Monday, July 29, 2013

The Vulgar Tongue, iii


          Servi had been wandering around Italy for more than a year.  He worked when he felt like it, and even did a brief stint as a translator for an Italian publisher.   
          His father and mother continually begged him to come back to New York.  They feared for his biological and financial welfare, and used all manner to threats and incentives to coax him on an Al Italia flight to New York.  Then his mother grew ill.  No doctor could properly diagnose her ailment.  There was an endless round of blood work, MRIs, PET scans, trips to specialists all over the city.  Servi’s father thought that the animal fact of his mother’s illness would bring his son back, but Servi hedged.   
          Then Servi’s mother wrote him a letter asking him to at least go see Frank Grillo if he would not come back to New York.   Servi could read between the lines of his mother’s sloping script:  Grillo will pressure you where we can’t.  So Servi took the train and then the bus to this remote Tuscan village to present himself to this man fabled in the history of the Servi clan.

            The Servis and the Grillos went, as his mother and father always said, way back.  Servi’s father Joseph and Frank Grillo grew up in the same Brooklyn neighborhood.  The three Grillo boys, Frank, Peter, and Peppi, each followed a not uncommon trajectory for first generation Italian-American families: Frank became a lawyer, Peter, a priest, and Peppi a mobster.   
            Despite their divergent paths, there was no friction between the three Grillo brothers.  Every Sunday evening they and their families ate at their mother’s house on Myrtle Avenue.  There was always whispered talk of collusion among the men: Peppi used the rectory for meetings, for there was little chance the FBI would bug a priest’s house, and Frank’s respectable Park Avenue law practice was little more than a front for nefarious purposes.  No one knew how Frank made his money:  he never appeared in court, he did not have any clients.  He had a sprawling house in Oyster Bay, a yacht docked in the harbor, a ten room bungalow in Amagansett.
            Servi’s father and Grillo went to Saint John’s Law School together.  The prevailing rumor was that Peppi financed it with numbers running.  For sometime, Servi’s mother, Mary Garibaldi, was courted by both Joe Servi and Frank Grillo.  After a brief spell of indecisiveness, she accepted Joe Servi’s proposal of marriage.  There was bad blood between the two men for a few years, but in time Grillo married and moved to Oyster Bay, just down the street from the Servi residence.  The two families, like many thousands, had followed a massive migration from the cramped immigrant cradle of Brooklyn for the spacious lawns of suburbia. 
Servi spent the first twelve years of his life playing with the Grillo’s only child, Beatrice.  She was a dark skinned little girl with disheveled brown hair and perpetually skinned knees.  She was tomboyish, but with a coquettish side which grew in a one for one relation to her burgeoning breasts.   
Beatrice and Servi were inseparable in the sandbox, the ball field, the basement.  They shared a kiss one day in improbable circumstances:  Beatrice said she wanted to feel what a kiss was like, and Servi obliged.  Their lips meshed for a few moments.  Servi remember her darting tongue.  The event was not seminal in Servi’s memory.  It was a sentence in his head:  the first girl I kissed was Beatrice Grillo.
            Then when Servi turned thirteen the Grillos suddenly moved to Tuscany.  At the ripe age of forty-two, Frank Grillo announced he was retiring.  He bought a vineyard outside of Florence and intended drink his own wine, read books for no more frivolous reason than pleasure, all the under the spreading limbs of a cypress tree.
            Servi overheard his parents discuss the Grillo's departure.  They though it was related to Peppi Grillo’s recent racketeering arrest.  But of course, no one said a word.  Broaching such a topic was to smash an ancient and respected taboo.  The Grillos disappeared one day after a going away party, and Servi more or less forgot about them.  There was the grand Servi domestic drama to enact, and bit players like the Grillos were inconsequential.  They were non-combatants in a family war.

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