Sempre redemption, p.26
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.26

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
 
Page 26

 

  “Oh, okay,” she said. “Can you tell him I called?”

  “Sure, sweetheart. ”

  “Thank you,” she said quietly, suddenly feeling queasy. She bit her lip, trying to hold it back as she said good-bye and hung up the phone. She had a long day ahead of her and needed to keep it together.

  She grabbed her things and headed back out to find Kelsey in the living room, staring at one of the paintings on the wall. “What do you see?”

  Jumping, Kelsey turned as she clutched her chest. “I see a girl who needs to get laid,” she said sarcastically as she surveyed Haven again. “She also needs some makeup for those bags under her eyes and a pedicure if she’s going to wear flip-flops. ”

  * * *

  The girls departed, taking a taxi the few blocks to the Rainbow Art Center. Every semester they were required to do five hours of volunteer work, whether in a gallery or library or out in the community. Haven was excited about the opportunity to help, while Kelsey seemed to be dreading it more than anything.

  Kelsey pulled the lid off her cup and gulped her drink as she started toward the entrance of the building. “Remind me why we’re here again. ”

  “You said they were easier to deal with than the artsy-fartsy intellectual types who spoke in haikus and took themselves way too seriously,” Haven said, recalling her exact statement.

  “That’s right. ” Kelsey smirked. “Never trust a man in a beret with a French accent. He’s either gay or a con artist. Trust me on this. ”

  Haven shook her head, not even wanting to know the story behind that.

  Chaos reigned, screeching voices and thunderous footsteps dominating the building. The moment the door shut behind them, a form came right for Haven. She braced herself as a little girl slammed right into her legs. Snotty nosed and wide-eyed, the child stared up at her with a mixture of confusion and fascination.

  She smiled at the little girl adoringly, her thick dark hair fanning in her face and partially shielding her view. “Uh, hey, sweetheart. ”

  The little girl said nothing, just continued to stare.

  “They’re animals, I swear,” Kelsey muttered. Haven glanced over and laughed when she saw she had two little boys running around her legs, hindering her ability to walk. “It’s a good thing I like the zoo. ”

  A lady approached them, unfazed by the madness, and smiled warmly as she wrangled the children. “You must be the volunteers,” she said, pulling the little girl away. “This is Emma, by the way. ”

  “Hello, Emma. ”

  The little girl smiled at the sound of her name before scampering away and joining the others. The teacher, Mrs. Clementine, showed them around before calling the class to order with a loud whistle. The noise echoed through the room, bouncing off the walls and stilling everyone immediately.

  “In your seats,” she declared. They started to oblige and Haven jumped into action, helping hand out the art supplies.

  The Rainbow Art Center was attached to the local community center, where they taught free art classes for underprivileged children. The name struck Haven as ironic, because there was nothing bright or colorful about the place. The walls were a drab gray color and the paint was chipping, the building falling apart.

  Most of the kids who came to the center had no families, every one of them deemed at-risk by the state. So young and innocent, Haven knew they were all only one step away from living the life she had once lived.

  They spent two hours painting and drawing with the kids. By the time class was over, Haven was worn out. Their caregivers trickled in to pick them up, and Emma met Haven at the door, smiling brightly as she held her paintings.

  “I made you!” she exclaimed.

  Haven laughed and took it, gazing at the distorted stick figure with the abnormally large head and big brown hair. There was a large red mouth on the face and a big yellow sun taking up half of the sky.

  Haven smiled. “Beautiful. ”

  “You can keep it. ”

  “Thank you,” she said. “It’s really good. ”

  Emma’s eyes lit up. “Can I be an artist like you?”

  “Absolutely,” Haven said. “You can be anything you want to be. ”

  19

  Carmine stuck a screwdriver in a delivery truck’s ignition and tried to turn it, but nothing happened. It wouldn’t budge.

  Groaning, he yanked it back out as another truck sped from the lot, spraying his windshield with loose gravel. He used the screwdriver to jimmy open the ignition, cracking the plastic cover as he forced it off, and pulled the red power wires from the cylinder. He stripped them quickly before tightly twisting the two of them together. The lights on the dash immediately turned on as the radio came to life, a heavy rock song rattling from the cheap speakers. Carmine grabbed the brown starter wires next and stripped them, immediately striking them hard against the red ones.

  Mistake.

  It sparked, a strong jolt of electricity burning his glove-clad fingers. He dropped the wires and cursed loudly as someone banged on the side of the truck.

  “Come on, man!” Remy yelled. “Get that shit started!”

  Frustrated, Carmine grabbed the brown wires again and held his breath as he touched them to the others. It sparked once more, but the engine roared to life before Carmine was forced to let go. He shook his hand, trying to wave off the pain as the truck idled. He had had to resort to hot-wiring a few times when the old screwdriver-in-the-ignition trick failed, but he had yet to figure out how to do it without damn near electrocuting himself.

  Remy jumped up on the side of the cab and looked in. Even though his face was concealed by a black ski mask, Carmine could tell he was grinning with pride. “That’s how you fucking do it, man,” he said, reaching through the window to punch him on the shoulder. It was playful, but Carmine winced at the blow. “Drive it to the spot, will you? I’ll meet you there. ”

  Before he could object, Remy snatched Carmine’s keys from his lap and ran off. Carmine put the truck in gear, knowing he had no other choice, and sped from the lot near the docks by Lake Michigan. His heart pounded ferociously as he pulled into the busy Chicago streets behind his Mercedes, his eyes surveying the other cars for signs of trouble. Distracted, he lost track of Remy as he hastily weaved through traffic, squeezing into tight spots where the delivery truck wouldn’t fit.

  It took nearly a half hour for Carmine to reach the secluded warehouse on the outskirts of town. The other delivery truck was already parked behind the building when he arrived and was being unloaded by a few associates of La Cosa Nostra. Carmine pulled in beside it and climbed out from behind the wheel, standing along the side to watch as the men wordlessly went to work.

  It fascinated him how the drop-off ran fluidly like a well-oiled machine. Everyone had a job and everyone did their part, like runners in a relay race. It was habitual, a routine he had fallen into as he slowly submerged himself into life as a member of a street crew. Every week it was the same thing, the same schemes with the same guys, but in different locations around the city. And while it hadn’t gotten better, and Carmine ventured to guess it never would, he had learned the art of detachment—being able to step out of himself for a moment and look the other way.

  He was fractured, one half of him the still slightly naïve boy who drank himself unconscious to try to forget, the other half the man, numb to everything, who just went through the motions day after day. It was that man who went out at night and did the things that were expected of him—the theft, the violence, the deception—but it was the boy, heartbroken and disgusted, who woke up in the morning to face the aftermath.

  It took about an hour for the trucks to be unloaded. Afterward, the owner of the warehouse handed Carmine an envelope of cash. He glanced inside, stealthily counting the bills, before slipping it in his pocket with a nod. He strolled away, the transaction complete, and hesitated outside the warehouse. His eyes scanned the dark property and he was about to
start panicking when his Mercedes sped up, coming to a halt a few feet from him.

  “What the hell took you so long?” Carmine asked when Remy climbed out. “It’s been over an hour. ”

  “Had something I needed to take care of,” he replied, tossing Carmine’s keys to him. “The car’s nice, man. Runs smooth. You’re a lucky bastard. ”

  “It’s all right, I guess,” Carmine muttered, getting in the driver’s seat while Remy slipped in beside him. “What was so important you ditched the job for it?”

  “I didn’t ditch the job. ” Remy laughed. “I just took a little detour, that’s all. And it was nothing, really. Just had to pick something up from Vanessa. You know how it is. ”

  Carmine didn’t press him to elaborate. He figured if Remy was being evasive, he probably didn’t want to know.

  * * *

  Haven let out a deep sigh as she headed into the brownstone, fumbling with her keys. She had been at a school function half the night, but slipped out as soon as she could get away with leaving. Exhaustion infiltrated every cell in her body and slowed her steps to a snail’s pace. She grabbed the knob on her door, her brow furrowing when it turned right away. Her heart thumped erratically, realizing it was unlocked.

  Silently, carefully, she stepped inside, horrified to see her drawers open from being rifled through. She pulled out the container of pepper spray she usually carried before tiptoeing through the dark apartment. She stepped into the quiet kitchen and reached for the light switch, but the moment her fingers touched it, a thump rang out upstairs.

  Haven’s heart stalled as she looked at the ceiling instinctively. The hairs on her arms stood on end as a strange feeling crept through her, the sensation that she wasn’t alone nearly buckling her knees.

  She stood as still as a statue, trying to convince herself she had been hearing things, when an unmistakable crash upstairs registered with her ears. She gasped, trembling, as she heard footsteps, originating in Kelsey’s bedroom and heading down the hall. They were heavy, clomping against the wooden floor as if weighed down by steel. It reminded Haven of how Michael used to walk, the sound of his boots in the house as they sat in the dank cellar awaiting punishment.

  She debated briefly as the footsteps started down the stairs, dizzy from the flood of memories. He was too close for her to make an escape undetected, so she slipped into a hallway closet and quietly shut the door.

  The footsteps drew nearer, entering her apartment and walking right past where she hid, disrupting the natural light. She held her breath, not daring to move a fraction of an inch while they were there. The apartment was a flurry of noise as they shut drawers and moved things around, breathing heavily but never speaking.

  It felt like an eternity before they left again. Haven heard them exit the building and she slipped out of the closet, even more stunned at her apartment this time. The chaos she had encountered minutes earlier was gone, everything back in its place, cleaner than she had left it that morning. Even the front door had been meticulously locked again, leaving no sign that anyone had even been there.

  * * *

  Carmine stepped into Luna Rossa, nodding to the bouncer before making his way to the back where his crew huddled around a large booth. He started toward them but barely made it a few feet when someone stepped directly in his path. “Come with me. ”

 
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