Could you ask for a better day? Despite the October chill, the day dawned fine and dry, and by mid-morning even the autumn sun had decided to make an appearance.
Danny Sherbet carefully removed the cellophane wrap from his best suit and, having disposed of it in the spotless wastepaper bin in the bathroom, washed his hands for the tenth time that morning. ‘You can’t be too careful where germs are concerned’, he thought to himself as he lathered his hands.
This was going to be a big day, the likes of which were unlikely to be seen again any time soon. He pictured in his mind how things would be: his colleagues from the force, resplendent in their dress uniforms, forming an honour guard outside the church, and inside, friends and family, together with some of the most influential businessmen from the community and their associates. Granted, relationships between some of those who would be present could be said to be somewhat strained at times, but Danny was sure that differences could be set aside for such a special occasion, if only temporarily.
As Jeannie breezed into the bedroom and set to work tidying his tie – she was never satisfied with his own efforts – he reflected upon Don Mascarpone’s generosity in offering his restaurant for a get-together after the church. Don wasn’t renowned for his community spirit and Danny suspected that the christening was being used as a convenient front for Don to deal with those of his business colleagues who, under normal circumstances, might be considered a little elusive. Still, it was good of Don to give up his restaurant for the afternoon and Ma Mascarpone’s home cooking was famously good – Danny was looking forward to sampling it, although he made a mental note to take his own cutlery, you just couldn’t take any chances with germs.
Don Mascarpone was not having a good morning. He may have been ‘The Boss’ to his business associates, but in the Mascarpone household there was only one real boss, and Belicosa Mascarpone – Ma, to the world in general – was not a happy woman.
“Why you do a this to me, huh? Here I am, a-slaving over the hot stoves, while you go out onna the town with your friends? And now – I canna scarcely believe it – you tell me I gotta cooka the meatballs for that greasy, no-good, sleaze-bag, Julius Gelati! Pah!”
“Mama, mama, please calm yourself – I told you, it’s a christening for that nice Detective Danny… I’m the godfather, and the boys are just coming to give their support. I know how you feel about the Sicilian, but please, it’s a special day, so just this once can you maybe just not take it to heart?”
Ma Mascarpone glared at her son.
“Mama… if you feel that bad about it, you can spit in Gelati’s pasta, eh?”
Ma dissolved into a fit of giggling and put down the pot she had been wielding.
“Mama-mia! You’re a naughty boy, but you make a me laugh! I tell you what – for you, I do this, but never again, you hear me? Now, getta outta my kitchen!”
Don gave his mother a hug and kissed her on the cheek before doing as he was told and beating a hasty retreat to the restaurant bar, where Antonia, polishing glasses, had intuitively poured a glass of Vin Santo, which he quickly downed.
Taking a more leisurely sip of his second glass, Don admitted to himself that his mother had a point. The last time he’d had any real dealings with the Sicilian, it had been murder and he wasn’t entirely sure that this time would be any better – still, maybe things wouldn’t kick off since it was a special occasion – if things did go wrong, he wasn’t too worried, there’d be cops crawling all over the place! Don wasn’t a big fan of the cops, but they had their uses.
Don Mascarpone looked around his restaurant and sighed – he was getting too old for this business: there was a time when he’d have relished the opportunity to do a little business with the other families in the area, but now he just wanted a quiet life without the distractions that had become so much a part of daily life. Once again, he sighed, before draining his glass and straightening his tie… you’ve got to look good if you’re the godfather!
Julius patted Mario on both shoulders, “Mario, my boy, no-one would ever know you was a plumber – you scrub up good”.
He turned to face the enormous bulk of his minder, “Which is more than I can say for you, Slim! Do something about that gut would you? I ain’t having no-one letting the family down at this gig.”
“Sorry boss, muttered Slim, tucking his shirt in and buttoning his jacket as best he could.”
“Ah, it’s nothing… I’m just nervous. Are you packing?”
Slim nodded, “Yes boss, everything’s packed – the kid’s present is in the trunk.”
“Sheesh!”, exclaimed Julius in exasperation, “I mean, are you ‘packing’? You know, carrying… are you carrying your piece?”
“Oh right, sorry boss, my mistake. Yeah, everything’s in order.”
“OK, just remember, I don’t want no trouble at the church – you hold back until I say the word… and if one hair on that bambino’s head gets harmed… you get my drift?”
The two lackeys nodded.
“Right boys, let’s get a move on. I want to get a good seat at the church!”
Across town, Toni Ciabatta was admiring himself in the mirror.
“Toni, you are one hell of a handsome man… watch out ladies, here I come!”: smiling brilliantly at his reflection, he struck a pose… “Are you talkin’ to me?… Are you talkin’ to me?… ‘Cause I don’t see anyone else around here!”
He gave himself a wink, smoothed down his Armani jacket and slipped the little ‘surprise’ he was saving for the party into his belt.
“Toni, today is your big day. Today is the day that Mascarpone and Gelati get to see what Mister Ciabatta is made of… toast! Those guys are toast!”
Walking to the window, Toni shouted down to his waiting acolytes: “Hey, Campari, Porcini! Stop flirting with the babes and go get the car – we’ve got a christening to attend!”
The little church on Linden Boulevard was packed to capacity, although a casual observer may have come to the conclusion that the gathering was for a funeral, rather than a christening, based on the large number of blacked-out limos parked outside.
It’s not unusual for parents to be somewhat nervous at their daughter’s christening; it’s something rather more disquieting to find that the greater share of nerves were being experienced by the guests. Snipers, strategically placed on the rooftops surrounding the chapel certainly didn’t help ease the tension, neither did the mandatory ‘pat-down’ at the entrance by SWAT officers. Some, such as Toni Ciabatta, were taking things a little too personally…
“Hey man! Watch the threads – that’s genuine Armani, y’know?”
“Sorry sir, just doing doing my job… and what do we have here?”
“You just be careful with that Beretta, it’s an heirloom from my papa – God rest his soul – Hey, what you think you’re doing with it?”
“No shooters in the church, sir. You can have it back after the service.”
Eventually, the guests were shepherded into the old stone building, leaving a small army of chauffeurs, fixers and bodyguards in the street outside, restlessly shuffling their feet and taking fitful drags of Dina cigarettes, whilst suspiciously eyeing up the opposition.
Inside, the atmosphere was similarly strained, men who would normally have been at each other’s throats found themselves sharing hymn books and grappling with the unfamiliarity of ‘Morning Has Broken’ in broken, Italian-English… however, somewhat miraculously, their rancour passed, and by the third verse of ‘Sing Hosanna’, there was open competition between the families gathered and the boys of the NYPD choir to see who could sing the loudest! Honour regained, the congregation settled down for the main event.
Danny and Jeannie Sherbet took to the platform, little Poppy in their arms, and were greeted by a universal “ahhhh”, from all those in the church, closely followed by a collective intake of breath and an animated groping for non-existent weapons, as Don Mascarpone stepped into position. Thankfully, the tension in the atmosphere soon eased sufficiently for the assembled crowd to relax and enjoy the proceedings.
The service passed without incident and the only shots taken were by the official photographer of a beaming family, and an equally jolly godfather.
“Friends, families and compatriots, today is a special day – a day when we should set aside our differences and celebrate the wonder of life. It has been my privilege to perform the duty of godfather to this little bambino today and it reminds me of those days long ago when I was also innocent and pure. Maybe there is hope for me still, no? If only for today, let us all celebrate the good things of life… you are all very welcome to join me and my family at the restaurant to toast this little girl and wish her good health and a long and happy life. Letsa go and have some fun, eh?”
“I put on some makeup, stuffed Kleenex in my cheeks, and worked out the characterization first in front of a mirror, then on a television monitor. After working on it, I decided I could create a characterization that would support the story. The people at Paramount saw the footage and liked it, and that’s how I became the Godfather.”