Sempre redemption, p.20
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.20

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 20


  Carmine flinched. He hadn’t meant her at all. He had been referring to the incident in the warehouse but suddenly the image of his mother flashed in his mind.

  Sal pulled him away from the bathroom when the other man returned with another guy in tow. Silently, the man removed the handcuffs and pulled the body from the bathtub, wrapping it in the tarp. The two of them picked it up and carried it from the bathroom. It was quick, done within a matter of minutes, with the precision of an expert craftsman.

  “It helps to remember they’re not people,” Sal said. “They’re vermin. Pests. We’re just exterminating the cockroaches, Principe. Nobody wants to live in filth. ”

  “It’s awfully messy,” Carmine said, his voice cracking.

  “That it is, dear boy,” Sal replied. “It isn’t always, but some prefer it that way, and who am I to deny a man his indulgence?”

  “You’re the Boss,” a stern voice said behind them. “If you prefer it cleaner, cleaner you’ll get. ”

  Carmine turned, eyeing the man from earlier. His eyes were yellowing, his skin ashy. There was hardly any life left in him.

  “Ah, I don’t mind,” Sal said, glancing back at the bathroom. “It’ll give DeMarco something to do. ”

  The color drained from Carmine’s face. “What?”

  “Clean it up,” Sal ordered, letting go of him. “Make sure it’s in tip-top shape before you leave. We’ll be out on my yacht. Feel free to join us when you’re done. ”

  Sal walked away, leaving him standing alone in the apartment. He headed out after a moment, going to the corner store to buy cleaning supplies. He stocked up on rags and gloves and bleach, and spent the next hour scouring the bathroom in the abandoned apartment.

  When finished, Carmine disposed of everything in a nearby Dumpster before making the trek home, feeling more and more disgusted with himself with each step he took.

  * * *

  Carmine stripped out of his clothes the moment he stepped in his house, discarding them without another look. He made his way upstairs and turned on the shower in the bathroom, waiting for it to turn hot before stepping under the spray. Steam consumed the room, his skin turning pink as the scalding water scorched his skin. He scrubbed every inch of his body, his chest aching as he fought with everything he had to bottle in his emotions. He forced it down, swallowing the feelings as he rubbed his outside raw, trying to wash away the filth that lurked beneath the surface.

  Afterward, Carmine put on some fresh clothes and headed downstairs. The place was furnished now, the piano having been delivered just the previous morning. It sat in its place in the corner of the living room, a black vinyl cover safeguarding it. Boxes were scattered amongst the rooms, belongings strewn all over. It was a disaster, takeout containers layering the kitchen counters as trash piled up on the floor.

  He opened the freezer door, ignoring the growl of his empty stomach as he reached for the bottle of Grey Goose vodka he had stashed there. Popping the top off, he brought it to his lips and took a swig, savoring the burn as it coated his throat. He needed it, hoping the alcohol would numb his body and clear his mind of what he saw that night. He wished it would kill the ache that had resided in him for what felt like forever, but he knew deep down nothing would make that go away. Part of him was missing, a gaping hole where his heart had once been. It was the part he had left behind with her, the part she carried with her wherever she went.

  Charlotte? he wondered. Was she living with Dia? What was she doing with her time? The questions nagged him night after night, but he kept them to himself. Where Haven went and what she did was her business. He had no right to ask anymore. He had given that up when he walked away.

  * * *

  The crimson flower design stood out strikingly against the gold background of the massive banner. Haven stood on the sidewalk below it, staring up at it, fascinated by the way it swayed in the gentle breeze.

  SVA, the logo said. School of Visual Arts. According to Corrado, it was one of the best art schools in the country. Haven had never heard of it, but that wasn’t surprising—she only vaguely knew about New York City itself.

  It’s the largest city in the United States, she silently reminded herself. It’s the city that never sleeps. It was the first place she thought of when contemplating leaving Charlotte. If she had to go elsewhere, she thought it should be there. After all, Carmine had said it was where people followed their dreams.

  And dreams, at that moment, were all she had anymore.

  The crowd moved around her as she stood in the way, but she couldn’t tear her eyes off the school banner. Half of it was out of admiration, the other half sheer terror, because looking away from it meant having to look somewhere else.

  Haven had gotten used to being around others over time, slowly adapting to living in society, but the atmosphere in the city intimidated her. She had encountered more people the past twenty-four hours than she had seen her whole life before then. People were everywhere—walking, running, riding, driving—a continuous flow of bodies rushing past her like a fast-moving river. And she could do nothing but stand still in the center, hoping with everything inside of her that it didn’t sweep her away.

  She said she could do it, that she was sure, but doubt crept in further the longer she stood there. The noise, the lights, the smells . . . her senses were on overload as she tried to take it all in.

  Corrado stepped out of the building in front of her, a folder of papers tucked under his arm. He forced his way through the crowd and stopped in front of her, his presence drawing her attention. “You’re enrolled for the fall. ”

  Her eyes widened. “I am?”

  “Yes,” he said. “That gives you about four months to settle in. ”

  Four months . . . it seemed so long, but it was no time at all. She had already survived that long since Carmine had left her.

  The thought of him made her chest ache. She glanced back at the banner with a frown, wishing she could hear his voice. She wondered what he would think, what he would say if he were there with her.

  Don’t you fucking be scared, tesoro, was the likely culprit.

  She got lost in that moment, sinking deep into her thoughts, but Corrado’s next words pulled her right back to the surface. “I enrolled you under the name Hayden Antoinette. ”

  Haven blinked rapidly. “What? Why?”

  “Because it’s close enough to your real name for you to recognize it, but further enough from it that hopefully nobody else will. ”

  She started to argue, but Corrado silenced her with a pointed look. The ache in her chest grew. He had taken away her identity.

  * * *

  Time moved swiftly, days passing in an unyielding blur. Corrado rented a place for her on Eighth Avenue in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, a one-bedroom apartment on the first floor of a newly renovated brownstone. The other residence in the building, an identical apartment on the second floor, stood vacant.

  “This is for you,” Corrado said one afternoon about a week after arriving in New York, handing her a small package. Haven opened it, dumping it out onto her new kitchen table. He had furnished the place with the necessities, nothing fancy, but better than she imagined she would have. The couch, the tables, the lamps, the chair—every bit of it belonged to her, even though Corrado told her not to get attached.

  “Don’t keep anything you wouldn’t be willing to walk away from,“ he had said. “When people are looking for you, you might have to run. ”

  Run. If Haven was tired of anything, it was running.

  She focused her attention on the contents of the package: a credit card, some identification, and a small black cell phone.

  “My number’s the only one programed into the phone,” Corrado said as she picked it up and eyed it warily. “Call me directly if you need anything. I’ll handle your bills, but you can use the card for any other expenses. It’ll come straight out of your inheritance. ”

>   “My inheritance,” she whispered, picking up the credit card and the driver’s license, both adorned with her fake name.

  “Yes, I finally settled the estate,” he explained. “There was an unfortunate accident with the house, though. ”

  She peered up at him suspiciously. “Accident?”

  “It burned to the ground. Quite sad. ”

  “I bet,” she mumbled, shaking her head.

  A small smile tugged his lips. “You don’t need it, though. You have a nice place here. I’m sure you’ll settle in fine. ”

  The apartment was equally spaced between the two buildings that would hold her classes, a few minutes walk in either direction for her to get where she needed to go. Everything surrounded her, so she didn’t need to venture far from her apartment, and there was no reason for her to drive anywhere.

  She did venture outside, though, after Corrado departed for Chicago again. She spent the afternoons wandering the area, memorizing streets, getting to know the neighborhood. It was monotonous and predictable, the same routine again and again, but to her every day sort of felt like a new adventure. There were different people, different street vendors, and different activities going on all around. And she infiltrated the chaos, mingling amongst it all, completely unnoticed and out of the limelight.

  It admittedly wasn’t what she had expected. Even standing in the center, she still felt as if she were on the outside of it all, looking in. It was a familiar sensation that oddly put her at ease, numbing her anxiety as she faded once more into anonymity.

  At least, when invisible, she remained safe.


  The docks, Third and Wilson

  Carmine stared at the message, heaviness in the pit of his stomach. He wanted nothing more than to delete it, pretend it never arrived, but he knew Sal would never accept that excuse.

  And neither would Corrado, for that matter.

  “There’s a big shipment coming in by boat in a few days,” Sal had said about a week ago. “They’ll load it onto trucks then leave. The trucks will stay parked there, just sitting there all night, begging to be stolen. A crew comes in and takes their pick. Easiest job there is. ”

  Carmine had blown it off at the time, figuring it had nothing to do with him. He hadn’t been integrated into their hierarchy, hadn’t been put into a street crew or assigned a Capo. Since the moment he had arrived, Sal had just used him for odd jobs, taking him wherever he went and involving him in his personal schemes, but this was different. This simple message—The docks, Third and Wilson—changed everything.

  This wasn’t just Carmine being dragged into other people’s messes—this was him creating the mess. He was no longer the accessory after the fact. He was about to be the goddamn perpetrator.

  Pulling a chilled bottle of vodka from his otherwise empty freezer, Carmine tore the top off and took a long swig, letting the burn make its way through his system. Liquid courage, people called it, but he was starting to think of it as Stupid Shit Serum. Grey Goose got him through quite a few rough nights since arriving in Chicago, giving him the strength to do things he was certain only an idiot would truly enjoy doing.

  Tonight, he ventured to guess, would be one of those times.

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