Chapter 5: Frank Pentangelli
Nothing said “Godfather” like a big mob wedding.
Carmine Falcone was Roman, literally. He tried to pass off his nickname as a positive. Frank Pentangelli in The Godfather: “The Corleone family was like the Roman Empire.” The romance of that Hollywood Cosa Nostra: “You were around the old timers who dreamed up how the families should be organized, how they based it on the old Roman Legions and called them 'Regimes'... with the 'Capos' and 'Soldiers’…'”
The reality was very different. Other bosses were from Sicily or Naples. They had alliances with Palermo. They could borrow soldati for special jobs. Men with absolute personal loyalty—Old World loyalty that spanned generations—men committed to them personally because they were the sons of soldiers who had served the father of the capo that served the father of the underboss that served the father of the Don who was sending them to America. When men with those connections spoke of “The Roman,” it wasn’t a term of respect. It meant “The Outsider.”
And Carmine knew it.
Since he could never measure up by their standards, Carmine threw out their yardstick and substituted his own: the godfathers of Hollywood, the ones of those epic morality plays. What’s a Lucchese or a Bonanno compared to Marlon Fucking Brando? “The Corleone family was like the Roman Empire.” Don Vito was an emperor, and so was Roman Falcone.
And nothing said “The Godfather” like a big mob wedding—the world’s introduction to those movie mobsters began at the wedding of Connie Corleone. Carmine had no daughter—which was just as well, since it was Sicilians who couldn’t refuse a request on their daughter’s wedding day. Hosting on the groom’s side was better, it would give him all the prestige without that whiff of Sicily.
Neither of the twins looked like they would be tying the knot any time soon, so Carmine’s godson Anthony was his one real chance to play the part. He’d found a nice enough girl. An alliance with Gotham would be good for the Pelaccis, but that didn’t cost Carmine anything. And the status he expected to reap from this event was considerable…
Ramon’s Café & Bar Lounge in Lubbock, Texas. It looked like it had popped out of a painting of some Mediterranean fishing town in the fifties, and the owner—though he was an elderly white guy named Stu—had a taste for Hispanic culture, so there were always spicy dishes sizzling away in the kitchen and the relaxed strumming of a Spanish guitar coming from the stereo. It was a nice little bar to come and relax in after the grease and sweat of the auto shop, and while the décor was a bit cheesy, the guys liked the atmosphere. It reminded Miguel of the photos his dad kept from the old place back in Havana.
Miguel was Cuban-American; José, Puerto Rican; and they weren't quite sure about Hernando. He always claimed to have blood from wherever they happened to be talking about at the time. But he was as deft at a hand of poker as he was with a wrench, he told a dirty joke as well as he could repair a steering rack, so he was welcome to the after-work get-togethers. His friend Rick, though...
“Crap,” Miguel muttered under his breath, after giving a salute and a broad grin to Stu on the way in, “Look who.”
It was a quiet night, only Stu, one waitress, a couple of regulars, a scruffy gringo slouched at the bar chewing on a matchstick, and Hernando, waiting two seats down—with Rick in tow. Miguel hid the scowl in what he hoped might be a friendly smile, but it ended up as a kind of fixed, toothy smirk.
“Hey, my homeboys,” Rick said, swaggering up as he did with his crotch thrust out and his shoulders tilted, slapping them both on the upper arms, “Wassup? Been a while since my bros invited me to the poker game. You jokers ready to lose?”
“Only when you are, hombre,” José said with a small, mirthless smile.
Rick laughed too loudly and too long. Always overdoing it, Miguel thought. What a poser. Hernando seems to think it's so damn funny.
Rick was that particular kind of college dropout punk who wanted to hang with Latinos because he thought it gave him street cred, and he thought the way to fit in was to talk the talk and walk the walk. Unfortunately, his idea of machismo was to blatantly harass every woman he saw and pick a fight with every man he came across. And Hernando, the idiot, encouraged him! Called him “Ricardo” to his face just to laugh behind his back when he got himself into trouble.
Miguel wasn’t sure which of them he counted as the bigger asshole. He shared as subtle a glance with José as he could get away with, and jerked his head toward their usual table, farthest from the bar and nearest the pool tables.
“C'mon, let's get the game going before it gets too late,” Miguel said, “Got my girl home from work at nine, and sorry, I ain't keepin' her waiting, not even for my boys.”
“Yo-yo, man, sure thing, man,” said Rick, but they were only halfway to the poker table when, across the pub in the small lounge area the boys jokingly referred to as ‘the VIP room,’ someone turned on the TV… to a Spanish soap opera, no less. Rick apparently felt compelled to say, “Ugh, what is that shit? Don’t they have anything better to watch? Like Lost reruns or something?”
The other boys froze up, and turned as one to see a shadow move in the high-backed lounge chair by the TV. It was only a small movement, such a casual little reaction, but Miguel couldn’t shake the image of a mountain rumbling before an avalanche.
The seated man picked up the remote and cranked the volume up.
“Hey asshole! We’re trying to talk here!” Rick near-shouted, already starting to strut over there, “Who the hell does that guy think he is?”
José grabbed his shoulder, and pulled him back, “Bigger than you, amigo. A lot bigger. That’s all you need to know.”
“What, you guys know that clown?”
“No,” Miguel said, glaring hard at Hernando for bringing this dipshit to their favorite bar for the second time and twice watching him try to start a fight. In a nice little family-owned place like this! “He’s just a regular,” his voice lowered and hardened, and he pulled Rick aside, toward their table, “Look, big quiet guy, sits over there on his own, watches soaps and wrestling and C.S.I. He doesn't bother anyone, so we don't bother him, comprende? Stu likes his repeat customers, so we wouldn't want to cause him any trouble, ok?”
“’Kay, whatever, bro,” said Rick. Then, after a few moments of quiet, as they sat down at the table and started setting up for their poker game, Rick’s attention wandered back to the big man. It was hard to say just how big he was, sitting down with his back to them, but they could see his shoulders, his knees, spilling out of the frame of the chair he sat in, and his hands moving over a coffee table in front of him. “I could take him. Big chunky guy like that, probably can’t even move. What’s he doing?”
“Probably solitaire,” said Miguel, shuffling the deck, “He plays that a lot. That or chess, or backgammon, or some game like that. I saw him with one of the Japanese ones once. Pulled out a board and pieces and everything and played it right in there while he was watching TV. Go? Shogi? Can’t remember which is which.”
“Who’s he play with?” Rick asked, still giving what he thought were furtive glances over his shoulder, but which made him look like a frightened pigeon bobbing his head around.
Miguel bit back a sigh, “Nobody.”
“He sits around playing chess with himself?” Rick asked.
“No, he plays against himself,” said José, flagging the cute waitress over and winking at her as he made an order. When she was gone he continued, “Can’t figure out if he likes winning or losing.”
“What a freak,” Rick muttered, scowling at the back of the distant chair.
“I heard he lives upstairs,” said Hernando in a stage whisper, oblivious to Miguel’s glaring, “Stu’s got him in that old studio space. The one that chica was hosting the salsa classes in before, remember?”
“Who could forget? Man, she was hot,” said José.
“Hot like your mom,” Miguel laughed, cutting the deck and dealing.
“Maybe he’s like, some retired wrestler or something,” Hernando said, getting excited.
“What,” Rick said, “like that movie with Mickey Rourke?”
“The one where Marisa Tomei plays a stripper?” José said, cupping his hands over his chest and gyrating, “Oye loca! Work that pole baby! What a MILF, man, been waiting to see those hubbas since I was like nine years old—”
“I didn’t see it,” Rick said, “Doesn’t the dude die in the end or something?”
That led to a conversation about professional wrestling, which mutated swiftly into an impassioned half-hour exploration of the art of Lucha libre, something three of the boys had a passion for, and Rick obviously did not.
“…No way man,” José said, slapping the table to emphasize his point, “There won’t ever be another El Santo.”
“I ain’t arguin’ with you man,” said Miguel, lighting a cig as he looked over his hand, “I’m just sayin’, you can’t live in the past, there’s been some grade-A badass luchadores since those days. It’s okay to like the new dudes too, eh?”
“But El Santo, Blue Demon, Black Shadow – those guys were legends,” José protested, “the feud between La Pareja Atómica and Los Hermanos Shadow, I mean, when Santo unmasked Black Shadow and led to Blue Demon’s choice to go técnico, it rocked the whole world man. It was like the Rumble in the Jungle of wrestling. No man, better than that! Those guys ain’t never been matched. Ain’t never been topped. S’all I’m sayin’, man.”
Miguel saw, out of the corner of his eye, the huge shadow at the TV turn its head slightly.
“Hey man, he has a point,” Hernando was saying, “I like Rey Misterio plenty, but he’s no Santo. Santo is the best.”
“Was, man, he died in the eighties, didn’t he?”
“Is,” Hernando insisted, “He’s not dead. You can’t kill El Santo, he’s immortal.”
José rolled his eyes, “Oh not the conspiracy stuff again. Look, they can dress anyone up in Santo’s costume and pretend he’s still alive, he wears a freaking full face mask. Like that Batman guy, you know? He’s probably like seven guys, they just replace him whenever one gets killed or gets too old—”
“No man, I’m serious, Santo is totally alive.”
Was it Miguel’s imagination, or was the big guy listening to their conversation?
“And Plastic Man is totally Elvis, right?”
“He is!” Hernando slapped the table, “The Gotham Post said—”
“Man, you always think anything the Gotham Post says is legit. You like the place so much, why don’t you move there?”
Miguel glanced over at the big guy again. He had his head tilted, sitting dead still. He had to be listening, Miguel was sure of it. But before he could confirm his curiosity, Rick’s mouth opened, and out it came.
“Shouldn’t have brought up that stupid movie,” he muttered, tossing down his poor hand and chugging his fourth beer. “Who cares about some old fart wrestler? WWE, WWF, your fuckin’ lucha, it’s all fake anyway. I mean c’mon, how staged is it? They’re just a bunch of posers in tights. Like ballet or some shit, just with stupid-looking masks.”
Miguel knew he was sitting there with his mouth open, looking like an idiot, but he couldn’t help it. He knew Rick was a jerkass, and a flyweight drinker, and a sore loser at poker, but this was a level of stupid he just couldn’t comprehend. He saw the other guys, even Hernando, staring at Rick with blank expressions and tense necks and shoulders, like wolves waiting to pounce.
“They probably all end up as drunken has-beens when they run out of money for roids and whores,” Rick jerked his thumb at the big guy in the corner, “like that loser.”
Miguel’s stunned disbelief gave way to a hot flush of old-fashioned Latin anger. But before that could burst into words, or maybe a fist in Rick’s teeth, a cold went through him that snuffed out the fire and went right down into his bones. It wasn’t a sound that did it. It was the lack of it.
The room had become deathly still.
Someone had muted the TV.
Miguel, Hernando, José, Stu, the waitress, the scruffy guy at the bar, everyone stopped and stared at the hulking titan slowly, quietly walking across the room. Only Rick, with his back to the TV area, kept his voice going, oblivious to the shadow falling over him.
“I mean I thought you guys were better than those redneck faggots I used to hang out with, all on their knees kissing Stone Cold Steve Austin’s ass like he’s some fuckin’ hero, swearing it’s all real and gettin’ all butthurt if anyone says it’s not—HULGH!!”
Five big fingers clamped over the top of Rick’s head and lifted him out of his seat like he was made of paper, then slowly turned him around into a puff of cigar smoke. The man behind it was bigger than he’d looked sitting down. His shirt didn’t hide the network of scars and stretch marks crisscrossing his brawny arms any more than it hid the paunch growing around the top of his jeans. And the layer of fat couldn’t hide the framework of what must have been a monster’s physique. The man smiled at Rick, then plucked the fat, smoldering Cuban from his lips. Rick’s horrified eyes indicated he clearly expected it to be stubbed out on his forehead, but instead, the big man crushed it into the ashtray on their table, right in front of Miguel.
“Tonight,” he said, in a deceptively soft voice, “We find out who the father of Lucia’s baby is. I have been waiting to know this for three months. What I will say, you will not interrupt.”
“Heymanputhimdown…” Hernando mumbled so half-heartedly Miguel almost didn’t hear him. When the big man ignored him, he sunk down in his seat with a ‘there, I tried, nobody say I didn’t’ look on his face.
“Lucha libre,” the big man continued, his voice growing quieter and quieter—and paradoxically more frightening, “is a passion play, a poem to life itself. These men uphold values. Honor. Tradition. Respect. Things a little buzzing fly can never understand.”
Rick shook like a leaf, his hands twitching at his sides, looking like he wanted to grab the big guy’s wrist to stabilize himself but was too afraid of having his neck snapped to try. “Please, man…” he blubbered.
“Now, what did I say?” the voice tightened, and so did the fingers while Rick squealed like a piglet. “The things a little fly doesn’t understand, a little fly doesn’t talk about. ¿Comprende?”
Rick tried to nod, but with his head in that iron grip, he could only shake harder than he already was.
“Good. Because,” the big man leaned in with his eyes boring into Rick’s, “if you push me again tonight,” he said the last in a gentle whisper, “I will break you.”
He lowered Rick into his seat and patted his shoulder, then turned away and walked back to the TV room. The only sound was Rick’s terrified sobbing. Even the scruffy guy had stopped chewing his matchstick. The giant picked up the remote and un-muted the television…
“-is the real father of my baby!” the woman on the screen blurted in Spanish, with a slow close-up zoom as dramatic music swelled. Then the image and the music faded out together, and the credits began to roll.
The big man’s shoulders lifted and fell. A breath went through him, a long, growling rumble, like thunder on the horizon. Then he turned and calmly looked at Rick. At his sides, his fingers flexed, and his knuckles popped audibly.
Rick screamed, fell off his chair, breaking the legs as he kicked frantically to his feet and scrambled for the door. He left it flapping in his wake as he ran off into the street.
The big man looked at the three men remaining. He walked to the bar and thumbed a small wad of cash out of his wallet, laying it down in front of Stu.
“For the chair,” he said to Stu, with a little nod of his head, and he addressed the boys as he walked past them to the back door and the stairs leading to his apartment, “Enjoy your game.”
José blew out a held breath as the door closed behind the huge guy, “Holy. Shit.”
“I thought we were dead, man,” Hernando said, “Dead.”
“He shouldn’t have dissed lucha,” Miguel said. “Not in our part of town. He’s a loser, Hernando, you get it now? He’s got no respect. He’s just going to keep doing this until he gets his ass killed.”
“Hey man, that big guy, do you think he might have been…”
None of them saw the door, which had just been closed, click partly open, as the big man paused beyond it and listened.
“No way bro, that’s crazy talk.”
“But who else could just pick a guy up in one hand like it was nothing? I mean that was… Did you see the way he tensed up when Rickhead started pissing on lucha…”
“It can’t be. It couldn’t possibly, man. He wasn’t that big a guy… Hell, nobody’s as big as that guy who just walked outta here…”
“It is man, I’m telling you, it’s him. Rick dissed lucha and he said, did you hear it? He said he would break him…”
The big man let the slow smile grow. Could it be, after all these years, someone still… remembered? What he had been, and what he’d done?
“I’m telling you, it’s him!”
Could he dare to hope?
“…It’s El Santo!”
Anthony Marcuso sat on his bed looking down on a pair of tarnished cufflinks. He dug them out thinking he should wear them to the wedding, but they were bigger and tackier than he remembered and now he was having second thoughts.
He didn’t have many memories of his father. “Trigger Marc” Marcuso was in prison for most of his son’s life, then he was dead. Anthony mourned on principle, and he made yearly donations at St. Swithuns for all the masses his mother requested, but there was little sentiment in the gesture. There was no animosity in the lack of feeling, Anthony simply didn’t know the man.
He was grateful to his father. He was Carmine Falcone’s godson, and that was Harry Marcuso’s doing. He knew from that one ballgame when he was fourteen. His father was out of prison, and instead of coming over for Sunday dinner, his dad took him out to Gotham Stadium to see The Gotham Rogues beat the living tar out of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then they went for a walk and his father said “You know what your name means? It means ‘priceless, flourishing, successful.’ The first Antony was what they called an orator, that means he had the gift of the gab. Like a salesman, you know? Don’t you let anybody start calling you Tony, you hear me? Your name is Anthony. Anthony Marcuso.”
His mother explained on her deathbed: Trigger Marc had never been a big man in the Falcone family, but he was high enough to see Carmine The Roman a couple times a year and shrewd enough to realize the guy’s Godfather fixation. “The old timers that organized the first families, they based it on the old Roman Legions, and called them 'Regimes' with the capos and soldiers…” Like everybody who was anybody didn’t remember that bit from The Godfather. That old guy, Frank Pentangelli, who took over for Clemenza after his death: “The Corleone Family was like the Roman Empire.” Only Carmine The Roman could think he could go around quoting Frank Fuckin’ Pentangelli without anybody noticing.
Harry wasn’t a big shot in the Falcone family, but he was smart enough to realize his boss wanted to be The Godfather from the movies. He wasn’t a big shot, he was never going to be, but he saw a chance to give his son more. He gave Carmine a chance to be a real godfather, and since he was pretty low on the totem pole to be asking that kind of honor, he gave his son a name that Carmine The Roman could never resist: Anthony Marcuso. Just like that Mark Antony guy who avenged Caesar when he got whacked.
It worked. Carmine agreed to act as godfather, and Harry ordered his wife to always use the boy’s full name. Every “Anthony Marcuso” was a subliminal reminder to The Roman that if he wanted to be Caesar, he had a Mark Antony to stand at his side.
And it worked. Anthony couldn’t deny that Roman had given him opportunities ahead of his years. Those first pump-and-dumps, taking over trucking when the Russians moved into identity theft, now managing the Westies…
Anthony snapped the worn velvet box shut. He had his father’s name, that was the real tribute. A pair of tacky cufflinks would only undermine the one real thing of value Harry Marcuso had left his son.
“It’s El Santo!” The big man let another thunder-breath rumble through him. Then, he yanked the door shut with a crunch as its edges splintered, and stalked up the stairs to his apartment. He fumbled with his keys, unlocked the door, and strode into the studio, feeling tired, poisonously bitter, and far older than the young man he still was. What had he expected? Nobody cared anymore. He’d done it, the thing none of the rest of them could, and they ignored him. Ignored him, because they were petulant little children who couldn’t abide an outsider succeeding where they had failed. What had he expected? Now, he was paying the price. Now, he was forgotten.
“If you cannot be both, it is better to be feared than loved,” he quoted Machiavelli to the old, worn teddy bear sitting enshrined by his bed on a chair he’d reserved for it, “Said a fifteenth century cabron with too much time on his hands.”
The bear looked back at him with the same stitched, sympathetic smile it had worn since his childhood.
“Here’s what I say, Little Bear,” he said, “To be loved, that is the best of all things. Better to be loved than feared,” picking up the bottle of tequila, he glared at the sip that remained, “But if you can’t be loved, be feared...” He splashed the last on his tongue and tossed the empty bottle in the trash, “If you can’t be feared, be hated. If you can’t be hated—” he scowled, “Be ridiculed. Because if you can’t be ridiculed, you’ll be forgotten, and—”
“—to be forgotten is the worst of all things,” graveled a new voice, cast from a shadow by the studio’s lonely window. The big man closed his eyes… and forced a grim smile.
“I wasn’t expecting you,” he said, “but I knew you’d be here, after the bar. Stained coat, fake moustache, stubble, toothpick. Smell of whisky and cigarettes. Changed your walk, your posture. Would have fooled anyone but me, Señor Wayne.”
He turned to face the bat-eared shadow.
“You cannot hide the steel in a warrior’s eyes.”
Batman remained quiet for a time, studying the other. When he spoke, it was a leveled, considering tone. “Lucha libre. It explains the mask.”
“I grew up on it. It was all they played on the TVs in Peña Dura,” the big man shrugged. “So what? A man needs a symbol to inspire him. You of all people should know that, Batman. Is that all?”
“…it explains the mask,” Batman finished, “and more. Blue Demon avenges his partner’s humiliation by hunting down Santo and dealing him a defeat a whole community remembers decades after the fact.” He lifted his eyes to meet those of the man who had once aspired to be his greatest enemy. “Is that what it was about? Were you trying to make me a part of your ‘storyline,’ carve your name into Gotham like it was a wrestling ring?”
“It worked,” the big man whispered, his eyes shifting between their focus on his hated rival and the bitter field of memories, “It worked. No matter what happened after. I did it. None of you can take that from me.”
Batman narrowed his eyes, and poured his darkest, hardest gravel into the next words.
“We have only one thing to talk about… Bane.”
Tony Russo, the Pelacci underboss with ties all over Bludhaven, had the most to gain from a Pelacci-Falcone alliance. He always resented the way Falcone threw his weight around as if Gotham was the center of the fuckin’ world. It’s what the whole world thought, too, ‘cause of The Godfather and Goodfellas. The mobs were the Gotham mobs, and The Don was The Gotham Don—Tony always hated it. From Keystone he hated it, and from Bludhaven he really hated it. At first, he thought the proximity to Gotham would enhance his prestige. Bludhaven even had its own freak show, one of those costumed whackjobs that go around ‘fighting crime.’ You’d think a city protected by a Batman-Junior would rate as a Gotham-Junior, but his stock among Gotham and Keystone families seemed to plummet after the Bludhaven connections.
But if Old Man Pelacci became a major player in Gotham, that’d be a very different thing.
So Tony’d done a lot to bring this wedding about. But he was fond of Susannah and he never would have pushed Anthony Marcuso on her if he didn’t think The Roman’s godson could make her happy. This marriage would be important for The Family… tomorrow. Today, it was about the bride. There would be a time for family politics, but today was all about making Susannah happy on her special day.
..:: It’s not him. ::..
Selina forced air into her lungs to keep the emotion out of her voice:
“What? If it isn’t Ra’s, it isn’t Luthor, it isn’t… him. Bruce, we’re out of options.”
Since she’d watched the Batwing take off, there had been a steel cable of emotion beginning with a rusted knot at the back of her neck, pulling down into another coiled knot in her chest and then thrusting down at an angle through her gut into the small of her back. When her comm vibrated, the whole thing started to ratchet against itself, the tension pulling tighter and tighter while she opened the line, until the instant she heard his voice..:: It’s not him. ::.. As soon as she did, there was no time to indulge in Once Upon a Time dramas, and her mind snapped back to the issue at hand “If it isn’t Ra’s, it isn’t Luthor, it isn’t… him. Bruce, we’re out of options…”
..:: Not quite. We’re out of masterminds. But what if… ::..
“What if it’s not a mastermind? What if it’s… what, some kind of big mistake?”
..::Yes. Selina, we aren’t getting married, so it can’t be ‘your’ wedding they’re targeting. What if—::..
“Shit, it’s somebody else’s. The Arkham Repertory Theatre is planning their little performance of Six Rogues in Search of a Bride to Piss Off at the wrong wedding.”
..:: … ::..
“No, it’s crazy. Unless Ivy was talking in code. I mean, who could be getting married in Gotham that they could possibly mistake for US?”
..:: … ::..
..:: … ::..
..:: The Pelacci-Marcuso Wedding.::..
To be continued…