Sempre redemption, p.15
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.15

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 15


  “We have another student,” the lady said, handing him the paperwork. “Haven Antonelli. ”

  “Pleasure to meet you,” he said, shaking her hand. “Let me show you to your place. ”

  He situated her at the last empty station and instructed her to just explore today. She sat there for a moment, staring at the blank canvas when he walked away. A smile tugged her lips as she picked up a paintbrush, dipping it into a container of red paint.

  She started off by drawing a simple heart in the center.

  * * *

  For the first time, Haven arrived home after Dia that night. She headed up the stairs to the sixth floor apartment close to dusk, her first painting tucked under her arm. Dia was sitting on the floor in the living room, stacks of freshly developed photos sprawled out around her. She looked up when Haven walked in, her eyes darting straight to the wrapped canvas.

  “How was it?” she asked, her voice guarded.

  “It was good,” Haven said. “I liked it. ”

  Dia took the painting from her, unwrapping it and holding it up, examining the streaks of color and distorted hearts. “It’s amazing! Let’s hang it up!”

  Haven laughed. “It was just practice. ”

  “So?” Dia waded through her sets of photographs on the way to the closet to find a hammer and nails. She jumped up on the couch with it and crookedly hung the canvas in the center of the wall above it. She leaped down when she was finished and surveyed her handiwork. “It’s your first painting! You should be proud. ”

  Haven stared at it for a moment, a smile tugging her lips. “I really am. ”

  Every night that week, after Haven arrived home from her class, another painting joined the first one on the wall. Soon dozens of photographs surrounded them, new ones that Dia had taken over the few months Haven had been there. Their surroundings, once stripped bare to avoid facing pain, were again alive with vibrant color and happy memories.

  * * *

  La Cosa Nostra in Chicago runs differently than the factions in the east. In New York, the five families maintain separate entities within the city while still belonging to a bigger organization as a whole. The bosses, the commission, meet regularly to discuss business and hash out solutions, maximizing profit while lowering the infighting. It’s a committee, a congress of elected Mafia officials, voting and drafting and governing with their guidelines.

  It’s a democracy, in other words. Bloody and violent and entirely illegal, but still a democracy, nonetheless.

  Not in Chicago. For decades, Chicago has been a strict dictatorship. They often try to give the illusion of fairness within the ranks, and the men play along to feel important, but nobody is truly fooled. One man runs it all. One man makes all the rules. One man decides whether you live or die.

  Because of this, New York and Chicago have had a rocky relationship from the beginning. Sometimes they love each other, sometimes they hate each other, but there is always a bit of lingering jealousy. For the bosses in the east crave the independence the Chicago Don holds, while the men in the Windy City yearn for more control.

  Under Antonio DeMarco’s reign, the cities maintained open communication, but that had since fallen apart. They had taken to calling on each other for favors whenever one needed something, strained allies in a bigger war, but the last time someone in New York called, Salvatore ignored their pleas.

  And if you aren’t friends, you may as well be enemies.

  Bitter blood simmered and deals were kept off the record, money passing between the cities under the bosses’ noses. No one knew if they were fully aware of what went on, if they got a taste when all was said and done, but one thing was undeniable: the respect was dead.

  Because of that, everyone was fair game, and they wouldn’t hesitate to turn against each other. They found themselves in tumultuous times . . . another source of contention Corrado didn’t want to have to deal with.

  “Where are we with this casino deal?” Sal asked, swirling scotch around in his glass as he casually lounged in a chair in his den. Men sat around quietly, some steadily drinking while others, like Corrado, were just biding time until they could go.

  Silence strangled the room. Nobody answered.

  “It’s like that?” Sal asked, bitterness lacing his voice. “None of you have anything to say? You’re supposed to be the best, but none of you can talk? None of you can make this happen?”

  “It’s impossible,” a Capo muttered from the other side of the room. “It can’t be done, Boss. ”

  “Nonsense,” Sal said. “Nothing’s impossible. ”

  With so much heat on the organization, the Fed’s attention focused on their dealings close to home, Sal was shifting business elsewhere. But while they had been busy maintaining control of a chaotic Chicago, clashing with the Russians while dealing with a long-standing Irish feud, their New York counterparts had spread throughout the country. The problem with that, however, was those factions held a grudge, so all Sal faced were roadblocks and swift denials when trying to expand.

  Nobody wanted to do business with the Salamander.

  “The guy who owns the casino grew up in Manhattan,” the Capo explained. “He’s under protection. We can’t funnel money through there without approval, and they ain’t giving it. Not to you. ”

  “Make them,” Sal said. “Don’t let them say no. ”

  “Start another war? Over a casino?”

  Sal shook his head, taking a small swig from his glass. “It’s principle. ”

  “It’s suicide. ”

  A dry, unmistakable laugh cut through the room. Corrado turned his head to where Carlo stood, casually leaning against the wall. “Since when are we cowards? We don’t back down or ask for permission. We take what we want. ”

  Sal nodded. “I’m glad someone here gets it. ”

  “Of course,” Carlo said. “And don’t worry about it, Boss. You need their cooperation? I’ll get it. I have ways. You know these kind of deals are my specialty. ”

  A sinister smile twisted Sal’s mouth. “I know I can count on you. ”

  Murmurs filtered through the room in waves, but Corrado remained silent, waiting until Sal dismissed them with a flippant wave of the hand. He stood up, nodding to the boss before heading out of the mansion.

  Corrado drove straight home, finding his house dark and quiet. There was no sign of Celia anywhere, and for once, Corrado was grateful to return to an empty home. He packed a bag, not even bothering to turn on a light, and scribbled a quick note to his wife.

  Don’t wait up for me.

  Celia wouldn’t. She didn’t anymore. She knew if he hadn’t arrived by a certain hour, he likely wouldn’t make it home that night, so she would go to bed with nothing but hope in her heart that she would see him the next day—alive and well and about as whole as a man like him could possibly be.

  * * *

  Corrado headed to the airport that night, buying a ticket on a red-eye flight to Washington, D. C. His plane landed close to dawn and he rented a car, driving to a small diner on the other side of Arlington, Virginia. He had been there twice before, years ago, in the company of the man he was looking for that morning.

  The quaint diner was fairly empty at that early hour, all of the booths vacant, with a few customers scattered along the stools around the bar. A bell above the door chimed when Corrado walked inside, everyone casually turning to look at him except for the one he was there to see. Corrado slid onto the stool beside him, their elbows ever so slightly brushing. The man tensed, a cup of coffee halfway to his lips, as his eyes slid toward Corrado.

  Corrado tipped his head slightly in greeting. “Senator Brolin. ”

  “Uh, Mr. Moretti. ” He set his cup down before glancing behind him, cautiously surveying their surroundings. “What are you doing here?”

  “I came to speak to you,” Corrado said.

  “How did you know where to find me?”

  Corrado shook
his head as he peered at the man. “You come here every morning for coffee, two creams but no sugar, and a wheat bagel with a bit of strawberry cream cheese before heading into the city for work. ”

  Shock registered on the man’s face. “How . . . ?”

  “Oh, give me some credit, Senator. You think I don’t do my homework?”

  Senator Cain Brolin hailed straight from New York City, born and raised near Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan. He hung with the wrong crowd growing up, had befriended some unlikely men before running for office, and it was through those men that he had crossed Corrado’s path. He, along with another senator from Illinois, had been involved in a labor scheme years before with the New York and Chicago families, rigging bids on government construction sites so Mafia-controlled companies got the jobs for a hefty profit.

  They still did it, as far as Corrado knew, but Salvatore had been cut out of the scheme long before, deemed too much of a risk.

  A waitress walked up before Senator Brolin had a chance to respond, interrupting their conversation. “What can I get you, dear? Coffee?”

  Corrado shook his head. “Just water. I—”

  “He doesn’t drink coffee,” Senator Brolin said. “It upsets his stomach. ”

  Corrado stared at the man as the waitress walked away. “I see I’m not the only one who pays attention. ”

  “Of course not, Mr. Moretti. ”

  They were quiet until the waitress returned with Corrado’s water. The two men moved to a booth in the back, away from nosy ears and prying eyes.

  “So what do you want?” Senator Brolin asked, picking at his bagel but eating none. “You aren’t a man who makes social visits. ”

  “True,” Corrado said. “And I don’t want something . . . I need something. ”

  “Look, if it’s about your pending case, I’ll tell you the same thing I told Dr. DeMarco. I can’t really—”

  “It’s not about that,” Corrado cut him off, his eyes narrowing. “DeMarco? You spoke to Vincent about the RICO case?”

  “Yes, a few weeks ago. He contacted me. ”

  “What did he want?”

  “Uh, I don’t know, really. We didn’t get that far. He asked what kind of influence I had within the justice department, if any. I told him my hands were tied there and the conversation ended. ”

  That made absolutely no sense to Corrado but he shook it off, making a mental note to come back to it later. He didn’t have time to be concerned about what his brother-in-law was up to. There were more immediate things needing to be dealt with. “Well, like I said, this isn’t about that. ”

  “Then what’s it about?”

  “There’s a new place in Connecticut Salvatore wants to do business with—Graves Resort & Casino. Guy named Samuel Graves owns it. ”

  “I know of it,” Senator Brolin said. “Graves grew up with the underboss of the Calabrese family. He’s a friend of mine. They both are, actually. ”

  “I figured that much. And the Calabrese family isn’t our biggest fan these days. The Amaro family, the Geneva family, sure . . . I still have connections. But the Calabrese family?” Corrado shook his head. Sal had offended them one too many times. “Without their approval, no deal. ”

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