He’ll need extensive rehab, but frankly at his age, healing doesn’t always take place as planned.  He’ll be in a wheelchair for a long time – possibly permanently.”

“I’m real sorry to hear that,” said Antonio.  “Excuse me, doc, can I go see him now?”

“They are admitting him into Intensive Care.  He can have visitors in about an hour.”

Minutes later, Gino walked into the waiting room carrying a bouquet of white flowers.  He quickly spotted Antonio and asked, “How’s Papa doing?”

“Well, he’s had better days.  He has a badly broken leg, and he might not be able to walk again.”

Before Gino could ask any further questions, Dr. Anderson came out and announced, “Mr. Morella is ready to receive guests now.”

The Don, Renato Morella, sat semi-upright in his adjustable angle, hospital bed.  His right leg was covered by a heavy, plaster cast which was suspended by ropes to keep it in an elevated position.  He was fully conscious as Gino and Antonio entered the room.

Antonio headed straight to his bedside and they exchanged a big hug.  He said, “Pops, I wish you a speedy recovery.”

When Renato saw his son, Gino, he commented, “Oh Jesus, why did you have to bring me a bouquet of white lilies?  I ain’t dying, you know.  I just broke my leg – that’s all.  What’s next – are you going to give me ‘the kiss of death’?”

“Hi Papa – I’m glad to see that you’re still feeling feisty.  By the way, I heard something strange…  I heard you got in some kind of squabble with an organ grinder’s monkey, but I assume it must have been with the organ grinder himself.  Papa, can you tell us what happened?”

“Gino, it actually was the monkey that did me in.  You see, I was walking down the street and there’s this organ grinder begging for some pocket change.  His pet monkey looked sort of cute as he held out an empty, tin cup for a donation.  I decided to give the little beast a dime, but the monkey started to scream at me as though he was pissed off at my stinginess.  So I reached into my pocket and found another quarter to give him.  The monkey continued to scream at me.  I don’t speak ‘monkey’, but it didn’t take a Dr. Doolittle to understand that little monkey was cussing at me.  So, I yelled at him to ‘shut up’, and I flipped him off.  When I turned around to cross the street, the goddamn monkey threw an empty banana peel in my way, and I slipped on it and fell real hard.  That’s how I ended up with a broken leg.”

“No kidding,” said Gino.  “I always thought that people only slipped on banana peels in funny movies.  Anyway, I’m real sorry to see that the monkey got the best of you.”

“Hey, hey – Gino – nobody gets the best of Renato Morella.  Anyway, I’m glad to have my two favorite guys here with me.  Now that I’m laid up for God knows how long, I need you to do me a little favor.”

Gino knew immediately that Papa was going to request him to do something illegal – and he knew it would certainly be something that his wife, Donna, would not approve of.  Even so, Gino gallantly said, “Sure Papa – we’ll do anything for you.”

A curious Antonio moved a tad closer to the hospital bed and asked, “So Pops, what exactly, do you have in mind?”

“First, close the door.  I don’t want no unwelcome ears listening in on what I need you guys to do.”

After closing the door, Gino asked his father, “OK Papa – What’s cooking?”

“Our finances have been getting squeezed lately.  The lucky gamblers have been hitting on too many long-shots lately, so I decided to put a stop to that.  Next Saturday night at the Madison Square Garden, the heavyweight boxing champ, Killer Karl Moran is fighting a talented, upcoming, black fighter named Tyrell Jeffries.  Now, Moran is a heavy, eight-to-one favorite over the colored guy, and the fix is on for the champ to take a dive – or should I say, the fix ‘was on’, but the champ seems to be objecting to throwing the match after he found out his opponent was a black guy.  I’ve already got all our money riding on Jeffries, so you guys need to make sure that Killer Karl Moran loses the match – capish?”

Gino had met the champ on several occasions, since he was under his father’s management, but he knew this was a guy who couldn’t be intimidated into doing something against his will.  Besides, Gino knew Moran was a racist bigot, who despised blacks.  Asking him to intentionally lose his championship belt to a ‘negro’ in front of a sold out crowd at Madison Square Garden was simply not going to happen.  Still, Gino felt a sense of family honor and commitment to fulfilling his father’s request.  Thus, he simply said, “Don’t worry about it, Papa.  Antonio and I got you covered.  We’ve still got a couple days to figure something out.  In the meantime, I need to make special preparations at the restaurant for the arrival of an important food critic tomorrow night.  He writes a column for the New York Times, and I want to get the best possible review.”

“Son, are you out of your mind?  The good Lord blessed you with a sharp mind, but sometimes you don’t make any sense at all.  As you know fine and dandy, we operate the restaurant business strictly as a money laundering mechanism for our bookmaking profits.  The last thing on earth we want is to get a slew of new customers.  You make real sure that the food critic thinks that your restaurant serves the lousiest grub he’s ever eaten.”

While placing his right hand gently on his father’s shoulder Gino said, “Oh boy – Papa, you sure are right about that.  I never thought about it in those terms.  I better have a pep talk with the chef and the kitchen staff.  Tomorrow, we are going to impress the food critic with the nastiest tasting stuff you can imagine.”

“That’s the spirit.  Son, I’m glad to see that you’re using your noggin once again.”

With that, Gino and Antonio took turns hugging the Don and kissing each of his cheeks.  “Don’t worry, Papa, we got everything under control.”

As the two close friends exited the hospital, Antonio stuck two fingers into his mouth to whistle for a taxi.

“Antonio, didn’t you drive over here?”

“Na, my Studebaker is in the shop.  It keeps breaking down.  I’m afraid it’s a real lemon.”

“Forget the cab.  You’re riding with me in my T-bird.  I ain’t seen you in over a month.  Before I drop you off, why don’t we get some chow at the restaurant?”

“Thanks Gino – your place makes the best fettuccini in the whole world…  Just remember, Pops doesn’t want the New York Times food critic to give you a good review, so don’t be feeding him any of the good stuff.”

“Don’t worry, Antonio – I’m way ahead of you.  I’ll have the chef round up some cans of ‘Chef Boyardee’ ravioli, and gob it up with some Velveeta Cheese.  I’ll make sure to make a lasting impression on the unfortunate food critic.

“Sounds like a blast… say, if you don’t mind, can I be your headwaiter tomorrow?  I just like to participate by giving him some special treatment.”

“You got it, Antonio.”

As they climbed into Gino’s brand new, white Thunderbird, Antonio’s demeanor changed to the serious side…

“Say Gino, you and I have been tight since we were in school, and Pops has always treated me as one his own, but for the past decade I’ve been living a lie.”

Gino slowed the car way down and turned to look at his childhood friend.  He asked, “So, how’s that?”

With an uncharacteristically nervous look, Antonio said, “About ten years ago, I got myself in a real pickle.  Do you remember that time when Pops got screwed on another fixed boxing match that got all botched up?”

“You mean the Lewis – Hutchinson match, where Papa got so pissed off at Hutchinson, he asked me to snub him out?”

“Yeah, that’s the one.  That was the time we snuck into the morgue and we ended up chopping a pair of hands off some stiff.  You made a convincing presentation when you strapped on Hutchinson’s boxing gloves onto the dismembered hands.  When you presented the prize to Pops, he was so proud of you – he thinks you’re a real, honest-to-God, tough guy.”

“Antonio, as you may recall, Hutchinson was supposed to take a fall.  However, before he could allow himself to get hit on the kisser as planned Lewis accidentally punched the ref.  I know we lost a ton of money when the ref instantly disqualified Lewis, and raised Hutchinson’s hand in victory, but I just didn’t have the heart to do him in.”

“That’s just what I mean, Gino.  Deep, down inside that tough, Mafioso shell of yours is really a nice, decent sort of guy.”

“I know you’re right, Antonio – that I’m not truly a tough guy at heart, but you know I’m still real good at acting tough – because in this family business, you’ll quickly be surrounded by vultures if anyone sniffs any weakness in you.  By the way, I remember you telling me that you’d handle getting rid of the boxer, Hutchinson.  He seemingly disappeared off the face of this planet.  Whatever happened to the guy?” 

“He’s alive and well, living somewhere in the mid-west under the ‘witness protection program’ with a false, new identity.” 

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but that sounds to me like are you working with the Feds?”

Antonio looked Tony in the eye, as he fought off some tears.  He said, “You’re my closest friend, and I’d never tell you a lie no matter how much the truth might hurt…  I hate to say so, but the answer is, ‘yes’.  It was either work for the Feds, or face being sent to Alcatraz for the rest of my life.  Now don’t think for a minute that I’ve been doing your family any harm at all.  As long as I keep sending gangsters to prison, the Feds are more than happy with me.  So far, I’ve only been snitching off all the Morella family’s adversaries.”

“OK, Antonio, but why are you telling me about this right now?”

“The high ups are beginning to apply pressure on me to turn against the Morella family.  Now, I know that Pops is ready to pass off the family business to you.  He thinks you’re the perfect, ruthless guy to rule the family with an iron fist, but I know that deep down inside you’re really a lovable pussycat.  You’ve got a great wife in Donna, and she really wants you to get out of the business before it’s too late. 

“Say, how do you know about me and Donna?”

“She’s already left the Seattle area, and she’s scoping out a ‘witness protection plan’ alternative for herself in eastern Washington.  I know that nothing would please her more than to have you straighten out your act and go join her.”

“Antonio, I suppose if I really was a true, Mobster at heart I’d pull out my 38 caliber snub nose right now and blow you away for working with the Feds, but instead I want to tell you that I love you like a brother.”

     Gino parked his Thunderbird in the restaurant parking lot.  He gave Antonio a big, genuine hug and said, “Thanks for always looking out for my best interests, but can I please delay my metamorphosis into a regular guy until a bit later?  Papa’s got all his hard-earned money riding on Tyrell Jeffries.  Besides, I just gave Papa my word that I’d make sure that he wins.  Please don’t rock the boat until after the fight.”

“Gino, Pops and I have always been real close.  He’s always treated me like a son.  I’d like nothing more than to be directly involved with the fix – you can always count on me, but when all is said and done, I want you to lead a normal, healthy life with Donna and your son, Johnny.  Frankly, I don’t want to see Donna ending up as a widow – or worse yet, Johnny growing up knowing that his father is locked away on Alcatraz.”

“Antonio – thanks for your advice.  For Donna’s sake – and for Johnny, I’ll straighten up, but right now, let’s go eat.  I’m famished.”