I was recently interviewed for David Wisehart's blog, Kindle Author, and he questioned me about the research I'd done for my novel, "A Touch of Deceit." In the book a Sicilian FBI agent recruits his Mafia cousin to help him track a terrorist. Well of course I mentioned how I interviewed FBI agents and local law enforcement to get a good idea of how the bureau worked. But for the Mafia part I had to think--what research had I really done?
Then it occurred to me. I'm Sicilian. My father was Sicilian. He also owned a candy store in Brooklyn where the Mafia would run numbers. It was more like a Luncheonette with a counter for soda and sandwiches. When I was sixteen I began working weekends by myself. Well, of course, I was young, so my dad's Sicilian friends offered to keep an eye on me while I was working alone. Guys with names like Max and Tony would stop in frequently during the shift and make small talk. We became very friendly. We talked baseball, their kids, everything. They would buy coffee and overtip me. Eventually we set up a signal with the bar across the street where the Mafia guys would hang out. If I turned off the neon ice cream sign in the window it meant someone suspicious was in the store.
Late one night just before closing a kid around twenty-one came in, sat at the counter and ordered a Cherry Cola. He sat there sipping it like it was hot tea. Then he looked around and asked me questions like ‘where’s my help’ and ‘how much money does a place like this keep in the register?’ So I clicked off the ice cream sign and within two minutes five Sicilians came in and surrounded the kid. They never touched him, but he practically ran out the door and I never saw him again. These guys were very loyal people and treated me like royalty.
I told that story in my interview with David Wisehart and when I finished, I asked, "Does that count as research?" Something tells me I learned more from my youth with the Mafia then I ever did over the phone with an FBI agent.