The two caporegimes left not quite satisfied, still a little uneasy. Carlo Rizzi lingered hoping that the time had come when he finally would be treated as one of the family, but he quickly saw that Michael was not of that mind. He left the Don, Tom Hagen and Michael alone in the corner library room. Albert Neri ushered him out of the house and Carlo noticed that Neri stood in the doorway watching him walk across the floodlit mall.
In the library the three men had relaxed as only people can who have lived years together in the same house, in the same family. Michael served some anisette to the Don and scotch to Tom Hagen. He took a drink for himself, which he rarely did.
Tom Hagen spoke up first. "Mike, why are you cutting me out of the action?"
Michael seemed surprised. "You'll be my number one man in Vegas. We'll be legitimate all the way and you're the legal man. What can be more important than that?"
Hagen smiled a little sadly. "I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about Rocco Lampone building a secret regime without my knowledge. I'm talking about you dealing direct with Neri rather than through me or a caporegime. Unless of course you don't know what Lampone's doing."
Michael said softly, "How did you find out about Lampone's regime?"
Hagen shrugged. "Don't worry, there's no leak, nobody else knows. But in my position I can see what's happening. You gave Lampone his own living, you gave him a lot of freedom. So he needs people to help him in his little empire. But everybody he recruits has to be reported to me. And I notice everybody he puts on the payroll is a little too good for that particular job, is getting a little more money than that particular exercise is worth. You picked the right man when you picked Lampone, by the way. He's operating perfectly."
Michael grimaced. "Not so damn perfect if you noticed. Anyway the Don picked Lampone."
"OK," Tom said, "so why am I cut out of the action?"
Michael faced him and without flinching gave it to him straight. "Tom, you're not a wartime Consigliere. Things may get tough with this move we're trying to make and we may have to fight. And I want to get you out of the line of fire too, just in case."
Hagen's face reddened. If the Don had told him the same thing, he would have accepted it humbly. But where the hell did Mike come off making such a snap judgment?
"OK," he said, "but I happen to agree with Tessio. I think you're going about this all wrong. You're making the move out of weakness, not strength. That's always bad. Barzini is like a wolf, and if he tears you limb from limb, the other Families won't come rushing to help the Corleones."
The Don finally spoke. "Tom, it's not just Michael. I advised him on these matters. There are things that may have to be done that I don't want in any way to be responsible for. That is my wish, not Michael's. I never thought you were a bad Consigliere, I thought Santino a bad Don, may his soul rest in peace. He had a good heart but he wasn't the right man to head the Family when I had my little misfortune. And who would have thought that Fredo would become a lackey of women? So don't feel badly. Michael has all my confidence as you do. For reasons which you can't know, you must have no part in what may happen. By the way, I told Michael that Lampone's secret regime would not escape your eye. So that shows I have faith in you."
Michael laughed. "I honestly didn't think you'd pick that up, Tom."
Hagen knew he was being mollified. "Maybe I can help," he said.
Michael shook his head decisively. "You're out, Tom."
Tom finished his drink and before he left he gave Michael a mild reproof. "You're nearly as good as your father," he told Michael. "But there's one thing you still have to learn."
"What's that?" Michael said politely.
"How to say no," Hagen answered.
Michael nodded gravely. "You're right," he said. "I'll remember that."
When Hagen had left, Michael said jokingly to his father, "So you've taught me everything else. Tell me how to say no to people in a way they'll like."
The Don moved to sit behind the big desk. "You cannot say 'no' to the people you love, not often. That's the secret. And then when you do, it has to sound like a 'yes.' Or you have to make them say 'no.' You have to take time and trouble. But I'm old-fashioned, you're the new modern generation, don't listen to me."
Michael laughed. "Right. You agree about Tom being out, though, don't you?"
The Don nodded. "He can't be involved in this."
Michael said quietly, "I think it's time for me to tell you that what I'm going to do is not purely out of vengeance for Apollonia and Sonny. It's the right thing to do. Tessio and Tom are right about the Barzinis."
Don Corleone nodded. "Revenge is a dish that tastes best when it is cold," he said. "I would not have made that peace but that I knew you would never come home alive otherwise. I'm surprised, though, that Barzini still made a last try at you. Maybe it was arranged before the peace talk and he couldn't stop it. Are you sure they were not after Don Tommasino?"
Michael said, "That's the way it was supposed to look. And it would have been perfect, even you would never have suspected. Except that I came out alive. I saw Fabrizzio going through the gate, running away. And of course I've checked it all out since I've been back."
"Have they found that shepherd?" the Don asked.
"I found him," Michael said. "I found him a year ago. He's got his own little pizza place up in Buffalo. New name, phony passport and identification. He's doing very well is Fabrizzio the shepherd."
The Don nodded. "So it's to no purpose to wait any longer. When will you start?"
Michael said, "I want to wait until after Kay has the baby. Just in case anything goes wrong. And I want Tom settled in Vegas so he won't be concerned in the affair. I think a year from now."
"You've prepared for everything?" the Don asked. He did not look at Michael when he said this.
Michael said gently, "You have no part. You're not responsible. I take all responsibility. I would refuse to let you even veto. If you tried to do that now, I would leave the Family and go my own way. You're not responsible."
The Don was silent for a long time and then he sighed. He said, "So be it. Maybe that's why I retired, maybe that's why I've turned everything over to you. I've done my share in life, I haven't got the heart anymore. And there are some duties the best of men can't assume. That's it then."
During that year Kay Adams Corleone was delivered of a second child, another boy. She delivered easily, without any trouble whatsoever, and was welcomed back to the mall like a royal princess. Connie Corleone presented the baby with a silk layette handmade in Italy, enormously expensive and beautiful. She told Kay, "Carlo found it. He shopped all over New York to get something extra special after I couldn't find anything I really liked." Kay smiled her thanks, understood immediately that she was to tell Michael this fine tale. She was on her way to becoming a Sicilian.
Also during that year, Nino Valenti died of a cerebral hemorrhage. His death made the front pages of the tabloids because the movie Johnny Fontane had featured him in had opened a few weeks before and was a smash hit, establishing Nino as a major star. The papers mentioned that Johnny Fontane was handling the funeral arrangements, that the funeral would be private, only family and close friends to attend. One sensational story even claimed that in an interview Johnny Fontane had blamed himself for his friend's death, that he should have forced his friend to place himself under medical care, but the reporter made it sound like the usual self-reproach of the sensitive but innocent bystander to a tragedy. Johnny Fontane had made his childhood friend, Nino Valenti, a movie star and what more could a friend do?
No member of the Corleone Family attended the California funeral except Freddie. Lucy and Jules Segal attended. The Don himself had wanted to go to California but had suffered a slight heart attack, which kept him in his bed for a month. He sent a huge floral wreath instead. Albert Neri was also sent West as the official representative of the Family.
Two days after Nino's funeral, Moe Greene was shot to death in the Hollywood home of his movie-star mistress; Albert Neri did not reappear in New York until almost a month later. He had taken his vacation in the Caribbean and returned to duty tanned almost black. Michael Corleone welcomed him with a smile and a few words of praise, which included the information that Neri would from then on receive an extra "living," the Family income from an East Side "book" considered especially rich. Neri was content, satisfied that he lived in a world that properly rewarded a man who did his duty.