Balance of Power, 71

It was the day after the fundraiser and everything was back to business as usual. To look at the two men, it would be difficult to believe that less than four hours earlier they were just getting to bed after the conclusion of a wildly successful endeavor. Both men were impeccably clad and clear-eyed.

"It should be made clear that our patronage comes with a price that is not negotiable." Michael Corleone's tone was mild but there was no mistaking the bite of his words. He had conveyed the same sentiment to the Vatican's representative the night before, but Michael knew from experience that the church would continue to try and negotiate even after a deal was struck.

"Don't worry. I'll speak with the Cardinal. We dealt with him the last time." Tom jotted down a series of indecipherable notes on a small notepad. The notes were encrypted in a personal code so obscure that Tom knew that he could drop them on the desk of the head of the FBI and still never have the cipher broken. "Now, about those shipments of olive oil that are scheduled to come over from Palermo. Do you want to-" A knock on the study door interrupted his question.

"Don Corleone?" It was the housekeeper, Donatella. "There is someone here who wishes to speak with you. It is Signore Privete. Signore GianFranco."

Michael gestured that the housekeeper should allow the young man to enter the study. GianFranco stepped inside the threshold and nodded his head respectfully. Unlike the other times he had visited the Corleone compound with his father Lorenzo, today GianFranco was dressed in a somber gray suit and tie. "Don Corleone, Signore Hagen, good morning. I would like a few moments of your time, Don Corleone, to speak with you on a matter that is of the utmost importance to me. I would like your permission to date your daughter Sabrina."

"I'll be in my office making some calls." Tom excused himself from the room. This was a conversation that did not require his presence. He would hear the pertinent details from his younger brother later.

Silence reigned in the study. GianFranco met Michael's stare and did not flinch. "You ask my permission to date my daughter… Why?"

"Why do I want to date your daughter?" GianFranco seemed to turn inward for a moment. When he finally replied, his answer was simple and unexpected. "Un colpo di fulmine."

"The thunderbolt?"

"Yes, Don Corleone. I know many of our people do not believe in it anymore. I did not always. As boys, my brother Francisco and I would roll our eyes each time our father told the story of how our grandparents met. We did not believe such a thing such as the thunderbolt could exist," GianFranco recounted. "But then I saw your daughter for the first time in the kitchen of your home." He shrugged. "I knew in my heart that Sabrina was destined for me. So, here I am to ask your permission to convince her of the same."

Michael did not dismiss GianFranco's claim of love at first sight. He couldn't. He himself had been victim to the thunderbolt the first time he'd laid eyes on Appollonia Vitelli, the dark-haired beauty who would become his first wife. Michael remembered the darkly possessive feelings he'd had for her.

"An unwise man," Michael replied, "might find it easy to assume that my daughter is a bargaining chip to my favor. He might assume that the circumstances of her birth might make her somehow less dear to me, or that my daughter's skin negates the protective instincts I have where she is concerned."

GianFranco didn't blink. "Such a man would be very unwise, Don Corleone. How fortunate for us both that you are not dealing with such a man. I do not want to hurt her or use her." GianFranco abandoned his rigid formality. "Don Michael, I want nothing more than the opportunity to get to know Sabrina – and she, me."

"Have you told your family of the feelings you say you have for my daughter?"

GianFranco's gaze shifted away from Michael's for just a second. "I shared my news with my older brother Francisco... He was not happy," GianFranco reluctantly shared. He could still hear his brother's biting words echo in his ears. 'Of all the available women in the world, that is what you pick?' Francisco spat a glob of saliva at his younger brother's feet. 'You had better make sure Don Corleone has her fixed before she overruns our family with little half-niggers.'

"He was not happy. But that is his issue to find peace with. " At Michael's gesture, GianFranco took a seat opposite the powerful Don. "The 'Business' was never to be a part of my future. My father spent most of his adult life making sure of that. So I do not care about Francisco's approval… or anyone else's. I must be my own man and live my life as I choose."

The two men sat in silence. After a few minutes, Michael spoke. "If my daughter wishes to spend time with you, I will allow it."

GianFranco rose and nodded his thanks. "I will justify your faith in me, Don Michael."

"Young Privete…" Michael's inflectionless voice stopped GianFranco just before he stepped out of the room. "I am a suspicious man," the Don said when GianFranco turned around. "If my daughter should have a bad day and seem sad… If she should stub her toe and shed tears… This I would blame on you." Michael Corleone's voice grew soft. "And if she should have her heart broken… This I would not forgive."