Sempre redemption, p.16
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.16

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
 
Page 16

 

  “What do you expect me to do?”

  “I need you to get this partnership to go through. ”

  “Why would I do that?”

  “Why?” Corrado scoffed, leaning back against the booth. “Because they’re going to push for this to happen one way or another, whether it is done amicably or otherwise. They’re already making plans to escalate the matter. And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, Senator, what might happen if a war breaks out between New York and Chicago. ”

  Senator Brolin continued to pick at his bagel, his eyes downcast as he quietly sat deep in thought. “Why this casino?” he asked finally. “You have men down in Vegas already. Why not focus there?”

  “Too much attention in Vegas,” Corrado replied. “The gaming commission is all over us. Half of us can’t legally step foot inside a casino there, myself included. We have to look elsewhere. ”

  “Fine. ” He shoved his plate aside, glancing at his watch before meeting Corrado’s eyes. “I’ll talk to some friends and see what I can do. ”

  “Good. ”

  “You’ll owe me,” Senator Brolin said, tossing some cash on the table before standing. “You know how it goes. ”

  “Absolutely,” Corrado said. He would expect no less. “A favor for a favor. ”

  “Precisely. ” Senator Brolin put on his coat, shaking his head. “Although, to be honest, keeping the peace is a favor to all of us . . . and it seems to be getting harder and harder as the years go by. I don’t know what’s gotten into that boss of yours. ”

  “Yeah,” Corrado said to himself as the man walked away. “Me neither. ”

  * * *

  Corrado was back home by dusk that night. He walked into his house to find his wife fast asleep in their bed, her cell phone clutched tightly in her hand. He pried it out, setting it on the small wooden stand beside the bed, and kissed her warm forehead before leaving for his club to do some work. It was a Thursday—the busiest night of the week for his business. The weekends were usually reserved for family dealings for Mafiosi, celebrations and obligatory dates with wives, whereas Thursday night was when the men let loose.

  He stepped into Luna Rossa, waving off the security guard when he jumped to attention, and strolled toward his office in the back. His footsteps faltered about halfway there when the Boss’s high-pitched voice called his name.

  “Corrado!” Sal gestured for him to join them at the booth. “Come, have a drink. Celebrate with us!”

  “What are we celebrating?” Corrado asked, pulling a chair up as he motioned for his favorite waitress. “Bring me my usual. ”

  “We’re celebrating the casino deal,” Sal said. “It’s finally gone through. ”

  Corrado raised his eyebrows. “Really?”

  The waitress walked over, holding out a small glass full of clear liquid to Corrado. “Here you go, sir. Top shelf. Chilled, just as you like it. ”

  “Thank you, sweetheart. ” Corrado reached into his pocket and pulled out some cash, holding it out to her as a tip. She took it and scampered away as Corrado took a sip from his glass. The cold liquid soothed his throat, going down smooth.

  FIJI Natural Artesian Water. No one ever asked him what he drank. They all preferred dark liquor—scotch, brandy, sometimes even bourbon—so they didn’t bother inquiring about what was in his glass.

  “Carlo didn’t even have to do, uh . . . whatever it is he does. ” Sal motioned toward Carlo sitting off to the side, his arm around a young blonde woman. “Seems they came to their senses on their own. Called about an hour ago and said the deal was on. ”

  “That’s great,” Corrado said, taking another drink. “It’s good to know who we can count on these days. ”

  12

  The black dress shoes, half a size too small, made it difficult for Carmine to wiggle his toes. The suit, crisp and brand new, was stifling, the material scratching his skin as he rode in the passenger seat of Corrado’s Mercedes.

  Uncomfortable, he tugged at his blue silk tie. It suffocated him, like a noose tied around his neck. He wanted nothing more than to loosen his collar and take off the coat, maybe even kick off the damn shoes, but he was pretty sure that would only irritate his uncle.

  “What’s wrong with you?” Corrado asked as if on cue, cutting his eyes to him from the driver’s seat. “Stop fidgeting. ”

  “I’m trying. ” Carmine shifted in the seat and pushed the small switch to lower the automatic window, but nothing happened. Corrado had them locked. “It’s a furnace in this car. I’m sweating like I’m in a fucking sweat box here. ”

  “Such a way with words,” Corrado deadpanned. “I advise you to keep your day job. ”

  Carmine rolled his eyes. Like he had a choice. “Do you have the heat on or something?”

  Corrado shrugged him off. “It’s just your nerves. ”

  He wanted to argue, but he couldn’t. They were heading to a party at Sal’s house and Carmine was on edge. He hadn’t wanted to go, making excuses to get out of it, but even the social gatherings were mandatory.

  “Stay away from the alcohol tonight,” Corrado warned him.

  Carmine looked at him incredulously. Not drink?

  “You’ll be in a room with some of the most dangerous men in the country,” Corrado said, noticing the question in his expression. “You’ll want to be coherent. ”

  “Why?” Carmine asked bitterly. “I thought we were all family. ”

  “We are family,” Corrado replied. “And you saw what I did to my only sister. ”

  Carmine’s stomach lurched at the memory.

  * * *

  By the time they reached Sal’s mansion, Carmine was pouring sweat. He took a deep breath, trying to relax as he followed his uncle to the door. A young girl swiftly opened it for them. She didn’t speak, nor did her eyes move from the floor.

  Once they were inside, she closed the door and positioned herself against the wall out of the way. She couldn’t have been older than seventeen, a skinny girl with blonde hair and pale skin.

  Carmine eyed her cautiously, knowing what she was right away. Her body language, the way she slinked into the background like a chameleon blending in with its surroundings, told him a story no words would ever say.

  The pressure in his chest nearly bucked his knees as he thought of Haven.

  “Carmine! Corrado!”

  Sal’s voice drew Carmine’s attention away from the girl. His godfather approached, his arm around his wife’s waist. She scowled, sipping a glass of champagne, refusing to lower herself by speaking to any of them.

  “I’m glad you gentlemen could make it,” Sal said, pulling away from her to hold his hand out. Carmine fought a grimace as he pressed his lips to the back of it, near the man’s massive gold ring.

  “Of course,” Corrado said. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world. ”

  Sal raised his eyebrows, dramatically looking over Corrado’s shoulder. “And your wife? Where is Celia this evening?”

  “She’s feeling under the weather tonight,” Corrado replied.

  “Ah, such a pity. Send her my well wishes, will you?”

  Corrado nodded, and it took everything in Carmine not to roll his eyes. There was nothing wrong with Celia. She had just refused to spend her evening with them.

  They delved into conversation and Carmine lingered there, knowing it was expected of him. People sought out Sal all evening long as they arrived, and he always made a point to introduce them to Carmine. He plastered a smile to his lips as he played along with the game—pretend to like them, pretend to have fun, pretend there’s nowhere in the world he would rather be.

  Pretend he didn’t want to fucking punch somebody in the face.

  Each minute felt like forever, the two hours that passed an entire lifetime in his mind. Sal constantly chattered, boasting and bragging as he showed off for Carmine. He was being groomed, he realized. Sal was already trying to mold him into one of them, a puppet, a soldie
r, by poisoning his mind with thoughts of money, power, and respect.

  He waited until Sal was drunk before slipping away from the group, hoping he would be forgotten. The smile fizzled from his face as he strolled through the house, heading straight for the drink table. He grabbed a small glass and filled it from an open liquor bottle, disregarding Corrado’s warning. The burn lessened the pressure in his chest, unwinding the knots and loosening his taut muscles.

  He leaned against the table as he drank, his attention shifting to the front door. Hours had passed, yet the girl still stood there, as silent and still as ever. He studied her, wondering where she had come from and how long she had been trapped in Sal’s home. He couldn’t recall her ever being there before.

  She snuck a peek after a moment, tipping her head up slightly so her blue eyes met his. Her brow furrowed when she saw him watching her, and she dropped her gaze again quickly.

  “What’s your name?” Carmine asked curiously.

  She peeked up once more but didn’t have a chance to respond before laughter sounded out behind him. Carmine turned at the noise of a clinking liquor bottle and froze, the glass nearly slipping from his hand as he stared at the badly scarred face. The familiarity took his breath away.

  “Her name’s Annie, I think,” Carlo said, casually pouring a glass of scotch.

  “Abby,” the girl whispered, her voice shaking as she corrected him.

  “Not that it matters,” Carlo continued, shrugging. “You can call her anything you want. ”

  Carmine couldn’t tear his eyes away from him. Everything about the man screamed vile, from his callous words to his horrid face. “I prefer to call her by her name. ”

  Carlo looked over at him, studying him carefully. “DeMarco’s kid. ”

  “Yes. ”

  “Makes sense. ” Carlo brought his glass to his lips. “She’s your type. ”

  Anger swept through Carmine. He fought to control himself, forcing his feet to stay where they were. He wouldn’t be provoked. Not here, not now. “Excuse me?”

  “Ah, no reason to be ashamed,” Carlo said. “If it’s any consolation, I’ve always liked to sample the help, too. Little Annie over there is a sweet thing. Submissive. Didn’t even put up a fight. Not that any of them do. Well, except yours. Feisty one, isn’t she? Didn’t get that from her mother. ”

  Carmine’s rage spiraled over. “You son of a—!”

  Before he could leap over the liquor table and pound his fists into the man’s grotesque face, the noise in the room grew louder as a slew of guests filtered in. They scattered through, some heading for the door while others made their way to the back den. Carlo took a step back, tipping his glass at Carmine with a menacing smile. “Nice to officially meet you, kid. I’ll see you around. ”

  He sauntered away as Corrado approached, grabbing the glass from Carmine’s hand and slamming it on the table. “Your ability to listen is astounding. ”

  “Do you know what that motherfucker just said to me?” Carmine asked, clenching his hands into fists. “He just—”

 
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