Sempre redemption, p.17
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.17

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 17


  Corrado cut him off. “I don’t care. He’s made, Carmine. You don’t disrespect a man who earned his button. ”

  Those words did nothing to lessen his temper.

  “It’s time for you to leave,” Corrado said. “Party’s over. ”

  Carmine remained in place, looking to his uncle as he started walking through the house. Corrado clearly planned to stay. “How am I going to get home?”

  Corrado grabbed a guy as he strolled past, clutching the collar of his shirt to stop him from leaving. “Take DeMarco here home, will you?”

  The guy nodded tersely. Corrado posed it as a question, but they all knew it wasn’t open for negotiation. “Yes, sir. ”

  “That’s how,” Corrado said before disappearing into the den.

  Carmine followed the guy outside, finally loosening his tie and pushing his sleeves up as he went. The guy was fairly young, mid-twenties at most, with bushy eyebrows and short brown hair. He wore a pair of baggy jeans and a plain white t-shirt that made Carmine bitter. Why had he been forced to put on a suit?

  He expected to be led to yet another Mercedes, but was surprised when the guy stopped beside an old gray Impala. Carmine eyed it peculiarly. “This is yours?”

  “Yeah,” the guy said, unlocking the doors so they could climb in. “Something wrong with it?”

  “No, I just thought . . . ”

  “You thought I’d drive one of those?” he asked with a laugh, nodding toward the row of black cars. “I wish I could afford one. Maybe someday. But for now, this baby will do. ”

  “It’s nice,” Carmine said, settling into the cracked leather passenger seat. The interior was stained and it smelled like a combination of oil and sweat, but he felt more at ease in it than he had in Corrado’s car.

  Laughter cut through the air, nearly drowned out by the engine roaring to life. It rumbled as the car shimmied, violently shaking as it almost cut off. “She’s a piece of shit, man, but she’s paid for. ”

  Carmine didn’t say much during the drive, but the guy’s endless chatter filled the car the entire time. It was distracting and consuming—exactly what he needed. When Carmine was busy listening, he had little time to think, little time to dwell on the things that kept him awake at night.

  It wasn’t until they had pulled onto his street and the car slowed near his house that it struck Carmine—he never gave the guy directions. “How do you know where I live?”

  “You’re shitting me, right?” he asked. “You’re a DeMarco. Your family is like royalty, and even a fucking British hobo knows where Buckingham Palace is. ”

  Carmine shook his head. He should have known. “Thanks for the ride. ”

  “Anytime, man. I’m Remy, by the way. Remy Tarullo. ”

  Carmine opened the car door but froze when that name struck him. “Tarullo. ”

  “Yeah, like the pizzeria over on Fifth Avenue. ”

  “Any relation?” Carmine asked.

  Remy nodded. “My pops owns the place. ”

  Carmine’s mouth went dry. He suddenly felt like he couldn’t swallow. He hadn’t been there in a long time, but he knew the place well.

  “I don’t go around there much, though,” Remy continued. “Pops doesn’t really agree with my life, if you know what I mean. Well, hell, never mind. I guess you don’t know. Yours is a part of this. You don’t have to deal with him looking at you like you’re a disappointment, like you’re fucking up everyone’s life being a part of this. ”

  Carmine said nothing, because Remy was wrong. He knew that feeling well.

  “Anyway, I’m rattling on here,” Remy said, tinkering with an old gold watch around his wrist. “Sorry, man. Just a sore spot, especially since what happened to my little brother. ”

  Those words made his heart rate spike. Dean Tarullo. Carmine nearly forgot all about the boy from the warehouse. “What happened to him?”

  “He got mixed up with the wrong people, I guess. Disappeared months ago. ”

  “So he’s missing?”

  Remy’s voice was quiet. “Yeah, but not the kind of missing that’ll ever be found, if you get what I’m saying. ”

  Gunshots flashed in Carmine’s mind, the memory of Corrado silencing the boy forever infiltrating his mind.

  “Yeah,” Carmine muttered. “I know what you mean. ”

  * * *

  Haven sat on the green metal park bench, watching the activity all around her. She had just gotten out of her last art class and her final project lay beside her, the canvas carefully wrapped and secured in brown paper.

  It surprised Haven how therapeutic painting turned out to be, two weeks of art doing what three months of waiting and crying couldn’t begin to touch. It opened up a part of her, exposing her nerves for the world to touch. Drawing was technical, the lines and details needing to be precise, but she could let go while painting and pour her emotions into it. Each piece of artwork held special meaning, but she knew others would look at it and see something entirely different.

  She enjoyed that about art, like it held a hidden code only she had the key to. She was telling her story, getting out every gritty detail of her tortured life, but people were none the wiser. She could never tell the world, but there was nothing that said she couldn’t show them . . . as long as they didn’t know what they were looking at.

  Haven sat there for a while, enjoying the peaceful spring evening, before gathering her things and heading across the street to the apartment. It was approaching dusk, and Dia would already be home from her classes. They had made plans to go out to commemorate the end of her workshop, but Haven didn’t feel much like celebrating. She felt another void deep inside now that it was over.

  She reached their building, walking into the lobby as the elevator opened. A man stepped out of it wearing a black baseball cap and spotted her, holding the door.

  “Thank you,” she said, smiling politely.

  He nodded. “Don’t mention it. ”

  She stepped into the elevator and pushed the number 6 button, humming to herself as the elevator dinged with each floor. She strolled down the hallway to the apartment, finding the door wide open with Dia in the living room. She held a small brown box up, shaking it zealously before holding it to her ear. Her hair was a soaked mess of colored streaks sculpted on top of her head, chemical fumes from hair dye potent in the air.

  Haven shut the door behind her and dropped her canvas beside the door. “What in the world are you doing?”

  Dia swung around, startled, and smiled sheepishly for having been caught. “Just trying to figure out what’s inside. ”

  “Why don’t you just open it?”

  “Because it’s not mine,” Dia said, holding it out. “It’s yours. ”

  Haven gaped at the box. “Where did it come from?”

  “A guy just dropped it off a second ago. ”

  She blinked a few times. “The mailman?” Who would send her a package? Dominic? Tess? Maybe Celia?

  “Actually, I think he was a police officer. ”

  Haven stared at her as those words sunk in. “Did he tell you he was?”

  “No, he didn’t say much, just asked if you lived here and left the box. I should’ve asked him, but I didn’t think about it. He would’ve had to tell me, you know. They can’t lie when you ask them. ” Dia thrust the box forward. “I need to go wash my hair. I’ll be right back. ”

  Haven looked over the cardboard box, seeing no labels, nothing but a piece of packaging tape securing it closed. She cut the tape with a knife and opened the flaps, her brow furrowing.

  Inside was a large clear plastic bag labeled EVIDENCE, holding a normal-looking notebook. Haven picked it up, along with a piece of paper addressed to her from the Department of Justice office in Chicago.

  Miss Antonelli,

  We send our sincerest regrets for the inadvertent seizure of your journal. It was done in error and has been returned to you in the same condition as when it was
confiscated. Again, please accept our apologies. We appreciate your understanding.

  Special Agent Donald Cerone

  U. S. DOJ

  She blinked in shock and tore the notebook from the bag. She couldn’t breathe as she scanned the pages of jumbled writing, her deepest, darkest secrets on display in front of her eyes. They had seen them. They had read them. They knew where she had come from. They knew what she was.

  “What is it?” Dia asked, returning from her room within a matter of minutes. She rubbed her wet hair with a white towel, streaks of color now staining it.

  “It’s, uh . . . a notebook,” Haven replied. “They took it when Dr. DeMarco was arrested. ”

  “Ah, damn. I thought it was something cool. ” Dia pouted for a second before perking back up. “So, are we going out tonight?”

  “I’d rather not,” Haven said, still staring at the notebook. “It’s been a long day. Maybe tomorrow?”

  “Tomorrow I’m going to go to Durante for spring break, remember? You can come along if you want. We could hang out down at Aurora Lake. ”

  The thought of going back to Durante made her head pound even harder. She wasn’t ready to see that place again. “Maybe next time. ”

  “Rain check, then,” Dia said. “After I get back, we’re going to celebrate. ”

  * * *

  A strong breeze blew through the abandoned ranch house in Blackburn from an open window on the first floor. Desert sand swirled along the wooden walkways like mini cyclones, sullying Corrado’s dress shoes. His nose tickled as he breathed in the soiled air, the scent of festering mildew mingling with the dust. It blanketed everything visible like a dull, gray shield, tarnishing colors and hiding the otherwise obvious flaws in the house—the old bloodstain on the floor in the foyer, the gashes in the wood from where someone had once been chained to the banister like a dog.

  It appeared like just another forgotten stop along the desolate highway—nothing special, nothing out of the usual hidden beneath the layer of filth—but Corrado knew the truth. He had heard the stories and witnessed enough first hand to know the seemingly innocent house was practically a portal straight to Hell.

  And the gatekeeper, he knew, had been his own sister.

  The place hadn’t been touched in months, not since the day three people had died in the adjacent stable. He had done a quick clean-up job, ridding the grounds of everything incriminating, but the rest was to be left to Haven, the next of kin.

  The estate was nearly settled, every penny of the Antonelli’s money transferred to an account for the girl. All that was left to deal with were the possessions, Katrina’s love for material things evident in the clutter.

  Corrado wasn’t a superstitious man. He would often have to restrain himself from mocking Gia DeMarco during one of her delusory outbursts, but being there, strolling through the dead-silent house, he could feel the evil that still resided in it. It suffocated him, the air thick with hatred and bad intentions. It clung to everything, desperate and unyielding, trying to find its way inside him so it could live on.

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