La Famiglia Affair

by Linda Cornett

(Appeared in Kuryakin File 18)

Hey ya, Joey. Long time. What brings you all the way over here to this side of town? Yeah, well, there's nothing wrong with delivery. My old man fed seven kids delivering ice and milk. OK, yeah, maybe running the numbers a little. Hey, he's out driving the streets and knocking on doors anyway, why not pick up a little work on the side? Efficienza, capiche?

Hey, you hungry? How about some saltimbocca? Spaghetti, then, coupla meatballs. Eh, non va bene! What's the deal, coming to my place without a appetite? Here, at least you gotta try some tortoni. Marie makes them herself, from scratch. Hey? What'd I tell you? She's picked a few pounds over the years, but a girl can cook like this, you gotta cut her some slack, right? Anyway, like my Uncle Frank always said. I like my women made when meat was cheap. Say, how's your Julie and the baby? Good, good.

So, yeah, this is the place. You never been here before? Well, it's no Waldorf Astoria but it pays the bills. Open lunch and supper. Got a nice steady clientele from right around here. You got here a hour earlier, you wouldn't a found a empty table in the place.

Nah, mostly stranieri is what you get around here. You oughta hear them trying to order the mostaccioli with braciole. But, a nice crowd. Appreciate good food, you know? Pay their bill, good tippers, some a them.

I tell you, though, I didn't know better I'd think Jimmy Santomo had set up shop there across the street. Yeah, right there, the tailor shop. You never seen a tailor get so much business, Joey. In and out, nighttime, daytime. Oh, and get this – none of them carrying a thing. I mean, you go to the tailor, you're carrying something that needs tailoring, right? But not these guys. I ain't complaining, though. A lot of them come on over here to eat.

Nah, I don't ask. You kidding? None of my business what they're doing. There's this one guy gives me a real laugh. Reminds me of Romeo Romano, remember him? New girl every day. This guy comes in maybe two, three times a week, every time with a different donna. Lookers, too. You oughta see him work the game – filling the wine glass, kissing the fingers, gazing like he was starving and she was a big plate of gnocchi. With butter. Guy oughta open a school and give lessons, I ain't kidding.

Comes in every now and then with another guy, runty little guy. Wears suits but has hair like a boemo. Now this other guy, he comes here to eat. I mean, there ain't nothing left but the plate when he's done. Marie's sister Linda – yeah, the one with the braces, only she’s got ‘em off now – she waits table on the weekends and she's nuts for this guy. You oughta hear her back by the kitchen giggling with Marie and Felicia about this guy's haaairrr and his eeeeyyyyeeess and, God help me, his assss. I ask you, when did women start noticing a guy's estremita? Anyway, he don't notice a thing. Maybe he's a fairy, I don't know. He wears a wedding ring, but if he's married what’s he doing eating out all the time? Well, I ain't complaining, am I? Who knows, maybe he's got one a them skinny American moglies that can't cook.

Oh, yeah? Well, grazie. I'll tell Marie you said so. Yeah, you better give the boss his due. No, no, no. No charge. You tryin’ to insult me? I'm going to let my amico from how many years pay for a little dulce? Come in again next time you're delivering over here; I'll fix you up with some of that polenta with sausage you like. Yeah, my momma's recipe, just like she used to fix it, God rest her. You give Julie big kiss for me. A piu tardi, amico.

Hey, you made it back! Benvenuto. Take that one over in the comer; I'll join you as soon as these two tables clear out.

Whew! I tell you, it’s like a benedizione to get off my feet. So, this time you're hungry, eh? Good, good. How's the polenta? I got this great guy in the kitchen, Frankie Dino – maybe you know him? Oh, well, he's been around, here and there. Anyway, gotta personality like a pesce but he's a good cook.

Oh, cosi, cosi. How's with you? No kidding. Talking already? She sounds like a smart kid. Oh hey, take a look over there to your left. Yeah, those four, they're some a the ones I told you about before. No, they dress like that alla time. I been noticing something else about them and the others from across the street – oh, place is called Del Floria's, in case you didn't notice, and maybe that means something and maybe it don't. On the head of my little Gloria – oh, yeah, she's great, gonna be a bellezza like her ma – anyway, on her head, I swear those guys're doing a lot more than numbers outta that tailor shop. I'll tell you how come. Because these are made guys, capiche? Just by the look of them, is how. There's somethin' about a guy that's offed another guy, is all I'm saying. So what does a numbers racket need with a buncha made guys? Also, if they ain't packin' then there's some goiter epidemic going around; take a look yourself if you don't believe me.

I ain't saying I like it. My kids're sleeping upstairs. Also, somebody gets whacked while he's enjoying his dinner, it's bad for business. On a other hand, I don't worry about any a these young punks coming in here causing a scene, maybe trying to rip off the till. I figure there's enough heat in the room to keep things tranquillo. Besides, like I said, it's none a my business, is it? They're quiet, pay their bills. Everybody's gotta make a living.

Oh, and just in case I'm thinking maybe I thought wrong, one night there's a buncha them come in with some old guy – I mean antico. Well, he's cool as butter. Hat and cane and the whole thing. But the guys with him are on the lookout for trouble, you can tell, watching everybody and kinda blocking anyone who tries to get close. I tell ya, it was all Anthony could do to get water glasses on the table. So finally they all sit down at a couple a tables pushed together and they have a meal, maybe six of them. Good thing Frankie was in the kitchen that night, 'cause to be honest Lou's minestrone ain't all it should be and, man, that was one crowd I woulda hated to disappoint, know what I mean? Anyway, the old guy talks kinda posh, English-like. He says how everything was great and he kinda shoos the rest of them outta the way and he walks back over to the tailor shop. By now it's probably 10 o'clock, but you think the damn tailor shop's closed? Nossir. They just walk right in. I'm thinking, maybe I just met Capo Del Floria himself.

Oh, and get this. Romeo almost gets stuck with the bill, but he manages to kinda slide it over in front of his runty friend, who is all of a sudden alone at the table and looking ticked about it. I go over to facilitate things and damn if he doesn't try to pay me with some kinda foreign money, Russian I think. I mean, does the U.N. have a mob now or what?

Anyway, the old guy ain't been back, but a couple times this donna comes in to pick up a order to go and trots it over to the tailor shop. Oh, yeah, a very nice piece of work, but a little too skinny for my tastes. I figure maybe she's his friend on the side, you know? Hey, for all I know, she's packing, too.

Too many movies? When am I going to go to a movie? Joey, look at the facts. One, these guys are using that tailor's as a front. Remember the bakery that Nico Bello used? Cookies like rocks because nobody wanted to shop there in case Nico got trigger happy. Two, you got a bunch a guys in suits with bulges under their left arm. Three, they act like that old guy is made a glass and they're afraid somebody's gonna start throwing stones. Four, what the heck else could they be doing in there, getting their pants hemmed? There's nothing it could be but the mob. Yeah, yeah, I'll watch it.

So, what'd you think a the pesto, just like momma's? Well, as close as you're going to get this side of St.Peter. Listen, let me wrap up a little a that polenta for you to take home, for Julie. Sure, sure. No problem. Tell your ma I send my regards. Buona sera.

Hey, Joey, you keep this up and I'm gonna think you like the food. Sit, sit. Kinda slow tonight; how's about I join you? Hey, Anthony! Two plates of the rigatoni. Yeah, salad. And a little of the vino, eh?

The veal's not so good tonight, a little tough, and the beef don't look too fresh, either. Well, we got a little bit of a problem with our supplier.

It starts maybe a week ago when this guy, a Frog, comes in talking about buying me out. Can you believe it? Choice piece a real estate like this? Turns out he's already bought up a buncha stuff around here – the bookstore down the block and this music store run by a old Cuban couple and a deli around the corner and even a couple a apartments in the building next door. Sounds to me like somebody with more money than sense. I mean, what's he going to do, run a book-music-apartment business? Yeah, could be he plans to clear the block and build new. But that ain't gonna happen. 'Cause I ain't sellin', is why.

But he's one a those guys won't take no for a answer. He's in here all the time, starts bringing some dame with him. Stacked, I mean, but Marie takes one look at her and bites her thumb. A puttana, she thinks, and maybe she's right.

So the Francese, name a Martin, Martone, something like that, keeps on the pressure and I'm digging in my heels, at first because I don't want to sell and then because he won't leave me alone about it. Oh, yeah, good money. The guy's financed, believe me ­– silk tie and fancy suits, a little showy but the real stuff. But I ain't selling. This is how I feed my family, and I'm going to sell just because he wants it? Mai!

Well, all of a sudden Frankie up and quits. Says he's got a sick uncle he needs to go take care of. Then one a the pipes in the kitchen busts and I'm shut down for two days. Now this butcher I been using for four years suddenly doesn't want to deliver over this side of town and I gotta find a new one.

Coincidence? I might a thought that but I talked to the Cuban guy, somethin' Arnez, and he says the same thing happened to him. Heater went out, window got broken, fire out in the back alley that got into his storeroom and ruined a buncha records. He wasn't too happy about selling just now, but he figures it ain't worth a big hassle. Him and his moglie were gonna sell out in a couple of years anyway and move to Florida, so they're going early

They don't know what's going on any more than I do, but they haven't heard about anybody moving into the shop so maybe it is gonna be torn down. What I just can't figure is why this block is so special.

Dannazione! There he is. The Frog, and his girlfriend. Some nerve that guy's got. Scusi, Joey. I better go see what the strattone wants.

Well, like I figured, he's making another pitch for me to sell, only this one ain't so polite. How's business, he wants to know, place doesn't look as full as usual. Am I sure this is really a good location for this kind a restaurant. "This kind a restaurant," the damn Frog. And then the dame gets into it, purring like a kitten, asking me wouldn't I like to have more time for the family or maybe for my own pursuits and she gives me this look like she's got a few pursuits to suggest. Give me the creeps, both a them. Oh, I sent 'em off with a couple a choice suggestions what pursuits they oughta consider, but I'll tell you, Joey, I got a bad feeling about this whole thing.

Hey, don't let your food get cold listening to mio dolore. Lou makes a pretty good rigatoni. Can't do anything with veal, but he makes a good rigatoni.

Hey, Julie. It's Leo. How ya doing? No kidding. Talking already. She's going to be a pistola. Listen, is Joey there?

Hey, Joey. I just wanted to thank you for hooking me up with Mel's uncle. Yeah, doing me right. His prices are a little high on beef, but he's got a good deal on chicken, so it all works out.

Oh, I'm feeling a lot better about it. Tell you what I did – you'll think I'm crazy, but what I did is I figured, hey, I got a mob eating here every day. Why not get them to help out? Yeah, I did.

So a couple a days ago Romeo and his skinny friend come in, order the pagila e fieno. It's another slow day, so I ask can I talk to them when they're done. They exchange a look, but Romeo is all the good host, tells me to have a seat, make myself comfortable, like the place was his instead a mine, but I figure that's just how he is.

We spend some time on the amenities, getting acquainted. They're all full of questions about my business, but they ain't got much to say for themselves, just their names. If it was their names, that is. Get this – Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. These are names? Oh, and Solo – he's the talker – says they're in the insurance business. Insurance. See what I'm telling you?

Anyway, I say as how maybe I need some "insurance" and I explain about what's been going on with this Martone asino. And now I got their attention. Kuryakin even stops eating.

They got a bunch more questions – what does Martone look like, what does the dame look like, did they give me any kinda deadline, what time a day do they usually show up, blah, blah, blah. Then they give each other a look again.

"So much for security," says Solo.

"How could they miss the transfer of ownership?" Kuryakin says – it turns out he's got a kinda posh voice, too, like the old man. Definitely not like the Russos I know.

"How could they miss Martone?" Solo says, sarcastic-like. "And Angelique."

This is starting to sound kinda intimo so I ask do they know these jokers and Kuryakin says, "Some of us know some of them very well," and he gives Solo this kind of look.

Then Solo asks what do I want them to do? So this next part is touchy, 'cause I don't want them to get ideas involving guns and I don't want to get too deep in debt to the Del Floria famiglia, but I sure could use some help. So I say I was hoping, since they're obviously men of the world, they might have some advice for me on how to handle this thing. I say all I want is to keep doing business in peace.

So he nods all understanding and he says they'll work on it. Well, I'm not leaving it at that because I really don't want a shootout in my kitchen. I say so, tactful-like. Well, as tactful as you can say something like that.

There's this sort of, as they say, pregnant pause and Kuryakin says real solemn, "Don't worry, Mr.Davola. I dislike violence." Which would a been reassuring except this Solo kind a snorted, like that was their little joke.

So they get up to leave and Solo pats me on the shoulder and says they'll think of something "suitably diabolical." That's how he talks. So now all I gotta do is wait. And maybe say a few Our Mothers, just in case. Anyway, thanks for your help. Come on by when you get a chance. Addio.

Hey, Joey! Julie – as beautiful as ever. Come on in, got a table ready for you over here. Say, I'm glad you called before. Such a crazy night we've had. They're almost cleared out now; hope you don't mind a late supper. Where's the bambina? Ah, how is your mother, Julie? Good, good. Marie's upstairs just putting our Gloria down. Nah, I'm going to let Anthony take care a things for a while; kid's really coming along. He'll bring us some vino here in a minute. So, how's things? Glad to hear it.

Me? Fine. Really fine. Julie, you know what's been going on? Well, you may have a front row seat for some a it. Yeah. Solo called and asked could I get Martone here tonight after closing, so I called this number he gave me and told him I was having second thoughts and he's coming by about 10. I don't know; Solo wouldn't tell me. He promised no guns or I wouldn't a done it. You OK with it? Interessante? Yeah, could be.

Hey, here's my sposa. Marie, you remember Julie from Most Precious Blood, don't you? Anthony, some vino when you get a chance – the bottle I picked out.

Hope you don't mind, I told Lou to fix us up with some pork chops. They're real nice tonight. Also some minestrone; he's getting a handle on it. Salad, spaghetti, whatever else you want.

So, where was I? Oh, yeah, Martone's coming by tonight, so I'm guessing that means Solo and Kuryakin or some a the other guys will, too. No, Marie, he promised no violence and I gotta trust the guy. Why? Cause I went to him for help in the first place. It'll be all right, amante, don't worry.

Hey, Anthony, antipasto – good idea. You put this together yourself? Good work. Well, maybe go a little easy on the prosciutto when it's not friends, eh? Grazie.

Va bene – that's them. Sit, sit. I'll take care of it.

Mr. Martone, Miss LaChien, avanti. Let's sit over here by the window. No, they're just some friends, come by for a late supper. Don't worry about them. So, like I told you, I been giving your offer some thought. I’m wondering if you could go any higher. Well, I got one bambina and we're planning on a few more and you know what it costs to raise kids these days. Oh, no? Well, trust me, it ain't cheap. So I was wondering if you could see your way clear to pay…? Oh, you couldn't? Well, see, that puts me in kinda a bind. See, my wife, she ... Oh, scusi. Looks like we got some more late-comers. I'll be right back.

Mr. Solo, Mr. K, they're here. Who's your friend? Pleased to meet you, Mr. Jones. You fellows here alone? Front and back? Yeah, I'll leave this door open and the ones out back can get in through the kitchen. So, you want to go say ciao?

Mr. Martone, Miss LaChien, I think you know these signori?

Good, good. I see Anthony's been taking care of you. This my salad? Julie, pass me the oil, would you? Thanks.

What do you mean, you didn't see what happened? OK, OK, I'm telling, I'm telling. Well you saw them come in, right? Could you pick out Solo and Kuryakin? Yeah, you got it. Ah, Marie! The mother of my child talking like that about another guy's estremita. You see what I mean, Joey?

So anyway, they got this other guy with them I never seen before. They tell me his name is "Jones." Right. Solo tells me they got some other guys outside, just in case Martone tries to get cute.

So, I take them over to Martone and the dame. Martone is cool as cucumbers. "Gentlemen," he says, "I had hoped we could postpone our reunion until a later day. However, you are already too late. I now own five businesses on this block."

And right here I'm trying to figure out what five he's talking about. See, there's the bookstore and the deli and the music store…

All right, all right. I'm telling. I was just wondering about the five. So anyway, this Martone says, "I already own five businesses on this block and I have options on another three. Four, when Mr. Davola signs." And he looks at me like he's kind a politely wondering why I haven't signed the contract yet.

Meanwhile, the dame is watching all this like she's a little amused and a little sleepy, at the same time. She smiles at this Kuryakin and he gives her a look – freddo. Brrrrr! Then she turns it on Solo and says in this kind a Lollobrigida voice, "Napoleon, darling, it has been too long." And he looks like maybe he's thinking the same thing.

Yeah, Marie, you're probably right – a puttana.

Anyway, so then she notices this "Jones" and says, "Who is this gentleman?" and Jones, he's not buying it, a real G-man. He says, "Special Agent William Jones of the Immigration and Naturalization Service."

Right about now Martone makes a funny noise and gets some color in his cheeks. Jones goes on, "Victor Martone, I ask you to accompany me. You are charged with entering the United States under false identification and without a valid passport."

Martone looks like he may be thinking about making a run for it, but Solo pipes up, "We have a number of men outside.'

The dame is staring at Martone and she shakes her head and says, "Oh, Victor."

And he kind a shrugs and says, "Gentlemen, until next time. Come, Mr. Jones," and he leads this Jones out like the whole thing was his idea.

Then the dame says, "I suppose the property will..."

And Kuryakin says kinda smug, " confiscated by the federal government. I believe the INS may actually get title."

So the dame gets up and picks up her purse. "Well, darlings, one point for your side," she says. "I must be going. Mr. Kuryakin, it's been a rare experience, as always. Do try to lighten up. Napoleon, darling, call me." And she kind a slides against him as she passes and on out the door.

Then Kuryakin says thanks for my help and I say thanks for their help and they head for the door. So, I guess that's that. Dig in, everyone. Don't let it get cold.

What is it, Marie? Oh, mio Dio, they're back.

Gentlemen! Come, come. Let me pull up a couple a chairs. You hungry? Anthony! Another two settings. Mr. Solo... Oh, OK, Napoleon, and um, Illya, this is my wife, Marie and my friends Joey and Julie. Don't be silly, we're glad of your company

So, Martone's gone for good? Well, OK, gone for now, anyway. Pretty clever how that worked out. How's your salad? Julie, more wine? Sure you can. So, how's the insurance business, Napoleon? Well, that's great. That's great.

Say, isn't that…? Mr. Del Floria! Benvenuto! Waverly? OK, whatever you say. And how many friends you got with you? Six, seven. Anthony! Let's push these tables together. And more settings. No, no problem. You kidding me? After the favor your boys did me? My friends are always welcome. So, you boys hungry? That's great. Sit, sit.

Anthony. More salads. More antipasto. Shhhh, listen. Run down to the corner to the mercato -- they'll still be open, won't they? Buy all the pork chops they got. And tell Lou we're going to need more spaghetti. Tell him we got the whole famiglia here.

Hey! A toast, amicos. To good food and good neighbors. Salute!

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