Chapter 6: Deep inside the Mob
Perini family bodyguards escorted me to New York, but Lucky’s people took responsibility for my security once I got off the train at Grand Central Station. There to meet me were Frank Costello, Ben Siegel, and Albert Anastasia. Prior to my trip, I had been given instructions on exactly what clothes to wear, in case anyone saw me and mistook me for the real Lucky.
Costello and I rode in the back seat of a car that was being escorted by two others—one in front of us and one following. Albert rode in the first car, and Ben rode in the car that followed. There were four men in each car, which meant that a total of eleven men escorted me from the train station to the Waldorf Astoria. The Mob isn’t into impressing people, so this much security must have meant that something big was happening in New York.
I was allowed to rest that evening and all of the next day, but I was not allowed to leave my room. There were two guards positioned outside of my hotel room. Since none of Lucky’s enemies could possibly know that I was in that room, it was apparent that they were there to keep me in, not to keep others out.
The afternoon of the following day, I was visited by Costello and Lansky. Costello led the discussion by reminding me how we had agreed that if something happened to me—for example, if I broke my leg—that the real Lucky would have to wear a cast to make sure that no one could tell us apart.
Lansky asked me if I recalled that conversation, and I confirmed that I had. “Well that’s great, because we have something to show you.”
They led me to Lucky’s suite, which was on the 39th floor of the Waldorf Towers, but on another hall, just around the corner from my room. Lucky was sitting in a chair looking straight ahead providing me with a profile view of his face. It was strange how he did not stand, or even turn his head to face us as we walked into the room, or when he spoke to me:
“Welcome back to New York, Little Brother.”
Then he turned to face me. That is when I noticed that one of his eyes drooped. He turned his head more so that I could see the other side of his face. There was a long L-shaped scar that had not been there before.
“Oh shit. What happened, Lucky?” I asked.
“This is from that night that you ran into Tommy at Delmonico’s,” he replied as he gestured to the scar. Then he instructed me to sit down on the sofa across from him. “That was months ago, and it has already begun to heal. We will need your services again soon, so we need for you to have the same scar, and the same droopy eye.” He could tell by the look on my face that I was horrified. “Don’t be scared. Unlike me, you will be under anesthesia and under the care of a professional doctor.” He motioned to Costello to pour me a drink, which he did. Lucky then went on to explain to me that the choice was mine: I could decline but if I agreed, there would be a hundred grand in it for me.
In today’s money, that’s like three or four million dollars. I downed my drink and thought of Melissa, wondering if it would affect her feelings for me. Hell, I wasn’t sure if she had any feelings for me anyway, so of course I would do it, but such a big decision deserved serious thought, so I asked if I could sleep on it.
Lucky laughed and said: “Of course you can sleep. Go ahead, lie down on the sofa and sleep right now.”
Within seconds, my eyelids felt heavy, and just before I fell asleep I could hear the others laughing. When I woke, I was lying in Lucky’s bed, with an I.V. drip attached to my arm, and could see out of only one eye. I had been drugged. I took my free hand and felt the bandages on my face. Those sons of bitches; they hadn’t given me a choice. If they had, I am almost certain that I would have agreed to it, but that wasn’t the point; they did this to me without permission. I was pissed, but smart enough not to show my anger to any of those wise guys.
The first visitor, other than the doctor and his nurse, was Silver Dollar Sam. He came to New York to tell me that he was proud that one of his men, a member of his family, was chosen for such an important job and was so brave to make this sacrifice. He assumed that this had all been voluntary. “You will be on easy street from this day forward. Here, take this as my token of appreciation.”
The envelope that he handed me had five grand. Of course I thanked him but I wondered if this was it. Would I see the hundred grand that I was promised by Lucky? I dared not ask, yet.
Later that day, I was visited by Lucky. He thanked me for my loyalty and sacrifice but made a point of telling me how much more pain he had to suffer to obtain the same scar. “They beat me until they thought I was dead. I wanted to be dead.”
Was he telling me that I should be thankful?
“You will remain here in this room, part of my suite; you will be cared for and looked after until you have recovered. Anything you want, just ask for it,” he said.
Hindsight is twenty-twenty—I should have asked, “How about the hundred grand that you promised, you asshole?” but I didn’t.
A few days later, I read where Silver Dollar Sam had been arrested in New Orleans for the shooting death of a federal narcotics agent. That was impossible; he was in New York visiting me the day of the murder. Unfortunately for Silver Dollar Sam, neither I nor any of the Luciano gang could serve as witnesses, and he was convicted and served two years in jail for that murder. Carlos became acting Don of the Perini family in Silver Dollar Sam’s absence.
As the weeks went by, Lucky was very creative in finding ways to keep me happy. Breakfast was served to me in bed, typically by a scantily clad stripper, who would pop my top, if you know what I mean, as soon as I finished my eggs Benedict and mimosas. One morning I was awakened by a beautiful, young, busty redhead with her head underneath my covers. I was offered drugs, heroin, cocaine, marijuana, whatever I wanted, but I refrained from all of that stuff; just alcohol for me.
In time, I fully recovered and was allowed to exercise. At first, I was limited to the hotel gym, but eventually I was driven, clandestinely, to upstate New York to live in a hillside cabin. I missed Melissa, so without asking for permission I called her. She acted as if she hardly knew me. There was no “I’m so happy to hear from you; I missed you.” None of that; I was so disappointed.
A year and a half later, I was going bat-shit crazy alone in the fricking woods. I had had too much time to think about Melissa and about the hundred thousand dollars that I still had not received. I grew more and bitter. My anger was directed mostly toward Lucky, but I was bitter at everyone who was in that room the day that I was drugged, laughing as I dozed off. Who was there? Let’s see, Costello was there; he was the bastard who gave me the drink. Lansky was there. I think Ben was there. Yeah, I think I remember hearing him laugh. Was Vito or Albert there? The more I thought about it, the more certain that I was that Vito was not there. I started thinking about revenge. Those are dangerous thoughts when we are talking about mobsters. Vito, Albert, and Ben belonged to a group known as Murder, Incorporated, for good reason.
It was the fall of 1931 before anyone from the Mob visited me again at the cabin. Three men arrived in one car. The driver got out and opened the door for the man riding in the back, and the other man in the back got out and stood by the car. The driver returned to his place in the car, and the third man, the one riding in the back of the car, walked toward the cabin, where I was standing on the front porch. It was Frank Costello. That fucker; I wanted to stab him in the eye with an ice pick.
“It’s time for you to return to New York. We have a job for you to do.”
Back at the Waldorf Astoria once again, waiting for me in Lucky’s room were Lucky and Meyer. Frank and I entered the room and sat, as instructed. Lansky sat there quietly without saying a word; Lucky did all of the talking. First he asked a lot of meaningless small-talk questions. My life had been one boring monotonous day after another for a long time. My tact and patience had worn thin, so I told Lucky bluntly that I had been cooped up so long that I had nothing interesting to talk about and that I needed action and needed to make some money.
“Well today is your lucky day,” he said, with pun intended. He reached his hand into his inside coat pocket and drew out a stack of hundred-dollar bills. He laid it on the table in front of me. “Here is one hundred thousand dollars. Follow my next instructions to the letter, and it will be here for you when you return.”
For a fleeting moment, I considered grabbing that stack of money, which already belonged to me, and trying to make a run for it—but then the image of me hanging from a meat hook, with Frank Costello beating me and Vito Genovese holding a chain saw, popped into my head, and so I quickly forgot that foolish notion and listened to his instructions.
Costello and two bodyguards led Lansky and me down to the lobby of the Waldorf. As we walked, it occurred to me that Lansky had yet to speak a word, which was highly unusual, so I cordially asked how he had been.
Costello said in a stern tone: “Don’t talk to him before you are together, alone in the car.”
Lansky and I were in the back seat of the car with only a driver in the front seat. I looked at him and said, “That’s odd. There have always been two guys in the front seat. A driver and a bodyguard.”
Then Lansky looked at me and said, “I’m not Meyer.”
After a few seconds of absorbing what he had just said, I asked for clarification.
“I’m not Meyer Lansky. I’m his double, just like you are Lucky’s double. My real name is David. That’s all that I am allowed to tell you about myself.”
The driver turned his head somewhat, trying to listen to our conversation.
“What does this mean?” I asked.
David whispered his theory, which was that we were being used as decoys; there was a hit out for Lansky and Lucky, and the hit man was Mad Dog Cole. The plan was to use the two of us as bait so that Lucky’s men could lie in wait and catch Mad Dog Cole in the act of trying to kill us.
“Geez, we are fucking targets?” I asked.
The driver suddenly parked the car in front of a corner store, turned to us and said, “I will be right back.” Then he exited the car. I looked at David and he looked at me; both of us knew that something was wrong. I grabbed David by the neck and pulled his head down toward me and yelled, “Get down!” and I did the same. No more than a couple of seconds prior to that I had seen a man in a car next to our parked car holding a tommy gun. We ducked just in time to miss the first shots. Instinctively, I opened the car door on my side, which was on the opposite side from the shooter. I fell out onto the sidewalk and David, the Lansky look-alike, crawled out also, landing on top of me. The shooter must have fired a dozen shots into the side of our car before his car raced away.
Before David and I could get to our feet, a photographer appeared in time to snap our picture. While we were still recovering from the bright flash of light, Frank Costello and Ben Siegel appeared on the scene.
They both called out the names of Charlie Luciano and Meyer Lansky so that everyone could hear and believe that we were them. “Come with us, quickly,” Costello ordered.
David and I followed Costello and Siegel without showing our reluctance, but we were both certain that the Luciano-Lansky gangs considered us expendable. The photographer who was on the scene was there, in my opinion, to take pictures of dead bodies for the newspaper, so that the Maranzano gang would think they had won the war against the Masseria gang.
We were ushered up to Lucky’s suite where he and Lansky were waiting. It was a bizarre moment. Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky sitting directly across from David and me; it was as if were talking to ourselves. I’m not sure if was the adrenaline or what, but I had a lot more confidence to speak my mind. Quite frankly, I felt that if they were trying to kill me I didn’t have anything to lose. So I made it clear that I was pissed about being set up to be a sitting duck for a hit man, pissed that I hadn’t received my hundred grand, pissed that my face had been butchered without permission, but most of all I was pissed because I had to spend the last year and a half as a recluse in the middle of nowhere, which had cost me my relationship with Melissa. I had had enough of this bullshit!
David, the Lansky look-alike, did not back me up. He sat there like a scared wimp.
Lucky and Lansky surprised me with how calmly they reacted to my losing my temper and speaking my mind. Lucky stood up and left the room without saying a word, while Lansky tried to assure us that they had no idea that we were going to be the targets of a hit, but I no longer believed him. Lucky returned with a brown leather satchel, handed it to me and said, “See? Here is your money. We weren’t trying to cheat you. We are men of honor. We’ve built our entire business by keeping our word.”
It was hard to argue that point. One thing the Mob had a reputation for was honoring contracts, which were never in writing, of course. My money was there, all hundred grand.
David asked: “What about me?”
“We will take care of you later.” Lansky replied just before rising from his chair. He opened the door and instructed a guard to escort David to his safe house. I never saw the Meyer Lansky look-alike again.
The money made me feel much better, so I apologized for my outburst and lack of confidence in them and expressed my gratitude for the payment. Of course, it would have been nice to have had it a year and a half before.
Lucky responded by assuring me that there were no hard feelings and went on to say that his men had captured the would-be assassin, Mad Dog Cole. “Thank you for your service.” The best news of all was that they would not need my services for the time being, and that I was free to return home.
Their bodyguards were assigned to escort me back to New Orleans, for my safety. I have to admit I remained distrustful of those guys and was paranoid that I was going to be put on ice before I had a chance to spend any of this hard-earned money. Before going to the train station, my “bodyguards” agreed to stop at Tiffany’s, where I purchased a three-carat diamond engagement ring to give to Melissa.
The journey home was stressful, because I felt as though I might be thrown from the train if I gave the men the opportunity. But once I returned to Biloxi and learned that Melissa had married another man I wished that those men had killed me. Out of anger, I walked to the end of a pier and tossed the ring into the Gulf of Mexico. I regret that stupid, impulsive act, but I have no regrets at all about my next impulsive act.
Without consulting anyone, I traveled to Central America, bought a small home on the beach and lived there for the next few years. It was paradise. The weather, the beaches, the muchachas, and the laid-back lifestyle were just what I needed. I learned to play golf and to speak Spanish.
Like most people, Sicilians in particular, I had always been interested in returning to my home country, the place of my birth, so I did. It took quite an effort, but I located my Sicilian relatives. Marianna was my first cousin on my father’s side and is only two weeks older than I am; well, at least back in those days she was. She introduced me to the family. To my surprise I learned that I had a first cousin, my mother’s sister’s son, by the name of Salvatore Luciana, who had moved to New York with his family, and was now known as Charles “Lucky” Luciano. Marianna shared with me an unproven family rumor. “You may be his half-brother and his first cousin.” No wonder we looked so much alike—we were closely related. I wondered how much of this was known by Lucky.
Marianna introduced me to her best friend Angila. She was even more beautiful and mature than Melissa despite her young age of only nineteen years, sixteen years my junior. We had a steamy romance and were married within a month of our meeting. We returned to live in the Central American beach house, far away from the dangerous life that came with being a mobster. It was the best time of my life. We made love standing, sitting and lying in every room of the house, on the porch, the beach, in the ocean and we even tried making love in our hammock, but ended up flat on our backs in the sand. We took long walks along the beach in the morning, trying unsuccessfully to dodge the surf. We often slept under the stars, in our hammock or on a beach blanket. We read books, shopped in the nearby village, rode bicycles on trails in the forest and attended Mass each Sunday. We learned to fish and sail. She taught me to cook and I taught her to speak English. In time, Angila wanted to meet my mother, who was still living in New Orleans, so in 1936 I returned to New Orleans with Angila.
This was the most time that I had spent with my mother since I left home as a teen. My mother loved Angila and vice versa. During this visit, I asked my mother about our Sicilian kinfolk, and she explained that she had been estranged from her sister for years and did not know the status of her children. She refused to tell me what had caused the rift. She denied knowing of Charlie or Lucky Luciano.
Angila wanted to see the city after spending the first few days visiting with my mother, but I felt as though I better pay Carlos a visit first, in case I was spotted by someone who knew me or mistook me for Lucky. How would I be received? One doesn’t retire from the Mob, or simply vanish without permission as I had.
To my relief, Carlos was happy to see me. We shared our stories with one another, and I learned that since prohibition had ended, gambling and racketeering had become the bread and butter of the Perini family, which now reported directly to Frank Costello, who was running things for Lucky, who was in jail at the time. Simply hearing Costello’s name aroused my anger, for I could never forget that he was the asshole who slipped me the mickey so that I could be butchered for Lucky’s benefit. Carlos explained that there were slot machines everywhere. “Who would have thought that you could make so much money controlling labor unions?” he added. The Port of New Orleans had become the heartbeat of the New Orleans Mob. Carlos was happy to learn of my marriage and assured me that we were safe to travel about in New Orleans.
Angila loved New Orleans and America. She wanted me to sell our home in Panama and make our home in the Big Easy. I was apprehensive, because I didn’t want to be drawn back into the Mob; I could live for the rest of my life on the rest of the cash that I had earned from being Lucky’s double. But I wanted Angila to be happy, so we found a place on St. Charles and lived a quiet, peaceful life—until we received a visit from Frank Costello in 1938.
Angila answered the door and called out to me. Carlos was there to greet me. I could see past him, in the car parked curbside, that someone familiar was looking my way. It was Costello. With a knot in my stomach, I told Angila that I had some business to tend to and followed Carlos to the car. I was instructed to get in. I rode in the front seat with the driver. Carlos and Costello were behind me. It was common knowledge in gangster circles that this is not where you want to be when being taken for a ride by mobsters.
“We have an important job for you,” Costello said.
My heart sank. I could not imagine being away from Angila and remembered what happened to my relationship with Melissa the last time that I went away on assignment. But I didn’t feel it would be a good idea to voice my objection with Carlos sitting directly behind me so I inquired as to the plan.
“We want you to travel with Bugsy Siegel to Italy, meet with a former associate of ours you may recall: Vito Genovese. Bugsy will be accompanied by a lady friend, an Italian countess, so you should bring your wife. It will be like a vacation. You will have a couple of weeks to enjoy Italy, so have fun. One day during your vacation, you will have to make arrangements for the women to spend the day together while the two of you meet with Vito regarding a very important matter. Bugsy has the assignment and will instruct you what to do. Your job is to be seen by Vito so that he thinks that Lucky is out of jail and running things; but keep your distance. It would be bad news for you and Bugsy if Vito figures out that you aren’t Lucky. The other part of your job is to watch Bugsy’s back and try to keep him from doing anything too stupid. Apparently, he has this crazy idea that he is going to get a face-to-face meeting with Mussolini, and if he does, he plans to assassinate him. Keep Bugsy focused on the countess and the mission to meet with Vito. This will be the last time that we call on you. You can retire after this with another hundred grand. You have my word” said Costello.
To alleviate any concerns that I had, Costello advanced fifty grand, with the balance to be paid when the job was finished. This was too good to be true. The last thing that I said to Costello was “Hey Frank. If you get the chance; ask Lucky if he knows that we are first cousins? Our mothers are sisters.”