The bloody victory of the Corleone Family was not complete until a year of delicate political maneuvering established Michael Corleone as the most powerful Family chief in the United States. For twelve months, Michael divided his time equally between his headquarters at the Long Beach mall and his new home in Las Vegas. But at the end of that year he decided to close out the New York operation and sell the houses and the mall property. For that purpose he brought his whole family East on a last visit. They would stay a month, wind up business, Kay would do the personal family’s packing and shipping of household goods. There were a million other minor details.
Now the Corleone Family was unchallengeable, and Clemenza had his own Family. Rocco Lampone was the Corleone caporegime. In Nevada, Albert Neri was head of all security for the Family-controlled hotels. Hagen too was part of Michael’s Western Family.
Time helped heal the old wounds. Connie Corleone was reconciled to her brother Michael. Indeed not more than a week after her terrible accusations she apologized to Michael for what she had said and assured Kay that there had been no truth in her words, that it had been only a young widow’s hysteria.
Connie Corleone easily found a new husband; in fact, she did not wait the year of respect before filling her bed again with a fine young fellow who had come to work for the Corleone Family as a male secretary. A boy from a reliable Italian family but graduated from the top business college in America. Naturally his marriage to the sister of the Don made his future assured.
Kay Adams Corleone had delighted her in-laws by taking instruction in the Catholic religion and joining that faith. Her two boys were also, naturally, being brought up in that church, as was required. Michael himself had not been too pleased by this development. He would have preferred the children to be Protestant, it was more American.
To her surprise, Kay came to love living in Nevada. She loved the scenery, the hills and canyons of garishly red rock, the burning deserts, the unexpected and blessedly refreshing lakes, even the heat. Her two boys rode their own ponies. She had real servants, not bodyguards. And Michael lived a more normal life. He owned a construction business; he joined the businessmen’s clubs and civic committees; he had a healthy interest in local politic without interfering publicly. It was a good life. Kay was happy that they were closing down their New York house and that Las Vegas would be truly their permanent home. She hated coming back to New York. And so on this last trip she had arranged all the packing and shipping of goods with the utmost efficiency and speed, and now on the final day she felt chat same urgency to leave that longtime patients feel when it is time to be discharged from the hospital.
On that final day, Kay Adams Cory woke at dawn. She could hear the roar of the truck motors outside on the mall. The trucks that would empty all the houses of furniture. The Corleone Family would be flying back to Las Vegas in the afternoon, including Mama Corleone.
When Kay came out of the bathroom, Michael was propped up on his pillow smoking a cigarette. “Why the hell do you have to go to church every morning?” he said. “I don’t mind Sundays, but why the hell during the week? You’re as bad as my mother.” He reached over in the darkness and switched on the tablelight.
Kay sat at the edge of the bed to pull on her stockings. “You know how converted Catholics are,” she said. “They take it more seriously.”
Michael reached over to touch her thigh, on the warm skin where the top of her nylon hose ended. “Don’t,” she said. “I’m taking Communion this morning.”
He didn’t try to hold her when she got up from the bed. He said, smiling slightly, “If you’re such a strict Catholic, how come you let the kids duck going to church so much?”
She felt uncomfortable and she was wary. He was studying her with what she thought of privately as his “Don’s” eye. “They have plenty of time,” she sate. “When we get back home, I’ll make them attend more.”
She kissed him good-bye before she left. Outside the house the air was already getting warm. The summer sun rising in the east was red. Kay walked to where her car was parked near the gates of the mall. Mama Corleone, dressed in her widow black, was already sitting in it, waiting for her. It had become a set routine, early Mass, every morning, together.
Kay kissed the old woman’s wrinkled cheek, then got behind the wheel. Mama Corleone asked suspiciously, “You eata breakfast?”
“No,” Kay said.
The old woman nodded her head approvingly. Kay had once forgotten that it was forbidden to take food from midnight on before receiving Holy Communion. That had been a long time ago, but Mama Corleone never trusted her after that and always checked. “You feel all right?” the old woman asked.
“Yes,” Kay said.
The church was small and desolate in the early morning sunlight. Its stained-glass windows shielded the interior from heat, it would be cool there, a place to rest. Kay helped her mother-in-law up the white stone steps and then let her go before her. The old woman preferred a pew up front, close to the altar. Kay waited on the steps for an extra minute. She was always reluctant at this last moment, always a little fearful.
Finally she entered the cool darkness. She took the holy water on her fingertips and made the sign of the cross, fleetingly touched her wet fingertips to her parched lips. Candles flickered redly before the saints, the Christ on his cross. Kay genuflected before entering her row and then knelt on the hard wooden rail of the pew to wait for her call to Communion. She bowed her head as if she were praying, but she was not quite ready for that.
* * *
It was only here in these dim, vaulted churches that she allowed herself to think about her husband’s other life. About that terrible night a year ago when he had deliberately used all their trust and love in each other to make her believe his lie that he had not killed his sister’s husband.
She had left him because of that lie, not because of the deed. The next morning she had taken the children away with her to her parents’ house in New Hampshire. Without a word to anyone, without really knowing what action she meant to take. Michael had immediately understood. He had called her the first day and then left her alone. It was a week before the limousine from New York pulled up in front of her house with Tom Hagen.
She had spent a long terrible afternoon with Tom Hagen, the most terrible afternoon of her life. They had gone for a walk in the woods outside her little town and Hagen had not been gentle.
Kay had made the mistake of trying to be cruelly flippant, a role to which she was not suited. “Did Mike send you up here to threaten me?” she asked. “I expected to see some of the ‘boys’ get out of the car with their machine guns to make me go back.”
For the first time since she had known him, she saw Hagen angry. He said harshly, “That’s the worst kind of juvenile crap I’ve ever heard. I never expected that from a woman like you. Come on, Kay.”
“All right,” she said.
They walked along the green country road. Hagen asked quietly, “Why did you run away?”
Kay said, “Because Michael lied to me. Because he made a fool of me when he stood Godfather to Connie’s boy. He betrayed me. I can’t love a man like that. I can’t live with it. I can’t let him be father to my children.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Hagen said.
She turned on him with now-justified rage. “I mean that he killed his sister’s husband. Do you understand that?” She paused for a moment. “And he lied to me.”
They walked on for a long time in silence. Finally Hagen said, “You have no way of really knowing that’s all true. But just for the sake of argument let’s assume that it’s true. I’m not saying it is, remember. But what if I gave you what might be some justification for what he did. Or rather some possible justifications?”
Kay looked at him scornfully. “That’s the first time I’ve sees the lawyer side of you, Tom. It’s not your best side.”
Hagen grinned. “OK. Just hear me out. What if Carlo had put Sonny on the spot, fingered him. What if Carlo beating up Connie that time was a deliberate plot to get Sonny out in the open, that they knew he would take the route over the Jones Beach Causeway? What if Carlo had been paid to help get Sonny killed? Then what?”
Kay didn’t answer. Hagen went on. “And what if the Don, a great man, couldn’t bring himself to do what he had to do, avenge his son’s death by killing his daughter’s husband? What if that, finally, was too much for him, and he made Michael his successor, knowing that Michael would take that load off his shoulders, would take that guilt?”
“It was all over with,” Kay said, tears springing into her eyes. “Everybody was happy. Why couldn’t Carlo be forgiven? Why couldn’t everything go on and everybody forget?”
She had led across a meadow to a tree-shaded brook. Hagen sank down on the grass and sighed. He looked around, sighed again and said, “In this world you could do it.
Kay said, “He’s not the man I married.”
Hagen laughed shortly. “If he were, he’d be dead now. You’d be a widow now. You’d have no problem.”
Kay blazed out at him. “What the hell does that mean? Come on, Tom, speak out straight once in your life. I know Michael can’t, but you’re not Sicilian, you can tell a woman the truth, you can treat her like an equal, a fellow human being.”
There was another long silence. Hagen shook his head. “You’ve got Mike wrong. You’re mad because he lied to you. Well, he warned you never to ask him about business. You’re mad because he was Godfather to Carlo’s boy. But you made him do that. Actually it was the right move for him to make if he was going to take action against Carlo. The classical tactical move to win the victim’s trust.” Hagen gave her a grim smile. “Is that straight enough talk for you?” But Kay bowed her head.
Hagen went on. “I’ll give you some more straight talk. After the Don died, Mike was set up to be killed. Do you know who set him up? Tessio. So Tessio had to be killed. Carlo had to be killed. Because treachery can’t be forgiven. Michael could have forgiven it, but people never forgive themselves and so they would always be dangerous. Michael really liked Tessio. He loves his sister. But he would be shirking his duty to you and his children, to his whole family, to me and my family, if he let Tessio and Carlo go free. They would have been a danger to us all, all our lives.”
Kay had been listening to this with tears running down her face. “Is that what Michael sent you up here to tell me?”
Hagen looked at her in genuine surprise. “No,” he said. “He told me to tell you you could have everything you want and do everything you want as long as you take good care of the kids.” Hagen smiled. “He said to tell you that you’re his Don. That’s just a joke.”
Kay put her hand on Hagen’s arm. “He didn’t order you to tell me all the other things?”
Hagen hesitated a moment as if debating whether to tell her a final truth. “You still don’t understand,” he said. “If you told Michael what I’ve told you today, I’m a dead man.” He paused again. “You and the children are the only people on this earth he couldn’t harm.”
It was a long five minutes after that Kay rose from the grass and they started walking back to the house. When they were almost there, Kay said to Hagen, “After supper, can you drive me and the kids to New York in your car?”
“That’s what I came for,” Hagen said.
A week after she returned to Michael she went to a priest for instruction to become a Catholic.
* * *
From the innermost recess of the church the bell tolled for repentance. As she had been taught to do, Kay struck her breast lightly with her clenched hand, the stroke of repentance. The bell tolled again and there was the shuffling of feet as the communicants left their seats to go to the altar rail. Kay rose to join them. She knelt at the altar and from the depths of the church the bell tolled again. With her closed hand she struck her heart once more. The priest was before her. She tilted back her head and opened her mouth to receive the papery thin wafer. This was the most terrible moment of all. Until it melted away and she could swallow and she could do what she came to do.
Washed clean of sin, a favored supplicant, she bowed her head and folded her hands over the altar rail. She shifted her body to make her weight less punishing to her knees.
She emptied her mind of all thought of herself, of her children, of all anger, of all rebellion, of all questions. Then with a profound and deeply willed desire to believe, to be heard, as she had done every day since the murder of Carlo Rizzi, she said the necessary prayers for the soul of Michael Corleone.