When 89-year-old Vic C. Maceo showed up one morning a few months ago at the post office of Pete Miller in downtown Galveston, drew a .38 revolver from beneath his coat, and started blasting in Miller’s direction, some old-timers heard the shot as an echo of the island’s romantic past—though not necessarily Pete Miller. “It was like a scene out of a bad movie,” Miller said later, as doctors worked to repair a shattered bone in his upper right arm and police booked Maceo for attempted murder. This was the way disputes were settled in Galveston fifty and sixty years ago. In the days when the notorious Maceo crime syndicate controlled the rackets, the gun was the primary instrument of persuasion, bribery ranking a close second. Vic C. Maceo was the last surviving member of the syndicate, a minor functionary in the gang that was headed by his cousins Rosario “Papa Rose” Maceo and Salvatore “Big Sam” Maceo. It is said on the Island that that the gun the old man used to wing Pete Miller was so ancient that the arresting officers had trouble shaking the copper-jacketed bullets from the chamber. Bullets of that type are rarely used today.
Within minutes of the shooting, it was the talk of the Island, and a month later people were savoring the incident, a palpable measure of pride apparent in the general agreement that it couldn’t have happened anywhere except here. Vic Maceo had somehow got in his head that Pete Miller owed him money in a real estate deal from 25 years ago. Only in Galveston, right? Miller had bought a house from Maceo in 1968 for $45,000 and sold it in 1991 for four times that amount. Old-timers of the Little Sunday Morning Coffee Club, which meets every morning (except Sunday) at the Best Western Motel on Seawall Boulevard, speculated that some of Maceo’s cronies had been ribbing him and suggesting that Pete Miller got the best of him in the deal. Years ago Miller was a busboy at the Balinese Room and later a cashier at the Studio Lounge, two of the Maceos’ premier hangouts: The thought of getting beaten by a busboy would have been intolerable to a man like Vic C. Maceo, also known to some as Little Vic to distinguish him from another cousin Vic A. “Gigolo” Maceo. “Little Vic always was a real hothead,” said Angelo Montalbano, who in the good old days was a blackjack dealer for the Maceos. Clearly something has been eating at the old man recently. Several weeks before the shooting, he had asked his attorney, Sam Tramonte, about suing Ross Novelli, the real estate agent who had handled the sale of the house to Miller. Tramonte advised him to forget it.
The shooting scene had a ritualistic, old-world charm. On February 3, a Wednesday, Maceo had coffee as usual with the retirees and senior citizens who gather early each morning in the coffee shop at Randall’s food market on Sixty-first Street. Later, he drove his red sports car north to Broadway and turned east past the abandoned warehouses that bulged with cotton years ago, when Galveston was one of the world’s major seaports. He cruised with the morning traffic along the wide, elegant boulevard lined with palms and oleanders, passed the mansions where the Sealys and the Moodys once lived, and headed toward downtown. He parked in the lot behind the building where Miller practices as a certified public accountant and walked around to the entrance on Twenty-second Street, which even in the busy part of the day is usually devoid of traffic and mostly deserted.
By the time Miller arrived, at about nine-twenty, Maceo had been waiting for nearly half an hour, pacing the hallway like an ill-tempered tiger. He was a small man, wrinkled and gray, with a raspy voice and eyes the color of cold lava. He had always been a snappy dresser, more so since his wife died in 1979. On the morning of the shooting, Pete Miller recalled, Maceo wore a dark pin-striped suit, a blue-and-white striped shirt with the collar open, a gold chain around his neck, and a dark fedora—pretty much what you might expect a gangster in a bad movie to wear. Others who saw Maceo that morning recalled him wearing a sport coat and a golf cap, but this was Pete Miller’s movie and he knew what he saw.
Miller was surprised to see the old man that morning. Except for the real estate deal and a few other minor business matters, they seldom encountered one another. Maceo told Miller that he wanted to talk about some land, and the CPA invited him into his private office, shut the door, and offered him a cup of coffee. Pete Miller was nearly a foot taller (and thirty years younger) than Maceo; he looked down and across his desk and waited politely for the old man to speak his piece. Like many longtime residents of Galveston, Miller observed a traditional respect for elders, a practice brought here from the Old Country, from which he was only a generation removed. His mother was born in Greece and his father in Turkey. The name “Miller” was chosen at the moment of immigration because his grandfather milled wheat in his Turkish village; the original family name was Yeralexos.
As Miller related the story later, Vic Maceo sipped his black coffee for a while before coming to the point. “You still owe me forty thousand dollars on that house,” he said, with a trace of his Sicilian heritage detectable in the way he spoke. The suggestion that Miller somehow owed Maceo—especially the figure $40,000—came out of the wild blue. The agreed-on price of the house that Miller had purchased a quarter of a century ago was $45,000, and Miller had made the final payment in January 1983, six months before it was due. Located just off Forty-fifth Street near the old Fort