Sempre redemption, p.79
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.79

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 79


  Picking up the knife, Corrado eyed it intently, running his fingers carefully along the blade. “Before we’ll welcome you in, you first have to bleed for us. Nowadays it’s usually a simple prick of the trigger finger, a tiny droplet of blood on a piece of paper. Painless, leaves no lasting scar, no mark identifying them as a man of honor. But back in my day, it was real. Did you know that?”

  Carmine swallowed, trying to wet his painfully dry throat. “Yes, sir. ”

  “So did you bleed for Salvatore?”

  “No,” he said. “All he wanted was my word. ”

  Corrado continued to gaze at the knife. “Give me your hand. ”

  For a brief second, Carmine blanched in fear, but there was no hesitance in his steps. He knew there couldn’t be. He extended his right hand and Corrado grabbed it, roughly yanking him closer and pinning it against the desk.

  “A man’s word means as much as his blood,” Corrado repeated. “Sal only wanted your word, but I require your blood. ”

  Carmine squeezed his eyes shut when he felt the knife against his skin. Gritting his teeth, he forced himself to stay silent as the jagged blade cut into him. It slowly sliced across his palm, a searing burn igniting his hand as it tore into his flesh.

  When it was over, Carmine opened his eyes again and relaxed, but he was too soon. Corrado grasped his hand tighter, violently closing it into a fist. Stabbing pain shot up his arm and he couldn’t hold back the strangled grunt that forced its way from his chest. Tears of agony stung his eyes, but none fell down his cheeks.

  “You asked me to give Haven away, and I agreed,” Corrado said, still holding him there, “but I wasn’t just talking about walking her down the aisle. You want her? You love her? You’ve bled for her. She’s yours. ”

  He pushed him away from the desk and pulled out a rag to wipe the blood from his knife. Carmine clutched his wounded hand to his chest, keeping it fisted. After Corrado’s knife was clean, he placed it back in the drawer.

  “I’ll give you the girl, but you can’t have the organization,” Corrado continued. “You’ll never prove yourself worthy of the oath, and nothing you can do will change my mind. You’ll never be a man of honor. You’re not cut out for this life, and I refuse to just hand it to you like Vincent had it handed to him. ”

  Carmine stared at him as those words sunk in. He had no clue what to say, or if a response was even warranted. His words weren’t cruel, no anger was in his voice. It was emotionless, spoken matter-of-factly. He would never be one of them. That was that.

  “As far as I’m concerned, your personal debt to La Cosa Nostra has been satisfied,” Corrado said. “You owe nothing more. ”

  Carmine blinked rapidly. “That means . . . ”

  Corrado waved dismissively. “It means you’re free to go. ”

  Free. That word echoed through Carmine’s mind so feverishly he nearly forgot about the throbbing in his bleeding hand. “Go where?”

  “Wherever you want,” he replied. “You should probably consult Haven first, though. Something tells me she wouldn’t be so forgiving the second time around. ”

  Dumbfounded, all Carmine could do was blink and nod in agreement.

  Corrado stood up from his desk and walked around to face his nephew. Grabbing his arm, he pried his hand open and pressed the rag against the wound. The bleeding had slowed, but it still stung ferociously. After cleaning it up, Corrado wrapped it with a white bandage. “Now get out of here. Walk away. ”

  Carmine started to turn but stopped, those words washing through him, comforting the ache inside of him. Walk away.

  “I’m tired of running,” Haven had said. “I want to be able to walk away. ”

  Without even thinking about it, he flung himself at Corrado, wrapping his arms around his uncle in a hug. Corrado’s body remained rigid as he just stood there, caught off guard by the display of affection. The hug was over in a matter of seconds.

  “Can I ask you something, Uncle Corrado?” Carmine asked when he reached the door.

  “Yes. ”

  Carmine motioned toward the . 22 still laying on the desk. “What was the gun for?”

  His answer was immediate. “In case you hesitated. ”

  Carmine’s brow furrowed. “Would you really have shot me for that?” he asked, pausing for two beats before shaking his head, not giving him a chance to respond. “Actually, you know what? Don’t answer that. I don’t even wanna fucking know. ”

  He opened the door and stepped out of the office, the sound of Corrado’s laughter following him.

  * * *

  Corrado sat in his office after Carmine left, staring at the gun. It wasn’t even loaded.

  After a moment, he picked it up and opened his desk drawer. He dropped the gun in, staring down at it as it clanked against the unlabeled VHS tape. He had nearly forgotten it was in there, but the words he had heard as he watched it were ones he would never forget. He could still hear Frankie’s voice and see his flickering face as he confessed.

  “In the spring of ‘73, Carlo offered Ivan Volkov thirty thousand dollars to take out Salvatore’s brother-in-law. He wasn’t the first one hired. Seamus O’Bannon was approached first, but he wanted nothing to do with killing a man’s family.

  Carlo and I . . . we tailed Ivan. We didn’t think he’d really do the job, and we were right. When he showed up at the house, he realized Federica and the baby were home. He left, I guess to come up with a new plan, but Carlo said we’d gone too far to walk away.

  He shot them. Killed them both. Then he went into the baby’s room. She was sleeping. He pointed his gun to her head, but I couldn’t let him do it. I took her instead. I mean, I get it. Leave no witnesses. But what kinda witness does a baby make?

  I took her to Sal, and all he had to say was, “I don’t care what happens to her as long as I don’t have to look at her face. ” But I had to look at her face, and I have to look at her daughter’s face, and I can’t do it anymore. Every time I see them, I feel the guilt all over again. I want to be rid of them, I want to never have to see them again, but something stops me every time.

  If they disappear, no one will ever know who they are. No one will ever know what we did . . . what he did. But they’re proof. And someday, somehow, I know it’ll come back to haunt him, but I think he knows it, too.

  I think he’s going to have me killed next. ”

  Corrado stepped out of his office a few minutes later, pausing when he reached the main floor of the club. The place was still quite packed, the guests dancing the night away and drinking heartily at the bar. Half of them didn’t even notice the bride and groom had left, too wrapped up in their own lives to even take a look around them.

  It was something Corrado was used to in people. Selfishness. They thought only of themselves and their own desires, their ego too big for them to be able to reach past it. Corrado wasn’t innocent of it himself. For many years, he only saw black and white. It was his way or no way, and his way was always right.

  But somewhere along the line, that changed. Maybe it was his own death that did it, or maybe it happened when he delivered death, but one day he opened his eyes and finally noticed the gray between the layers. It was subtle, but it was there, and once he saw it, he couldn’t look away.

  The others, though, would never see it. They would never understand. They were all built one way, put together piece by piece like droids—no conscience, no remorse, no guilt. They lost track of the things that mattered over time, and without realizing it, Corrado had, too.

  He strolled through the club, grabbing a long-stemmed red rose from one of the dark glass vases on the tables. Twirling it in his hand, he strolled up to his wife and held it out to her. “For you, bellissima. ”

  Her eyes widened as she took the flower from him. “Wow, what did I do to deserve this?”

  “Nothing,” he replied, smirking as he added, “and everything. ”

  A smile lit up her face
as he took her arm, leading her past the others into the center of the dance floor. He motioned to the DJ and the vibrating bass of a pop song abruptly cut off, Sinatra’s version of “Luna Rossa” starting up seconds later.

  His hands firmly grasped her hips as he pulled her close. Celia wrapped her arms around his neck, clutching the rose along his back. They swayed to the music, staring into each other’s eyes.

  “So Carmine and Haven ran out of here awfully fast,” she mused.

  “Did they?”

  “Yes. Carmine looked like he was injured. I asked what happened, but he told me not to worry about it. He looked happy, though. Ecstatic, even. ”

  “Huh. ”

  “Do you know anything about that?”

  “Maybe. ”

  She continued to stare at him, questions clouding her confused eyes. She wouldn’t ask, and he knew it. He appreciated her restraint. But this time, he felt she deserved an answer. This time, he felt she needed to know.

  Leaning down, he softly kissed her mouth, a bit of her red lipstick smudging on his dry lips. She laughed, wiping it away with her free hand as he whispered, “I didn’t do anything except help him. ”


  Later that night, a call for a three-alarm fire went out through the emergency wire. Firefighters raced to the scene and filled the parking lot, trying to combat the vicious blaze in the darkness but to no avail. Fire ravished Luna Rossa, completely gutting the building and obliterating the landmark social club.

  The massive pillar of smoke could still be seen across town come daybreak, but Corrado was none the wiser. He remained snuggled up in his bed at home, his strong arms wrapped around his wife as the two of them slept late for the first time in years.

  It wasn’t until the police knocked on the front door of the Moretti residence that Corrado learned the news: his life’s work had gone up in flames, stolen from him by arsonists. They promised a full investigation, but Corrado didn’t need one. He knew right away who had done the job.

  Finally, after all that time, the Irish had exacted their revenge.

  Had anyone else been in charge, a full-scale war would have broken out in Chicago then, demolishing the Windy City as the factions hunted one another, determined to take each other out, but Corrado was smarter than that.

  After a few botched jobs and a failed assassination attempt on Corrado’s life, the feud ended swiftly with a massacre at an underground gambling game run by O’Bannon. Men swarmed the place in the middle of the afternoon, disarming and slaughtering the gamblers one by one. The Irish never knew what hit them.

  For good measure, and maybe a laugh or two, Corrado’s men set the building on fire before they walked away.

  The media called it the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre Part II even though it happened in the late fall. The headline on the front page of the newspaper the next day read REPUTED MAFIA BOSS TAKEN IN FOR QUESTIONING, but was followed up shortly by THE KEVLAR KILLER WALKS FREE AGAIN. Everyone knew he had ordered it, but Corrado had a solid alibi, one nobody could dispute: He and his wife had been meeting with contractors, finalizing plans to build Luna Rossa once again.

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