You know, I’ve killed close friends, guys I never even knew. But to me, it was never personal. It was only ever business. Instead of being presented with a gold watch. You either end up in the can. You die, natural or not. Or you become a Rat. That’s the only way it ends for a wiseguy. You accept these choices and you live the American dream. The power, the money, and the respect. Anything is possible when you’re a Wiseguy. And I would have happily spent the next 100 years in Lewisburg than turn. You see, I gave my life to this thing. But in the end, it was them who betrayed me. And now. Now I see in my own reflection. Something I always hated. A great big dirty fucking Rat.
The first time I realised I wanted to be a Wiseguy was on a hot June day back in 1968. All the kids in my neighbourhood were playing ball out on the street. This one game, my friend Louie hit the ball and it swerved through the window of the local Wiseguy hangout. Everyone ran away, except me. See, I just froze. And suddenly out comes this guy who seemed to resemble a bear. This monster of a man. I remember being so scared when the guy growled “You come here, you hit that ball through the window” that I almost pissed in my pants. Before I could respond, I heard this voice “Al, lay off, he’s just a kid” the guy quickly backed off and the other guy approached me and said “I know your family, your dad’s a good man”. I just smiled, then the Wiseguy took a roll of $100 bills and he handed me a crisp one. I felt like the richest kid in New York. I asked him what it was for and he just grinned and said “A real man never runs. Go and have some fun with your Goombah’s”. I couldn’t believe it. I had a $100 in my pocket and me and my friends were sick with all the ice cream and soda we had night. But I knew then I wanted to be a Wiseguy.
My dad never wanted any part of ‘the life’. But he was connected through his best friend from childhood, a guy called Charlie Lugano. He was a powerful capo in the Pescara crime family. You wouldn’t think it considering who I became. But I admired my dad for that. He made the hard choice. When my uncle Charlie came around the house they would never talk about his business. It was never brought up, by either of them. I used to sit and listen to them sharing stories about the old country. Growing up in the neighbourhood, what kind of season The Yankees were having, shit like that. But never Cosa Nostra business. You know, I think my uncle Charlie loved my dad even more for that. He was surrounded by dozens of people, all wanting a piece of what he could give them. But my dad, my dad loved him.
Don’t get me wrong, on occasion my dad would use my uncle’s name if the right situation arose. Like the time, when we caught this young guy, a wannabe Wiseguy, trying to break into the house. My dad was a tough guy, but instead of using his fists. He just said “I will need to remember to tell my dear friend Charlie Lugano about this next time I see him”. I’ve never seen the colour drain from someone’s face so quickly. The guy ran off and I never saw him around the neighbourhood again. One time my dad caught me staring at the all Wiseguys hanging outside the neighbourhood social club. I was mesmerised by the way the Wiseguys looked. They oozed class, and my dad, seeing this, called me over and said “Remember son, they’re bad guys, but our bad guys”. I knew what he meant. He didn’t want me to become one of them. But he wanted me to remember that they were one of us. But like all kids, the more your parents tell you something’s wrong for you, the more you want to be a part of it.
In tough neighbourhoods, you learn how to become a survivor, and in my neighbourhood, we learned to survive using our fists. By the time I was eighteen I had a reputation throughout the five boroughs as one of the toughest street fighters around. But it’s only a matter of time when you push back once too often before someone stands up and takes notice. With the waves I was making on the street—both as an earner, and as a fighter—the family couldn’t ignore me anymore. I came up the river with my best friend Angelo Mannuci. We made our bones together. And it’s funny, because the first guy we killed could have been our last. Angelo knew the Russians who operated out of Brooklyn. He had a few business dealings with Igor Romanov. A heavy hitter with the Russian Mafia. Rumour had it he was ex-KGB. Igor had told Angelo he had a good deal for us. We would have cars stolen in New York and he would ship them back to Eastern Europe.
Anyway, we met Igor and a couple of his associates at one of the houses he operated out of in Brooklyn. After a couple of hours, we had finally ironed out the details to move the cars from New York to some port just outside of Odessa. Me and Angelo were about to say our goodbyes and leave but Igor had another proposal. The two of us were always looking to make a bit of extra scratch. So, we thought what the fuck and said we might be interested. Igor took us down this cellar and said he had some ‘special’ merchandise, just in. We assumed it was guns or a load of stolen TVs. But when we got down the cellar stairway, there was a large cage in the blacked-out room with kids in it. They couldn’t have been much older than 10 years old. In that instance, I knew. That I had just been speaking to corpses.
Igor smirked and said, “You like them young” and me and Angelo glared at each other. We both knew Igor was dead. He just didn’t realise it. I played along with Igor, not wanting to alarm him to our true intentions “It’s not our thing, but let us make some enquiries, and we’ll be in touch”. We quickly got out of there and decided the Russians had to die.
A day later we returned but this time we brought Vladimir. A childhood friend whose family had moved from Moscow. When we got there, Igor and his two bodyguards were coked up. They were chatting away and as they did so. We pulled out silencers and killed them. Me and Angelo got Vladimir to go down to the cellar. To speak Russian to the kids and to let them know that everything was going to be okay. That help was on its way. I made the call to a police captain we had on the payroll and gave him the address where to find the kids. This was the only time I killed anyone for pleasure.
A few days later, word was on the street that the Russians had put a contract out on us. So, both me and Angelo hid out in the Bronx. I reached out to my uncle Charlie and after a few meetings with the Russians he it got it squashed and the contract was lifted. But it went out throughout the five families after the hit. That our star was burning brighter than ever before. And a few months later both of us were made. See, you’ve got to understand, being made in my neighbourhood. This was like being headhunted by an Ivy league school. An honour not easily bestowed.
Now, 25 years later I’m the Capo of the biggest crew in the family. I make more money for Cosa Nostra than Al Capone ever did during prohibition. People say Mafia this, Mafia that. Yet to me, it was always just friends. But here’s me got a call to say Don Pescara, the boss of our family, known fondly on the street as ‘the old man’ wanted to discuss a piece of work he had for me. A call that would quickly change everything. The old man looked more like Geppetto from Pinocchio. Than someone who orders murders like we order wine with our meal. Without knowing who he was, you’d walk past him on the street and think he’s just another sweet old man. Not realising he is the Boss of Bosses and that he alone runs the biggest and most feared Cosa Nostra family in America. I mean this guy had enough power and soldiers that he could take on the other four families at the same time. That was the genius of the old timers. They weren’t flash, not like the young guys today who want everyone and their mother to know they’re a Wiseguy.
The old man still stayed in the old neighbourhood with his wife in the humble house he grew up in. I mean, this guy was a billionaire, he could buy Trump Tower if he wanted to. But these old timers preferred being in the shadows, not in the spotlight. The old man might be getting on a bit, but he was still as sharp as they come. And could still make even the most feared gangsters on the street tremble just with his presence.
I made my way through the busy New York traffic to the family’s headquarters, which was on 13th Avenue, Brooklyn. The Knights of Italia social club. When I got to the club, it was the usual sight. A few of the guys were playing cards. Old blue eyes singing on the jukebox. And the rest were exchanging stories about their latest schemes. I’m telling you, more business was done, and money made in here, than in any boardroom on Wall street. That’s what the Feds could never understand. This isn’t a gang, it’s a business.
I noticed Tony Amato, an old timer, sitting watching the ponies on the tv. His signature cigar clenched in his mouth. I walked over and tapped Tony on the shoulder and asked “Is the old man in yet”. Tony swiftly turned around, and said “Hey, Tommy, yeah, he’s in the office, word to the wise, he’s pissed”. I thanked Tony for the heads up and made my way through the smoked filled room to the old man’s office. Standing guard at the door were the boss’s two pitbulls. Cesare and Gaetano, two Zips from Palermo. I always liked fucking with the Zips. They hated American Wiseguys. I walked over to them and asked ‘’Have youse two not got a lamp post you should be pissing on? Go on, fuck off. I need to speak to the boss’’. As they both hustled away, murmuring something in Sicilian. I knocked on the door. And as I walked in the boss was sitting behind the desk. The old man got up and greeted me with two kisses on both cheeks “Tommy, I appreciate you coming in at such short notice. Please, take a seat. Drink?” I shook my head “Anytime Don Pescara, you know that. Nah I’m good” “Trust me, you’ll need it”, Don Pescara said, as he passed me a glass of scotch. I was curious what was so serious and enquired “What’s the matter?” the old man paused “Its bad news. Our friend, the one who drinks too much?”
It was Angelo he was talking about, his one weakness was his liquor, always running off at the mouth. I asked what had happened. The old man reached for a cigar and started to light it. Taking a few draws, before blowing hoops in the air. The old man’s next words changed everything for all of us “Frogeyes, Tommy”. This was code for he wanted Angelo dead. And the guy he had just sentenced to die was more of a brother to me, than my own brother. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing “You’re fucking with me right? What’s he done?” The old man told me he had been to Angelo’s club with a couple of associates. And that a pissed-up Angelo had disrespected the old man. Called him a jerk-off and a scumbag. I pleaded with the boss to understand that it wasn’t Angelo talking. That it was the liquor. I begged him to give Angelo a pass. But the old man wasn’t interested in my pleas. As he put it “Look Tommy, I know you love him. But you know better than anyone how this life works. You know who your enemies are. But your friends are the last person you see before you take your final breath. It needs to be you Tommy. Someone who can get close. Without arousing any suspicion”.
I knew the old man wouldn’t change his mind. And if I questioned the order, most likely it would be me who would end up being fished out of The Hudson. I reluctantly gave Don Pescara the nod. At least this way, I thought, I could do one last thing for Angelo. I could make sure he didn’t suffer.
I made the call. Angelo was still jumpy after the incident with the old man. He knew he would need to watch his back. But I assured him I had straightened everything out. Angie was Cosa Nostra through and through. He had been on the other end of the call I made dozens of times. I told him I had a good deal. A lot of money to be made. But we would need to meet, too many ears listening. We met at one of my legit businesses. A bakery in Little Italy. When we embraced I noticed Angelo subtly patting me down. He was making sure I didn’t have a piece. I told him that I had been approached by the Columbians to move some snow. Angie was known as a narcotics man. So, I gave him a sample of Columbia’s finest, to test its quality. As he went to sniff a line he had set up on the work table I gently slid out a piece I had placed behind a chopping board and shot him at the back of the head. Looking at his lifeless body, I could feel a tear slowly dripping down my face. See, the difference between Angelo and the other guys I fooled with was that I loved Angelo. I mean, I actually fucking loved him.
A few months had gone by. I made sure Angelo’s family never went without. Every Friday I would take a couple of Gs to Angie’s widow, Carla. But one Friday as I was about to get out of my car. I noticed Benji, Don Pescara’s son, kissing Carla on the porch. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Angelo was barley cold in the ground, something didn’t smell right. I made quiet enquires within the family and found out they had both been seeing each other behind Angelo’s back for months. I quickly realised I had been played. The old man didn’t want Angelo dead because of what he did. It was so his son could be with Carla. This was the first time I had questioned my life in Cosa Nostra. The old man had passed sentence on my best friend and had used me as the executioner. I soon decided that I was going to burn everything they had too.
I remember the day I was made. It was New Year’s Eve, 1985. The oath I took that day I truly believed in. Never give up your friends, and that the family comes before everything. But as far as I’m concerned, they broke their oath to me. The old man had written his own rules to save his son and now he was going to watch ‘this thing of ours’ crack and crumble. You’re told, ‘Obey the rules, and you will be okay’ Well, I obeyed the rules, and they fucked me. The justice department must have thought they found the goose that laid the golden egg when I flipped. For years they couldn’t even pin a parking ticket on me. And now here’s me giving up the whole thing. I remember sitting in the courtroom and the judge saying to the old man and the rest of his inner circle “Your parole officers aren’t even born yet”. I just looked over and smiled. And now I’m starting a new life. And I’m going to find out if my dad was right “It doesn’t take an army of men to make your way in this life. You can make it on your own”.