The ceramic tile felt cool and dry against Gianni Bevilacqua’s cheek. A thread of drool ran from the corner of his mouth to the tile like the first strand of a spider web. Less pain in his left arm and chest now, but Gianni knew he’d die as sure as he’d known he was coming last night with Connie Tortorella.
Rosalie told him not to eat so many cannoli. “Eat some pizelles,” she said every night after dinner. “The cannoli are too rich for your cholesterol.” Cholesterol didn’t scare Gianni. He’d lied, cheated, manipulated, and killed to get to the top of the Chicago Outfit. He usurped authority and took down every tradition that didn’t suit him until he ran the whole operation. A pair of .22s behind his ear figured to get him long before cholesterol.
Gianni alone in the big house, Rosalie at Mass again, praying for his soul. Lot of good that did him, lying on the floor, eight in the morning, barely breathing. She should have prayed for something useful, like a tasty, low-fat cannoli.
Gianni’s soul didn’t interest him. The priests taught him young, everyone was on this earth to suffer for their greater reward in heaven. So be it. Gianni went about God’s work with a clear conscience, doling out suffering as he thought appropriate, sending some to their rewards even faster than God intended. He’d do what he had to if the invisible prick wanted him to suffer in the afterlife, too. How’d the saying go? Heaven doesn’t want me, and hell is afraid I’ll take over. A smile flickered in Gianni’s eyes, too weak to move his lips.
He’d had taken over before. Broke in with Momo Giancana, busting up policy wheels on the West Side before he was twenty. Saw Momo become the front boss, thinking he was the real thing, waving it in people’s faces. The man John Gotti only dreamed of being. Dated a McGuire Sister, fucked the president’s girlfriend, banged Marilyn Monroe on the side. He hung out with Sinatra, for Christ’s sake. Can’t get more big time than that.
Momo’s problem was, the Outfit didn’t go for flash. Tony Accardo had the big house; everything else, low profile. Momo got sent to Mexico to hustle señoritas in semi-retirement until his ego couldn’t take it anymore. He came back to be boss and the Outfit put him out of their misery in his own basement one night.
Gianni had more smarts than that. He stayed tight with everyone: soldiers, street bosses, all the big shooters. Greased skids, arbitrated disputes, made sure things worked like they were supposed to. Everyone thought he was on their side, and he was, when it suited him. When it didn’t, he had a story. It couldn’t be helped. The fat prick lied. They got to him first. I did what I could. I’ll make it up to you.
Luck is where preparation meets opportunity, and Gianni Bevilacqua had been preparing his whole life. When Carmine Aliquo died while consiglieri Frank Ferraro served three federal years, Gianni became the de facto boss. He added crews, promoted his supporters to street bosses, Gianni Junior to underboss. Ferraro came back from Lewisburg a true consiglieri: a counselor, in charge of nothing. Gianni Bevilacqua alone ran Chicago and points west.
Ferraro didn’t get to be consiglieri by letting things slide. Gianni made cosmetic changes and excuses to keep Ferraro off his back, all the while telling Junior he was being groomed for the top spot. For almost two years he maintained equilibrium between Frank and Junior, giving each only enough slack to keep him quiet. He’d sort it out sooner or later.
Now it was later, and nothing was settled. Gianni tried to lick the strand of drool from his lip. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Junior thought he was next in line; Ferraro would never stand for it. After seventy years of peaceful transitions, the Outfit would fight over turf like those babbos in New York. Just because Gianni couldn’t take it with him didn’t mean he had to leave anything behind.