So You Want to Be a Mobster
I had no questions. Questions would have implied temptation or serious interest. But he obviously enjoyed a good exchange and I could give him that.
"Okay, well, one would be why should I accept this position on an interim basis? Three months later I'm either dead or unemployed. Why risk that? Speechwriters don't get whacked. And if I survive, what would I do when my three months are up? I couldn't go back to my old life. I don't have the means to create a new life somewhere else. What's my exit strategy?
"More important, how could I do your job? You say it's not hard but I have no idea how to run a crime family. I've never even stolen a stick of gum. How could I lead an organization when I have no knowledge of the business, no respect or credibility from subordinates, no vision, and no authority? And no desire to do it? Why should I become a criminal? I'm not a criminal. I'm against criminals."
"So many good questions," he laughed.
Amazingly, we were having fun. I freshened my drink and gave him the floor.
"Let's start with getting killed," he said. "Tiziano is eighty and hasn't been killed yet. I'm seventy-five and haven't been killed yet. If this were television you'd get killed but this is reality and you're not going to get killed. As for the interim situation, you're right that you won't be able to return to your old life. But you were discontented with that life and looking for a way out of it.
"If the problem is how to finance a new and better life, I can solve that the old-fashioned way. If you accept my offer, the brothers will come by your house tomorrow morning and deliver a signing bonus. Let's call it $250,000 in cash. On the first day of the next three months, you'll receive $100,000 and if you want to leave in March, you'll receive another $450,000 to round off at a million dollars. Call it a golden parachute. Tax-free, of course."
My second million-dollar possibility in less than a week.
"Why wouldn't you save the last $450,000 by just killing me?"
"We've hurt people because they owe us money but we have never hurt anyone because we owed them money. That's very bad business. We would pay you because we would want your goodwill as you walk away."
"But why let me walk away? Especially with the knowledge I'd have by then?"
"Because you would have a professional appreciation of the consequences of revealing that knowledge."
"Meaning you'd kill me and stuff a dead canary in my mouth to show I'd 'sung.' Isn't that how's it's done?"
"That kind of colorful behavior disappeared long ago. Look, Phil, I know you're skeptical talking about mutual trust with a man like me but there is no greater trust than what I'm offering you - - - my family and its future. What more can be said about trust?"
He paused. I kept quiet.
"But this is a job offer so let me get back to the financial package. At your age you appreciate the value of superlative medical, dental, and life insurance coverage. I see you smiling at this but don't think people in my line of work are unconcerned about health coverage. Most of them find ways to get it through the unions we work with. But your coverage would come to you as president of Sforza Moving & Storage Company and it's a very good plan."
"I'd run the moving company?"
"No, Sylvia would run it but you'd be its titular president. We'll give you a salary for that. You'd pay taxes on it and have the normal deductions. I've paid myself $145,000 a year. How would that be? And you'll get an annuity, paid vacations, and so on. Add this to the million I've already mentioned and whatever you get for selling your house and you'll have more than enough to launch a new life far away, if it comes to that.
"Of course if you decide to keep the job, you'll be the boss and the boss pays himself whatever he wants. You'll never worry about money again. One piece of advice: keep it in cash. Hide it. Never put it in a bank or brokerage account. The feds will seize it under the RICO law.
"As for doing my job, the hard part - - - building the structure - - - has already been achieved, over many difficult years. The business runs itself. You'll have several good advisers, some in the family and some we retain. And don't be concerned about getting dirt on your hands. Or blood. Bosses stay far removed from that sort of thing.
"As for respect and credibility, remember that crime families are dictatorships. No one questions your authority. There is no insubordination or disrespect. No one even talks behind your back. They die for that. Most bosses will not even speak to underlings, who shake like a leaf when the boss is in the room. As for being a criminal, what can I say? I don't feel like a criminal. I feel like a businessman."
"You told me you regretted your life in crime, but now you want to get me into crime."
"What else can I offer? These are the cards I was dealt. You have a choice. Every choice comes with risk. But let me tell you a bit, only a bit for today, about what we do, because this might factor into your thinking.
"First, I'll tell you what we don't do. We don't do street crime and we don't do narcotics. Drugs is where the big money is but it's dirty and full of monsters. You traffic drugs and before long someone's got a gun pointed at you, a cop or a competitor. There's not a single person you can trust in the drug business.
"We've never been into the girl businesses - - - prostitution or pornography or the strip clubs. In the early days we did gambling and loan sharking, which go hand in hand, of course. These are excellent revenue sources but we got tired of them. No challenge. It might be different now with the Internet. We've got a brilliant young guy, Hiram Tack, leading us into cybercrime.
"Now we get to the main thing, the bulk of our business. We call it full-service contracts with legitimate business partners. Our principle is that rather than sucking these businesses dry until they collapse, which is the traditional modus operandi, we treat them as partners and help them prosper, which of course means they get richer and pay us on a long-term basis, like paying big dividends to shareholders. Capitalism is good for us. Treating victims as partners is our greatest innovation.
"I'll give you a simple example. You're a restaurant. You got a problem with a customer, an employee, a rival restaurant, or some hoodlums trying to shake you down - - - we can fix these things easily, probably a strong-arm solution. Or you've got a more difficult problem with suppliers, unions, inspectors, garbage haulers, cops, maybe a tax auditor giving you a hard time. You need a permit, you need a friend in the bureaucracy or the courts. We've cultivated connections in all these areas. A restaurant is a small example but the concept scales up nicely. We have many large clients. But most of all, we have our unique strategic advantage - - - the acronym is USA."
"What's the unique strategic advantage?" I asked.
"We're criminals," he laughed. "That's the advantage. We're not restrained by laws or regulations. We cut corners, we use fear and sometimes violence, we pull strings and apply pressure to get things done, faster and usually cheaper. This is the full-service aspect. You got an issue, we resolve it. Then you owe us a fee and a favor and maybe you return the favor by helping our other partners when needed. This enhances our network. Expands our footprint. Almost every provider in the chain is a partner of ours and we move to a new dimension.
"The revenue compounds dramatically because almost everyone is paying us. And usually, after a while, they start depending on us to solve their problems. We become indispensable. They fear doing business without us. And as long as they're good partners and show respect, we treat them well."
"I can't believe this works," I said. "I wonder if you're not sugarcoating a little."
He smiled. "Difficulties arise. When everything's going smoothly clients might suddenly forget the reason for paying us. This is human nature. Shakespeare said, 'How quickly nature falls into revolt when gold becomes her object.'"
"So what do you do when they don't want to pay?"
"We give them a taste of the old days. But we're not gorillas. A small amount of correction goes a long way."
Just a little knuckle-slapping, a little scolding.
"Phil, I've kept this sketchy but you'd understand it if you saw it up close. Providing value is a fundamental money-making concept but it's never occurred to anyone in organized crime. Mobsters have a petty thief mentality. Grab the money out of the cash register and run out the door with it. But we have a growth mentality. We reinvest and expand, diversify, provide an excellent value proposition, leverage our prime asset of being outside the law and having access to different types of persuasion, and watch the business grow."
The capitalism-loving audiences I've written for would have greeted this finish with a standing ovation.
"What do you think?"
"I'm impressed. I appreciate your candor. But - - - I can't believe I'm saying this to you - - - it's still criminal. It's illegal, immoral, and wrong."
"Phil, on Thanksgiving you sat in my library and poured yourself out about a life that was failing you in many ways and showing you no future. You saw no options. Now I'm giving you an option. It's your chance to be the CEO instead of the ghostwriter. Aren't you cheating yourself by always hiding behind someone else and putting your best thoughts in someone else's mouth? I told you when we first met that I was in your debt. Now I'm paying you back with this offer."--- From Falling into the Mob
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