Sempre redemption, p.5
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.5

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 5


  “You must’ve met Jay,” Vincent said, sighing. “Just pull some cash out of your account and pay him for it. We have a set arrangement, fifty grand each visit. ”

  “And what about the damn bag?”

  “There’s a storage unit here in town, at the place beside the grocery store. I’ll leave the key for it at the desk. Unit nineteen-B. ”

  * * *

  Carmine stood in front of the storage unit, the duffel bag the only thing inside. He stared at it for a moment, shaking his head, before slamming the metal door and putting the lock back on it.

  He pocketed the key and strolled next door to the grocery store for something to drink, the place empty except for the lone cashier. She barely looked at him, her nose stuck in a cheap gossip magazine as he tossed her some cash for a bottle of Cherry Coke and a Toblerone.

  On the way back out, Carmine’s footsteps faltered when his eyes fell upon the crinkled paper taped to the glass near the exit. He snatched it off, studying it as he strolled through the parking lot in the dark. The word MISSING was written along the top, ominously black and bold, while a familiar picture of Nicholas Barlow covered most of the page. He was wearing his favorite camouflage cargo pants in the shot, his baseball cap pulled down low.

  Carmine could remember the day the photo had been taken. Straining his eyes, he could even faintly make himself out in the background. They had been out at Aurora Lake a mere few days before their friendship had fallen apart . . . before their lives took a dramatic turn. They had both ended up in the emergency room later that day after roughhousing—Nicholas with a sprained ankle and Carmine with a gash in his eyebrow. It was the day Carmine had dared his best friend to sleep with the nurse at the hospital, Jen.

  The only dare the boys had made that they never saw through, since Nicholas was dead now, and the nurse was, too.

  The subtle glow from the streetlight illuminated Carmine’s car in the back of the lot. Sunset had come and gone, the entire day fading away. He had missed Christmas Eve with his family.

  Climbing into his car, Carmine turned on the interior light to get a better look at the flyer. Guilt nagged him when he saw they were offering a reward, Haven’s earlier words running through his mind. How much more is going to happen because of me? she had asked, but Carmine wondered exactly how much more hurt he would cause. How many more families would he ruin, how many more lives would he fuck up? He felt like a curse, devastating anyone who dared to get close to him.

  He had gotten his best friend killed. Who would be next?

  Sighing, he tossed the paper onto the passenger seat and grabbed Haven’s notebook, hoping to put those thoughts out of his mind. After the day he had had, he just wanted to forget for a while. He glanced through the scribble, looking for a distraction, but the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach only grew as he took in Haven’s frenzied words. She wrote a lot about the pain she had been through, the writing growing more frantic the further he got. There were dozens of sketches accompanying her words, some so vague he couldn’t tell what they were, while others were so in depth it was like seeing it with his own eyes.

  Turning to a page about halfway through, Carmine’s name jumped out at him, and his eyes cautiously scanned the surrounding paragraph. Haven mused about what kind of future they would have together, disheartened by their situation. He read it all with anxious eyes, tensing when he came upon the very last sentence: What do you do when the thing you want most suddenly feels like it’s beyond your fingertips?

  As much as Carmine didn’t want to let that get to him, her question stung. After giving her freedom, he had yanked it back away. He hadn’t meant to, but she was right . . . as long as she was with him, she would never be in control of her life.

  He flipped through a few more pages, barely able to pay attention to them, and was about to toss it aside when a drawing caught his eye. It was startlingly in depth, the man’s features perfectly detailed. One side of his face was pristine, while the other half was severely disfigured. His skin appeared to be made of melting candle wax, drooping and dripping from his grotesque face. The word monster was scribbled along the page, the handwriting frantic and barely legible.

  It may not have been as horrifying had Carmine not recognized the man.

  * * *

  The house was silent when Carmine made it home, the notebook tucked in the crook of his arm. He headed upstairs, mentally exhausted from the day, and hesitated on the second floor when he saw the door to his father’s office open. Carmine strolled over to it, curiously pausing in the doorway.

  Vincent sat at his desk with his phone to his ear, unaware he was no longer alone. He impatiently drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair, periodically huffing as he listened to whomever was on the line.

  “That’s not acceptable,” he said, his expression severe. “I understand your situation, but you need to understand mine. I have a family to consider, and you may not care about them, but I do. This is my life we’re talking about so don’t patronize me! I don’t need you to make this out to be something it isn’t, and I don’t appreciate being lied to. Find another way. ”

  Another brief pause ensued, followed by a sharp, angry laugh from Vincent. “Then count me out. ”

  Carmine shifted position, caught off guard by the serious conversation. The movement drew his father’s attention. Panic sparked in Vincent’s eyes. He hung up without giving the person a chance to respond and eyed Carmine carefully, but he offered no explanation.

  “Who was that?” Carmine asked.

  “Lawyer. ”

  Carmine narrowed his eyes. “What were you doing, bribing your way out of trouble?”

  “More like settling things before they tie the knot on my noose. ”

  “That bad?” They may not have been close over the years, but Carmine didn’t like the thought of losing his father.

  “Yes, it’s that bad, son,” Vincent said. “We used to be able to talk our way out of anything, but our power has even less influence than our money these days. ”

  Curious about his father’s bitterness, Carmine took a seat without waiting to be invited. “Can I ask you something?”

  Vincent leaned back in his chair. “Sure. ”

  “Do you regret getting involved?”

  “Yes . . . and no. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, and those I do regret, but taking the oath for your mother . . . I can’t regret that. I wish I wouldn’t have had to, but I did. And I’d do it again. ” Vincent paused. “You know, I was furious when I found out what you’d done, and as much as I still hate it, I get it, son. It’s genetic, I guess—ingrained in your DNA. You would’ve sacrificed for her eventually, someway, somehow. You are your mother’s child, after all. ”

  “I’m apparently yours, too. ”

  Vincent smiled sympathetically. “Is there a reason you asked? Are you regretting—?”

  “No way,” Carmine said. “It’s just, Christ . . . I know it was necessary, but I feel like I fucked everything up by doing it. ”

  “I felt that way, too,” Vincent said. “I initiated to free your mother, and all I did was take her from one dangerous world to another. It was dressed up pretty and called another name, but it wasn’t much different. Your mother never got a chance to live a life where no one knew her . . . where no one knew what she’d been. She never got to invent herself. ”

  Carmine nodded. “That’s what I thought. ”

  Vincent drummed his fingers again. “Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade the years I had with your mother for anything, and I surely wouldn’t give up you boys. You’re the only thing I ever did right in life. But I’ll never forgive myself for not giving her a chance. I know she loved me, and having a family made her happy, but I don’t think she even realized she had another option. I did it all to give her choices, and then I never told her she had them. I can’t help but wonder, all these years later, how different things would be had I let her go. ”

  “Mom wouldn’t have left you,” Carmine said.

  “She didn’t know any better,” he said. “And that’s the point, really. She never got to choose to be with me. ”

  “That’s why I feel like I fucked up,” Carmine said. “I figured I could keep those parts of my life separate, do what I had to while still giving her everything she wanted, but I don’t know if that’s possible anymore. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it and I’m running out of time, considering I’m expected in Chicago after Christmas. ”

  “I’m not surprised,” Vincent said, reaching into a drawer and pulling out a gold key. He fiddled with it for a moment before pushing it across the desk to Carmine. “The key to the house in Chicago. ”

  Carmine carefully picked it up. “Why are you giving it to me?”

  “You’ll need somewhere to stay, won’t you?”

  He wanted to argue, to give the key back, but he couldn’t. It was true. He hadn’t thought about what he would do once he got there. “Uh, yeah. Thanks. ”

  “You’re welcome,” he replied. “Are you going to be okay?”

  “Oh, I’ll be fine. It’s Haven I’m worried about. I grabbed this notebook of hers today, and I can tell you after reading it that she’s a fucking mess. ” He flipped through pages haphazardly, shaking his head when he reached the drawing titled monster. Laughing bitterly, he held up the sketch for his father to see. “Look at this shit. ”

  The drumming of Vincent’s fingers ceased instantly, his posture rigid as his expression went blank. Carmine’s hair bristled at his father’s posture. Vincent stared at the notebook intently, like he was memorizing the mangled face.

  “She’ll be okay,” Vincent said after a moment. “She has nothing to fear from him. ”

  “Maybe not, but she calls him a monster, like he’s the fucking Chupacabra. She’s terrified, and that’s the kind of people I’ll have her around. Monsters. ”

  “Carlo’s a friend of ours. ”

  Carmine scoffed. “He’s no friend of mine. ”

  “On the contrary, son . . . he is. He’s been in the organization for years. Salvatore initiated him right after your grandfather passed away. ”

  It struck Carmine then why he recognized the guy. He remembered exactly where he had seen him. “We have to tell Sal. ”

  “Tell him what?”

  “That one of his men is dirty,” he spat. “He was involved in the kidnapping. He was in that warehouse!”

  “What makes you think he was there?”

  Carmine stared at his father incredulously. “Haven saw him. He had to be there!”

  “No, he didn’t. ” Vincent shook his head. “He wasn’t even in Chicago. ”

  “Yes, he was. I saw him! They were arguing in Sal’s office, but when I showed up, he left. ”

  Vincent hesitated. “That doesn’t mean he was in on anything. ”

  “Then how the fuck did she draw him?”

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