THE ITALIAN AMERICAN car salesman looked so out of place in Middle America that strangers would walk up to him and ask, “Say, are you in the Mafia?”
He stood five-foot-seven, with bulging muscles, slicked-back hair, and chiseled features that reminded people of a young Robert De Niro. To the locals, he may have been an ethnic -curiosity, but they loved doing business with him. He was nicknamed “The Closer” because he sold three times as many cars as the average salesman.
His secret was an ability to establish an instant rapport with people from all walks of life. Customers were so captivated by the Closer that they invited him to their weddings, football superboxes and NASCAR luxury suites. Neighbors and co-workers were also drawn to the surprisingly tenderhearted guy who’d pull off the highway after midnight to help a stranded motorist change a flat. At Christmas, the Closer would dress up as Santa and hand out presents that he bought to kids.
Then, last May, somebody asked about the Mafia again. The Closer was lured to a late-night meeting in a deserted auto-body shop. He says an interrogator flashed a gold FBI badge at him and said: How ya doing, John-John?
“What the hell you talking about?” the Closer replied. He says the interrogator hauled out a thick FBI file and showed him a photo of “John-John” Veasey, a notorious Mafia hit man from South Philadelphia.
“That’s not me,” the Closer said.
The interrogator displayed a photo of a bullet-riddled GMC Jimmy. The photo was from a crime scene, taken the day Veasey’s brother was shot to death on the street in 1995, hours before Veasey was scheduled to appear in federal court and testify against the godfather of the Philadelphia Mob.
You didn’t just fall out of the sky, the interrogator said. The jig’s up.
The Closer claims the interrogator was abusive, asking why he wouldn’t answer to his birth name, calling him a punk, a coward, a faggot. The Closer tried to leave, but the interrogator told him he wasn’t going anywhere.
During a nearly three-hour grilling, the Closer got angry. He pointed to a bulge at the ankle of an off-duty cop the interrogator had brought with him, and said if he really was a Mafia hit man, “I would have grabbed your fucking gun, and you would have been the first person I shot.”
The old you is starting to show, the interrogator said.
The Closer lowered his head and started to cry. The interrogator asked if he was scared.
“I’m crying because I’m thinking of what I want to do to you right now,” the Closer snapped. “You don’t know how lucky you are. The old me would have just bit your fucking nose off, and you would need a rubber band to hold your glasses on for the rest of your fucking life.”