Riding With the Mafia
by Jack Getze
Rated "PG" by the Author.
edited: Monday, March 03, 2008
Posted: Monday, March 03, 2008
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Where I got the idea for book two in the Austin Carr Mystery Series, BIG MONEY.
From Mystery Scene Magazine, Winter, 2008
The gangster’s black limousine pulled to the curb in front of my father-in-law’s contracting office. Three very large men came inside and made my wife’s father go for a ride.
I didn’t see this happen to my father-in-law. I just read about it on the front page of the newspaper. On the same day I met him.
In August of 1979, I traveled back to New Jersey from my home in Los Angeles to meet my future in-laws and attend the wedding of my wife’s brother. The last thing I expected was for my few family to provide the spark for my second Austin Carr novel, BIG MONEY.
But my new novel--about a small New Jersey businessman hustled by the mob--practically got dumped in my lap at the breakfast table that day twenty-eight years ago. My fiancee and I had arrived from California very late the night before, and the first time I met my future father-in-law was over bacon and eggs the next morning.
He said hello, how are you, and we shook hands. But my wife’s father seemed preoccupied with the newspaper that day, and not long after finishing his breakfast, my father-in-law rose from the table and went to play golf.
That’s when I saw his name on the front page of the paper and read about his encounter with local mobsters.
Incredibly, much of the conversation inside that black limousine was tape recorded. It seems the driver had already been turned into witness by Federal prosecutors and was wearing a wire. An investigation of the gang had been underway for years.
In the back seat of the limousine that day, a gangster asked my father-in-law for a regular monthly payment, a fee for protection. My father-in-law said no. The men cursed and said they’d kill him. My father-in-law said go ahead. The men cursed even more and said they’d kill his wife and children. My father-in-law said go ahead, and something like, “They hate me anyway.”
I remember the newspaper quotes were full of blank spots where four-letter words fit well. And frankly, my father-in-law sounded tougher than the mobsters who were trying to muscle him.
That’s exactly what I decided I wanted in my novel--a character who was as tougher or tougher than the gangsters trying to muscle him. And while the first version written twenty years ago included a protagonist who qualified--ex Navy SEAL who took no guff--my latest version was written for a much milder protag, stockbroker Austin Carr. I managed to keep that limo ride, however.
The account of the limousine ride was old news that day back in 1979. Although it would always symbolize the whole story for me, the limo scene was buried in a longer account of the trial of the local mobster who employed those men in the limo. At the previous day’s court session, guess who’d been a star witness?
That’s right. My father-in-law.
Before calling him to testify, the prosecutor played hours of tape recordings, including much of the conversation between my father-in-law and the gangsters in that limo. At one point, a juror raised his hand and asked, “Which one is the bad guy?”
And despite his rage at being hustled by gangsters during that limo ride, the threats made against himself and his family, my future wife’s father refused to identify the men who had taken him for a ride that day.
On the witness stand, he said, “I can’t be sure.”
My father-in-law was tough, not stupid.
Jack Getze is a former reporter and stockbroker and the author of BIG MONEY (Hilliard and Harris, $28.95,M 2008).