Baron Construction Company had sub-contracted to build block foundations and to frame 39 singles off Willow brook Road that year for the GC. I t was nearing 6 am and I was rushing through my second bowl of Cheerios when Anthony Baron, my Dad, joined Mom and me at the breakfast table.
“Take Mario’s crew today and frame lots 21 and 22 this week”, he said.
“Yes, sir.” I was pleased with my promotion. Not yet 20 I now bossed my own crew.
“You’re right on schedule, son. “ he said approvingly.
I said, “If the weather holds maybe we’ll even pick up a day this week.”
The Baron family was, by no means wealthy, but one thing was certain: we ate well. Mom was a great cook and knew how to please hungry men. Mom grabbed a big bag from inside the fridge, packed it into my thermos lunch box.
She sat next to me at the table, set down the lunchbox and a stack of mail addressed to me; College logos showed on each return address.
“These came for you, Benny.” She said. I glanced down at them with disdain.
“Not more,” I complained. “Don’t they ever give up?”
“Maybe you open them on your coffee break, get out of the sun for a minute. By the way, today is the day you will meet Don Carlo. He will send a car for you later this afternoon,” she said.
Dad glanced sideways at her when she spoke that name.
“What could a man like him possibly want with me?” I asked aloud.
“Give him your respect,” Dad said. “After all…” He raised his hands in that ‘need I say more’ gesture.
With lunch pail and letters in hand, I called back, “Yes, sir”, and hustled out the front door to my waiting steed, ‘62 Nova, and we were off to work.
Mario and Tony were brothers, a couple of tough Portuguese laborers who worked and fought hard, all the time.
On their first water break, Mario taunted his hot-tempered brother again.
This time it was over his latest girlfriend.
“That Maria is nothing but a slut,” Mario said with a grin.
Tony balled his fists and threw his water in Mario’s face.
I knew they’d be rolling around on the ground in a moment, so I dropped my hammer and moved fast. I insinuated my two hundred pound bulk between them in a hurry. Stepping directly between the two of them might not be wise since Tony was ready to explode.
But by the time he realized it was his boss and not his brother before him, he and Tony were already laughing out loud when their big dumb boss, that was me, said,
“Of course she’s a slut! Why else would Tony spend his hard earned money on her?”
After framing the first-story of a split ranch on Lot 21, I gave the crew instructions to nail in fire-stops and bracing to secure the partial frame against the wind; and then take the truck back to the yard and knock off for the day.
I drove down Victory Blvd. to a sleazy section of Tompkinsville where I had been instructed to meet my ride. I sat in the Nova surrounded by urban decay.
The skeleton of a high-rise derelict presided over a graveyard of boarded-up shacks. I watched litter rustle in the hot summer breeze over cracked, heaving sidewalks. A lone weed peeked out of a split in barren soil. I imagined this as a neighborhood where children once played. But those children would be senior citizens now.
A black stretch limousine appeared suddenly. It looked out of place in the abandoned slum. Its high fins and protruding taillights made it appear a mechanical monster, or perhaps, an alien space ship.
Two of the biggest men I ever saw jumped out of the front doors, rocking the entire vehicle. One held open the back door. Neither one of them spoke, so I climbed into the cavernous interior. One giant followed me inside. The other drove. Not a word was said by any of us.
We drove west of The Staten Island Expressway, and then onto the service road until we stopped abruptly with a jar and a tight turn. A pair of wrought iron gates opened in the middle. The armed guards stepped aside allowing the limo access onto a narrow winding road at the foot of a mountain. The newer homes got larger and larger and were further apart, as we ascended the mountain.
The black stretch limousine stopped under a high portico attached to a Palace that would make the Queen of Sheba blush.
I followed the giants across the brick pavers through double stained glass Oak doors into an entry foyer larger than my parents’ entire house. A high fountain cascaded its waterfalls down two levels to a twenty-foot round koi pond. The arched double grand black marble staircase cradled the fountain like arms around a child.
I followed the giants across the black and gold marble floor until we finally arrived at another pair of oversized stained oak doors. All openings in The Palazzo stood a full 8’ in height to accommodate my king sized guides.
I entered the expansive interior of a 50-foot square den with a vaulted gable ceiling. No one was in there and The Boys vanished, so I walked in tentatively and explored.
The view straight across was a full wall of windows maybe three and a half stories high with a mountaintop view of the New York skyline. The top line of windows was glass trapezoids that followed the lines of the gable valley rafters. Baron Construction had framed buildings this tall but never in a single family home and never of these proportions.
A massive brown stone fireplace dominated the space on the wall to my left, and was flanked by massive polished burgundy stained wood shelves. Probably cherry wood completely laden with volumes of leather bound classics. Some titles jumped out as I recognized them from my high school English assignments. A life size cross-hung above the fireplace.
I wondered if King Kong or Godzilla might uproot a whole tree and toss it into this raised hearth in the winter. A seating group of velvet wing chairs in dark burgundy were alternately accompanied by end tables whose wood matched the bookcases.
On one table sat a very old and ornate Holy Bible bound in leather with gold embossed raised lettering, a gold cross on the front cover. Its sides were embossed in gold leaf. A rare and valuable possession, for certain.
A polished mahogany wood bar with brass rails that any tavern would be proud to own dominated the right wall. A dozen leather and silver studded bar stools surrounded its U shape design.
On the wall above the bar was a large plaque that enumerated The Seven Deadly Sins and The Seven Virtues. I was surprised to see so much education and religious artifacts displayed so prominently in a Mafia bosses’ home. I had expected to see a wall plaque only of the Seven Deadly Sins.
My reverie was interrupted when a deep rich voice filled the cavernous auditorium, “Welcome home, Benedetto, your education is about to get interesting.”
I turned to face a well-dressed, impeccably groomed man who stood behind me. He radiated confidence and charisma. From the first second, I intuitively knew he was a force of nature. He shared that same something that Elvis possessed: everyone just knew he had it as soon as he entered a space, whether on stage or even in a movie. You were drawn to him and didn’t know or care why.
He spoke again, “Ben, you are my son. I agreed to allow you to grow up without knowing your position in our world. But now it is time for you to come home and take your rightful place in our family.”