September 18, 1988—Tony DeMarco made a handsome living selling drugs, breaking bones, and, when the opportunity presented itself, sending a .22-caliber bullet ricocheting off the inside of a mark’s skull. As an overlord for the Antonelli crime family, Tony was proficient at dispatching those who displeased his boss.
The fact that he thoroughly enjoyed his work was simply a bonus.
Thus, under a darkened Ohio Valley sky, it was with great and perverse pleasure that he held Pinky Carey by the ankles and dangled him over the side of the Pennsylvania Railroad trestle just north of downtown Steubenville, sixty feet above the northbound lanes of Ohio Route 7. Pinky’s jacket and shirt had fallen down over his head; his arms, one of which was wrapped in a dirty plaster cast, swung in the wild panic of a poor swimmer fighting the current. The inverted view of the asphalt below had so terrified him that he had pissed himself, and urine was streaming down over his chest, dribbling in pellets onto the creases of his terrified face.As an overlord for the Antonelli crime family, Tony was proficient at dispatching those who displeased his boss. The fact that he thoroughly enjoyed his work was simply a bonus.
Tony DeMarco had killed ten men on behalf of Salvatore Antonelli. Six of those had been rivals who had encroached on Antonelli’s turf. One had been an Antonelli capo whom the boss suspected of spying for a rival family. Another, a Weirton, West Virginia, produce distributor, made the mistake of disrespecting Tony when he was in a foul mood. The other two he had killed for repeatedly failing to pay their gambling debts.
Pinky Carey was perilously close to becoming number three.
Two weeks earlier, Tony had grabbed a handful of Pinky’s collar and yanked him off a barstool at Hollywood Lanes. Pinky was crying and pleading for mercy as Tony pushed him through the swinging doors to the kitchen and into the darkened parking lot behind the building. Pinky was long overdue on a $1,500 gambling debt and knew what was coming. The meeting was brief. Tony took his powerful right hand and interlocked his fingers with Pinky’s left. The grip was crocodilian, and the prey was helpless to escape. Tony snatched Pinky’s index finger and snapped it sideways, popping a jagged bone through the skin. He twisted and pulled the middle finger, yanking it out of the socket. Pinky screamed and cried and begged for mercy. All the while, Tony chided his victim in a calm voice.
“Pinky, I don’t understand why you insist on ignoring your financial obligations to Mr. Salvatore Antonelli.”
The ring finger snapped backward. “This is not a good thing, Pinky. Your account is badly in arrears.” The little finger went south with a snap, leaving the hand in a grotesque gnarl—four dirty birthday candles dying in the noonday sun. When Tony released his grip, the pain dropped Pinky to his knees. He cradled his left hand and sobbed.
“You have seventy-two hours to get me the money, Pinky,” Tony said, sliding behind the wheel of his still-running car. “Seventy-two hours. Don’t be late, and don’t make me come looking for you again.”
A rational human being couldn’t possibly forget such an encounter or dismiss the threat as idle. But Pinky Carey was such a pitiful drunk that soon after leaving the emergency room, his hand stitched and wrapped in a cast that covered his fingers, his overriding concern was to get another drink. Rather than beg and borrow from family and friends to repay his debt, Pinky elected to hide from Tony, a tactic that worked until thirty minutes before he found himself dangling over the side of the railroad trestle.
Tony caught Pinky slipping out the back door of the Elks Club. As soon as he saw Tony, Pinky started crying.
“Get in the car, Pinky. For God’s sake, be a man.” Tony reached around Pinky, clamped hold of his neck, and shoved him into the back seat.
“Go,” Tony said to the driver.
They drove in silence to the north end of Steubenville and parked behind the abandoned Ohio Valley Tire warehouse.
“You boys wait here,” Tony told his two lieutenants in the front seat. “Me and Pinky, we’re going to go have a little talk.”
Tony was dressed in his usual attire of all black: loose-fitting slacks, a knit shirt that fit tight around his muscular chest and revealed a gleaming gold crucifix atop tufts of black chest hair, and boots that had been buffed to a high sheen. He led Pinky down a narrow path where foxtails and thistles leaned over and scraped at their pants. Pinky followed, dutifully, like a sullen third-grader trailing a teacher to the principal’s office. There was no escape. Why attempt it? Tony was a beast, thick through the arms and chest, and a full two heads taller than Pinky, who was a shuffling, puny, seventy-year-old with rheumy eyes and an alcoholic’s nose—bulbous, cratered, and lined with dark-blue veins.
“Please don’t hurt me, Mr. DeMarco. I’m sorry I haven’t gotten you the money,” Pinky said.
There was no response. Tony just kept walking, stepping off the path and onto the siding of the railroad trestle. The grating rattled under his feet; the diesel exhaust of the semis passing beneath on Route 7 hung in the air.
“Mr. DeMarco, please . . .”
“Just keep up, Pinky.”
Pinky knew he was in deep trouble. He knew how the Antonellis operated. Fingers were broken in a public display, but worse things happened in private. Pinky assumed there was a fierce beating coming, and he would have no choice but to take it. “I’ll get you your money, Mr. DeMarco. I promise, I will. Please, just don’t hurt me no more.”
“What do you know about respect, Pinky?” Tony asked, continuing to walk.
“I respect you, Mr. DeMarco.”
“Oh, yes, sir.”
They crossed to the middle of the trestle. The clouds and billowing smoke from the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel plant to the south melded over the West Virginia hills, blocking the light from the rising moon. The lights and fire of the Weirton Steel plant to the north reflected off the water of the Ohio River. The grind of the valley echoed through the hills, and the air burned with the tang of sulfur and fly ash. When Tony stopped walking, the two men were virtually invisible in the darkness. “You say you respect me, Pinky, but I don’t think that is so. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be out here, would we? You see, in my line of business, my reputation is very important. Do you understand that, Pinky?”
The old man kept his head lowered and nodded.
“Answer me, goddammit.”
“Yes, sir. I understand.”
“I gave you a break, and you repay me by hiding? Do you know how that makes me look? I’ll tell you, Pinky, it makes me look weak. And, when people think you’re weak, they take advantage of you.”
“I’m sorry about that, Mr. DeMarco. I really am. I didn’t want to cause you no problems, but I didn’t have the money.”In that instant, a rage swelled in his chest, and he lashed out with a vicious right hook, splitting Pinky’s nose like a ripe melon.
There is, within the brain of every predator, a neurological switch. The hair trigger for that switch could be hunger, fear, or anger. Regardless of the genesis, the switch also removes emotion from the situation, leaving the predator both cold and fearless. There is no sense of conscience, no empathy for the prey. Like the summer wind dies, the eyes of Tony DeMarco narrowed and the skin stretched taut over his chin and jaws. In that instant, a rage swelled in his chest, and he lashed out with a vicious right hook, splitting Pinky’s nose like a ripe melon. The skin tore nearly to his eye sockets, and blood and bits of cartilage splattered over his face. Pinky dropped on his back to the grated walkway, his ample nose an amorphous blob.
The predator was upon his prey.
Tony snatched the little man by the ankles and jerked him upward, lifting him over the walkway railing. He looked down to see two holes, each the size of a silver dollar, in the soles of Pinky’s shoes. “Christ, Pinky, why don’t you buy yourself a decent pair of shoes?”
He didn’t answer. He was barely conscious, his world a swirl of gray, his own heartbeat thumping in his ears. When his feeble, alcohol-saturated brain regained its focus, Pinky was staring at the asphalt. “Oh, God, please, Mr. DeMarco. Bring me back, bring me back.”
“I asked you, why don’t you buy yourself a decent pair of shoes?”
“I can’t, Mr. DeMarco, I ain’t got no money,” he wailed, loose change falling from his pockets and bouncing on the blacktop as his bladder released. “That’s why I ain’t paid you yet. I don’t have no money. Oh, please let me up.”
“Pinky, you should always wear nice shoes. Shoes help make the man. You know who taught me that?” Again, Pinky didn’t answer. He could hardly hear Tony over the passing semis and his own wailing. This angered Tony, who shook the little man’s legs. “Pinky, goddammit, I asked you a question. Do you know who taught me to always wear nice shoes and keep them polished?”
“Mr. Salvatore Antonelli. ‘Always,’ he said, ‘always buy good shoes and keep them nice. People respect that.’”
“Please let me up. I’ll buy some nice shoes after I get you paid, but I don’t have no money right now.”
“Pinky, there’s booze on your breath. You’ve got money for booze, but no money to repay your debt to Mr. Antonelli?” He adjusted his grip on Pinky’s ankles. “Goddammit, quit squirming or I’m gonna drop your ass,” he yelled. “Do you know what you’re doing to my reputation by not paying your bills?”
Pinky was bawling. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
“Are you trying to insult me, Pinky? Is that what you’re trying to do—insult me and Mr. Salvatore Antonelli?”
“No, God, no. I’ll pay. I’ll pay tonight. I swear.”
“You’ll pay me tonight?”
“Yes, oh sweet Jesus, yes. Just let me up.”
“Where are you going to find the money?”
“I’ll find it somewhere. I’ll ask my sister. She’s got money. I promise.” “Do you swear, Pinky? Tonight? You promise you’ll pay? You swear to God?”
Pinky’s tears mixed with urine and the blood from his nose and ran down his inverted forehead, dripping off his bald pate. “Yes. I swear to God. Tonight! I’ll pay you tonight!”
“Promise me on your mother’s grave.”
“I promise. I promise on the grave of my dear mother.”
“I don’t know, Pinky. I just got this really bad feeling that you’re lying to me again.”
“No, Mr. DeMarco, I’m not. I swear to Jesus.”
“I’m really sorry, Pinky, but I think you’re lyin’.”
Tony released his grip, and Pinky Carey screamed and flailed his arms and legs until the timely drop sent him through the passenger-side windshield of a north-bound Peterbilt. Pinky never saw the truck. The windshield exploded and his neck snapped. He was dead before he bounced off the seat on the passenger side and fell to the floor, his legs and now shoeless feet draped across the arms of the stricken driver, who screamed and stood on his brakes, bringing a load of canned dog food to a stop in an ear-piercing squeal and a plume of white smoke as rubber burned against asphalt.
Tony calmly walked back to the car and climbed into the back seat. “Did you boys hear about Pinky Carey? Committed suicide tonight. The poor little guy jumped off the bridge onto Route 7.”
“I don’t think he’s going to be able to pay up, now,” one of the lieutenants said.
“Consider it an investment, of sorts,” Tony said. “Sometimes, you’ve got to put a little blood on the floor to make people know you mean business. The cops will rule it a suicide, but word will get out how he really died, and why. And, when it does, everyone else will be a little more conscientious about making good on their debts.”
This was the kind of efficiency that had so ingratiated Tony to Salvatore “Il Tigre” Antonelli, crime lord and don of the most powerful la Cosa Nostra family between New York and Chicago. Il Tigre controlled organized crime in the tristate area of Eastern Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, and the panhandle of Northern West Virginia. Tony was his most trusted capo, an enforcer without peer and of unquestioned loyalty.
Tony and Salvatore had met in the parking lot of the Oasis, a dive bar and front for one of Antonelli’s gambling operations in the shadows of the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel plant in Mingo Junction. Antonelli had business inside. Sitting on one of the dried-out railroad ties that rimmed the gravel parking lot, Tony DeMarco was busy waiting for trouble to find him. It was early afternoon when Antonelli pulled into the parking lot and stepped out of his Cadillac. He took a moment to adjust the cuffs of a gray suit with thin, safflower pinstripes. His black Italian loafers were buffed to a high gloss, and the drab strip of Commercial Street reflected in his aviator sunglasses. His salt-and-pepper hair was slicked back with not a strand out of place. He pulled a wad of cash out of his pocket, peeled off a twenty-dollar bill, and pushed it into Tony’s palm. “Hey, kid, how ’bout makin’ sure no one messes with my ride?”
When Antonelli returned fifteen minutes later, two men with tin lunch pails and yellow hardhats were sprawled on the gravel—one on all fours, throwing up, the other unconscious, with blood streaming from his smashed nose and mouth. Antonelli took a minute to survey the carnage, then said, “Christ almighty, kid, all I wanted you to do was watch the Caddy.”
Tony nodded. “Yeah, but some guys . . . you know, they just don’t want to listen.”
“How old are you, kid?”
“What’s your name?”
“DeMarco. Tony DeMarco.”
Antonelli smiled. “Italian. Nice.”
Tony was physically mature beyond his years, with thick pads of muscle covering his neck, shoulders, and chest, an outline of a full beard on his olive face. Antonelli took the kid’s hands and studied them. They were huge, with white scars and a thin smear of steelworker blood racing across the knuckles. “You pretty good with these?” Antonelli asked, still examining the hands.
Tony nodded toward the two steelworkers. “Ask them,” he said.
A slight smile pursed the lips of the old man. “You want a job, Tony?”
“Maybe. What kind of a job?”
Antonelli lit the cigar he had been carrying between his fingers and used it to point to the front door of the sedan. “Step into my office, son. Let’s talk.” Tony let himself into the passenger seat; Antonelli slid in behind the wheel and asked, “Do you know who I am?”
Tony nodded. “Sure. You’re Il Tigre.”
The older man nodded. “I like your style, Tony. But, if you want to work for me, you need to remember this: We don’t take care of business in a parking lot in the middle of the day. Someone gives you some grief in public, you just smile and let it go. Then, you wait. You wait until you find them alone in an empty room or a dark alley, then you beat them so that their own mothers won’t recognize them. Understand?”
“Good. Very good.”
School had never been a priority for Tony, and what little interest he’d had totally disappeared after he met Salvatore Antonelli in the parking lot of the Oasis. He never again set foot in Mingo High School. The next morning, he began working at the bar. He started out running errands and bouncing drunks, and eventually he moved up to bagman. Occasionally he paid visits to those who were late in paying their gambling debts or bar tabs. This was his favorite task, as well as the one at which he excelled. “You must respect Mr. Antonelli, but you had better fear me,” he was fond of telling debtors before cracking a handful of fingers or dislocating an elbow.
Tony emulated the old man in every way—dress, style, speech. He worked handfuls of pomade into his hair, attempting to adopt the slicked-back look of the boss. His relationship with Antonelli also gave Tony the material trappings he had always craved. He had fine, tailored suits, silk ties, gold jewelry, a new car, and a wad of cash in his pocket. He loved making purchases where he could make a show of peeling off hundred-dollar bills. To complete the look, he bought a Rottweiler and named him The Great Zeus. The dog had a spiked collar, and Tony liked walking him down the sidewalks of downtown Mingo Junction, the beast growling, straining against the leash, and covering the concrete in slobber.
Tony DeMarco was the only son of an uneducated, semiliterate railroader. Until he went to work for Antonelli, Tony was just another Dago living in one of the shabby houses that lined the flood-plain side of the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks that dissected Mingo Junction. Salvatore Antonelli had provided him with a new life and a degree of respect, and for that Tony was outwardly grateful and fiercely loyal.
Antonelli loved the boy. He was, in fact, the very image of the son Antonelli had always wanted. His own boy, Joseph “Joey” Alphonse Antonelli, was the disappointment of his life. Il Tigre had hoped to someday hand over his organization to Joey, but the boy lacked the discipline for such a post. He had been coddled by his mother and was interested only in parties, women, and spending his father’s money. The younger Antonelli resented Tony, who basked in Il Tigre’s affection and worked hard to please the old man.
With Tony collecting Il Tigre’s debts, there were few problems with late payments. And when there were, Tony quickly handled the situation. When broken bones didn’t properly encourage a gambler to pay his bills, like with Pinky, Tony made him a sacrificial lamb. When Mafia families from Youngstown or Cleveland or Detroit attempted to muscle into Antonelli’s territory, Tony was the one who quietly made the problem disappear.
To show his appreciation for this loyalty, Il Tigre gave Tony oversight of the gambling and prostitution trade for the entire Upper Ohio River Valley. Antonelli understood gambling and prostitution. There was a demand for such vices, and, since they were victimless crimes, the local authorities could be easily bought off. Antonelli had long shied away from the drug trade, as it drew too much attention from law enforcement. However, Tony insisted that by cornering the cocaine and marijuana trade in the region, Antonelli could reap tens of millions of dollars annually. Antonelli concurred, allowing Tony to organize the operation in exchange for 15 percent of the gross, but with a simple operating directive: “Make sure my name never gets mentioned.”He was arrogant, malevolent, mercurial, and ruthless. While they are not traits that would make a mother proud, they went a long way toward making him a drug dealer and mob enforcer without peer.
Tony DeMarco became a feared man, the despotic drug lord of the Upper Ohio River Valley, an expanse of bottom land and continuous steel mills and factories stretching from East Liverpool, Ohio, to Wheeling, West Virginia. He was arrogant, malevolent, mercurial, and ruthless. While they are not traits that would make a mother proud, they went a long way toward making him a drug dealer and mob enforcer without peer. The drug trade was highly lucrative for Tony, whose hub of operations was the turn-of-the-century limestone manse atop Granite Hill that had been built by the founder of the Mingo Iron Works. Tony had purchased the home with cash and had restored it with expensive granite, imported marble, and hardwoods. For Anthony Dominic DeMarco, it was all about the money. As vices went, he had few. Only a small portion of the cocaine went up his own nose. He drank in moderation and didn’t chase women. “Filthy twats. They want too much of my money and not enough of this,” he was fond of saying, grabbing at his crotch.
At age thirty-four, Tony was about to become a made member of the Antonelli crime family. He had a fabulous income and power. He was disliked by nearly everyone in the family except Il Tigre, but he didn’t care. It wasn’t a goddamn popularity contest. As far as he was concerned, the old man was the only one who mattered.
Two weeks after Pinky Carey did a header through the windshield of the Peterbilt, Tony DeMarco was in the back room of the Italian-American Club in Steubenville, meeting with three of his lieutenants, when the bartender knocked and poked his head inside. “Tony, phone.”
He had never before received a phone call at the club. “Who is it?”
“I don’t know, but he says it’s urgent.”
Tony followed the bartender behind the bar and grabbed the receiver off the counter. “Yeah.”
“Jesus Christ, where in the fuck have you been?”
Tony’s eyes widened. He was not accustomed to hearing such a question directed at him. “Who is this?”
“Chachi, goddammit. I’ve been trying to track you down all night.”
There was a pause on the phone. “It’s the old man. He’s had a stroke. It’s bad, Tony, really bad. We’re at Allegheny General. You better get up here, and fast.”
He ran straight for his car and was at the hospital in less than an hour. Chachi was waiting for him in the lobby. “Come on. I’ll take you up.” Chachi was Il Tigre’s nephew—his sister’s son. He was one of the few members of the family below Il Tigre who liked Tony. No one else would have even called. “He said he wasn’t feeling good this afternoon— said he thought it was indigestion, or something. He felt dizzy and went upstairs to take a nap. They found him a couple of hours later.”
By the time Tony got to the intensive-care unit, it was too late. The old guard, their eyes red and moist, huddled around Il Tigre’s wife. Joey Antonelli, now the heir to the throne, stood to the side. When he saw Tony come out of the elevator, he took a step and used both hands to shake Tony’s one. “I’m sorry, Tony, but he’s gone,” said Joey, his eyes falling. “He loved you very much. I’ve always felt of you like a brother, because he loved you like his other son.”
Tony DeMarco’s eyes uncharacteristically filled with tears. He pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at his eyes, embarrassed at his display of emotion. Joey draped an arm around Tony’s thick shoulders and led him back down the hall, the slightest of smirks creasing his lips. When they were clear of the family, Joey whispered to Tony, “Life’s a bitch, isn’t it? The old man croaks just before you’re a made man. That’s a ballbuster, huh, motherfucker?”
Excerpted from The Perfect Shot by Robin Yocum. Used with the permission of the publisher, Seventh Street Books. Copyright © 2018 by Robin Yocum.