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Honor Thy Father

Honor Thy Father by Gay Talese
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A classic masterwork newly updated

The electrifying true story of the rise and fall of New York's notorious Bonanno crime family

On New York's Park Avenue on a rainy Tuesday night in October 1964, the famous Mafia chieftain Joseph Bonanno was kidnapped by two mobsters and reported by the police as dead on the following morning. More than a year later, Bonanno mysteriously reappeared, setting off a bloody mob feud that came to be known as the “Banana War.”

In this monumental work—packed with intimate details and brilliant reporting—bestselling author Gay Talese first brought to the American consciousness a world and a life previously known to only a few. No other book has done more to acquaint readers with the secrets, structure, wars, power plays, family lives, and fascinating, frightening personalities of the Mafia.

HarperCollins; June 2009
592 pages; ISBN 9780061872006
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: Honor Thy Father
Author: Gay Talese

Chapter One

Knowing that it is possible to see to much, most doormen in New York have developed an extraordinary sense of selective vision: they know what to see and what to ignore, when to be curious and when to be indolent; they are most often standing indoors, unaware, when there are accidents or arguments in front of their buildings; and they are usually in the street seeking taxicabs when burglars are escaping through the lobby. Although a doorman may disapprove of bribery and adultery, his back is invariably turned when the superintendent is handing money to the fire inspector or when a tenant whose wife is away escorts a young woman into the elevator—which is not to accuse the doorman of hypocrisy or cowardice but merely to suggest that his instinct for uninvolvement is very strong, and to speculate that doormen have perhaps learned through experience that nothing is to be gained by serving as a material witness to life's unseemly sights or to the madness of the city. This being so, it was not surprising that on the night when the Mafia chief, Joseph Bonanno, was grabbed by two gunmen in front of a luxury apartment house on Park Avenue near Thirty-sixth Street, shortly after midnight on a rainy Tuesday in October, the doorman was standing in the lobby talking to the elevator man and saw nothing.

It had all happened with dramatic suddenness. Bonanno, returning from a restaurant, stepped out of a taxicab behind his lawyer, William P. Maloney, who ran ahead through the rain toward the canopy. Then the gunmen appeared from the darkness and began pulling Bonanno by the arms toward an awaiting automobile. Bonanno struggled to break free but he could not. He glared at the men, seeming enraged and stunned—not since Prohibition had he been so abruptly handled, and then it had been by the police when he had refused to answer questions; now he was being prodded by men from his own world, two burly men wearing black coats and hats, both about six feet tall, one of whom said: "Com'on, Joe, my boss wants to see you."

Bonanno, a handsome gray-haired man of fifty-nine, said nothing. He had gone out this evening without bodyguards or a gun, and even if the avenue had been crowded with people he would not have called to them for help because he regarded this as a private affair. He tried to regain his composure, to think clearly as the men forced him along the sidewalk, his arms numb from their grip. He shivered from the cold rain and wind, feeling it seep through his gray silk suit, and he could see nothing through the mist of Park Avenue except the taillights of his taxicab disappearing uptown and could hear nothing but the heavy breathing of the men as they dragged him forward. Then, suddenly from the rear, Bonanno heard the running footsteps and voice of Maloney shouting: "Hey, what the hell's going on?"

One gunman whirled around, warning, "Quit it, get back!"

"Get out of here," Maloney replied, continuing to rush forward, a white-haired man of sixty waving his arms in the air, "that's my client!"

A bullet from an automatic was fired at Maloney's feet. The lawyer stopped, retreated, ducking finally into the entrance of his apartment building. The men shoved Bonanno into the back seat of a beige sedan that had been parked on the corner of Thirty-sixth Street, its motor idling. Bonanno lay on the floor, as he had been told, and the car bolted toward Lexington Avenue. Then the doorman joined Maloney on the sidewalk, arriving too late to see anything, and later the doorman claimed that he had not heard a shot.

Bill Bonanno, a tall, heavy, dark-haired man of thirty-one whose crew cut and button-down shirt suggested the college student that he had been in the 1950s but whose moustache had been grown recently to help conceal his identity, sat in a sparsely furnished apartment in Queens listening intently as the telephone rang. But he did not answer it.

It rang three times, stopped, rang again and stopped, rang a few more times and stopped. It was Labruzzo's code. He was in a telephone booth signaling that he was on his way back to the apartment. On arriving at the apartment house, Labruzzo would repeat the signal on the downstairs doorbell and the younger Bonanno would then press the buzzer releasing the lock. Bonanno would then wait, gun in hand, looking through the peephole to he sure that it was Labruzzo getting out of the elevator. The furnished apartment the two men shared was on the top floor of a brick building in a middleclass neighborhood, and since their apartment door was at the end of the hail they could observe everyone who came and went from the single self-service elevator.

Such precautions were being taken not only by Bill Bonanno and Frank Labruzzo but by dozens of other members of the Joseph Bonanno organization who for the last few weeks had been hiding out in similar buildings in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. It was a tense time for all of them. They knew that at any moment they could expect a confrontation with rival gangs trying to kill them or with government agents trying to arrest them and interrogate them about the rumors of violent plots and vendettas now circulating through the underworld. The government had recently concluded, largely from information obtained through wiretapping and electronic bugging devices, that even the top bosses in the Mafia were personally involved in this internal feud and that Joseph Bonanno, a powerful don for thirty years, was in the middle of the controversy. He was suspected by other dons of excessive ambition, of seeking to expand—at their expense and perhaps over their dead bodies—the influence that he already had in various parts of New York, Canada, and the Southwest. The recent elevation of his son, Bill, to the . . .

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