The CigarAugust 11, 2016
July 12th, 1979
JoeyButchie Bucciogrosso had listened to the ignorant and incessant whining of his fat partner since their tour began at 0800 hours. Since roll-call, Ernie theWhale Whelan had been ranting about the neighborhood, the people in it, and the inferiority of the largely Italian Bushwick community. It was now 1430 hours, and Butchie had heard enough. He was about to tell the obnoxious jerk where to stick his opinions when the radio diverted his attention. Central was assigning them a shots fired job. Butchie would have to wait a while to straighten out the Whale.
Bushwick in the summer of 1979 was the epitome of urban decay. The once working class Irish, German and Italian enclave had descended into a teeming, heroin-infested slum. The Irish and the Germans had long since fled, moving to parts east. Except for the very poor, the Italians were gone too. What was left were the newly arrived Puerto Ricans and those Italians not affluent enough to move. The neighborhood had become a crime-ridden drug supermarket. People were killing each other over little ten dollar bags of white powder.
Joey Bucciogrosso had grown up here. He was raised in a railroad apartment on Troutman Street. He graduated from high school in 1966. Not having the money for college, Butchie knew there would be no student deferral for him. He knew he would be drafted. In an effort to exercise some control over his destiny, he enlisted in the Marine Corps.
When Butchie left for Parris Island, Bushwick was already in decline. It was no secret why. Everyone knew that Joe Bonanno, the self-proclaimed man of respect, was peddling heroin in his own neighborhood. The ensuing decay was profound and immediate.
By January of 1968, Butchie found himself with the 5th Marines at Hue City. Shot in the stomach and seriously wounded, he wasn’t expected to survive. But, Butchie was Marine Corps hard. While convalescing in a Navy hospital in Japan, he was awarded a Purple Heart and a Silver Star for his gallantry and bravery in the battle, and a hideous scar on his belly to remind him to duck.
A year later Butchie returned to a Bushwick significantly changed from when he left. The change was not for the better. Honorably discharged from the Marines, and now fully healed, he entered the Police Academy. The family managed to escape to Madison Street in Ridgewood, but Butchie’s heart was still with the old neighborhood.
His father and his uncle owned Bucciogrosso’s Italian Bakery. In the time that Butchie was gone, a new landlord had muscled his way in to take over the building. Santino Indelicato not only jacked up the rent, he charged the Bucciogrossos a weekly “protection fee.” If this fee was not paid promptly, windows were broken, equipment was stolen or mysteriously burst into flame. Once, their delivery truck got hijacked and held for ransom until the fee was paid. Of course, by that time the bread had gone stale and had to be thrown out. So in addition, the brothers lost a day’s proceeds.
Though the brothers Bucciogrosso didn’t want to pay, they really had no choice. Indelicato, or Fat Sam as everybody called him, was connected. So if they wanted to do business in Brooklyn, Fat Sam was going to have to be paid.
When Butchie heard about the new arrangement, his impulse was to go over to the clubhouse on Suydam Street to beat the fat gangster to death with his own espresso machine. He was only dissuaded by his mother’s pleading.
Butchie had long regarded the neighborhood Mafiosi with contempt. He saw them as a parasites, preying upon the innocent and working poor of Bushwick, who were mostly Italians. Butchie didn’t buy into the Sicilian bullshit that the bent-noses were somehow protectors of the neighborhood. The evidence to the contrary was all around him, from the junkies nodding out on the corners, or dying in filthy hallways, to the stripped cars seeming to multiply on the curbsides. Buildings had been abandoned. Now used as shooting galleries by the junkies, who ventured out only to get fixed, or steal something they could sell. Butchie understood that, rather than protectors, they were more like locusts, stripping the land, sparing nothing.
If that weren’t enough motivation to hate them, there was the matter of Butchie’s would-be father-in-law. While he was over-seas, Salvatore Badlamenti, who owned a Latacini on the corner of Suydam Street was one of those hard headed Sicilians that wouldn’t pay. He was adamant. He declared that he had left Castellamare del Golfo to rid himself of these swine. He wasn’t about to pay them for the right to do business in Brooklyn. The threat of force only bought a savage beating from the burly cheese maker. A week later, while walking home from work, Salvatore Badlamenti was surrounded by three men in Knickerbocker Park. When they were done shooting, what was left was hardly recognizable as a man. Badlamenti died ventilated on the crushed clam shells of the bocce ball courts. Even though the murderers had made no attempt to obscure their identities, and the bocce courts were filled with the friends and former customers of the victim, his murder went un-solved.
While no one would talk to the police about what had happened, the story was well-circulated in the neighborhood. This was as intended. A clear message was sent. Payment to the Mob was not negotiable, and the penalty was severe.
Sal’s widow was forced to sell the building at a deep discount to Fat Sam. She and her daughter, Monica moved into an apartment on Hart Street. That was where Butchie found them when he returned from Vietnam.
The young couple rekindled what they understood was inevitable. They had been drawn to each other since the sixth grade at St. Brigid’s. Butchie told Monica that he survived his wounds only because he needed to see her again. She took him at his word, and the two became inseparable. Monica made Butchie promise to let things lie with Indelicato, but he would only go so far as to promise he would let them lie—for now.
If Butchie didn’t have enough motivation to despise La Cosa Nostra, he didn’t need to look far for more. The wreckage that Bushwick had been left in by the Bonannos sickened him. He was determined to do something about it.
When Butchie graduated from the police academy, he was assigned to the 83rd Precinct. He quickly became an enormous pain in the ass to the Mafiosi. The mobsters first tried to buy him off, but he wouldn’t be bought. When they tried to appeal to their common Italian background, they discovered that this only achieved further acrimony from the already angry cop. When they finally resorted to their favored tactic, intimidation, it went very badly for the goons that tried it. The three of them ended up with arrests after Butchie took their gun away and rearranged their faces with it.
Butchie became known as the Italian cop that hated Italians. It became clear that there was no percentage in trying to mess with him. Irrespective of the mobsters’ belief about Butchie’s feelings with regard to his heritage, the opposite was true. Butchie loved and respected the poor Italians, who were toiling at the brink of poverty, trying to eke out an honest living. He hated the mobsters that made their living sucking the blood from them. They would find no quarter with him.
Butchie saw things in Bushwick go from bad to worse, in spite of his efforts. Joe Bonanno had already been forced into exile. The new boss, Phillip Rusty Rastelli was no better, focusing even more of the Bonannos’ interests in narcotics. In 1974, Rastelli was sent to prison. Carmine Lilo Galante became the acting boss. Under him, the bottom fell out.
Galante concerned himself almost exclusively on the importation and sale of heroin. In order to secure loyalty and a greater share of the proceeds from the drug business, Galante created his own Pretorian guard within the Bonanno crime family. Lilo imported Sicilians that were already well versed in narcotics smuggling and distribution to join him in New York. Galante set up a vast narcotics empire that excluded the bosses of the other four crime families. The traditional Italian-American members of his own family were also excluded. Galante only trusted his Sicilians, who were referred to derisively as Zips by the other mobsters. The fact that they were vicious psychopathic killers only further insulated their boss.
Because they had been cut out of the lucrative narcotics operation, the non-Sicilian Bonannos were forced to become even more predatory toward the businesses and residents of Bushwick. The honest working people in the neighborhood found themselves getting picked clean.
It was during this time that Fat Sam started to put an even heavier hand on the Bucciogrosso Bakery. Butchie became aware of the problem accidentally. He overheard his uncle complaining bitterly in Italian to a neighbor about the deteriorating situation. Evidently, Uncle Guido forgot that his nephew was fluent in Italian. The rest of the information Butchie dragged out of his father. His mother again begged him to leave well enough alone.
“I love you, Mama,” Butchie told her. “But I’ve taken all the shit I intend to from these bloodsuckers. It ends today. The Bucciogrossos have paid their last dollar to the Bonannos.”
“But they’re killers,” Butchie’s mother reminded him.
“So am I, Mama, and I’m better at it than they are.”
“Please don’t do this,” she pleaded.
“I’m sorry,” Butchie said. “But this has to happen. I will kill every lastMustache Pete in Brooklyn if I have to. Our servitude to these vultures is over. This is gonna get done.”
When Butchie got to Fat Sam’s clubhouse, in the former storefront of Sal Badlamenti’s latacini, he was prevented from entering by two of Sam’s goons.
“This is private property, Copper. You don’t get to come in here,” Butchie was told by Donato Trinchera, the larger of Fat Sam’s bodyguards.
“I need a word with your boss,” Butchie told him.
“He’s not seeing visitors, least of all an Italian cop that hates his own,” Butchie was informed by Vito Meloro, the other body guard.
Meloro hit the ground with a thud after Butchie shattered his jaw with the lead sap he hit him with. Trinchera took two shots to knock out, but his jaw was every bit as broken. Butchie leaned over the two goons to admire his work and ensure that they didn’t require any more of his tender administration. Satisfied, Butchie stepped over the fallen thugs and entered the clubhouse. He spied Fat Sam at the card table in front of the espresso bar. He was playing pinochle with a group of the older Italian men from the neighborhood. Also in the group was Father Alphonso Spinatro, one of the parish priests from St. Brigid’s. He said the Italian mass on Sunday mornings that Butchie’s parents usually attended.
“Hi, Father,” Butchie greeted the priest as he advanced on the card table. Fat Sam looked up, confused.
“How the fuck did you get in here?” the fat gangster demanded.
“I let myself in,” Butchie informed him as he overturned the card table.
He grabbed Fat Sam by the throat and lifted him out of his chair.Then he drove him to the floor. Standing over him, Butchie took out his five shot off-duty revolver and shoved it into the mouth of the struggling gangster. Fat Sam looked into Butchie’s impassive eyes and instantly appreciated the very great peril he was in. Indelicato’s face became a mask of terror.
“Listen carefully,” Butchie cautioned him. “Because you only get to hear this once. The Bucciogrossos are now exempt from paying you for protection. If you set one foot in the bakery, or come near any member of my family, I will end you. If anything should happen to the bakery, a broken window for instance, or an electrical fire, even an act of God, I’m coming to talk to you about it. But if I have to come back here, my face will be the last thing you ever see in this life. Capisce?”
Butchie took the gun out of Sam’s mouth to let him answer.
“I’m not going to fuck with you, Butchie. But when Lilo hears what you did today, he’s not going to like it. He’ll have something to say about it.”
“That’s why he’s next on my list of phony-baloney tough guys that get a visit today. I’ll discuss it with him when I see him.”
Butchie put his gun away and got off the frightened gangster. He made a point of not helpingFat Sam off the floor.
“One other thing,” Butchie told him before he left. “You will not come to the bakery for the rent. You want it, you get it from me. But you’re going to have to come to the precinct for it.”
As Butchie stepped over Trinchera and Meloro lying in the doorway, he knew that Fat Sam would never come within a block of the decrepit precinct house on DeKalb Avenue. The Bucciogrossos’ bakery ostensibly was now rent free, as well as unencumbered by the fictitious protection fee. Now Butchie just had to make Carmine Galante understand the new rules.
Before heading down to the Magic Lantern Bar on Bath Avenue in Bensonhurst, from where Lilo Galante was known to hold court and run the Bonanno business, Butchie called his partner to let him know where he was headed and why, just in case he didn’t come back.
Eamon Fast Eddie Curran had been a boxer in his native Belfast. He got the nickname because of his lightening quick hands and propensity for quick knockouts. Butchie had volunteered to work with Curran for the very reason every other cop in the command refused to. Curran was assiduously honest, and would have nothing to do with the payoffs from mobsters that were a common practice in the NYPD at the time. This rectitude cast suspicion on him from the other cops that routinely took money to look the other way. Butchie heard about it, and asked Curran directly why he wouldn’t take the money.
“I come tree tousandmiles to enforce the law in Brooklyn. Dat’s exactly what I intend to do,” Fast Eddie told him, in his thick brogue.
“It’s just a little gambling and whores. What’s the harm?” Butchie challenged.
“There’s a plague over dis land, Boyo, and it’s called La Cosa Nostra. If you don’t tink every dollar of bribe money isn’t geared to further dat very ting, then you’re a shite and an ijit. They are enslaving and killing the people of this neighborhood as surely as if they were to put them in shackles and hang them. And every cop that takes their money is complicit. It’s no different than Judas and his thirty pieces of silver. But you already know that, Giuseppe. So, what do you say you stop pulling me wire and get to the fookin point?”
“I wanna work with you, Eddie,” Butchie said. “You do the right thing for all the right reasons. I won’t take their money either. I want to hurt them. I want to drive them out, if I can.”
“I don’t tink we are enough to be rid of dem. Sure, we’ll get no other help. We can definitely make their lives difficult, though. So if you’re willing, Boyo, then I’m in.”
Much to the chagrin of the mobsters, starting from that day, miserable and more is exactly what the two cops made them. Together they became an ever-present nuisance to the gamblers, pimps and drug peddlers. Early on, several of their more entrenched and corrupt fellow officers tried to talk to the two cops and intervene on the gangsters’ behalf. After the first few were beaten bloody in the locker room, they stopped asking. Everyone finally realized that these two cops would never relent. They would just have to be avoided. The most obvious solution was no solution at all. The mob knew that to kill two uniform police officers would bring down such swift and absolute retribution, La Cosa Nostra would cease to exist.
When Butchie told Eddie what he intended to do, Curran had only one question.
“Are we taking my car, or yours’?”
When Butchie and Eddie got to the Magic Lantern in Eddie’s beat up Dodge Dart, they parked around the corner. At the trunk they armed themselves with cut-down pump action shotguns on slings. Over them, they wore knee-length trench-coats with the pockets cut out. They entered the bar with their fingers already on the triggers of the shotguns beneath their coats.
Butchie spotted Lilo in the back of the bar reading a racing form. He walked directly toward him. Eddie spied the two Sicilian henchmen ensconced at the front of the bar. He brought the shotgun up and cautioned them.
“Right about now would be a good time to stay perfectly still, unless you want me to make it a permanent fookin condition,” Eddie said. The two zips held their hands up in compliance.
Butchie walked right up to Lilo’s booth and slid into the bench across from him. Galante looked up and registered recognition. But Lilo was confused. He knew who Butchie was. He just didn’t know why he was here. He was particularly curious as to why the angry cop had a shotgun pointed at his stomach from across the table.
“Do you know who I am?” Butchie asked.
“Of course. You’re the Italian cop in the 83rd that hates Italians. You work with that Irish lunatic that has my bodyguards playing Simon says right now at the front of the bar.”
“Close, but not exactly,” Butchie corrected him. “What I hate are you Mafia scumbags preying on the honest, hardworking Italians. You’re like carrion picking at the flesh of a dying animal. But I’m not here on behalf of them. You’ve got them so scared shitless, they wouldn’t let me help them anyway. I can’t save everybody. I’m here for one family only, my own.”
“How does this concern me?” Lilo asked.
“This morning I straightened out one of your Capos. I had to put his bodyguards in the hospital to get in to see him. I explained some new rules to him. I also treated him somewhat less cordially than he is accustomed to. I wanted you to hear about that from me. I’m not apologizing. I just want you aware of the new rules. Your life depends on you and your people adhering to them.”
“So, what’s this new arrangement?”
“The Bucciogrossos are no longer to be touched. We are not paying anyone of you vermin for anything. The rent for the bakery can be collected on the first of every month from me, at the precinct, if Fat Sam has the balls to show up there, which I doubt. If any of his goons or yours show up at the bakery, if a window gets broken, or a truck gets vandalized, I will wipe you out from the bottom to the top. I want you to understand that this is your problem now. You need to pass the word. Make it an edict. Because if it is not upheld, you will be the one to pay for it.”
“What’s my end in all of this?”
“You get to live.”
“Nothing else for my trouble?”
“Not one other fucking thing,” Butchie said. “Eddie and I are going to enforce the law, no special dispensations. If your goons want to avoid our attention, they need to stop doing stupid shit when we’re working.”
“I gotta hand it to you, Bucciogrosso. You got some set of balls on you.”
“It’s not balls, Lilo. I’m mad dog, batshit crazy, and I don’t give a fuck anymore. I’m not afraid of jail, and I don’t care if I live or die. That’s bad news for you. Because if you cross me on this, your survivability drops to zero. Now, you need to sound off that we have an agreement, or should I just make a modern-art masterpiece out of your guts on the wall behind you?”
Lilo considered his options briefly. In the end, his business acumen and instincts reasoned that giving a pass to a bake shop was an indignity that was not so hard to swallow. In addition, Lilo understood that his bread and butter was the narcotics trade. In reality, he knew that as committed as Butchie and Eddie were, they were still just uniform cops. The damage they could do with respect to the heroin racket was minimal. But Galante needed the last word.
“We have a deal,” he said. “But you and that lunatic donkey better behave. If either of you gets jammed-up, the minute you’re not cops anymore, I’ll make grease spots in the street out of you both.”
“Thanks for the heads up, Lilo. But I have faith in you. I know all about your ability to step on your own dick. I got a funny feeling that when you go down for the dirt-nap, I’m gonna be there to tuck you in. It will be my very great pleasure to send you straight to hell.”
Butchie and Eddie left the Magic Lantern. Having the agreement they came for,they went back to Bushwick to continue to treat the Bonannos with the same contempt they always had. None of the forewarned gangsters had the temerity to defy Carmine Galante. So the Bucciogrossos were left alone. Just as Butchie had predicted, Fat Sam wanted no part of the rent, if he had to go to the precinct to get it. So the bakery had one less operating expense. An uneasy peace existed between the partners and the crime family destroying Bushwick. They would have liked to do more, but as uniform cops they weren’t in a position to cut off the head of the snake that was the narcotics trade.
The urban decay that came with the drugs also brought a surfeit of violent crime. So Butchie and Eddie had plenty of work. They racked up an impressive record of arrests, for things like burglaries, robberies and guns. They were still regarded with suspicion by their colleagues for their refusal to take money. But when it became clear that they were not on a crusade to turn over the apple cart of the dirty cops, they were given a wide berth, and left alone.
In early July of 1979, Eddie Curran broke his hand on the head of a robbery suspect that tried to fight his way out of an arrest. While it went very badly for the suspect, the broken hand ensured that for the next six weeks, Curran would be home healing. Butchie’s squad sergeant temporarily assigned him to work with Ernie Whelan, whose partner was on his terminal leave, preparing to retire. Butchie wasn’t happy about it. Whelan was a rude, ignorant slob with few friends. His integrity was also in question. Butchie laid down some ground rules before the two set out on their first tour together.
“Whelan, I don’t care what you used to do with your old partner. It’s none of my goddamned business. But if you try and take money that isn’t yours while you’re working with me, I’ll rip your arm off and beat you to death with it.”
Ernie Whelan didn’t care for being spoken to like that, but he was still smarting from the beating Butchie gave him in the locker room the year before. He would not be accepting any pay-offs while working with him. While Butchie could prevent the slovenly cop from thieving in his presence, he had no control over the ignorance that kept spilling out of his mouth.
The other issue with Whelan was the smelly anisette cheroot that was perpetually clamped between his teeth. The smell of the smoke from that cheap cigar was nauseating. Butchie was about to tell him to lose it, when he made the mistake of getting close enough to Whelan to smell his rancid body odor. Butchie quickly decided the cigar was the less disgusting option.
“These dagos never heard the expression that you shouldn’t shit where you eat. Look what they’ve done to their own neighborhood,” the Whale observed. “It’s disgraceful. They are dirty, dirty people. I don’t know how they can live like this. They’re your paisanos, Butchie. Can you explain it?”
Butchie just glared at him. He was debating whether or not to punch him in the face when the radio squawked.
“Shots fired inside 205 Knickerbocker Avenue, Joe and Mary’s Italian Restaurant. One call, no call-back,” central reported.
“83 George,” Butchie acknowledged. “Responding, we will advise.”
The reduced manning in the department left the sector with no available back-up. This was getting to be an all too common occurrence. Butchie was less concerned about handling dangerous jobs without back-up than Ernie Whelan was. Butchie had absolute confidence in his own ability to fight or shoot his way out of any situation, so he wasn’t backing down from anyone. It would just be the two of them. If the shit hit the fan, Whelan would just have to suck it up and carry his own considerable weight.
A moment later, the cops arrived in front of the restaurant. Butchie knew this place well. The owner, Joseph Turano was a connected guy with the Bonannos. He had once been a customer of the Bucciogrosso Bakery, but Butchie had forbidden his father and uncle from doing business with the Mob after brokering the un-easy truce he made with Galante. Many of the cops in the 83rd precinct still ate there. Butchie and Eddie Curran wouldn’t set foot in the place, unless it was to lock someone up. They weren’t taking free meals from mobsters any more than they would take their money.
Butchie entered the restaurant and recognized the hysterical young woman pointing toward the courtyard in the rear. She was Joe Turano’s daughter, Cecile. Butchie drew his revolver and came out into the courtyard dining area. It was eerily quiet. In the rear of the courtyard, Butchie saw three men laying in puddles of their own blood and gore, around a banquet table with a flowered vinyl table cloth. There was a plate of pastries still on the table. On the right, Butchie recognized Carmine Lilo Galante. His chest and face were peppered with wounds from a shotgun blast. His right eye had been shot out completely. Butchie thought that he looked as dead as Julius Caesar.
He felt a momentary wave of elation at the sight of the dead gangster, until he was overtaken with a sense of regret for not having been the engineer of it. Whelan came lumbering up behind him.
“What have you guineas done now?” Whelan asked Butchie.
Butchie was considering whether to kick the Whale in the groin, when he remembered he didn’t respect the imbecile enough to make his opinion worthy of a response.
“Is that Galante?” Whelan asked as he came around the table.“He don’t look right without his cigar.”
“You’re right. He seems unnatural without it,” Butchie agreed.
With that, Butchie snatched the cheroot right out of Whelan’s mouth. He knelt over the prone body of Galante and roughly jammed the smelly cigar between his teeth. Butchie knew this was a far cry from the Cuban cigars Lilo had been famous for smoking, but it would have to do.
As Butchie was admiring the indignity, Galante’s good eye opened. He looked with recognition and fear into Butchie’s face. Rather than reacting with surprise, Butchie quickly pivoted and tossed the police radio to his partner.
“The radio is dead in here, Whale. I can’t get a signal. Why don’t you go out front and put over a no further. There’s nobody left alive. We don’t need any of our people getting hurt trying to race here.”
“Ah, okay,” Whelan said as he turned around and left the courtyard.
When he was sure that Whelan had gone, Butchie knelt down again and looked into Lilo’s one dying eye. The terror that was conveyed in that face washed over Butchie like a warm bath. He found the sensation exquisite. He would have liked to bask in it for a while longer if he could have, but time wouldn’t allow it. So Butchie got down to his intended business.
“Do you remember when I told you, Lilo, I would be the one to usher you into hell. Well, here we are, at Satan’s very gate,” he said, smiling serenely.
When Butchie closed his hand around the dying gangster’s throat, cutting off his air supply, it didn’t take long for the wounded Galante to kick his feet helplessly before shuddering one last time. Then he died. By the time Whelan came back into the courtyard, Butchie was standing away from the carnage, speaking to Cecile. She had calmed down enough to tell Butchie that her brother was wounded and hiding in the closet next to the kitchen. When the first ambulance arrived, Butchie directed them to Joey Turano. His father, Lilo, and Lilo’s cousin Nardo Coppolla were already dead. An army of cops and supervisors showed up to the scene. They were in turn followed by an army of detectives.
Being the first officers on the scene, Butchie and Whelan had to stick around. Butchie regretted taking the Whale’s cigar. Now he had nothing to camouflage Whelan’s native awfulness. But he would have to endure it for this day only. Butchie had already decided that he was never working with Ernie Whelan again. He would tell the ignorant, bigoted and filthy cop all about it. But that was a conversation for later.