Balance of Power, 62

They were seated in Michael Corleone's study. A half-extinguished Cohiba lay in a heavy cut-glass ashtray left precariously on the edge of the desk. The faint aroma of cigar smoke wafted about and made a pleasant counterpoint to the subtle mix of colognes in the air. They sat in silence, as though allowing the sound of the earlier discussion to dissipate completely before moving on to the next order of business. Everyone else had been dismissed; this was a conversation that could only take place between the two of them. There were things to be said that, between two less pragmatic men, would certainly result in anger.

After nearly ten minutes of silence, Don Lorenzo Privete put his drink down on the table and took a moment to mentally organize his thoughts. Beside Michael, he was the head of one of the few remaining old-world families left in New York. The other families had made changes to ages-old traditions in order to better fit in their new home of America. Privete had fought such changes; almost doggedly he held on to the old ways.

Chaz Palminteri

Lorenzo Privete was a large man with fleshy eyelids that always gave the impression that the Don was only moments away from being asleep. Slow to anger, but ruthless when provoked, Lorenzo Privete was a heavyweight among Dons. “We will speak frankly?”

Michael Corleone inclined his head just a fraction. “When have we done less?”

“Then let us speak.” Don Privete meshed his fingers together and laid them atop his flat stomach. “I have thought long on the suggestion you put before me the last time we met. I agree, an alliance between our two families would be mutually beneficial. And after much discussion, I have shown my son Francisco the wisdom of this move. Reluctantly, he agrees.”

“What,” Michael asked softly, “is the nature of his reluctance?”

“Francisco wishes to be seen as his own Boss when his time comes. He believes the move will be seen as an accommodation of your wishes, that it will paint him as weak.” Don Privete shrugged philosophically. “It is the arrogance of youth. He will learn that there are times when it is prudent to stand in the shadow cast by a more powerful presence.”

Michael was powerfully reminded of his father, Vito, at that moment. Privete's words were an echo of one of the rules Michael's father lived by and then taught his sons. ‘Do not be afraid to humble yourself before your enemy … if it distracts him from the dagger you are preparing to plunge into his heart.' Vito hoped that for Michael the credo would never be used literally. His hope was futile. Despite the years Michael had detoured away from his destiny, he'd eventually accepted what others quickly – and fatally – learned. Michael Corleone was born to the business. “The other matter… He has been persuaded as well?”

Privete's face hardened. “He has been told . In this, he has no choice. Should some misfortune befall you, your daughter will be taken into our family as though she were our own. And she will remain that way.” The Don's language was formal and measured, signifying the importance of the promise he made. “We will see to her happiness and her safety.” There was a pause. “And like my own daughters, her choice of companions will be monitored.”

Michael understood what was not spoken during that weighted pause. If the worst came to pass, Sabrina's dating pool would be severely limited. Unfair or not, steps would be taken to ensure that she not develop any serious attachment to a man of her own race. Strong bias against people of color was deeply ingrained in the ‘Family' culture. Without the benefit of Michael's overwhelming presence, Sabrina would find little acceptance among her father's people. Married to a black man, she would certainly find none.

Michael did not get where he was by ignoring facts that were inconvenient. His daughter's racial make-up demanded that he make provisions for Sabrina's future. That was why he'd proposed an alliance with Don Lorenzo's family. Things would get bloody as soon as Michael closed his eyes. He'd tried to position Vincent as his successor, but his nephew's volatile nature did not bode well for his longevity. And even if he did manage to outlast his rivals, Vincent would never have the clout to demand Sabrina's place among them. Lorenzo Privete's promise was the best solution Michael would find.

“I have,” Michael mirrored Don Lorenzo's formal speech, “no issue with your intentions. In return, for your generosity, I will offer my support to your son should some misfortune befall you . At that time I will offer him my counsel and extend to him my resources. You have my word.”

Don Privete rose and embraced Michael. “As you have mine.”

Balance of Power, 63

During a break in the discussions, Michael Corleone watched Lorenzo's youngest son lean over and murmur something to his daughter that made her chuckle softly. They were seated beside one another on the dark, spartan couch in the study; Sabrina showed no signs of discomfort at young Privete's close proximity. He was the first person beside Santino to gain Sabrina's careful trust. Michael and Tom had gained her grudging acceptance, but not her trust. There was a vast difference between the two.

Michael knew that his older brothers were a bit surprised that he did not force the issue of Sabrina's affection for him. There was no need. It was more important at this juncture that Michael instill in his daughter a sense of obedience that, with reinforcement, would become second nature. Obedience would bring about understanding. Once Sabrina accepted and understood their ways, she would cease fighting Michael's every decision. Then she would be open to a relationship with her father that was free of resentment and anger.

“I think that's it,” Tom announced. He glanced over at Michael for confirmation. “Everything is in place for the benefit.”

“That is good,” Don Privete said. “It will be a successful night for the Corleone family,” he declared.

“For us all,” Michael softly corrected. Both the children's charity and the new sports stadium were part of Michael's vision for his family's future. In this case, the word ‘family' not only encompassed those people related to the mob boss by blood, marriage or affection, but was extended to include those members of the organization's hierarchy that shared his desire for a more legitimate power base. Michael understood what so many of his associates did not. The legitimate business world was as cutthroat an arena as the world they inhabited, and the most successful players in that arena operated by rules not unlike their own.

Don Privete had adopted that mindset long ago. “Yes,” he agreed, “it will be a good night for us all.” He had been the first to embrace Michael's vision of a new sports stadium, a lucrative endeavor that would be funded by private contributions but would leave Michael and his associates several times richer. Every step of the way Don Privete had generously made available to Michael the resources at his fingertips. Through his entertainment contacts in Las Vegas, the older don had lined up an impressive list of willing and generous donors long before the corresponding children's charity was anything more than an idea mentioned by Tom in one of their meetings.

Michael would see that his steadfast support was generously rewarded. Lorenzo Privete was as close as Michael came to having a true friend who was not a member of his biological family. They had known of each other virtually all their lives. Their fathers, Vito Corleone and Carlos Privete, had been good friends. The two powerful Dons promoted a friendship between their two families that had been virtually forgotten when Michael – not Sonny – took control of the Corleone family. The relationship between the Corleone and Privete families was renewed when Lorenzo reached out and proved himself a trusted friend and ally to Michael during a very bleak time in Michael's life. Several years later, Michael had the unfortunate opportunity to repay the favor. From those misfortunes a friendship had grown.

Don Privete stood and quietly flexed his powerful shoulders. His son and watchful consigliore followed suit. The older man turned to Sabrina's corner of the room. “Ragazzina,” he held out his hands. Obediently Sabrina rose, crossed the room and took his hands, though wariness was written all over her face. She had been introduced at the beginning of the meeting to the powerful Don, but there had been no real conversation between them.

Don Privete leaned down, bussed Sabrina's cheek and murmured, “Welcome to our family,” in her ear. He straightened up and, without further comment, departed.

Michael watched stoically as young Privete also stepped up and took his daughter's hand in his own. “Allow me to echo my father's welcome,” he said with a smile. “I hope that you and I will cultivate a friendship as true and lasting as the one our fathers enjoy.” He leaned in and bussed Sabrina on the cheek. Unlike his father, young Privete's salute was placed just on the corner of his daughter's mouth. Michael noted with interest that Sabrina blushingly allowed the near intimacy. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Sabrina Corleone.”

“Will I see you at the benefit?” she asked.

Young Privete shook his head. “No. There are matters my father has requested I attend to in Las Vegas. Beside,” he glanced over at Michael, “the night belongs to Don Michael and your family. But I will contact you when I have returned to New York… if that is allowed.” Once again the young man looked over at Michael, who gave a tiny nod of his head. “Good. Then I look forward to seeing you soon.”

“Me, too.” Sabrina smiled shyly. “I will see you out.”