One witness told a police source that Nicodemo had been drunk and complaining about a business transaction between the Merlino gang and the Pagans. The source said he had called the Pagans names, like "punks."
"He was talking and saying things he shouldn't be saying," said a Pagan source.
Nicodemo was so loud that the bartenders were getting nervous. One even tried to reach Merlino to get Nicodemo out of there, the police source said. A Pagan "family member" stood up for the outlaw bikers and confronted Nicodemo, a sometime bodyguard for Merlino, sources said. What happened next is unclear. The Pagan source claimed Merlino associates had beaten up the ''Pagan family member," but that could not be confirmed.
In any case, Nicodemo left.
The next day, "Gorilla," the Pagans' sergeant-at-arms, and a couple of bikers took up the matter, sources said.
The bikers allegedly kidnapped - or "scooped up" - Nicodemo. He allegedly was beaten and pistol-whipped for showing "disrespect" to a ''family member," sources said.
He was forced to kneel on his hands and knees and apologize, sources said. He was crying and begging for his life, a police source said.
"If it was a Pagan (member), it would be a lot worse, God forbid," the Pagan source said.
This act of humiliation was meant to teach Nicodemo a lesson and send a warning to the Merlino gang.
"I thought I was dead . . . I thought they were going to kill me," Nicodemo was later overheard telling associate Billy DiPenna at 13th and Porter streets.
In fact, the sergeant-at-arms gave Nicodemo a message for his boss: Merlino was to apologize to the Pagans by 8 p.m. Friday.
The deadline passed. No apology.
Last Saturday, 17 thunderous Pagan motorcycles roared onto Passyunk Avenue near Broad Street, followed by a couple of carloads of Pagans to confront the mob underboss on his own turf, police and Pagans said.
Wearing their "colors" - insignia on the back of their jackets - and carrying chains, the Pagans stormed inside the Avenue Cafe, an espresso bar owned by Merlino and where his gang hangs out.
Merlino wasn't there.
People in the store scattered. The bikers ordered a Merlino associate to call him to the cafe, a source said.
After what seemed to the Pagans like "a half-hour of waiting," police showed up at 5:20 p.m. and escorted the Pagans out of the store - through a crowd of onlookers.
An hour after the show of force, the Pagan source said, the outlaw bikers received an apology via a Merlino messenger. But the Pagan source said everything right now with the Merlino gang was "on hold."
What does Merlino have to say?
"He doesn't know anything about it," said Merlino's lawyer Joseph Santaguida.
Neither did Nicodemo last night.
"I don't know anything about that. I just wanted to know what you were calling about," Nicodemo said.
Authorities say Merlino associates have been mouthing off, beating people up and disrupting illegal activities - gambling and otherwise - for years in South Philadelphia.
Just ask crime boss John Stanfa.
He and seven co-defendants are on trial in federal court on murder racketeering charges, in part because of an ongoing war with the Merlino mob.
Stanfa is charged with ordering murder contracts on the Merlino gang for the same reason as the angry Pagans: a lack of respect and interference with business.
This week, the Pagans had a message for Stanfa: "It's Merlino they don't like, not Stanfa," a Pagan source said.
This is the second time in five weeks Merlino appears to be repeating actions of his father.
On Aug. 27, the 33-year-old underboss was arrested on drunken- driving charges, just as his father had been 11 years ago.
In fact, jailed ex-boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo demoted Merlino's father, Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino, from underboss because of his drunkeness.
Now, young Merlino is tangling with the Pagans, just as his dad did in April 1982.
That's when the elder Merlino, then underboss, ran over Pagan member John ''Egyptian" Kachabalian, who was sitting on his Harley Davidson outside a South Philadelphia restaurant.
"No one can draw blood from a Pagan and think they can get away from it," former Pagan James "Jimmy D" DiGregorio testified regarding the matter.
The Pagans then shot up Merlino's house.
At the time, ranking mob members were so worried, they tried to send Merlino out of town because they feared further retaliation from the Pagans.
The matter was eventually settled after then-mob associate Raymond "Long John" Martorano, who was then in the drug business with the Pagans, offered to break Merlino's arms and legs, but instead paid $5,000 for the destroyed bike, DiGregorio testified.
During the 1980s, mobster Harry "the Hunchback" Riccobene was also in the
drug business with the Pagans, manufacturing and delivering illicit methamphetamine in the area.
After a series of bikers' convictions, the mob took over the meth business.