Sempre redemption, p.51
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.51

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 51


  Sighing, he eyed the ripped open envelope with the sketchy address, surprised yet again that it passed security. He pulled out the greeting card, eyeing the photo on the front. Corrado knew little to nothing about art, but even he could recognize the painting The Scream.

  Hope your day is a scream the card read, sloppy handwriting under the typed message: I scream, you scream, we all scream . . . until somebody hears.

  Corrado stared at the message, reading it again and again. He was so busy deciphering the short message that someone managed to sneak up on him.

  “Moretti. ”

  Corrado looked over, eyeing the correctional officer. “What?”

  “Show time. ” He smirked. “The jury came back with a verdict. ”

  * * *

  Haven darted across the busy New York street, long wavy hair flowing behind her as her feet zealously carried her down the block. Despite her best effort, she repeatedly knocked into others, elbows jabbing and shoulders bumping as she flew past.

  “Sorry,” she muttered, breathing heavily as she ran along the sidewalk, heading straight for her brownstone apartment. The white envelope crumpled in her hand as she fisted it, making sure not to lose her grip.

  Once she made it home, she bolted inside, no hesitation in her steps as she bypassed her door. She frantically took the stairs two at a time, heading straight for Kelsey’s apartment on the second floor.

  She didn’t bother to knock in her haste. Grabbing the knob, she shoved open Kelsey’s front door. “Kelsey, you won’t belie—Oh, God!”

  Startled yelps echoed through the living room. Haven shielded her eyes and quickly swung around as Kelsey and a male friend fumbled for their clothes.

  “I’m so sorry!” Haven’s cheeks turned scarlet and warm from embarrassment. “I didn’t realize, well, you know . . . ”

  “It’s okay,” Kelsey said. “We’re dressed now. ”

  Slowly, Haven turned back around, tentatively peeking through her hands at them. “I should’ve knocked. ”

  “You think?” Kelsey stood as she motioned toward the guy. “You remember Fred, right? The architect?”

  Haven eyed the tall man peculiarly, taking in his short blond hair and blue eyes. She didn’t remember him at all, but Haven politely smiled and nodded anyway. “Sure. It’s nice to see you again, Fred. ”

  “You, too,” he said. “Well, I should be going. ”

  He kissed Kelsey’s cheek before strolling past and disappearing downstairs. Haven stood there for a moment, watching her friend as she stared at the now empty doorway. “He’s hot, right?” Kelsey asked. “I think he might actually be the one. ”

  Haven’s eyes widened. “Did you feel it? The spark?”

  “Oh, I felt it all right. ” Kelsey laughed, turning her attention to Haven. “Anyway, what’s up? Why the speedy entrance?”

  All thoughts of the awkward incident evaporated as Haven’s face lit up with excitement. She held up the crinkled white envelope, waving it frantically at her friend. “I did it! I got in!”

  Kelsey’s brow furrowed. “Got in where?”

  “The Novak Gala,” Haven declared. “Miss Michaels pulled me aside in the hallway. I came in thirteenth! They’re going to display my painting!”

  Kelsey let out a sudden shriek. “No way! That’s amazing!”

  The two of them jumped around and squealed, hugging as they celebrated the news. Tears sprung to Haven’s eyes, overwhelming elation running through her veins. She had done it. Out of three thousand entries, she had made the cut.

  “This is so crazy,” Kelsey said, pulling away. “We have so much to do now! We need to get you a dress and shoes. You’ll need hair and makeup. ”

  She blanched. A dress? High heels? A makeover?

  “Oh, oh oh! And a date! We have to get you a date!”

  Haven blinked rapidly. “A date?”

  “Yes! You get to bring guests, right? You can’t go alone!”

  Reaching into the envelope, Haven pulled out the letter and unfolded it, eyeing the three wrinkly tickets tucked inside. She put hers back into the envelope and held the other two out to her friend. “I want you to come with me. ”

  “Me? But—”

  “Take them,” Haven insisted. “You’ve been so great to me. You took me home on Christmas and introduced me to your family. ”

  “I should be making that up to you, not the other way around. ”

  Haven laughed. “Come with me. And if Fred’s the one, bring him, too. ”

  Kelsey hesitated before taking the two tickets. “You’re sure?”

  “Positive. ” Smiling, Haven took a step back toward the door. “Invite whoever you want. My thanks to you for being such a great friend. ”

  Haven started out of the apartment, hearing Kelsey yell after her as she descended the stairs. “Fine, but you’re still getting a dress! Don’t think you’re getting out of that one!”

  * * *

  “As to count one, participating in the conduct of the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity, we the jury find the defendant, Corrado Alphonse Moretti . . . ” There was a pause, one that seemed to stretch for eternity, before the fateful words were read. “. . . Not guilty. ”

  The packed courtroom erupted in noise, a few elated cheers mixing with the horrified shouts of disbelief from onlookers. Cameras flashed from the media, recording the moment, as the judge feverishly banged his gavel for silence.

  Count after count was read, all of them with the same result: not guilty, not guilty, not guilty. Corrado remained still as he stood at the defendant’s table, the only one in the room not reacting emotionally. He felt it, though, churning in the pit of his heavy stomach, evident in the cold sweat formed along his back. It was the only time he had ever been unsure of a verdict before it was read. For the first time in his life, he had had a moment where he actually wondered if it could be the end for him.

  And that moment to Corrado, as he contemplated his uncertain future, was worse than facing death. Death he could accept . . . being a caged animal he couldn’t. He would never let it show, though. He exuded nothing but total confidence, bordering on callous conceit.

  When the jury finished, the judge ruled for Corrado’s immediate release. Corrado stood after the final bang of the gavel, ignoring the incessant shouting and name-calling from the gallery as he shook Mr. Borza’s hand. He turned then, seeking out his wife in the crowd, and found her in the back, standing all alone and smiling.

  Corrado’s chest swelled. It felt like forever since he had seen her look happy.

  “Congratulations,” Mr. Markson said, his voice laced with bitterness. “I’m curious how you did it this time. Intimidation? Extortion? Plain ole bribery?”

  Corrado shook his head. “I did none of those things. ”

  “Murder, then?” The prosecutor raised his eyebrow in challenge. “Did you kill your own family, Mr. Moretti? Is that what happened to Vincent DeMarco?”

  Corrado stared at the man, keeping his expression blank. If he only knew the depth of that question . . .

  “The jury just saw through you,” he responded coolly. “You had no case. You should work on that, you know. You don’t seem to be very good at your job. ”

  The prosecutor’s posture stiffened. “I am good at my job. The problem is people like you have absolutely no respect for it. You have no respect for the law. But you’ll get what’s coming to you someday. ”

  “I look forward to it. ”

  The prosecutor stormed away as Corrado addressed his lawyer. “Juror number six . . . I want you to find out who she is. ”

  Mr. Borza blanched. “Why?”

  “I think I owe my freedom to her. ”

  Corrado turned to the crowd of spectators, watching his wife make her way toward him. He opened his arms, pulling her to him in a tight embrace. Her body shook with happy cries as he kissed the top of her head.

  “Six months away
from you was far too long, bellissima,” he whispered. “I promise it’ll never happen again. ”


  The gallery was packed, hardly a foot of space between the people inside. Haven stood outside the building, gazing through the sheet of thick glass that separated her from the Novak Gala. Every time the door opened, she could hear the soft melody of classical music filter out into the street, fading away into the darkness as soon as the door closed again. She could see the patrons smiling and laughing, socializing as they admired the artwork, comfortable in their surroundings, while Haven was anything but.

  Nervous, she tugged at her dress, feeling ridiculously out of place and awkward in a pair of high heels. Her heart hammered in her chest, pounding so hard she could feel it clogging her throat, the only thing, she feared, keeping her from throwing up. She regretted telling Kelsey she would meet her there, afraid with every step she took that she would fall flat on her face.

  Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she opened the gallery door, stepping inside and holding out her ticket to the man working. He took it with a smile, nothing but warmth in his eyes as he gazed at her, no sign he felt she didn’t belong.

  “Welcome, ma’am,” he said politely, motioning toward a guest book to the right. “Please sign in and enjoy yourself. ”

  She nodded, stepping to the side and grabbing the pen before she scribbled on the first blank line: Hayden Antoinette. She gazed at it for a moment, her smile fading a bit, but pushed the sadness away. She knew who she truly was, even if nobody else did.

  The lighting was warm and the atmosphere welcoming. Haven strolled through the crowd, mostly keeping her head down, her eyes flickering periodically to the paintings on the wall. It wasn’t until she came to the back of the gallery that she spotted hers, the familiarity stalling her footsteps immediately. She stared at it with wide eyes, her initials scribbled in the corner of the canvas.

  It was surreal. In that moment, Haven had to pinch herself.

  I had a dream, Carmine had said on their last night together. You made a painting—some abstract shit, I don’t know—but it was so good they hung it in a museum and raved about how talented you were. It was like you were the next fucking Picasso, tesoro.

  “It’s quite a spectacular piece of work, isn’t it?” a man asked, pausing beside her as he gazed up at it. He squinted his eyes, studying it, analyzing the dark background tinged with white and tan, musical notes distorted by splatters of red. “It looks like a concert to me. Maybe the artist is also a musician. ”

  Haven smiled. He couldn’t be further from the truth. “Maybe. ”

  He walked away and Haven stood there, listening as a few others offered their unsolicited analysis, every one of them missing the mark. She was about to walk away, to stroll through the gallery and check out the other works, when a throat cleared behind her. “I take it this is yours. ”

  She spun around so fast at the sound of the familiar voice that she nearly lost her footing, staggering. Her eyes met a pair of blue ones. “Gavin? What are you doing here?”

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