Ruin (Page 30)

Ruin (Songs of Corruption #2)(30)
Author: C.D. Reiss

“Si, Capo.”

Zia Giovanna pushed him out of the way and pulled the stack of papers from me, muttering something in Italian. When Antonio spoke softly and patted her on the back, I knew he’d accepted an apology.

“Listen to me.” He pinched my chin. “That you would do this with your own hands, it says a lot. But those books are clean.”

“No, they’re not.” I held up my finger. “You might know your business, but I know mine. You have income streams at the beginning of every quarter that make no sense at all. Your expenses would break the bank of a corporation. All we have to do is get rid of—”

“Basta.” He put his hands up.

“No, I’m not going to basta. You’re going to basta. Either this accountant you had sucks at this, or he was setting you up. I’m going to hope for the former, and you can worry about the latter, but—”

He silenced me with a kiss, a mouth-filling, brain-wiping kiss. By the time he pulled away, I’d lost my train of thought.

“I’m crazy,” I whispered to him.

“Sit with me,” he said.

“Don’t try and shut me up. I want to say what needs saying.”

“Come vuoi tu.”

A corner table had been set with red wine and bread. Antonio pulled the chair out for me and sat across. “I got us osso buco. Zia Giovanna wanted to give you the same sandwich you left on the desk.”

“She’s tough.”

“In her old age, she’s softened. When I was small, she held my nose to open my mouth more than one time. And she was a devil with a wooden spoon. I have scars.”

“I haven’t noticed any.”

“You have to look harder next time.” He poured wine. “We can talk here. About the books. I’m not an accountant; I can’t see what you saw.”

“It was bad.”

“I want you to tell me, but this is the last I’ll hear of it. I don’t want you involved.”

“You sent me here,” I said.

“Not for this.”

I took a deep breath. He was stubborn and for good reason. He was right; I had no business in his world. He needed me to stay out, not only to protect my own purity but because my ignorance of the rules meant I could blunder with my words or deeds. And the stakes were very high: prison, or death.

I extended my hand over the table, and he took it, sliding his over mine.

“I don’t want to be in your business," I said. "I think it’s stupid and dangerous, to be honest. Maybe because I’ve never worried about money. I’ve never wanted for anything, so I’ve never had to consider stealing it or killing for it. But the things I’ve wanted, really wanted, haven’t come to me, either. I’m thirty-four years old, and I’ve never been married. I don’t know how many kids I can squeeze in before it’s too late. And everything has a habit of falling down around me. But I don’t want this to fall apart. You and I. It’s the most impossible thing I’ve ever been a part of, and if we’re not both on board, if we’re not both making every effort to be together, it’s going to get taken away from us. I promise you, Daniel isn’t done. He can take you away from me, and the only thing that’s going to keep him off you until the election is knowing that I’m willing to lower the hammer on him. And I will, Antonio. I will. I can end his career. As God is my witness, if he comes after you, I can destroy him, and I will.”

“If he fell off the earth tomorrow, ten more would take his place,” Antonio said.

“He says the same about you, I’m sure.”

The waitress brought two plates of saucy, sloppy stew, and though I didn’t want to pause the conversation, I was starving.

Antonio put his napkin on his lap and waited for the waitress to leave before speaking. “This isn’t the tradition. Even if you grew up next door, you’d be limited. You have to accept that.”

“You said you wanted to be with me the right way. To get out of this whole thing.”

“That’s between us.”

“Exactly. And if we’re trying to do the same thing, then I need to help you. If that means keeping you out of jail, so be it. I’d be serving a greater good by getting involved.”

He didn’t answer but pushed his food around. I couldn’t believe what I was arguing for, and there was a good chance he couldn’t, either. I was asking him to let me into a criminal life. I was begging to get in so I could get him out. I’d lost my mind, but it was what I wanted.

“Don’t think this is easy for me,” I said. “I’m of two minds about it. I can’t believe I’m asking to commit crimes so you can stop.”

He smiled at his plate, pensive. “You keep two opposite ideas in your mind at the same time. It’s the only way to survive.”

“Let me survive with you.”

He put his fork up against the edge of my plate and pushed the plate toward me a eighth of an inch. “Eat.”

I put a piece of meat in my mouth. “It’s good.”

He ripped a piece of bread from the roll and dunked it in the sauce. “Have you ever been to an Italian wedding?” He blew on the hot sauce.

“Are they like in the movies?” I asked.

He leaned over. Holding the dunked bread with one hand and cupping his other hand under it to catch any errant sauce, he held the bread up to my mouth. “Did you know, when Italians came here and opened restaurants, they started serving butter to go with the bread. Butter is a luxury where I’m from, see? So, they were giving what they saw as a luxury.”

I bit down on the bread, and he pulled it away while I chewed.

“The expensive places here,” he continued, “they give you good olive oil. Which is wasteful. Where I’m from, the bread is for the sauce.”

“This has what to do with an Italian wedding?”

“There’s the way back home, and there’s the immigrant way, which has fake luxury. Tons of it. It’s embarrassing.”

“Yes, Antonio.”

“Yes, what?” he said.

“The Bortolusi wedding.” I took another forkful of meat and sent it home with a mouthful of rich burgundy. “I’ll go with you.”

“I can’t take you.”

My fork clinked loudly when I put it down. “Are you serious? You think Paulie’s going to try something at a wedding? I thought you guys worked it out.”