It all happened extremely fast.
In the blink of an eye.
Nova was on the ground.
Carmen was standing at the open elevator, with her gun leveled at the first guy.
He had his weapon pointing back at her.
The two of them were in a stalemate while the second assailant attacked Nova. He pressed the top of what looked like a mop handle against Nova’s throat, hard enough to choke him, while he stepped on Nova’s hand that held the gun.
He might have even killed Nova, if Brianna hadn’t recognized him and screamed, “Tino! No!”
Tino turned, and Nova used his free hand to yank the stick out of Tino’s grasp and throw it across the room.
“Dio!” Tino dropped down on his knees when Nova rolled over and started coughing. “Are you okay?”
Nova was still coughing. His hands were shaking, and he covered his face with palms. “Minchia.”
“What the hell! Why are you attacking us?” Tino sounded like he was shaking too. “You knew we were coming.”
Nova dropped a hand to look at him through one eye. “I did?”
“You texted, ‘Auito. Under attack. Trapped in laundry chute.’” Tino looked over to the laundry chute for confirmation and sucked in a hard breath “Bri!”
“I’m not shot,” Brianna said soothingly when Tino came running over to them. “It was just a nail. Carina dropped the phone before she could tell you.”
“Cazzo, baby.” Tino cupped Brianna’s face, and pushed her hair off her forehead as he glanced at her arm. Then he turned back to Nova, sounding frantic. “We have to get her to a hospital. She needs stiches.”
“Really? You think so, Doctor?” Nova barked back at him. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.”
“Okay, you’re being a motherfucker.” Tino glanced around the basement, from the dead body, to the guy sitting very quietly by the stairs with his shirt stuffed in his mouth and said slowly, “Casanova, what are you doing right now?”
“Dying badly,” Nova answered as he stayed on the floor like he was considering going back to sleep. “I’m done.”
“You just fucking bash a guy’s head in with Brianna sitting here? Have you lost your mind?” Tino’s voice was quivering as he gestured to the man by the stairs. “And what the fuck is that?”
“No, Valentino, what the fuck is that?” Nova pointed at the other man in the room. “You brought Tony De Luca into the middle of our war? For a guy desperate to live, you’re trying really fucking hard to bury us!”
Carmen and the other guy were still holding their weapons on each other. Only, Brianna saw he was actually holding a nail gun instead of a real gun. The weird thing was, neither of them relaxed, even though it was clear they were all on the same side.
“We know her,” Tino told the man he came with. “That’s--”
“I know who it is,” he answered before Tino could explain, and still didn’t lower his nail gun. “Are you going to shoot me, Carmen? Fantasizing about me dying with your secret?”
“They came to me.” Carmen’s voice was quivering. “And I tried to get them to leave. You can ask, Tino.”
“But you didn’t tell them why?” he asked curiously. “Didn’t decide to clue them in.”
“What is going on?” Nova asked in a low and deadly voice.
“I was going to tell you.” Carmen looked away from the stranger to stare at Nova, whose eyes were narrowed in suspicion. “I was.”
“Before or after you fucked him?” the man asked curiously.
“This is just very inconvenient of you,” Carmen growled at him, still not lowering her weapon. “And I’ve had a really bad week.” Tears rolled down her cheeks unexpectedly. “I wouldn’t hurt them, Tony. You think I’d dishonor my sister like that? I’m keeping my promise to her. Being here is keeping my promise. I’m taking care of him.”
Tony snorted. “I bet you are.”
“Can we deal with this later?” Tino gestured to Brianna’s arm. “’Cause, my girl’s bleeding everywhere.” He pointed to the dead guy on the ground. “And this is kinda happening right now!”
Tino turned back to Brianna to study her arm, dismissing them like whatever drama Carmen was caught up in didn’t matter.
“Look, it is a nail. It’s still in there.” Carina leaned over to look at her arm again. “See it.”
Tino studied it too, gently pulling some of the skin back, making Brianna hiss in pain.
Tino winced with her. “Fuck. I’m sorry.”
“God, it’s gross,” Brianna agreed as she finally looked too, seeing the gash that was about six inches long, running the inside of her arm. “It’s so gross.”
“I don’t think it’ll scar too bad. It’s in a good place,” Carina decided. “No one will be able to tell.”
“Are you okay, boss?” Tony De Luca asked from the other side of the basement as he stared down at Nova still sitting on the floor. “You’re looking pale.”
“Hungover,” Nova whispered, as he got reluctantly to his feet. “I’m having bad week too.”
Carmen went to help him, but Nova jerked his arm back with a glare at her.
“I didn’t have a lot of time to explain before things got complicated,” Carmen snapped at him. “And you’re not allowed to be pissed off at me about it. You fell into my life, Moretti. I was minding my own business.”
“Jesus, sit down. You don’t look good,” Tony said in concern and grabbed Nova’s shoulder to lean over and study his face. Something in his look must have confirmed it. “Do you know how many other guys there are in the house?”
“Carina says there’s five or six.” Nova took a deep breath, like he was barely staying on his feet. “But her information hasn’t been super reliable. We should probably ask our pal over there.”
“Fuck you, Nova,” Carina snapped at him. “There was only supposed to be one. How was I supposed to know Tino offed the guy in the garage and brought a friend along for the ride?”
“Maybe because you texted him and didn’t think to tell me,” Nova suggested. “We could’ve killed each other.”
Carina sighed and looked back at Brianna’s arm while Tony De Luca and Nova discussed the issue in the house.
“We didn’t off anyone in the garages,” Tino said in an even voice. “I never said that.”
“Whatever,” Carina huffed dismissively, and poked lightly at Brianna’s arm. “You see that?”
Carina touched the nail with her finger, and the movement made stars burst behind Brianna’s eyelids.
She jerked her arm back. “Ow!”
“Don’t!” Nova shouted at the same time.
The first thing Brianna felt was relief, for a fraction of a second, the stabbing in her arm was gone, but then Carina screamed.
Brianna opened her eyes to see the blood splattered on Carina’s face and chest, like she was caught in some weird, paint gun battle.
Tino grabbed Brianna’s arm like it was an instinct, both hands clasped painfully over the cut as he shouted with raw fear, “NOVA!”
Brianna stared at Tino’s hands, seeing the blood coat them, gushing in time with the pulse of her heartbeat, making everything seem very far away.
“Don’t let go, stronzo!” Nova was suddenly in Brianna’s face, shouting at Tino when he tried to back up, “Hold it tighter.” He was pulling at his shirt, fighting with the buttons on his wrists. “Tighter! As much pressure as you can.”
“I’ll hurt her,” Tino argued.
“She’s got minutes. Hurt her!” Nova growled as he got one wrist free. “Get her to lie down, arm above her head, but don’t let go.”
Brianna heard the genuine panic in Nova’s voice, and laid down on her own accord, letting Tino keep his grasp on her arm. “Am I dying?” she whispered to him in understanding.
“No.” Tino shook his head quickly. “You’re not.”
“We have to call 911,” Carina said frantically. “We were attacked. None of this is our fault.”
“We have a car,” Tony offered. “We parked it around the corner from the garages.”
“We don’t have time to drive her.” Nova wrapped the long sleeve of his shirt around her arm and pulled it so tightly Brianna gasped violently. Nova ignored her and barked at the others, “Find me everything you didn’t give to Dr. Acciai. There’s a lot of emergency supplies still down here, get all of them and put them in front of me.”
All the while, Nova fought to tighten the shirt, so much so Brianna was sure he was cutting the skin. Tino was still clutching at her arm, and between the two of them the pain made her want to get away.
She started trying to fight against his hold, and Tino kept whispering in her ear, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Oh my God, I’m sorry,” even while he held her down.
“You have to try and keep still, Brianna,” Nova coached. “I know it sucks, but you’re tough. You’re going to have to suck it up for us. If you scream, they’re all coming down here at once and then we’re fucked. We can’t fight them and save you too. Capisce?”
“But, you’re fixing her. Tell me you’re fixing her. I need to hear you promise,” Tino growled at his brother. “Dimello, Casanova!”
“You’re distracting me and you’re upsetting her, handle your shit, Valentino,” Nova snapped rather than promise. “That right there, bella. In that bag, those foiled packages. Open one of those. That’s what we needed. Grab that bottle of antiseptic, and those wrapped packages of gauze. Carina, call 911, tell them she slipped out by the shed and caught her arm on one of the boards. Do it from the garages so the operator can’t hear what’s happening down here. We’ll meet you up there. Make sure they know to come to the back entrance. Don’t let them pull up to the front of the house.”
Brianna’s heartbeat was thundering, her breathing shallow with so much of Tino’s weight on her. She blinked, seeing the pile of medical supplies scattered over the ground, while Carmen started ripping open packages.
Nova’s voice was still barking in the background, only in Italian now. It was strange, because it all seemed unreal. Like a cartoon, or a game, not life and death. She kept thinking she should say something, tell them something, but she couldn’t think of what.
Mainly, she worked on keeping quiet.
Rather than feel the gush of blood past Tino’s fingers, she made her mind focus on something less horrible, but still real and tangible. Like Tino shaking over her, his voice choked as he whispered in a low, deadly warning, “I won’t make it out if you don’t save her.”
“I’m trying, but this is going to be fucking horrific. We dumped all the goddamn morphine.” Nova pulled the shirt tighter once more, and before Tino could agree, said, “Carmen, pour it over my hands and her arm. Tino, you’re going have to suck it up and keep her quiet. She’s not that strong. No one is. Tony—”
“Do your thing.” A voice came from the stairs. “I got you.”
Brianna tensed, but in the next second, the pain was everywhere, razor sharp and all encompassing. She had been working so hard on staying quiet and calm like Nova asked.
Brianna still screamed; she just couldn’t help herself. It was something raw, and primal and completely out of her control.
Then she was choking on the agony, barely able to breathe past the hand over her mouth. The smell of Tino, sweat and blood flooded her senses. She tried to fight back, she really did, but they were just too strong.
More than the pain, Brianna mainly remembered the powerlessness of that night.
Feeling violated because she couldn’t stop them from hurting her.
Brianna knew why they did it. She was grateful even, considering she’d be dead if they hadn’t, but the resentment still lingered, impossible to erase completely, a stain on her brain there was no cure for.
The other memories were more distant, like a bad dream that drifted farther away the harder she tried to remember it.
Tony’s voice from the stairs.
The gunshots afterwards.
Tino’s low growl of, “Porca puttana! Save her,” and the airy feeling of being able to breathe again when he was gone.
The hazy, shadowy image of Tino covered in her blood and running up the stairs felt very real. She could see the glint of a gun in his hand anytime she closed her eyes and tried.
It was the last thing she could recall and be certain it actually happened.
The rest was a haze, some parts filled in by Carina, most of it left unmentioned forever, even if the rumors haunted her when it turned out Nova wasn’t always right.
They could fight the Brambinos and save Brianna too.
But the fallout was tragic.