Sempre redemption, p.40
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.40

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
 
Page 40

 

  When they arrived, Celia went upstairs to get her as Corrado waited by the entrance. He opened the car door when he saw them coming and Gia slid into the back seat of the Mercedes without acknowledging him. She scowled, her arms crossed over her chest.

  Corrado shut the door, sighing, as Celia shot him a pointed look that said whatever they were about to endure was entirely his fault.

  He would take the blame. It was the least he could do.

  “You look nice, Gia,” he said politely as he pulled out into traffic. “Is that a new dress?”

  “Is that a new dress?” she muttered, mocking him. She stubbornly stared out the side window of the car, refusing to look in his direction. “I’m not a child, you know, and I don’t appreciate being treated like one—especially by you. Antonio would have your head if he were still alive, God rest that bastard’s soul. ”

  “He would,” Corrado agreed quietly. “Antonio would be severely disappointed. ”

  “It really is a nice dress, Mom,” Celia chimed in, glancing into the backseat with a hopeful smile plastered on her face. “That color blue looks fantastic on you. ”

  “And other colors don’t?” Gia asked, finally shifting position to look at her daughter. Her gaze scanned her, picking her apart piece by piece with her sharp eyes. “You shouldn’t wear so much black, Celia. The darkness washes you out, and you look like you’re in mourning. People are going to think you’re unhappy. They’re going to start wondering about your marriage. Is that what you want? For them to think you can’t please your husband?”

  “Don’t be silly,” Celia said, turning back around. “Everyone knows I wear black because it’s slimming. ”

  “Well, it doesn’t appear to be working,” Gia said. “Maybe you should try exercise. ”

  Celia forced a laugh, but Corrado could tell from her expression that the insult stung. He reached over to grab his wife’s hand, wordlessly comforting her.

  They pulled up to a stoplight, traffic heavy despite it being early on a Sunday. Gia dramatically exhaled and Corrado glanced in the rearview mirror in just enough time to see her turn her stubborn eyes back out the side window. “I can’t believe we’re late. We’re going to have to sit in the back. ”

  “We always sit in the back, Mom. ”

  “Because we want to, not because we have to,” Gia said. “I hate when I don’t have a choice. I should have a choice, you know. When your father was alive, everyone waited for us to sit first. It was a matter of respect. No one cares anymore. ”

  Corrado sighed in relief when the light turned green.

  The church was packed when they finally arrived, and Corrado had to park around the corner. He offered Gia his arm, but she refused and walked a few feet ahead of him, huffing the entire way. Celia tried to keep up with her mother but Corrado didn’t bother, instead strolling slowly toward the church doors.

  He slid into the back pew beside his wife a few minutes later, smoothing out his jacket. Mass had already started, Father Alberto standing up front preaching about love and forgiveness. Corrado remained quiet through the service, merely going through the motions, and he stayed in his seat when it was time for communion. When it was over and they were dismissed, Corrado was out the door before anyone else.

  Celia and Gia joined him, lingering with the others and greeting friends. Corrado stood along the side, patiently waiting for them, when Father Alberto sought him out in the crowd. “I didn’t see you at first, Corrado. I thought perhaps you were missing church today, after all. ”

  “Of course not, Father,” he replied. “We were just running a bit late. ”

  The priest eyed him closely. “Will I be seeing you later this week?”

  “For . . . ?”

  “Anything,” he said. “My door is always open, but as you know, I regularly take confession on Wednesday nights. ”

  He was fishing, Corrado realized. He wanted information that Corrado wasn’t going to give.

  “Maybe,” he replied. “The week’s still young. There’s no telling what may happen between now and then. ”

  27

  The run-down building was set back off the main highway.

  Massive holes littered the large gravel lot surrounding it, cars haphazardly parked every which way to avoid getting stuck in them. A fluorescent sign hung above the entrance, the word SINSATIONS flickering in hot pink letters.

  “What are we doing here?” Carmine asked as he climbed out of the passenger seat of the black Mercedes. Corrado had dragged him out of bed at three in the morning, but he hadn’t explained where they were going on the drive. Of all the places he considered, a trashy strip club hadn’t been one of them.

  “Business,” Corrado replied, motioning for Carmine to follow him.

  Carmine strolled through the parking lot behind his uncle. “Do you own this place, too?”

  Corrado’s footsteps faltered as he flashed Carmine an irritated look. “You clearly don’t know me very well if you think I’d run a place like this. The owner pays a fee every month and we let them keep their filthy dump in our territory. ”

  “Blackmail and extortion,” Carmine muttered. “Nice. ”

  Corrado laughed dryly. “It’s a fair trade. No one messes with them because they pay their dues, and in exchange we utilize their facilities when necessary. ”

  “What would you ever want with this shithole?”

  “You’ll see. ”

  Bass-thumping loud music instantly assaulted them when Corrado opened the door. Carmine’s ears started ringing as he stepped inside, grimacing from the stench. It smelled like stale sweat and liquor, with cigarette smoke lingering in a thick cloud. He coughed as he inhaled it, peering through the haze at the stage. Women danced around poles in platform shoes, their skin blindly glittering under the lights. Parts of them sagged as they bent over, letting men stuff dollar bills into G-strings.

  No respectable human being would step foot in the place, and he realized that was likely the point.

  “Stop looking,” Corrado said, leaning closer to Carmine and still having to shout to be heard. “We’re not here for pleasure. ”

  “Funny,” Carmine muttered, following him through the club. “If you think I’d ever have anything to do with bitches like that, then you clearly don’t know me. ”

  They headed into a back office and shut the door behind them to block out some of the noise. Corrado opened a cellar door in the floor and started down the stairs, but Carmine hesitated at the top when he heard a female’s piercing scream. His heart nearly stilled at the sound as Corrado groaned. “Why isn’t she gagged?”

  She screamed again, the sound silenced right away.

  Carmine slowly started down the steps, not wanting to aggravate Corrado by lingering behind. The thick cellar walls muffled the music from the club, a wordless vibration of bass coming from above. He looked around cautiously as the room came into view, shocked at the sight before him. Two people sat in chairs in the center of the room, handcuffed to metal chairs with burlap sacks over their heads. One was clearly a girl, wearing a gold-colored dress, while the other was clad in jeans and a t-shirt. Besides Corrado, there were two other Mafiosi in the room, watching from the sidelines just as he was now.

  Carmine studied the captives, assessing the situation, when his eyes fell upon the guy’s old, gold watch. Coldness swept through him as his heart dropped into his shoes. “No,” he whispered to himself, horrified. He had seen that watch before. “God, no. ”

  Corrado peered back at him, hearing his quiet declaration. Their eyes locked for a moment before Corrado motioned toward one of the guys in the back, who ripped the bag off of the girl’s head. She glanced around in a frenzy, fear flashing across her face when she spotted them. Red hair fell into her face as her eyes locked on Carmine. He had to look away.

  “Do you know her, Carmine?”

  Carmine nodded slowly. “That’s Remy’s girlfriend. ”

  Corr
ado laughed, the bitter sound sending a chill down Carmine’s spine. “Her name’s Vanessa O’Bannon. She’s Seamus’s daughter, and apparently also the one who supplied Remy with his drugs, filtering Irish product through right under my nose. ”

  Corrado motioned toward one of the men, who took the bag off the other person’s head. Remy’s terrified eyes immediately sought out Carmine, tears streaming from them as he silently begged for help.

  “What are the rules, Carmine? Recite them to me. ”

  Carmine looked away from his friend and blinked a few times when that question registered. “Stay away from drugs and stay out of the public eye. ”

  “Keep going. ”

  “Uh, our women are off limits. And children. ”

  “And?”

  “Don’t rat on your friends,” Carmine said, regret bubbling up inside of him. “Keep your mouth shut and stay away from the police. ”

  “What else?”

  “Don’t steal from each other. Give back to the organization. Always be available when called on, no matter what. ” Carmine paused. “That’s it. ”

  “You’re wrong,” Corrado said. “You missed one—an important one. ”

  “What’s that?”

  “Never fraternize with the enemy. ”

  Corrado reached into his coat and pulled out his gun. Without warning, a lone gunshot exploded in the cellar, the loud noise bouncing off the thick walls. Carmine jumped back as the bullet ripped through the back of Remy’s skull, blood splattering the floor and walls around them.

  The air left Carmine’s lungs, his knees weak as a high-pitched, blood-curdling scream echoed through the room. Carmine couldn’t move. His eyes were fixed on the polka dots of bright red now littering his white Nike’s. His friend’s blood . . .

  Suddenly, unexpectedly, flashes of Nicholas assaulted his mind. For the second time, the overwhelming guilt of getting a friend killed consumed him.

  Shell-shocked, Carmine watched as Corrado pointed the gun at Vanessa’s forehead. Sobbing, tears coated her flushed cheeks as she violently shook. She squeezed her eyes shut tightly as Corrado pulled the trigger at close range, a subtle click ricocheting through the room.

  Carmine felt the bile rising up and swallowed it back, not wanting to get sick. Vanessa continued to sob, her head down in defeat.

  Grasping her chin, Corrado pulled her face up, forcing her to look at him. “I know where you live. I know where your father hangs out. I know where your little cousin Jessie goes to school. Your best friend Marie? I know where she works, and I’ve been to the church your grandmother plays Bingo at on Tuesday nights. You cross me again, you step foot near my club, and I’ll kill every single one of them before I slit your throat in your sleep. Capisce?”

  Vanessa nodded furiously, hiccupping, unable to speak through her cries.

  Corrado removed her restraints and took a step back. “Walk out of here calmly and hitch a ride home. Don’t speak a word of this. ”

  Vanessa jumped up, stumbling as she scurried up the stairs. Carmine watched in shock, his eyes darting between the door and his uncle. “You let her go? What if she calls the police?”

 
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