Suddenly, all hell broke loose. It was as though World War III had erupted in the streets of Miami.
by PAUL H. KOGEL
Richey entered Dalarmo’s Ristorante with the determination that had been years in the making. "I'm here to see the boss. Is he in the back room?”
“Where else?” Vito replied with a shrug.
Richey smiled at the way the shoulder padding under his pinstripe suit seemed to tickle at Vito’s ears when he shrugged. He pushed his shoulders forward and stretched his neck from time to time. It was an attempt to settle his jacket back further on his neck was Richey’s guess.
“I’ll let him know you’re here. Have a drink?”
“No thanks, I’ll just wait here if it’s alright.” Richey smiled as Vito went back to his shrugging routine. Some guys should never wear a suit.
“Fine with me. By the way, I heard the DeBlanko job went well.”
“It never ceases to amaze me how fast news travels,” Richey replied, stroking the dimple at the center of his hard, squared chin. “You’d think I’d be accustomed to it by now.”
“Yeah, you’d think.” Vito smiled and patted him on the arm. “Have a seat. I’ll be right back.” He smoothed back his greasy, black hair as he headed for the back room.
Richey Manduso was far too impatient to sit. He had important business to discuss with Don Marlini. This was the most important thing to happen to him since he first set eyes on Valentino Marlini, the Don’s deceased father, six years ago. That was the beginning of his work for the family; this would be the end of it. His father’s debt was paid and it was time to go.
“The boss told me to send you back,” Vito said when he returned. “You sure you don’t want a drink? I can have one sent back.”
“No thanks, Vito. It’s a bit early for that.”
“What? It’s after 10 a.m. aint it?” Vito laughed. “I’ll never understand you,” he said with a shake of his head as he walked into the bar.
Richey strode through the swank Italian restaurant, oblivious to the handful of patrons dressed in dark suits and designer dresses. At the rear, he adjusted his tie and pulled aside the red velvet curtain, revealing a small private dining area. A single table draped with fine linen and sporting a large flower-based crystal centerpiece dominated the room. A portly man wearing an expensive gray suit was the only diner. Richey knew he was wearing a tie—he always wore a tie—but it was hidden by the red and white, checkered napkin tucked into the neck of his shirt.
Don Marlini raised his eyes as Richey entered, his hair shining blue-black in the candlelight. “Richey, my friend, it’s nice to see you.”
Richey nodded his greeting and stood tall at the entrance to the room. “Don Marlini, it’s an honor, as always.”
“Well come in, come in. Don’t just stand there. Have a seat.” Don Marlini motioned widely. His diamond ring cast tiny starlets across the tablecloth. “I’m just finishing up with some cassata. Have some? It’s the house’s specialty.”
“No, thank you. I know it’s good. I’ve had it many times,” Richey replied, as he took a seat on the other side of the table.
“Why so formal? We’ve been friends too long to be formal at this stage of the game.”
“The end game you mean?” smiled Richey, referring to the many games of chess he and Vincent had enjoyed over the years.
Don Marlini’s smile disappeared. “So that’s your decision?”
“That’s why I thought formality was in order. You knew what my decision would be. We discussed it at length just before the DeBlanko project.”
“Project—ha,” laughed the Don, as he dug into his cassata. “That’s an interesting way to put it. But then, you always did have colorful ways about you.” He lifted the bottle of wine and half filled a glass that sat in front of Richey. “Have some. It’s a great vintage, straight from Palermo.”
“Thank you.” Richey accepted the wine graciously, even though he didn’t care for the stuff. Friends or not, it wasn’t considered polite to refuse a drink from the Don—and not very smart either.
“Well, I have to tell you, Richey, I was hoping you would change your mind. You know I have a couple of mill with your name on it, and a sweet spot in Atlantic City. It’d be right up your alley.”
Richey shook his head. “You’ve been very good to me, Vincent. I have no doubt you’d continue to be. But, you know DeBlanko was my finale sanction. I just want to go to Miami and put all this behind me once and for all.”
The Don’s face fell from its placid facade. “Now look, Richey, you know I can’t let you go like that. It just isn’t done. How can I control my people if they get the idea they can just walk away whenever they want?” A somber tone clung to his words.
Richey’s heart leapt into his throat, his muscles tensed and his face flushed with anger. “We had a deal, Vincent,” he said, brushing his sandy-blonde hair from his forehead. “My father never wanted me to get involved with the family. You know that. I did it only because he had obligated himself to your father for ten years. He blamed himself for your father’s death. I couldn’t let that stand. As I saw it, he still owed the family six years and you agreed. Now, it’s finished.”
“I know but, Richey…”
“I’ve never known this Don Marlini, or the last one, to go back on his word. Ever.”
Vincent leaned forward, elbows on the armrests and his hands folded beneath his chin. Richey watched as he gazed in contemplation at his half-eaten plate of cassata.
Richey’s thoughts turned to Maria. We really don’t need this right now
He loved Maria with every fiber of his being. His obligations to the Marlini family had put a real strain on their relationship. He promised her a clean break and he never broke his word, not to Maria…not to anyone. He certainly hadn’t with Vincent. He had been true to him for six long years. He often felt guilty about putting his work ahead of his feelings for Maria. First things first, he had told himself as a way of appeasing his conscience. But not any more. He had made a new promise, and he would honor it above any promise he had ever made. He owed it to her…to himself. Most of all, he owed it to the new family they had planned together.
Nevertheless, he knew he could never walk away without the Don’s blessing. It made no difference what his relationship was with Vincent Marlini and the family—it would mean certain death. Richey was good, very good, but you could never be good enough to thwart the inevitable once the Don’s finger pointed your way.
The seconds passed like hours. The silence was unnerving. Richey could count his own heartbeats by the thundering blood that surged past his temples. Slowly, a smile began to dimple the Don’s cheeks as his eyes lifted to meet Richey’s.
“You know I had to try,” he said, the smile now blanketing his face. “What kind of a leader would I be if I didn’t at least try to keep my number-one soldier on board?”
Richey’s nervous system went from overdrive to park in a matter of seconds. His Adam’s apple felt snug against his tie as he swallowed hard. He tried not to show his relief, but his eyes closed briefly and he sighed audibly despite his effort.
“She’s waiting for you in Miami, I presume.”
Richey nodded with a smile. “She is.”
“You know, you’re a very lucky man.”
“Yes, I do. Maria’s a wonderful girl.”
”No, Richey. That’s not what I meant. I meant gaining your freedom from the family. It happens only on rare occasions.”
“I know,” nodded Richey, “but ours was an uncommon arrangement from the beginning.”
“Well, your father was an honorable man. You’ve proven that you are your father’s son. No one can take that away from you, Richey,” said Don Marlini, as he rose from his chair. Richey rose as well and took hold of his out-stretched hand. “It was a good run, my friend.”
“It was indeed.”
“Give the little lady my best.”
* * *
Balans on South Beach is a swank little sidewalk café that Maria liked. Richey sat under an umbrella, sipping a non-fat latté and waited for Maria to join him. She liked to browse the shops around Lincoln Road, and probably got carried away. She spent a lot of time shopping there in the past two months waiting for Richey to arrive from New York. Two days ago, he finally arrived. He never felt more alive. The days were slow and the nights amorous to say the least. Maria saw to that. She is so good at what she does, Richey mused. He leaned back in his chair and folded his hands across the back of his neck.
“Careful there, blue-eyes, you might end up on your back,” chimed Maria, as she approached, carrying far too many bags for her small frame to support much longer.
“Good Lord, look at all this stuff.” Richey whistled, as he stood and took some of the bags in hand. He kissed her. “Let’s see what we have here,” he continued, sitting down at the table. Holding up the three bags he had taken from her, he began to read the store names. “Virey, TeNo, Deco Drive Cigars…ah, I take it this one’s for me.”
“Yeah? What tipped you off to that one, detective? So, what did you order?”
“Nothing yet, but I sort of had my eye on the Crostini to start off with.” He sat the packages down on an empty chair.
“Oh, no you don’t. Far too much garlic. Why don’t we just skip the appetizers?”
“Well, all right. You decide. I’ll have whatever you’re having. I’m going inside and use the men’s room. Be back in a flash.” He rose and stepped close to her. He leaned in and gave her a peck on the cheek. “Thanks for the cig…”
Suddenly, all hell broke loose. It was as though World War III had erupted in the streets of Miami. Richey pushed Maria from her chair and fell on top of her, protecting her from bullets whizzing past. Flying glass and debris sailed overhead and rattled to the pavement. Panic-stricken people screamed and ran in all directions, not knowing where to find safety.
Richey searched for the shooters. The angles from which the rounds were coming suggested more than one. He twisted, bracing his hand against the sidewalk. Something warm, wet and slippery made him slide, and he fell again onto Maria. Still, he got a good look at a black Lincoln Town Car as it pulled from the curb on the other side of the street. A silver Chrysler 300 followed, the barrel of a rifle pulled inside a half-open window as it sped away. He was positive at least one just like it was in the Lincoln.
Richey examined his right hand. Just as he suspected, blood. His heart sank into his stomach and panic flooded his soul. He quickly grabbed Maria by the shoulders and shook her.
“Maria!” he shouted. “My God, are you alright.”
“Yes, I’m fine. I think. Just help me up.”
Richey was relieved as he helped her to her feet. His chest heaved with each frightful breath, as he looked her over. She was not bleeding. He looked around and saw several people lying face down in pools of dark-red blood. It was the waiter’s life splayed across his hand. The poor man sat with his back against a table leg, his white shirt covered with an assassin's serpentine art. His eyes were open wide and void of life.
Richey’s mind whirled in a swell of confusion, but he was trained to act, not react. So, he pulled his thoughts away from Maria and took control of himself. It was a badly botched hit, sloppy and amateurish. That is, if it was a hit. But those guys were no amateurs. He knew who they were. Those cars were a gift from Marlini. He had seen them at the mansion awaiting shipment to the Bronsio Family in Miami. No, this wasn’t a hit, it was meant as a warning—a warning to him, he knew. He just didn’t know why. But he knew just the guy to ask.
* * *
When the police let Richey and the other customers go after taking their statements, he took Maria home. She was shaken but had calmed down somewhat by the time they arrived at their apartment.
“I just don’t understand it, Richey,” Maria said, placing the packages on the dining room table. “I thought you said Marlini put the word out that you were a free man.”
“Are you sure about that?” Maria’s angst was returning. She brushed an unruly lock of black hair from her eyes.
“Yes, I’m sure. Besides, who’s to say the shooting was directed at me.” Richey never was a convincing liar. He knew all too well who those bullets were meant to impress—and so did Maria.
“You’re not fooling me, Richey. Either one of us could have been killed out there today, or both of us. I’m not going to live like this. I can’t.” Tears began to streak from her Sophia Loren eyes.
“Don’t honey, please…”
“Then stop trying to make light of it. Three people died out there today. I want to know what’s going on, and I want to know now.”
“I can’t tell you something I don’t know, Maria.”
Maria, snatched a tissue from her purse. She walked away dabbing her eyes. “Are you involved in something again? You said you quit. You promised.”
“I have quit, honey. I swear it. Marlini told me he’d take care of it himself.” Richey swore. “No, something else is going on here.” He began to pace. “Did you notice the way Brownie pretended he didn’t even know me? He had that flunky sergeant take our statements—just pretended I wasn’t even there.” He slowed his pace and turned to Maria. “Yeah, there is something going on. You’re right about that. But I swear I don’t know anything about it.” He approached her and tenderly took hold of her shoulders. “I can promise you this, though. I’m going to find out, and I’m going to find out tonight.”
She turned and buried her face in his chest. Richey held her tight. He could feel her shake as sobs came softly at first, but soon grew out of control. “Please stop crying, sweetheart. I will take care of everything. You’ll see.”
* * *
Night fell much sooner than either Richey or Maria would have liked, but Richey knew what time to expect Lieutenant Brown—not so affectionately known as Brownie—to enter his north-side condo. He wanted to be there shortly after his arrival. Brownie was a dirty cop, found in the hip pocket of every organized crime family within his jurisdiction, even those like Marlini who frequently visited Miami. His job was to ignore incidences much like the one that erupted at Balans until well after the fact. Tipped off in advance, he would direct his men outside the “activity zone” as he called it. Brownie was a pro at what he did, and Richey knew he would have to find a very special way to persuade him to spill his guts. But then Richey had his own ways; he would find one to suit his purpose.
He aimed his BMW south on I-95 until he was sure he had not picked up a tail. He then angled his way east to 27th Avenue before heading north towards 36th Street. There was no one following him, but every now and again, he circled through a subdivision just to make sure. Turning right on 36th Street, he crossed I-95 to Brownie’s high-rise condominium building on Biscayne Blvd. He pulled into the parking lot of a nearby college prep school and walked the rest of the way. Once there, he brushed in past a middle-aged couple leaving as he approached the lobby doors. In no time, he was at apartment 643, the place Brownie called home.
Marlini had made his address known to Richey about six months earlier when, on an errand with one of Don Bronsio’s boys, Richey had to leave a sealed message for Brownie. The lieutenant wasn’t home so he left the envelope with his wife. She had since left him for his many indiscretions. That would play well for Richey tonight. He didn’t need anyone coming between him and his target. It usually didn’t bode well for intruders, and he wouldn’t want to hurt Brownie’s wife—ex-wife.
Richey pulled “The Kit” in its leather wallet-like casing from his jacket pocket and pulled out his favorite tool. He looked up and down the empty hall as he jimmied the pick in the lock until he heard that familiar “click”. His right hand entered his jacket near his underarm and pulled free the Beretta already outfitted with a silencer, as he put away his burglar kit. He turned the knob slowly and opened the door with one smooth motion to prevent squeaks.
He stepped inside and looked around. Brownie was nowhere in sight. I’m too early, was Richey’s first thought until he noticed three pieces of unopened mail on the dining room table. He closed the door carefully and edged his way over to the wet bar. An uncapped bottle of Jack Daniels stood next to an open ice bucket. He’s home alright. With a clear view of the kitchen to his right and the living room to his left, he knew three rooms where Brownie was not. That’s a start.
Ahead of him, the walls came together to form an arched entrance to a hallway that Richey assumed led to the bedrooms. He made his way slowly and carefully, finding that he was right. One bedroom on the right was empty—very empty. It had no furniture at all. They say ex-wives can be like that, smiled Richey. Good for her. A little further, Richey stopped in his tracks. He heard a hissing sound coming from the bedroom straight ahead. It was the sound of running water. So the pig actually takes a shower once in a while. Surprise, surprise.
The bedroom door was open. Richey entered without incident. To his left, the master-bath’s door was slightly ajar; steam from the shower edged through the gap. Richey hesitated a moment. An idea formed. On a bedside table, he found what he needed. He tiptoed to the clock radio and unplugged it. This will do quite nicely. It has a nice long cord. Smiling, he made his way quietly to the bathroom.
In a matter of seconds, Richey entered the bathroom and had the radio plugged in. He sat the radio on the counter and waited, trying hard to keep from laughing aloud as Brownie began to butcher ‘O Solo Mio’. He sang so loud, Richey could have stomped through the bathroom wearing tap-cleats.
Soon, however, the levity passed and Richey got down to business. He turned on the radio to full volume and pointed his gun directly at the shower curtain where he imagined Brownie’s head to be. The radio boomed out above the noise Brownie made as ‘When I Fall in Love’ by Kenny Rogers blasted through the bathroom.
“What the…?” Brownie squawked as he threw open the curtain and found himself staring down the barrel of Richey’s gun. The silencer loomed to canon-size in Brownie’s horror stricken mind.
“Hello there, Lieutenant,” greeted Richey cheerfully as he turned the music down. “You look like you’re having a bad day.”
“Not so bad—until now.” He reached for the knobs to turn off the water.
“Just leave the water running,” Richey commanded. “You might catch a chill.”
Brownie brushed water from his face and looked over the gun and into his assailant’s eyes. “What’s the meaning of this, Richey? Why are you in my house?”
“Tonight, I’ll be asking the questions if you don’t mind, Lieutenant,” he replied, as he switched the gun to his left hand and picked up the radio with his right. The lieutenant’s eyes grew wide as he first looked at the electrical appliance in Richey’s hand and then again at the water taps.
“Don’t even think about it. You’ll never make it,” Richey assured him.
“What do you want, Richey?” asked Brownie, trying to put his best face on.
“I have a few questions about what happened at Balans today and you’re going to answer them.”
“How can I tell you anything?” He wiped more water from his face. “We’ve hardly begun our investigation.”
“You know, Lieutenant, playing with me right now really isn’t a good idea. My fiancé was with me while those Bronsio bullets were screaming overhead, and you can believe me when I tell you, I took it mighty personal.”
“I can understand that, Richey. I really can, but I just don’t have anything to tell you right now.”
“Then who needs ya?” Richey lifted his hand swiftly to throw the radio into the shower.
“Okay! Okay!” Brownie thrust his hands out before him in a panic. “I’ll tell you what I know.”
“I’m listening,” Richey responded, pulling the radio back.
“Bronsio thinks that you…” At that moment, Brownie lunged. Richey quickly stepped back, dropping the radio to the tile floor. The lieutenant fell short, crashing to the floor and cutting his hand on a sliver of broken radio.
“That was mighty stupid,” Richey laughed. “What were you thinking, jumping me like that? You have to know I hate your guts. You don’t have a brain in your head, do you Brownie?”
“You’d be laughing out of the other side of your mouth if I had reached you, you son-of-a-bitch.”
Richey leaned in and pushed the gun to Brownie’s forehead, his eyes narrowing in on the lieutenant’s. “Well you didn’t reach me, did you, you fat pig?” He stepped back and motioned with the gun. “Now get up before I blow what little brains you have all over the tiles.”
Brownie stood and pointed to a towel hanging on the rack. “You mind?”
“Not at all, in fact, I wish you would. Just don’t make any sudden moves. My patience is running a might thin.”
After Brownie had wrapped himself with the bath towel and twisted a hand towel around his injured hand, Richey led him into the kitchen. He pushed a chair up against the cabinets.
“Sit down, on your hands, palms up,” he demanded. Once Brownie was seated as instructed, Richey pushed the kitchen table against the lieutenant’s chest, pinning him to the counter. He slid over another chair and, turning it backwards, sat down facing Brownie. His gun-hand rested comfortably on the table, the business end directed at Brownie’s chest. “Now let’s stop the bullshit, shall we. You were saying? What does Don Bronsio think?”
“Kiss my ass…”
Richey twisted his hand slightly and pulled the trigger. The bullet ripped into Brownie’s left shoulder, slamming his body back against the cabinet. The lieutenant clenched his teeth to keep from crying out. His face twisted into a grimace. He closed his eyes tight against the pain as tears formed beneath the lids.
Richey leaned in and glared at him. “Now you know I mean business. Start talking.”
“Alright, alright, I’ll tell you everything, you crazy son-of-a-bitch,” he said through his heavy breathing.
“I’m still listening.”
“What gave you the idea that those were Bronsio’s shooters?”
“You asking questions?” Richey shot another round, just missing Brownie's left ear.
“Okay, okay, it was probably the cars, right?”
“Those cars belonged to the Bronsio Family. They were a gift from Marlini. I saw them at the mansion just before he shipped them to Miami.”
“That’s what Marlini told you?”
“Yeah, that’s what Marlini told me.”
“Did you ever stop to think why Marlini would send Don Bronsio cars? You think Bronsio can’t buy his own cars?”
“There you go again, ass hole, back to asking questions.” Richey lifted the gun.
“Okay, okay, hold it a minute.”
“Just come out with it, Brownie. Stop chasing your tail.”
“Those weren’t Bronsio’s cars, and the gunmen weren’t Bronsio’s soldiers either. The cars and the shooters belong to Marlini.”
“Don’t bullshit me, Brownie. That would just piss me off, and you really don’t want me pissed off any more than I am already. Trust me.”
“I’m telling you, Richey, Marlini probably showed you those cars so you’d think they belonged to the Bronsio Family. Don’t you see? He knew what you’d do if you thought Bronsio was gunning for you? He wanted you to think you were fingered right here in Miami.”
“So I’d go after Don Bronsio,” Richey thought out loud.
“One last sanction so-to-speak, and a freebie at that.” Brownie smiled approvingly.
Richey nodded, his brow furled in deep thought. “That’s why the bullets flew high and wide.”
“What better way to coax you into a fight with Bronsio than to trigger you while you were with your fiancé.”
“Why would Marlini want Don Bronsio killed?”
Brownie shrugged. “That’s just the way things go down in this business. You know that.”
“Yeah,” Richey nodded his agreement. “So what did Don Bronsio say about the incident at Balans?”
“Marlini sent Vito ahead of you to talk to him. He said it was family business. He called you a runner.” Brownie smiled. “Yep, said you where A.W.O.L.”
“So, Vito was one of the shooters?”
“I don’t know about that. I only know he was here in Miami. So, what are you going to do now, tough guy?”
“What choice do I have? I go on one last hunt.” Richey stood and stepped back from the table. “If it’ll win me my freedom, what’s one more?”
Brownie shook his head, a look of disgust plastered on his face. “I’ll never understand this blind loyalty you guys have. What about your fiancé? How are you going to protect her?”
“She’ll just have to go back to her family in Boston for a couple of weeks. She’ll be safe there. By the way, Lieutenant, I’ve got some news for you now that you’ve so graciously cooperated with me on this.”
“What’s that?” Brownie asked.
Richey pointed the gun at Brownie and pulled the trigger. His head snapped back, bouncing off the counter and whipped forward, his chin coming to rest on his chest. Smoke rose from the blackened hole in his forehead.
“I still hate your guts.”
* * *
Three weeks later, the mood at the funeral home was a somber one even though it was a cooler morning than one would expect for mid-July. The family decided to hold the wake out back in what the funeral director called the Garden Chapel. It was a beautiful garden, full of colorful roses and a myriad of flowery shrubs. The clean salt air and distant sound of seagulls had a calming affect on the family and guests.
Just outside the back door sat the widow, Julian. She lifted a black-gloved hand under her veil to dab away her tears on a hanky embroidered with the initials A.M.C.B.—Anthony Michael Corry Bronsio—the late Don Bronsio. Her eldest son Michael, the new Don, stood at her side and comforted her by placing a tender hand on her shoulder, caressing her gently.
Corry, Michael’s younger brother, quietly stepped into the garden and whispered into his ear, “Vincent Marlini is out front. He just arrived. Says he wants to pay his respects.”
“How many others?”
“Allow only two.”
As Corry led Don Marlini, Vito and another lieutenant named Martin Kashana through the lobby, the Don’s eyes fell on the guest book placed near the door to the garden. He angled for it but paused when the thick-necked soldier standing next to the podium closed the book.
Don Marlini first glanced at Corry, then at the big fellow. “I’d like to sign the guest book if you don’t mind.”
The man stood straight, exhibiting his great size, eyed him with contempt and shook his head—no.
“What gives, here?” he asked Corry.
“You must forgive him, Don Marlini. He feels our loss deeply, and it was one of yours that… Well, I am sure you understand and can forgive this small indiscretion.”
“Insult, would be a better word for it,” Don Marlini spat.
“Not at all,” Corry said with an edge of levity to his voice. “I will see that you will have an opportunity to sign the guest book before you leave.” He leaned in close and whispered, nodding toward the big man at the podium. “Alvin here is, how you say, slow, if you understand my meaning. I will talk to him, but now is not the time. I am sure you will agree.”
Don Marlini pulled on his lapels and turned toward the door to the garden. “Never mind, just take me to your brother.”
“Certainly, right this way please,” Corry said, and led them into the garden.
“Ah, Vincent,” said Michael quietly, and reached out to shake his hand. They grasped hands and kissed each other on both cheeks. “Thank you for coming.”
“I didn’t feel so welcome at the podium in there.” He looked over Michael’s shoulder and saw the widow suddenly rise and walk toward the front of the garden. “It would appear I am not as welcome as I was led to believe.”
“Nonsense, my friend, we understand that Richey operated on his own accord. I have no idea why he did this thing, but I trust you, Don Marlini. Your family has always been a good friend to my family and I hope that it will always be so.”
“Yes, I also hope so. Your father was a wonderful man. You know Michael, Richey was under a lot of stress. The DeBlanko ordeal pushed him over the edge. That’s why I sent him here to Miami. He needed to take a holiday, get some sun, visit with his lovely fiancé and unwind a little. I never thought…”
“Yes, of course. It happens sometimes to even our best soldiers,” Michael’s smile slipped to a slight grin. “Of course, you know we must meet privately before you return to New York.” The grin was completely gone. “There must be restitution, Vincent. You must understand that. It will not be a small thing. There is the matter of Balans as well. My people must know they can trust me to protect them and their interests.”
“Of course, Michael. I’m sure we will come to mutual terms. Have you located Richey?”
“Not yet, but I have sent some men to Boston. We think we will find him there. It will not be long.” Michael’s smile returned as he took hold of Marlini’s arm. “Now come. I will take you to see my father so you can pay your respects.”
Michael led the way, with Vito and Martin walking slowly behind Marlini. Corry followed solemnly, his head bowed and hands folded behind his back. Some people stood in tiny groups, while others sat weeping in chairs arranged for a good viewing of the casket. All eyes turned on Marlini and his lieutenants. The priest sat behind the lectern on a small dais to the right of the coffin. His wide brim hat sagged with the wind as he bowed his head in reverent prayer.
Upon reaching the coffin, Michael stepped back a few paces, standing with Vito and Martin, allowing Don Marlini his privacy. Vito stepped up briefly and handed a red rose to his Don.
“Thank you, Vito,” he smiled. Vito nodded and stepped back to stand between Michael and Martin.
Marlini stood silently for long moments gazing at the white-haired corpse inside the coffin. Half of the lid hid the body, while the half at the head of the coffin stood open. His thoughts were anything but reverent. He thought of the plot he had formulated and how well it played out. His thoughts shifted to Richey. He is a good man—was a good man. He stifled a smile. He must keep up appearances. He placed the rose on Anthony Bronsio’s chest and reached to pat his hand. He settled for his wrist for his hands disappeared below the lid.
Marlini leaned over, kissed him on the cheek and whispered in his ear, “You never should have sent DeBlanko to New York.”
He was so smug in his thinking, engrossed in his little speech that he didn’t see the corpse move. He didn’t notice Don Bronsio’s right hand reach up until it grabbed hold of his hair and pulled his head back and away from his ear. His left hand rose upward, driving a dagger deep into Marlini’s neck.
“And you never should have sent Richey, you son-of-a-bitch,” Bronsio said as he sat up in the coffin and shoved Marlini gagging into the grass.
No, Marlini never saw Bronsio move, but Vito and Martin did, just before Michael and Corry cut their throats. Once they had also fallen to the ground, Michael turned and nodded to the big man at the door. He and his brother helped their father out of the coffin. Soon the other four Marlini soldiers were shot dead on the street in front of the funeral home.
Don Marlini lay on the ground below the coffin spitting blood. He reached up awkwardly with both hands and cried out, “Priest…priest…last…please pray…” But his eyes grew wide with horror as the priest took off his hat and knelt over him.
“I’m sorry, Vincent,” Richey said as he pulled off the collar and tossed it aside. “I’m afraid there’ll be no last rites today.”