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THE SYNDICATE – Episode Three

"Crew Expansion"

When Carmine saw his “goombadi” Sammy coming down the crowded hallway at school, he knew something was up. They had been best friends since as far back as he could remember. He loved the guy like a brother, but Sammy had issues. He was always up to something. Usually something nefarious, always getting in fights and starting drama. He was a ladies’ man, and a lot of guys at school didn’t like him because of it. Or rather, they didn’t like him because he hit on every girl he saw, regardless of whether they had a boyfriend or not. If they had the balls to confront him about it, he would want to fight. He relished in fighting and drama. But he wasn’t a bully. Nor was he a big guy. On the contrary, he was on the smaller side, though his 5’7” frame was stocky and muscular. What made him so intimidating was his fearlessness. He was scared of no one, and had a hair-trigger temper. Which Carmine always found to be funny. Not because he found Sammy’s anger humorous, but because Sammy never got mad at him. To Carmine, Sammy was the funniest, silliest guy around. Always cracking jokes, being silly and busting balls. But mess with him, and he would quickly fly into a rage. And the thing about Sammy, even if a guy did whup him, which would NOT be easy, Sammy would just come back with a baseball bat and get him later. 


It fact, just last summer, Sammy broke the arm of one of his own friends with a crowbar after getting in an argument with him. It was really over nothing. Literally over a case of beer. Everyone was hanging out at Memorial Park, a small park in St. Clair Shores, a neighborhood just north of their Grosse Pointe neighborhood. Set along the lake, in the back of the park, a group of his high school friends were having a big drinking party, with 30-40 people standing around drinking beer and doing what teenagers do. The girls were gossiping and flirting with the guys. The guys were busting each other’s balls and posturing for the girls. When Carmine and Sammy arrived, everyone was in high spirits. Carmine was in especially high spirits, because Angie was already there. He knew his time with her was limited, since she had an early curfew and her dad had forbidden her from seeing him after homecoming, when he had brought her home half-drunk and three hours past her curfew. So, in his mind he was already making plans to sneak off with her to have a little private “play time.”


He was just about to suggest they sneak back to his car when he heard a big commotion to his left, over where Sammy was just standing with some of their other boys. Sammy was arguing with their friend Marty. Now the thing about Marty, he was one of those guys almost everyone was scared of. He was 6’4”, 250 lbs, and solid muscle. He could also fight. He didn’t go to their school though. He went to a private Catholic school not far from their neighborhood. He and Carmine got along well enough, but they had never been close. Maybe it was because they were both alpha males, or maybe it was just because they went to different schools. Whatever the case, Marty was always around and considered part of their extended crew. But on this night, he wasn’t having any of Sammy’s bullshit.


Apparently, earlier in the day Sammy had told Marty to get him some beer, and that he would pay for it later. But Marty and his boys had already drunk most of the beer by the time Sammy and Carmine showed up at the park. Marty had maybe a 6-pack left, and Sammy wanted it. But Marty was holding out. 


“All I got for all of us was a case, Sam,” Marty shrugged indifferently. “So you’re out of luck, kid.”


“Give me what you have left,” Sammy demanded. “You guys can go buy more.”


Marty shook his head. “Nah, I ain’t goin’ nowhere. I got six left and that’s all I need.”


“Fuck that,” Sammy said and went to grab the beer, which was sitting on the ground next to where Marty was standing.


But Marty shoved him back. “What the fuck is wrong with you, fool?” he growled. “I just said I’m drinkin’ it. Now get the fuck outta here before beat your ass!”


That was about the time Carmine had come walking over. And he knew things were going to go bad. Sammy stood back and just stared at Marty for a moment, as if in defeat, and then walked away, disappearing into the night. But Carmine knew something was up. He just didn’t know what. Then a few minutes later, he saw Sammy come walking up from the shadows, his stride fast and purposeful. In his hand was a crowbar, which he had retrieved from the trunk of some random car in the parking lot. Carmine reacted quickly, and jumped in front of him.


“What the hell are you doing?” Carmine yelled, a cloaked warning to Marty. “He’s our boy. Put that fuckin’ thing down!”


Sammy seemed to look straight through him. He didn’t even acknowledge Carmine’s words. He simply lunged around him and swung the crowbar with full force at Marty’s head. Luckily, Marty had fast reflexes and threw his arm up to block the blow. But the impact instantly shattered his elbow. He tried to play it off and act tough, yelling at Sammy to drop the crowbar so they could fight, but Carmine could tell he was injured bad. Within seconds there was a massive swollen contusion the size of a softball jutting from his busted elbow. 


Everyone started yelling for Carmine to do something about Sammy. “What the hell do you want me to do?” Carmine yelled back. “I’m not his handler.”


But Carmine was indeed Sammy’s proxy handler. So, after watching him go after Marty a few more times with the crowbar, he ran over and tackled Sammy to the ground, while yelling for someone to pry the crowbar out of his hands. That pretty much ended it. There were some more words exchanged, and the two of them actually hurled a few big rocks at each other, but Marty eventually was taken to the hospital to have his arm put back together. Sammy ended up getting some beer from another friend, and he acted like nothing even happened. A few beers in, he was right back to his normal, jocular, playful self. It was like he forgot it even happened.


A few months later, after Marty healed, he caught Sammy at a football game and they fought 1-on-1. Marty ended up getting the best of him. It was almost as if Sammy decided he deserved an ass whipping for what he did, so he barely fought back. That was him. You just didn’t know what was going on in his crazy ass mind. And that was one of the things Carmine loved about him. He was a live wire. And even at an early age, he knew it was good to have a live wire close to your side. It kept people off balance and nervous. Which is exactly the way Carmine wanted it.


Now, as Sammy came sidling up to his locker, Carmine knew something was up. Sammy had that look in his eyes. But Carmine had no idea what it was. He just never knew when it came to Sammy. He might be getting ready to fight someone, or he might be plotting his next scam or hustle. Whatever the case, Carmine knew from the look in his eyes that he was about to find out.


“What’s up, turd?” Carmine joked, playfully jabbing Sammy on the arm. “I can tell you’re up to something.”


Sammy got close and whispered conspiratorially. “Yo, you know that kid Ricky Santorelli is hittin’ lockers during class, right?” he said, nodding down the hall in the opposite direction.


Carmine gave him a confused look. “Hittin’ lockers?” he parroted, scanning the hall till he saw Ricky Santorelli.


“Yeah, he busts into them while everyone is in class. I saw him doin’ it the other day and asked him how he’s doing it. You fuckin’ believe this guy? He walks down the hall spinning the locks back till he feels one click. Then he opens them up and snatches anything he thinks he can dump. The dumb fuck is selling the shit back to people here at school, too.”


Again, Carmine looked at Ricky, who was with a couple of his boys in front of his locker. This explained how his friend Mark had his jacket stolen out of his locker a few weeks back. Must have been Ricky and his crew of thieves. Carmine knew Ricky from way back. He was a good-looking kid who all the girls loved. But he was slimy kleptomaniac, a known thief in the neighborhood. Carmine had bought a fuzz buster and car amp from him before. He didn’t really like the kid, or trust him, but he had no personal problem with him. He just didn’t like thieves. On the other hand, he knew scamming lockers at their school could be very lucrative. After all, they lived in one of the wealthiest enclaves in North America. Their city was to home many millionaires, and even a few billionaires. The sons and daughters of these wealthy elitists went to their school. And they were known for carrying large sums of cash, as well as for wearing expensive designer clothes and jewelry.


“What do you mean he spins the locks back?” Carmine asked, now more intrigued than confused.


Sammy gave him a look, as if he was dumb. “You know, when people lock their locker they give the com a quick spin so it can’t be opened. Well, if you spin it back slow it will click when it gets to the right spot. Boom, you can open the locker right up!”


Carmine nodded. “Okay, so what? You’re going to start hittin’ lockers too?”


Sammy now looked at him like he was crazy. “Fuck no, I ain’t no thieving scumbag! But we’re going to lean on Ricky’s ass. Make him give us a cut of everything he gets. Otherwise, we stomp his ass.”


Carmine thought for a moment and then shrugged. “Okay, let’s put the squeeze on him. This is our school. We run this shit. If he wants to scam, he has to pay tribute.”


“Exactly,” Sammy said, offering him a maniacal grin.


Two days later, Carmine and Sammy paid a visit to Ricky Santorelli’s home. Ricky seemed surprised to see them, since they had never hung around each other. After asking him out onto the porch, Carmine did all the talking.


“Listen, Ricky, we don’t give a shit about what you’re doing. But you’re messing up by selling the merch’ you gank back to people at school. That is how you get busted. So, I’ll make a deal with you. From now on, when you hit a locker, we will help you move whatever you get. My uncle owns a pawn shop up on Gratiot. So jewelry, leather coats, nice purses, whatever, just bring it to us and we will split whatever we get for it.”


Sammy gave him a death stare. “You don’t have a problem with that, do you Ricky?” he asked coldly.


Ricky’s older brother was a low-level enforcer in a local biker gang, so he knew a shakedown when he saw one. But he also knew who Carmine was. Or rather, who his Family was. Carmine and Sammy had been putting together a crew of hustlers for over a year now. They called themselves “The Pointe Boys,” a play on their hometown of Grosse Pointe. Carmine was their unofficial leader, but together they had their hands in everything from selling weed and Ecstasy, to fencing stolen merchandise and hot cars. They also ran some dice games and sports tickets at school, where many of the rich kids loved to bet and gamble with their hefty allowances. Ricky knew he could probably run to his brother to get these guys off him, but then his brother would find out what he was doing and want a cut. And he really didn’t like his brother. They had never gotten along. So, he had to choose the lesser of two evils—The Pointe Boys.


“Nah, I’m cool with that,” Ricky replied without protest. “It’s all good. I’ve been hitting a locker or two a day. Sometimes I just get a few bucks out of a purse, but I’ve hit a few nice scores. A couple gold watches and chains. Shit like that.”


Carmine nodded. “Cool, we want all that. And the cash too. You split it with us, Ricky, or we will have a problem. But if something goes bad, and someone gets wind of what you’re doing, we will handle it. That’s what we will do for you in return. Plus, we will move all the swag through my uncle’s pawn shop. Capice?”


“Yeah, no problem, Carmine. I got you guys. I appreciate your help.”


The locker scam went on for a few months, until there were so many complaints of lockers being broken into that their school installed security cameras, which essentially ended their little run. But Ricky had done well and lived up to his end of the bargain. They didn’t get rich by any means, but he helped put several thousand dollars into Carmine and Sammy’s pockets. More importantly, the arrangement solidified Ricky as part of Carmine’s “Pointe Boys” crew. And it wasn’t long before he needed Carmine’s help.


Ricky had continued his thieving escapades outside of school. His primary hustle was breaking into cars to steal high-end stereos and amps. And he was good at it. Really good. So good, in fact, that he even bought himself a Kubotan, a spring-loaded pen-like device that could silently break any car window. But this is how he got himself into trouble. He got sloppy one night and accidently left the Kubotan in a Jeep he had broken into. When the owner of the Jeep had the cops come over to make a police report for his insurance company, the police found the Kubotan and brought it to forensics to have checked for prints. They didn’t come up with Ricky’s prints, since he always wore gloves, but they were able to pull off it the prints of one Billy Vermello, another neighborhood thief who had sold the Kubotan to Ricky. Cops came to their school and questioned Billy, but he insisted that he did not do the break-in, and provided a solid alibi to prove it. But the cops decided to put the squeeze on him, insisting he at least knew who did it. Billy, being the weak weasel that he was, gave up Ricky. But Ricky was now part of The Pointe Boys, and when Carmine got word that Billy had fingered Ricky for the Kubotan, Carmine and Sammy caught him in the bathroom at school and put the fear of God into him.


“Ricky says you’re ratting him out?” Sammy said, after telling everyone else in the bathroom to leave. “And Ricky is with us. So that means you’re ratting on us.”


Carmine just stood against the door, barring anyone from coming in, his menacing eyes boring into Billy. The irony was that Billy’s dad was, in fact, a Made member of the Syndicate, a solid earner for the Cusmano crew, a crew of bookies who worked with Carmine’s Uncle Sal. And his dad was known as a standup guy. Which was why Billy had not mentioned his legal troubles to his father. Because if his father knew he was going to rat on one of Carmine’s guys, there would be hell to pay. His father might disown him. Or worse! Especially if the upper echelons learned that his son was a rat who couldn’t hold water under pressure.


“Whaaa...” Billy stammered, looking both scared and confused. “Nah, man, the cops came and talked to me, but I didn’t tell them shit.”


Carmine stepped forward and got right in his face. “That’s funny. Because Ricky’s lawyer says you made a statement, claiming you sold him the Kubotan. I wonder what your dad would say if he knew you are working with the cops?”


Billy shook his head. “No way, fellas,” he said emphatically, glancing from him to Sammy nervously. “I just told the cops I was at my sister’s wedding rehearsal the night that Jeep got hit. They said they have someone who saw Ricky there, but I know they are full of shit. Fuckin’ cops always make shit up to get you to talk. They just have my prints on the Kubo and want me to finger someone.”


Carmine got even closer, to where he was towering over him. “So, you never said you sold it to Ricky?”


“No way, Carmine. I ain’t no rat. If that’s what the cops are saying, they’re lying. There’s no way I’ll testify to that. No way, man. I’ll take the hit if I have to. I’m no rat, fellas.”


Carmine nodded, satisfied. “Okay, then,” he said, knowing the kid was probably lying about not fingering Ricky. “I’ll tell Ricky he has nothing to worry about. But if you start talking, you know we will handle it. I don’t’ give a fuck who your dad works for.Capice?”


“Yeah, sure, Carmine. I got you. I’d never rat. No way. Fuck them cops. If they pin me with it, they pin me with it. It’s just a larceny from a vehicle.Ain’t shit, paisan.”


Billy stayed true to his word. He recanted his statement about selling the Kubotan to Ricky, claiming he made it up to save his ass. He said the Kubotan wasn’t even his. Said it never was his. When the cops asked how his prints got on it, he said that someone at school had showed it to him, but he couldn’t remember who. Of course, the cops knew he was lying, but there were no actual witnesses to finger Ricky or Billy, and because Billy had a room full of alibis from the night the Jeep was hit, the cops were left with no choice but to drop the case. But the event helped solidify Carmine’s position as the leader of the Pointe Boys. There were whispers around school that they were not to be messed with, that if you crossed them in any way you would be dealt with. Carmine, knowing the entire Family structure and how it operated, was slowly positioning himself and his crew in the exact same fashion, with him and the top of the Family tree, protected by layers of underlings who did his bidding. And he was only getting started.

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