Santino Castellano and his captain, Nicolas “Nicky Mumbles” Muzzatto, had been standing outside Swifty’s goomar’s apartment for so long, Kentucky bluegrass grew under their feet. Santino wanted to hurry and get the meet over with. To find out who tried to clip Dante, he needed Nicky to arrange a sit-down with the Russians. Swifty, the conduit between the five families and the Russians, was the man Uncle Sal had told them could get the job done.
Five minutes after they started knocking, Swifty plodded across the floor like a stuffed elephant and opened the door.
“Nicky! Santino! Long time,” Swifty said, greeting them both with affectionate hugs and pecks on the cheek. “Come in. Come in. Take a load off.” He shuffled toward the kitchen, lumbering like a snail on valium. They headed for the living room.
Frank “Swifty” Zanetti, a paranoid loyal-for-the-moment capo in the Genovese family, got his nickname because he moved as slow as an iceberg. He was built like one, too. Whatever the task at hand, the words “rush” or “quick” didn’t exist in his vocabulary. Connected guys found it hilarious that he talked and ate as if on fast forward. Words shot out of his mouth at a hundred miles per hour and food went in just as fast. But the only time he picked up his walking pace was to turn down the fire on the Sunday sauce. This explains why he took five minutes to open the freakin’ door after Nicky and Santino knocked.
“Frankie Z! How’s life?” Nicky asked. As a Bonanno capo, he led the conversation. For the most part, on Sal’s orders, Santino’s job was to listen, observe, and analyze in case Nicky had questions after. Speak when spoken to. “Still eatin’ good, I see.”
“Life’s good. Never seen a plate of macaron’ I didn’t like. Isabella’s got some beer and a nice proscuit’ in the fridge if you want somethin’ to eat,” he offered. They replied with no thank yous, eager to get to business.
Swifty turned toward Santino bearing a somber expression; his mouth curved downward, but he averted his gaze to the door. “Santino, how’s Dante doin’?”
Santino paused, combed his fingers across his scalp. Anguish ripped through his stomach and dampened his mood. “Not so good,” he said. “Doctors are saying he may not make it.”
“Bullshit. Screw those butchers, you hear me?” Swifty remarked, pointing his sausage-sized fingers. “Your cousin’s a fuckin’ bull. Stubborn as one, too. He ain’t goin’ nowhere until he’s good and goddamn ready. Don’t you worry about Dante. He’ll come out stronger than when he went in.”
Santino nodded. “God willing. Appreciate it, Frankie.”
Nicky waited for a comfortable pause and then proceeded. “We want to let you enjoy the rest of your day, so let’s get down to business.”
Swifty pored over the room, the corners, the phone, out the windows. Felt like twenty minutes passed by the time he started speaking.
“The fuck you think you got? X-ray vision? I mean, c’mon,” Nicky said. “If the Feds planted a wire in here, you sure as hell ain’t gonna find it by gawkin’ from your seat.”
“Fuckin’ Feds. They’d wire my balls if they weren’t hanging between my legs. You can never trust ‘em. Let’s step out on the veranda.”
Frankie’s place was on the top floor with nothing overhead except blue horizon. If the Feds ever figured out how to wire the sky, they’d all be in trouble. Swifty was a new capo in his family and refused to be the weakest link. His paranoiac behavior, constant checking, refusal to have conversations in any place his people hadn’t swept for bugs at least twice a week, kept him off the Fed’s radar…or so he thought. “You need a sit-down with the Russians.”
“Yeah,” Nicky Mumbles said. “It’s out of our deepest respect for your business interests that I’m askin’ before we make a move.”
The concern on Swifty’s face was obvious. “Listen, I understand your issue. Under any other circumstances, if those Russkiy cocksuckers hit one of us, someone in our family? Heads would be rolling all over Brighton Beach. But every single family is drawing water from this well, including yours, and the Russians control the supply end,” Swifty said. “You’ve got a legitimate beef, but we need to keep the peace for the time being. Any move would bring a lot of heat from the Feds. We can’t afford any more indictments. We got millions tied up in business with those jerkoffs, and we can’t rock the boat.”
“Rock the boat?” Santino questioned, his simmering anger coming to a quick boil. “With all due respect, Frankie, this is my cousin we’re talkin’ about here. My family…mia famiglia.”
Nicky Mumbles glared at Santino. His look said, Shut your fucking yappin’. You’re talkin’ out of school.
“You know me and your uncle go away back, Santino. But we can’t step over dollars to pick up dimes here,” Swifty said. “If we were talkin’ chump change, I’d take ‘em out myself.”
“If not chump change, then what are we talkin’ here?” Nicky replied.
“Millions,” he said. “A hundred of ‘em.”
Santino glanced at Nicky. The response had taken aback both of them. With so much money on the line, forget about allegiance from the other families. Santino would have to avenge Dante’s shooting and ask for forgiveness later. Forget about permission. Wasn’t happenin’. Not then, not ever.
Santino seethed at Nicky, sitting there like a dead stump of wood, not giving two shits about his own boss’s son. Not until Santino checked his phone did Nicky speak up as if he had some skin in the game. “You grew up in the neighborhood, Frankie. There is no way in hell we can let this shit go. No way. And the pennies we earn from our little piece-of-shit cut, we can earn elsewhere, hai capito? The question is no longer whether we hit; it’s how and when.”
Swifty took a seat in his steel-enforced lawn chair and leaned back. “Nobody involved would have a problem with you roughin’ them up a little bit—injure ‘em, cripple ‘em, but you don’t kill ‘em. It’s not like they’re gonna run to the cops, but we can’t afford a street fight right now. With the Feds handing out indictments like two-cent candy, we gotta keep earning for the lean times, which are coming. I can feel it in my bones. So therein lies the compromise,” Swifty said.
The remark almost brought Santino to laughter. He didn’t know Swifty had bones.
“In the meantime, I'll arrange a sit down with Russians. They’ll cough up the shooter. We don’t want a war, but they don’t know that. We’ll work something out to our mutual benefit. A larger cut maybe.”
Nicky smiled and nodded.
At that moment, Nicky’s motivation became clear. He didn’t give a shit about Dante, but planned to use Dante’s shooting to get a bigger share of the Russians’ narcotics business.
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