Detective Jack Burke was always clean-shaven and his skin was smooth as ice. A career in the NYPD as part of the Organised Crime Control Bureau had consumed him; his social life was comparable to that of a rock and so, he could never settle down with a woman. He flipped through girls quicker than he did through his razor blades; his abrupt departures in the middle of the night and his inability to hold down a conversation with another human being made him a resistible man. His colleagues joked that he had been born in a suit, his entire life was dedicated to the bureau to a point where life for him became black and white, split between good and bad, there was no in between. He was a serious man with a serious passion for his job.
It was the morning before Christmas and he was parked up in Manhattan’s Little Italy. There was once a time when wave after wave immigrants from Italy flooded America and brought a little piece of home with them and settled down with it in Lower Manhattan. You were able to take a stroll down Little Italy’s streets and immerse yourself into the culture; Italian words and conversations would flow through the air like a free flowing river and a village-like atmosphere flourished, as everyone seemed to know each other. The second you stepped foot onto Mulberry Street you would be swept away with euphoria as you are greeted by sweet and savoury aromas of a hundred spices from Italian kitchens. The air, more delicious than ever, tempted visitors to indulge themselves in the plethora of restaurants offering a variety of Italian dishes from pizzas to pasta and from delicatessens to cafes where every little bite takes you on a journey through Italy. By 1979 however, Little Italy’s days became numbered, serving once as the Italian capital in America, it was now slowly withering away like a dying rose as Chinatown expanded over the decades into Little Italy’s borders. The Italian’s stood no fighting chance as restaurants and cafes crumbled like ancient ruins and eventually closed for good. Chinese takeaways and restaurants were quickly buying up the place and even the mob with all its wealth and power could not keep it alive. You would have to stand around for a while before you heard any Italian spoken and even if you did, it would most likely be a tourist at a rip-off souvenir shop.
Jack was parked just yards away from a restaurant that had the Italian flag on either side; it proudly stood on the corner of the street like the last beacon of hope for Little Italy. After weeks of snowfall, the treacherous grey clouds had drifted away and a clear ocean blue sky took its place, forming the perfect backdrop to another day in New York City. The sun bathed the street in a glorious golden glow, and snow had been shovelled away but the suns rays were melting it and so the sidewalks were reduced to a brown mushy slippery mess. Jack glanced up and down the street from the comfort of his car; red-bricked apartment blocks littered the skyline while on the street level, café’s and restaurants opened for business and vendors from food markets got to work filling the atmosphere with various sweet and savoury smells. The door creaked open and the familiar smells of coffee and freshly cooked bread quickly flooded the car, Detective Frank Lupo slid into the car and placed a brown paper bag on the dashboard in a sloppy manner and handed Jack an americano. Breakfast had arrived and they dug in.
The longer they waited the more alive the street became, soon children emerged from the three-storey flats and snowball fights ensued, an elderly couple clutched onto each other out of fear they might slip while strolling through the markets and the traffic got noisier. Jack switched from peering through the binoculars at the restaurant to stuffing his mouth with food, “they should be here soon,” he said. His partner spoke through a mouth full of food, “you know I grew up here Jack?” The truth was Jack did not know, he knew nothing about Frank but his name and he was starting to suspect that his new partner was growing increasingly irritated by his lack of interest. Jack plucked up the energy and forced out the sentence: “No kidding? The place sure has changed, huh?” and then went back to peeking through the binoculars. “You have no idea, Jack. I used to live just around the corner from there,” he pointed in the direction of a bus stop where morning commuters had now begun queuing. “I remember I used to play on these streets here, my old man used to take me to Mickey’s Pizzeria just over there”, Frank jerked his thumb behind him at a Chinese restaurant, “the joint closed down a couple years ago but I’ll swear on the Bible if I have to Jack, it was the best god damn pizza I had as a kid. Even the mob’s control has changed and their presence here isn’t as strong anymore. I remember as a kid bumping into gangsters like Rocco Calabrese and—” Frank caught Jack’s attention and for the first time, “this the same Rocco Calabrese that had his throat slit in, uh… when was it? 1968?” The past few weeks on the job with Jack had been difficult for Frank, he felt like he was talking to a brick wall and this was the most they had talked in a while so he could not help but cracking a wide grin on his face. “Yeah, that’s the one. Now, this was sometime around the early sixties, I was still a kid and I had no idea Rocco was a cold-blooded killer. For us kids he was just this guy who would pop into the neighbourhood every week and flaunt his cash about, sometimes handing us a few bills to treat ourselves to sweets and soda” said Frank. The roar of an engine grew louder and a bus zoomed past them and parked outside the restaurant. “The kids are here, radio it in” Jack said and like a machine, he zoned back onto his job.
Things started to heat up outside the restaurant and Jack went for his camera. Outside a crowd was gathering as the bus swerved onto the pavement and begun unloading its passengers like a conveyer belt, it was children from the local orphanage. The restaurant door swung open and numerous figures emerged, “there he is, the man is starting a tradition here” Jack mumbled as he snapped photographs of John Dellacorce. John was a middle-aged man with heavy features such as a meaty nose and bushy eyebrows and under them, ‘I’ve-seen-it-all’ eyes. Out of all the gangsters Jack had chased, John was the most dapper, he wore the finest fabrics from the most renowned designers and had everything personally tailored so everything fit like a glove. He now sported a thick wool coat only comparable to that of a Kings. He was unlike the other criminals; most of who operate in the shadows and disappear into the night, not John, he adored the spotlight and media attention. He thrived of it and he used and abused it to mould an image of himself in the press as a modern day Robin Hood and he had chosen this day specifically to demonstrate to the world his good nature. The window blinds of the restaurant were deliberately rolled up; the press were going to swoop in any second and John’s photographs will be in the local papers tomorrow, maybe even make it to the New York Times, the stage was set and the props in the form of children were ready, the show was about to begin. Shows such as these were put on every few months by John and it helped build up his reputation as being one of the good guys, the media attention and the celebrity status made him virtually untouchable. There had not been a celebrity mob-figure since Al Capone and his unorthodox practices were transforming the once secretive society from the inside. His popularity was not the only thing that made him untouchable; he always had a goon or two following him around like shadows that could not be gotten rid off.
“Come on,” motioned Jack for the rookie to follow, “we got enough photographs of these thugs from here, now let’s go take a closer look.” The pair hopped out of the car and carefully manoeuvred past people as Little Italy became as crowded as a beehive. “Forgive me for being a bit clueless here, but I don’t understand. If Dellacorce’s face is everywhere in the news and we know all his operations, why can’t we seem to pin anything on him?” asked Frank like a student would ask a teacher. The pleasant sound of crunching snow under their feet was absent; instead they felt like they were stepping through mushy mud that was reducing their shoes into a soggy mess. “It’s not that simple, the guy is a slippery one. Nothing sticks to him because he never gets his hands dirty and any time a witness does come forward they seem to develop a case of amnesia a few days later” Jack lectured the rookie. The pair had to raise their voices to talk above the city noises of sirens and traffic. “His father was a much easier case, we nailed him for two counts of murder and racketeering charges but the cancer ate the bastard up before we could lock him up” explained Jack and at that moment, a screeching sound went off as a yellow cab came to an abrupt stop in front of them and honked, Jack continued robotically as if nothing happened while Frank hardly flinched, he was accustomed to the aggressive nature of New York’s traffic.
The party was like a carnival and it felt like Christmas had arrived a day early. Outside stood Santa Claus patting his enormous belly as he greeted the children with a series of “ho ho ho’s,” a pint-sized girl even offered Santa a bag of cookies, which he gobbled up within seconds. Before entering the restaurant Santa would reach deep into his rucksack that seemed to have no end and pull out Christmas stockings that were overflowing with candy cane, gingerbread cookies and toys to which the children would respond to with huge grins on their faces as wide as their little cheeks could stretch. Jack took a peek through the windows and in the corner of the restaurant saw a man wobbling on a ladder as he tried to attach the final ornaments to a Christmas tree that was so huge it grazed the ceiling and under it, the tree had been flooded with more gifts for the children. The children were being assembled around the restaurants tables for a grand feast with so much food laid out, it could last days before it was all devoured. Out of all the dishes, whether it is the roasted turkey or pasta with all its creamy sauces, the children’s eyes were focused on one thing: the huge platters overflowing with sweets and desserts. Mouth watering lemon tarts, chocolate cakes, cookies and fresh berries all looked so beautifully prepared and delicious that it would be a pity to eat them. Music spilled out onto the streets from the restaurant as a band played Christmas tunes by the entrance; they looked and sounded like the typical band that was trying to break through in the industry but could only land themselves gigs at parties.
“You see that old guy there?” Jack gave a chin-flick to an elderly man with thick grey hair neatly combed back. Although the man moved slowly with his age, he spoke very fast and could be seen muttering away words like a canary and waving his hands around to John Dellacorce. “That’s Aldo Remini, the guy was the personal advisor to John’s father. Regardless of the change in leadership, Aldo kept his job and he’s now advising John, but now it looks more like John’s getting one hell of an earful from him” said Jack discretely with his head lowered and hands stuffed into his pockets. “That’s Aldo? Jesus Christ time sure caught up to him, the guy looks like a scarecrow. I couldn’t even recognise him,” said Frank as he tried to contain his surprise. “You know him?” asked Jack with an arched eyebrow. “Hell no, who do you think I am? Like I said Jack, I grew up here and so did Aldo Remini. Sure he’s several decades older than me, but I remember him clearly from when I was a kid. He was that guy in the neighbourhood who drove the flashy sports cars and us kids would run up and check them out and touch them. I remember the guy yelling at us to get our dirty little hands off his car” Frank chuckled and he thought he heard Jack snigger too had it not been for the news crew that swooped in at that very moment. They immediately surrounded John and the event looked much like the red carpet entrance to a film premier, he straightened his posture, shoved the aging Aldo out of the way, stood by the entrance where a couple kids were still talking to Santa and reaped in all the fame. John had not only attracted the press, but also the Federal Bureau of Investigation who were safely nestled away in unmarked vans on every street in Little Italy. The FBI had secured a perimeter around the restaurant and its agents were scattered everywhere and were ready to pounce on John at moments notice.
Jack stood several meters away and the street was swarming with people, but even then he could see public enemy number 1 and the creases of a wide grin on his face, it served as a huge middle finger to the law and for Jack, it transported him back in time and memories started flooding in. The past three years he had been building a case against the media-dubbed, Dellacorce Crime Family, which had been met with little success. When a corpse turned up in an alleyway, or another one was curled up in the trunk of a car, informants vanished like shadows or turned up dead with their tongues missing, in the early morning hours John’s front door would receive a wave of hard knocks and he would be greeted by the familiar faces of the NYPD. Even with bodies scattered across the city like a battlefield, nothing would stick to John Dellacorce and the law would have to start from scratch.
“Look at him,” Jack shifted Frank. John was speaking into a microphone held by an eager journalist. “Do you know how many trips I have made to the morgue to identify corpses, how many fucking times I had come close to grabbing this guy only for my leads to disappear?” a wave of fury swept over Jack and John’s smiling face was sending him to a breaking point of his patience. He clamped his fists until his knuckles turned a pale white, clenched his jaw shut and felt his muscles tense, every passing second he spent watching John only added fuel to a fire that had been burning inside him for years. A pestering voice in his head had been giving Jack sleepless nights and the thought of landing a bullet in the head of a man so despised yet so respected began to appeal to him. Like a magnet, his hand slowly reached for his waist where his firearm was sitting but he snapped out of his trance after a passer-by bumped into him. “That son of a bitch, he thinks he’s unstoppable. But, he’s wrong and I will make sure that smile of his is wiped clean off his face. I’ll watch him in court as the judge reads out his sentence, I’ll watch his empire crumble around him and I’ll look him in the eye when the gates shut behind him and he starts to rot in a cell” Jack mumbled to himself.