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THE MISSING YEARS FROM THE GREATEST CRIME SAGA OF ALL TIME
Thirty-five years ago, Mario Puzo’s great American tale, The Godfather, was published, and popular culture was indelibly changed. Now, in The Godfather Returns, acclaimed novelist Mark Winegardner continues the story–the years not covered in Puzo’s bestselling book or in Francis Ford Coppola’s classic films.
It is 1955. Michael Corleone has won a bloody victory in the war among New York’s crime families. Now he wants to consolidate his power, save his marriage, and take his family into legitimate businesses. To do so, he must confront his most dangerous adversary yet, Nick Geraci, a former boxer who worked his way through law school as a Corleone street enforcer, and who is every bit as deadly and cunning as Michael. Their personal cold war will run from 1955 to 1962, exerting immense influence on the lives of America’s most powerful criminals and their loved ones, including
Tom Hagen, the Corleone Family’s lawyer and consigliere, who embarks on a political career in Nevada while trying to protect his brother;
Francesca Corleone, daughter of Michael’s late brother Sonny, who is suddenly learning her family’s true history and faces a difficult choice;
Don Louie Russo, head of the Chicago mob, who plays dumb but has wily ambitions for muscling in on the Corleones’ territory;
Peter Clemenza, the stalwart Corleone underboss, who knows more Family secrets than almost anyone;
Ambassador M. Corbett Shea, a former Prohibition-era bootlegger and business ally of the Corleones’, who wants to get his son elected to the presidency–and needs some help from his old friends;
Johnny Fontane, the world’s greatest saloon singer, who ascends to new heights as a recording artist, cozying up to Washington’s power elite and maintaining a precarious relationship with notorious underworld figures;
Kay Adams Corleone, who finally discovers the truth about her husband, Michael–and must decide what it means for their marriage and their children and
Fredo Corleone, whose death has never been fully explained until now, and whose betrayal of the Family was part of a larger and more sinister chain of events.
Sweeping from New York and Washington to Las Vegas and Cuba, The Godfather Returns is the spellbinding story of America’s criminal underworld at mid-century and its intersection with the political, legal, and entertainment empires. Mark Winegardner brings an original voice and vision to Mario Puzo’s mythic characters while creating several equally unforgettable characters of his own. The Godfather Returns stands on its own as a triumph–in a tale about what we love, yearn for, and sometimes have reason to fear . . . family.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Mark Winegardner received a master of fine arts degree in fiction writing from George Mason University and published his first book at age twenty-six, while still in graduate school. His books have been chosen as among the best of the year by The New York Times Book Review, Chicago Sun-Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the New York Public Library. His work has appeared in various publications including GQ, Playboy, Family Circle, American Short Fiction, Ladies’ Home Journal, Parents, and The New York Times Magazine. Several of his stories have been chosen as Distinguished Stories of the Year in The Best American Short Stories. He has also served as a board member of the Associated Writing Programs. He is now a professor and director of the creative writing program at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
ON A COLD spring Monday afternoon in 1955, Michael Corleone summoned Nick Geraci to meet him in Brooklyn. As the new Don entered his late father’s house on Long Island to make the call, two men dressed like grease monkeys watched a television puppet show, waiting for Michael’s betrayer to deliver him and marveling at the tits of the corn-fed blond puppeteer.
Michael, alone, walked into the raised corner room his late father had used as an office. He sat behind the little rolltop desk that had been Tom Hagen’s. The consigliere’s desk. Michael would have called from home– Kay and the kids had left this morning to visit her folks in New Hampshire –except that his phone was tapped. So was the other line in this house. He kept them that way to mislead listeners. But the inventive wiring that led to the phone in this office–and the chain of bribes that protected it–could have thwarted an army of cops. Michael dialed. He had no address book, just a knack for remembering numbers. The house was quiet. His mother was in Las Vegas with his sister, Connie, and her kids. On the second ring Geraci’s wife answered. He barely knew her but greeted her by name (Charlotte) and asked about her daughters. Michael avoided the phone in general and had never before called Geraci at home. Ordinarily, orders were buffered, three men deep, to ensure that nothing could be traced to the Don. Charlotte gave quavering answers to Michael’s polite questions and went to get her husband.
Nick Geraci had already put in a long day. Two heroin-bearing ships, neither of which was supposed to arrive from Sicily until next week, had shown up late last night, one in New Jersey, the other in Jacksonville. A lesser man would be in prison now, but Geraci had smoothed things over by hand-delivering a cash donation to the pension fund of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, whose men in Florida had performed like champs, and by paying a visit (and a sizable tribute) to the Stracci Family capo who controlled the docks in north Jersey. By five, Geraci was exhausted but home in his backyard in East Islip, playing horseshoes with his two girls. A two-volume history of Roman warfare he’d just started reading sat next to the armchair in his den, in position for later that night. When the phone rang, Geraci was a few sips into his second Chivas and water. He had T-bones sizzling on his barbecue pit and a Dodgers/Phillies doubleheader on the radio. Charlotte, who’d been in the kitchen assembling the rest of the meal, came out on the patio, carrying the phone with the long cord, her face drained of color.
“Hello, Fausto.” The only other person who called Nick Geraci by his given name was Vincent Forlenza, who’d stood as Geraci’s godfather in Cleveland. “I’d like you to be a part of this thing Tessio arranged. Seven o’clock at this place called Two Toms, do you know it?”
The sky was blue and cloudless, but anyone watching Charlotte rush to herd the girls inside might have thought she’d learned that a hurricane was bearing down on Long Island.
“Sure,” Geraci said. “I eat there all the time.” It was a test. He was either supposed to ask about this thing Tessio arranged or he wasn’t. Geraci had always been good at tests. His gut feeling was to be honest. “But I have no idea what you’re talking about. What thing?”
“Some important people are coming from Staten Island to sort things out.”
Staten Island meant the Barzinis, who had that place sewn up. But if Tessio had set up peace talks with Michael and Don Barzini, why was Geraci hearing it from Michael and not Tessio? Geraci stared at the flames in his barbecue pit. Then it came to him what must have happened. He jerked his head and silently cursed.
Tessio was dead. Probably among many others.
The meeting place was the tip-off. Tessio loved that place. Which meant that most likely he’d contacted Barzini himself and that either he or Barzini had set up a hit on Michael, which Michael had somehow anticipated.
Geraci poked the T-bones with a long steel spatula. “You want me there for protection,” he said, “or at the table or what?”
“That was a hell of a long pause.”
“Sorry. Had to get some steaks off the grill here.”
“I know what you’re worried about, Fausto, but not why.”
Did he mean Geraci had nothing to worry about? Or that he was trying to figure out what if any role Geraci had played in Tessio’s betrayal? “Well, pilgrim,” Geraci answered, in his best John Wayne, “I ain’t so much worried as I am saddle sore and plum tuckered out.”
Geraci sighed. “Even in the best of times I’m a worrier.” He felt a tide of gallows humor rise in him, though he spoke flatly: “So shoot me.”
“That’s why you’re so good,” Michael said. “The worrying. It’s why I like you.”
“Then you’ll forgive me if I point out the obvious,” Geraci said, “and tell you to take a route there you’d never ordinarily take. And also to avoid Flatbush.”
Now it was Michael’s turn for a long pause. “Flatbush, huh? How do you figure that?”
“Of course,” Michael said.
“The Dodgers. Second game of a twin bill with Philadelphia.”
“Right,” Michael said.
Geraci lit a cigarette. “Not a baseball fan, eh?”
“Used to be.”
Geraci wasn’t surprised. Seeing the business side of gambling ruined sports for a lot of the smarter guys. “This could be the Bums’ year,” Geraci said.
“That’s what I keep hearing,” Michael said. “And of course you’re forgiven.”
“For pointing out the obvious.”
Geraci lifted the steaks off the grill and onto a platter. “It’s a gift I have,” he said.
An hour later, Geraci arrived at Two Toms with four of his men and positioned them outside. He took a seat alone and sipped an espresso. He wasn’t afraid. Michael Corleone, unlike his brothers–the brutish Sonny and the pathetic Fredo–had inherited the old man’s deliberate nature. He wouldn’t order a hit on a hunch. He’d make sure, no matter how long it took. Whatever test was coming, however galling it was to be tested by the likes of Michael Corleone, Nick Geraci would respond with honor. He was confident he’d emerge unscathed.
Though he’d never heard Salvatore Tessio say a bad word about Michael, Geraci didn’t doubt that Sally had thrown in with Barzini. He had to be angry about the nepotism that made a Don out of a greenhorn like Michael. He had to see the folly of cutting the organization off from its neighborhood roots to move west and become–what? Geraci had taken over countless once-thriving neighborhood businesses built by industrious, illiterate immigrant fathers and ruined by American-born sons with business degrees and dreams of expansion.
Geraci checked his watch, a college graduation gift from Tessio. Michael certainly hadn’t inherited the late Don’s legendary punctuality. Geraci ordered a second espresso.
Time and time again, Geraci had proven himself a loyal member of the Corleone organization and, still shy of his fortieth birthday, maybe its best earner. Once he’d been a boxer, a heavyweight, both as Ace Geraci (a boy- hood nickname that he let stick, even though it mocked him for acceding to the American pronunciation of his name: Juh-RAY-see instead of Jair- AH-chee) and under numerous aliases (he was Sicilian but fair-haired, able to pass as Irish or German). He’d kept his feet for six rounds against a man who, a few years later, knocked the heavyweight champion of the world on his ass. But Geraci had hung around gyms since he was a little kid. He’d vowed never to become one of those punch-drunk geezers shuffling around smelling of camphor and clutching a little bag of yesterday’s doughnuts. He fought for money, not glory. His godfather in Cleveland (who was also, Geraci gradually learned, the Godfather of Cleveland) had connected him with Tessio, who ran the biggest sports gambling operation in New York. Fixed fights meant fewer blows to the head. Soon Geraci was called on to give out back-alley beatings (beginning with two kids who’d assaulted the daughter of Amerigo Bonasera, an undertaker friendly with Vito Corleone). The beatings punished deadbeats and loudmouths who had it coming, and earned Geraci enough money to go to college. Before he was twenty-five, he’d finished his degree, left the enforcer racket, and was a rising man of promise in Tessio’s regime. He’d started out with some dubious qualities–he was the only guy hanging out at the Patrick Henry Social Club who hadn’t been born in Brooklyn or Sicily; the only one with a college degree; one of the few who didn’t want to carry guns or visit whores–but the best way to get ahead was to make money for the people above him, and Geraci was such a gifted earner that soon his exotic flaws were forgotten. His most brilliant tactic was to exaggerate his take on every job. He handed over sixty or seventy percent of everything instead of the required fifty. Even if he had been caught, what were they going to do, whack him? It was foolproof. His overpayments were an investment with jackpot-level payouts. The more he made for the men above him, the safer he was and the faster he rose. The higher he rose, the more men there were underneath him paying him fifty perce...
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