This is one of my favourite pieces of dialogue, both funny and chilling all in one, but mostly funny. And it's taken from real life, at least it's supposed to be (the claims of the book to have been told by the man it's said to be from have been contested, but I would say the story rings true throughout - also, these lines may have been edited a bit to make the whole thing more cutting, but so what?). The story of two legendary gangsters meeting up close is from The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano
, a flow of memoir supposedly retold to Hollywood producer Martin Gosch after he had bonded with the exile Luciano over an aborted mob film project in the late 1950s. Luciano went on to tell him the story of his life, on condition that it would not get published in any form until at least ten years after his death; Gosch later added a good deal of research of his own, made together with fellow author Richard Hammer. I got to know the book because a friend of my mum who had been to the U.S. as a guest scholar gave her a copy and said "You should read this!" - she never did, but in time I discovered it instead, and finally got a copy of my own.
The background here - and yes, it's told by Lucky himself - is roughly: two of the leading NYC godfathers of the old guard, Joe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano, were at odds. Masseria was Luciano's chief at the time, but in reality it was a loose bond, Lucky despised the old man and his outdated thinking; he saw himself as the Don of the future. On the other hand he didn't care for Maranzano either, and so far his strategy had been to stay out of the rising confrontations between the two men. Of course Maranzano wanted Luciano as a henchman and ally,. it's much less sure whether he wanted him as a real partner. After long hesitation, Luciano agreed to meet the older man in secret, one on one, a night in late 1929, just a week or so before the Wall Street crash...
himself to the Staten Island ferry. rode across, and then went to a shipping pier about half a mile away.
"Maranzano was already there, waitin' for me. I got out of the car, we shook hands and he put his arm across my shoulder like he always did, and said "I'm so glad to see you again, bambino." We walked inside this big building on the pier. It was empty and dark. We found a couple boxes and sat down. There was a couple minutes of horseshit talk and then he said "Charlie, I want you to come in with me."
I said, "I've been thinkin' about it."
"Good, good. You know, i always wanted you before and now is a good time to shake hands."
"Yeah, I guess it is."
"But tell me, Charlie, why did you make that terrible mistake and go with Giuseppe? He's not your kind. He has no sense of values." (
"Yeah, I found that out."
"Now you are beginning to think over your decision?"
"That's why I'm here." "
"Good. We will work it out together. As I always said before you will be the only one next to me. But, Charlie" - at this point, Luciano remembered as he reconstructed the events of that night, Maranzano's voice and manner lost their velvet and became sharp and dictatorial - "I have a condition."
"What is it?"
Maranzano stared at him, his eyes flat, his voice unemotional. "You are going to kill Masseria."
This was hardly a condition at all, Luciano thought, and he said, "Well. I've been thinkin' about that too."
"No, no, you don't understand. I mean you. Charlie. You, personally are going to kill Giuseppe Masseria."
That condition, Luciano immediately realized, was a trap. In the tradition-laden Sicilian underworld, one cannot kill the leader personally and then succeed to his throne. The killer cannot expect more than a secondary role in the new hierarchy and more likely he can expect to get killed himself in return.
"You're crazy!" He had hardly gotten the words out when something smashed against his skull and he blacked out." ---
I love the deadpan irony of this scene, and in the flow of the lines ("Well, I've been thinkin' about that too" is hilarious in its understated businessman tone, spoken between two top-rank mafiosos about assassinating a third one). The undercurrent is, of course, that neither of them want to admit they absolutely need some sort of alliance with the other guy - or that they really don't care a jot for the other one's well-being. The whole thing goes on for a couple pages, with more unexpected turns, and I absolutely recommend the book.