Gravano’s piercing stare met mine. His desultory nod in our direction was followed up with a “So, these are the two guys who are gonna babysit me?”
HRT Dave said nothing, simply tugging on Sammy’s behind-the-back handcuffs, forcing Gravano to his knees. Assisted by another HRT operator, Mike, they uncuffed the mobster, and then without uttering another word, turned and stalked out of the room, leaving us alone with the Gambino underboss.
Sammy regained his feet, peered at us both, eyes unblinking, and then quipped, “Youse two are some ugly mofos.” He smiled a thinly confident smile and sauntered over to a conference table in the center of the common area, plopping down in one of the available seats.
“So,” he began, “I heard you two were Italian.” He shook his head in mocking disdain. “Imagine that. I gotta be tended to by two traitorous Italians.”
John laughed and then immediately set the tone. “Sam, we’re happy you’ve decided to do the right thing. You’re in the right place for that. The FBI is going to treat you in a manner commensurate with how you act. Be a gentleman and we’ll treat you in the same fashion. Be an asshole, and well, we’ll assuredly respond in kind. And we win all of our engagements. Just so you know.”
Sammy giggled. “Yeah, tell that to those Nazi HRT mofos. They keep putting the hammer down when it don’t need to be put down. But, I got ya. I gotta do what I gotta do for myself and my family. I don’t wanna cause no trouble.”
John nodded acknowledgement and pointed in my direction. “See this kid? His job is to put you down hard if you get outta line. His family is from Sicily. You know how crazy those damn ‘Zips’ can be. Even the FBI ones!”
Sammy giggled. “Okay, okay, looking at him, I’m presuming this is the West Pointer that George (the Gotti case agent) told me about. Thinks he’s tough? Hey, Kid,” he snorted, now looking in my direction, “I’m pretty good with the hands, you know.”
“I heard,” I allowed, “Some of the guys told me you worked out as a boxer at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. But you’re old now,” I mocked. “Hey, how old are you? Like fifty-something?”
“I’m forty-six,” he snarled, “and just how old are you?”
“Well, I’m twenty-six. Heck, you’re only seven years younger than my old man.” And I winked.
Gravano giggled. “Yeah, You’re just a rookie FBI Agent. Gotta lot to learn, kid. I’ll school you. Hey, John, I ain’t got time to educate this kid right now. What’s for dinner? I’m fucking a’starved.”
“Thought I’d run to Giant Foods, the grocery store outside the back gate on 610. How about I pick up some ground meat and whip up some meatballs and sauce,” John allowed.
I stuck both of my thumbs in the air, and enthusiastically endorsed the plan — “Hey, Sam, Johnny’s a great Italian chef. I’ve had his sauce. It’s killer! When I conduct surveillances with him in the Arthur Avenue “Little Italy” section of the Bronx, he always buys his olive oil, tomato sauce, and garlic in the open-air market there. And I’ve had his cooking before. He’s a regular sous-chef, I tell ya.”
“Good!” Sammy snorted. “I ain’t eating crappy food here. Remember, I’ve been dining on MCC (Metropolitan Correctional Center) jail garbage for almost a year. If I’m going to cooperate, you fucking better know you’re gonna feed me right.”
John grabbed his keys and slid out the main entrance en route to Giant. An on-duty FBI operator named “Shelly” strode through the door and glanced in my direction. “Hey, Jimmy, we keep the outer door open for safety. Just give us a shout if you need anything.”
“Thanks,” I cheerily replied. “We’re all good here.”
The operator returned to his post and Sammy turned to me. “I hate those fucking guys. They have to act ‘hard’ and are so by-the-book.”
“Yeah, well, that’s their job. My job and John’s job are completely different. We’re here to facilitate the upcoming visits by agents and prosecutors to prep you for testifying. They can’t be your friends, the HRT. We, however, are from the substantive squad and will make every effort to accommodate reasonable requests.”
“I just wanna see my wife and kids. Bruce and Georgie promised it would happen and Gleeson (John, the EDNY prosecutor) said he’d support that. A promise is a promise. Oh, and I need to be able to do some kind’a workout every day. Can you make sure I can get a run in, on the outside of this cell, and maybe help me stay in shape?”
“Sure, you old fuck,” I joked. “Hey, I’m gonna workout every day I’m “incarcerated” here as well. We’ll figure something out.”
Sammy stared at me for a second, and then a perplexed look crossed his face. “You’re a West Pointer, they tell me?”
“And, one of those HRT Nazis mentioned you were interested in trying out for their team?”
“Are you fucking nuts?” he sputtered.
“Why say that?” I inquired.
“Because, those guys are robots.”
“No, no they’re not, Sam,” I stated matter-of-factly. “They have a job to do, as do John and I. Lighten up. Trust me, would you rather deal with more body-cavity searches conducted by the C.O.’s at the MCC?”
He shook his head, amused at the notion. “Okay, I hear ya. Listen, Bo, I have an idea, and I need your help.”
I stopped and cocked my head. What could he be thinking? Was this a pathetic and futile request to enlist my aid in springing him from his confinement, because after all, as he kept reminding me, I was betraying my Italian roots…?
Sammy’s face contorted into a mock-grin and he paused, looking up at the ceiling and waited a beat — “They tell me you boxed at West Point. I know I got twenty years on you, but, I was thinking that, maybe, we could move the conference table and chairs back, with Director Sessions approval, of course, and maybe get some sparring in, shadow-boxing stuff, light glove-work, maybe, you know what I mean?”
The gratuitous mention of the current FBI Director aside, I smiled at Gravano with a knowing look upon my face.
“Hey, Sam, they warned me about your considerable powers of persuasion. You sucking me into ‘Sammy’s world’?”
He feigned an affront. “Who, me? Never. Listen, Jimmy, I need an outlet for my frustrations. I know I’m doing the right thing here, but I can’t imagine what is being said about me on the street. Can you imagine? They’re probably calling me, ME, Sammy the Bull, a rat. I can’t even comprehend it…”
I thought back to John’s words about ‘Stockholm’ and the dire warnings that Bruce had issued to me. Gravano had arisen rapidly in the Gambino hierarchy, a far-too-young mob underboss for just this very reason — he was quite persuasive, and likable, and engaging, and…
“Sam, let me talk to John and the HRT detail. I’ll see what I can do. No promises.”
He smiled. “Cool, Bo. Do what you can do.”
“And, what does ‘Bo’ mean and why do you call me that?”
Sammy’s eyes danced mischievously and his face lit up. “Trust me, Bo. It’s what I call my closest friends and associates. You and Johnny are my ‘Bo’s’. But not them damn HRT guys. Those guys are sons-a-bitches.” He then softly chuckled to himself, somewhat amused by his own joke.