Brooklyn, New York
July 7, 2010
Now Tino was going down, he just knew it.
He pulled out his phone and looked for Tony’s contact. The fact that he lived up the street had to be a fucking miracle from God.
Fuck Nova’s agreement.
Tino pissed on it without blinking.
He kept walking, fighting not to look back as he listened to the phone ring, praying for a pick up. Funny how he always found God the moment he thought it was all over. He was mentally praying to whoever was in charge of helping enforcers in trouble when the call was answered.
“Tino?” Tony sounded surprised, because it’d been three months since he made the offer.
“Yeah, listen, what the fuck? You weren’t at Pietro’s.” Tino’s voice was shaking, and he kept mentally praying Tony hadn’t found a better ace card than the Morettis. “I feel stood up, man, and I’m having a really bad week.”
“No, no, it’s cool. I’m close,” Tony said without missing a beat. “Walk towards my place and I’ll meet you outside. It’s on Hayden, you know where that is?”
Tino looked behind him, letting his paranoia show. “Not really. Maybe you’re not interested anymore. You can just tell me, motherfucker.”
“I’m always interested.” Tony sounded deadly serious, making it obvious he understood what Tino was really asking. “I saved myself for you.”
Tino sucked in a hard breath of relief and looked behind him again. The couple who’d been arguing in the car were following him. They were on foot now, walking casually hand in hand, but the man was on the phone. Probably waiting for the all clear to move in and actually take down Tino.
“Merda.” Tino felt like he was going to drop right there of a heart attack. It was almost worse than the car ride with Nova. He could barely force his brain to work under the fear, but he made his voice louder on purpose. “I’m feeling the heat, Tony. It’s all falling apart. They know about me.”
“Okay.” Tony sounded cool and confident, like he was used to getting calls from strung out lost kids running from the police. “I got you. Where are you now?”
Tino gave him the rundown of where he was and started following Tony’s directions.
Tino glanced behind him, seeing that he was still being followed.
He was desperate to convey how deep this shit was, and hoping Tony understood his real meaning, he repeated again, “I really think they know about me. I’m paranoid as fuck.”
“Tino, it’s okay. We’ll figure it out.” Tony sounded breathless like he was running down stairs. “But I gotta tell you, Maria’s with me. That’s why I was late, but you know she’s into it.”
“Whatever.” Tino almost laughed. Maria Mazza was the least of his fucking problems.
Tino turned down Hayden, and then looked behind him once more. The couple turned too, still following him. The man continued to talk on the phone. A black van pulled down the road behind them.
Jesus fucking Christ, this was it, he was going down.
And he was taking Tony De Luca with him.
Nova was going to drive back to Tampa and drown himself.
“Did you hear about Lola?” Tino asked, feeling sick as the words left his mouth. “You been watching the news?”
“No.” Tony’s voice caught. “What about her?”
Tino didn’t even have to act, and a sob burst out of him. “Someone got her.”
Tony fell silent.
And Tino was half-dead from the anxiety.
For a moment he thought he lost his life line.
The whoosh, whoosh, whoosh in his ears sounded like his own heartbeat. Then he saw Tony booking it down the street, running flat out, barefoot and bare-chested, in only his jeans. The phone was still in his hand but forgotten in the need to get to Tino as quickly as possible. Seeing him, knowing he hadn’t lost his life-line, Tino started to run at him.
By the time Tino jumped at Tony his entire body was shaking. Tony just wrapped his arms around him, clinging to Tino right there on the sidewalk.
“I’m merda. I just needed to see you.” Tino sobbed, then in a softer voice only Tony could hear he confessed his newest, darkest sin, “I failed her.”
Tony pushed Tino’s hair away from his sweaty forehead and kissed it frantically. “I’m so sorry.”
Tony was shaking too, his voice choked with emotion.
Honestly, Tino would look back later, and he still wasn’t a hundred percent certain it was all an act—for either of them.
They were both just so fucking wrecked.
It was Tino who grabbed his face and brought Tony’s lips to his.
Tino was a motherfucker, using the bomb of Lola’s death like that, but it worked. They made certain the pictures for the FBI’s wall were really interesting. The two of them kissed on that Brooklyn back street like the world was ending.
Then Tony suddenly pulled Tino tighter against him, hugging him protectively and barked, “What the fuck are you looking at?”
The world slowed then, like it always did right before Tino’s life came close to ending.
“N-Nothing.” A man said behind them, sounding stunned almost speechless.
“Then you can keep walking,” Tony suggested, like he wasn’t dead certain he was growling at federal agents. “Unless watching gets you off. What are you? Homophobes or just perverts?”
Porca puttana, the balls on Tony.
But, the agents started walking past them.
Tino barely breathed, all he could do was listen to the sound of their shoes against the pavement. He could actually hear the click of them, even under the buzz of city noise. He thought he heard the van drive past too, but he couldn’t be certain, ‘cause he didn’t dare look and fall out of character.
He let Tony lead, and he felt pretty damn confident about it, ‘cause Tony led this particular dance better than just about anyone.
He was the best for a reason.
It felt like a thousand years before Tony grabbed Tino’s face and looked down at him with a sad smile as tears ran down his face. “I got you.”
Tino gave him a genuine, strong armed hug, the kind he reserved for Romeo, Nova and Carlo. “Grazie, brother, ‘cause you matter. You matter like a motherfucker right now.”
Tony actually let out a broken laugh and gestured up the street. “Let’s go.”
Tony’s place was an old school Brooklyn brownstone, easily a hundred years old, and renovated to look original instead of trendy. The second Tino walked into the apartment on the top floor he knew Maria wasn’t just hanging for the weekend.
Everything about it was soft, but in an earnest, comforting way that made Tino rock hard. The windows were open, letting the summer breeze blow in. There were flowers on the windowsill, and they perfumed the air that was still humid from all the rain.
Tino wanted to fucking die here.
That’s how beautiful it was.
It wasn’t a huge place, maybe two bedrooms, but the white furniture against the turn of the century parquet wood floors made it look open and airy. Tino remodeled brownstones on a regular basis and this was next level shit simply because it all felt so natural. Safe. Feminine.
He didn’t have to ask who decorated.
Only a true lost girl could do something like this.
“Madonn’,” he whispered in awe, temporarily forgetting his laundry list of problems.
“Sexy, right?” Tony agreed, like he got it completely. “It even smells top shelf, like the setting for an Italian film. Expensive perfume, coconut oil, dark roast coffee and sometimes garlic.”
Tino turned to look at Tony in sympathy. “What do you do for the Savios?”
Tony winced. “Mostly this.”
Maria walked in from the bedroom, wearing a black silk robe. She was summer tan, her skin glowing like she just came in from lying out on the roof. Her honey brown hair hung down her back in soft curls, and like the apartment, she looked very bright and beautiful in the afternoon sun.
“Hey, stranger, long time no see.” Maria carried the scent of sunscreen when she hugged Tino, holding him close. She pressed a kiss against the curve of his neck and sniffed. “You smell, and it’s not a compliment.”
“I’ve been sweating a little.” Tino kissed her cheek. “I like your siren’s cave. Legit. It makes me wanna hand you my money clip.”
“Yeah?” She gave him a wide, pleased smile, her brown eyes sparkling. “I went less glitter, more soft filter. Vulnerable, but classy. I’m looking for old school New York. Like Cary Grant, or nineteen eighties De Niro.”
“Catch anything interesting?”
“He scares away all the big fish.” Maria sent a glare at Tony. “Why do you look awful?” She slipped her hand inside Tino’s jacket and gripped his shoulder. “You’re shaking. Tell, mama. Help us take care of you.”
Tino opened his mouth, but the words couldn’t come out.
He just couldn’t say it again.
“Aren’t you talking to your friends?” Tino asked her incredulously, and he turned to look back at Tony too. “How did you not hear? I know they’re talking.”
“We’re on a break from our friends.” Tony gave Tino a wide-eyed look. “Trying to avoid old habits.”
“I’m on a cleanse. Totally willing, doing it myself,” Maria admitted, sounding unapologetic. “My father still pays him to keep me in line and block all unsavory phone numbers while I’m sleeping.”
“Kiss my ass, Maria,” Tony growled, sounding like it was something he was sick to death of discussing. “You should not be this pissed off about it. The cleanse is making you a cunt. I was blocking your unsavory phone numbers for a long time before your father got involved.”
Maria rolled her eyes, before she squeezed Tino’s shoulder again because she hadn’t let him go. “At least now he’s getting paid for all his pain and suffering. Ten thousand a month. I don’t mean to drag you into our shit, Tino, but if you two are fucking, I’m definitely watching. That money is going to something useful.”
“I’m sorry, man, bad timing. This is a thing right now.” Tony rubbed hand over his forehead, looking sick before he rounded on Maria. “Lola’s dead! Someone got her, and you’re bitching to Tino about canceled checks from your father?”
“What?” Maria looked back to Tony, and then turned to Tino in horror. “Is that true?”
“Fuck, now I’m the cunt.” Tony groaned and then walked past both of them to sit heavily on the living room couch. His leg was shaking, and he stared down at the rug distantly. “Did she suffer? I mean, I know that’s uncool to ask, but--”
“Not that much,” Tino managed to choke out. “It was probably quick for her. If they were decent, but maybe they weren’t. They dropped her phone, that was pretty amateur. Honestly, it wasn’t a great way to go,” Tino finally admitted to Tony and Maria what he wouldn’t to anyone else. “I would’ve picked something different.”
“Oh my God,” Maria whispered in front of him. “Tino, baby.” Her hug this time was tighter, completely genuine, and it was easy to return it. She turned to Tony with her hand over her mouth. “We lost one.”
“I know, mama,” Tony whispered miserably. “I’m sorry about the checks.”
Maria shrugged. “It’s okay. He should probably be paying you more. You do step on my game enough to really impress him.”
“I don’t step on all your games, just the dangerous ones because old habits die hard and I don’t like to see you hurt. I took the checks your father offered because I needed the references. You know Moretti’s a pain in the ass. No offense, Tino.”
“It’s fine. He is a pain in the ass,” Tino had to agree, before he apologized to Maria too. “I’m sorry about Lola. It feels like my fault.”
He was still feeling his confession to Tony, and when Maria used her hold on him to pull him closer, Tino let her. It was easy to be weak in front of people who had already seen him at some of his lowest points. Much easier than it was in front of his own family, or even Brianna.
“It’s not your fault.” Maria cupped his cheek lovingly. “Let’s do a spa day for old time’s sake. I’ll make it lovely.”
“No, I have to go. You don’t want me here. The heat’s coming down on us. Someone torched the Brambino compound. The news said Carmine’s dead.” Tino said it like an afterthought, but then he realized who he was speaking to and repeated again for all three of them, “Yeah, so I guess Carmine’s dead too.”
Maria just slipped her hand into her robe and stared at him with a stunned, brown gaze, before she looked to Tony still sitting on the couch. She took a shuddering breath and whispered, “Holy shit.”
“Just like that?” Tony sounded really pissed off about it. “Now he’s fucking dead.”
“Yeah.” Tino nodded, understanding more than he wanted to. “Or maybe not. Maybe it wasn’t just like that. We don’t know. It was a fire. Destroyed most of the evidence. That’s definitely not amateur. Whoever did it likely knew how to drag it out and he was probably angry enough to actually do it.”
Maria and Tony both looked at Tino hopefully.
“It wasn’t me.” Tino almost felt sorry to admit, and then confessed, “But I haven’t heard from my zio in a while.”
“Are you in the middle of a war, Tino?” Maria asked him, her voice still low and stunned.
Tino nodded once more. “Pretty dead center. You should definitely tell me to get the fuck out.”
“Feds were following him. I spotted three teams,” Tony said seriously, before he looked back to Tino. “What do they have on you?”
“God, who the fuck knows.” Tino rubbed a hand over his face. “I’m serious, you two should kick me out.”
Maria ran to the window instead, lifting the curtain gently to peer out with a keen gaze. “Look at that. Right here on my doorstep trying to scare the kids. That won’t do.” She dropped the curtain and turned back to Tony. “This feels very Untouchables. I need a hat.”
“Maria,” Tino started hesitantly.
“With all due respect.” Maria’s voice became icy. “You and Lola picked us. That means we get to play too. Those are the rules. You’re still under my umbrella, baby boy.”
Maria didn’t wait for an argument, she just breezed past Tino, leaving him to deal with the consequences of his past and current choices.
“At least you aren’t in lockup,” Tony offered once Maria closed the bedroom door at the end of the hall. “I need you to flush your shit, Tino. She can’t see it.” He pointed to the other side of the room. “There’s a shower too. You can borrow some of my clothes.”
“Thanks.” Tino nodded, feeling embarrassed in a way he hadn’t for a long time. “I was clean for a little while, but then--”
“No one’s judging you. Bad week. You’re safe,” Tony whispered. “Just flush it.”