ABOUT PETER BASTA BRIGHTBILL
Peter Basta Brightbill is a playwright and screenwriter who lives in New York City. He was in residence at BMC in the Fall of 1992, an experience that was transformative for him in his dramatic writing. He was a member of the first class of Playwright Fellows at the Juilliard School, where he was in residence in 1993-94. He is currently a graduate student at Columbia University.
“The reason why that BMC residency was so special to me,” he recalls, “was that it was the first time that anybody, outside of the NY theater community, had affirmed that I was a writer, and that meant the world to me as I was struggling to break away from the external things that defined me (my work as an attorney) and make a real vocation out of my writing. Then, too, the residency was special because of its duration (I recall it being five weeks, but it may have only been three); the support, friendship and camaraderie of my fellow writers, musicians and artists there. Time itself seemed to slow down as I got deeper into the play that I was writing, while the weather turned from late summer to an early snow over the course of those weeks, which added to the Chekhovian quality of my residency.”
It is all of eight-thirty of a grey Friday morning on a February day in 1992, and I am standing inside of the lobby of the federal courthouse in Brooklyn yawning and trying to blink the sleep out of my eyes. I am a nighthawk by habit and inclination and it so happens that my habits and inclinations square well with the custom of my trade. After many years as a prosecutor on the graveyard shift handling night arraignments, I have recently “jumped the bar” and now represent those whom I formerly would have prosecuted. Having acquired nocturnal habits I am never so fully awake as when it lacks an hour to midnight or at two in the morning and I find myself racing through a file (that I have just been given), turning to my client (whom I have just met), and loudly decrying the illegality of the unfortunate circumstances leading to my client’s arrest (of which I have just learned), and ending my soliloquy with a plea that my client is not guilty and a request that he be released on his own recognizance. Sometimes I am successful in this endeavor and other times I am not, but in either case my clients are almost uniformly happy with my representation and they, or a relative or a business associate, are happy to pay my fee and keep me in good single malt at the holidays.
Being a creature of the night, I am not used to being anywhere other than in my warm bed at 8:30 in the morning. But on this morning I had jumped out of bed and into the shower an hour before, had dressed, kissed my girlfriend goodbye as she was finishing her morning ablutions, and ran out the door of our Chelsea flat to catch the West Side IRT to Brooklyn Heights. Moreover, I had done all of this without even pausing for coffee. I had done all of this because John “the Gent” Gotti was on trial in Brooklyn and the feds had flipped his right hand guy, Sammy “the Bull” Gravano. And, though such forethought would have been superfluous had this been a state case since I am thick with the city cops at the local courthouses, this was a federal case and the feds were a whole other ball of wax—for one thing, they wore their pants too short and their shirt collars too tight, and they had no sense of humor—and I wasn’t a known personage there. So I knew I had to get there early if I had any hope of getting in.
“Do I have any chance of getting in?” I ask the taciturn U.S. Marshall, whose bad luck it apparently has been to have drawn public relations duty at a desk which has been specially set up near the entrance to the elevator bank to control the crowds seeking to get into what may be the last of the big Cosa Nostra trials. I count fifteen people on line behind the Marshall’s desk. This doesn’t seem like a big crowd to me, but I remember that the courtrooms in the Brooklyn federal courthouse are quite a bit smaller than their state counterparts and have limited seating. My head has that floating balloon feeling that signals that I need a shot of coffee and my empty stomach is growling audibly.
“You shouldn’t have any problem”, he answers, not looking up from his newspaper. Behind me, at the security station near the entrance, an alarm goes off. The Marshall looks up sharply at the noise and I follow his gaze to some guy dressed in an Armani sport coat and sporting a Miami Beach tan who is standing next to the metal detector, surrounded by three very interested feds. The guy has already emptied his pockets of a silver cigarette case and lighter, a set of keys and some loose change. He shrugs and pulls his pants pockets inside-out to show that they are empty. One of the feds asks him if he’s carrying and the guy sort of snorts and says ‘Yeah, right’ but apparently he knows the drill, for he lifts his arms up a bit while another fed pats him down. The guy comes up clean. The first Marshall gives him the once over with the wand and it turns out that the offending piece of metal is simply the guy’s belt. Those Gucci buckles do make quite an impression. They let the guy past and wave someone else through the machine. The alarm goes off again. They must have that thing set to pick up paper clips.
The sounds emanating from my gut cause me to turn my attention back to the Marshall behind the desk. He is still taking in the mini-drama of the security station, with what seems to me to be a look of envy. I get the distinct impression that he regards his present assignment as somehow beneath his training as a federal law enforcement officer.
I look up at the clock. Eight thirty-seven. I wonder whether I have time to run across the street for a cup of coffee and an egg-and-ham-on-roll.
“Do you think I have time to run across the street to the diner and grab a cup of coffee?” I ask the Marshall.
‘You shouldn’t have any problem’, he repeats distractedly, in the same matter-of-fact tone as before, his gaze dropping back to his newspaper. No doubt he would rather be guarding a witness or patting down potential perps at the security station or even cleaning his gun than answering rhetorical questions from half-awake civilians. I ponder my dilemma. My stomach growls again. The Marshall’s solid assuranceringing in my ear, I decide to chance it and go for the coffee and food. I’m no good in this condition anyway, with only five hours of sleep the night before. I leave the courthouse and head out across the park at Cadman Plaza.
Six months before I had quit my job as a prosecutor with the Brooklyn DA’s office and had taken a part-time job with an attorney in Manhattan so that I could spend more time on my writing. The money that the civil attorney was paying me was decent enough, but I worried that it might not be steady. A couple of my colleagues had told me that I could apply to get certified by the Bar to do assigned counsel work for indigent defendants. The money wasn’t that good but I didn’t know how long the job with the civil attorney would last. Besides, I missed Brooklyn and the drama and grittiness of doing criminal law work. So I had scheduled an interview with the assigned counsel panel for later that afternoon on Remsen Street, was dressed respectably enough for the occasion and was carrying my briefcase. For all the world I looked like any other Brooklyn criminal defense lawyer. Now if I could just wake up, I might be able to start thinking like one as well.
At a diner across Cadman Plaza from the courthouse I order a coffee and an egg-and- ham-on-roll to go. The crowd at this hour is what you’d expect, mostly: lawyers and judges from the various courts nearby, post office workers from the old Brooklyn Central Post Office, a few neighborhood people. But at a table near the back of the diner are seated six men who are quite a different crowd from the coffee-klatch of civil service regulars and Court Street lawyers. I realize that most of their faces are familiar to me from the polaroids and mug shots that hang on the wall of the DI Squad Room in the Rackets Bureau of my old office. Seated around this table are Jack (Jackie Nose) D’Amico, John’s brother Peter (Pete) Gotti, Dominick (Fat Dom) Burgese, John (Good Looking Jackie) Giordano and a couple of other goombas whom I don’t recognize. Up close and in person they look even more idiosyncratic than in their photos, like characters from a different time, a forties gangster movie, maybe.
These are the big guns of the Gambino organized crime family, Gotti’s trusted adjutants, with one notable absence. A few months earlier Sammy (the Bull) Gravano, consigliere of the Gambino family and Gotti’s number two button and trusted friend, faced with the prospect of spending the rest of his life locked up in a very small room, did the unthinkable: he decided to save his own skin and rat on his friends. It’s not that betrayal is unheard of in this world. But nobody rats on his friends. True, former friends have a way of becoming enemies and one can rat on an enemy with impunity. But Sammy Gravano’s betrayal was of Shakespearean dimension: he had not only betrayed John Gotti and Frank Locascio, the rest of his friends in the Gambino crime family and the other four families in New York, he had turned his back on the entire world in which he had grown up in. His own wife had denounced him in public, and, together with their son and daughter, had refused to accompany him into the federal witness protection program.
It is the absence from this table of this one adjutant that has given the government its first real hope of bringing down “the Teflon Don” after failing to convict him in two prior trials. It is the absence from this table of this one adjutant that explains the xeroxed signs that have recently sprouted on the lamposts in my old neighborhood in South Brooklyn, signs which show Gravano’s face superimposed over a drawing of a rat. And it is the absence from this table of this one adjutant that now screams its way over the coffees and danish that the big men munch, disturbs their subdued conversation and gives rise to the dour and resigned expressions they wear on their faces.
It occurs to me that these guys are like the dinosaurs at the time the world’s climate changed. Something equally fundamental in their world had changed and I wondered if they knew it. This was no longer the Brooklyn of their youth, much less the world of the gangster movies they so revered.
I leave the diner and walk back across Cadman Plaza Park to the courthouse. By now, a couple of TV news trucks had arrived and were setting up, their antennae extended and the on-air talent practicing their stand-ups, hoping for a good sound bite from Albert Kreiger or Tony Cardinale, the defense lawyers that Gotti and Frank (Frankie Loc) Locascio had retained after Bruce Cutler had been cut from the case, or, if they got lucky and Cutler had the balls, from Cutler himself.
I get back to the courthouse to find that the line of people standing behind the Marshall’s desk has completely disappeared. In its place now stands revealed a line of folding chairs along the wall, all of which are empty except for the first two. I walk up to the Marshall’s desk, incredulous, and ask him what happened to the line. He tells me that they’ve let in as many people as they have room for during the morning session. He doesn’t seem to remember me from before, nor recall having assured me that I had time to go get a coffee. He does assure me, however, that as soon as anyone leaves the courtroom he’ll let someone else in. He starts to tell me that it “shouldn’t be any problem”, and seems genuinely surprised when I finish his sentence for him. He invites me to take a seat. I am annoyed at the Marshall for his insincere bureaucratic assurances but am even more annoyed at myself for believing him, rather than having asked someone to save my place while I went for coffee. I take the first empty seat, however, and pull out my coffee and my fast-cooling egg-and-ham-on-roll.
Next to me are seated two guys in their mid-twenties. They’ve come well prepared for a wait, with copies of today’s News and Post. The first guy has dark hair and is wearing a three-quarter length black leather coat over a white shirt and silk pants. The second guy has light hair and wears a windbreaker over a T-shirt and light slacks. Both wear what look to be expensive Italian shoes and both are clearly Brooklyn boys, from the sound of their accents. Far from being annoyed or impatient, these guys are cutting each other up telling stories and commenting on the news in the paper. More to the point, they’re making everybody who walks in the door. A guy comes in the front door accompanied by two other guys, clearly cops of some sort, who each have one hand on each of the guy’s arms. The guy in the middle is carrying his sport coat folded over his hands, which are clasped together in front of him.
“Uh-oh, looks like that guy’s luck ran out,” says the dark-haired guy.
“City cops?” asks Blondie.
“Nah, feds. DEA, I think,” the dark-haired guy says. “Yeah, see that little pin in their coats?” Blondie cranes his neck to look. I do likewise.
“Yeah”, answers Blondie. I see it, too.
‘That’s Drug Enforcement. Oh, yeah”, says the dark-haired guy, clearly the more street-wise of the two.
A few minutes later a short, balding man dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase walks up to them. The dark-haired guy gets up and greets him deferentially with a long hand-shake, and the two of them walk a few feet away and converse out of earshot.
“Who was that?” asks Blondie, when the dark-haired guy returns and sits back down again.
“That guy? He’s a smart Jew lawyer that Jackie Nose set me up with. Got a robbery dismissed against me in State Court. Didn’t even go to trial.”
“Oh, yeah?” asks Blondie.
“Yeah. He’s a friend of ours” replies the dark-haired guy.
Now I am entirely focused on these two, wondering what’s going to come next. Who are these guys? But they return to reading their papers, and after a few minutes of nothing happening, I decide that its time for me to break the conversational ice.
“Man, I hope we get in” I venture.
“We should,” replies Blondie, who is sitting next to me. “The Marshall told us that they’d let us in as soon as somebody leaves the courtroom.”
“Yeah, he told me that, too,” I reply, and I find my vowels lengthening, my dialect sliding into deep Brooklyn. It’s that thing that always happens to me when I want to blend in. There is something of the chameleon in me, the writer-actor who wants to see what its like to live in another person’s shoes.
“I was here at 8:30, but then I went across the street to get some coffee, and when I got back…”
“Same thing happened to us,” Blondie says, “We woulda been here earlier but we stopped for some breakfast along the way. What are you gonna do? You need the coffee, right?”
“You got that right,” I say. “I just hope we get in soon. I don’t want to be here all day”.
“Yeah, me neither,” Blondie says, and then leans over to and says “we were supposed to get a pass, but I don’t think the guy showed up.”
“You here for anybody?” Blondie asks me, after a short pause. I tell him that, no, I’m just here because I wanted to see this for myself. “You?” I ask him.
“We’re here for John,” Blondie replies. I just nod.
“What do you think is going to happen? You think he’s going to walk?” he asks.
“It all depends on what Gravano does. If he keeps cool on cross, I think he’s gonna bury Gotti.”
“Ah, Sammy’s a rat. Who’s gonna believe a rat? The jury ain’t gonna believe him when they hear all he’s done. What, you a lawyer?”
“Yeah,” I answer.
“You a criminal lawyer?”
“Yeah,” I answer, after a brief pause. “I used to be a prosecutor, but now I’m doing defense work.” What the hell, I figure. It’s true enough.
“Hey, Tony”, Blondie says to the dark-haired guy, “this guy’s a lawyer.”
“Oh yeah?” The dark-haired guy answers. We all introduce ourselves and shake hands. The blond guy I’ve been talking to is named Louie, his dark-haired friend is Tony.
“So, what do you think is gonna happen?” Tony asks me.
“Like I was telling Louie,” I say, “I think that it all depends on Gravano, and what Krieger and Cardinale can do to him on cross, whether they can get him to lose his temper.”
“Sammy’s a hot-head,” Tony says, “he ain’t gonna be able to take it.”
“I’d agree with you if Cutler was doing the cross. But these other two guys, I don’t know. ”
“Yeah. Cutler would have Bruce-ified Sammy,” Tony says.
“You got a card?” Tony asks, and, with some trepidation, I pull one of my business cards out of its holder and hand it to him. Tony looks at it, pockets it, then turns to Louie and says “You gotta have a good lawyer.”
“What time did you guys get here?” I ask.
“Eight forty-five,” Tony answers. “Jackie Nose was supposed to get us a pass, but we must have missed him.”
“Maybe he ain’t even here,” Louie says.
“I just saw him a half hour ago,” I say, “across the street in the diner.”
“What, you saw Jackie Nose?” Tony asks.
“Jack D’Amico, yeah, Jackie Nose,” I answer. “He was sitting with Pete Gotti, Jackie Giordano, Dom Burgese and some other guys having breakfast. Not forty minutes ago.”
“See, I told you he was here,” Tony says to Louie, who just shrugs. “I’m gonna go see if I can talk to him, Jackie Nose.”
Tony gets up and approaches the Marshall at the desk, who, to my surprise, nods and lets him past.
Louie, who has caught my look, tells me “They’ll let him upstairs. They just won’t let him in the courtroom. They wanta keep the line down here.”
“So how can he talk to Jackie Nose?” I ask.
“Oh, once you’re in the courtroom they let you go in and out if you gotta use the can or stretch your legs or something. But you can’t get into the courtroom until somebody leaves for good,” he says. “We was here all afternoon yesterday and we couldn’t get inside”, he adds, “but we got here too late. I figure we’ll get in today.”
I look at the clock. It is now 9:45. It has been almost an hour since the first twenty people were let into the courtroom and no one has come down. Whatever is going on upstairs, it must be pretty interesting. My attention is diverted by the approach of an attractive woman who has walked up to the Marshall’s desk. She’s in her early twenties, has auburn hair and is well put together in a Fifth Avenue sort of way. The Marshall gestures at our line and she comes over and stands in front of the chair next to mine.
She has clearly not anticipated having to wait, and she is trying to decide whether to stay or not. She turns to me and asks me if I’ve been here a long time. Moderating my dialect back into something approaching my normal manner of speaking, I tell her that I just missed the morning session by five minutes and two people, gesturing at Tony and Louie. Louie, overhearing us, repeats what the Marshall told us and hastens to assure her that, in his opinion, we will be all in the courtroom very soon.
She sits down. We introduce ourselves. Her name is Kimberly and she says she teaches classical piano at a private school in Manhattan. I ask her why she is here and she tells me that she is friends with one of the witnesses at the trial. At first, this makes no sense to me at all since most of the people testifying at this trial are either wiseguys, or bystanders who saw somebody get whacked by a wiseguy, and since most of these whackings took place in neighborhoods in deep Brooklyn, neighborhoods where Kimberly would stand out like a slice of wonder bread on a plate of mozzarella and olive oil.
It all becomes clear, however, when Kimberly tells me that her friend, Jeffrey, is a writer who was working as a temp at an office near East 46th Street when, one night after he had just left work and was walking down the block in front of Spark’s Steakhouse, he saw a car pull up and “some guys on the street” shoot “those guys in a car.” “Those guys in the car” were Paul Castellano, the head of the Gambino crime family, and his driver Tony Bilotti, and those “guys on the street” were members of Gotti’s crew. Kimberly’s friend just happened to witness John Gotti’s outrageous power play to seize control of the Gambino family. Evidently Jeffrey was on the stand today, even as we spoke, describing the circumstances of the Castellano killing. Small wonder no one had left the courtroom.
Kimberly also tells me that she knew Jeffrey from college out in Washington state, where she’s from, but that she’d lost touch with him since graduating. She didn’t know that he was in New York until she had read his name in the paper, and then she had tried to reach him through his parents and that’s how she found out that he was in protective police custody. She was worried for him.
Louie has overheard this last bit, for he leans over and asks “Your friend Jeffrey saw that happen?” Kimberly replies that he did.
Louie then nudges Tony and repeats this interesting development to him.
“Your friend didn’t see that happen” Tony announces, in a tone more dismissive than threatening. But Kimberly is stubborn, if nothing else.
“Yes, he did,” she maintains.
“Your friend couldna seen that happen,” Tony adds. There is a brief pause, and then he asks “Your friend saw that happen? What did he see?”
“I don’t know. He saw the guy who shot him, I think.”
“He musta seen Sammy do it,” Louie says, “cause John wasn’t there.”
“Nah, John wasn’t there,” Tony repeats, nodding.
“I don’t know who he saw. Whoever was there.”
“Wow, he saw it, huh?” Tony says, without a trace of belligerence. “What da ya know?”
The conversation is interrupted by the entrance of a well-dressed couple in their early twenties who, despite having been directed by the Marshall to our seated line, instead take their place, standing, about six feet behind the desk and a couple of feet in front of Tony. Tony reaches over and taps the guy’s leg.
“Hey, pal,” Tony says. The guy turns around and looks down his nose at Tony.
“Ya gotta get on line,” Tony adds.
“We are in line,” the guy replies.
Tony, who is clearly much smaller than this jerk, doesn’t even get up out of his chair. He does it all with his voice.
“No. You see these chairs? This is the line. That,” he says, pointing to the empty chairs behind Kimberly, “is the end of it. You got a problem with that?”
“Come on,” the woman says, and pulls the guy over to the line of empty chairs, where they do not sit, but stand some distance behind Kimberly.
“That guy,” Tony says, shaking his head, a bit flustered.
“We been here for over an hour. Where does that guy get off trying to jump the line?” I say.
“Yes, good for you. The nerve of some people”, Kimberly says.
“That was very rude” Louie adds.
“I wasn’t gonna start anything, but…” Tony says, still shaking his head.
“No, you handled it like a gentleman,” Kimberly assures him, and Tony straightens up and brightens as though he had just been paid the greatest complement in the world, which, in his world, he probably has. Then Tony and Louie introduce themselves to Kimberly, all four of us practically best of friends now, after which Tony stands up, shoots his cuffs, and says with great dignity “I gotta go take care of some business” and saunters off in the direction of the payphones with coins jangling in his pocket.
Another half hour goes by in relative quiet. Tony has returned and is reading Louie’s paper. We are all getting restless. Finally, Kimberly gets up. “I don’t think I can wait any longer,” she says.
Tony, ever the gentleman, stands up and offers to take Kimberly up to the courtroom. “You could write your friend a note, maybe, give it to the Marshall” he suggests. Kimberly takes Tony up on his offer and the two of them leave.
I turn to Louie and ask, “Tony isn’t made or anything, right?” Louie glances around him before replying.
“Nah,” he says, making a face to indicate that, in his opinion, this isn’t likely to happen, either. “He wants to be. He says they got their eye on him, but…” he trails off, then adds, without a trace of irony, “between you and me, I don’t think that there’s much of a future in it.”
Ten minutes later, Tony and Kimberly reappear their mission having been evidently successfully completed. Kimberly tells me that she gave her note to the Marshall, who told her that he would give it to one of the prosecutors and that she should wait downstairs until the lunch break and maybe she could see Jeffrey then. Tony says that he thinks we’ll get in just after lunch, because not everybody will come back. He suggests that maybe we can all four go out to lunch. Kimberly, apparently reassured that she’s going to get to see Jeffrey soon, says “Fine.” Me, I’m not so sure that this is such a good idea.
Louie gets up and announces that he’s got to go call his boss and tell him that he’s not going to be in for work today. This reminds Kimberly that she needs to check her phone machine and the two of them go off together to find the pay phones.
As soon as they’ve left, Tony leans over Louie’s seat to me and says “Pete, I gotta ask you something.”
“Sure. Fire away,” I reply.
“Okay. Kimberly and I go upstairs and I bring her over to the Marshall so that she can give him the note, right? And while the Marshall goes to check with somebody Jackie Nose comes up to me and asks me ‘Who’s the skirt?'”
“Who’s the skirt?”, I repeat, trying to keep a straight face, beginning to wonder if I haven’t fallen into a Cagney-Bogart movie after all.
“Yeah. ‘Who’s the skirt?’ and I told him that she was a friend of Jeffrey’s. And he said, ‘What, the guy who’s testifying today?’ and I said ‘Yeah, the guy who saw the hit’ and he asked me what I knew about her. But before I could say anything more, a buncha Marshalls came over to where Kimberly was standing a few feet away and I couldn’t talk to Jackie no more”, he tells me.
“Okay,”,I say, holding my breath.
“So, Pete, what I want to know is this. Just between you and me, attorney-client privilege, what could happen if I were to find out stuff about Kimberly for Jackie? Could I get in trouble or anything?”
I had started to smile at Tony’s naïvete in believing that, simply by uttering the words “attorney-client privilege” he was protected from my disclosing his confidences, but my smile faded as I realized what was at stake here. I turned to him and told him that under no circumstances should he tell anything more to Jackie Nose, that he could get into big trouble with the feds if he did so, that he could be charged with tampering with a trial and get sent to federal prison.
Tony looked thoughtful, but uneasy. I had no way of knowing whether he took what I said to heart. So, when Kimberly returned a few minutes later I pulled her aside to talk to her.
“Do me a favor.” I said, “Don’t talk to these guys anymore. It’s not a good idea.”
“Why not? They seem like nice-enough guys.”
“Well, maybe they are nice guys, and maybe they aren’t. But one thing for sure is they’re friends with Gotti’s friends, right? And you’re friends with Jeffrey, right? And Jeffrey’s testifying against Gotti, right? And Gotti and his friends would just as soon that Jeffrey kept his mouth shut, see? And maybe Gotti’s friends think if Jeffrey knew that you were in danger then perhaps he would have second thoughts about opening his mouth?”
A slow dawn of understanding breaks over Kimberly’s face.
“I thought this only happened in the movies” she says.
Louie, in the meantime, has returned from his errand and, as Kimberly and I turn around, I see that he and Tony are conferring. I’m wondering how much danger, Kimberly is really in, who I should contact and how, and whether she’ll keep her mouth shut long enough if I were to leave to go find someone who will listen to this strange story. I look over at Tony and he looks back at me, poker faced. I’m wondering whether my admonition has had any effect.
I don’t have long to wait to find out. “So, Kimberly, where you from?” Tony starts in with. She looks up at me, worried now.
“The Northwest,” she replies.
“What is that, like Nebraska or something?”
“Something like that.”
“I thought this only happened in the movies,” Kimberly says, more to herself than to anyone else, “I feel like I’m in a movie.”
“What?” asks Louie.
“I feel like I’m in a movie”, she repeats.
“This ain’t no movie, Kimberly,”,Louie says without a trace of guilt or irony, and I want to shout at her LISTEN TO HIM! HE KNOWS WHAT HE’S TALKING ABOUT!
Tony persists. “So, Kimberly, what do you say? We’re having lunch, right? I know this place nearby, they got great pizza. You like pizza?”
“Uhm, I’m not hungry.”
“Actually,”, I butt in, “we’ve already made plans earlier. You guys know how it is.”
Just then a cop and a fed, both in plainclothes, walk up to the line, led by a Marshall. The Marshall points out Kimberly. The fed and the cop come over, address Kimberly by her last name and ask her if she’ll come with them. Kimberly, who by now is more than a little frightened and isn’t sure of who to trust, asks them if I can come come with her. They nod, assuming that I’m her boyfriend.
The four of us move only a few feet away and the fed, who turns out to be an FBI agent, tells her that they intercepted her note to Jeffrey and that they would like to arrange to have her meet Jeffrey after the trial. Kimberly says nothing, just looks at me.
“It’s OK,” I tell her, “they’re really cops.”
“Who are you, her boyfriend?” asks the FBI agent.
“No. He’s a lawyer,” says Kimberly.
“He’s your lawyer?” asks the City cop, misunderstanding, in a tone which conveys that now he’s seen everything. The friends of cooperating witnesses now bring their lawyers to court, for krissakes, to act as go-betweens with the government!
“Uh, it’s not like that,” I tell them. “Can we go somewhere and talk?” As we are walking away towards the stairs to the offices upstairs, I tell them that I’m a former city prosecutor and throw out the names of a couple of federal prosecutors who I know from my old job. As with Tony and Louie before, the cops appear to take me on faith. As they are leading us out of the lobby I glance over at Tony and Louie, who make a good show of not looking at us.
A few minutes later Kimberly is safely ensconced in a conference room on the second floor of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and I am talking outside in the hall to the FBI agent and the detective. The FBI guy, named Greg, is in his thirties. He wears polished wingtips, a conservative grey suit and un-stylishly short hair. But for the shoulder holster visible beneath his suit coat when he reaches into his pocket he could pass for a young associate at one of the city’s white shoe law firms. The detective, on the other hand, is pure New York cop: in his early fifties, about twenty pounds overweight, in a dark suit that badly needs pressing and shoes which could use a shine. His name is Jimmy Turnbull and he works for the Manhattan South Task Force. I find out later that he caught the case the night of the Castellano-Bilotti hit at Spark’s Steakhouse and is one of the few NYPD cops to have ridden the case all the way through to the end. I relate to the two of them the story of Tony and Louie and Jackie Nose’s interest in the Skirt.
“Thanks,” Turnbull says, smiling, “we’ll take care of it.” Before they leave they promise to get me into the trial at any time that afternoon, and Turnbull gives me his card and tells me to flash it if anybody at the courthouse gives me any problems. They tell Kimberly that they will bring Jeffrey down to visit her just as soon as he is finished with cross, which they expect will be soon after the afternoon session resumes. This suits Kimberly just fine. She has had her fill of excitement for the day and she’s happy to stay in the conference room.
I go out to get some lunch for both of us. I have to cross the lobby to get out, and as I do so I see Louie at the head of the line. He waves to me and I walk over.
“Pete,” he asks, “you want us to save your place?”
I look him in the eyes, but can’t detect any guile there.
“Nah,” I tell him, looking away, “they’re taking care of me”.
Louie just nods. I ask him where Tony is and he tells me that he went to get the two of them some lunch.
“See you later,” I tell Louie.
“Yeah. See ya upstairs.”
By the time I get back from the deli it is past one p.m. and the line in the lobby behind the Marshall’s desk has disappeared. I am waived through security as though I worked there and I pass each security checkpoint by flashing Turnbull’s card. I go back to the conference room and deliver Kimberly’s part of the order and we eat together, talking about music and art and life in Manhattan and how it is so different from the way she thought that it would be from the movies, but how Brooklyn is like something out of a movie after all. After I finish my sandwich I say goodbye to her, tell her that maybe we’ll bump into each other in the City, knowing full well that we won’t. It is well past 1:30 in the afternoon when I leave her, but I’m not in any hurry because, like Jackie Nose at breakfast this morning, I know that my seat has been reserved.
When I finally exit onto the fourth floor of the Courthouse I find a wide hallway outside the courtroom half-filled with some of the “friends” and “family” of the defendants, smoking and stretching their legs under the watchful eyes of a half dozen U.S. Marshalls. Much to my surprise, I see Tony and Louie standing next to a velvet rope just the other side of the elevator bank from the direction of the courtroom. I walk over to them and ask them how come they’re not in the courtroom.
“It’s full”, Tony tells me.
“We gotta wait until someone leaves for good”, Louie adds.
“But you guys were first on line”, I say. “What happened?”
“Pete, it was like this”, Louie says. “Just after Tony got back with the pizza, theytold us that they were letting people up two at a time. So Tony and me get into theelevator and we press ‘four’, only the elevator goes down when it shoulda gone up and we get stuck in the basement for a couple of minutes.”
“Yeah”, Tony adds, “and by the time we got up here everybody else had already got in and the courtroom was full. So we gotta wait.”
“What?” I ask, thinking that this all sounds very unlikely, but that, then again, these guys aren’t rocket scientists and maybe they pushed the wrong button. “Ah, man, that’s a shame”, I say.
“Whataya gonna do?” Louie says, “fuckin’ elevator problem.”
I enter the double doors of the courtroom, a Marshall at either side, and take a seat among some journalists and spectators. A nervous young man in his mid-twenties is on the stand, undergoing cross-examination by Cardinale. The defense lawyer is trying to challenge Jeffrey’s powers of observation and recall, but the kid is sticking to his story, although his voice is a little shakey and it sometimes disappears altogether. Kreiger, meanwhile, is at the defense table with Gotti and Locascio. Every once in a while Gotti leans over to whisper something in Kreiger’s ear, then sits back in his chair with a smirk on his face. I look at him closely, nattily attired in an expensive suit, and think that he does dress like a mob boss from the thirties and wonder whether he didn’t get his fashion sense from watching old movies. Locasio, by contrast, is dressed in a dull blue suit and looks like a middle manager of an auto factory.
I look around the rest of the courtroom In the front two rows, behind the defense table, I recognize Jack D’Amico, Dom Burgese, Jack Giordano, Pete Gotti, the two other guys from the diner and a bunch of other guys whom I’ve never seen before and wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. I also take note of the number of empty spaces in the benches.
After about forty minutes I get up to leave to make my interview with the assigned counsel panel. Outside of the courtroom, I see Tony and Louie still standing by the velvet rope near the elevators, watched over by a few Marshalls. Jimmy Turnbull stands a discreet distance off. I walk over to Tony and Louie.
“What, you guys still aren’t in?” I ask. Tony just shakes his head sadly. “Fuckin’ elevator problem,” Louie says.
Jimmy Turnbull motions to me to come over and I do. He says he wants to thank me and shakes my hand. I ask him what’s the deal with Tony and Louie. Turnbull shrugs his shoulders and says “Whataya gonna do? Fuckin’ elevator problem”, but gives me a quick wink and a sly smile as he does so. I realize then that Tony and Louie won’t be getting into that courtroom at all that day.
As I leave the courthouse I realize that I have mixed emotions about my role in what had just happened, and I find that I cannot fully share in the cop’s joke. I had come to the courthouse that morning to see for myself the final act in the Gotti drama and had become, in a small way, a bit player in it. I tell myself that I did the right thing: that I protected someone who may have been in danger and prevented what may have been an attempt to reach a witness.
But all the same, I genuinely liked Tony and Louie, they had trusted me and I had betrayed them. And it occurs to me, then, that I have seen far more of their world than I had bargained for when I first made their acquaintance this morning and that this, too, is part of life in Brooklyn.