Chapter Twenty-Seven

Tino didn’t flush the blow right away. 

He ended up sitting on the soft, white bath mat in front of the shower and burying his face against his knees. His head was still throbbing, and his heartrate going a million fucking beats a minute wasn’t helping. 

It was difficult for him to be around Maria and Tony. They were among the few people he truly trusted in this world, but that didn’t change the fact that some of his darkest memories had them in it. 

Tino knew if it wasn’t for Carlo being so deeply involved with Lola, he would’ve stepped away from her too, but he hadn’t and look at where she was now¼in the morgue.  

It wasn’t really about the bad memories any more. 

It was deeper than that. 

Tony and Maria had already sacrificed too much for him and being here now felt like the deadliest of sins. The blow was throwing him in the past, replaying in his mind over and over again the hundreds of debts Tino owed both of them. Tino was high enough to physically feel the poison in him bleeding out all over their beautiful apartment, like it was a real thing. It wasn’t just Nova who was toxic, with his memory and knack for power. 

It was all of them. 

Tino looked at the door when a knock sounded, hard and impatient. 

“I don’t hear a shower running or a toilet flushing.” Tony called out. “Tino.” He knocked again, this time harder. “You are not allowed to off yourself in our bathroom.”

“I’m not gonna off myself,” Tino mumbled when he heard the panic in Tony’s voice, though he was starting to be kind of pissed off he hadn’t gone with Nova’s Plan A in Tampa. “I don’t think.”

“Open the fucking door,” Tony growled from the other side. “Right now. I’m not playing.”

Tino crawled over and unlocked the door and pushed it open. 

Tony stood over him, dark and ominous. “I forgot you probably have weapons on you. The Lola thing threw me off.”

“Yeah, threw me off too.” Tino crawled back over to his spot on the mat and sat down with his back against the tub. “I keep thinking about the first time we met, in a fucking bathroom, me sitting on the floor just like this cracking under the pressure.”

Tony snorted. “With your list of no-nosan hour before we went on stage.”

“My list,” Tino agreed distantly, feeling Tony’s pain and humiliation like a stain on his own soul. “What a spoiled puttana I was. I should’ve cared more that you had to take up my slack. I’m sorry.”

“Ah, it’s okay, I knocked out the things on that list long before you showed up.” Tony actually got down on the floor with him and sat with his back against the wall. “Tino, you’re a good team player. It wasn’t your fault. It probably didn’t have anything to do with you.”

“They slit her throat.” Tino choked on the words. “Left her on the doorstep. I took the duct tape off, but--” 

“You think it’s the Brambinos?” Tony cut him off, his voice tight. 

“I think so.” Tino nodded. “She was an open target. They’re allowed to kill their own, and they got to fuck us in the process. Jesus, Tony, you have no idea. I don’t know if Nova can get us outta this one. Carmine’s dead. Your shit’s settled. I can’t bring you guys into it. Just give me five minutes to regroup and I’ll get out. Make her shelf the hat.”

“Yeah, sure, that’ll work out.” Tony snorted. “She’s been bored. Probably good for her to get out and play a little before losing Lola starts to become real. That’ll be the end of her cleanse.”

Tino was quiet for a moment, before he confessed his real fear, “I have a girl.”  He was still being selfish and greedy. A Moretti all the way, but he couldn’t stop himself from wanting to hide all this from Brianna.  “The same girl. My girl.”

“I know.” Tony gave him a look. “We heard things.”

Tino wasn’t surprised. He hadn’t exactly been great at hiding his relationship with Brianna. Even if enforcers weren’t allowed to have girlfriends, the Morettis were sorta known for fucking off with the rules—especially when it came to women.  

“It’s just, we don’t…share,” Tino explained hesitantly. “She was a virgin the first time. She gave that to me, you know? So…”

“Sounds like a lot of fun,” Tony said in that same dry, even toned voice that made him so hard to read. “I’m not gonna talk to your little girlfriend.”

“You’re not the one I was worried about.” Tino winced. “You have to get me out of here without Maria. I can’t handle explaining her to my girl or my family. My brother Romeo could show up. He doesn’t know anything, and I can’t fucking handle being outed right now. I love you guys. You know I’d take it for either of you, but--”

Tino stopped talking when he heard Maria’s shoes against the wood floors. They both looked up when Maria appeared at the entrance to the bathroom, this time wearing a sleeveless, white romper with a wide belt. Her long, honey brown hair was still loose, but now she was sporting a fedora hat, with a single feather decorating the side. 

She leaned against the doorway, showing off long, tanned legs and wedged shoes. “How do I look?”

“Sexy,” Tino assured her, and it wasn’t a lie. “That part hasn’t changed.”

“Oh, baby boy.” Maria came and sat with them on the floor, facing Tino with her open legs resting on either side of Tino’s. She reached forward and brushed the sweaty hair out of his face. “We really should do a spa day before we leave. Clean you up a bit. The feds can wait.”

“I’m not feeling very 80’s De Niro today…even for you.”

“Honestly, right now, I’d say you’re closer to 70’s De Niro. Less Godfather, more Taxi Driver. Dirty and crazy, but still kind of sweet.”

Ouch.

“Merda.” Tino closed his eyes, and ran a hand through his hair, finding it sticky with sweat. “I usually take care of my shit. Bad week.”

“I know.” Maria ran a hand up his leg, caressing his thigh through his jeans. “A shower would probably help.”

“There’s nothing wrong with Taxi Driver De Niro. Some of us like it dirty. Maybe you’re just not his style this week.” Tony looked at Tino with a smile rather than meet Maria’s gaze. “We did knock out number eight on the list while we were outside. Too bad you missed it.”

Maria slowly turned her attention from Tino to Tony as she gave him a harsh look. “Bullshit.”

“Oh, it’s not bullshit.” Tony’s smile grew wide and devious. “And we made it extra hot for the feds.”

“I’m just going to point out that you two playing bingo with that list is still totally fucked up,” Tino growled at them. “It’s been fucked up since you started it.”

Maria didn’t seem to care as she pouted, appearing genuinely hurt. “Did you really kiss for the feds? Without me?”

“We didn’t have a lot of planning time when it went down.” Tino almost felt bad about it. “Next time we’ll call you first.”

“Boo. I had a thing for number eight. Now it’s gone forever. This day is officially dreadful.”

“Sorry, mama,” Tony said with a smile, and leaned over to push her shoulder playfully. “If you were feeling ambitious, you could always try to get a look at the feds wall. Go behind the lines for a little while. Find out what they know.”

Maria glanced up at that. “I don’t know any dirty feds. Mike retired.”

“See, she doesn’t know any.” Tino hit Tony’s leg, catching on. “Come with us to the Moretti compound. Play it safe. You’re not missing much. It was one kiss.”

“With tongue,” Tony added. 

“Well, yeah, with tongue.” Tino tilted his head at that and gave Tony a false look of annoyance. “You were kinda aggressive about it. I almost feel like you took advantage of the situation.”

“Tasted like dark roast,” Tony mused thoughtfully. “And chocolate.” Tony gave Tino his full attention and said with conviction, “You know, that’s exactlywhat I thought you’d taste like.”

“I know you’re both playing me.” Maria pointed a finger at Tony. “You’re not slick, De Luca.”

Tony licked his lips, a smile still tugging at his lips, but he didn’t respond. 

“He does taste like dark roast and chocolate,” Maria whispered, sounding thoughtful. “I guess that hasn’t changed.”

“Nope,” Tino assured her. “Still hot and sweet. You’re favorite.”

“Well, I’d have to change again.” Maria looked down at her outfit. “It’d help if I was more glitter right now. Soft filter isn’t tragic enough if I’m playing a game with the Feds.” She reached out, grabbing the edge of Tino’s jacket, her fingers slipping towards his inside pocket. “Is she really dead? It’s not a game?”

Tino knew what she was looking for, because he spent two years putting pills in Maria’s open palm. Tino grabbed her wrist this time and kissed the inside of it with pure adoration. 

“I would never play you like that, mama. You’re one of my favorite people in the world,” Tino said it like he meant it, because he did. “Stay soft filter, for both of us. It looks good on you. I like it.”

“Yeah?” she asked him as tears rolled down her face. 

Tino nodded. “Lola would dig it. Kinda reminds me of her.”

“She was always very soft filter,” Maria said distantly. “She’s the one I learned it from. No matter what, she kept it beautiful.”

Tino nodded, the knot in his throat making it impossible to say more. 

“Did your zio make him suffer?” Maria asked him, sounding young and heartbroken in way that wasn’t an act. 

“I’m sure of it,” Tino promised her. “He worshiped her.”

“Well, then fuck the feds, keeping their wall all to themselves.” Maria got back to her feet. “I do need to change, and it doesn’t matter how dirty Tony likes it, a shower is a necessity. I wasn’t lying about that.” 

“I’ll take a shower,” Tino promised as Maria walked out like a woman on a mission, and for the first time in a long time, Tino actually felt genuine pity for the feds. 

When she was out of earshot, Tony whispered, “Did that work?”

“That worked.” Tino nodded as he reached for his phone. “Maybe she’ll get good intel. Something Nova could actually use.”

“Besides the pictures.” Tony smirked again. “How much do you think I could sell them to Bobby for?”

Tino flipped him off, and then reached in his pocket. “You wanna see what my girl looks like? She’s got this new role in A Chorus Line. She’s looking really good.”

“Yeah, sure.” Tony seemed to be pacifying Tino, playing his game, whatever it was. 

The truth was, Tino’s hands were still shaking from nerves and he needed to see Brianna himself. He ignored the huge list of notifications and texts on his phone and went to his photos. 

He found a set of pictures he took of her at rehearsal, dancing, and picked his favorite. Tino zoomed in and handed his phone to Tony.  “See, legs.” 

Tony nodded, looking at the picture. “She’s tight.”

Tino reached over, sliding his finger up the screen to give Tony the full tour. “Ass.” He moved the picture higher. “Cute, right? Doesn’t even need a bra. They’re that fucking pert.” Tino shifted the image to the top of the screen, feeling his chest almost hurt as he stared at Brianna. “Face.”

Tony looked to him with an arched eyebrow. “I thought she was a redhead.”

“Man, that’s a wig.” Tino took his phone back and paged through his photos again. “I’ll show you one with her hair down.”

Tino found a picture he took of Brianna on the beach in Seaside Heights. She was smiling, looking happy, with sunglasses pushed up on top of her head and the sun glinting in her hair. He handed his phone to Tony and just sat there, looking at her from a distance. 

Tony was staring at Tino instead of Brianna. “Tino, you’re wired.”

Tino felt the back of his neck burn with embarrassment, but his hands were still shaking, and he couldn’t hide it. “I know.”

He pulled out the glass vial he got from Carlo’s Jersey Palisades house and handed it to Tony. Then he took his phone back, staring at Brianna while Tony washed the blow down the sink drain, even though they both knew Maria wasn’t going to stay on her cleanse any more than Tino had stayed on his—not after this.

Fucking Brambinos. 

Tino wasn’t totally sure it was all the blow’s fault. The shaking. The waves and waves of fury-fueled energy that kept crashing over him, making him feel like he couldn’t breathe. 

Maybe it was just his life that was causing it. 

Tino looked at Brianna’s texts, desperately searching for a reason not to finally crack. There were a lot of texts, but he read the last first and frowned. 

Brianna: Gino’s bored.

It probably wasn’t the best time to watch the video she sent, because Tino knew what his cousin was capable of when he was bored. 

He pushed play anyway. 

 

Tino saw someone, likely Brianna, walking towards the basement at the Don’s place. Gino was leaning against the door, grinning like a motherfucker. Tino hated that smile, it reminded him of Gino’s father, who’d been in the basement the night Tino’s father nearly beat him to death. 

If that didn’t make it hard for Tino to like Gino, his fucking attitude did. Sure enough, Gino started to pretend he was sucking a dick, being disgusting about it on purpose. 

 “Gag extra loud down there,” Gino growled, and bent over, taking his performance to the next level by fake puking and choking before he gave her a dark look. “I’ll be listening.”

 “Are you going to move and let me get back downstairs?” Brianna sounded calm, very boss, like a woman bored with the dramatics because they had probably gotten old by eighth grade.

Still, the motherfucker taunted, “Show me your tits first.”

“Just out of curiosity, how long are you on guard duty?” she asked. 

“The next twelve hours. Now let me see those ant bites you call titties.”

“You’re honestly going to make me get the don?” 

That was no minor threat on Brianna’s part. With a war going down, irritating the old man was just asking to get buried. 

Sure enough, Gino stepped aside, but he leveled a glare at Brianna filled with pure malice as he did it. Then he flipped his hand under his chin before giving her the middle finger. “Hope Nova makes you choke on it.”

 

Tino kept staring at the screen when the video stopped. 

“Holy shit,” Tony whispered with a small laugh of disbelief. 

Tino looked up at Tony, who was standing over him with the sink still running, and a wide-eyed look of morbid curiosity. 

“I have to go now,” Tino managed to choke out as his heartbeat thundered louder than ever and his vision went fuzzy. “Do you have a burner? I just need to make a call first.”

Tony snorted, sounding almost insulted as he said, “Man, who’re you talking to? Of course, I have a burner.”

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