When 44-year-old Frank Bompensiero awakened at 5878 Estelle Street on the first morning of a new decade, he must have felt optimistic. He must have felt hopeful. He padded on his bare size-ten feet into the shower. He sang, as was his custom, in the manner of Al Jolson: “Mammy, how I love you, how I love you, my dear old Mammy.” As he sudsed his stocky short frame — he was built, more than one person said, “like a V-8 engine” — he must have added an extra warble, a rococo trill to Jolson’s paean to his dear old Mammy waiting for him, praying for him, way down along the Swanee shore. On this first morning of 1950, a morning on which Harry Truman was in the White House, Earl Warren was in the state house, and Jack Butler was the city’s mayor, Bompensiero had much to celebrate. More appeared to be going for than against him.
A quarter century earlier Bompensiero leapt off a freight train that brought him from Milwaukee to San Diego. He was penniless. He was in big trouble. A dead man on a dark road outside Milwaukee. Jack Dragna up in Los Angeles straightened him out with Milwaukee. He’d had to do things for Jack and he’d done them. He accorded himself well. He had long been one of the amici, one of the friends, one of the family.
His fealty to Dragna had been and to this morning in January continued to be — utter, complete. He went where Jack sent him, he did what Jack said “Do.” No matter how heavy the load, if Jack said carry, he carried. He screwed up the Les Brunemann thing, but he and Leo went back to Redondo Beach and finished Brunemann. Sixteen shots Leo put into Brunemann. Sixteen. That cafe where Brunemann was sitting with his whore looked like a butcher shop when Leo got done. Then in 1938 Jack sent him to kill Phil Galuzo. He head-shot Galuzo. Left him head down in the gutter. After Galuzo he had to go into hiding. They shipped him from amici in Detroit to Kansas City to Tampa to New Orleans. He met good people.
Now people were not so good. It was not what it had been. Not in California. Maybe in Chicago and in New York and even in Kansas City and Detroit, men still were good workers. Here the younger ones, the new ones coming in, were not good. They did no work. Johnny Rosselli was a fool. He impressed Jack with his Chicago connections, with knowing Capone, with knowing Paul Ricca. Rosselli had gotten himself involved with Hollywood people and gone to prison. Rosselli, he should have been an actor. That’s what Rosselli wanted. Like the dead Jew Siegel. They wanted to be in movies. They pandered after the likes of George Raft and screwed blond American whores. Life to them was like movies.
Fratianno was another one; Bompensiero never felt easy with Fratianno in a room. Fratianno had cheap feelings; his feelings did not run deep. But Momo was good people, Momo’s brother Joe was good people. Biaggio was good people. Leo was good people. La Porte was good people. Three-Fingered Frank was good people. The tailor was not good people. The tailor’s woman came to him many times. She begged him to do it. She showed him the marks on her arms. And Mirabile was shit. Mirabile was truly shit. A son of a bitch. All that bullshit playing the great don, the nod and smile when people addressed him as “Papa Tony, Papa Tony.”
Jack shamed some good money out of Mirabile, though, and everyone laughed. Laughed hard. “We will make you one of us, Tony, for a small consideration.” The consideration was not small. The consideration was many fat envelopes. The consideration would end only when Mirabile found his grave. Jack knew how to get money from guys. Jack was a sly one. He had in common with Mirabile, the chasing of women. Always chasing women and whores, Jack was. Always chasing women and whores, and girls, young girls, Mirabile was. The mother of one girl called Bompensiero at home. “Frank, Frank, get down here. Mr. Tony is going crazy, chasing my daughter.” Bompensiero rousted Mirabile out of that house. “What?” he said to Mirabile. “Are you crazy? Gone crazy?”
Since 1946, Bompensiero had made significant money at the Gold Rail. Paydays for the sailors, you couldn’t get sideways into the 25-stool bar at 1028 Third Avenue in the midst of the downtown area known as sailor row and neon row. Although, the last few years, fewer servicemen came and went through the town; their absence was hard on business. But other ways exist to earn money, ways done in the dark. Bompensiero knows many ways, as he puts it, “to alibi” income. Skimming the bar cash was best: no taxes. Every buck you take in is yours. Running two tapes — the legit tape and your own tape — that also is good. Nowadays, Bompensiero’s trouser pockets always are lined with bills — 20s and 50s and 100s.
Bompensiero was proud of the Gold Rail. Actually, if you are to believe the license and the Yellow Pages listing, the “Gold Rail Steak House.” No steak was served. Law said you had to serve food. Bompensiero didn’t serve food. Up in his office, he kept the little refrigerator, the hot plate. Evenings, when he was home, a call sometimes came from his pal on the vice squad. The pal tipped him that vice was going to swing by. Bompensiero had to rise up off the couch and change clothes and rub the oil in his hair — hair that was receding, thinning — slip into his jacket and shoes and then sort through the refrigerator and grab a few steaks and those fennel sausages from the butcher and get his wife Thelma to toss them in a grocery sack. Then he had to drive down to Third Avenue, park the Cadillac, and fill the refrigerator. One night he cooked a steak thick as two fingers and a dozen sausages and served them at the bar. Vice strolled in, the air was filled with the cooking smells of beef and fennel and everyone was laughing and eating. Vice rousted him several times, too, over bookmakers in the Gold Rail. Little stuff. Nothing to worry.