He was short, dark and handsome, with thick black hair and tunneling eyes that could warm you with a twinkle or drive you away with quick, venomous anger. The ex-boxer’s temper and willingness to fight were legendary, but so was his generosity, and so was his love for Sam, the German Sheppard who went with him everywhere. In the car or on his leash, the tri-colored, one hundred pound dog named Sam was Domenic’s closest friend.
“We’d be loafing on the job, smoking,” one of his former workmen recalled. “We’d see and hear that huge dog of his in plenty of time to get back to work before Dom arrived. We fooled him every time, convinced him we were one of his hardest-working crews. Man, we loved Sam.”
That workman’s employer, Sam’s owner, the man with the legendary temper, was also my father-in-law. He owned a successful electrical contracting business, served in World War II and worked like a dog all his life. Everyone called him Dom except his mother-in-law, Angelina, who called him Don as a passive-aggressive insult. (You had to love Angelina). And were it not for Dom and his daughter, who single-handedly dragged me to Jersey, the crazy story that is Big Numbers would not have turned into a series.
Let’s face facts, stockbrokers are boring by themselves. Austin Carr needed trouble with the mob. And luckily for me, my father-in-law provided introductions. Not personally (Well, there was that time Dom and I met the handsome “Big Frank” Condi in a restaurant), but mostly through stories about Dom in the newspaper. Trust me, Dom was not the kind of man you slap on the shoulder and say, “So Dom, tell me about this limo ride. Were you scared?”
The plot of Austin Carr #2 — Big Money — is built around an event in Dom’s life — a one-time brush with the mob, or This Thing of Ours, a term local mobsters near the Jersey Shore were recorded using at the time. Back in the late nineteen seventies and early eighties, the FBI was building a federal racketeering case against an alleged local Jersey gangster, Anthony “Little Pussy” Russo — a guy Dom didn’t like much, said he gave all Italians a bad name.
According to the feds, Russo was a former cat burglar — hence the nickname pussycat, or pussy — and was at that time in charge of Monmouth County gambling and prostitution for one of the five New York families. (I’m not going to use the surname because several people with that moniker are law-abiding neighbors of mine.) Secretly, the FBI had managed to recruit several of Mr. Russo’s employees to wear a wire, and — home run for me, author Getze — one of those wired up gangsters took Dom for a ride.
“We wondered if we’d ever see my father again,” Dom’s son Patrick (my brother-in-law) said to me last week. Patrick was working in the same office that day. “The two guys that came inside were huge. They grabbed him, said you’re coming with us.”
As I have detailed a number of times for the mystery community, the men tried to extort money from Dom under threat of his life. Dom cursed at them and said no. They threatened his wife and children. He cursed at them even more, but again said no, said he wasn’t paying the mob anything. He said his family didn’t like him much anyway.
Years later, when my father-in-law was called to testify against the men before a Monmouth County Grand Jury, Dom said he couldn’t be sure they were the same guys. Dom was tough, not stupid, because in Jersey, bad things happen when you point other people out, or give the FBI too much information. Note that when the feds’ success in recording Dom and hundreds of other embarrassing conversations was revealed publicly, Mr. Pussy Russo was murdered inside his Monmouth County home. Three bullets in the head.
Though Dom died several years ago, and asking him how and why things happened is no longer possible, those tape recorded conversations — many of which were printed in newspapers — remain a constant and generous source material for the continuing adventures of my protagonist, Austin Carr. Readers of Big Money might recognize the movie-star handsome, “Big Frank” Condi, for instance, as a guy named Tony.
This Thing of Ours has changed considerably over the decades, but wherever people make book or sell sex, you can bet gangsters are still involved.