Ruin (Page 31)

Ruin (Songs of Corruption #2)(31)
Author: C.D. Reiss

“Doesn’t matter. I’m just letting you know where I’ll be that day.”

I wanted to throw my fork at him.

Having given me the information and laid down the law, he settled into a few bites of osso buco. Then he looked at me over the rim of his wine glass and caught my expression. “What?”

“How is this ’getting out by going through’?”

He raised an eyebrow as if I’d just asked him to bend me over the buffet. “Forget it,” he said.

“You decide to bring me closer, then you keep me in a box all over again.”

“I’m figuring out how to do this, same as you.”

“You have to take some risks.”

“Not with your safety,” he said.

“If you bring me, it will show that whatever I said to Daniel that day didn’t hurt you.”

“Or that I’m a fool.”

“It’s business. Your family is undoubtedly in the middle of a negotiation with the Sicilians, but am I right in thinking nothing’s locked down yet? As far as the details go, I mean.”

“You’re right.”

“If you bring me, it empowers you. It’s going to disarm them. They’re going to wonder what the hell you’re thinking.” I took a bite of meat and chewed slowly. “Also, it’ll scare the hell out of Paulie. There’s no use in having a bazooka unless the enemy knows you have it, at least, if you want to keep peace.”

He sipped his wine, avoiding my gaze. It wasn’t like him. I could have asked what was bothering him, but I had the feeling I knew the answer.

I was right again.

twenty-four.

theresa

We passed the night in the cocoon of the bed. When I was with him, my isolation was acceptable, simply a way to be close, to hear his stories uninterrupted. He talked about the color of Naples, the veiled identities of the camorra, the family he called his own and the one he inherited when his father came back into his life.

“Your father really loves you,” I said, propped up on my elbows. He leaned on the headboard, stroking my shoulder with a fingertip. “He gave mixed messages, I admit. But he only wanted what was best for you.”

“He was trying to keep me safe as consigliere,” he whispered, brushing his thumb over my cheek. “Consiglieri are lawyers who advise bosses, so they aren’t meant for vendettas. But I had to send a message to the men who killed my wife.”

“Did you send the message?”

His lower lip covered his upper for a second. He slid down into the sheets and wove his legs into mine. “You’re going to ruin me, Contessa.”

“Rovinato,” I replied.

He laughed. His eyes lit up, and his cares fell off him. I wondered if I’d ever get to see him smile once a day, or even once a week. As beautiful as he was on any given day, he was a treat for the eyes and heart when he laughed.

twenty-five.

antonio

“There’s talk,” Zia Giovanna said, twisting a fistful of dough into a long beige tube. She insisted on making her own bread at five a.m., even when it would have been more economical to leave the bread making to bakers. “My sister tells me they’re whispering over there.”

Zia Giovanna’s sister was my mother. Both held advanced degrees in gossip and hearsay, so in their garden of chatter, a seed of truth often sprouted leaves and flowers of beautiful lies.

“How can they hear each other over the traffic?” I didn’t want to hear her little rumors. I had a ledger spread on the stainless counter. The office had become claustrophobic in seconds. I had rows and columns of numbers to organize since Numbers Niccolò had taken off and left me with them. I wasn’t a numbers guy. I could do the basics, but past that, I’d always had people to organize the larger concepts into smaller processes. Niccolò seemed to have done his job of hiding and cleaning money through the restaurant by means of misdirection and sleight of coin. Theresa had been dead right, though. Once she showed me where the trail led, it was very obvious he’d done a terrible job.

“When you came here, I told you to stay away from Donna Maria. Sicilians. You can’t trust them. They’re animals. You didn’t listen. You never listen.”

I could do numbers and listen to her scold me at the same time. One took up the attention of my brain, the other, my heart.

“But you run.” She pounded her dough, pulling and twisting. “And you sit by her as consigliere, and that puts you in her sight. She knew Paulie was going to fuck up. He’s American. He can’t do anything the right way, the patient way. Even though he wanted Theresa out, he couldn’t do it right. A smart man would have waited to marry into the family then taken you out but—”

“Aspetta. What are you talking about?”

She looked like she was going to cry. She slapped a ball of dough down. “Paulie’s wedding is off. He’s weak. They’re all talking about you beating him, and they’re looking at you to unify the families.”

“What?” I said.

“Your father stepped in. He thinks he has you. He says it will be done. His Neapolitan interests and the American Sicilian. You and Irene.”

I held my hand up. “Slow down.”

“Make this go away.” She pounded her dough, flattening the tube in one place. “Tell them you want the red-haired one. She’s all right. She won’t hurt you. She won’t force you.”

I couldn’t make it go away. I had no way to undo what was done, and if all Napoli was already whispering, it was unlikely my father could undo it without brutal consequences, not just to me, with my disposable life, but to Theresa, who was under my care.

I needed to get out more than ever, and as difficult as that would have been anyway, it had just become nearly impossible.

Was I committed to this? Or was I going to make half efforts? Leaving the life, breaking so many ties, and slipping away was always a nice fantasy when I couldn’t find my way through a problem or when the light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be an oncoming train.

After I’d lost Valentina, I’d made choices. I’d gone in with my eyes open, and having made those choices, I never questioned that I earned all my own troubles.

twenty-six.

theresa

Katrina’s text woke me from a dead sleep. I swung my arm for Antonio, but he was gone. He’d left me alone in his little Spanish house. He must have trusted me with the silver.

—Can you come to the editing bay?—