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Louie Lump Lump's Bad Night at Rao's

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Louie bumped into a couple of uniformed cops—“there’s been a shooting inside,” he told them. But an off-duty cop eating at Rao’s came up behind him, gun drawn. Sonny, the ex-cop, rushed toward the door. “I think the cop recognized me,” he said. Like in French Connection days, Sonny helped nab the hood.

Pellegrino ran over to Cariou’s table, tore up his check, then helped Cariou get his grandkids, one of whom was stricken by an asthma attack, to Metropolitan Hospital, where Petraglia soon followed. Frankie was beside himself. One diner remembered him with his head in his hands.

Not that Frankie for a moment imagined a murder would hurt business at Rao’s. The following Monday, seven days after the shooting, the place was jammed. The bar was three deep. All the tables were taken, despite the fact that it was a couple days before New Year’s and many regulars were out of town. Sonny, in fact, said that he’d gotten more requests than ever. “Hillary’s people called,” he said. She wanted to go to Rao’s. The dark room with the low tin ceilings was lively, maybe livelier. At Sonny’s table, Judge Edwin Torres—he’s working with Bregman on a prequel to Carlito’s Way—was talking about the defendant in his courtroom, a guy who sawed off victims’ heads then moved into their apartments. Apparently he did this three times; each time, said Torres, he went after people who lived in one particular line. “He liked the G line,” the judge said in amazement. Sonny, who wore jeans, and a friend bantered about whether he’d stolen missing French Connection loot. (“No,” said the friend. “He’d dress better.”)

In a few minutes, Michael Nouri headed toward the jukebox to sing “O Sole Mio.” He pushed past Sonny, who obligingly offered Nouri his pistol for protection, just in case. But as Nouri announced, “No one is going to tell me I suck tonight.” Which was true, because when Alex Rocco—he played Moe Greene in The Godfather, a character who got shot in the eye—got up to sing and did suck, there was applause all around. Except from Bill Persky, producer of TV shows like Dick Van Dyke, That Girl, and Kate & Allie, who yelled, “I’ll shoot you in the eye.”

It was a good room. People were having fun. Crime, Mafia, gossip about Louie Lump Lump seemed, if anything, to have goosed the crowd. Neil Leifer, the sports photographer—he took the famous photograph of Ali standing over a defeated Liston—was there with the writer Frank Deford and Mark Shapiro, an ESPN honcho. Dan Marino, the former Miami Dolphins quarterback, was at a booth. Someone wanted him to sing. “All I know is the Dolphins fight song,” he shouted. Frankie, though, will sing. Frankie’s acting career has been great. He worked for Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese, Rao’s customers. Right now, though, he put his all into a song that, though he sang it all the time, seemed especially meaningful tonight. He sang “My Girl,” and, as always, everyone in the room joined in, even Marino. “Don’t need no money, fortune or fame / I’ve got all the riches, baby, one man can claim.” Frankie leaned into this last line and, pointed at the floor, as if to say that that line applied to his restaurant, and to all his good friends, those who’d made it in the door. Then, song over, he leaned over a guest’s shoulder. “This is the real Rao’s,” he said.

In jail, at the Bernard B. Kerik Complex, Louie wore a gray jumpsuit. Ever practical, he hoped his girlfriend would bring him some sneakers so he could start to exercise on the roof. He needed to lose some weight. He couldn’t stand the food, but the other inmates treated him well. “Like your style,” they told him, which seemed to amuse Louie. They treated him like a Mob hit man, like he was the last defender of Mob courtliness and action.

For his part, Louie worried if he’d ever get out of jail. The D.A. wasn’t impressed by his tale. “He killed a guy,” one assistant D.A. said, as if to say, end of story. Still, Louie hoped he had a shot at manslaughter. The old numbers guy was doing the math. “I could get out when I’m 74 maybe, still have a few years left,” he said.

Thinking about his girlfriend, whom he’d known for so long, Louie got tears in his eyes, especially when he heard how upset she’d been. He even thought about the parents of the guy he killed. Mainly, though, Louie’s remorse ran in one direction.

“I am deeply sorry to have done that at Rao’s,” he said. “Please tell Frankie.” Louie paused. He did seem sorry, charmingly, authentically sorry. Then he talked about other things. He wondered about subletting his co-op, and how he could deal with getting permission from the co-op board. It would be nice if he could sublet the place. He’d just given his lawyer $10,000. He could use a little extra income.


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