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Книга The Godfather. Страница 52

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The apartment bell rang again. Vito went up alongside Clemenza so that he too could see what was happening. At’ the door was a uniformed policeman. As they watched, the policeman gave the doorbell a final push, then shrugged and walked away down the marble steps and down the street.

Clemenza grunted in a satisfied way and said, “Come on, let’s go.” He picked up his end of the rug and Vito picked up the other end. The policeman had barely turned the corner before they were edging out the heavy oaken door and into the street with the rug between them. Thirty minutes later they were cutting the rug to fit the living rooms of Vito Corleone’s apartment. They had enough left over for the bedroom. Clemenza was an expert workman and from the pockets of his wide, ill-fitting jacket (even then he liked to wear loose clothes though he was not so fat), he had the necessary carpet-cutting tools.

Time went on, things did not improve. The Corleone family could not eat the beautiful rug. Very well, there was no work, his wife and children must starve. Vito took some parcels of food from his friend Genco while he thought things out. Finally he was approached by Clemenza and Tessio, another young tough of the neighborhood. They were men who thought well of him, the way he carried himself, and they knew he was desperate. They proposed to him that he become one of their gang which specialized in hijacking trucks of silk dresses after those trucks were loaded up at the factory on 31st Street. There was no risk. The truck drivers were sensible workingmen who at the sight of a gun flopped on the sidewalk like angels while the hijackers drove the truck away to be unloaded at a friend’s warehouse. Some of the merchandise would be sold to an Italian wholesaler, part of the loot would be sold door-to-door in the Italian neighborhoods— Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, Mulberry Street, and the Chelsea district in Manhattan— all to poor Italian families looking for a bargain, whose daughters could never be able to afford such fine apparel. Clemenza and Tessio needed Vito to drive since they knew he chauffeured the Abbandando grocery store delivery truck. In 1919, skilled automobile drivers were at a premium.

Against his better judgment, Vito Corleone accepted their offer. The clinching argument was that he would clear at least a thousand dollars for his share of the job. But his young companions struck him as rash, the planning of the job haphazard, the distribution of the loot foolhardy. Their whole approach was too careless for his taste. But he thought them of good, sound character. Peter Clemenza, already burly, inspired a certain trust, and the lean saturnine Tessio inspired confidence.

The job itself went off without a hitch. Vito Corleone felt no fear, much to his astonishment, when his two comrades flashed guns and made the driver get out of the silk truck. He was also impressed with the coolness of Clemenza and Tessio. They didn’t get excited but joked with the driver, told him if he was a good lad they’d send his wife a few dresses. Because Vito thought it stupid to peddle dresses himself and so gave his whole share of stock to the fence, he made only seven hundred dollars. But this was a considerable sum of money in 1919.

The next day on the street, Vito Corleoue was stopped by the cream-suited, white-fedoraed Fanucci. Fanucci was a brutal-looking man and he had done nothing to disguise the circular scar that stretched in a white semicircle from ear to ear, looping under his chin. He had heavy black brows and coarse features which, when he smiled, were in some odd way amiable.

He spoke with a very thick Sicilian accent. “Ah, young fellow,” he said to Vito. “People tell me you’re rich. You and your two friends. But don’t you think you’ve treated me a little shabbily? After all, this is my neighborhood and yon should let me wet my beak.” He used the Sicilian phrase of the Mafia, “Fari vagnari a pizzu.” Pizzu means the beak of any small bird such as a canary. The phrase itself was a demand for part of the loot.

As was his habit, Vito Corleone did not answer. He understood the implication immediately and was waiting for a definite demand.

Fanucci smiled at him, showing gold teeth and stretching his nooses-like scar tight around his face. He mopped his face with a handkerchief and unbuttoned his jacket for a moment as if to cool himself but really to show the gun he carried stuck in the waistband of his comfortably wide trousers. Then he sighed and said, “Give me five hundred dollars and I’ll forget the insult. After all, young people don’t know the courtesies due a man like myself.”

Vito Corleone smiled at him and even as a young man still unblooded, there was something so chilling in his smile that Fanucci hesitated a moment before going on. “Otherwise the police will come to see you, your wife and children will be shamed and destitute. Of course if my information as to your gains is incorrect I’ll dip my beak just a little. But no less than three hundred dollars. And don’t try to deceive me.”

For the first time Vito Corleone spoke. His voice was reasonable, showed no anger. It was courteous, as befitted a young man speaking to an older man of Fanucci’s eminence. He said softly, “My two friend have my share of the money, rll have to speak to them.”

Fanucci was reassured. “You can tell your two friends that I expect them to let me wet my beak in the same manner. Don’t be afraid to tell them,” he added reassuringly. “Clemenza and I know each other well, he understands these things. Let yourself be guided by him. He has more experience in these matters.”

Vito Corleone shrugged. He tried to look a little embarrassed. “Of course,” he said. “You understand this is all new to me. Thank you for speaking to me as a godfather.”

Fanucci was impressed. “You’re a good fellow,” he said. He took Vito’s hand and clasped it in both of his hairy ones. “You have respect,” he said. “A fine thing in the young. Next time speak to me first, eh? Perhaps I can help you in your plans.”

In later years Vito Corleone understood that what had made him act in such a perfect, tactical way with Fanucci was the death of his own hot-tempered father who had been killed by the Mafia in Sicily. But at that time all he felt was an icy rage that this man planned to rob him of the money he had risked his life and freedom to earn. He had not been afraid. Indeed he thought, at that moment, that Fanucci was a crazy fool. From what he had seen of Clemenza, that burly Sicilian would sooner give up his life than a penny of his loot. After all, Clemenza had been ready to kill a policeman merely to steal a rug. And the slender Tessio had the deadly air of a viper.

But later that night, in Clemenza’s tenement apartment across the air shaft, Vito Corleone received another lesson in the education he had just begun. Clemenza cursed, Tessio scowled, but then both men started talking about whether Fanucci would be satisfied with two hundred dollars. Tessio thought he might.

Clemenza was positive. “No, that scarface bastard must have found out what we made from the wholesaler who bought the dresses. Fanucci won’t take a dime less than three hundred dollars. We’ll have to pay.”

Vito was astonished but was careful not to show his astonishment. “Why do we have to pay him? What can he do to the three of us? We’re stronger than him. We have guns. Why do we have to hand over the money we earned?”

Clemenza explained patiently. “Fanucci has friends, real brutes. He has connections with the police. He’d like us to tell him our plans because he could set us up for the gyps and earn their gratitude. Then they would owe him a favor. That’s how he operates. And he has a license from Maranzalla himself to work this neighborhood.” Maranzalla was a gangster often in the newspapers, reputed to be the leader of a criminal ring specializing in extortion, gambling and armed robbery.

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