Our hero makes dinner plans for Meyer Lansky and sings the praises of Ossobuco, but thanks to a date with a lady friend, he’s got more on his plate than veal shanks
By John Armstrong
Since I’d now given my own car and staff away, I needed to replace them. I called one of the praetorians over from where he was waiting with the rest of my bodyguard detail. He was a few years older than me, maybe 30, and gave an impression of being more than just a set of muscles in a suit.
“What’s your name.” I asked and he replied immediately: “Ricardus Castellana, Mr. Kennedy – Ricco.” In general, when you single someone out of a group they usually react in one of two ways; either with that ‘uh oh, what did I do?’ look, or else they look eager, interested. Ricco looked happily expectant. A good sign.
I didn’t know him at all but like I said, how could I? Like any big business, I know the people directly above me and below me and a few in ancillary positions. But all of them? Does Colonel Sanders know the name of every chicken plucker?
I do know that at Christmas Frank usually rents out Radio City for a special show, and there’s no empty seats. Mind you, that’s with kids and wives. But the executive party afterwards fills up the Rainbow Room’s banquet hall and the dance floor is so crowded you don’t have to actually change partners to dance with someone else.
I asked Ricco how long he’d been with the family.
“Not a member, sir. I started out with the Bonannos, worked about six years there, and then came over to you when … that job ended. That was three years ago.” He discreetly sidestepped why the Bonannos no longer required him, which showed tact.
There was nothing strange about leaving one family for another, or disloyal, even under normal circumstances. On the contrary, he’d stuck with the Bonnanos longer than many would. Guys at the lower levels can bounce from family to family several times, changing jobs, looking for opportunities and hoping it leads to membership, which as I’ve said isn’t often.
Not that we don’t pay well and offer competitive benefits to the associates, but anyone who’s not made, who hasn’t been through the blood-and-fire adoption ceremony, is on straight salary and performance bonuses. You can do nicely but you won’t get rich, unless you’re skimming. You don’t want to do that – no point to money you’re not around to enjoy.
“Okay Ricco, my guys are with Mr. Lansky today so I need someone. Go see Abby over there and have her get you a car. Pick a couple of the guys from the detail who impressed you and then wait out front. I have to make a phone call.”
I got Vanessa’s number from my wallet and dialed it at the courtesy phone. It rang for a bit and I decided to give it a few more, hoping she wasn’t in the tub. Joe came over while it was ringing and raised his eyebrows.
“A girl”, I whispered, covering the mouthpiece, then she picked up. Joey grinned in worrisome fashion.
“Hello?” That voice was just as nice as I remembered it.
“Buona mattina, la bella donna – it’s Jack Kennedy, from yesterday at Fanelli’s. I wasn’t sure if you’d be in yet.”
“Just in the door – I heard it ringing from the hall and couldn’t get my keys out.”
I knew how that was. Early on I gave up running for telephones. How many times have you done it, dripping water or dropping groceries, and it was actually important? My own, private poll over the years has shown – never. And if it really were, do you think they wouldn’t call back?
“If we’re still on for the sightseeing, tell me when and where and I’ll come get you.” Joe was making rocking-the-baby gestures, holding an imaginary bundle in his arms and cooing. I knocked his hat off and pushed him away with my free hand. Vanessa gave me an address on Sixth near the University and said she’d be ready in half an hour. Then I had an idea.
“Actually, would you mind if we started here, at my office? I have a couple of things to finish and I can send a car for you. By the time you get here I’ll be free.” She said that was fine. When I hung up and turned back Joey was gone.
I called Ricco over and gave him the address and phone number with instructions to treat her like royalty and drive like he was delivering eggs. Then I crossed the foyer back to Abby’s desk. She said Frank was alone and buzzed me in.
“Oh, and tell Rao’s he’s coming for dinner with an important guest, so make something special. Ossobuco. Party of”– I had to think quickly: would he want anyone with him at the table besides Meyer, just a private conversation? Likely, but best to hedge bets. “Tell them a party of two, but maybe as many as six, so make plenty.” I made a mental note to check for leftovers. If God made anything better than baby beef braised in butter and pancetta, he kept it for himself.
Inside, he was writing at his desk. He put the pen down and looked up.
“You got Meyer set up?”
“Yeah, he’s covered. Charley and Jimmy are with him. I made reservations for you at the restaurant and told them to make the veal shanks. I bet he doesn’t get anything like that in Cuba.”
“Maybe not, but it’s a beautiful place,” Frank said. “You should go sometime for a few weeks. But I could never see how stays there all the time. Me, I like the concrete. I’m a city guy my whole life. Anyplace like that, after a few days, I want to come back. What am I going to do, pick coconuts and wear a sarong?”
“I think that’s the South Seas. Cubans wear pants.”
“You know what I mean. Anyway, if it makes him happy, god bless him and his coconuts.”
I decided to get to it. “Look Frank, I invited a friend to come see the office, then I’m going to take her to the Museum. I’ll have guns along but – you think that’s okay? With what’s going on?”
“You can’t stop living your life Jackie – if you do, they’ve already killed you. So you take precautions and keep going.” He got up and came around the desk, favoring one leg. His injured knee must have tightened up overnight.
“A girl, eh? Serious? Must be, you wouldn’t be seeing her in the daytime.” He was grinning wide, and I knew exactly what was in his mind – grandchildren on his knee. I was his last chance to get any.
“Easy now – I like her, but she’s not one of us. She’s from England.”
That didn’t even slow him down.
“What do you care, she’s an Eskimo? All that matters is she’s a nice girl and she makes you a good wife. The kids’ll be connected by birth.”
There was no use saying anything to him, so why not let him enjoy the idea? “All right then, but you’ll be babysitting them while we go dancing. Might be a dozen or more, loud, smelly …”
I might as well be threatening a fat man with a chicken leg. He just smiled wider and I got out of there before he got out the Big Book of Baby Names.
Joey was waiting, with a carnation in his hand. That was where he’d disappeared to, down the block to the flower cart.
He snapped the stem with a big thumbnail and fussed with my lapel, then stood back appreciatively.
“There you go, now you’re ready for amore.” I tell you, sometimes it’s like having a bunch of maiden aunts around.
Mob Rule continues….