Ruin (Page 33)

Ruin (Songs of Corruption #2)(33)
Author: C.D. Reiss

I swallowed. I’d known the gun wasn’t loaded, but who would believe it? My face tingled, and I tightened my grip on the arms of the chair. I wasn’t going to react. I knew how to do that. I knew how to present whatever emotion I needed to, and in this case, I needed to project confidence. I knew Daniel. If I showed him a crack, he’d wedge himself into it. “You have the testimony of a known loan shark against mine?”

“By the time this is done? I’ll have Patalano and Niccolò Ucci telling the same story.”

“I dare you.” I leveled my gaze at him, consciously relaxing my jaw muscles as if whatever strength I had took no effort whatsoever.

“What happened to you?” he asked. “Inside. Where is Tink? Where’s the woman who wanted to do the right thing, the good thing?”

This was how an heiress became a criminal. First, she didn’t want for money. She wanted only to be normal and good. She flew under the radar her whole life, making sure there was always someone next to her who shone brighter, talked faster, and laughed louder. Then the sun she circled shifted, and she became disoriented and dizzy from being thrown out of orbit. She bumped into a dark planet and broke, from the force of the impact, into millions of white-hot pieces, blasting apart into a firestorm of euphoria, a soundless roar of exultation in the vacuum of space.

Daniel, as if reading my thoughts, continued. “I don’t even know you.”

“You never did. But in all fairness, I didn’t either.”

“This exciting for you? Running with this crowd?”

“Was it exciting for you calling your mistress a dirty little slut? I’m going to assume it’s a yes, for the sake of my point. It all comes from the same place. We can only pretend we’re clean inside for so long before we crack, and the darkness starts spilling out. You fucked her because you had to, to stay sane. I’m with Antonio because it’s the only sane choice. I’d go crazy if I had to go back to who I was.”

He leaned back, fixed his tie, and crossed his legs again. “I don’t want to send you to jail. I know you think I don’t care, but it would break my heart to hurt you. I have to try one last time.”

“Try what?”

“To save you.”

The screensavers on the computers went out, bathing us in a false daytime darkness. Feathers of light fell beneath the room-blackening shades.

“In a few weeks, there’s a wedding,” he said. “It’s at the Downtown Gate Club. Is he taking you?”

“No.”

“Don’t lie, Tink.”

“He’s not.”

“Make sure he does. I want you to be there on time. Wear your best gun-moll dress. During the cocktail hour, I want you to pass something to the bathroom attendant.” He put a small manila envelope on the desk.

“You’re a damn member, Daniel. Can’t you give it to her yourself?” I said.

“They’re going to sweep it before the place settings are laid out. IDs checked. Everyone’s frisked for wires. And there’s a mole on my team. I can’t let it leak.”

“What makes you think I won’t tell Antonio?”

“I expect you to, and I expect him to stay quiet to protect you. Everyone’s walking out in one piece. You’re going to put an object in the tip tray, and you and your lover will ride into the sunset, for whatever that’s worth. If you don’t pass it, I’m having both of you prosecuted. And there will be no witness protection for you. You don’t know enough to be worth it to the Fed.”

I rocked in the chair, my eyes getting accustomed to the lack of light. I was in a terrible position, and I knew that. I had internalized my situation quite nicely in less than thirty seconds, because I knew Daniel. I knew when he was serious and when he was bluffing. It had been my job to know for too long, and it was a job I had a hard time quitting.

“I think I always knew you were like this,” I said. “When we were together, I had a feeling that once I stopped being useful to you, I’d lose you. I think that’s why I always tried to be a part of what was most important to you. I told myself I did it because I enjoyed it, and to a large extent, that was true.”

“You never lost me. This is business.”

“I never had you. I made myself a part of your career because I knew that if I didn’t, you’d find a woman who would. So I’m going to tell you something about Antonio. I’m not useful to him. He wants me as far away from his business as possible. Maybe I enrich his life. Maybe I drag him down. I don’t know, because I don’t know what love is anymore. I only know that no man has ever loved me like he does. If love is part of our better natures, he’s a saint. And if it’s part of our basest instincts, he’s an animal.”

He sat still in his chair, hands on the arms, as the hard drives behind me wound down with a whirr. Then he smirked.

“You his Madonna ? Or his whore?”

I smirked back. The question didn’t offend me, which was why I could answer honestly.

“Yes.”

twenty-seven.

antonio

Barnsdall Park was a perfect private place. It was an outdoor setting yet private in its expansiveness, with crannies of bushes and low walls and a sheer drop onto Hollywood Boulevard. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to casually listen to my call. I sat on the ledge overlooking the city as the sunrise bled red over the hills.

“Antonio,” said my father, “Come stai?” In the background was the sound of Neapolitan traffic. He must have been in the city.

“Good, Pop. How are you?” I spoke in Italian, but my mind had always been elastic with language, and I knew I’d stumble on my native tongue.

“You have an American accent,” he said. To him, I sounded American. To Americans, I sounded pure dago. I was a citizen of that in-between place where no one would accept me as one of their own anymore.

“It’s been a long time,” I said.

“You sounded American in the first five minutes.” He went behind a door, or closed the window, because the white noise stopped as if cut off at the knees.

“It’s an efficient language. Easy to learn. You should try it.”

“Sounds too German. All this chop chop chop.”

“Well, it’s good for fast decisions,” I said.

“And bad for small talk, son. You didn’t call to chat about phonetics. Not at this hour of the morning. What time is it over there?”