Steve drank Glenlivet that night. Lillo isn’t a big drinker. Maybe a Johnny Walker Black with a splash of club soda, Sinatra’s drink. They didn’t have much to talk about. Steve sometimes told stories about his burglaries. He stole a backhoe once, drove it away. Or he talked about real estate. Steve had inherited property, which he’d been selling off, mostly, it seemed, to finance his drinking. At least, thought Lillo, there’s a chance to talk about Stef, though it was a disappointment when it came.
“I really don’t care or anything,” Steve said eventually, “but, like, maybe sometimes you should wait for her to call you.”
That night, Lillo was doing heroin, plus some coke. Toward 4 a.m., he thought Valium would make for a soft landing. Steve later suggested that the plan was to score, then go see Lillo’s girlfriend, as he tantalizingly referred to his daughter.
Lillo couldn’t reach his guy, his dealer. Then he thought of a Vietnam vet in Yonkers with a full medicine chest. His name was Kenneth Scovotti, and he was a Bronx Tale fan. Lillo knew this because he’d been in the area one day and Kenny had given him a ride home. “This guy seemed happy-go-lucky,” says Lillo, “a pushover.” Lillo and Steve headed to Kenny’s on Arnow Place, a few minutes from Lillo’s home. They must have knocked. When no one answered, Lillo broke a window. “Kenny! Kenny!” he called in a loud whisper.
A next-door neighbor apparently heard the commotion.
Walking away from Kenny’s, Lillo and Steve took an alley next to the house. They heard a voice. “Hey, what are you guys doing?” It was a little after 5 a.m. and still dark.
Later, Steve said that when he saw the guy’s gun, he reached to his waist and pulled out his own.
Shots were fired. Lillo says he was hit first. A bullet tore through his chest below the pocket on his Liz Claiborne shirt. Steve got hit, too. By 5:23 a.m., the time cited in the first police report, the next-door neighbor, an off-duty cop, lay dead. Steve had shot him near the heart.
At Lillo’s parents’ home, a stately six-bedroom brick house built by Lillo’s father, people drift in without knocking. “My door’s never locked,” says Lillo’s mother, Domenica. Anthony is there and so is his wife, Lillo’s first cousin. A couple of neighbors’ kids have shown up, including Nicky, Lillo’s favorite. Most of the time, the Brancatos have company. “This house is Grand Central,” says Vinny, whose girlfriend of thirteen years soon walks in. This evening, Lillo’s lawyer is with the family. Mel A. Sachs, a top Manhattan criminal-defense attorney, has represented high-profile clients like David Wells, Lil’ Kim, and Mike Tyson, and has a reputation for winning some tough cases. Not long ago, he won the acquittal of a cop charged with attempted murder.
The visitors settle in a family room across from a giant TV screen. It’s a present from Lillo and a reminder of happier days. Lillo Sr., who has a bad heart, has been disabled for the better part of ten years and works when he can. Lillo used to help financially (not that he’s ever had a real Hollywood payday: $25,000 for A Bronx Tale, scale for The Sopranos). His mother sometimes hoped for Lillo to land a nice part, “help us out a little more.” In the meantime, they’ve decided to rent out his two-room apartment.
Lillo would love a gathering like this. “You wouldn’t get a word in edgewise,” says Vinny. Lillo couldn’t get enough of his family. If he traveled to Hollywood, he’d call home every day. “Mom, oh, I miss my bed,” he’d tell Domenica. Mother and son have a special relationship. She prepared his meals and bought his clothes. Lillo didn’t drive until he was 27; he still doesn’t know how to write a check. “We have honestly no secrets from each other,” she says. “My son comes to me with everything.” Often, she waited up for him. “Ma, I’m home,” he’d call and then tell her about his girls and, later, his drug habit, though not the heroin. To her, Lillo is a “momma’s boy,” which she finds irresistible. Trouble, when it came, only drew them closer. She sees all the bad in Lillo, and none of it. “He’s selfish, but he’s not selfish,” says Domenica.
Domenica is short, redheaded, and shaped like a teapot. Around her neck, she wears a medal to St. Rita, the patron of impossible cases. She’s laid out a table of homemade pizza, a mozzarella dish, plates of out-of-season fruit, olives.
“She’s the best mom, and the best chef,” says Lillo Sr., 58.