Sempre redemption, p.44
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.44

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
 
Page 44

 

  Haven opened her mouth, considering conceding, when a phone rang in his pocket. He pulled it out, his smile falling as he silenced it.

  “Well, you’re in luck,” he said. “Duty calls. It was nice to meet you . . . ”

  He paused, raising his eyebrows curiously. She realized she hadn’t yet told him her name. “Hayden. ”

  “Hayden,” he echoed, smiling. “You can call me Gavin. ”

  * * *

  Ping, whack, ping, whack, ping, whack

  Corrado lay in his bottom bunk with his arm draped over his eyes, listening to the sound of paddles striking Ping-Pong balls on the tier outside his small cell. Chatter accompanied their playing, the noise loud enough to make his head viciously pound. He squeezed his eyes shut tighter, trying to block out the commotion, but it only seemed to grow louder as time went on.

  For the first time since arriving, he regretted requesting general population.

  There was little to do at MCC, nothing to look at, and no one to talk to. Table tennis and card games seemed to be how most men passed the time, but neither activity interested Corrado. He occasionally went to the rec yard for fresh air, but he spent most of his days staring at the drab walls, blocking out the others as he counted the days. Three weeks down, God knows how many more to go.

  Ping, whack, ping, whack, ping, whack

  Corrado tried to take it in stride. After everything he had done over the years, a few months should be an easy punishment. The way he calculated it, it was less than a day for everyone he had hurt. A measly few hours of incarceration for everyone he killed. He would take his few months and then go right back to his life.

  Today, however, he found being there insufferable. The pinging of the balls, the babble of the inmates, and the squeals of the pigs as they marched along the tiers, barking orders and throwing their weight around—it was all too much to take.

  Sighing, he hauled himself out of the bed. His cellmate looked up from his book on the top bunk and eyed Corrado cautiously as he stood. They hadn’t shared more than a handful of short conversations in three weeks.

  “You all right, man?” he asked, his voice and eyes guarded.

  “I will be in a minute. ”

  Corrado walked out of the cell, no hesitation in his step as he made his way into the common area. A few of the inmates were off on their own, but the bulk of them were gathered around the Ping-Pong game. Corrado cut through the crowd, people stepping out of his way instinctively as he headed straight for the man at the end of the table. He was the loudest of the group, a large guy from the south side of Chicago doing a few years for drug trafficking. He clutched the paddle, laughing as he smacked the ball, oblivious to Corrado’s approach.

  Ping, whack, ping, whack, ping, whack

  CRACK

  The sickening crunch of Corrado’s fist connecting with the guy’s face echoed through the concrete room, bouncing off the metal doors. The guy hit the floor with a thud, stunned, as blood poured from his nose. The crowd was immediately silenced and took a step back, retreating, as whistles and lights went off on the tier.

  Corrado stood in place and raised his hands in the air as a horde of correctional officers descended upon them. They ignored his peaceful surrender and grabbed him, violently shoving him against the nearest wall. His hands were forced behind his back, his wrists secured with handcuffs before shackles were attached to his ankles. In a matter of seconds he was led away, taken straight to solitary confinement.

  “Dumb move, Moretti,” an officer said as they placed him in the single windowless cell, brightly lit by a flickering fluorescent bulb. “You’ll be lucky if you don’t get an assault charge. ”

  Corrado laughed dryly. The D. A. wouldn’t waste his time. He had beat four trumped-up murder charges, seven assault charges, three counts of extortion, and a dozen weapons violations, give or take a few. A punch was nothing, no more than a speeding ticket.

  The officer shook his head as he released Corrado from his restraints, annoyed by his refusal to react. “You’re not as infallible as you think you are. If you were, you wouldn’t be in prison right now. ”

  “It’s only temporary,” Corrado said, rubbing his hand. His knuckles were already swelling from the force of the punch.

  “That’s probably true,” the officer muttered. “I’ll never understand. ”

  “I’m not surprised,” Corrado quipped. “Comprehension doesn’t seem to be your strong suit. ”

  The officer ignored the jab as he locked the cell and walked away. Finally alone, Corrado lay on the hard, thin mattress and once again draped his arm over his eyes. Silence surrounded him, blanketing him in peace as sleep took him away.

  When he resurfaced, the pounding in his head had dulled. He sat up and glanced toward the door at the same time the slot in it opened, an officer’s voice carrying through. “Mail call. ”

  He slid in two envelopes that fell to the floor, both already opened. He wasn’t surprised. His mail was routinely checked, confiscated for days and read countless times in an attempt to find some hidden message they would never find.

  Not because there wasn’t one . . . because they weren’t smart enough to decipher their code.

  “Heard it’s your birthday,” the officer said. “That true?”

  “Yes. ”

  The officer laughed. “Solitary confinement—hell of a birthday present. ”

  Corrado stood and grabbed the mail when the slot closed. The first was a simple birthday card from his wife, plain blue with no sappy message inside. He eyed the second envelope curiously before pulling out the sheet of paper. It was short, the message scribbled in messy pen.

  Roses are red,

  Violets are blue,

  I went to work,

  How ‘bout you?

  P. S. —I thought violets were purple, not blue. Color me surprised. Thinking I need some tutoring—the hands-on type.

  He read it twice, surprised the message made it through security. The note wasn’t signed, the return address sketchy, but he knew exactly who it had come from.

  Corrado had no pen and paper, so he couldn’t reply yet, but he knew exactly what he’d say:

  Flowers come in every color, but some aren’t meant to be picked. Enjoy the view, but don’t try to plant any of your seeds in my garden. I’d hate to see you piled high with fertilizer.

  31

  On the first day of spring, March 20, trucks and vans packed the streets surrounding the Dirksen Federal Building in downtown Chicago. The sun shone brightly, the afternoon warm as trees grew lush and flowers bloomed. The way it felt on the twelfth floor of the building, though, you wouldn’t know things flourished outside.

  Under the dim lighting of the courtroom, Corrado sat behind the long defendant’s table, hands clasped in front of him, tie hanging sloppily around his neck. His wife hadn’t been there that morning to fix it as he dressed in a room not far from where he sat. The air was frigid in temperature and feeling. Despite having lived in Chicago for decades, he still wasn’t used to the cold.

  He didn’t shiver, though. He refused to appear weak.

  UNITED STATES V. CORRADO MORETTI

  DAY ONE

  The courtroom was packed, not an empty seat anywhere to be found. Corrado had surveyed the spectators when he was ushered in, spotting Celia in the back with her nephew, Dominic. Besides them, he saw little in the way of friendly faces. No family, no friends, no La Cosa Nostra . . . victims and their relatives crammed the frozen room, sucking up all of the oxygen.

  Corrado could feel their hostility ghosting across his skin.

  He didn’t care what they thought, though. The only opinions that mattered to him belonged to the twelve people stuffed into the secluded box along the side. Eight men and four women, housed in a dingy hotel for the duration of the trial, guarded twenty-four hours a day.

  It was the first time Corrado had been given a sequestered jury. The judge was afraid he w
ould bribe his way out of trouble or ultimately hurt someone to get his way. If it didn’t annoy him so much, having to rely on a genuine outcome, he might have been flattered by their fear.

  Sitting back in his chair, Corrado leaned toward his lawyer. “Doesn’t the fact that they’re locking the jury away with armed guards prejudice them against me?”

  “Not any more prejudiced than they already were,” he replied. “They came into this believing you’re a monster. Our job is to humanize you. ”

  “And how do you do that?”

  “Watch and see. ”

  Mr. Borza stood, straightening his tie as he approached the jury. “Ladies and gentlemen, during the next few weeks you’re going to hear some terrible stories, some so horrific they’ll turn your stomach. That’s a guarantee. As the prosecution lays out its case, they’re going to tell you about a violent man, a man without morals, a man without a conscience, who wreaks havoc on this great city day in and day out. But I’m here to tell you right now, if that man exists, I haven’t met him, and I certainly wouldn’t represent him. ”

  The jury was attentive, hanging on to the lawyer’s every word. Mr. Borza strolled along the carpet in front of them, looking each and every one in the eyes.

  “Let me tell you about the real man on trial here,” he said, motioning toward the defendant’s table. “Corrado Moretti never went to college. He didn’t even graduate high school, but that didn’t stop him from following his dreams. He’s a God-fearing man, a man who loves his family . . . especially his wife, Celia. They’ve been happily married for twenty-seven years. ”

  It took everything in Corrado not to seek out his wife right then. He remained still, watching the jury, looking for signs of compassion.

  He found none.

  “The prosecution’s case is based on half-truths from known liars who will get on that stand and tell you whatever the prosecution wants you to hear. They’ll tell you these things, these fabrications, because the government cut them deals. You pat me on the back, I’ll pat you. Why are they doing that? Because they have a personal vendetta against my client.

  “Mr. Moretti built his business from the ground up, brick-by-brick, investing every penny he had into Luna Rossa. He’s a small business owner, employing more than a dozen people and providing them with full benefits. He pays his taxes dutifully. He’s living the American dream. Despite his lack of education, he made something out of himself. Does that sound like a man without morals? Does that sound like he lacks a conscience? In my opinion, it sounds like he’s just like you and me. ”

  Mr. Borza went on and on, twisting the facts, so by the time he finished he made Corrado seem like a bona fide boy scout. Corrado scanned the faces of the jurors as his lawyer took his seat, relaxing a smidgen when he finally saw it. There, in the eyes of a lone female—juror number six—a gleam of hope for humanity stared back at him. Naïve and foolish, maybe, but that woman wanted to believe the best in him.

  It was all he needed: a foot in the proverbial door, the first step toward walking free.

  DAY NINE

  Wiretaps.

  The sound of Corrado’s voice resonated through the courtroom from a set of speakers in the front. Stacks of transcripts were piled high on the tables, completely untouched. His voice was clear and concise. They didn’t need to read his words when they could plainly hear them.

 
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