From the outside it didn’t look like much. Except for the red awnings, nothing about the restaurant stood out. It was in the middle of a nondescript intersection in working class Maspeth, Queens. The kind of nondescript intersection, not far from Brooklyn, that looked like you could find prostitutes there at a discount.
But you couldn’t. Anyone who knew anything either about food or the underworld knew that the CasaBlanca was owned by one Big Joe Massino.
At 5’10” and a massive 300 pounds, Big Joe, otherwise known as “The Ear” was the head of The Bonannos and the last of the old time crime bosses still free on the streets. Sure, there were new dons popping up all the time, but all of Joe’s contemporaries—all of the real, old school gangsters—were either dead or incarcerated. All of them who wore a crown at least. He was the last official boss standing.
However, in their absence, Big Joe rebuilt the once weakened Bonanno family into a powerhouse. There was a time, in the 1980s and early 1990s that law enforcement had written them off. The Bonannos were history, a running joke even in wiseguy circles. They had been infiltrated by an undercover FBI agent and became a laughing stock.
Although, as Big Joe stewed in federal prison in the late 1980s, he quietly consolidated his power. And then, when he got out in 1992, he quickly began their resurgence.
From the shadows he stressed discipline and secrecy and beefed up his family’s longtime interests in gambling, loan sharking and extortion—and drugs. And now, at the end of the decade, except for the larger Genovese Family, as all of the other New York crews were ravaged by informants and infighting The Bonannos had become not just the second strongest criminal group in New York, but possibly, the country. They were an underground army of over 100 seasoned, deadly men.
Massino didn’t build his team and take things to that level by being stupid, though. He was cautious. A surveillance and gadget wiz, above the table they were eating dinner at in the half empty restaurant, on the ceiling, sat two metal boxes.
Scramblers meant to disrupt the recording of any conversation taking place beneath them if someone was wearing a wire at his table. To anyone in the establishment who didn’t know any better, however: they were smoke alarms.
But Massino, 56 and rotund, didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary as he twirled spaghetti into his spoon and The Godfather soundtrack played in the background. All around the restaurant there were pictures of famous actors and nice mirrors for self-centered Italians to look at themselves in. It wasn’t crowded, but it didn’t matter. Massino just focused on his guests: his loyal captain, Jackie Iacone, and his tested consigliere, Luigi Carcaterra, who told them:
“In all my years, I never seen anything like it. Such disrespect.”
“They wanted to hurt him for that,” Jackie said. “Least that’s what I heard.”
“Well, you know what they say?” Joe asked.
They both looked to their boss for his answer.
“No matter what,” Massino told them. “No matter what, you can never trust a cock-blocker. Fucking weasels.”
“It’s true,” Jackie said.
“Loyalty is everything,” Massino said. “Loyalty. Without that, there’s nothing. But it also takes brains, heart, balls. It takes all different kinds of meats to make a platter.”
“You just hit it on the head,” Jackie said—as he stared at Massino getting huskier by the mouthful.
“But without loyalty?” Massino told them. “None of it matters. Without loyalty, none of it matters,” Massino said, as he slurped his spaghetti, adding to his already massive frame. “Without loyalty, the platter ain’t worth a dime. Nothing, nothing. Without loyalty, there’s no flavor. There’s no reason for it to even exist. Loyalty is the ultimate, the most important ingredient.”
Jackie and Luigi agreed.
As the boss finished up his meal though, Lorenzo came back from the bathroom and sat back down with them. At which point the boss asked Jackie, “So, you seen the upgrades yet? I got some new stuff in the kitchen.”
Jackie hadn’t. He shook his head.
“C’mon, lemme show ya,” Massino told him, and the two of them picked the napkins up off their laps, stood up and placed them on the table.
Massino walked towards the back with Little Jackie, half his size but just as vicious trailing behind him. Past some diners, a few waiters, and one final waiter who, when he saw Big Joe walking towards him, held open the door to the kitchen.
“Gratzi,” Massino said, as they walked into the metal room, passed some busy Mexican dishwashers, went right to the back, to the chef. He was prepping some deserts. A little cannoli, some pastries, chocolate cream puffs, too.
Big Joe picked up one of the puffs, told Jackie “Try it,” and gave it to him.
Jackie enjoyed it. “Very. You guys making these here?”
Massino took a handful and devoured them in one shot. “Of course. We get the ingredients from all over. But here, we mold ‘em.” The pun was intended.
“They’re beautiful,” Jackie said, as he picked up two more.
Before he could eat them though, Joe told him, “C’mon.” He picked a few more up into his hand, popped one of them into his fat mouth and walked around the corner in the kitchen to the walk-in freezer all the way in the back. After which, he opened the freezer door, turned on the interior light, and looked at Jackie, who just nodded in return.
Jackie went inside, Joe followed. He shut the door behind him, and asked him, his captain, “Do you remember what I said to you when I gave you the power down there?”
“Keep it quiet,” Jackie said.
“Keep it fucking quiet, I told you. I gave you one of the best territories in the city, and all I told you was to keep it quiet. That’s it. But now you got these cowboys running around. I told you to keep it fucking quiet.”
“You think I built this thing by making noise? We got to where we are by keeping it quiet, and that’s how it’s gotta stay. But now I’m hearing about fucking shootouts? This ain’t the 80s no more.”
Jackie just looked at him. “What do you want me to do?”
“Get your house in order.”
“It’s true that that kid from the nightclub went bad?”
“To my extreme distaste,” Jackie said.
“Can he hurt youse?”
“Me, not so much. I never discussed nothing with him. Barely even spoke to him. But my guys, yeah.”
“Our guys, or just your guys?”
“Two of ours. More of mine.”
Massino thought about it. “Just keep it quiet. Do whatever you gotta do, but keep it quiet. Make it disappear.”
“That’s what I was thinking. But then there’s the other thing. The other thing, with the other kid. My kid.”
“We’ve been here before.”
“I know. I’m well aware. But the truth is I don’t know what to do. On this one, you gotta tell me. I’m not asking for permission, I’m asking for an order.”
Massino thought about it. “Has he changed at all? Recently?”
“With that thing that happened? With the wife?”
Massino thought about it some more. “She was a Puerto Rican, right?”
“Well that says it all right there.”
“Ever since, this kid’s gone crazy.”
“I heard. He wired Jose’s jaw?”
“Something like that.”
“Jackie I gave you the power down there for a reason. Not ‘cause you made the most money. ‘Cause you had the most brains. ‘Cause you was sharp. ‘Cause you could make decisions.”
“Which is why I’m coming to you, I got to. I gotta make sure whatever decision comes down on this one is the right one.”
“Then all I can tell you is you better get ready for a lot of heat, more than ever before. You do this, you’re gonna be covered after this, just know that. So whatever you do, you be smart. You keep it quiet.”
“That’s the thing. I hate to say it but the cash flow might go down after this. If we’re gonna be laying low and all it definitely will. Expect less samoleens.”
Massino wasn’t happy. “And this kid is your blue chip, right?”
“One of ‘em at least. He makes money hand over fucking foot.” Jackie held his hand up, in the shape of a gun. “And, he’s capable.” Victor could be called upon to drop bodies when needed.
“Then why are you even still considering this? We need all the guns we can get. There’s a reason we got the strongest mob right now.”
“Something I’m deeply proud of.”
“Jackie, our friend out there, at the table, the older one. He tells me your whole crew wants you to make him. Wants me to make him.”
“I mean, his father was one of us. They all knew him. He was on the crew. Some of us made our bones together. But, ever since the tragedy? They especially want to see you make him. All of a sudden stones got hearts.”
“Then maybe you should reconsider. All the heat this is gonna bring down?”
“That’s the thing. This life, boss? You know how unpredictable it is, more than anyone. And you’re telling me it’s time to clean house.”
“And I just feel that, you know? If we, if you make him? I feel that one day, it’s just more of a possibility that one day, he’s gonna know who did that thing. Who did that guy. He’s gonna know who popped that cherry.”
“So then you’d have to tell him. If he’s gonna be part of our family? If he’s gonna be one of us? Before he gets baptized, you’d have to tell him. A capable kid like that? We can’t have no problems. You’d have to see how he reacts.”
“I know. But like you said, he’s capable. Verycapable. He’s proved that.”
“So, say I tell him. And even if I don’t, say somebody flips one day. Especially if my crew’s gonna be indicted now? And who knows who else with us?”
“You know well as I do that this is the only family never had a rat, and it’s gonna stay that way.”
“I don’t mean to sound bad, bo. Look, I’m not saying it’ll be somebody from my bunch, even our bunch, but I’m just saying. You know how it is. How This Thing goes. Say someone talks one day? And then he hears about it from them on a witness stand instead? There’s no telling how this kid’ll react, whether it’s me that tells him or someone else that tells him. And then what?”
Massino thought about it. He thought about it hard, as he popped the last cream puff in his hand into his fat, slobbering mouth. He thought about it even harder.
And then, he, Massino told him: “And then loyalty.”