Sempre redemption, p.31
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.31

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
 
Page 31

 

  But still, even then, he felt the void, the part that was missing. He felt her absence, when he wanted nothing more than her presence.

  And, if he were being honest, he felt something else then, too . . . a craving for the sensation he had had the night before.

  * * *

  The Rosewood Room was near the Children’s School of Music and just down the street from an old closed down theater, one that used to play movies for a quarter in the summer of 1972.

  Vincent had been just a kid at the time, slightly rebellious yet highly impressionable. He would often leave his house on Felton Drive, two blocks past where he later settled with his own family, and slip away to that theater without his parents knowing. It was at a time when he and Celia came and went as they pleased, not long before the brutal underground wars broke out that changed everything. Before their parents tightened their grip and started monitoring their every move . . . before they came to the realization that they needed to.

  His mother had been strict and maybe already a bit delusional, refusing to let them watch television, not wanting to poison their minds, so he would lie whenever she asked and tell her he was going to the park with friends.

  The Godfather came out that year. Vincent saw it one cloudy Tuesday afternoon in July, sitting in the back row of the packed theater. Those three hours altered his life, turning everything he thought he knew upside down.

  Until then, he only had a vague understanding of the Mafia, based on the things he had witnessed and his mother’s volatile rants. He thought it was a club, maybe part of a union, considering he had seen his dad take money from Teamsters. But reality made itself known that day, playing out on the massive flickering screen.

  Vincent had been so fascinated by the film, so rocked to the core, that he hadn’t noticed a dozen of his father’s close friends sitting in the audience with him.

  He ran home that afternoon with a million questions running through his head, absentmindedly navigating a path he knew by heart. Two blocks over, one block down, cut through the small alley the next street over, then it’s only four more blocks south to his home. He could zigzag through the streets without thinking, making it there within minutes.

  And years later, as Vincent strolled away from the wedding hall after taking one last look at his family, his feet seemed to instinctively remember the way. He walked past the old theater, surveying the boarded-up windows and crumbling bricks, and he thought back to that day he watched The Godfather. He intended to question his sister when he made it home, but he never had the chance.

  As soon as he opened the front door of his house and ran inside, his father’s boisterous voice rocked the downstairs. “Vincenzo Roman!”

  Vincent’s feet immediately rooted to the floor as he cringed at the sound of his full name. Glancing in the direction of his father’s voice, he saw him standing in the doorway to his office. His heart beat wildly. Not good, not good. “Yes, Dad?”

  “We need to talk. ”

  Antonio disappeared inside his office. Vincent stood there for a second, intentionally delaying, before forcing his feet to move that way. He took a seat in front of his father’s desk.

  “So what did you do today?” Antonio asked, leaning back in his chair, his hands clasped across his bulky chest.

  “Went to the park. ”

  “The park, huh?”

  “Yes. ”

  “And how was the park, son?”

  “Fine. ”

  “And you were there all afternoon?”

  “Yes. ”

  “Did you enjoy yourself?”

  “Yes. ”

  “Fascinating,” Antonio said. “I do wonder how you did it, though, being in two places at once. You see, I got a call a few minutes ago that you were at the theater this afternoon, and I know you wouldn’t lie to me, right?”

  The color drained from Vincent’s face. Antonio stared at him intently, waiting for an answer that never came.

  “You can’t think I won’t know these things, that I won’t find out,” he continued, realizing Vincent intended to remain silent. “I got eyes and ears all around this city. Someone can’t take a piss in my neighborhood without it getting back to me. And I don’t like the fact that my kid, my only son, thought he could get one over on me. Do you think I’m an idiot? You think your father’s a jamook?”

  Vincent shook his head feverishly. “Of course not. ”

  “You got questions, you want to know things? You come to me. You don’t go out there and get information from everyone else. ”

  “Yes, sir. ” Vincent paused, thinking that over. “I just wanted to see a movie. I didn’t realize . . . ”

  Antonio stared at him as he trailed off, letting out a deep sigh as he leaned forward. “Look, son, there’s this saying—fortune favors the bold. If you want things, if you want to be successful, you have to take chances, you have to accept risks. You have to, you know, do some things that maybe other people won’t do. Life, it’s kind of like a game of chess. You know about chess, right?”

  Vincent slowly nodded.

  “So you know the king is the most important player. As long as he’s standing, the game continues. And that’s just like in life. You want to be the king, even if that makes you the biggest target. The king, he’s the key to it all, make or break. You never want to be a pawn or a rook or a knight. You never want to be disposable, just another piece in the way. You want to control the game. You get what I’m saying?”

  He nodded again.

  “So since you know chess, you also know the real truth,” Antonio said. “The king dictates the game, sure, but the queen? She holds the real power. Which is why we aren’t going to tell your mother about what you did today. She doesn’t need to know you lied and broke her rules, because the queen won’t be quite so understanding. Capisce?”

  “Yes, Dad. ”

  Vincent stood to leave and made it halfway to the door when Antonio called his name. “How was it, son? The Godfather?”

  He glanced back. “It was the best thing I’ve ever seen. ”

  Antonio smiled, a genuinely elated smile, before waving him away.

  And as Vincent strolled through the streets of Chicago years later, he could still remember that look of pride on his father’s face. It wasn’t a look he received often—mostly it was disappointment as he forced harsh lessons upon him growing up, lessons he carried with him his entire life. Some good, some bad, but every one of them had somehow changed him. They had turned him into the person he was—a man ripped apart by the concept of loyalty.

  He walked the first three blocks easily, slowing his footsteps as he approached the alley. Something in the back of his mind urged him to take the long way around, but he ignored that pesky voice, shoving it back as he continued on. He stepped into the alley, strolling down the narrow path as he looked between the old tall buildings, desperate for renovations.

  About halfway down he paused, kicking around at some loose gravel on the ground. He ran his fingers along the worn siding of a business, the brick crumbling a bit in his hand. He let out a deep sigh as he felt the ridges and gashes, his chest tight with anxiety.

  “Vincent. ”

  Vincent looked over as Corrado strolled down the alley toward him. His suit was wrinkled, his eyes tired, and a small gift box wrapped in bright green paper was tucked under his arm. “You missed the wedding, Corrado. ”

  “I know,” he said. “I just got back from New York. ”

  “Business?” Vincent asked. “Amaro family? Geneva? Calabrese?”

  Corrado shook his head. “More like Antonelli. ”

  Vincent’s brow creased. “Haven?”

  “No reason for concern,” Corrado said, dismissing his inquisitive look as he looked around the dingy alley, shifting the present to under the other arm. His eyes settled upon the brick wall behind Vincent. “It was right here. ”

  “Yeah, it was. ”

  It was in th
at spot, more than a decade earlier, when Vincent’s world violently collapsed. He felt the pressure of it pressing on him, the memory weighing him down. Whenever he blinked, in that split second when blackness took over, drowning out his senses, he could still see it—ashy pale skin, lifeless eyes, copper colored hair drenched in red. Terror coated her face, a horrifying mask of questions with no answers . . .

  Why her? Why them? Why now?

  They were things he had wondered for years, things he thought he had figured out when he murdered Frankie Antonelli. But standing there, the questions still lingered.

  Why?

  “It’s peculiar, isn’t it?” Corrado asked. “The thirst for revenge? It’s easy to dismiss the things we do, but it’s impossible to forget the things done to us. We never think about their families, but when it’s ours, we never get over it. We carry that grudge forever. ”

  “I think about them,” Vincent said. “I always consider their families. ”

  “Did you think about Frankie’s?”

  Vincent hesitated. “No. I was only thinking about mine back then, but I do now. Every day. ”

  “That doesn’t count,” Corrado said. “The only relative he has left is Haven, and I assure you she isn’t grieving that loss. ”

  Vincent thought that over. “You’ve honestly never considered their families?”

  “Never,” Corrado said, staring at him pointedly. “My conscience is clear, Vincent. I carry no regret, and I don’t want to start now. It’s why, with God as my witness, I’ll never pull the trigger unless I’m absolutely certain the world is a better place without them. ”

  “You’re lucky,” Vincent said. “Every time I think I clear my conscience, something else comes about. ”

  “That’s because you’re letting yourself be a pawn. ”

  A bitter laugh forced itself from Vincent’s chest. “I was just thinking about the day my father told me to be a king and not a pawn. But he failed to tell me there could only be one king. The rest of us, well . . . we can only do what we can do. ”

  “You’re missing the point,” Corrado said. “Being the king isn’t always about having the title. Sometimes the title is a ruse. You want control? You need the upper hand, but you never let them see you have it until you’re ready to make your move. ”

  “And what if the only moves I have left break the rules?”

  He shrugged. “Depends on whose rules you break. ”

  Corrado took a step back and nodded before strolling away.

  After he was gone, Vincent turned back to the building, running his hand along the crumbling brick once more. “I’ll see you later, Maura. Ti amo. ”

  Vincent strolled out of the alley and down the block toward the pizzeria. John Tarullo stood outside the front door, sweeping the large welcome mat with a cornhusk broom. He glanced up, nodding stiffly in greeting. “Dr. DeMarco, I hear you have a son getting married today. ”

  “Yes. Dominic. ”

  “I hear he’s a good kid. ”

  “He is,” Vincent replied. “Both of my sons are good kids. ”

 
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