FIRST, I LOVE YOU
By Genevieve Dewey
Copyright 2012 by Genevieve Dewey, All Rights Reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
This is a work of fiction; any resemblance to living persons is entirely coincidental. The author acknowledges the trademark status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
Front Royal, VA
Sitting in his car outside the Military Academy his youngest son attended, Michael Liam Downey ran through strategies for convincing his oldest son to help him in the ultimate case of ‘Do as I say, not as I do’. Trouble was, neither one of his boys were fools. Most of his life Mickey had figured the world was made out of fools, willfully blind to the realities of life, and it was their own fault if greater men were able to get one over on ’em. After all, it wasn’t the fox’s fault if the rabbit was too damn slow. As far back as the family Bible could go there had always been a Downey with a little something on the side. Sure, there were plenty of teachers, welders, carpenters, farmers in the family – respectable people, in respected professions – but there was always at least one enterprising individual ready to step into the gulf between the law and giving the people what they want.
For a price, of course.
When he was growing up in Brooklyn it was common knowledge on his block that ‘the law’ was a joke, just a tool to be manipulated to suit one’s purposes, and those that thought otherwise were just kidding themselves. All the Wise Guys knew which cops were on the take and which ones to avoid. Mickey’s Da, Pauli Downey, had run numbers and provided protection for a couple of them. Mickey was allowed to play in the back room of the butcher shop where old Two Fingers ran his books. They’d send him away, of course, when they talked real business but he heard things. He knew things, growing up in that life. And it seemed normal. Right. He figured people who lived a good, clean life were either just pretending – putting on a mask – or not smart enough to see the realities of life. It was all a game, start to finish, of who had the most greenbacks at the end of the day, of who was powerful enough to keep his loot after a friendly game of snatch and grab.
Mickey’s parents were never rich, but they never hurt for the basics and a few fineries either. Mickey’s mother Maeve was from Galway, Ireland which had endeared her to Mickey’s proud-of-his-solid-Irish-roots grandfather, not so much to Mickey’s Sicilian grandmother, Rosa Bruno, who had hoped her son would marry a nice Italian girl. After all, Pauli was working for Two Fingers Luciano; this would go a long way. Mickey’s Nonna always said they’d be as rich as any of those ‘made’ men if his Da wouldn’t ‘waste his money drinking and whoring’.
Mickey didn’t think his Da actually did all that much drinking and whoring. Seemed like all Da did was play poker with the guys at Two Finger’s, drive some cars around, and collect money. But what’d he know? Ma didn’t seem to mind; she’d just roll her eyes and scoff whenever Nonna would bring it up. His Da had died when Mickey was fifteen, leaving him to earn for his Ma and two sisters. But that was alright, Mickey had been selling stolen cigarettes, beer, and watches for years by that point anyway.
All the movers and shakers came to his Da’s funeral, an unusual and inexplicable show of respect considering Pauli Downey was just an associate, and a half Irish one, to boot. That was the day he had first met Giovanni ‘Big Joe’ Anastasio. The circles his Da ran in didn’t involve actually meeting the Boss, just his soldiers, maybe the occasional Capo. Most people didn’t even speak Anastasio’s name when talking about him, that’s how protected he was. But everyone knew who he was. In retrospect, Mickey realized that they had used the funeral as an ‘innocent’ way to meet because the Feds were tapping more and more places back then. At the time, however, he had been awed by their fancy clothes and hats and cars and the way the tough guys would defer to them. He made the decision that day he wouldn’t settle for being useful like his Da. He was the one who would be doing the using from that moment on. He would be the one with all the power and respect.
So, he’d clawed and scraped his way to the top by keeping his eyes and ears open for every money making opportunity, and not just by being the first in line, but making sure there was a healthy distance between him and the next guy. People said he had a knack for making money, had the ‘luck of the Irish’, but making money wasn’t about luck. It was about exploiting weaknesses and capitalizing on strengths. Sometimes it was in how he structured the thing, sometimes it was in how he used people’s weaknesses against them, sometimes it was both.
Mickey had no problem using his fists or a gun to make a point but he far preferred manipulating assets and brokering an intricately layered web of quid pro quos. That way, no one knew what had hit them until he was long gone, and even then, they could never quite finger him. He liked the tactical advantage it gave him. He liked the finesse involved in money work. It was a thinking man’s con. Better yet, money didn’t argue, money didn’t fight back, but it sure as hell talked. Money was tangible, by its very nature quantifiable. One either had it, or one didn’t.
Even when it never existed in the first place, he thought with a chuckle.
He was already earning enough on his number schemes to have the patronage of Big Joe when others were still busting kneecaps and knocking off banks hoping to get noticed. He worked hard to cover his Brooklyn-Irish roots with a more posh Manhattan accent. But he could blend in with normal people when he had to, and it made them not only trust him as he was fleecing them blind, but proclaim his innocence with their last breath, “Nooo, not Mickey Downey, he’s such a nice young gentleman. So well-mannered and well-spoken. Always follows the rules.”
Mickey chuckled again at the memory. “Fools, every one of ’em. Only saw what they wanted to see,” he would often crow to Big Joe.
He was past trying to ‘blend in’ and onto working his way into the fancy limos, fancy clothes, and even fancier women when he met Mary Gates. He’d been dating Big Joe’s daughter Theresa for a year and was meeting Big Joe and his cousin and nephew, both in the business, to talk about Mickey’s impending engagement. That he and Theresa would marry was a foregone conclusion from the time they first started dating. It was the best thing for everyone involved, especially to silence the men who grumbled Mickey was only a tiny bit Italian and mostly Irish. Big Joe would just laugh if anyone brought it up, and say, “But the Irish side is purebred gangster.” Everyone else would laugh because no one argued with Big Joe Anastasio.
Mickey and Theresa hung out in the same circles, had warmed each other’s beds from time-to-time, and he was her father’s protégé. He remembered thinking she’d make a good wife who’d been raised from infancy knowing how to keep her mouth shut and not ask questions. He had the engagement ring he had chosen from the bag Frank Bonanno had brought courtesy of his crew’s last heist sitting without a thought in his pocket when he met Mary at the Drunken Monkey later that evening. There was no reason why he couldn’t have a little fun before the shackles went on. No reason he couldn’t have a drink with a pretty girl even after.
Mickey stifled thoughts of Mary, as he always did, before his mind could get carried away remembering her smile, her laugh, the feel of her skin under his. Twenty years later and none of the many other women he’d had could compare to the obsession he still had for her. Twenty years! That stupid phrase ‘keep your eyes on the prize’ was wrong – he had been leading the world’s longest sleeper campaign against that woman and, quite the opposite, he felt it better for his sanity to not dwell on the quarry before the quarry had been caught… with no desire to escape this time. People said Mickey was at the top of his game when he retired, but he figured he was at the top of his game until he met her. Every decision he ever made after that no longer became a matter of ‘just business’, it was always about her, because of her, for her, against her, in spite of her.
Yeah, Devil take it, the day he met Mary Gates was the day Mickey figured he’d joined the Legion of Fools.
Now here he was, a little over twenty-five years later from the day he met her, on the backside of a mountain of money, lies, and power, practically begging one son to be in his life, and desperate to keep the other son out of it. He hadn’t thought it was going to be a problem until recently. Never saw the signs. Joey and Kiki always knew their dad was not like ‘normal’ fathers. And, hell, their mother’s family had made a few History channel specials themselves. He had never tried to sugar coat the downside to the lifestyle he’d chosen. And his children wanted for nothing, between their mother’s inheritance and his own amassed fortune. Who in their right mind chooses this uncertain life when every other option is available to them?
He had made the final steps five years ago, not only to cement this lesson in the minds of his younger children, but to sweeten his chances with his eldest. If Tommy was bound and determined to be a cop, and that it would preclude a relationship because of his profession, well then, Mickey would ‘retire’. Only for ‘normal’ people that meant 401ks and pensions. For him it meant doing the impossible. Not that it was unheard of for a fifty year old man to retire. It was just infinitely less plausible for a fifty year old so-called mobster at the top of his game. There were no hedge funds or friendly fare-thee-well parties.
That was the thing with that mountain of power; a man stands up there alone at the top kicking wildly at the hands grasping at his feet, threatening to take him down. Actually, Mickey figured it was more like one of those spinning wheels in a child’s park, stuck on an endless loop. The kid spins and spins and enjoys the powerful danger-laden rush, only after a while, all he feels is dizzy and nauseous and alone – made worse as he catches glimpses of all the other kids heading home and just wished he knew how to stop the thing or how to jump off without breaking his neck.
He had plotted his exit strategy almost from the moment he seized power from Anastasio fifteen years ago. Money had been his ticket in, money would be his ticket out. He just had to keep his mouth shut and make sure the money talked louder than his enemies. If his enemies didn’t have the ability to talk at all, even better. Five years ago he ‘retired’ in the way a man is retired from the giant corporation he worked for his whole life, yet still works as a checker at the Walgreens in the worst neighborhood in town. Meaning he watched his own back more now than he ever did before, paid daily for his freedom in cooperation and kickbacks to the Alma Mater – so to speak – and never, ever talked to the cops.
Except Tommy, he chuckled.
He didn’t mind being under the protection of men he had once ordered around … much… if it meant he could pull off what so few had done before him. He had spent his life working the long con. He’d just switched his target from the malleable minds of the populace to the very hand that had once fed him. Getting one over on professional criminals gave him enough of a thrill that, tempered with the idea he might finally get the one thing that he had never been able to buy or steal for himself, he was able to suck up the blow to his pride.
But this – this thing – might just be his undoing.
Kiki had come for supper at his home in Oak Park last week and said she was worried about Joe, that her friend’s little brother had seen him sneaking out to meet with drug dealers. Worse, that word was getting around ‘Little Joey’ wanted in on the action in the nearby Washington, DC area, playing on his family name. Kiki was worried that maybe Joe wouldn’t be given a release to come to her party. A call to the Headmaster revealed some recent infractions they had felt he ‘need not be bothered with yet’.
But Kiki had seemed so certain, and he didn’t want to upset the balance by making inquiries in his former circles. First he had to find out, had the incidents not happened, or was Joe just slick enough to not get caught? Something didn’t add up about it all. Joey had never shown any signs of wanting to follow in his family’s footsteps. Sure, he had never been shy to bandy about the Downey or Anastasio name, but to use it to throw away his future?
Joe had always planned a career for himself in the Air Force; even at a young age he always seemed to have his head on straight. It was Kiki who frittered her life away on parties and shoes and even more useless men. But he couldn’t take any chances with Joe unprotected, especially now that he didn’t have the power he once did. He was still rich, but just rich enough to be a burr in the backside of far more powerful men, not rich enough to guarantee the safety of his youngest child if he’d really gone off the rails.
He had thought it fortuitous that Tommy was in DC when these troubles arose. Mickey could appeal to his obvious deep affection for his little brother, and the fact that as a cop, Tommy was what society deemed a good role model. Sure, Mickey didn’t have much respect for the law, or its puppeteers, but he’d never heard of any dirty dealings or shenanigans associated with Detective Gates’ name. Mickey was damned proud of that, if you were to ask him. After all, if a guy had to have a cop for a son, at least don’t let him be a damned dirty cop. Maybe that’s where he differed from some of his other friends, who just assumed that Mickey had Tommy in the bag, using him as a mole. Mickey was fine with letting them think that, it was probably safer for Tommy that way anyway. But the truth was he liked that he had a man with such strong-willed convictions for a son.
The trouble with that was how he would get such a strong-willed son to stand still long enough to listen to him and, in this case, agree to intervene with Joe. Afterwards, God-willing, they could all go back to Chicago together for Kiki’s birthday. Problem solved. But as usual, Tommy wouldn’t give him the time of day. It was exhausting dealing with Tommy because Mickey felt like he couldn’t use the usual tactics he would use with a recalcitrant child. It was like trying to get a wild horse to come to him, but all he had to offer were rotten apples.
The limo door opening jarred his thoughts. Joe grinned and sat down on the seat opposite Mickey, propping his feet up.
“Hey, Dad, how’s doings?” Joe drawled.
Mickey arched an eyebrow. Joe’s grin widened.
Why is it that this silent gesture used to spark fear in hundreds of men but was completely useless on these children? Mickey thought.
He took a deep breath and leaned forward. “I was about to go in and meet with your headmaster about your recent behavior. How is it that—”
“Listen, Dad, before you get worked up, I’ve got my pass for the next five days. That’s not a lot of time to work with but I’m here to help,” Joe stated with all the certain demand of a board chairman.
When had his baby boy grown up? Fifteen years old and he was sitting here acting like he already commanded armed troops. Mickey felt completely off kilter.
“Help?” Mickey asked.
“Well, Kiki and I didn’t think that it’d be enough for Tommy to come to her party, what with the way he has of avoiding you. This way we’re seeding the clouds, so to speak. Our brother will be concerned about my ‘recent behavior’, as you say, forcing him to actually interact with you for more than a second, and then we do the family thing this weekend. Like a one-two punch, see? What do you think?”
Mickey stared at him. Joe’s bright, hazel eyes seemed to sparkle with all the enthusiasm of youth.
Well, he had the confidence down, but his strategic planning needed some work, Mickey thought with pride and relief.
“I think… that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in some time, son.”
Joe looked as if Mickey had punched him in the gut. Mickey sighed and leaned forward some more, clasping his hands.
“Now, listen, son, I appreciate you and your sister wanting to intervene, but things between your brother and me are complicated. Not just by our lifestyles, but by what his mother did, the ideas she’s put in his head, and to be honest, from my own actions. Let me give you some advice. You’ve played your hand too soon, you see? Not only would Tommy have seen through this rather quickly as soon as he talked to you – he is a cop after all – but he would then have blamed me for the thing. It would’ve set us back. People might be easy to manipulate but they aren’t like chess pieces. They’ve an annoying habit of thinking for themselves and there are so many permutations to be thought of before you put your move in play. You’ve got to anticipate all the possible moves and set about neutralizing them one by one. What’s your back up plan? And the one after that? I see on your face you haven’t got one… Was this your sister’s idea?”
Joe sat there, saying nothing.
“You don’t want to rat your sister out. I respect that,” Mickey continued. “But this has her written all over it. I should have seen that from the start, but I was just so worried about you out here all alone. There’s a lot at stake here, son, not just between me and your brother, but in my business.”
“But you’re retired now,” Joe interjected.
Mickey frowned. “Son…” he paused and looked out the window, then back at Joe, “Son, without going into the details, because you know I can’t, my survival, all of our survival depends on me laying low. Have you actually been involved in the local drug scene, or was Kiki making that up?”
“I… I haven’t actually… you know… done anything but maybe I might have… you know… told certain people I was going by ‘Little Joey’ these days and I’d be interested in getting my foot in the door, just, just so it’d get back to Tommy eventually,” Joe confessed sheepishly.
“Goddamn it, Giovanni!” Mickey exploded.
Joe cringed. Mickey counted to ten, then twenty, then thirty, then said fuck it in his mind and buzzed the intercom.
“Carlo, drive us into DC and take us to Tommy’s hotel,” Mickey’s voiced vibrated with fury.
Calm down, calm down, calm down, he told himself.
“Certamente,” his driver, bodyguard, and oldest friend said.
“Joe, you have a little over an hour to explain to me exactly WHO you have been talking to, and exactly WHAT has been said so I can do damage control,” Mickey demanded.
He was thinking about how in one way the plan (almost certainly his daughter’s handiwork) wasn’t too bad for a rookie run if it created common ground between him and Tommy, but on the other hand, it could backfire in a big way. He was convinced Tommy had been trying so hard to avoid him lately precisely because Mickey was getting to him, finally getting under his skin. Tommy had never tried so hard to put distance between them in the beginning when he had even more to prove and more to lose than he did now. In the beginning, Tommy had seemed almost indifferent, now he seemed indignant in a he ‘doth protest too much’ way. It was a tenuous position they were in right now. He didn’t want to spook him; if Tommy felt like he was being used or manipulated he might turn his back on them permanently.
But that was the least of his problems if Bonanno got wind Mickey’s youngest child was breaking the agreement between the Outfit and the Bonanno-Anastasio wing of the Gambino family. A thought suddenly occurred to him, and Mickey interrupted his son’s panicked babbling about Tony Luciano’s cousin.
“What other surprises does your sister have planned for her birthday party?”
“N-n-nothing! Nothing,” Joe said nervously.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. These children. Forget the Five Families, forget the Outfit. His children were gonna be the death of him for sure.
–Copyright 2012, Genevieve Dewey.
Read on… Chapter Six, “Ginny”.
[Author’s note: Get another glimpse into Mickey & Mary’s early relationship by reading this flashback: Second Chances]
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