Sempre redemption, p.29
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.29

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
 
Page 29

 

  “Vincent fought to ensure Carmine didn’t turn out like him, but at eighteen he made the exact same decision his father did anyway,” Corrado explained. “It’s logical they’d worry what happened to Maura would happen to you, too. What they fail to realize, though, is the main thing Maura tried to teach them. Cambiano i suonatori ma la musica è sempre quella. ”

  “What does that mean?” she asked.

  He didn’t answer for a moment as he wandered through the room, his attention focused on the juvenile paintings. It was weird watching him. Haven never took Corrado as someone who would be remotely interested in those sorts of things.

  “You read her journal, so am I correct to assume you know I failed her?”

  “Failed her?” she asked hesitantly. “She didn’t see it that way. She said you were always fair to her, even when she was . . . you know . . . in your home. ”

  “I could’ve done more. ”

  “Can’t we all?” she responded. “We’re only human, after all. ”

  “You’re a lot like Maura, but there are some differences. She wouldn’t have stood here and held a conversation with me, that’s for sure, and she would’ve certainly abandoned her plans the second I demanded. ” He paused, smiling with amusement. “Regardless, I see why they’d worry, but just because a person’s situation changes, doesn’t mean they change. It doesn’t matter if you’re in North Carolina or California or New York or Illinois—you are who you are. That’s what I meant by it. ”

  The door swung open then, sunlight filtering in from outside.

  “Have you ever been in a Wal-Mart?” Kelsey hollered, coming in the room and dropping bags on the floor. “That place was a madhouse. I felt like I stepped into some alternate universe where banana clips and blue eye shadow are still in style. And Jesus, what’s with all the big hair? I’m surprised I made it out alive! Half those women looked like they could eat me for supper! And I swear, I saw a minivan in the parking lot with one of those honor student bumper stickers, and the woman driving had on . . . ” She glanced over, her words faltering when she spotted Corrado. “. . . Mom jeans. Hello, there. ”

  “Hello,” Corrado replied. “I’ll let you ladies get back to your work. ”

  He strolled away, stepping outside as he pulled out his phone.

  “Personal bodyguard?” Kelsey asked, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “Is this like the Bodyguard movie, steamy affair included?”

  “No. I told you, it’s nothing like that. ”

  “Pity. ” She shrugged and started digging through the bags, setting up the snack table. They ordered pizza and Haven fixed the punch when people arrived, the children excitedly running in while their caretakers lingered off to the side. Some didn’t even bother to stay, instead dropping the children off at the curb.

  Corrado stuck around for the party, watching warily, so quiet and stoic most barely noticed his presence. Others, however, cast him suspicious looks as they kept their distance. Haven smiled, realizing they likely thought the same thing Kelsey had—he was a police officer.

  It was chaotic with so many kids running around, and Haven did her best to keep everything under control as they held a ceremony and handed out certificates. When it was over and time to go, Haven gave each kid a hug, telling them the same words that had been spoken to her at their age. Words she had lost focus of in the midst of all the heartache, but words both Maura and her mother had wholeheartedly believed.

  “Never lose hope,” she said. “You’re special and meant to do great things in the world. I believe in you. ”

  Kelsey offered to walk one of the kids home as Haven cleaned up the mess. She could sense Corrado’s eyes on her but ignored him the best she could, trying to finish what she needed to do.

  Corrado cleared his voice. “Were you attached?”

  “To what?”

  “Those children. ”

  “Yes,” Haven said quietly. “They reminded me of myself. ”

  “Strange how those things work. Doesn’t matter where you go—there will always be someone. ” Haven nodded and reached for the large black trash bag, but Corrado grabbed it. “I’ll get this for you. ”

  “Thanks,” she mumbled. “The Dumpster is out back. ”

  Haven finished cleaning up and grabbed her things before heading for the parking lot, finding Corrado’s empty rental car parked by the door. She started around the building to see if he was still at the Dumpster. She froze when she saw him behind the parking lot with a man, the driver’s side door open on a black car with New York tags. The man had his back to her, so she couldn’t see his face, but his body language told her it wasn’t just casual conversation.

  The man climbed in the car after a second, tires squealing as he sped out of the opposite side of the parking lot.

  Corrado approached. “Do you need a ride?”

  “I can walk,” she said. “It’s just a few blocks. ”

  “Nonsense. ” He waved her off dismissively. “Get in the car. ”

  Corrado didn’t speak at all during the drive. Not long after they arrived, someone showed up to change the locks on the brownstone.

  “I have some things to handle, and I need to get some sleep,” Corrado said, handing Haven a new set of keys. “I’ll be leaving tomorrow to make it to the wedding. ”

  Wedding? “Someone’s getting married?”

  “Dominic and Tess,” Corrado said, eyeing her peculiarly. “Didn’t you receive your invitation?”

  She shook her head slowly. “No. I had no idea. ”

  His expression flickered, a frown on his lips. “I must’ve forgotten to send it. There’s still time, though, if you’d like to send a gift. I’ll stop by in the morning before I leave to pick it up, if you want to go get something. ”

  “Okay,” she said, not knowing how to respond to that. “Thanks, I guess. ”

  “I suppose you’re welcome,” he responded. “Have a good evening, kid. ”

  21

  Carmine sat alone in a booth in the back of the club, shot glasses scattered along the table in front of him. He could feel the alcohol flowing through his veins, diluting his blood stream and hindering the thoughts from flooding his brain. They still came, a slow trickle of memories washing through him, but he found it easier to tolerate in smaller doses like this.

  It still hurt, though. It was still a constant reminder of what could have been but wasn’t, and as far as he was concerned, never would be. There were reminders everywhere: in the deep brown of the wooden table that resembled the color of her eyes, in the twinkling of the club lights that made him think of catching fireflies, in the melody of the song playing that sounded vaguely like the one she used to hum.

  She was everywhere, yet nowhere, and every second that passed felt like walking away from her all over again. No matter what he did, no matter what he tried, he couldn’t forget. The memory of Haven haunted him.

  He downed the last shot on the table, closing his eyes as he savored the burn, hoping it would finally be the one to kill the pain.

  If someone years before had asked Carmine what life in Chicago would be like, he would have given them some cliché answer about money, power, and respect, but he knew better now. La Cosa Nostra wasn’t about any of that.

  As Sal sat comfortably, pointing fingers and calling shots from his twelve-million-dollar mansion while drinking the best scotch money could buy, the men carrying out the jobs were barely scraping by. They were risking their lives for people who just stood by while they struggled, not caring what happened to them as long as they handed over a cut of their take.

  It was all about paying tribute. If a group of guys hijacked a shipment, right off the top more than half went into the pockets of the administration. After giving the associates their cut and paying off everyone who looked the other way, each man was left with barely enough to pay their rent.

  A taste, they called it. Everyone always wanted a taste. They claimed, as a
family, that they all worked as one. They said it was a matter of respect. They said it was the honorable thing to do.

  As far as Carmine was concerned, it was utter bullshit.

  Where was the respect in being summoned out of bed at three in the morning to watch a man get his head bashed in because he borrowed money he couldn’t pay back? Where was the respect in burning some man’s house down, taking away everything he had worked for his entire life, because he gave the Boss a look he didn’t appreciate? Where was the respect in intimidating a seventeen-year-old girl and threatening to kill everyone she loved because she witnessed something she shouldn’t have seen?

  Assault, extortion, hijacking, kidnapping, robbery, bribery, gambling, chop shops, prostitution, corruption, arson, coercion, fraud, bootlegging, human trafficking, and murder . . . where was the respect in any of it?

  He sure didn’t fucking see it.

  “Bad night, man?”

  Carmine glanced over as Remy slid into the booth across from him. “You could say that. ”

  Remy motioned for the waitress and asked her for a rum and Coke, taking it upon himself to order Carmine another shot of vodka.

  “I figured,” Remy said. “You got that look about you tonight, that ‘I’ve seen shit that can’t be unseen’ look. ”

  Carmine pushed the empty glass aside with the others. “Doesn’t mean I can’t try to forget. ”

  “True, but you’re doing it the wrong way. Alcohol is a downer. As if this all isn’t depressing enough, hitting the bottle just drags you further down. You go from being a moody bitch to a miserable cunt, and nobody likes a miserable cunt, DeMarco. Not even me, and I love everybody. ”

  Carmine managed a small laugh at that. “It numbs me. ”

  “Yeah, I’m sure it probably numbs you enough that you won’t feel the concrete shattering your bones when your depressed ass leaps off the top of Sears Tower,” he said. “But you should never jump unless you know you can fly, or at least float. Nobody wants to fall. That’s how you end up hurt. ”

  Carmine stared at Remy as he tried to make sense of his words. He wasn’t sure if he was just too damn drunk or if the man intentionally talked in code. “I can’t decide if you’re a genius or if you’re just a fucking rambling idiot. ”

  “Why can’t I be both?”

  Carmine shrugged. Maybe he was.

  “Anyway, you wanna know how you really unsee?” Remy asked. “How you really forget?”

  “How?”

  “Instead of dragging yourself down more, lift yourself up. You don’t wanna be numb, man. You wanna be happy. ”

  Carmine shook his head. Happy. He remembered a time he felt that way. “That ship sailed a long time ago. ”

  “Oh, that’s where you’re wrong. ” A sly smile turned Remy’s lips. He leaned across the table, closer to Carmine, and whispered conspiratorially, “I think it’s time I introduced you to Miss Molly. ”

 
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