Chapter 5: Biloxi, Mississippi
What happened to sour your relationship with Luciano?
Well, first of all, since the word was out among his enemies that I existed, it was decided that I should retire from the role of being Lucky’s double for a while. So I returned to New Orleans with instructions to lay low. Upon my return, I was told that Silver Dollar Sam had learned from the New York Mafia how organized crime should be managed. Unlike the Matranga Family, the Perini Family was more structured and disciplined. No one, other than Carlos, had access to Silver Dollar Sam anymore; and no one other than top lieutenants, like me, had access to Carlos—only capos and lieutenants could talk to one another, and so on. There was no way to be sure, but I suspected that the Perini family took orders directly from the Masseria family of New York—specifically Lucky Luciano.
There was a turf war raging in New Orleans at that time between the Perini family and an Irish gang led by William Bailey. Lucky wanted to make certain that I wasn’t involved in anything that could risk altering my appearance because he wasn’t sure if he was through with me yet, so Carlos ordered me to manage a gambling operation that was located in a beachside hotel in Biloxi.
This was a boring assignment, until I met Melissa. She was the most beautiful woman that I had ever seen—the kind that looks good first thing in the morning without any makeup. She had an exciting personality but was wild and crazy—certifiably crazy. We had a connection right away, but I was definitely more into her than she was into me. After I grew to know her I understood that she had issues that kept her from feeling attachment or trusting anyone, particularly men. As a result, we had a rollercoaster relationship. She would tell me one day that she loved me and wanted to spend the rest of her life with me as my wife; but the next day she would tell me that she did not want to be in a relationship of any sort with anyone. In spite of that, we became good friends. She often said that no one had ever treated her better or respected her more than I. Her flirtatious nature gave her an unflattering reputation, but there was no doubt in my mind that I was in love with her. I had reconciled to continue having a romantic courtship with periodic interruptions in the hope that she would eventually come to terms with her issues and make a permanent commitment to me.
Carlos rarely called anyone on the telephone, especially if it regarded the family business, but he made an exception this one particular day. He called to tell me that everyone, including me, was required to be in New Orleans right away for important business. I made the mistake of telling Melissa where I was going, because she insisted on going with me. She loved New Orleans with a passion. It was difficult to disagree with her. That evening, we checked into the Monteleone and took in the wonderful sights of the city. It was a strange experience for me. This was the first time that I had ever experienced New Orleans as a tourist, and not as the life-long native that I was. I don’t recall having more fun before that.
Duty called the following day. Everyone in the Perini family was instructed to meet at the train station, which was surrounded by three or four hundred Italians; many were wielding baseball bats or iron bars. A capo recognized me and instructed the crowd to part to allow me to move through the crowd and depot to the landing deck. Silver Dollar Sam was there, which was a rare site indeed. Next to him were Carlos and a team of uniformed police officers. Upon seeing me, Carlos approached and instructed me to move far enough away that I would not be involved if things got rough.
An arriving train, its whistle blaring, came to a stop; out came Al Capone and his men. Silver Dollar Sam ordered the police to disarm Capone and his men. They did. Capone was furious and made it known by pointing his finger at Silver Dollar Sam as if it were a gun and emulating the pulling of a trigger. Silver Dollar Sam responded by ordering the police to break the fingers of Capone’s men, which is what happened next. Seeing the huge crowd, Capone realized it was useless to fight back. He ordered his men to restrain themselves and not to fight back. It was an unusual sight: policemen breaking the fingers of well-dressed goons who refused to cry out in pain. Capone and his injured men returned to Chicago on the next train and never returned to New Orleans. It was obvious to all that New Orleans was now controlled by New York and not Chicago.
Later that year, the stock market crashed. Our gambling business suffered as a result. Like for many others, times were tough for me. Unlike all of the other lieutenants, I had no capos or crews reporting to me. That meant the only income that I had was my take from the rinky-dink, redneck casino that I ran for the family. Unfortunately the family decided to turn over the casino to the hotel owner at the end of the year and abandon our interests. It simply cost more to manage than it made for the family. The good news was that I was going to return to New Orleans. The bad news was that Melissa would not commit one way or the other to move with me. One day she wanted to sell her house and move away with me; the next day she would change her mind.
Despite that, Melissa and I celebrated New Year’s Eve at a party hosted by Silver Dollar Sam in New Orleans. It was a lavishly tacky event. Melissa had no idea that I had ties to the Mob. In those days, the term “Mafia” was little known and rarely used. Average people, such as Melissa, had no idea that criminal activities were organized. She was, however, perceptive in noticing that something was peculiar about this crowd. How could anyone help but notice how everyone seemed to pay homage to Carlos and even more homage to the Don, Silver Dollar Sam Perini. There was a clear hierarchy in place.
In reality, I was a lieutenant in name only but the title earned me respect, and Melissa could not help but notice that lower-ranking Mafioso paid homage to me as well. This became problematic a few months later when I began to deplete my savings. Her impression was that I was much more important and well-off than I really was. She had remained in Gulfport all of this time using the fact that she had to sell her home first—one that she had inherited from an ex-husband. The more I began to tighten my belt, so to speak, the more uncertain she became about moving to New Orleans and committing to a future with me. In the end, she remained on the coast.
Carlos agreed to hire me to be his right-hand man; my title remained unchanged. This meant having bodyguards protecting me around the clock. This impressed Melissa. She felt sure that I was really important, so I must be rich. The irony is that the bodyguards were paid more than me. Carlos had agreed to hire me simply as a friend, but the Perini family had strict orders from Luciano to keep me safe. If I were going to keep Melissa happy, I must find a way to make more money. The bootlegger war with the Bailey family was nearing an end but wasn’t over, so Carlos simply could not afford to have me involved with anything dangerous, which meant there was very little money involved in the various safe operations that I was assigned to. These guys are not the sort of people you should complain to about anything; especially money, but I needed a job.
By spring of that year, I was desperate. Melissa was avoiding me by making excuses for not visiting me in New Orleans. Then Frank Costello called to tell me that I was being requested to return to New York for a potential job. Maybe this was my lucky break—no pun intended. The problem was, I couldn’t tell anyone other than Carlos and Sam that I was going to New York, not even Melissa. She was a real bitch when I gave her the story that I was going away for a long time on a business trip without her to South America. This was the life that I chose and once in the Mob there is no getting out—alive, that is.