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Thy father's son
Rutman, Leo.
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First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, [2002]

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342 pages ; 25 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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New York City, October 1962: The Cuban missile crisis threatens the world as a drug war consumes the mafia. Caught up in its midst is Davey Rossi, former lightweight champion and son of Mafia don Vince Rossi. As Davey trains for his comeback to regain the title, he learns of a secret kept by Vince and his brother Johnny - a betrayal that split the Rossi family and caused its tragic involvement in the long-buried wars between the Jewish and Italian gangsters of the 1920's and 30's. The past and its deadly mystery force Davey to enter the violent life he has tried to avoid. He is pitted against ambitious, cunning Mafiosi steeped in guile and treachery. Davey searches for Dolly Irving, the reclusive stage star of the 1920's who knew the mobsters of that glamorous, roaring decade. And he falls in love with Julie Alpert, a beautiful tax attorney whose covert agenda threatens to bring down the Rossi family. Told in a pitch-perfect voice, with a rich and varied cast, and set against the backdrop of the Kennedy brothers' vendetta against the Mafia, Thy Father's Son is a stunning novel of family loyalty, redemption, and the sins of the past that can only be expiated by vengeance.

Author Notes

Leo Rutman is the author of three previous novels, all set in New York City. He has written several critically acclaimed plays, and received playwriting awards from Columbia University and from Yale where he was a Joseph E. Levine Film Fellow. He was playwright in residence at Brandeis University and has been a member of the Playwrights Unit from the Actor's Studio. He is a lifelong New Yorker.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Prizefighter Davey Rossi must face the fact that he was adopted by the Italian Mafia don who killed his Jewish gangster father. This well-told tale unfolds in late-fifties/early-sixties New York City, just as the Mafia embraces the drug trade. Rutman delivers knockout boxing descriptions, and the mobsters behave in exactly the way we have come to expect from every pop-culture depiction since The Godfather. That's only a problem for those who have grown a bit weary of stories that rehash the gang wars of a bygone era and attempt to imbue them with a profundity Sopranos fans realize they never really had. Readers looking for a traditional Syndicate story with all the right moves will embrace this book. Others, driven forward by the compelling narrative even as they bemoan its seeming inability to break free of old-style Mafia tropes, might find themselves ruefully quoting Michael Corleone's famous line from The Godfather, Part III: "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!" --Frank Sennett

Publisher's Weekly Review

The son of an Italian New York mafia don finds out he's Jewish in Leo Rutman's unusual novel of American organized crime and cultural identity. Set in 1962, Thy Father's Son is the story of Davey Rossi, a prizefighter and scion of an important syndicate family who finds out that he's actually the adopted, orphaned son of a murdered Jewish mobster and his showgirl moll. Furthermore, his adoptive father took part in the hit on his biological one. The stunned Rossi tries to track down his mother and find out the real story of the gangland machinations behind his father's death while becoming embroiled in vendettas of his own; along the way, Rutman reveals much about the heyday of Jewish organized crime, as well as the evolution of the Italian-American mafia in the 1960s. The book's first-person narration and dialogue can be stiff, but Rutman's original, intricate plot and well-researched historical details make up for the shortcomings of his prose. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



1 AUTUMN IS my favorite time of the year. It holds the promise of things to come. The days are warm and the nights cool. But there's also something sad about autumn. You can see the summer slipping away, a seemingly endless string of days now gone. Stolen away by an unseen hand. Like a life: one day you wake up and you're old. But there is something else in the air in the autumn of 1962. If you were raised in the world I come from, you could smell it. It hangs there sharp and pungent, like a rancid piece of meat crawling with maggots. The smell of fear permeated the mob. After six years, Dino Manfredi had been released from federal prison in Atlanta on August 28. The witness who had sent him away on a drug rap had recanted his testimony. When Dino got caught, it was very convenient for a lot of people. Convenience in the underworld is a euphemism for set-up. Vince told me about it one night over dinner. A neat, tight frame, which featured the canarylike voice of a street fly and drug pusher named Gaspare Manzo, who swore that he was part of a drug deal and witnessed Dino buying a lot of little bags of heroin. It got Dino ten years, until Gaspare Manzo suddenly recanted his testimony before a federal appeals judge. Somebody had taken an ax to that tight little frame. Gaspare had been paid a lot of money to take a perjury rap. The edge is a funny bird. It doesn't play favorites. Now Dino was free and everybody waited for his next move. I've been training in Pompton Lakes for the Kid Bassett fight. Today Johnny drove up from the city to see me work out. We are just sitting down for lunch on a small patio outside my cottage when the telephone rings. One of my sparring partners answers. It's for Johnny. He goes inside and doesn't come out for some minutes. When he returns, the smile is gone from his face and his eyes are somber and heavy. It's a warm October day, but suddenly there is a chill in the air. He indicates with a gesture of his head. Let's walk. We go some distance in silence. Johnny doesn't speak until we reach a group of trees. I can see the sun jumping in sparkling lines off the blue lake as he speaks. "That was Vince. Tommy got hit this morning. In a barber chair." It's like taking a bullet. Sunspots leap in front of my eyes and the lake seems to freeze. I picture Tommy lying on the floor of a barbershop amid shards of glass from the mirror, which only a few moments earlier had encompassed his reflection. He is a small, compact man, who parts his hair down the middle, and has a prominent nose and small, alert blue eyes. He always dresses for the occasion, and I'm sure he was neatly and expensively dressed this day. He favors gray or blue striped suits and his shoes are always shined till they glisten. I knew I was thinking in the present because I was in shock. How could this happen? Tommy is a fixture. He's the Eminence. He never carries a gun. "Dino," I finally said. Johnny's forehead is bathed in sweat. A tight little smile creeps across his face. With Johnny, that's always a cover for the emotion underneath. Guys like Tommy and Johnny never show their feelings. For them, logic and smarts must come first. That's why the mob relies on them. They never hustle themselves into a decision based on emotion. Johnny took out a cigarette. "With Dino, it's never just business; there's always a little personal signature. Dino never forgets anything. Tommy's been going to that barbershop for forty years. Back in the thirties, he ran numbers out of there. It's a little place on the Lower East Side. The same guy owns it. Augie Donadio. Nice man. Plays opera music and talks all day. Every Wednesday, Tommy would have a cut and shave there. He loved to sit in the chair, drink espresso, and gossip. He told me once that he knew he had it made when he could afford hot towels every day. That's how they got him. Sitting under some hot towels. They pumped twelve slugs into him." Johnny stops talking. We both know what happened. Dino Manfredi knew about the barbershop and waited for the time when he could use the information. That's what Johnny meant when he said, "Dino never forgets anything." What will Vince do? Tommy was his closest friend. If he goes after Dino, there will be a war. A big one. I remember the day Dino was sent away to Atlanta and Vince poured himself a big glass of wine. "Salud," he said, and smiled. "There was going to be a lot of killing, and I am too old for that kind of business. But Tommy fixed it. He is my patron saint now. Salud, Tommy." We walk along the edge of the lake, watching it glint back fiercely at us, past the hut that housed the ring I sparred in. I know what Johnny is thinking. The alliance that has kept the Five Families out of drug trafficking has been shattered. Tommy, Vince, and Frank Bruno always voted together when the Five Families met at the Mafia Council. They held the balance of power. Now that balance was blown away. Dino would take over Tommy's family. Nobody was going to oppose the man who had just knocked off Tommy Costanza. "What will Dino tell the Council?" Johnny kicks at the ground. "He'll say he didn't have to ask for a table on killing Tommy because Tommy was the one got him sent away to Atlanta. Then he'll bring up the drug thing again. He's been working on getting the Five Families into the narcotics business since 1949. Narcotics was the next gold mine, he kept saying. A million times bigger than Prohibition. He got Joe Dante hooked on the drug operation. That will carry a lot of weight with the Council now. There's just Vince and Frank Bruno against it, and without Tommy, I don't know if Frank will hold out. Frank is a greedy bastard. Dino will offer Frank a chance to come in on the drug deals and Frank will jump at it. And then Dino will have all the dons up to their elbows in heroin except Vince. He'll stick out like a sore thumb." "What about you?" I ask. "You're Tommy's consigliere. What will he do about you?" Johnny doesn't answer right away. "Dino and I will have a talk." "A talk." Johnny smiles. His Hollywood number. "Sure. We'll talk. Johnny Silk is good for business." Johnny grinds out his cigarette. "Dino would never have done this without getting Scola's okay." "When will the funeral be?" Johnny pulls another cigarette from his expensive silver case. He smokes Salems. "I'll let you know." "What will Vince do?" Johnny eyes me. "I don't know. We'll have to talk about it." "Since when do you and Vince talk?" Johnny picks up a large pebble and throws it into the water. It churns up some spray and disappears. "This is business, so we'll talk." "Is this just about drugs?" Johnny lights a new Salem with a very expensive lighter, the line of fire jumping in the wind. "It's about Dino anointing himself capo di tutti capi. Boss of all bosses. That's always been the thing that mean little son of a bitch wanted." I have been around the edges of this stuff all my life, but now it has struck home. This is the way the big boys play. And it is rough. I recall that night when Dino told me, "Never, never give anyone the first shot at you." Dino Manfredi had made his move. A move that Tommy, wherever he is now, understands very well. Johnny suddenly looks wan and tired. I want to find some words that will make it better, but can't. This is too real. His shrewd blue eyes follow the flight of a bird. "C'mon kid. Let's get back. We both have work to do." He doesn't say anything more. We walk in silence around the fringes of the lake, which looks so peaceful and inviting. I realize what a blow this is going to be for Vince. Six years ago, when Dino got sent up, Vince was fifty-seven. It is late in the day for war and mattresses. We finish our walk. Johnny doesn't bring up Dino or the hit again. We talk about the odds for the Bassett fight and the date for the return bout with Sandy Simpson. You would never guess that this was a consigliere faced with a terrible adversary who has just killed off his don. But at least Johnny is still young and vital. Vince is sixty-three. To be a gangster, facing a war when the vitality of youth can no longer sustain you is a terrible prospect. We stop in front of the gym and I look at Johnny. "You going to watch me spar?" He lights yet another cigarette and now impatiently puts it out. "I gotta get back. I'll try to drive up on Friday." He smiles. "My money is on you, kid. You look in the pink. Just don't take Bassett lightly. He's got a punch like a horse and he butts. I'll see you, Davey." I watch Johnny walk away. He has a graceful gait and a knack for landing on his feet, but the bounce isn't there in his step. As I circle around the sparring partners trying to impersonate Kid Bassett, all I can see is Tommy lying dead on the floor of the barbershop, the towels covering his face soaked in blood. The tabloids will carry that image tomorrow. With Dino loose, Tommy should have known better than to go in a public place exposed and unprotected. But he must have felt he was beyond retribution. That's what gave Dino the edge. Tommy thought he was an immortal, when all he really was was old. I try to concentrate on the sparring, but I am more worried about Vince than Kid Bassett. Bassett is a club fighter with a brawling style. At long range, I will pick him to pieces with my left jab. The Kid likes to get you in the corner and pound away at your body. So Sy Morris has hired fighters who fight that way. I go six rounds with Ab Riley, Harry Black, and Casey Mendez. I slip their clinches and their right-hand leads, hook them with my left, and stay off the ropes. Sy keeps yelling, "Bassett will kill you if you stay still. Skip ... skip ... trip the light fantastic." Then it's over and Sy drapes my robe over my shoulder and wraps a towel over my neck as he whispers, "Stick and move and Bassett will never see you. Be gorgeous. Not a scratch." I duck under the ropes, and there are fans waiting for me. I sign the autographs. They are mostly older people. Fight fans, retirees, old boxers. A guy is holding a folded piece of paper in front of me and I open it and get ready to sign it when I notice the writing. It's a note. "If you want to know about your real father, then you'll meet me. I'll be in touch. It's worth a lot." I look up in time to see a slope-shouldered man hurrying down the aisle toward the exit. After dinner, which I don't finish, I walk down to the lake and sit down on a log. The sun has already set and dark shadows are covering the water. The knot in my throat seems to have permanently settled there. I keep seeing the note. "If you want to know about your real father ..." Vince is my father, not some ghost who gave me up twenty-nine years ago. I tried calling Vince before dinner, but he wasn't reachable. He would be sitting in a restaurant or a car somewhere, trying to figure the next move. Maybe a meeting with Johnny this evening and more Sicilian strategy. And inside that scarred and aching heart would be the hurt that came from their having fallen out. Vince brought Johnny up just like he did me. He rescued both of us. Now Tommy is dead. I should be there for Vince. Look at Davey smart, getting all emotional. That note really got under your skin. Some guy is just trying to touch you up. Forget him. Tear up the note. This is no good. You have a fight in ten days. Fighting is your business. Vince understands that. He doesn't expect you to be there. He knows you're thinking about him. Finish your business, he would say, and then we'll talk. I pick up a pebble and throw it into the water. Damn that note. It's like having a knife stuck in me. Your real father. It is something I have known was coming since I was thirteen and Vince told me I was adopted. I throw more stones into the lake, stirring the waters like the note had stirred something inside me. It has been a day of bad omens. Tommy is dead and then the note. Night has fallen and I am alone in the dark. I can't see anything. Footsteps behind me. I jump up. There are four men. Stocky, with mashed, battered faces. My fists close and I prepare to defend myself, until I recognize the scarred face of "Dago" Pete Canzone, Vince's capo. Standing behind him are Mario Brugatti, Tiny "the Wop" Luca and Joe Rico. I have known these men since I was a little boy. They are Vince's sgarrista, all made men. They surround me and there are gentle bear hugs, muffled, throaty exclamations, rough but affectionate words of greeting. They have watched me grow up. They are simple men who are loyal to Vince. They have seen a great deal of history, survived other wars, but they are like their don, older now. Worry lines deepen their faces and they squint at the night with angry expectation. The unthinkable had occurred. Tommy Costanza has been hit. The Eminence has been violently deposed. They are facing a war against a violent, ruthless opponent. War is not good for business. It interrupts the flow of their lives. It stops the loan-sharking and the payoffs, the extortion and the collections. It stops the late-hour dinners of soup, antipasto, and calamari, the easy comraderie over drinks late at night. It disrupts order, makes them travel in packs, haunts their dreams, and makes sleep impossible. No, war is not good for business or for living to a ripe old age. Dago Pete takes my arm and guides me toward my training camp. At the same time, he whispers in my ear, "Beat the shit out of this spic Bassett." I see the Cadillac. Suddenly, Vince is there beside me. A creature of the night who has materialized out of nowhere. Wearing a coat and hat over his suit. Still hard and coiled, though his hair is streaked with white, as is his mustache. If I had to use a word to describe him even at the age of sixty-three, I would choose dangerous . Or perhaps that is the memory of my youth. Rosalia died twelve years ago, and part of Vince died with her. He often looks peaked and resigned to what the future holds. Once he seemed like an avenger to me. Dago Pete moves away as we embrace and Vince kisses my cheek. I feel his mustache scrape my face. It is an old and familiar sensation. He steps back and looks at me. "You look fit and ready for this brute you fight. Are you ready?" I raise my left hand, my Michelangelo, and show it to him. "I'm ready." Vince nods. "Come. We will walk." We make our way around the edge of the lake with an entourage of husky soldiers behind us. "The funeral for Tommy is Thursday. I want you to stay here." I turn to protest, but the pressure from his hand on my shoulder is a silent message for me to wait. "This is a dangerous time and many different signals are being sent. Your presence at the funeral would be a show of respect for Tommy. I do not wish to take that away from you, but I must. You are not involved in this." I stop and face him. "Others who are not involved will attend." Vince has my arm again. "You are my son, and anyone close to me is involved. This game has many players. Attention will be focused on you. Perhaps someone will have an idea. All my options must remain open." "Someone may approach me anyway." Vince nods. "But you will not suggest it to them." We walk in silence. A breeze coming off the lake blows the scent of water at us. "I want to pay my respects to Tommy; you know that." Vince's arms goes around me. "I know what I ask you is not easy, but it must be. Tommy would understand. Today was just the first dealing of the cards. Tomorrow another hand will be played, and then another." He stops, his eyes fixed on an intricate and invisible journey. Staring into a maze of myriad possibilities in a dark tunnel of treachery. His ability to evade and anticipate each one will determine his survival. I shake my head. "I can't understand how it could happen. Tommy could always see around a corner." "It was carefully worked out. Dino planned his great revenge all the time he was in prison. But he waited until he was out to act. Like a crab stuck in the sand, waiting for the water to come. Then when the tide is full, he strikes." I look at Vince, full of concern for him. "You can't stop the drugs. They all want it." Vince looks back at me, his dark eyes like twin stilettos. "I know that. Old Scola has been whetting his beak for some time." "So let it go, Vince. Let them sell their drugs. Turn your back." Vince is silent, but I know he will answer me. We turn and walk toward the hut where the ring is housed. "It is about drugs, but it is also about me and him. He will not rest until he finishes me." "Why?" "Because Dino still thinks of me as I was before. He has been afraid of me ever since that day." "What day?" "The day I put hands upon him. It was 1926 or '27. We were making a run of scotch to New Jersey. I brought in some people to protect our trucks--we called it riding shotgun. They were Jews. Dino made a protest. I remember he said, 'You're loading us up with Hebes.' I was furious ... . I could have killed him. It was a great insult you see. We were all the same. We were none of us dagos better than the Jews or the Irish. Only a fool would think differently. But this was worse, for the leader of the Jews was my friend. Dino insulted him with those words and he insulted me. We were in a warehouse and I pushed Dino back against the wall. In those days, I was never without a knife. It was a habit from my youth in Palermo. I put the blade to Dino's throat and I said, 'And what are you but a dirty dago? Is your blood richer than his. Let us see.' Then I gave the knife a little turn, and Dino thought I would open him up right there. He went white. I almost cut his heart out once, and that will always be between us." We get to the gym and I open the door and the smell of old sweat and liniment comes to me. "What about Johnny? He's right in the eye of the storm." Vince steps inside the gym where I train. He looks into the enveloping darkness at the ring bathed in moonlight. Does he see something his terrible adversary does not? Something that will give him the edge? Vince has been here before. The question is, does he see as good as he once did? Vince's hands now rest on the apron of the ring and he looks up at the ropes. He takes out a cigar, bites off the end, and lights it. I can see its red ember as he continues to contemplate the darkness. A stranger would think Vince is ignoring me, but I know better. "The day I found Johnny, he was sitting in a coal bin. It was in the basement of a house we were going to make into a still. He was up to his eyes in coal. I remember his face was all black and his eyes were fierce like those of a panther. I took him home so he would have a meal and a bath before I gave him to the nuns. Rosalia said,"Let him stay the night; he is exhausted." The next day, I made inquiries and learned his mother had died of the typhus and his father had deserted them many years before. Each day, I was ready to give him to the nuns, but Rosalia would say wait. I let it go on too long because we had lost a child and I knew she had an ache inside her. A week became two weeks and then a month and then two." Vince releases a long puff of smoke above our heads. "He followed me everywhere I went. I cuffed him around a little, but always he was there. I got used to him. One day, I looked back and he wasn't there. I felt abandoned. Then he came out from a tobacco store with a cigar in his mouth and a bandit's smile. I knew I couldn't let him go to the nuns. Right from the beginning, he wanted to be in the business with me. He was very smart and he learned fast. It was not possible to keep Johnny away from the Life." "What happened with you and Johnny?" Vince blows another smoke ring and watches it evaporate into the air. "Life happened, Davey. Johnny grew up and made a decision. He didn't consult me. He just made it." "Isn't it his life?" "No, Davey, it wasn't just his life." Thrashing blindly, instinctively, I lash out. "You can't forgive him, can you?" "I could forgive him if I could understand. I am not God." No, you are perhaps even greater. You are the don. Vince waves his hands at some smoke in the air. "But in this thing with Dino, Johnny and I are together. Dino knows he will have to deal with both of us." The subject of their falling-out is closed. Both of them will observe omertà as to what separates them. Vince climbs up on to the apron of the ring and ducks under the ropes. He turns and looks down at me. "Tell me what it feels like up here? When the bell rings and the other brute comes to you, does your blood run and your heart pound with fear and excitement? Do you throb with the desire to kill and then go cold and know this is a business and you must trap him?" "All those things." Vince dances to the center of the ring in a pantomime of me. "How do I seem?" "You're wide open." "I did not want you to become a fighter because I didn't want you to be like me. But we are the same. Men who have violence in us and have used it to make our way. I love you, Davey. From the first when we brought you home from the foundling home, I loved you." He comes to the ropes, climbs through and down. He holds me tight and I feel the emotion in my chest. Feel our hearts beating against each other. He is right: I am like him. Inside me, there is a creature whose blood runs hot when he stalks his prey. The ring is my habitat. In the end, we are neither of us tame men. But as we press against each other, our hearts beating in time, the note comes back to me: "If you want to know about your real father." Suddenly, I am cold and I withdraw from our embrace. Vince drops his hands awkwardly. He thinks I am embarrassed by this display of feeling. We are men who have loved each other as we have kept our distance. It is our way. But now the note is there and something has changed for me. Vince has walked back toward the ring and stands there admiring it. He is perfectly still as he stares at it. He is like a painter admiring an invisible canvas on which a panoply of characters and events are depicted. I know he is moving those characters back and forth in a sequence of logic and illogic known only to him. Filtered through a labyrinth of events and motives that go back forty years, through history he has experienced with men like Dino Manfredi, Joe Dante, and Carlo Scola. Tommy is on that canvas. In the mist of the Sicilian night, the dead have their hold on the living, their tortured souls crying out for revenge. We are back outside. A soft mist has formed, obscuring the moon. We approach the car and the four brutes who will shadow Vince in the days to come. He turns back to me. "Do you remember that Thanksgiving day when you had the thin Irish boy from your class for dinner? And Johnny brought a girl. I thought your friend would never stop eating all the turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes. He didn't know we were only beginning. You remember what Rosalia said then?" "I remember. She said, 'Now dinner is served,' and she brought out the antipasto ... and then the soup." "And then the meatballs. He got sick. Do you remember? He bolted for the bathroom, and when he came back, there was steaming lasagna waiting for him. He was green in the face. How she could cook, your mother. That was a good time, wasn't it, Davey? We were all together then." He looks at me and I search for the words. "Yes, it was." For a second, there is a flicker of movement from his hand, as if he wants to touch me, but the impulse is stilled and the past is swallowed by the mist. Then he is gone into the car as all the gunsels pile in. The car pulls away and Vince is again one with the night. THY FATHER'S SON. Copyright (c) 2002 by Leo Rutman. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010. Excerpted from Thy Father's Son: A Novel by Leo Rutman All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.