Sempre redemption, p.24
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.24

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
 
Page 24

 

  Carmine drank every night as the heartache lingered, sometimes consuming so much that he blacked out. His days were full of agony, his nights no better as he relived everything in his dreams. The only time he escaped was when he got lost in the blackness. Every night as he slipped into unconsciousness, he prayed that if he did wake up, he would finally forget everything. He just wanted to fucking forget.

  It never worked, though. Every morning he would awaken and feel even worse than the night before, the cycle starting all over again. He was spiraling out of control, but he didn’t care. It didn’t matter what happened to him anymore . . . all he wanted was some peace, no matter the cost.

  He went out almost every night to Luna Rossa with Remy, the loud music and crowds distracting him from his thoughts long enough for the alcohol to take hold. He met others, some that might have been good friends under other circumstances, but none of them could get past that wall he had built. And seeing Remy with his girlfriend, a thin redhead with blue-green eyes, didn’t help Carmine ward off his grief. It reminded him of what he had lost, what he had left, what he needed, but what he could no longer have.

  Carmine kept it together in public, playing that part expected of him, but when he was alone the crack in his façade deepened.

  It was early evening when Carmine staggered out of his bedroom, bare chested with his baggy jeans hanging loosely from his hips. He tightened his belt, moving it down another notch, as he made his way downstairs. He stepped over some clothes laying in the hallway as he headed to the kitchen. The air-conditioner wasn’t working, the house stifling and air hazy. It burned his chest to take a deep breath, his head pounding as he poured sweat.

  His stomach growled loudly, pangs of hunger striking his sides. Opening the fridge door, he pulled out a carton of leftover Chinese food. He eyed it suspiciously, trying to remember when he had ordered it, before shrugging it off and grabbing a fork.

  He grabbed a stack of mail from the counter as he ate and sorted through it: bills, notices, junk, shit that wasn’t even addressed to him. He picked up a cream-colored envelope, seeing his name written neatly in cursive on the front. Tearing it open, he pulled out the card, reading the gold inscription on the front.

  Dominic DeMarco and Tess Harper request the honor of your presence at their wedding on October 27 . . .

  There was a knock on the front door, fierce pounding that echoed through the silent house. Carmine didn’t bother to investigate. Instead, he leaned against the counter as he stared at the invitation, hardly tasting the cold noodles he forced down. A wedding. His brother was getting married.

  The pounding continued, harder and louder, before the front door thrust open. Sunlight streamed through the foyer briefly and then the door slammed.

  “Carmine?” Celia shouted.

  “In here,” he mumbled, his mouth full of food. Footsteps veered in the direction of the kitchen, Celia appearing in the doorway within a matter of seconds.

  She paused, staring at him with wide eyes. “What are you doing?”

  “Eating. ” He held out the carton. “Want some?”

  Celia let out a frustrated groan as she reached for the switch on the wall. The bright light was harsh and Carmine squinted, trying to shield his eyes. “Christ, is that necessary?”

  “Necessary?” Celia’s voice was laced with bitterness and disbelief. “It’s called electricity, Carmine. It’s a part of civilization. Of course it’s necessary! But honestly, I’m surprised the lights work around here. The telephone certainly doesn’t seem to. ”

  Carmine sighed but kept his mouth shut. He wasn’t in the mood to argue.

  “Look at this place,” she said, crinkling her nose. “It’s disgusting! It reeks!”

  Again, Carmine said nothing. He watched as his aunt started tearing apart the kitchen, throwing away trash and gathering dirty dishes. His feet stayed planted in one spot as she cleaned, muttering under her breath in frustration.

  After the kitchen was decent, she turned to him with a glare. “I can’t believe you have nothing to say. When did you stop caring?”

  “Is that what I did?” he asked quietly. “Stopped caring?”

  “That’s how it seems. ”

  He stared back at her. The ache in his chest, dull when he had woken up, grew stronger as they stood there. “I wish that were true. ”

  She scoffed, but the sound of a cell phone going off in another part of the house silenced her. Carmine pushed past her and strolled to the living room, snatching it off the couch cushion where it lay.

  “So the phone does work,” Celia said. “I’m shocked. ”

  “Not now. ” Carmine shook his head. “Just . . . not now. ”

  “Is the whole house destroyed?” she continued, ignoring him. “If the downstairs in this bad, I’d hate to see upstairs. Do you at least have clean clothes? Are you doing laundry? Are you bathing?”

  “Of course I am,” he snapped, unable to take her questioning on top of everything else. “Why don’t you go nag someone else? I’ve had more than enough of you interrogating me. ”

  “I’m not interrogating you,” she replied. “It’s just that this place is a disaster! It feels like an oven in here. ”

  “I’ve been busy. ”

  “Too busy to pick up after yourself?”

  “Yes. ”

  “Too busy to open a window?”

  “Yes. ”

  She stared at him, not satisfied with his answers. “What’s really going on, Carmine? What’s happening with you?”

  He laughed dryly. “I have things to do, Celia. I don’t have time for this. ”

  “Fine,” she conceded. “This conversation isn’t over, though. ”

  After Celia left, Carmine threw on a shirt and shoes before heading back into the kitchen. He glanced in the freezer, frowning when he saw it was empty—no food, not even any ice, and more importantly, no vodka. He entertained the thought of stopping by the store to grab a bottle when his phone beeped, reminding him he had an unread message.

  Hit Sycamore Circle tonight.

  Carmine stared at it with dread. Sycamore Circle was in the north side of the city, an area he knew vaguely but only by name because it was well-known Irish territory. La Cosa Nostra respected the boundaries in Chicago, imaginary or not.

  Carmine grabbed his gun before heading out of the house. He hopped in his car and started on the road to the north side of the city when his phone rang, Remy calling and telling him to pick him up along the way. Carmine detoured a few blocks to Remy’s house, honking the horn as he pulled into the driveway of the modest sky-blue house with the large porch and flimsy chain-link fence. A pit bull puppy ran in circles in the grass, yapping frantically at the intruding car.

  Remy came out right away, flying off the porch and leaping over the fence before stealthily sliding into the passenger seat. The smell of marijuana lingered on his skin and clothes, the man’s eyes completely bloodshot.

  “Man, this is crazy,” Remy said, relaxing into the seat as Carmine pulled away from the house. “Irish ‘hood? Shit’s about to get real. ”

  Carmine sighed. “Let’s hope not. ”

  The sun set as they drove to Sycamore Circle, meeting up with the other guys about a block away. They scoped it out, lounging in Carmine’s car with binoculars as music played from the speakers. Remy pulled out a blunt, lighting it and taking a long hit. He held it out and Carmine promptly grabbed it from him, dropping the binoculars. He couldn’t remember the last time he had smoked, the drug infiltrating his system and relaxing his taut muscles. Relaxing back into the seat, he closed his eyes, all of his worries leaving in a slow exhale of smoke.

  The job was quick and easy, in and out in minutes. Not a single shot was fired, not a drop of blood spilled as the men surrendered the trucks without a fight. They had caught them off guard and completely unprepared. The last thing they had expected was for Sal to make a move in their territory.


  * * *

  Night had fallen long before, the air stifling from the late summer heat wave that had been tormenting Chicago for days. Corrado was sweating profusely, his back completely soaked, but he didn’t dare remove his suit coat until he was safely inside his residence. He let it drop to the floor right inside the door, exposing his white button-down that was splattered with fresh blood. He quickly unbuttoned it, wanting to dispose of the offensive material before anyone saw, but the light gasp from the stairs told him he was too late.

  Busted.

  “I thought you’d be in bed,” he said without even looking at her, more to explain than apologize.

  “I was,” Celia said softly. “I couldn’t sleep. ”

  He removed his shirt before making his way to the living room. He lit the fireplace swiftly, tossing the garment in. Burning soiled clothing and disposing of incriminating evidence was something he did so often he could accomplish it in his sleep.

  He could sense Celia behind him, following, watching. He could also sense her trepidation, and he didn’t like it. Celia always found a way to understand.

  “Is something bothering you?” he asked. “You don’t usually wait up. ”

  “I was worried. ” She paused. “Well, I am worried. ”

  “It’s ridiculous for you to lose sleep,” Corrado replied. “I’m fine. ”

  “I know,” she said. “It’s not you I’m worried about. ”

  Corrado watched as the flames consumed the shirt before turning to his wife. A frown tugged her lips, the subtle wrinkles forming on her face more noticeable tonight. He had just seen her a few hours before, but she appeared to have aged years within a single day.

  His beautiful wife—he wanted to take her anxiety away.

  “I’m hurt,” he teased, running the back of his large hand along her warm cheek. “My wife doesn’t worry about me? I must be doing something wrong. ”

  He leaned down for a kiss, hoping her soft lips would help erase the brutal memories of the day, but she pulled away with a dramatic sigh.

  “I’m serious, Corrado. I know you can take care of yourself. ”

  Celia grew quiet, her frown only deepening. Corrado knew there was so much more she wanted to say.

  “But?” he asked. “I know you’re not finished. ”

  “But Carmine’s a different story. ”

  Corrado exhaled exasperatedly. He should have known. “Not again, Celia. Please. ”

  “He’s new to all of this,” she said, ignoring his pleas. “I worry about him. ”

  “He’ll figure it out,” Corrado said. “He has no choice. ”

  “I know, but he’s hurting,” she continued. “You should’ve seen him tonight. ”

  Corrado shook his head. “It’s not my problem. ”

  “Not your problem? You’re his Capo!”

  “And I make sure he does what he needs to in the business,” Corrado said. “His personal life is none of my concern. ”

  “But—”

  “But nothing,” Corrado said, cutting her off. “I have my own issues to deal with right now. You know that. ”

 
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