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Pirate 143 Press Publish with passion

Where the good guys are enigmas and the bad guys are heroes.


Evidently, Mr. Di Viterbo had a difficult time with the Troopers. He was either a genuine tough guy or very naive to get into a rumble with the gang of thugs who patrolled the Jersey highways with impunity. I’m sure, as a result of a smart mouth, he was no longer at the State Police Barracks—he “fell” down the stairs and was taken to the hospital. Sure he did. He was currently in the Middlesex County General Hospital prison wing. When the Troopers told me where he was, I was actually relieved to get out of that fortress they called a barracks. I was probably only marginally less uncomfortable than the perps who were there. So, with the c.4161 note in my jeans pocket, I drove directly to the hospital. I knew Mr. Di Viterbo was in custody and he might have a lawyer, but I decided it was important for me to take a run at him before anyone else knew he had been approached about cooperating with us. I didn’t even tell the Troopers who I was, other than that I was interested in where he was being held. Besides, they had no interest in talking to some punk kid anyway.

The process of convincing a man to abandon his family, friends and a lifetime of crime requires perfect timing, secrecy, and a skillful combination of threats, promises and lies. A hot cup of coffee, a cigarette or even a nice Italian “torpedo” on semolina bread, with hot peppers and genuine imported, aged provolone, and covered with extra virgin olive oil could break through lots of barriers. The latter, I figured, was the magic formula for setting the proper tone for my conversation with Mr. Di Viterbo. The “torpedo” was the only thing in my brief case when I entered the lockdown ward at Middlesex General.

The lockdown ward at the hospital was not a place fit even for mad dogs or Englishman, let alone a nice Italian boy who just got the shit kicked out of him by the Jersey Troopers. Oh, that’s right, a nice Italian boy who accidentally fell down the steps in a single floor barracks.

The walls were a light green color, more in kind with puke than maple leaf green. It was astonishing how similar it was in sound, smell and even temperature to a real jail. Your feet stuck to the floor like an old musty, movie theater at the Jersey Shore. Most of the old, steel-framed, crank-out windows were at least partially open, but still the air temperature inside was at least ten degrees hotter than any remotely comfortable range. It made you sweat, sweat in a way that caused the foul odors in the ward to stick to your body, hair and clothes like cigarette smoke lingers long after you left the bar and began to explain to your wife that you were never there. It was the kind of place that even a Nikon loaded with Kodachrome would only get you a thousand shades of gray—not even any black or white, let alone color. The furniture was gray, the people were gray, even the air was gray, and fitting it was.

It didn’t take very long for me to find Mr. Di Viterbo. I didn’t even have a picture of him, but I immediately knew he was my guy. Naturally, he was the only patient wearing a $500 pair of Salvatore Ferragamo’s and not a hair out of place. I saw him from across the room—beyond the fat nurse sitting at a very gray metal desk with absolutely nothing on it—a perfect communion with the life level of the room, all except for only one guy.

Mr. D was very much alive; he was a real-deal wise guy. No wonder the Troopers never mentioned whether or not any of them were hurt in the tussle with him. It’s a wonder three or four of them weren’t dead on the side of the road. Even when I got closer, I didn’t see any injuries except for the bruises on his knuckles and I knew why. When he closed his hand and made a fist, it couldn’t have been too much bigger than a bowling ball. If he ever hit me with it, I’m sure I would feel like I was hit by a small steel safe dropped from a six-story building. Not knowing what to expect, I walked up to him, stood three feet away, and said nothing. He looked me straight in the eye for at least ten seconds, consuming everything he could pull from my soul. Then, in a very casual manner, he examined me from my head to the number five cowboy toe on my ostrich Lucchese boots. It was all without reaction or emotion, until he pressed his lips, forced a sarcastic mini-smile and broke his silence with something less than a warm encouraging salutation.

“What the fuck do you want?” he whispered to me as if to say “I know who you are, now get the fuck away from me.”

“Go fuck yourself. I don’t want anything from you. I just came here because I thought you might like to know who gave you up,” I told him, knowing full well no one ratted him out; it was just dumb luck by the Trooper.

But he didn’t know that and I immediately saw the light go on as he began to clench those two bowling balls dangling at his sides. I didn’t really know what to do. If he hit me, I’d hit the floor and the investigation would be over.

“Bullshit,” was all that came out of his mouth, but that wasn’t all he said.

You see, communication with a guy like Mr. D wasn’t like chatting with a regular homo sapien. This guy was a predator, and like a jungle animal, he used all of his senses as well as his physical presence and environment to communicate. You think he didn’t know that if he hit me it would be like a concrete block hitting a plate glass window at Macy’s? Sure he did, but he was confused about the final outcome. He knew full well where he was and why he was there. What he didn’t know was how he got there, and where he was going. Confronted with any one of those mysteries would not have given me an advantage. However, he was incapable of multi-tasking a resolution for all of them simultaneously because he didn’t have the common denominator—me. “Just exactly who the fuck is this kid?” was the question he needed answered.

At this stage of my life, I had very little experience with a guy like Mr. D so my instinct was to tell him, “Let’s sit down and talk.... maybe I can help you, la, la, la...” However, I wasn’t convinced that was the right thing to say, so I decided that I needed him to want to talk to me more than he thought I needed to talk to him. I could only think of one way to do that.

“Okay, kiss my dago ass,” was all I said in a slow, clear, crisp tone, never taking my eyes off his.
I wanted him to know I was Italian, as if he couldn’t tell by looking at me. I’m convinced that it wasn’t what I said, but rather the split-second freeze, at the very end, before I turned to walk away that got a reaction. In fact, he probably never heard a word I said. He was too busy calculating who was the tiger and who was the lamb, the same as me. I completed my 180 and was taking my first step away from him, that as I look back on it now would have changed my life forever, when he said in a very soft almost tender voice,

“Where’s Lu?”

“Where’s Lu?” was a very complicated question. It was complicated because you first had to understand that he knew Lu was home in her bed in New York, probably alone. But he wasn’t certain.

What he meant to say was, “Hey, Lu’s home in bed, probably alone, but I’m not sure. And by the way, I don’t like it here—I’m too old to do hard time. I’m not a rat, but if you can make it easy for me, maybe we can talk.” At least that’s what I heard him say in my head.

I ignored him, and other than slowing the pace of my next step, I just kept moving away from him. It was a feeble attempt to tell him that I was in charge and that if he wanted to help himself he had to follow me, not the other way around. In fact, I didn’t stop at all. I walked directly to the ugly metal desk and spoke to the ugly metal nurse. After I told her that Mr. D and I needed a place to talk, she pointed to a white, paint-worn wooden door across the room. As I walked away from the desk, heading for the door, I looked back at Mr. D; he hadn’t moved. His head was down, but his eyes were following me, surely looking for a sign. He got it when I looked back at him, so he nonchalantly began to walk toward the same door. I couldn’t help but notice that he didn’t drop the bowling balls. They still hung from his sides and when he lumbered across the room with his huge gait, they swung like pendulums on an enormous grandfather clock.

I walked into the 10’ x 10’ room; he was about half a step behind. When I turned and looked at him, he had intentionally moved fully into the room so he couldn’t be seen from the outside through the glass in the top half of the door. Immediately upon feeling “invisible” to the outside world, his persona changed. It was like an actor walking off stage and into their inner sanctum dressing room.

I was gratified to see the unclenching of his fists, not an insignificant occurrence to me. It told me a great deal more than the simple fact that I wasn’t going to need plastic surgery in the near future. The wall was coming down.

“You’re an agent?” he said to me in a flat quiet tone that only hinted at a question.

“Is it that obvious?” I responded with a hint of a smile, as I put both of my hands inside the top portion of the front pockets of my jeans. I was generally more comfortable putting my hands in my back pockets, but I decided it was less threatening to keep both hands in front of me, in clear view.

“Yeah it is. But, you’re Italian?” “Yup, all the way. What, you never saw an Italian ‘G’ man before?”

“Na, but hey, some girls love it, huh?”

“Some. Most love the Italian part best,” I said, knowing that he understood what parts I was referring to.

That was the end of the preliminary. It was time to get on to the main bout.

“Listen, Mr. DiViterbo...”

“It’s T. Nobody calls me by my last name except a fuckin’ judge,
and only my mother ever called me it’s T... just T.”

“Okay T, I’m Jake. Anyway, you’re in deep shit here and you know there’s only one game in town. You wanna play or you wanna do the time? It’s up to you. We both know there’s very little chance you’ll out-live any federal counterfeiting beef without our help.”

T knew I wasn’t running a con. It was absolutely the truth. You just don’t live very long in jail. The food sucks, the disease rate is astronomical and the medical care is virtually nonexistent. All that being said, T did have a choice, and it was my job to make it clear to him now was the time to make it.

“What choices do I have?” he asked, knowing the answer as he slid onto one of the two gray metal chairs on each side of a gray metal desk pushed in the corner—obviously made by the same gray metal company that made the desk in the other room. While sitting in the chair clearly signaled his willingness to talk, he still wanted to know exactly what the deal was.

“Your choices are to keep livin’ or start dyin’—just that simple. You had a fuckin’ shoebox full of a new counterfeit $100 note as well as the plates. I don’t have to spell it out for you. The real question is, ‘what will you do for me?’”

It was my opening salvo. We were on the dance floor now, like two teenagers wondering who was going to put their hand on the other’s ass first.

“What do you want, my fuckin’ blood?” he said without any real hostility.

When he spoke to me he had his head down, but he still looked me in the eyes like he was seeing through his eyelids. He kept the rest of his body slumped in the chair. He looked like a huge marionette held up by invisible strings. The image became almost comical when he looked up, raised his enormous eyebrows that were bushy enough to do a comb over the rest of his balding forehead and shrugged his shoulders, re-asking the same question. I had to laugh. I also had to begin to like him. He reminded me so much of so many of my father’s friends I came to know growing up in Trenton. There was really only one thing to say.


“No, Djou?” he replied.

I didn’t say another word. I just threw the soft, chocolate-brown brief case on the desk. His eyebrows, nose and lips scrunched together. His whole face seemed to take the shape of a huge question mark. Frankly, I don’t understand how he didn’t smell it by then. The wonderful aroma of the provolone, salami and olive oil haunted me since I bought it an hour earlier. T didn’t move a muscle; he just gripped the arms of the chair and waited to see what I did next. Up until that moment, I was his worst nightmare, but when I pulled out that foot-long “torpedo” wrapped in white butcher’s paper with hints of olive oil seeping through, he immediately relaxed. As I unspun the paper wrapper and broke open that sandwich, T and I were paisani, at least for the moment.

I swear he ate an entire half of the “torpedo” in no more than four bites. It wasn’t that he was without manners or ate like an animal. In fact, he had a certain genteel quality about how he maneuvered his hands, especially when they weren’t curled up in a fist. When I saw the artistic dexterity of his fingers, I was sure he was the one who made the plates found in his car, even before I noticed the faint hint of ink in his cuticles. That wasn’t, however, what impressed me most. While his fingers and hands were certainly the manufacturers of these near-perfect plates, his eyes were surely the creators.

His eyes were extremely dark, but they didn’t approach black. The color quality was vibrant without identifying a specific color. They behaved like the lens of a camera—they absorbed the reflected light of the object of their attention and, as a result, transmitted a sensation of activity and analysis. It appeared that he was not only memorializing, but also colorizing the object. As a result, even while he was surrounded by the vast grayness of the room, his eyes still transmitted vibrant colors and an intensity far beyond the actual quality of his dull and almost lifeless surroundings.

When he finished the “torpedo,” he crumpled the wrapper in such a tight, little ball that it was near the size of a golf ball and probably as hard. He held it in his hand so tightly you could see the color disappear from the edges of his fingers. He wasn’t even angry, just focused. The object of his focus was the crisp new $100 bill I pulled from the right front pocket of my jeans and now lay flat on the desktop. It was the c.4161 note Carmine gave me. It didn’t yet have the customary “counterfeit” stamp on the front and back as do most seized counterfeit notes.

I slid the note across the desk, face up, to T, who looked at it motionlessly for a full ten seconds. It was like a hot marshmallow on a stick right out of the campfire—way too hot to handle. Eventually he reached to pick it up, but before he did, he looked up at me and found me looking right back at him. It didn’t deter him from taking the note in his huge hand and drawing it close to his face. A brief smile lit up his face when he recognized that the paper in his hand was not just Hammermill Double Eagle paper, but was truly a work of art—his work of art. He handled it with loving care as he examined it like a mother holding a newborn, counting its fingers and toes to confirm its perfect form.

“Nice work,” I said. I got no response so I tried a different tack.

“Well, it really isn’t that good when you consider the heavy paper stock and the soft green color of the serial numbers and seal,” I told him, hoping to get some reaction to my criticism of his work, although he hadn’t, as of yet, admitted it was his. There was still no reaction. He just kept looking at the note without looking up.

“Okay, okay. What the fuck? Are you going to talk to me about this note or not?” I said, giving him a clear message that I was quickly losing patience with his coy approach.

He put the note down on the table with such a soft touch you would have thought it was fine china. He then asked, “Waddayouwanna know?”

“I want to know everything: who, when, where, how, how much, and why in Vegas,” I told him in a very matter-of-fact tone, still trying to establish a no-nonsense relationship between the two of us.

“Vegas? What the fuck you talkin’ about, Vegas?” he quickly retorted in such a convincing tone that I immediately realized something unexpected was afoot.

It was clear to me that T didn’t know about the Las Vegas connection and if that was the case, I wasn’t going to blow the whistle until I knew where this freight train was heading. If it was
heading for a train wreck, I didn’t want to wind up on the bottom of a pile of twisted steel and rubble. I quickly abandoned Las Vegas and moved on.

“Did you print this note?”

“What? Do you expect me to just fuckin’ spit this out so you can send me to the fuckin’ joint for the rest of my fuckin’ life?”

His response made him sound much more ignorant than he actually was. It was a good defensive maneuver on his part. Some people, without insight into his character and culture, might have been taken off-guard and might have underestimated him. His tone and choice of vulgarities allowed him to fit in with his regular crowd. To act otherwise would cause him to be the object of isolation or even suspicion. Even in my relative inexperienced youth, I realized that when you’re in the woods with a bear you better walk like a bear or be eaten by a bear.

Hence my response. “You’re fuckin’ right I expect you to answer my questions. In fact, I expect you to answer all my fuckin’ questions and even answer a few I don’t ask. And remember, you were caught cold, and I’m the only motherfucker on the planet who can keep you from spending the rest of your fuckin’ life in a five foot by eight foot room with a guy named La Roy.”

I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with the tough guy act, but it was all I had. I thought I was doing a good job until he responded. But then I realized it’s not a good thing to act like a bear in the presence of a real fuckin’ bear unless you really were a bear, or at least had a very big bear gun, which I didn’t.

When I finished, at least three full seconds of silence passed before T reacted. He first looked down at the table, with his left hand spread on the side of his face like he just slapped himself. I sat there still trying to look tough until T looked away to his right. He turned his head more than ninety degrees so I couldn’t see any part of the front of his face. Actually, all I could see was the back of his left hand pressed against the left side of his face. It made me very uncomfortable because I felt like he was talking to someone standing directly to his right. It didn’t take long before I realized he wasn’t speaking to anyone at all. He was laughing. “

Well,” was all I could muster. I could see his entire body shaking as he tried to hide his almost uncontrollable laughter. I think I remember being angry at some point, but it’s all a blur to me today.

“Okay, okay, you broke me. I’ll tell you anything you want to know,” he said in only a half-serious but very sarcastic tone as he wiped a tear from his left eye.

I always assumed the tear in his eye was from laughing at me so hard, but as I reflect on it now, I’m not so sure. I don’t think I really understood at the time how hard the choices were for T. That’s because he made it look easy. He was the kind of man, who once upon a chosen course becomes completely committed. I couldn’t help thinking he knew where this encounter was going to wind up, while I was still meandering in the dark. I was completely stunned, but still undeterred.

“Good, then tell me who printed this note,” I told him trying to keep some semblance of seriousness.

T became much more serious and asked me, “Com’ on, what will you do for me? For real?”

“For real, I can keep you from going to jail for the fuckin’ rest of your life. You know you’re not a young man any more. Time is running out.”

“How long?” he asked in a very quiet voice.

“I can’t tell you that because it depends on how well this goes. You just have to trust me and know I’ll take care of you.”

“I don’t even know you,” he asked, more than stated.

“You know enough to know I’m right,” I said as a matter of fact. “And I know you didn’t do this print all by yourself, so I wanna know who the other players are.”

When I told him that, you would have thought I told him I wanted to fuck Lucille as part of the deal. A less experienced manipulator would have leapt to his feet and shouted “No, never,” but not T. He knew that if he did that he would be setting up a huge emotional barrier that we would have to break through before we could move on. He took a more sophisticated route.

“Na, I didn’t need no fuckin’ help. Whadda ya think I am, some kinda pussy? I ran the whole job by myself,” T said in a soft, calm voice. And, while very convincing, I knew it just wasn’t true.

He clearly needed help not only for setting up the press but also for some security during the print. He was printing a lot of counterfeit worth a pile of cash to almost any hood with even a halfway decent distribution network. There was no way he was going to risk somebody stumbling into the plant and ripping him off, not with the “respects” the bosses were expecting from whatever deal he made. No, I knew there were others, but I also knew if I wasn’t careful, his cooperation against his paisani could be a deal breaker. So I started slow, like foreplay on a first date with a nice girl.

“Look T, I’m offering you a way to cut your losses here and minimize any jail time exposure you have. I’m not really interested in the guys that helped you do this print. I’m mostly interested in the printer—that’s you—and the distributor—the guy who ordered up the print in the first place. I’m prepared to offer your guys the same deal I’m offerin’ you. And they don’t even have to cooperate in the investigation. In fact, I prefer they don’t. You can keep them in line until we grab the distributor and then he gets the hard time. You and your guys catch a break at sentencing because of your help breakin’ the case. I’ll take care of it, guaranteed. If you don’t wanna bring your guys into the fold and leave them out in the cold, that’s okay with me. But you and I know they’ll certainly get busted sooner or later and it’s a whole lot better if they have a ‘get-outta-jail-free card’ in their pocket, even if they don’t know how it got there. Capisce?”

As I listened to myself explain the deal to T, it sounded better than even I thought. He paused for a very short second and then began to shake his head left and right. The longer he shook it, the more pronounced the movement became, and then he began to unravel a most amazing tale.

“Look...this guy comes to me earlier in the summer and wants me to do a run of fresh, new hundreds. He’s paying it all up front. I had a new set of plates anyhow, so I figure I could make a few bucks. I ran a little more for me and that’s what I had in the car. That’s it.”

“Did you deliver the queer to him?”

“Sure I did. He wanted the deal in two runs. The first was a test run and later I would do a full run.”

“How big was the test run?” I asked, not prepared to be so startled.

“A hundred and a little extra five for me and Lucille.”

“That’s a pretty big test,” I said, which, in and of itself, was a tremendous understatement.

“That’s what he wanted and that’s what he paid for—more or less—mostly more,” he quipped.

“What was your vig on the test?” I asked as I took out a pencil to compute how much good money he put in his pocket.

“Twenty-five points on the initial $100,000 test run, twenty on the full run of...$20 million.” He intentionally hesitated on the $20 million because he just realized the enormity of that number.

The numbers were even more astounding to me. I wasn’t the most experienced agent in the counterfeit squad, but I knew that no one had ever even attempted a run that big before. All this, while very interesting, did not give me the answers I was looking for; only T could do that, and as right now he wasn’t telling. The showdown was yet to come.

We spent the next twelve hours doing the same dance. In the beginning, things were rough. It was like eating bad tomato pie. You would eat it because it was hot and in front of you, but you didn’t realize it was bad pie until you had about three slices. Only then did you realize that you ate it even though it really wasn’t that good. That’s the way it was with T. I would listen for about half an hour and take notes and then realize it was mostly bullshit with a little truth mixed in. Then we would do it all over again getting about twenty percent more truth with each go-round. It was very tiring and very slow, but after about four hours, I was beginning to get the story and he was beginning to get the drill. Maybe it was a ritualistic dance we had to do in order to establish our respective roles and begin to trust each other. Anyway, we were getting there. He even told me a little about his two guys, Frankie and Canevecchio, who helped him with the print, the most difficult part of the story.

T also told me about the meeting at the Uptown Diner and the deal they struck. He also told me when, where and even how he made the plates that were found in his car. It was what he didn’t tell me, however, that eventually became most important. See, T told me about Miguel, but he never told me he was Cuban. He left me thinking, and I was just naive enough to conclude that Miguel was some run-of-the-mill Spanish drug dealer who decided he would try his hand at something more enterprising. To this day, I’m still not sure how much T really knew about Miguel. T had moxy enough to know that the “good” Miguel was coming up with had to be from some very big players and if the mob was involved with a Spanish guy, let alone a Cuban front man, the crossover had to be sanctioned from the very top. While Carmine never told me, he knew this from day one and, as a result, he made certain moves he never told me about until much later.

Even though I was sure I didn’t have all the straight answers from T, I felt I got all I could from him in a relatively short time. So I decided to give him a breather and take it all back to Carmine to see what he thought our next move should be. So I left T in the hospital ward and headed back to the apartment, hoping that Bookie and Ava were out of gas and bodily fluids for at least a few hours so I could get some sleep and get with Carmine first thing in the morning. I was pretty excited about all that had happened, feeling like I didn’t let Carmine down. I had no idea this caper was going to throw the rest of the planet and me into the back of an 18-wheeler and drive us over a dirt road on a rainy night.