"There was this one guy. He didn't pay me for months and months. I kept having to chase him. I was yelling at him and he told me to lower my voice. I said, 'Lower my voice? You take my money, you give me a tough time and then you tell me to lower my voice?' BOOM!
"And there was this other guy who owed me money. My friends were teasing me in a bar one night about it. He had made an appointment and didn't show. They're breaking my chops that he wasn't never going to pay. He don't care. As they were joking and laughing and teasing, he comes into the bar with some heavyweights in the Colombo family. I grabbed him and took him outside. First off, i tell him he's going to pay up. 'Second thing, when you make an appointment with me, you better show. Or send somebody down to tell me you ain't going to show. Don't fucking make me just stand on a street corner waiting for you.'
"He got a little nervy. 'Sammy,' he says, 'I'm tied up. I'm not paying the loan. I'm with Joe Colombo and the Italian-American Civil Rights League.' I said, 'You're with what? The Italian-American League? And you ain't paying? Who the fuck do you think I'm with, the Jewish Defense League?'
"I gave him a tremendous beating right then and there. And then this other guy, who's going to be made--remember, all them years the books were closed and nobody got made--comes out of the bar and says, 'What are you doing, Sammy? He's with Joe Colombo and the league.' I said, 'He owes me money and that's the bullshit answer that he gives me, that he ain't paying up. Fuck him and fuck that.'"
Sammy would often find Castellano seated on a balcony of the White House (a $3.5 million mansion on the highest part of Staten Island), in his robe and slippers, reading the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. "I thought he was the best thing since sliced bread," Sammy said. "He was smart, business-wise. He knew how to control people. He was a genius at it. He had that mannerism, that way about him. He was extremely articulate. Matter of fact, Fat Tony Salerno from the Genovese family once was at a meeting we had. Fat Tony was listening to him and he said, 'Paul, you talk so beautiful. I wish I could talk like that.' So he was very, very articulate, very, very smart, very, very rich and he looked to be very, very fair. We all thought he was going to run a real good show.
"The only thing was he wasn't a gangster and he didn't understand gangsters. He didn't understand what the fuck it was to be broke, to have to go out and rob and do certain things. He didn't understand what a gangster was all about, obviously. I mean, he didn't really understand gangsters like John Gotti and Angie Ruggiero, or me or Frank DeCicco, anybody who is a real hoodlum or gangster in that sense of the word.""This was bad news for Johnny Keys. I went back into the van and told him the 'decision' had come back against him. He had lost. He had to go. Like the man he was, the man I had come to understand him to be, the man I'd learned to respect over the past hours, he accepted this without comment. Me and Stymie and Louie--none of us--were happy with what was to come. I felt terrible that a man with such balls had to be hit. But this was Cosa Nostra. The boss of my family had ordered it. The entire commission ordered it. There was nothing else I could do."We drove to a section of Staten Island that had a back road running along a wooded area. We stopped the van. I remembered his request about his shoes. I took them off.
"Pal Joey went to grab him and pull him out. He kicked out at Joey right in the chest. He said, 'I'll walk out on my own. Let me die like a man.' He took five or six steps away from the van. Without a word, he lowered his head, quiet and dignified.
"I nodded at Louie Milito. As requested by Johnny Keys, he would be killed by a made member. Louie put a .357 magnum to the back of Johnny's head and fired. The shot immediately leveled him to the ground. He died instantly. He died without pain. He died with dignity. He died Cosa Nostra."
Castellano scrutinized Sammy for a moment. Then he replied, "You're definitely not going to die over this bum. But i want your word from now on that you won't ever, EVER do a piece of work unless it's approved by me, or unless somebody--and you better have the bullet holes to prove it--shot at you first and you had to kill him. Or if another friend of ours broke our rules and raised his hands against you."
"Louie was sitting next to me at the table. When Paul said what he said, Louie gives me a kick. I ignore him. I said, 'Paul, I can never give you that promise. I'm a man. If my thinking was not only to kill somebody but to protect you, I'd do it again tomorrow morning."Sammy saw Castellano shaking his head. There was a hint of a smile, as if he was laughing inwardly and trying not to show it. Castellano stood up. He told Sammy to do the same. Then Castellano held him by the shoulders, kissed his cheeks and said, "Just be a good friend of ours like you always have been. You can go now."
Outside the restaurant, Milito said, "Sammy, one thing this fucking Eddie has right is that you got the balls of an elephant. We were lucky in there. He was real mad at you, but he loves and respects the balls you got."
You have been reading excerpts from the book UNDERBOSS; Sammy the Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia, with accompanying photos taken from this excellent website. Oil painting of slain right-hand man Thomas Bilotti, ©1992 Rick Rodine.