On the afternoon of Michael's return from Vegas, Rocco Lampone drove the limousine to the mall to pick up Kay so that she could meet her husband at the airport. She always met her husband when he arrived from out of town, mostly because she felt lonely without him, living as she did in the fortified mall.
She saw him come off the plane with Tom Hagen and the new man he had working for him, Albert Neri. Kay didn't care much for Neri, he reminded her of Luca Brasi in his quiet ferociousness. She saw Neri drop behind Michael and off to the side, saw his quick penetrating glance as his eyes swept over everybody nearby. It was Neri who first spotted Kay and touched Michael's shoulder to make him look in the proper direction.
Kay ran into her husband's arms and he quickly kissed her and let her go. He and Tom Hagen and Kay got into the limousine and Albert Neri vanished. Kay did not notice that Neri had gotten into another car with two other men and that this car rode behind the limousine until it reached Long Beach.
Kay never asked Michael how his business had gone. Even such polite questions were understood to be awkward, not that he wouldn't give her an equally polite answer, but it would remind them both of the forbidden territory their marriage could never include. Kay didn't mind anymore. But when Michael told her he would have to spend the evening with his father to tell him about the Vegas trip, she couldn't help making a little frown of disappointment.
"I'm sorry," Michael said. "Tomorrow night we'll go into New York and see a show and have dinner, OK?" He patted her stomach, she was almost seven months pregnant. "After the kid comes you'll be tied down again. Hell, you're more Italian than Yankee. Two kids in two years."
Kay said tartly, "And you're more Yankee than Italian. Your first evening home and you spend it on business." But she smiled at him when she said it. "You won't be home late?"
"Before midnight," Michael said. "Don't wait up for me if you feel tired."
"I'll wait up," Kay said.
At the meeting that night, in the corner room library of Don Corleone's house, were the Don himself, Michael, Tom Hagen, Carlo Rizzi, and the two caporegimes, Clemenza and Tessio.
The atmosphere of the meeting was by no means so congenial as in former days. Ever since Don Corleone had announced his semiretirement and Michael's take-over of the Family business, there had been some strain. Succession in control of such an enterprise as the Family was by no means hereditary. In any other Family powerful caporegimes such as Clemenza and Tessio might have succeeded to the position of Don. Or at least they might have been allowed to split off and form their own Family.
Then, too, ever since Don Corleone had made the peace with the Five Families, the strength of the Corleone Family had declined. The Barzini Family was now indisputably the most powerful one in the New York area; allied as they were to the Tattaglias, they now held the position the Corleone Family had once held. Also they were slyly whittling down the power of the Corleone Family, muscling into their gambling areas, testing the Corleones' reactions and, finding them weak, establishing their own bookmakers.
The Barzinis and Tattaglias were delighted with the Don's retirement. Michael, formidable as he might prove to be, could never hope to equal the Don in cunning and influence for at least another decade. The Corleone Family was definitely in a decline.
It had, of course, suffered serious misfortunes. Freddie had proved to be nothing more than an innkeeper and ladies' man, the idiom for ladies' man untranslatable but connotating a greedy infant always at its mother's nipple--- in short, unmanly. Sonny's death too, had been a disaster. Sonny had been a man to be feared, not to be taken lightly. Of course he had made a mistake in sending his younger brother, Michael, to kill the Turk and the police captain. Though necessary in a tactical sense, as a long-term strategy it proved to be a serious error. It had forced the Don, eventually, to rise from his sickbed. It had deprived Michael of two years of valuable experience and training under his father's tutelage. And of course an Irish as a Consigliere had been the only foolishness the Don had ever perpetrated. No Irishman could hope to equal a Sicilian for cunning. So went the opinion of all the Families and they were naturally more respectful to the Barzini-Tattaglia alliance than to the Corleones. Their opinion of Michael was that he was not equal to Sonny in force though more intelligent certainly, but not as intelligent as his father. A mediocre successor and a man not to be feared too greatly.
Also, though the Don was generally admired for his statesmanship in making the peace, the fact that he had not avenged Sonny's murder lost the Family a great deal of respect. It was recognized that such statesmanship sprang out of weakness.
All this was known to the men sitting in the room and perhaps even believed by a few. Carlo Rizzi liked Michael but did not fear him as he had feared Sonny. Clemenza, too, though he gave Michael credit for a bravura performance with the Turk and the police captain, could not help thinking Michael too soft to be a Don. Clemenza had hoped to be glven permission to form his own Family, to have his own empire split away from the Corleone. But the Don had indicated that this was not to be and Clemenza respected the Don too much to disobey. Unless of course the whole situation became intolerable.
Tessio had a better opinion of Michael. He sensed something else in the young man: a force cleverly kept hidden, a man jealously guarding his true strength from public gaze, following the Don's precept that a friend should always underestimate your virtues and an enemy overestimate your faults.
The Don himself and Tom Hagen were of course under no illusions about Michael. The Don would never have retired if he had not had absolute faith in his son's ability to retrieve the Family position. Hagen had been Michael's teacher for the last two years and was amazed at how quickly Michael grasped all the intricacies of the Family business. Truly his father's son.
Clemenza and Tessio were annoyed with Michael because he had reduced the strength of their regimes and had never reconstituted Sonny's regime. The Corleone Family, in effect, had now only two fighting divisions with less personnel than formerly. Clemenza and Tessio considered this suicidal, especially with the Barzini-Tattaglia encroachments on their empires. So now they were hopeful these errors might be corrected at this extraordinary meeting convened by the Don.
Michael started off by telling them about his trip to Vegas and Moe Greene's refusing the offer to buy him out. "But we'll make him an offer he can't refuse," Michael said. "You already know the Corleone Family plans to move its operations West. We'll have four of the hotel casinos on the Strip. But it can't be right away. We need time to get things straightened out." He spoke directly to Clemenza. "Pete, you and Tessio, I want you to go along with me for a year without questioning and without reservations. At the end of that year, both of you can split off from the Corleone Family and be your own bosses, have your own Families. Of course it goes without saying we'd maintain our friendship, I wouldn't insult you and your respect for my father by thinking otherwise for a minute. But up until that time l want you just to follow my lead and don't worry. There are negotiations going on that will solve problems that you think are not solvable. So just be a little patient."
Tessio spoke up. "If Moe Greene wanted to talk to your father, why not let him? The Don could always persuade anybody, there was never anyone who could stand up to his reasonableness."
The Don answered this directly. "I've retired, Michael would lose respect if I interfered. And besides that's a man I'd rather not talk to."
Tessio remembered the stories he'd heard about Moe Greene slapping Freddie Corleone around one night in the Vegas hotel. He began to smell a rat. He leaned back. Moe Greene was a dead man, he thought. The Corleone Family did not wish to persuade him.
Carlo Rizzi spoke up. "Is the Corleone Family going to stop operating in New York altogether?"
Michael nodded. "We're selling the olive oil business. Everything we can, we turn over to Tessio and Clemenza. But, Carlo, I don't want you to worry about your job. You grew up in Nevada, you know the state, you know the people. I'm counting on you being my right-hand man when we make our move out there."
Carlo leaned back, his face flushed with gratification. His time was coming, he would move in the constellations of power.
Michael went on. "Tom Hagen is no longer the Consigliere. He's going to be our lawyer in Vegas. In about two months he'll move out there permanently with his family. Strictly as a lawyer. Nobody goes to him with any other business as of now, this minute. He's a lawyer and that's all. No reflection on Tom. That's the way I want it. Besides, if I ever need any advice, who's a better counselor than my father?" They all laughed. But they had gotten the message despite the joke. Tom Hagen was out; he no longer held any power. They all took their fleeting glances to check Hagen's reaction but his face was impassive.
Clemenza spoke up in his fat man's wheeze. "Then in a year's time we're on our own, is that it?"
"Maybe less," Michael said courteously. "Of course you can always remain part of the Family, that's your choice. But most of our strength will be out West and maybe you'd do better organized on your own."
Tessio said quietly, "In that case I think you should give us permission to recruit new men for our regimes. Those Barzini bastards keep chiseling in on my territory. I think maybe it would be wise to teach them a little lesson in manners."
Michael shook his head. "No. No good. Just stay still. All that stuff will be negotiated, everything will be straightened out before we leave."
Tessio was not to be so easily satisfied. He spoke to the Don directly, taking a chance on incurring Michael's ill will. "Forgive me, Godfather, let our years of friendship be my excuse. But I think you and your son are all wrong with this Nevada business. How can you hope for success there without your strength here to back you up? The two go hand in hand. And with you gone from here the Barzini and the Tattaglia will be too strong for us. Me and Pete will have trouble, we'll come under their thumb sooner or later. And Barzini is a man not to my taste. I say the Corleone Family has to make its move from strength, not from weakness. We should build up our regimes and take back our lost territories in Staten Island at least."
The Don shook his head. "I made the peace, remember, I can't go back on my word."
Tessio refused to be silenced. "Everybody knows Bartini gave you provocation since then. And besides, if Michael is the new chief of the Corleone Family, what's to stop him from taking any action he sees fit? Your word doesn't strictly bind him."
Michael broke in sharply. He said to Tessio, very much the chief now, "There are things being negotiated which will answer your questions and resolve your doubts. If my word isn't enough for you, ask your Don."
But Tessio understood he had finally gone too far. If he dared to question the Don he would make Michael, his enemy. So he shrugged and said, "I spoke for the good of the Family, not for myself. I can take care of myself."
Michael gave him a friendly smile. "Tessio, I never doubt you in any way. I never did. But trust in me. Of course I'm not equal to you and Pete in these things, but after all I've my father to guide me. I won't do too badly, we'll all come out fine."
The meeting was over. The big news was that Clemenza and Tessio would be permitted to form their own Families from their regimes. Tessio would have his gambling and docks in Brooklyn, Clemenza the gambling in Manhattan and the Family contacts in the racing tracks of Long Island.