Sempre redemption, p.64
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.64

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 64


  “Excuse me?” Something was off, Carmine could sense it, and being unprotected was as good as asking to be killed.

  “You heard what I said,” Corrado said. “Don’t question me. ”

  Carmine grabbed the gun and shoved it in the glove box. He had to do it. Corrado would have taken it.

  Carmine followed Corrado across the street to a run-down house. It looked like it hadn’t been inhabited in decades, the shutters barely hanging by their hinges and old wooden boards nailed up along the windowpanes, the glass long gone. They stepped on the porch and Corrado knocked twice on the large door. Before he could knock a third time, it opened. Corrado walked in and Carmine followed him cautiously, his eyes falling upon an Italian man right inside. He was about Corrado’s age and familiar, definitely a friend in the organization. He held a gun defensively, but he seemed to relax a bit when Corrado nodded at him.

  Their silent exchange made Carmine feel queasy, the bad feeling nearly overpowering him.

  He tried to sort through his thoughts to make sense of what was happening, briefly considering bolting back out the door while he still had the chance. He wondered how far he could get while unarmed, but such a train of thought was senseless. He would be caught before he even made it off the porch. He needed to stay calm, to play cool, and not let them see his fear, even if that was exactly what he felt.

  He was fucking terrified.

  Corrado grabbed his arm as he shut the front door, shoving Carmine toward the staircase that the man started up. No one said a word, no instructions given as Carmine begrudgingly climbed the creaky steps with Corrado on his trail. He felt like cattle being herded to the slaughterhouse as he followed the man down a long hallway.

  They approached a room, and Carmine froze in horror as soon as he stepped in the doorway. Vision blurring, his knees went weak as fear slammed into him. He nearly collapsed but Corrado grabbed him, keeping him on his feet as he pushed him farther into the room.

  The pieces of the puzzle clicked together in an instant. He should have sensed it earlier, should have known what was happening. The signs were all there. The look on Celia’s face . . . Corrado’s cryptic words . . . “You never know when you might only have a few hours left. ” “I didn’t want to interrupt your evening, but it’s time . . . ” “It’ll be over quick. ”

  The moment he told Carmine to leave the gun in the car, he should have known what he would find in the house: his demise.

  As his green eyes met the pair of dark, cold muddy ones across the room, it made sense. Corrado told him not to worry about retaliation because the entire time he had planned to take him straight to Salvatore.

  The Boss stood in the corner of the empty room, near a shattered window with a single board nailed over it. Moonlight filtered inside, giving Carmine barely enough light to see. Salvatore appeared disheveled, his right arm bandaged sloppily in a blue sling. He took a few steps in their direction, his movements rigid like he could no longer bend his left knee.

  “About time,” his raspy voice called, his eyes trained on Carmine as the other man strolled to the window to gaze out.

  “I apologize for being late, but you know how he can be,” Corrado said behind Carmine, blocking the only exit.

  “Yes, I know exactly how he can be. ” Salvatore’s voice seethed with anger. “He doesn’t listen. You tell him to do something and he ignores it. He seems to think he knows better than everyone else, like he’s above us all and doesn’t have to fall in line. ”

  “Well, he certainly is his father’s son,” Corrado said.

  Carmine sensed something in his uncle’s voice, amusement with a hint of sarcasm. He started to turn around to look at him, to get a read on his mood, but Corrado grabbed the back of his neck roughly, keeping him in position.

  Rage flashed in Salvatore’s expression at the mention of Vincent. He angrily spit on the floor with disgust, like just the thought of him made him sick.

  Carmine shook, his eyes darting around the room. The sins of the father were about to be paid for by the son. His brain worked a million miles a minute as he tried to think of some way out. He was unarmed and outnumbered, everyone in the room more experienced than him.

  “Looking for a way to escape?” Salvatore asked, slowly approaching. “Pity for you, there isn’t one. ”

  Corrado violently shoved him toward the ground, forcing him on his knees in the middle of the room. He let go of the back of his neck and withdrew his gun.

  “Please don’t do this!” Carmine pleaded, the words tumbling from his mouth. “I swear, just . . . fuck! This isn’t necessary!”

  Before he could say any more, Corrado shoved the muzzle of his gun against the back of Carmine’s skull. He closed his eyes, tears burning their way to the surface as he bowed his head in desperation.

  If there’s a fucking God, He won’t let me die today.

  “How dare you tell me what’s necessary!” Salvatore yelled. “This is what I was talking about! You think you know better than everyone! I gave you a simple order, and you had every opportunity to do it, but you disobeyed me! Vincent never would’ve hurt you, and now, because you betrayed me, my men are dead! Your father got what he deserved, and frankly so did your mother! Your entire family is a disgrace!”

  Carmine fought back a sob, his body shaking violently at those words. His world was imploding and there was a gun pointed at the back of his head.

  Corrado was a perfect shot. He never missed his target.

  His uncle, his own fucking family . . .

  “Please,” Carmine whispered. “Please don’t fucking do this. ”

  As soon as those words passed his lips, something slammed hard into the back of Carmine’s head. He fell forward onto his hands and knees, splinters of wood from the floorboards digging into his palms.

  He knew he couldn’t give up. He couldn’t go down without a fight. He wouldn’t win, but he wasn’t a coward. He wouldn’t just stand there and let them steal his life. Maybe a month ago he would have, or even yesterday, but not now. Not today.

  “Good-bye. ”

  The lone word slipping from Corrado’s lips set Carmine in motion. He dropped flat against the floor and rolled as a deafening bang sounded, the gunshot echoing in the room. He braced himself for a scorching bullet to tear into his flesh, but he felt nothing. No blood. No pain.

  Adrenaline or sheer fucking luck?

  Carmine forced himself to his feet and turned for the door when something across the room captured his attention. The man at the window dropped with a thump to the floor, blood pouring from a wound dead center in his forehead. Salvatore turned in horror as Corrado knocked Carmine to the floor again on his hands and knees. As he scurried away, Carmine watched in shock as Corrado used the distraction to swiftly reach into Salvatore’s waistband with his left hand and pull a pistol from it.

  Salvatore turned back around, his eyes wide when he saw both guns now pointed at his head. “What are you doing?”

  “Following orders,” Corrado said calmly. “When I initiated, I took an oath. I swore to Antonio DeMarco that I would be a man of honor, a man who always put the organization first. They may just be words to some, but they have meaning to me. La Cosa Nostra or death. That’s what I swore. I choose La Cosa Nostra and always have. It’s a real pity you chose death, sir. ”

  Corrado lowered his gun and fired two shots, bullets ripping through both of Salvatore’s knees. He let out a blood-curdling scream as he collapsed. Corrado stood stoically as Salvatore desperately tried to pull himself away, his legs gushing blood and soaking his gray pants.

  “Do you know what happens to rats, Carmine?” Corrado asked. “What we do to vermin, the disloyal and dishonorable?”

  “Yes,” he responded weakly, his voice shaking. It was an urban legend within the organization, a story everyone whispered about but had no proof it ever happened. “Rats for the rats. ”

  Corrado took the few steps tow
ard Salvatore, thrusting his foot out and kicking him square in the nose. Carmine flinched as Salvatore cried out, trying to shield himself as Corrado kicked him a few times in quick succession. The brutality in his uncle’s movements terrified him, anger and passion erupting from him. He did it again and again until Salvatore’s face poured blood like a leaky faucet.

  “This place is infested,” Corrado said, his words strained as he fought to catch his breath. The rage had taken a toll on his composure. “If you listen carefully, you can hear them in the walls, scratching and scurrying around. It won’t take the rats long to catch a whiff of the blood. As soon as they realize there’s fresh meat, they’ll swarm. It’s a brutal way to go, being eaten alive. ”

  Carmine’s stomach churned ruthlessly and he resisted the urge to gag. What kind of monster would think to do such a thing?

  Corrado turned to him as if he had heard Carmine’s silent question, the vacant expressionless mask enshrouding his face the only answer he needed. He seemed inhuman, the monster from the legends, the one he had heard about. The Kevlar Killer. No remorse, no emotion, and absolutely no conscience. “Sal knows this already. It’s why he chose this place. He just didn’t anticipate being the one to face the horror. ”

  Corrado slipped his gun back in his coat, ignoring Salvatore’s incessant yelling. He focused his attention on the pistol he had taken from the Boss, removing bullets from it one by one. He spun the chamber as he started toward the door, pausing in the doorway to lay the pistol on the floor. “I left a single bullet in your gun, Salamander. It’ll take you a while to drag yourself over here to it, but I’m sure you’ll manage if you want the suffering to end. The choice is yours. ”

  “You traitor!” Salvatore spat. “You’ll burn in Hell for this!”

  Corrado laughed bitterly. “I’ll probably burn in Hell for most of what I’ve done in my life, but this is one of the few things I feel is actually worth it. ”

  He walked out without another word.

  The moment Carmine heard his uncle’s footsteps on the stairs, he jumped to his feet and ran after him, tripping on a loose board and nearly falling in his haste. He could still hear Salvatore screaming as they exited the house but it didn’t seem to faze Corrado as he headed for the car.

  Carmine opened the door to climb in the passenger seat when it all hit him. Hunching over, he dry heaved on the road.

  Corrado waited patiently for Carmine to get himself together before starting the car to drive away.

  “Won’t people hear him screaming?” Carmine asked as he wiped his watery eyes.

  “Possibly, but it doesn’t matter,” he replied. “Like you said, anyone who comes to this neighborhood is up to no good. ”

  They drove in silence, the atmosphere suffocating. Carmine had reached the end of his rope, on the verge of a breakdown as he tentatively clung to the last shred of his sanity. It pressed upon Carmine, the memory of everything he had been through tearing through his system at once—the chaos, the destruction, the pain, the murder.

  “Why’d you do it?” he choked out.

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