Son of the Mob: Hollywood Hustle

Vince Luca is in heaven ... he's off to Los Angeles, to attend the University of Santa Monica's film school. College should be great, but the part that is so wonderful is that he is now somewhat more than 3,000 miles away from his mob family and Brothers Vending.

The thing is, college brings problems of its own, from other film students moving in on his girl, to a kleptomaniac roommate, to a job on campus to help pay the tuition. Its a fair amount to handle, though nothing Vince couldn't easily manage, if he didn't keep finding himself with unexpected guests from the East Coast.

It seems Vince's dad may just be ready to expand operations to L.A.

From the Book:


An old Mazda Protégé tools along the cable of highway into the brilliant sunrise. With the rapid-fire blur of broken lines on the asphalt, the weight of New York – childhood, family, smog – recedes into history. Every fiber of this scene, every pixel, screams, “Freedom!”


VINCE LUCA at the wheel, girlfriend KENDRA BIGHTLY, shotgun, and best friend ALEX TARKANIAN in back. A handful of time zones beyond the car’s front bumper, new lives as college freshmen await these three young people.

Suddenly, a massive eighteen-wheeler zooms up from behind them. The diminutive rust-bucket becomes an airborne tumbleweed in the slipstream. Bouncing along the pavement, the car falls apart like the motorized roller skate it was always meant to be, leaving our heroes to walk to college …

“It doesn’t say that!” I explode, clenching the wheel.
From the depth of my screenplay pages, Alex grins at me via the rearview mirror. “I’m just adding a little spice. ‘New lives await these three young people?’ Jeez, Vince, when were you reborn as a dork?”
“It’s part of being a film student,” I explain. “I have to get into the habit of seeing everything as a movie scene.”
“The sun rises in the east,” Kendra points out.
“We’re driving west. We can’t be heading into the sunrise.”
Not much gets past Kendra. She has a fact-checker’s heart and a photographic memory. This sometimes makes it interesting being her boyfriend – especially for a guy with a pedigree like mine.
“Well, I’m just getting started,” I concede. “I’m not exactly Scorcese yet.”
“Bad example,” Alex admonishes. “Isn’t Goodfellas exactly what you’re going to California to get away from?”
Leave it to Alex to hit the nail right on the head. My father’s business – Brothers Vending Machines Inc. Vending machines have precious little to do with it.
Penny’s Motel in Vandalia, Illinois is our first stop, fifteen mind-numbing hours from our homes on the south shore of Long Island.
“Remember, no funny business,” Alex warns as we toss our bags on the two double beds. “We’re here to get some sleep, not for you guys to do what comes naturally.”
Alex has not shut up about this since the George Washington Bridge. My friend is basically a six-foot hormone.
“You’ve got nothing to worry about,” I assure him with a yawn. “The second my head hits that pillow, I’m going to be dead to the world.”
Kendra goes to take a shower.
Alex watches the bathroom door close behind her, waits for the noise of the water. “Ah, Vince. Starting college with a steady girlfriend. Not smart.”
“What are you talking about?” I say irritably. “You’d sell your own mother for a date.”
“Yeah – in high school. College is where the playing field levels out. They start to want us as much as we want them. It’s like peddling Sterno in Alaska. You can’t miss – unless you’re dumb enough to be unavailable.”
“Just don’t freak out if sales are a little sluggish at first,” I advise him. “Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know.”
“Are you kidding?” he crows. “I’m going to be in Las Vegas! The whole city is built on money and sex. Frankie promised to show me the ropes.”
“I didn’t know you had a friend in Vegas.”
“He’s not really my friend. I got his number from your brother.” He pulls a mummified cocktail napkin from the pocket of his jeans and painstakingly unfolds it. “Frankie Toronto. Maybe he’s in the casino business.”
“Are you crazy? You never get hooked up with somebody who knows my family. And that goes double if he has the same last name as a city!”
“Tommy begged me to look him up,” he argues. “Frankie’s one of his best friends.”
“What were his exact words?” I demand. “Did he call the guy ‘a friend of mine’ or ‘a friend of ours’?”
Alex shrugs. “What difference does it make?”
“Oh, not much,” I say sarcastically. “A friend of mine means a friend of mine. A friend of ours means a made guy who kills people.”
“It’s not like that,” he insists. “Your brother knows I’m a citizen.”
“Civilian,” I correct.
“He knows I’m a regular person. He wouldn’t hook me up with anybody dangerous.”
“Trust me on this, Alex. I grew up with these wiseguys. I can spot the mob a mile away. It’s like a sixth sense.”
I flip the clasps on my bag and throw the lid open.
And slam it back down again.
This isn’t my suitcase! I mean, the suitcase is mine, but the stuff inside isn’t! This is full of –
I peek again, hoping against hope to see my mother’s neat packing job, an engineering feat that borders on the Cartesian. The perfectly folded clothes, the shoes stuffed with tissue paper, the toiletries filling empty spaces with geometric precision …
My luggage is filled with hundred-dollar bills, thousands of them, bundled up by rubber bands.
And the amazing part? I know instantly where all this money comes from.
Loansharking, gambling, extortion, racketeering, and worse. Who knows? Some of it might even come from vending machines. But I guarantee this: Not one cent of it is legal.
More specifically, it comes from dear old Dad. Anthony Luca, businessman, father, mob boss.
But what is it doing in my suitcase?
Obviously, this has to be some kind of mistaken identity. Two bags, one for college, one for my father. I have a giddy vision of Dad cracking my suitcase to find sweat socks instead of a zillion dollars. Or worse – what if that money was meant for someone else? A rival boss, who flies off the handle at this insult. Honor and respect are very big in that world. He could be sending an army of goons over to my house right now.
I’ve got to talk to Dad!
Alex is looking at me quizzically. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I – I’m going to take a walk.”
“Why don’t you just say it? You want me to get lost so you and Kendra can be alone for a while.”
“That’s not it –”
“Well, I won’t do it,” he goes on, “I’m paying for a third of this hotel room. It’s all of ours, not your private little love nest. And don’t think you can wait till the middle of the night, either. I’m a very light sleeper –”
“Alex –” I open the suitcase for him.
He goggles. “Jeez, Vince. I know L.A. is expensive, but how much money do you need?”
“It’s mob money!” I rasp. “I must have taken the wrong suitcase!”
Alex whistles. “How much do you think there is?”
We do a little wiseguy accounting. Hundred-dollar bills, four packets across by seven deep, stacked at least a dozen high. Three million. Maybe four.
I point to the bathroom door. “Not a word to Kendra, you hear me? For all we know, her old man’s looking for this money.”
That’s the big kicker about Kendra: Her dad is an FBI agent. Not just any FBI agent, but Agent Bite-Me, head of the Luca investigation. Of all the girls in the tri-state area, I had to fall for the daughter of the guy whose job it is to send my father to prison.
Outside, I pace the parking lot, dialing my cell phone. As it rings, I’m racking my brain for the right words to describe this situation: Hey, Dad, thanks for the little surprise in my suitcase, or I might have some odds and ends that belong to you. The vending machine business is full of surprises and odds and ends. Why can’t I speak in plain English? Because the phones in our house are always bugged.
“Mom – hi. Is Dad around?”
“Vincent! Are you hurt?”
“Of course not. I just need to talk to –”
She cuts me off. “There’s a twenty car pileup outside Knoxville. Dozens of fatalities. It’s all over CNN.”
How’s that for ironic? Dad spends his days rubbing elbows with hired killers and the scum of the earth. He’s married to the undisputed world champion of worrying, who wastes her anxiety on imaginary tragedies.
“That’s in Tennessee, Mom. I’m in Illinois. A thousand miles away.”
“Thank God!” In her eyes, that’s a near miss. “Is Alex okay? And how about that girl of yours?”
Mom has never once called Kendra by her name. Which is still nicer than what Dad and Tommy call her.
“They’re fine. Just put Dad on, okay?”
“Your father’s not here. He and your brother are at a meeting.”
It’s almost midnight on the east coast. Only the vending machine business operates on these hours. “Just have them call me on my cell. Any time – day or night.”
“Vincent!” She’s horrified. “There is something wrong!”
“Any time – promise Mom!”
I “sleep” with one hand clutching the suitcase. My cell phone never rings.
“You look awful,” Alex tells me as we’re loading my Mazda Protégé the next morning. His eyes narrow. “You and Kendra were up all night getting it on.”
I whack him on the side of the head with three million dollars, maybe four.
At last, we’re ready to roll. Kendra gets in beside me and frowns. “Aren’t those the same clothes you wore yesterday?”
If Agent Bite-Me had his daughter’s eye for detail, Dad would have to be a whole lot more careful.
“Fifteen hours in the car, and you don’t even change?”
“He didn’t even shower,” Alex puts in helpfully.
She calls me Stinky for the next nine hours.


A hulking SUV pulls even with the Mazda on the highway.


The mirrored glass retreats into the door panel to reveal …

The barrel of a Glock 9 machine pistol!!

A hail of bullets perforates the Protégé’s rusty exterior, forcing the car into the ditch.

Heavily armed GANGSTERS pour out of the SUV, swarming the wreckage. A burst of gunfire opens the trunk lock, and the attackers abscond with three million dollars, maybe four …

When you spend the entire summer training yourself to think in script form, your imagination tends to get the better of you.
My cell doesn’t ring until I’m in the bathroom of the truck stop outside Columbia, Missouri.
It’s my brother. “Hey, Vince, how’s it going? You should’ve invested in luggage wheels. Heavy bag, huh?”
“Don’t joke about that, Tommy. I almost had a heart attack, and I’ll bet Dad did too.”
“Are you kidding? You guys are right on schedule. Now, here’s my number …”
“No!” I shout, but he’s already rattling off the ten digits of the payphone he’s calling from. I have to find one out here and get back to him. Standard mob procedure – the FBI can’t tap public phones.
I have to buy six packs of gum before I’ve got enough coins. Next time you think small-town folks are friendly, try asking for change at a truck stop.
“Tommy’s Mortuary.”
“It’s going to be,” I growl. “Dad’ll kill you if he finds out you’ve got me mixed up in this.”
He sounds hurt. “The kind of money he’s paying for that fancy college, you should be thrilled to help him out. Now listen: Uncle Bignose is already on a plane. He lands at Kansas City airport at two-forty. Gate B-seventy-seven.”
“And he’s got my clothes?” I ask.
“That’s going by UPS. Listen – airport security won’t let you in unless you’re a passenger, so there’s a ticket in your name at the Continental desk –”
“I can’t get on a plane!” I explode. “I’ve got to drop Alex in Vegas and then drive with Kendra to L.A.!”
“The ticket’s just to get you to the gate. Then you cash it in and keep the money. Buy yourself some new clothes.”
“What for?” I ask. “You said my stuff’s coming UPS.”
“The FBI’s got kind of a thing for that suitcase,” he admits. “For some reason, they think it’s full of money. Flippin’ feds.”
It all comes together in my head with a jarring crunch. This was no case of switched luggage! The heat was on this money, and my Mazda was the only safe way to get it out of town.
“You used me,” I accuse.
He’s offended. “What are you ragging on me for? Talk to your girlfriend. It’s her old man who’s sniffing through your underwear. Listen, Vince – gotta go. Have fun in college. Learn something.”
He hangs up before I can unload on him. But it occurs to me that Tommy’s probably just the messenger. Dad would never put his hotheaded older son in charge of this much cash. And anyway, the plan is too clever for my brother. To sneak the money past the FBI in the very same car as Agent Bite-Me’s daughter – that’s the kind of audacity that’s made Anthony Luca the vending machine king of New York.
So much for his promise to keep my life totally separate from the business.
The irony is that no one could be more pumped than Dad about me going away to school. A taciturn man in a world dominated by bigmouths, these days he can hardly shut up about “the first Luca to go to university.”
“What was that all about?” Kendra asks back at the car.
I take a deep breath. “We have to stop in a couple of hours and meet somebody. It shouldn’t take long.”
“Meet somebody?” Her brow furrows. “We’re hundreds of miles from anybody we know.”
“I have something, and it’s not mine,” I explain, painfully aware of how much I sound like a scene out of The Sopranos, “so a guy is coming to get it.”
But you can’t blow something like this past Kendra. She has inherited FBI-agent DNA. What something? How did I get it? Why can’t I just ship it back?
Finally, I say it outright. “I can’t tell you.”
She sulks all the way to Kansas City.
I have to drive like a maniac to get to the airport in time. As it is, we pull up just five minutes before Uncle Bignose’s flight.
I hit the sidewalk running. “Don’t park!” I toss over my shoulder. “I’ll be right back!”
The ticket’s waiting for me at the Continental counter, but when I sprint for the security checkpoint, Uncle Bignose’s plane is already on the ground.
Wouldn’t you know it? My belt buckle sets off the metal detector, and the agent pulls me aside.
“I’ll just need you to open your bag, sir.”
Not good. I am about to be caught with money that’s wanted by the FBI. The spoils of God-only-knows what crime.
“I – I can’t.”
That’s when I see Uncle Bignose. He’s not a svelte man, but he’s pounding toward us at incredible speed, propelled by the magical attraction that can only exist between a wiseguy and a suitcase full of cash.
His collision with the luggage-check table knocks down three agents, mine included. A flailing arm snags the bag, and he bolts for the exit.
The total chaos that follows might be explained by the fact that airport security is designed to keep intruders out, not in. Suddenly, uniformed people are in motion, a mad scramble after Uncle Bignose’s fleeing bulk. There’s a lot of yelling too, but I can’t decipher much of it because of the siren that’s going off.
Trying to look just as bewildered as everybody else, I join the stampede. An announcement is blasting over the p.a. system. I think they’re evacuating the building.
There’s no sign of Uncle Bignose, but I do run into Kendra and Alex. They both seem stunned, and Kendra is crying.
“It’s okay! Some guy busted through security.”
She’s close to hysterical. “He pulled me out of the car! By the hair!”
“Who did?”
“The guy!” Alex is shaken up too. “I barely got out of the back before he drove away!” He shrugs miserably. “The Mazda’s gone, Vince. With all our stuff in it.”
“Describe him.”
In spite of everything, Kendra’s keen powers of observation come through. “Tall, kind of chunky, with a prominent nose and black hair …” I’m actually proud of her. How many eighteen-year-old girls could hold it together under these circumstances? “… and he was carrying a suitcase like yours.” She blinks. “Vince, what happened to your suitcase?”
What are the odds? An entire airport full of potential getaway cars, and Uncle Bignose has to steal mine.
I take a deep breath. “Let me make a couple of calls.”
I get in touch with Tommy on the first try.
He’s incredulous. “He jacked that piece of crap? Man, Bignose must be slipping.”
“Just get it back, will you?”
Luckily, Uncle Bignose has his cell phone on. To his credit, he gives Tommy excellent directions to the abandoned factory where he ditches the Mazda.
A taxi ride later, we’re back on the road, a little wiser and three million poorer.
One other difference: Kendra is red-hot steaming mad.
“Vince, this is unacceptable. This time you can’t just throw up your hands and say, ‘Oh, my crazy family!’ We were carjacked, and you’re in cahoots with the carjacker! Tell me that’s not what just happened!”
Needless to say, it’s a very quiet drive to Denver, and on to Las Vegas the next day.
“It’s been a pleasure,” Alex beams as we unload the last of our stuff. He’s been getting steadily happier ever since Kendra and I started fighting, cracking jokes, singing, and raving about the scenery.
“Go to hell,” I mumble sourly.
He rolls his eyes at us. “You guys are such knuckleheads. If you were going to break up over something like this, it would have happened six months ago. You’re in love. God knows why, but it’s the real deal.”
He hefts his final suitcase and disappears into the dorm, leaving the two of us standing there with stunned looks on our faces.
It’s amazing. I mean, Alex is the ultimate unmarried marriage counselor. He’s never had a second date, much less a girlfriend. But in this case, he’s dead right. The Uncle Bignose thing – it wasn’t exactly fun, but for us, it’s old news. It’ll take a lot more than that to derail the Vince and Kendra Express.
Her hand steals into mine, which is already en route to stealing into hers.
“How about that,” she says mildly. “We went to high school with Dr. Phil and we never even knew it.”
I hold the car door open for her because chivalry isn’t dead, even though my luggage probably is. “Three hundred miles to go.”
That’s romance for you. Three hundred good miles are more than enough to make up for a transcontinental bummer.
California, here we come.

Copyright 2001 by Gordon Korman, used by permission