By Viggo Rapetti


All Books
in This Series:

Coming 2014



I first met Carlo in 1951. It was a hot Saturday night in August, and I’ll never forget it. My cousin Paul had dragged me along on one of his usual runs. Somehow that run led us into a back alley dice game where Carlo, ever the sore loser—though I didn’t know it back then—was seeing how far he could push a dull ice pick between some poor schlub’s ribs. It took five guys to pull him off of the guinea, but by the time they did, it was too late. I tell you I never saw so much blood in my life—up to that point anyway.

Paul was a mere cugine back then. He did the petty stuff guys on the low end of the totem pole were restricted to: petty larceny, stickups, harmless shakedowns from local bodegas, what have you. But Carlo—Carlo was a soldato, a high soldier of the old order. He was into the big-time deals. None of us lowlifes knew the real story behind his setups or what he really took home, but he drove big cars—late model Caddies and Buicks mostly—and his wrists would blind you if you tried to stare at them in the sun. I never saw so many diamonds concentrated in one place. And the funny thing is, Carlo was so respected and feared that nobody ever dared to try and test him. Not in those early days anyway.

Paul had heard that Carlo was looking for some raw recruits from the neighborhood, guys who could be trusted, given the harsh realities of “the life.” Cousin Paul immediately thought of me. And boy did I need the work. I was 19 and broke. My uncle’s basement was where I called home, and I passed most days lifting weights or staring at the classy broads that walked along Delancey on their way to the perfume shops. It was pathetic, but that’s how I passed the time.

Paul remembered me from school as a tough kid. “You’re a real jawbreaker,” he used to say to me. We got each other out of a lot of scrapes back in the day—me more than him—and he kept me in mind because of it. So when Carlo held up a virtual “help wanted” sign, I was one of the first guys in line for the job.

After the stabbing, we tore out of that back alley like rats in a sewer after the lights had been turned on. Somebody had called the cops, and we could hear sirens blaring from blocks away. Paul followed Carlo’s Caddie across the Brooklyn Bridge, through Midtown, and way up into the Bronx. We didn’t stop until we hit Arthur Avenue. Carlo had a restaurant on the strip that catered to the local ruffians. The joint didn’t see a dime of outside money. Strangers weren’t allowed in. The whole neighborhood knew the score, and nobody bothered to upset that particular apple cart. It could mean their life—or their mother’s. Whatever.

We were invited in by a big sweaty fella named Guido. The joint was named after him, and he ran it. He had a dirty apron tied around his waist, and a stained wife beater barely covered his fat torso, but he was a swell guy, sweet as peaches for a mobster. Guido looked up and down the street as he held the door open for me and Paul, and when he was through scanning, he said, “Head to the back. And don’t talk his ear off.”

Paul nodded politely and stepped in first.

The joint was dark. The lights were on, but they weren’t very bright. The six tables that lined the restaurant were covered in checkered tablecloths, and on top of each table a big square candle was burning. They were dim, too. Three guys—tough brutes all—sat at the table by the front door. Their chests bulged where the burners they carried waited patiently for something to pop off. By the looks of it, nothing usually did. The three toughs sat around looking bored, but they gave us hard looks, as though we were there to rob the place.

Paul gave me a slight nudge to get my attention, and I turned to see Carlo sitting at the back table with two suited errand boys standing on either side of him. Carlo was a top earner, and he looked the part. Fresh from stabbing a guy in a back alley and getting away with it, he sat there in a pinstripe suit, diamonds glistening at his wrists and a silk shirt and tie that made him look like he ran a successful string of nightclubs or something. The guy was made of money, and I admired him from that night on.

He looked at Paul and wagged a finger at him. “You’re Paulie DeFicco’s boy, ain’t you?”

Paul nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Thought so,” Carlo said, leaning back in his chair and extending his legs so his shiny two-toned shoes took center stage. “He used to drive for the old man, before my time. Why’d he call it quits?”

“When the old man—I mean, when Buccieri died, he felt he had paid his debt. Buccieri was the last tie to the old days, I guess.”

A smile played across Carlo’s lips. “You figure on climbing the ladder some day and driving for another underboss?”

Paul laughed softly. “If only, sir.”

Carlo shifted in his chair. “Hey, kid. Quit calling me ‘sir.’ Starting to make me feel old here. Capisce?”

Paul nodded with a sheepish look on his face.

Carlo’s eyes settled on me next, but his words were directed at Paul. “Who’s your friend here?”

“This here’s my cousin,” Paul said. “Vincenzo Abruzzi. He’s good people.”

Carlo’s eyes looked past us as he leaned forward.

We both looked back as Guido walked a heaping plate of focaccia di recco to Carlo’s table. Guido set the plate down, said, “Bon appétit,” and started to walk away.

Carlo looked down at his plate. “What? Is it Columbus Day or something,” he yelled at Guido’s back.

Guido flipped a dish cloth over his shoulder and threw his head back in laughter as he headed for the kitchen.

Carlo tucked a cloth napkin in his shirt collar and picked up a fork. “My mother used to serve this every year on Columbus Day. Never got tired of it.” He put a forkful of food into his mouth and looked at Paul again. “You vouch for this guy?”

“He’s good people,” Paul said.

“You said that already,” Carlo pointed out, stuffing his mouth again. “I’m not trying to bust your chops, DeFicco. I put the word out that I was looking for new blood to seed a few spots, and you answered the call. Enough said. I’m not saying I’m taking your guy on. He’s gotta be tested, same as everybody else. Nobody gets special treatment in this thing of ours, ’cept the man at the very top. Capisce?”

Paul was about to say something in reply, but I beat him to it. “What you got in mind?”

Carlo turned to look at his two henchmen behind him and said, “He speaks. Who would’ve figured?” When he turned to face me again, he held a serious expression, his fork poised in the air. “You seem a little eager. You have any idea what you’re getting yourself into here?” He set the fork down and started drumming his fingers on the table.

“I’m ready to do anything you say, boss,” I told him.

Carlo smiled again. “Yeah. Eager ain’t the word. You’re ravenous, kid. Somebody’s liable to get hurt trying to stand in your way. And who am I to stand in your way?”

“Boss, it ain’t like that,” I told him, but he was having none of it.

Carlo ran a hand through his slick head of hair and said, “Be here Monday morning, first thing. And thank this lush for getting you bumped to the head of the line.” He jabbed a thumb at Paul.

We stood there like two apes, until Carlo dismissed us. “Now beat it. Go on, get outta here.”

That was the night it all started for me, the night I was invited into “the life.” Things were never the same after that.

Paul’s mother invited me to Mass that Sunday. While I didn’t go in for church, Paul’s girlfriend, Denise, had decided to tag along, and word was she was bringing a friend. Paul assured me this friend was easy on the eyes, but she was spoken for, and he even gave me the scoop on her fella. “The kid’s a real gavone,” he told me. “Sticks his foot in his mouth every chance he gets. Can’t see why she’s even with him.”

“Don’t bother me none,” I told him. “Let this fool stick his shoulder out so she can cry on it when I’m done with her.”

We had a good laugh over that.

I took the subway to Paul’s house, and his mother drove us to a Brooklyn church she frequented. She was in that little church every day, praying for anybody and everybody, including me.

Denise met us out front, but her friend was late. Paul’s mother went inside. We stood on the steps waiting for the friend to show up while parishioners arrived in their Sunday best and eyed us with suspicion as they made their way past. Denise said two words to me before canoodling with Paul right there on the church steps the entire time it took this broad to show up. That got under my skin, but I kept it cool because Paul had stuck his neck out for me by setting up that meet with Carlo. I owed him for that. Big time.

I saw a pretty Italian girl walking up the block toward us. She caught my eye right away, with her dark hair, confident walk, and those pouty lips I could spot a mile off. She wore a powder blue dress with big blue buttons running along the front of it, and she had on a pair of white gloves. It worked for her, but when she got up close, she looked sad. Denise spotted her and ran down the steps, screaming and stretching out her arms to give the poor girl a hug.

Paul and I said nothing as we watched the girls.

“What’s the matter, Loraine?” Denise asked, when she noticed the sad expression on her friend’s face.

“I don’t wanna talk about it. I’m here for Mass. I’m not here to air my dirty laundry,” Loraine said.

Denise grabbed her friend by the shoulders and stared her straight in the eyes. “Come on. It’s me,” she said, touching her chest. “What gives?”

Paul stuck a cigarette in his mouth and cupped his hands over it with a lighter. He already seemed stressed by the conversa-tion.

“That no good bum stood me up Friday night. Then I hear it from Janine that he was out with some other broad in Times Square.”

“What?” Denise said. She put her hands on her hips and a hard look on her face. “So what’d you do?”

Paul flicked the cigarette away and started making his way up the steps. “Let’s go inside,” he said.

I told him, “Nah. I wanna hear this.”

“Suit yourself,” he said, and disappeared.

“Broke up?” Denise was saying. “Just like that? You’ve got a lotta heart, I’ll say that for you. He was gorgeous.”

“Ugh! He’s got no brains. Lui è un pazzo,” Loraine said, making her pretty face as angry as she could manage.

That’s when I decided to butt in. “He is a fool if he two-timed something as gorgeous as you, doll. But he ain’t worth a five-minute conversation, so what say we change the subject?”

When Loraine gave me a quizzical look, Denise remembered her manners. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “You two haven’t met.” Then she introduced us.

It got quiet for a moment, but Loraine broke the silence. “What kind of subject you got in mind?” She spoke with her head tilted to the side and her arms playing behind her back. Everything she did looked beautiful—sexy even.

“Anything that involves you, doll,” I said, giving her the icy stare I’d perfected. I meant business, and I wanted her to know it.

Denise got the hint and decided to hightail it into the church.

“I’ll let yous two talk,” is all she said before heading up the steps.

Loraine wasted no time asking a basketful of questions: Where did I live? Who did I live with? How long? How far was I from the church? How did I know Paul? Is Paul really my cousin? Am I Italian? Am I all Italian or mixed?

I had to tell her to relax and lay off on the interrogation, but she had one last question she needed an answer to. What did I do for a living?

“I’m between jobs at the moment,” I told her.

She looked at me with a serious expression. “Be straight with me, Vin—hey what do you prefer I call you? Vincenzo or Vinny?”

“Don’t care what you call me, doll. Long as you call me for supper,” I said.

She smiled at that and said, “Then give me your number.”

I gave it to her, but that didn’t make her lay off trying to get an answer to that last question.

“Between jobs, is it?” she said.

“Got an interview lined up Monday,” I told her.

“What line of work?”

“You ask a lot of questions. Look, I don’t know what kind of work it is yet. I’m just going in to see a guy who wants to see what I’m good for. Let’s leave it at that.”

She shrugged and said, “All right.”

After about two minutes she decided she wanted to go inside for Mass. I didn’t argue with her. For the next forty minutes I struggled to keep my eyes open.

Monday morning couldn’t come soon enough. My head was swimming with thoughts of mob life all that Sunday and well into the night. By the time I hit Arthur Avenue, I was practically drooling with anticipation. But, as with most things you long for in life, disappointment was in the cards.

For starters, I sat around in Carlo’s restaurant waiting for him to show up for three, maybe four, hours. When he finally stuck his head in the door, he told me to beat it and come back on Wednesday.

I loafed around for two days like the bum I was, idling on the corner with a few neighborhood cronies who liked to chew the fat while slinging dope to local stoners. That got boring three minutes in. They were making money, and I was watching them do it while my pockets held lint.

When Wednesday rolled around, I found myself sitting in Carlo’s restaurant with the same anticipation I’d felt on Monday. Probably more. This time Carlo popped his head in an hour earlier than he did last time.

“Hey, you, kid,” he said, not bothering to step all the way in.

I was sitting at the table nearest to the front door. “What’s the word, boss?”

“Come with me.”

I followed him outside and saw a blue delivery truck standing in front of the restaurant—one of those curvy Chevy Thrift jobs—and the driver leaning against it. He was a hulking figure, muscle and fat together making up a six-foot frame.

“You and the Rhino are taking a ride into the city today.”

I nodded at Carlo.

“He’ll explain what needs doing,” Carlo said, patting me on the shoulder before heading into the restaurant.

That was it. That was all the instruction he gave me my first day out—my “test” day. When I looked over at the Rhino, he was walking around to the driver’s side while tossing the truck keys up in the air a few times. I climbed into the passenger seat and tried to make conversation.

“So, what’s the job?”

The Rhino fiddled with the radio knobs, and Bing Crosby filled the cab with his signature crooning. It took him ten minutes to answer my question. I was surprised he remembered it. “We’re picking something up,” he said with a low, gravelly voice. The way he was hunched over the wheel made him look like a gorilla with a license.

I was busy staring out the window when he said, “You know how to handle a rod?” He had his thumb and index finger pointing like a pistol.

I shrugged and lied. “Sure.”

“Good,” he said. “Reach into that glove box, and keep the piece tucked, you hear?”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said, pulling out a black Luger. I tested the weight of it before tucking it into my pant waist.

“Careful with that,” the Rhino said. “I got that off a dead German in the war. Plan on giving it to my son, whenever I settle down and have one.”

“Good enough for me,” I said.

We drove in silence after that and rolled into Midtown thirty minutes later. Cars and trucks were cluttering up the streets, and there were people everywhere. Working stiffs in business suits, eager shoppers, guys in faded work shirts. It was nuts for a weekday. The Rhino pulled up in front of a tall office building on a side street in the Garment District and got out of the truck. I watched him walk to the back and slide some boxes around to make room for something. He came over to the passenger door after that, wiped under his nose with a finger, sniffed, and said, “You ready, kid?”

I didn’t have a clue what I should be ready for, but I told him I was.

“Then come on. This’ll only take a second.”

I followed him through the open doors of a wide back entrance, past four guys pushing racks loaded with clothing, and we took the freight elevator to the nineteenth floor. On our way up he turned to me and said, “When we step into the office, lift your shirt up over the rod. Let the handle show. Got me?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said.

We got to nineteen and walked through the doors of a large office that looked more like a warehouse. Rolls of fabric lined the walls, and several racks of clothing occupied a corner of the room. A slender redhead was poised behind a receptionist desk just left of the office door, and when she saw the Rhino her face went white. She pressed a buzzer, and seconds later a short, plump fella in a crumpled shirt and tie stepped out of an inner office, sweat pouring from him. He started barking at the receptionist. “What did I tell you about that infernal—?” When he caught sight of the Rhino, the words died. The guy looked like he was on the verge of a heart attack.

I pulled my shirt up and tucked it so that the Luger handle was on display, like I was told, and I  followed the Rhino to the inner office. He shoved the little guy aside and walked in, but not before he told me, “Make sure nobody comes in here.” I stood in the doorway and watched the Rhino walk behind a cheap office desk and stoop down in front of a safe on the floor. He entered a combination from memory and extracted two stacks of cash with paper bands holding them together. He placed the money on the desk and then opened a cabinet and pulled out a brown Hermès duffel bag.

When the Rhino came out of the office, loaded bag in hand, he asked the little sweaty man for the books. The man told us his partner was out, then led us to another inner office and showed us the financial records for the past six months.

“Business has been, has been picking up a bit, as you can see,” the man stammered. “If I can make a small suggestion.”

The Rhino angled his head toward the little fella and jutted his chin at him, giving him the floor.

“If you could kindly tell your bosses to add more trucks to the fleet, we’ll be able to keep up with the deliveries. Demand is getting out of control, but the production in Chinatown is keeping pace. We just don’t have enough trucks and drivers to fill the demand yet.”

“That it?” the Rhino asked.

The little man swallowed and nodded. “Yes.”

The Rhino looked at the far wall, where the racks of clothing stood.

“Go grab a rack and fill it with suits for Carlo,” he said to me. “Size forty-four, all pinstripe.”

I did as I was told, and we headed for the freight elevator. When we got outside, I put the suits from the rack into the back of the truck, and we drove off, like two average Joes.

“That was a cakewalk. Troppo facile,” the Rhino told me as we drove. “Next job, we see if you got stones.”

“When’s that?” I asked.

He chuckled. “Now, kid. Headin’ there now. This one ain’t gonna be so smooth, capito?”

“What’s the job?” I asked.

“Collection. We’re takin’ care of a guy who missed a few payments on a debt. If he don’t pay up now, well, you’ll be working those knuckles o’ yours.”

I looked at my fist as we rolled across town and thought about what I’d gotten myself into. We tore across the Queensboro Bridge and drove till we hit Kew Gardens. The Rhino parked in front of a six-story walkup, a stone’s throw from the deadliest train wreck in the history of the Long Island Railroad. It had happened that past winter. As we got out of the truck I said, “Ain’t this near where that train crashed?”

The Rhino nodded as we walked to the entrance of the building. “November of last year. It was a Wednesday, and I’ll never forget it. Joey Grimani was on that train. Him and me, we was tight. Wasn’t for that lazy brakeman not keeping up that fusee, it’d be me and him doin’ this little run right now. No offense.”

“None taken,” I said as I watched him press the buzzer several times.

The Rhino stepped back onto the sidewalk, arched backward and squinted his eyes as he stared at a window on one of the upper floors. Whatever he saw made him run back to the door and kick it.

“What gives?” I said.

“Little prick is up there. Caught him peeking. Bastardo!” Three successive kicks pounded against the wooden door before the lock gave. We rushed up the stairs and ran along the hall of the fifth floor. The Rhino stopped in front of 5A and started kicking that door, too. When we heard shots from inside, he spun out of the way, and we both hugged the wall and watched wood splinter as three bullets pierced the door. The Rhino shouted curses, lifted the back of his shirt, and pulled out a black Berretta from his pant waist. I reached for the Luger and waited for him to make a move.

We heard no more shots, so the Rhino aimed his gun at the single lock on the door and took a couple of shots at it. Sparks flew when the cylinder blew out, and the Rhino kicked the door open. He charged into the apartment firing random shots, but the living room was empty. I stayed right behind him and kept the Luger pointed in the opposite direction of his gun.

“Come out, you prick!” the Rhino yelled, aiming his Beretta down the narrow hallway that led to the bedrooms. At the end of the hall, a hand suddenly stretched out of a bedroom doorway, and a finger squeezed the trigger of a black pistol that was pointed in our direction. Bullets flew, but the shooter was still in the bedroom, and his aim was off. The sound of dry firing signaled an empty clip, and that’s when I decided to try my luck. I squeezed the trigger of the Luger and nothing happened.

The Rhino shot me a glance before letting off rounds in the direction of the room. He advanced as he fired, and I followed close behind. A rail-thin Russian man, holding an empty pistol, was cowering in a corner of the room, and his hands were shaking.

He started copping a plea while staring at the dirty carpet. “Please, no money today. No have money for you today. So sorry!”

What happened next left me numb for days, though I never let on about it. The Rhino raised his Beretta, said, “Salutare il diavolo per me” (“say hi to the devil for me”) and shot off a round that slammed the Russian’s head against the wall. Blood drained from the tiny hole in his forehead in the still silence of the room.

As I stood there staring at the dead Russian, the Rhino reached out a hand and said, “Let me see the Luger.” When I gave it to him, he took a quick look and said, “Safety’s on. What, you never fire a rod before?”

I said nothing. I didn’t even move.

“Mother of—. Look, kid, you coulda got us killed with this. You don’t hide somethin’ like this in the future. You hear?”

I nodded.

“Look, you did good today, despite this here little slipup. I won’t let this hit Carlo’s ear, else you’d be out. No question. I don’t know. Something about you rubs me the right way. You remind me o’ my kid brother maybe.” A smile spread across his broad face. “He was a real pisser, too. Miss that ape like my own right arm.”

“Was he in this thing too?” I asked.

“Yeah, for a little bit. Look, you gotta be careful, kid. Ain’t nobody gonna vouch for you if you don’t seem like you got brains.” He tapped the side of his head with a stubby finger. Then he looked at the Russian, over whose dead body we were having this casual conversation. “We’ll tell Carlo you did him in. He came at us hot, slugs pourin’, and you capped him to end the standoff. You’ll earn your stones for that. But you gotta learn how to handle a burner, kid.” He handed me the Luger.

“Can you teach me?”

He tucked his gun at the back of his pant waist and said, “Sure, I’ll show you a few things after we dump this body.”

I had never touched a dead body before, but I figured there was a first time for everything. And the business I had chosen for a career would have me crossing paths with corpses sooner or later, so I figured a crash course would do me fine. The Rhino was looking around the room. Thought he was looking for something to wrap the Russian in, but when he walked to a dresser I knew he had something else in mind. He started opening drawers and rifling through them, tossing clothes behind him as he went. Then he moved to one of the nightstands next to the bed. He held up a set of keys and said, “There we go.”

“What gives?” I said.

“Can’t leave here without a vig,” he said. “This bum drives a Packard. Gotta give something to the bosses, or it’s my head. Debtors don’t pay up, it’s us who gotta pony up the dough. That’s another thing you gotta learn, kid. Always cover your bases. You gotta earn, and the bigger you earn, the more they respect you. Keep the bosses happy, they keep you happy. Simple as that.”

We wrapped the Russian in a couple of sheets and carried him into the hallway. Several heads were poking out of doorways and staring in our direction, but when they figured out what was going on, doors started slamming shut. I never heard police sirens, and the Rhino later explained that they had a crew in Kew Gardens, and the capo kept a tight rein on the neighborhood. That meant the local cops were kept in check so long as our people didn’t make life difficult for them.

l drove the silver Packard and followed the Rhino’s truck back across the Queensboro. We headed upstate and drove nearly two hours, finally dropped the body off with a mob associate. This bruiser, whose name I never got, lived on a three-acre property surrounded by farmland and woods, but he catered to wiseguys and nobody around him knew it. His primary function in the mob, as I understood it, was disposing of bodies in inventive ways. This guy perfected cement shoes and body-in-a-barrel-with-concrete-mix disposals, the latter of which was popular in Venice. I heard later that the bottom of the Hudson was littered with his work.

When we rolled back into the Bronx it felt like a major weight had been lifted off me. I could breathe easy again, though it took some effort to put the day behind me. Given the events of my first day out, I wondered how bad it would get once I got some real experience under my belt.

The Rhino seemed to sense my thoughts as we climbed the steps to the little apartment above Guido’s. “It ain’t always as Gary Cooper as this, you know?” he said. “Trust me, we don’t trade rounds with lowlifes every day, so you’ll catch a few breaks here and there, kid. Just hang in. I’ll teach you how to handle a burner some other time.”

And he did, about a week later, in four easy lessons, but when we went in to see Carlo that day, he never uttered a word about my inexperience with guns. I figured he was playing favorites since it was common knowledge that I was the nephew of the driver for the previous underboss. Then again, maybe he really took to me, like he said, but I never dwelt on it.

Carlo was sitting on a worn leather couch close to a small window that hardly let in air to the stuffy apartment. Three men were in the room with him, two seated at a little round wooden table in the corner, and another leaning against a wall across from everyone. I recognized the leaning fella as one of Carlo’s errand boys from the other night. The other two I never saw before.

Carlo put out a cigarette in an ashtray next to him and squinted up at us through a cloud of smoke. “What’s the word, Rhino? How’d our boy do?”

“Good, good,” the Rhino said, a hand on his protruding belly. “Kid’s got heart.”

“Oh?” Carlo said. Then he added, “The Russian pay up?”

The Rhino pursed his lips and shook his head. “No sooner than we get to this scimmia’s door he takes shots at us. Nearly took my head off before the kid here sparked his brain.”

Carlo looked at me and cocked his head. “That right, kid?”

“Yeah,” I said, while concentrating on keeping my arms limp at my sides so I didn’t start to fidget in front of them.

“Never make a decision like that on your own again,” Carlo said. “You can’t go around whacking whoever you want. Capisce?”

“Yeah, yeah. Capisco.

He stood to his feet, buttoned the two buttons of his blazer and said, “Lucky for you the Russian was a deadbeat, which means he’s worth more to us dead than alive. This also sends a message. With that, I’ll let your indiscretion slide this once, Vincenzo. But no more of this cowboy stuff. We clear?”

When I nodded, he walked over to me and embraced me in a way that signaled acceptance. Then he introduced me to the two men at the table. They were dapper fellows both, in crisp gray suits and sharp fedoras that looked like something out of a Cagney flick. One of them tipped his hat at me when Carlo said my name. They were both sgarrista, like Carlo, wiseguys, only they belonged to a Brooklyn crew. Carlo’d had certain business dealings with them, but that isn’t why they stopped by. Turns out they heard Carlo was going to be bumped up. The old man was going to give him his own borgata. A Bronx regime.

“And you’re rollin’ with me now, kid,” Carlo said as he watched me. “You do good by me, I do good by you. And you keep doing good, you’ll earn your stripes, same as everybody else. Capisce?”

Capito,” I said, and smiled. Then I thanked him with my hands clasped. “Grazie, Carlo.”

Carlo smiled back but didn’t say a word. But the way he nodded spoke volumes.