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The Last Don

Mario Puzo

  Table of Contents

  Title Page



  Book 1

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Book 2

  Chapter 3

  Book 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Book 4

  Chapter 6

  Book 5

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Book 6

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Book 7

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Book 8

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23


  Other Books by Mario Puzo

  Copyright Page


  Virginia Altman

  Domenick Cleri


  Quogue 1965

  ON PALM SUNDAY, one year after the Great War against the Santadio, Don Domenico Clericuzio celebrated the christening of two infants of his own blood and made the most important decision of his life. He invited the greatest Family chiefs in America, as well as Alfred Gronevelt, the owner of the Xanadu Hotel in Vegas, and David Redfellow, who had built up a vast drug empire in the United States. All his partners to some degree.

  Now the most powerful Mafia Family head in America, Don Clericuzio planned to relinquish that power, on the surface. It was time to play a different hand; obvious power was too dangerous. But the relinquishing of power was dangerous in itself. He had to do it with the most skillful benignity and with personal goodwill. And he had to do it on his own base.

  The Clericuzio estate in Quogue comprised twenty acres surrounded by a ten-foot-high redbrick wall armed by barbed wire and electronic sensors. It held, besides the mansion, the homes for his three sons as well as twenty small homes for trusted Family retainers.

  Before the arrival of the guests, the Don and his sons sat around the white wrought-iron table in the trellised garden at the back of the mansion. The oldest, Giorgio, was tall, with a small, fierce mustache and the lanky frame of an English gentleman, which he adorned with tailored clothes. He was twenty-seven, saturnine, with savage wit and closed face. The Don informed Giorgio that he, Giorgio, would be applying to the Wharton School of Business. There he would learn all the intricacies of stealing money while staying within the law.

  Giorgio did not question his father; this was a royal edict, not an invitation to discussion. He nodded obedience.

  The Don addressed his nephew, Joseph “Pippi” De Lena, next. The Don loved Pippi as much as he did his sons, for in addition to blood—Pippi being his dead sister’s son—Pippi was the great general who had conquered the savage Santadio.

  “You will go and live permanently in Vegas,” he said. “You will look after our interest in the Xanadu Hotel. Now that our Family is retiring from operations, there will not be much work here to do. However you will remain the Family Hammer.”

  He saw Pippi was not happy, that he must give reasons. “Your wife, Nalene, cannot live in the atmosphere of the Family, she cannot live in the Bronx Enclave. She is too different. She cannot be accepted by them. You must build your life away from us.” Which was all true, but the Don had another reason. Pippi was the great hero general of the Cleri-cuzio Family, and if he continued to be “Mayor” of the Bronx Enclave, he would be too powerful for the sons of the Don when the Don no longer lived.

  “You will be my Bruglione in the West,” he told Pippi. “You will become rich. But there is important work to do.”

  He handed Pippi the deed to a house in Las Vegas. The Don then turned to his youngest son, Vincent, a man of twenty-five. He was the shortest of the children, but built like a stone door. He was spare in speech, and he had a soft heart. He had learned all the classic peasant Italian dishes at his mother’s knee, and it was he who had wept so bitterly at his mother’s dying young.

  The Don smiled at him. “I am about to decide your destiny,” he said, “and set you on your true path. You will open the finest restaurant in New York. Spare no expense. I want you to show the French what real food is all about.” Pippi and the other sons laughed, even Vincent smiled. The Don smiled at him. “You will go to the best cooking school in Europe for a year.”

  Vincent, though pleased, growled, “What can they teach me?”

  The Don gave him a stern look. “Your pastries could be better,” he said. “But the main purpose is to learn the finances of running such an enterprise. Who knows, someday you may own a chain of restaurants. Giorgio will give you the money.”

  The Don turned finally to Petie. Petie was the second and the most cheerful of his sons. He was affable, at twenty-six no more than a boy, but the Don knew he was a throwback to the Sicilian Clericuzio.

  “Petie,” the Don said, “Now that Pippi is in the West, you will be Mayor of the Bronx Enclave. You will supply all the soldiers for the Family. But also, I have bought you a construction company business, a large one. You will repair the skyscrapers of New York, you will build state police barracks, you will pave the city streets. That business is assured but I expect you to make it a great company. Your soldiers can have legitimate employment and you will make a great deal of money. First you will serve an apprenticeship under the man who now owns it. But remember, your primary duty is to supply and command soldiers of the Family.” He turned to Giorgio.

  “Giorgio,” the Don said, “You will be my successor. You and Vinnie will no longer take part in that necessary part of the Family which invites danger, except when it is abso-lutely necessary. We must look ahead. Your children, my children, and little Dante and Croccifixio must never grow up in this world. We are rich, we no longer have to risk our lives to earn our daily bread. Our Family will now serve only as financial advisors to all the other Families. We will serve as their political support, mediate their quarrels. But to do this we must have cards to play. We must have an army. And we must protect everyone’s money, for which they will let us wet our beaks.”

  He paused. “Twenty, thirty years from now, we will all disappear into the lawful world and enjoy our wealth without fear. Those two infants we are baptizing today will never have to commit our sins and take our risks.”

  “Then why keep the Bronx Enclave?” Giorgio asked.

  “We hope someday to be saints,” the Don said. “But not martyrs.”

  An hour later Don Clericuzio stood on the balcony of his mansion and watched the festivities below.

  The huge lawn, carpeted with picnic tables crowned with winglike green umbrellas, was filled with the two hundred guests, many of them soldiers from the Bronx Enclave. Christenings were usually joyful affairs, but this one was subdued.

  The victory over the Santadio had cost the Clericuzio dearly. The Don had lost his most dearly beloved son, Silvio. His daughter Rose Marie had lost her husband.

  Now he watched the crowds of people mulling around the several long tables filled with crystal urns of deep red wine, bright white tureens of soups, pastas of every kind, platters laden with a variety of sliced meats and cheese, and crispy fresh breads of all sizes and shapes. He allowed himself to be soothed by the soft music of the small band playing in the background.

  Directly in the center of the circle of picnic tables, the Don saw the two baby carriages with their blue blankets. How brave the two babies were, they had not flinched when struck with Holy Water. Beside them were the two mothers, Rose Marie and Nalene De Lena, Pippi’s wife. He could see the babies’ faces, so unmarked by life, D
ante Clericuzio and Croccifixio De Lena. He was responsible for ensuring that these two children would never have to suffer to earn a living. If he succeeded, they would enter the regular society of the world. It was curious, he thought, that there was no man in the crowd paying homage to the infants.

  He saw Vincent, usually dour with a face like granite, feeding some small children from the hot dog cart he had built for the feast. It resembled the New York street hot dog carts, except that it was bigger, it had a brighter umbrella, and Vincent gave out better food. He wore a clean white apron, and he made his hot dogs with sauerkraut and mustard, with red onions and hot sauce. Each small child had to give him a kiss on the cheek for a hot dog. Vincent was the most tenderhearted of his sons, despite his rough exterior.

  On the boccie court, he saw Petie, playing with Pippi De Lena, Virginio Ballazzo, and Alfred Gronevelt. Petie was a practical joker, which the Don disapproved of; it always seemed a dangerous business to him. Even now Petie was disrupting the game with his tricks as one of the boccie balls flew into pieces after the first hit.

  Virginio Ballazzo was the Don’s underboss, an executive officer in the Clericuzio Family. He was a high-spirited man and was pretending to chase Petie, who was pretending to run. This struck the Don as ironic. He knew his son Petie was a natural-born assassin, and that the playful Ballazzo had a certain reputation in his own right.

  But neither of them was a match for Pippi.

  The Don could see the women in the crowd glancing at Pippi. Except for the two mothers, Rose Marie and Nalene. He was such a fine-looking man. As tall as the Don himself, a rugged strong body, a brutally handsome face. Many of the men were observing him also, some of them his soldiers from the Bronx Enclave. Observing his air of command, the litheness of his body in action, knowing his legend, The Hammer, the best of the “Qualified Men.”

  David Redfellow, young, rosy-cheeked, the most powerful drug dealer in America, was pinching the cheeks of the two infants in their carriages. Finally, Alfred Gronevelt, still clad in his jacket and tie, was obviously ill at ease at playing a strange game. Gronevelt was the same age as the Don himself, near sixty.

  Today Don Clericuzio would change all their lives, he hoped for the better.

  Giorgio came to the balcony to summon him to the first meeting of the day. The ten Mafia chiefs were assembling in the den of the house for the meeting. Giorgio had already briefed them as to Don Clericuzio’s proposal. The christening was an excellent cover for the meeting, but they had no real social ties with the Clericuzio and wanted to be on their way as soon as possible.

  The den of the Clericuzio was a windowless room with heavy furniture and a wet bar. All ten men looked somber as they sat around the large dark marble conference table. They each in turn greeted Don Clericuzio and then waited expectantly to hear what he had to say.

  Don Clericuzio summoned his sons, Vincent and Petie, his executive officer, Ballazzo, and Pippi De Lena to join the meeting. When they arrived, Giorgio, cold and sardonic, made a brief introductory remark.

  Don Clericuzio surveyed the faces of the men before him, the most powerful men in the illegal society that functioned to supply the solutions to the true needs of the people.

  “My son Giorgio has briefed you on how everything will work,” he said. “My proposal is this. I retire from all my interests with the exception of gambling. My New York activities I give to my old friend Virginio Ballazzo. He will form his own Family and be independent of the Clericuzio. In the rest of the country I yield all of my interests in the unions, transportation, alcohol, tobacco, and drugs to your Families. All my access to the law will be available. What I ask in return is that you let me handle your earnings. They will be safely held and available to you. You will not have to worry about the Government tracking down the money. For it I ask only a five percent commission.”

  This was a dream deal for the ten men. They were thankful that the Clericuzio were retreating when the Family could just as well have gone forward to control or destroy their empires.

  Vincent walked around the table and poured each of them some wine. The men held their glasses up and toasted the Don’s retirement.

  After the Mafia dons made their ceremonious farewells, David Redfellow was escorted into the den by Petie. He sat in the leather armchair opposite the Don, and Vincent served him a glass of wine. Redfellow stood out from the other men not only because of his long hair but because he wore a diamond earring and a denim jacket with his clean, pressed jeans. He had Scandinavian blood. He was blond with clear blue eyes and always had a cheerful expression and a casual wit.

  The Don owed a great debt of gratitude to David Redfellow. It was he who proved that lawful authorities could be bribed on drugs.

  “David,” Don Clericuzio said, “You are retiring from the drug business. I have something better for you.”

  Redfellow did not object. “Why now?” he asked the Don.

  “Number one,” the Don said, “the government is devoting too much time and trouble to the business. You would have to live with anxiety the rest of your life. More importantly, it has become too dangerous. My son Petie and his soldiers have served as your bodyguards. I can no longer permit that. The Colombians are too wild, too foolhardy, too violent. Let them have the drug business. You will retire to Europe. I will arrange for your protection there. You can keep yourself busy by buying a bank in Italy and you will live in Rome. We will do a lot of business there.”

  “Great,” Redfellow said. “I don’t speak Italian and I know nothing of banking.”

  “You will learn both,” Don Clericuzio said. “And you will live a happy life in Rome. Or you can stay here if you wish, but then you will no longer have my support, Petie will no longer guard your life. Choose as you like.”

  “Who will take over my business?” Redfellow asked. “Do I get a buyout?”

  “The Colombians will take over your business,” the Don said. “That cannot be prevented, that is the tide of history. But the government will make their life misery. Now, yes or no?”

  Redfellow thought it over and then laughed. “Tell me how to get started.”

  “Giorgio will take you to Rome and introduce you to my people there,” the Don said. “And through the years he will advise you.”

  The Don embraced him. “Thank you for listening to my advice. We will still be partners in Europe and believe me, it will be a good life for you.”

  When David Redfellow left, the Don sent Giorgio to summon Alfred Gronevelt to the den. As the owner of the Xanadu Hotel in Vegas, Gronevelt had been under the protection of the now defunct Santadio Family.

  “Mr. Gronevelt,” the Don said. “You will continue to run the Hotel under my protection. You need have no fear for yourself or your property. You will keep your fifty-one percent of the Hotel. I will own the forty-nine percent formerly owned by the Santadio and be represented by the same legal identity. Are you agreeable?”

  Gronevelt was a man of great dignity and great physical presence, despite his age. He said carefully, “If I stay, I must run the Hotel with the same authority. Otherwise I will sell you my percentage.”

  “Sell a gold mine?” the Don said incredulously. “No, no. Don’t fear me. I’m a businessman above all. If the Santadio had been more temperate, all those terrible things would never have happened. Now they no longer exist. But you and I are reasonable men. My delegates get the Santadio points. And Joseph De Lena, Pippi, gets all the consideration due him. He will be my Bruglione in the West at a salary of one hundred thousand a year paid by your hotel in any manner you see fit. And if you have trouble of any kind with anyone, you go to him. And in your business, you always have trouble.”

  Gronevelt, a tall, spare man, seemed calm enough. “Why do you favor me? You have other and more profitable options.”

  Don Domenico said gravely, “Because you are a genius in what you do. Everyone in Las Vegas says so. And to prove my esteem I give you something in return.”

smiled at this. “You’ve given me quite enough. My hotel. What else can be as important?”

  The Don beamed at him benevolently, for though he was always a serious man, he delighted in surprising people with his power. “You can name the next appointment to the Nevada Gaming Commission,” the Don said. “There is a vacancy.”

  Gronevelt for one of the few times in his life was surprised, and also impressed. Most of all he was elated, as he saw a future for his hotel that he had not even dreamed of. “If you can do that,” Gronevelt said, “we will all be very rich in the coming years.”

  “It is done,” the Don said. “Now you can go out and enjoy yourself.”

  Gronevelt said, “I’ll be getting back to Vegas. I don’t think it’s wise to let everyone know I’m a guest here.”

  The Don nodded. “Petie, have someone drive Mr. Grone-velt to New York.”

  Now, besides the Don, only his sons, Pippi De Lena, and Virginio Ballazzo were left in the room. They looked slightly stunned. Only Giorgio had been his confidant. The others had not known the Don’s plans.

  Ballazzo was young for a Bruglione, only a few years older than Pippi. He had control over unions, garment center transportation, and some drugs. Don Domenico informed him that from now on he was to operate independently of the Clericuzio. He had only to pay a tribute of 10 percent. Otherwise, he had complete control over his operations.

  Virginio Ballazzo was overcome by this largesse. He was usually an ebullient man who expressed his thanks or complaints with brio, but now he was too overcome with gratitude to do anything but embrace the Don.

  “Of that ten percent, five will be reserved by me for your old age or misfortune,” the Don told Ballazzo. “Now forgive me, but people change, they have faulty memories, gratitude for past generosities fades. Let me remind you to be accurate in your accountings.” He paused for a moment. “After all, I am not the tax people, I cannot charge you those terrible interests and penalties.”