Sempre redemption, p.53
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.53

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 53


  Vincent didn’t stick around to find out what she meant by that.


  The first weekend in June, Carmine received a call from Salvatore about a celebration for Corrado’s exoneration. He begrudgingly got dressed that Saturday night and drove to Salvatore’s house at dusk, parking his car toward the back before hesitantly making his way to the front door. He pressed the doorbell and Abby appeared, seemingly relieved when she saw Carmine there.

  “Hey,” he said when she ushered him inside. “How are you?”

  She smiled softly, her voice barely a whisper. “Fine. You, sir?”

  “I’m here with these motherfuckers, so I’m obviously not doing that good. ”

  “I’m glad you’re here,” she said shyly, offering to take his coat. “You talk to me like I’m a person. ”

  “You are a person, Abby. They’re just too nasty to see it. ”

  She stared at him, surprised by his candid response, before slinking away to do her work. Carmine headed for the den when someone called his name, and he turned, his blood running cold the second his eyes came into contact with Carlo’s. The man smirked as he strolled toward Carmine. “You’re lucky your godfather didn’t overhear that exchange. Something tells me he wouldn’t be amused. ”

  Carmine stared back as he fought to control his temper at the man’s smug expression. “There’s nothing wrong with saying hello. ”

  “You said much more than hello, boy. ”

  Carlo looked as though he was going to say something else when Corrado walked over and interrupted. “Carlo, Carmine. Is there a problem?”

  “I was just reminding young DeMarco that he should be mindful of what he says and who he talks to,” Carlo said. “If he isn’t careful, someone might get the wrong impression. ”

  “I didn’t—”

  He was about to say he hadn’t done anything wrong when Corrado cut him off. “Carmine’s sarcastic mouth is notorious. I think at this point people would get the wrong impression if he didn’t have a snide remark here or there. ”

  Carmine looked at Corrado with shock, not expecting his defense.

  Carlo laughed bitterly. “Just because it’s expected doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. He needs to learn respect. He was talking to that slave and—”

  “Respect?” Corrado snapped. “And I suppose you think you could teach it to him after speaking like that in his presence? You’re well aware of his mother’s background, and you want to speak about respect? Maybe you need to learn some yourself. ”

  “I’ve earned my place here—I’ve put my time in,” Carlo said, anger clouding his face. “I’ve proven myself and he hasn’t. He needs to mind his superiors. ”

  “So do you,” Corrado said pointedly. “Or have you forgotten I’m your superior? You know protocol, or have you forgotten that as well? Carmine’s my soldier—if you have an issue with him, you air your grievance with me. ”

  Carlo narrowed his eyes. Corrado had struck a nerve. “All I’m saying is maybe he shouldn’t mouth off so much. ”

  “I heard you the first time, but I don’t see why you’d want to create a scene over it,” Corrado said. “It’s not that serious. So he’s mouthy? It’s not like he murdered your family, Carlo. ”

  Carmine froze when those bitter words came from his uncle’s lips. Carlo looked like a deer caught in headlights as Corrado stared at him with an eyebrow cocked, waiting a response that never came.

  “Gentlemen,” Salvatore said, pausing between them, his expression stone cold serious. “Perhaps we should have a sit-down later to clear the air, but for now we celebrate. Go enjoy yourselves, have a drink, get to know one of the beautiful ladies here. ”

  Corrado nodded obediently. “Yes, sir. ”

  Carlo echoed his words and walked off when Salvatore excused himself, the situation diffused for the time being.

  “I don’t know what you said, but he was right,” Corrado said once they were alone. “You do need to learn to watch your mouth. ”

  “I know. ”

  “You should’ve worn a suit, too,” he said. “You look like a slob. ”

  Carmine glanced down at himself. He had on a long-sleeved button-up shirt and slacks—he had just nixed the tie. It wasn’t as if he had strolled in wearing faded jeans and a hoodie.

  He wished he had, though. That way if he was forced to be miserable, at least he would be comfortable.

  He spent the next two hours making small talk with other made men and associates, getting to know the families of the ones brazen enough to bring them around such a heartless crowd. Carmine pretended to care, smiling and entertaining curious questions about his father’s whereabouts (No, I haven’t heard from him. I’m sure he’s just lying low. ); playing the part of Principe, grandson of Antonio (Yes, my grandfather was a God among men, I hope to be just like him someday. ). But in his mind he was counting down the time until he could leave (Two more fucking hours. You’re already halfway there. ).

  For a group that prided themselves on silence and honor, they gossiped more than a group of catty high school bitches. It wasn’t Carmine’s first mandatory gathering, but it was certainly the most uncomfortable one. His father was on the lam and everyone was well aware that the expiration date on Vincent DeMarco’s life had already passed.

  Carmine drank heavily as the time slipped away, painfully aware as Corrado watched him from across the room. He had warned him before never to drink at these things, but he couldn’t help it. The alcohol seeping into his bloodstream was the only thing keeping him from jumping out of his own skin.

  The crowd thinned eventually, associates and soldiers clearing out while the ones at the top of the chain of command gathered in the den. Carmine took the shift in atmosphere as his cue that the night was finally over. At a little after nine, he strolled over to Corrado, his body relaxing naturally as relief set in. “I’m leaving. ”

  “Good,” Corrado said. “Go home. Sober up. ”

  Carmine turned and mock saluted his uncle behind his back as Corrado went into the den. Carmine started for the door, but Salvatore’s shrill voice stopped him halfway there. “Where do you think you’re going, Principe?”

  He glanced at him apprehensively. “Home, sir. ”

  “Nonsense. ” Salvatore motioned in the direction of the den. “Join us. ”

  Carmine sighed, not wanting to be there any longer. “I’d really rather just—”

  “It wasn’t a request,” Sal said, cutting him off as he walked away.

  Carmine cursed under his breath, catching a look of alarm on Corrado’s face the moment he stepped in the den. “I thought you were leaving. ”

  “Ah, he was, but I requested he stick around,” Salvatore chimed in, taking his usual seat. He motioned toward an empty chair beside him and Carmine slid into it, running his hand nervously through his hair. There were a dozen men in the room besides him, but he was the only low-ranked soldier present. These gatherings were always invitation only, and Carmine had appreciated the fact that he had never been invited to stay for one until that moment.

  The men talked for a while about things that didn’t matter, like baseball teams and brands of liquor, while Carmine sat quietly, drinking more to calm the flare of his nerves. He wasn’t sure how long they had been sitting there when they finally delved into business—who owed money, who wasn’t producing enough, who had potential, and who they frankly were sick of dealing with. The ones in the last category were immediately written off, no questions asked, no objections. There was no regard for their families or their obligations. Intentions didn’t matter—they had been judged without having a chance to defend themselves.

  It made Carmine sick to know that someday it could be him, sentenced to die callously, his murder plotted casually like they were deciding something as petty as preferable brands of alcohol.

  “Dismember him,” someone said. “Take him apart piece by piece, and then incinerate the leftovers. ”
  “Too messy,” someone else chimed in. “Slip something in his food. Make it look like a heart attack. Clean and easy. ”

  “That’s cowardly! You’re better off putting a bomb in their car. ”

  “Oh, bullshit! And a bomb isn’t cowardly?”

  “No. It’ll send everyone a message when the whole street blows up. ”

  “Yeah, it’ll send them a message, all right . . . it’ll probably send some of his neighbors to the hospital, too. They didn’t do shit to us. ”

  “So? Like bystanders haven’t been hurt before?”

  “Yeah, but they got kids. We don’t fucking hurt kids, not if we can help it. ”

  “Just make him go missing,” someone suggested. “It’s not cowardly—it’s smart. The fact is he’s nobody. No reason for a scene. Just poof, be gone. ”

  Somebody scoffed. “It’s all cowardly unless you make it personal. Ain’t that right, Carlo? That’s what you always say. ”

  Carmine’s eyes shot across the room to where the scarred man sat in the corner, quietly sipping from a glass of scotch. Carlo tipped his head at the man in confirmation. “Always look them in the eye so they know it’s you, so you can see their fear. You want them to associate your face with death . . . that’s how you know you’re doing it right. Then when they understand, you do it quick—blow their head off, shut them up with a gun in the mouth when they try to scream for help. There’s nothing better. Always been my signature move. ”

  Those words hit Carmine hard and sharp, striking at his insides ferociously when flashes of the night in the alley ran through his mind. The sound of his mother’s terrified screams, the fear in her eyes as she somehow knew she was going to die. “Shut her up!” a man yelled. “Do it quick!” Then there was nothing but the loud bang of the gunshot as the man shoved the pistol in her mouth and pulled the trigger, forever silencing her.

  Carmine was on his feet before he even knew what he was doing, the liquor splashing from the glass he clutched and splattering on the floor. His sudden movement startled the others, conversation instantly ceasing as men jumped to their feet, trained to sense danger. Guns were drawn and a chorus of clicks echoed through the room as safeties were released, the weapons pointed at Carmine’s head.

  Tunnel vision fixed Carmine’s gaze on Carlo. He remained in his chair, slouching casually as he swirled the scotch around in his glass, staring right back. His face was a mask of indifference, but his eyes told a much different story. There was a challenge in them. He dared Carmine to say something to him.

  Seconds passed—long, infinite seconds of tension and inner turmoil—before Salvatore broke up the sudden standoff. “Gentlemen, this is unnecessary. We’re all family here. ”

  The men lowered their weapons at once, concealing them again as they retook their seats. Low grumbling vibrated the room, their words indiscernible, but hostility infused the air, smothering Carmine. They would have shot him easily, the simple flick of a finger stealing his life.

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