Framed and Hung - Excerpt

Chapter 1

Anthony Annunciato had a problem. After having consumed a significant part of the daily Belmont handle in the cost of a formal education and having spent numerous years in diligent apprenticeship to the family business, he had finally risen to a position of control over a neat little parlay of highly profitable if more than somewhat illegal enterprises. Unfortunately and more to the point concurrently, the shit, as they say, had hit the fan.

A little background is in order.

Don Vincenzo Castiglione, the grandfather of the aforementioned, Anthony Annunciato had, like so many of his fellow, Palermotani, come to this country with an already dramatically developed sense of survival.

Unlike most of his fellow immigrants, however, he had not arrived impoverished and determined to scratch out a livelihood.

Don Vincenzo, who had at an early age, established himself in and about Palermo as a "man of respect", did not believe in the concept of impoverishment and he most certainly had never, for even the briefest moment, entertained a thought of scratching for anything, certainly not a living.

It was precisely this type of temperament that had led him, despite significant achievement in a highly competitive business environment, to consider moving his base of operations from the conservative, rather provincial environs of his Sicilian home town to the more cosmopolitan, free wheeling, upwardly mobile, island of Manhattan.

Needless to say, the good Don was not setting his foot into virgin territory. It was therefore necessary that certain negotiations take place and certain protocols be observed so that the potential of his long-term goals would be supported by a firm foundation.

It was to this end that The Don's, arrival in the Great City was accompanied by the distribution to interested parties, of highly significant numbers of dead presidents. Shortly after the aforementioned transfers there was recorded, in and about the five boroughs, a small but not insignificant body count and ba-da-bing, ba-da-bang, Don Vincenzo found himself ensconced as a member of that august precursor of the Italian-American Anti-Defamation League commonly referred to as The Five Families.

Of course, the good Don had not abandoned the clean air and sunny hillsides of his beloved Sicily for the dirt and smoke of New York for the purpose of being "just a member" of that or any other organization regardless of how august its membership conceived it to be. For Don Vincenzo, membership was the prerogative of the follower and he had never considered himself to be a follower...of anything.

This understood, it came as no surprise that The Don immediately set out to rearrange, somewhat more to his liking, the accepted structure of that organization into which he had so recently been inducted. This, of course, led to any number of ruffled feathers in various neighborhoods from Bensonhurst to Little Italy.

Harsh references to the upstart Don were heard to be uttered over cappuccino in storefront social clubs throughout the five boroughs and New Jersey and in all these locations mattresses were removed from storage.

The body count, which had, during the previous negotiations, been held to respectable limits, immediately escalated. The number of posthumously occupied Cadillac's discovered in the Jersey meadows skyrocketed and driveways in both Brooklyn and Bergen County became dangerous places to leave ones unoccupied car.

Don Umberto Bacchauso, the existing Capo di tutti Cappi, assembled his minions, surveyed his war torn domain and issued an edict.

"Vincenzo Castiglione must die."

Said minions set about the task with a dedication born of desperation.

This, of course, was easier said than done since Don Vincenzo, as one might suspect, had developed an extensive master plan for his acquisition of the empire. As a result of said plan the local landscape suddenly acquired a marked resemblance to the final act of Macbeth.

In rapid succession such dubious luminaries as Jimmy "The Geek" Mangiapollo, Happy Harry Bontempone and Vinnie "The Rat" Rogonso, bosses of three of The Five Families made unscheduled appearances as hood ornaments in Herman Bruckmeister's Webster Avenue junk yard.

The message was loud and clear and Don Umberto, a man who prided himself on recognizing life's realities, spent little time in staring at the wall on which it was written. Alliances were quickly redrawn and a transfer of power was arranged.

It had taken less than six months for the dashing immigrant from Palermo to ascend to the pinnacle of his profession.

Chapter 2

Capo di tuti Capi was a position, most agreed, for which Don Vincenzo had been pre-ordained and one, which he maintained, despite occasional opposition, for a more than significant number of years. But as those years moved along and the empire grew, the good Don, who should have become more and more complacent, was instead becoming more and more uncomfortable.

The self-serving assurances of his mignons to the contrary, there would come a time, he realized, when for one reason or another he would no longer be able to lead the mercenaries of his not so tiny army.

Under the accepted customs of his particular social circle, Don Vincenzo should normally have been preparing to pass the scepter of leadership on to his son. That, unfortunately, as some say, was the rub… for Don Vincenzo was without male progeny.

He did, however, have a daughter.

Carmen Maria Castiglione, his only child, was, at the time he began to worry, a lovely, only slightly overweight nineteen-year-old, in need of minimal orthodontia.

Don Vincenzo had not gotten to his semi-exalted position by ignoring reality, so staring his dilemma square in the bicuspids he began casting about for a suitable candidate to father the children of his adored daughter.

Contenders for the pudgy hand of the devout if somewhat sharp-tongued Carmen Maria were immediately in evidence.

Among them was Dominic Annunciato, a handsome sub-Capo in one of the Don's more successful numbers operations. He was quiet, hard working and reasonably efficient but he was never going to bend any noses at Mensa and he was definitely not a leader of men.

The truth be known and more important admitted, Dominic was not the Don's first choice for his daughter's hand and certainly not as the sire for the heir to his own throne.

Unfortunately, however, before he could hustle his contender into the ring, Carmen Maria and Dominic were involved in a chance encounter at the funeral of Sonny Boy Consicuola's, Aunt Malcontonia.

It was most certainly, love at first sight. There was Zia Malcontonia, laid out in Tuttie Francesinia's best mahogany and bronze Eternal Special and there were Carmen Maria and Dominic hitting the kneeler in front of the coffin at precisely the same instant.

She had barely gotten through the "Our Father" and was just getting started on her first "Hail Mary" when he blessed himself, rose, and offered her his hand. She took it and as their fingers touched there was one of those magic moments over which lady authors tend to gush in their romance novels.

Later, when she discussed it with her cousins, Carmen Maria would say that lightning had touched her heart. More probably it was static electricity from Tuttie's new rug but what kind of fool would denigrate the first moment of romantic ecstasy experienced by the daughter of the Capo di tuti Capi.

Don Vincenzo was not at all overjoyed that his daughter had found her true love. Not that he had anything against Dominic Annunciato whom he considered a very fine young man. It was just that he had, for some time, been keeping an eye on one Raymond (Shark Breath) Colostimo from Cross Eyed Frankie Sensa's crew. Raymond was a far cry from Dominic in the looks department and definitely not of the fashion plate persuasion, but he was shrewd as a Renaissance Cardinal and mean as Don Vincenzo's maiden aunt, Simonetta.

The Don, who had himself been at Zia Malcontonia's wake, discerned the problem immediately and quickly rushed his candidate into the fray.

The next weekend at the wedding of Frankie "The Bullfrog" Portofusco and the suspiciously plump Angelina Deodato the Don arranged for Carmen Maria to be seated next to Raymond at the young people's table. Throughout the festivities his eyes never left the young couple and when finally, Raymond asked his daughter to dance his spirits soared.

His euphoria was short lived. Almost before Raymond could maneuver Carmen Maria across the floor, Dominic Annunciato appeared before them and cut in.

What made the handsome young suitor's impudence even more unsettling to the Don was the fact that despite his annoyance he was forced to admit that Anthony and Carmen Maria made a significantly more attractive couple than his political paring.

It was shortly thereafter that Don Vincenzo, with considerably more trepidation than was normal for a man in his position, broached the subject of Raymond's potential as a suitor.

Carmen Maria hard lined it from word one.

"He's ugly, Daddy!" She said by way of instant rejection. "Why in the world would I want to spend the rest of my life staring across a pillow at that face?"

"He's a very intelligent young man," the Don reasoned, ignoring what he considered a less than proper sexual reference and hopelessly attempting to influence his already smitten daughter. "Very intelligent and very resourceful. He's gonna go a long way in the business world."

"I love Dominic Annunciato." It was a statement of fact and her tone broached no argument.

"I want him."

After that there was quite a lot of hemming and hawing, accompanied by a not insignificant amount of yelling and screaming as The Don, tried unsuccessfully to convince his reluctant daughter of the overwhelming suitability of young Shark Breath.

Carmen Maria finally nailed the old boy with a shot of irrefutable logic that lined up all the aunts and cousins solidly on her side of the table.

"You want your grandchildren to look like Raymond Colostimo," she demanded, "or Dominic Annunciato?" A note of finality had crept into her voice and the old man recognizing a horse that couldn't finish, retired gracefully from the field.

What followed was the traditional Sicilian courting ceremony consisting of numerous visits by a florally laden Dominic to the Castiglione home. There he sat demurely in the living room exchanging coy glances with Carmen Maria as the Don's maiden aunt Simonetta brushed cappuccino foam from her inadequately bleached mustache and regarded the would be lovers with the suspicious squint of one who had never been there.

From time to time the Don would visit these meetings, engaging Dominic in cordial conversation, secretly lamenting the young man's perceived inability to govern the burgeoning Castiglione empire and fantasizing about Raymond(Shark Breath) Colostimo and the possibilities of said young man's adaptability to facial enhancement.

The Don's surgical fantasies not withstanding, the bands were announced and Dominic and Carmen Maria were wed on a brilliantly sunny June day at Our Lady of Perpetual Heartbreak Church in Bensonhurst. The family no longer lived in Bensonhurst; hadn't for years but Carmen Maria would always think of the cool dark recesses of Our Lady of Perpetual Heartbreak as her home parish.

It had been there that she had been baptized, received first communion and been confirmed. It was from there that they had buried her beloved mother, Maria Elena and it had been there, in her favorite confessional, that she had proudly told old Father Marius about the first time she got felt up.

The newlyweds honeymooned on the sunny beaches of Bermuda and when they returned three weeks later Carmen Maria was carrying Anthony.

Chapter 3

When it came, her triumphant announcement of pregnancy made, one might say, Don Vincenzo's entire decade. The child, he announced to one and all, would most certainly be a boy and to that end he diligently set about to insure that prediction. Father Marius was summoned, as was Father Cicero, pastor of their current parish. Significant pledges were made to each holy man's building fund. In exchange the good fathers were to undertake a series of novena's dedicated to the propagation of a male grandchild in his daughter's womb.

Being the man that he was, the Don, of course, included in the offer, the proviso that the donations would be made in two separate installments. The first twenty percent was given immediately, as a kind of non-refundable down payment on the production of a male heir. The remaining eighty percent, however, would not be forthcoming until the eagerly awaited appearance of an actual male grandchild.

When she heard of the arrangement, Carmen Maria chided her father with a loving smile.

"It's too late Daddy." She tried vainly to explain. "The baby's sex is already decided. You can't change it. The priests can't change it. Nobody can change it. Besides, I'm sure it's a boy."

Her father nodded in loving agreement but being the man that he was he couldn't help but make sure he'd covered all his proverbial bases. As soon as Carmen Maria had retired for the night he ordered the ever-present Aunt Simonetta to have Ruttaria Sacchetto pay him a visit first thing the next morning.

Ruttaria Sacchetto was the local strega. She had the serious evil eye and according to Aunt Simonetta she was possessed of great powers, powers which, it should be noted, she had used to great advantage in putting her daughter Angelica through beauty school.

Those same powers were currently working on payments for a two-bedroom retirement cottage, she had recently purchased just outside of Boca.

She knew that this summons from on high could easily translate into the addition of a Florida room to her recent purchase. To that end she appeared in Vincenzo's living room the next morning promptly at nine.

At nine-o-one, Carmen Maria, having also arrived and having seen Ruttaria, stormed into her father's study.

"What's that cross-eyed old witch doing here?" She demanded. "If you think I'm gonna let that mangy old phony look into my belly, you better think again. I am a Catholic woman and this is a Christian baby and if that old witch isn't out of this house in one minute I'm going to call the priests and have her burned at the stake."

By mid-sentence her voice had risen in pitch to a point where Bruno, the family Schnauzer, had covered his ears and fled the house.

The Don was shocked. He had never heard his daughter speak to him in those tones. The realization dawned that maybe, his Royal Flush was only four cards deep, so calmly and with a great show of dignity he dismissed Ruttaria Sacchetto and retired to the background until that day his daughter proudly delivered him a grandson.

Chapter 4

The fact that young Anthony was handsome, intelligent and charming was an enormous source of loving pride to the women of the Castiglione and Annunciato families but of little import to the male family and friends who surrounded him. His position as first male grandchild in the family of the Capo di tuti Capi would have made him the center of these men's attention and adulation even if he had the looks of Quasimoto and the personality of a ruptured pit bull.

As he grew Anthony learned a lot of things from a lot of people. His mother, Carmen Maria taught him about love; his father taught him about duty; his grandfather about respect and his Great Aunt Simonetta about funny smells. There was also, of course, Sugar Mastromonico who introduced him to the mysteries of the opposite sex and the Secondero twins, Tuttie and Sal who taught him how to shoot craps and hotwire a car.

Outside of Carmen Maria, the one who watched him most closely was Don Vincenzo. For the Don there was more at stake than the normal worries any parent or grandparent has for the child who is the object of their affections. Don Vincenzo was searching for genetic indications that the little apple had not fallen far from its Sicilian tree.

Chapter 5

For quite some time Don Vincenzo had been keenly aware of the changing nature of his business. That's why Dominic at the insistence of his father-in-law sent Anthony first to St. Francis Xavier high school in Manhattan and then on to Columbia University and the Harvard Business School.

Education, the old man liked to say, was the key to a man rising above his station. He understood that being a feared and revered figure on the streets of the neighborhood, meant nothing to the rest of the world who viewed him only as a cantankerous old Mustache Pete.

The education would pay off like a hundred buck trifecta. Immediately upon graduation, Anthony put the family's hard earned fortune into a series of quasi-legit ventures that spawned a cornucopia of freshly laundered wealth which he then dumped into investments that were strictly on the up and up.

There was, however, a problem and it was, as they say, in the genes. Try as he might, Anthony couldn't get past any deal that smelled, even remotely, twisted. Even in his most conservative investments, Anthony Annunciato looked for an angle and every time he found one, it turned out to be a nail in his financial coffin.

Chapter 6

Once it was all over he liked to say that it had been Harlene's fault but in the quiet of the night, in the solitude of his own company, he knew it had been his own. Was, in fact, the responsibility of that same rotten gene that always searched out the twisted deal.

Anthony had met Harlene during his sojourn at Harvard Business School. She was a sophomore at Boston University, a stunning, copiously endowed blonde, very active on the Hub social scene. He was handsome, rich and a Harvard Man. Their mutual attraction was, to all intents and purposes, somewhat of a sure thing.

She'd come to Boston from Oklahoma City, where her daddy, Harlan Slocum owned a medium sized company that specialized in second stage oil recovery. It was a modest business by the standards of Oklahoma oil folk, which meant that Harlan Slocum was many times over a millionaire.

Harlan and his wife Tammy had grown up in families that were dirt poor and trailer park ugly. He'd found her perched on the de-chromed trunk of a chopped and channeled 1951 Ford convertible at a used car auction that her family worked in Amarillo, Texas. Recognizing her as the pick of the litter he'd wooed her, won her and that night, run off with her… and the convertible.

Harlan had taken the lovely Tammy back to Duncan, Oklahoma where he'd set up World-Wide Recovery Enterprises, Ltd. It was a cute little scam, operated out of the back room of his uncle's tool repair business and like most of its ilk, aimed at the most vulnerable of the true believers.

At that time, many of the original strikes that had changed the Oklahoma dust bowl into a thriving oil empire were petering out and being abandoned.

Harlan bought up the rights to these, no longer profitable, claims for almost nothing. Once secured, he used the original geological deeds and surveys but changed the dates to reflect, as he put it, "a more current environment, that would enhance the salability of the product."

That salability was further enhanced when he conveniently failed to mention to his unsuspecting buyers that the claims had already been drilled and emptied. His new shareholders were for the most part recently enriched widows, but there was also a significant complement of unsuspecting Choctaw's from the local reservation, many of whom had already been cheated out of their fair shares of the original strikes.

In his more philosophical moments, Harlan liked to meditate on what he referred to, as the Zen-like closing of the circle, which occurred in the scamming of the Choctaw's a second time around on the same piece of land.

By the sixth month of operation Harlan had gathered a significant number of leases, sold an even more significant number of shares and was facing that point in every successful scam where the con man must gather his gains and flee. It was at that point that Carswell Gilhooley entered his life and what had been a potential hall of fame con, deteriorated into a stunningly successful but boring business venture.

Carswell Gilhooley was extremely tall and painfully thin with bulging eyes and a more than significant Adams apple. He was at the time, a professor of geology specializing in aquatic influences on geological strata at the Oklahoma State University. He explained to Harlan that for the past dozen years he had been developing a concept for the second stage recovery of depleted oil wells. He accomplished this recovery by injecting water into the wells and forcing the remaining oil, which was lighter than water, to the surface. He'd heard that Harlan had acquired a number of, no longer profitable, wells and he wanted Harlan to let him use them for his experiments.

Not having any other use for the wells and not being adverse to a little activity around what were supposed to be functioning units, Harlan said sure.

"God dam fool made me into a serious millionaire," he liked to say of Gilhooley at cocktail parties, "but he damn near crushed my spirit of adventure."

Interestingly enough there was a similar type fallout among a number of his Choctaw investors whose new found wealth enabled them to give up car theft and the illegal transportation and sale of White Lightning and settle down to coupon clipping and the pursuit of the better hangover.

Shortly after this success in his non-chosen profession the blonde and semi-lovely Tammy gave birth to a daughter. It was soon discovered that a playful God had taken a mother's kind features and a father's rather unfortunate ones, shuffled them seven times and dealt out a stunningly beautiful child.

Early in her maturity, Harlene and her mother had announced to a bemused Harlan that she would go east to college where she and her mother had decided a better class of millionaires would be in residence. Said millionaires, the ladies explained to an unconvinced Harlan, would have a working knowledge of table manners, an enhanced sense of personal hygiene and would father a generation of more physically attractive and socially acceptable Slocums.

In tall, handsome, fashionably dressed, extremely rich, Anthony Annunciato, soon to be a Harvard, Master of Business Administration, Harlene found exactly what she'd been looking for. That she didn't have a tight handle on exactly where the Annunciato money spring originated was unimportant. She knew it was there, surrounded by a romantic aura of illegitimacy, which the dashing Anthony did nothing to dissipate and that was all that mattered.

Becoming the first Mrs. Anthony Annunciato became her primary mission in life and to that end she quickly re-surrendered her virginity on the alter of his young lust.

It being the late seventies, an era of free, or at worst, low rent love, Harlene understood instinctively that withholding the spoils of war was not the way to best forge this alliance. More important, she instinctively understood with unerring accuracy, that the female status most prized by Italian-American men was experienced virginity.

Young Anthony, who was charming and easy going in all things outside the workplace, accepted her tear stained, (blood was not possible), gift with tenderness and an overwhelming feeling of thanksgiving for the existence of real blondes.

They subsequently embarked on a journey of lust that saw them indulging themselves in every unoccupied space in greater Boston. At the end of two months, Anthony assumed that he could no longer live without her. At a luxurious dinner in the restaurant of the Ritz Carleton Hotel, he presented her with a diamond engagement ring more appropriately weighed in kilos than carats and they retired to the Presidential Suite.

The engagement announcement played to mixed reviews at both ends of the country.

"No daughter of mine is gonna marry some Guinea gangster." Harlan raged in Norman. "He's a fucking Si-Silian, They're barely white, for Christ's sake."

"Is he really a gangster?" Tammy inquired, her interest bubbling at the possibility. She had miss-spent her youth in the Saturday matinees and evening drive-ins of a hundred Texas border towns watching elegantly gowned gangster molls hanging from the arms of suave, dangerous looking men as they stepped from block long limousines. Now, the prospect of actually living that dream, even on a borrowed basis, was too much to resist. She could absolutely picture herself slinking past uniformed doormen into smoky bistros filled with men in dark, pin striped suits.

If she'd bothered to wonder why the man escorting her never seemed to look much like Harlan she'd probably have been shocked but Tammy had never been one to crap up a good fantasy with the trappings of reality.

"Course he's a gangster." Harlan roared, inadvertently reinforcing her fantasy. "His grandfather's Vincenzo Castiglione. He's been indicted in every county on the eastern seaboard."

"I bet," Tammy mused, picturing herself in diamonds and designer duds, "that he can get first night tickets to all the Broadway shows."

"I don't care who or what his grandfather is," Harlene told her daddy a couple of days later. "I'm going to marry him and you're going to give me the biggest God damned wedding Norman, Oklahoma's ever seen"

"An if I don't?" Her father demanded, knowing his back was to the wall but still trying to run a Tulsa four flush bluff. "What are you gonna do, sweetie, hold your breath?"

"No, silly Daddy," she smiled.

He hated that smile. It was probably because of the barely noticeable malevolent twist it caused at the right corner of her mouth.

"Holding my breath hasn't worked since I was a little girl. I'll just ask Mommy if she's ever heard of the Puss 'n Boots Motel."

And her mission accomplished, Daddy's little darlin' strode from the room leaving Harlan to face a bitter defeat.

The last thing in the world Harlan Slocum was ready to deal with was having the lovely Tammy Slocum know anything about room #23 at the Puss 'n Boots Motel or it's occasional afternoon occupant, the flamingly redheaded, orally overachieving Bitsy Burnwater.

On the East Coast the reaction was not appreciably better.

"She's not Scilian, is she?" questioned Anthony's beloved mother, Carmen Maria.

"Not Scilian, she's not even Italian!" denounced Great Aunt Simonetta.

And so the battle lines were drawn.

But the race is to the swift and the young lovers managed to outstrip all the naysayers.

Harlene and Anthony were married on a perfect autumn Saturday at the First Pentecostal Reform Church of Norman. The Sooners were playing Cal at Berkeley that weekend making for an empty stadium and the weather report announcing the presence of some particularly nasty twisters had kept all private planes on the ground resulting in a church that was practically SRO. The Right Reverend Archbishop Ottavio Archimboldo of Brooklyn assisted at the ceremony at the request of the groom's mother Carmen Maria and the insistence of Don Vincenzo's Aunt Simonetta.