Chapter Twenty-Five

Tino’s heart was pumping a million beats a minute, especially since he had blow on him¼and three unregistered weapons. 

He didn’t want to get on his bike. 

His gut told him that was a bad idea. 

The feds probably put some sort of tracker on it while he was inside. The tired and wired in Tino’s brain turned into total fucking paranoia, especially with the feds tailing him. He had to land and regroup, if only he knew someone who lived close. At least he could flush the drugs. 

Tino started searching his mind, desperate for anyone he knew in this area. Then a memory hit him, a golden bolt of luck in the darkness, because it really shouldn’t be there under the damage Nova did with that 9mm. 

 

****

 

Brooklyn, New York

April 6th, 2010

 

“You fucking cheat, you motherfucker. You’re a cheater.” Carlo shuffled the cards again. “Don’t do it.”

“Five card draw is face down. I can’t see anyone’s cards. I have no advantage.” Nova threw in ten dollars for the ante, took a long drag off his cigarette and turned his head to blow out the smoke. “I’m just a boss poker player.”

“Bullshit.” Carlo started dealing out the cards. “You cheat. I know you fucking cheat.”

 “Same argument every time. Cazzo, Zio, why do you play with him if it pisses you off so much?” Tino threw his ante in and leaned back in his chair, looking at the blue spring sky. 

“’Cause I’m not letting him pull one over on me. I’m figuring out his game.”

“Okay, you figure it out, paisan.” Nova picked up his cards and studied them. 

“Do you know how he does it?” Carlo still hadn’t picked up his cards. “You have an obligation to tell me, Tino.”

“No, I don’t.” Tino assured him, but then asked Carlo, “Why is it so hard for you to imagine that he actually isa boss poker player—without cheating?”

“Right?” Nova laughed with him. “Man, I’ve been playing poker longer than I’ve been fucking, also something I’m boss at without cheating.” 

Then Carlo tilted his head, looking over Tino’s shoulder, like he saw something he didn’t like. Tino shoved his hand under his jacket for his gun. The three of them were sitting with Tino facing one way, and Carlo the other. They had Nova against the wall between them, but they were still out in the open. 

Tino had nearly pulled his 9mm out, right in front of the busy street, but Nova smiled and held out his arms. “Tony!”

Tino turned around to the man who had obviously stopped behind him, but his stomach jolted when he saw which Tony it was. 

Tino wasn’t nearly as excited as Nova about the new arrival. 

Tony De Luca knew a lot more about Tino than he was comfortable with—especially sitting outside in the spring sunshine at Pietro’s with his brother and zio. 

Talk about blindsided.

“And who the fuck is Tony?” Carlo asked in Italian to no one in particular, obviously testing to see if Tony could understand him. 

It made sense, because Tony was a big guy. De Luca tall and broad, looking very tan and extremely Siciliano with his black hair styled away from his face. Clearly not someone Carlo was comfortable with standing over them. 

Nova ignored Carlo’s paranoia, and put out his cigarette. He didn’t bother to answer Carlo, because Nova likely knew what Tino did. 

Tony didn’t speak Italian. 

Nova pushed his chair back, already holding out his arms to hug Tony as he stood. 

Carlo’s frown deepened while he watched Nova and Tony hug. Then he leaned over and asked Tino in whispered Italian, “Is he a friend of ours?”

“No, but he’s a friend of mine—and Lola’s.” Tino used mafia code to vouch for Tony in one of the deepest ways possible within their world. Tony wasn’t a made man, but Tino trusted him enough to use his own name as protection, something he rarely did considering Tony’s fuck-ups would now be Tino’s problem. That’s why he had to explain, “Nova got him out with the Brambino deal.”

“Oh.” Carlo’s hard edge softened, and he dropped his voice before he asked, “What family?”

“De Luca.”

“There’s a De Luca bastardo?” Carlo looked scandalized. “Holy shit, which one?”

“The one.” Tino gave Carlo a pointed stare. “Big Daddy Don De Luca himself.”

“Coglioni.” Nova turned around from talking to Tony and held his hands up at the two of them. “He knows his own fucking name.”

“Tino.” Tony smiled, looking more amused than insulted. “How you been?”

Not like Tony didn’t know he was Don De Luca’s dirty secret. 

“All right.” Tino leaned back in his chair and reached out his hand to Tony. When Tony grabbed it, Tino asked, “How you been?”

“All right.” Tony smiled broadened. “I live up the street, and you know, I gotta stop and say thank you to the zu.”

“I get it.” Tino squeezed Tony’s hand tighter, forgetting to be uncomfortable over what this man knew because Tino knew shit about him too. 

Tony was a fucking warrior. 

The kind that would’ve scared Tino if he didn’t respect and trust Tony as much as he did. Tino had been through a lot of shit, but Tony was one of the few men who could still make him feel new. Like Nova and poker, Tony was genuine boss at the survival game. 

Nova gestured to the table. “You play poker?”

Tony nodded. “I do alright.” 

“Pull up a seat, brother,” Carlo offered, and picked up the deck again. “We’ll deal you in on the next round.”

That was an amazing offer on Carlo’s part. 

He didn’t invite just anyone to sit down and play cards, but Carlo had a soft spot for the bastardi of Cosa Nostra. 

“I don’t want to interrupt your game.” 

“Man, you’re not interrupting anything. The zu fucking cheats anyway.” Carlo replaced the two cards Tino threw away. “Sit.”

“Fine.” Tony smiled, making him look handsome and pleased in the sunlight. “But let me buy you coffee first. All of yous.”

“Yeah, cool.” Tino nodded, ‘cause he never turned down free coffee. “Macchiato. Tell Pietro it’s for me. He knows how I like it. Extra creamy, extra sweet. Don’t let the new guy make it.”

“Caffe doppio,” Carlo ordered, before he looked to Tino. “You’re gonna get thick if you keep sucking down all those macchiati with extra milk and sugar. Why don’t you just fucking drink it black like the rest of us.”

Tino grabbed his dick through his jeans. “Milk this, motherfucker. I’ll drink it how I want. You’re not my personal trainer.”  

But Nova complained, “Tony, you don’t have to do that. They can buy their own coffee. I can too.”

Tony put a hand to his chest. “It’s the least I can do.”

Nova considered him, and then threw three cards away before he said, “Okay, grazie. Surprise me.” 

“You got it.” Tony didn’t complain about having to decide for the zu what drink to buy. Very slick of him, but no one said Tony didn’t have amazing game. 

When he walked off, Carlo gave himself two cards, picked them up, and then looked at Nova. “I think he’s looking for a job. That guy would suck your dick if you asked him to.”

“He might,” Tino agreed as he threw a ten in. “It’s certainly not off his menu, especially if he got something out of it.”

“He’s gay, right?” Carlo looked hopeful. “He didn’t, like, fuck Lola or anything?”

“We’re not doing this,” Nova whispered, and then threw a twenty into the pile. “I raise you.”

“Cazzo.” Tino folded his cards and tossed them next to Carlo. “I’m out.”

“You didn’t answer me,” Carlo noticed, the game forgotten as he started hard at Tino. 

“I don’t know everything Lola did. Ask her if you’re so curious.”

“You said he’s gay!” Carlo shouted.

“I never said that,” Tino snapped at him. “I said dick wasn’t off his menu.”

“I already said we’re not doing this.” Nova leaned forward, speaking in low, angry Italian, “I’ll have the old man put you on septic duty for every construction site from Brooklyn to New Jersey if you bring this up in front of him.” He turned back to Tino. “Now tell him Tony didn’t screw Lola.”

Tino stared at Nova for one hard second, and said in an obedient, monotone voice, “Tony didn’t screw Lola.”

“Okay.” Nova nodded. “So, we’re good.”

“That wasn’t real,” Carlo argued with both of them. “That’s a lie.”

“He’s fucking with you. If he was actually lying, you wouldn’t know it,” Nova said reasonably in Italian, and then barked in English, “Are you gonna bet or what?”

Carlo scowled at Tino like he wasn’t sure. Then he glanced at his cards once more, and decided, “Yeah, I’ll see your twenty and raise you ten.”

Tino winced, but he stayed quiet—about a lot of things. 

By the time Tony got back, Carlo was pissed about something totally different than Tony’s sexual history. 

“You are a cheater. You have to be a fucking cheater. You just threw away three fucking cards, and somehow you made a straight flush. That’s bullshit.”

“How else is someone supposed to get a straight flush in this game?” Nova asked while he sat there happily straightening out his money. “You deal the cards, I throw some away, and then you deal me more. That’s how I make my hand. There’s not a secret extra step to making a straight flush that you missed seeing.”

“And why doesn’t he ever lose two hundred bucks?” Carlo pointed at Tino. “He’s in on it.”

Nova laughed. “You’re dealing, paisan.” 

“Why don’t you just fold when I fold,” Tino suggested. 

“’Cause you always fucking fold!” 

“And that’s why I don’t lose two hundred bucks every hand.” Tino took his coffee, and gave Tony a genuine smile, pleased now that he had a fresh one. “Grazie.” 

“Why don’t we just switch to seven card stud if you’re so pissed off about it,” Nova suggested with a dark smile. “Then you can see most of my cards.”

“Fuck you,” Carlo growled. “Only a fucking moron plays seven card stud with you.” He took the drink Tony put in front of him and mumbled, “Grazie.”

“For the zu.” Tony put the tallest cup on front of Nova. “Jamaican Blue Mountain. Black.”

“Perfect,” Nova said like he could tell the difference. “Grazie. We’ll let Tony pick the next game.”

Tony sat down between Tino and Nova, a large cup in his hand, and took a long drink. “I’m game for seven card stud.”

“Man, for real?” Carlo growled at him. “I’m trying to like you.”

Tony laughed, completely unapologetic. “I know how to lose for the right reasons.”

“Thank you.” Tino held out his hand, and Tony gave him a high five under the table. Then Tino pointed at his uncle. “That’s your problem. You don’t know how to lose. Instead you fuck yourself trying to win something you know is impossible.”

Carlo obviously couldn’t argue with that. 

So, they played seven card stud. 

And Nova annihilated them. 

Six games in, Carlo had to bum money off Nova to keep playing, except Nova charged interest, ‘cause he was a motherfucker about these things. 

Which made Carlo a motherfucker. 

It was when Carlo was dealing their seventh hand that he finally blurted what all of them had been wondering, “Tony, can you please just ask him, ‘cause I’m tired of taking it for your goddamn favor.”

 “You should probably ask, things are about to go south,” Tino warned Tony. “He’s in over two grand.”

Tony had been playing his game the whole time, but it wasn’t cards. 

Nova was in a really fantastic mood. 

He just loved winning at cards. Tino wasn’t sure why it pleased his brother so much, but it did, and most people weren’t willing to lose to him for this long. 

Now there were three of them sitting there playing seven card stud, letting Nova collect thousands just for the fun of it. 

Tony could’ve asked him for anything. 

Nova looked at over at Tony while Carlo finished dealing. “Go for it.”

Tony shrugged, before he confessed, “It’s actually not a favor, more like an offer.”

“Even better.” Nova left a few of the bills out but put the rest in his money clip that was even thicker than usual. He placed a ten in the ante pile. “Let’s hear it.”

“I want in,” Tony said simply, and threw in his ten dollars. 

“In on what?” Nova glanced at his cards, still appearing very content and casual. 

Tony looked at the two cards Carlo dealt him face down, and then said like he was discussing the weather, “When you open the books, I want a spot.”

That stopped the game cold in its tracks. 

And Tino mentally corrected himself. 

Tony could’ve asked Nova for anything¼except that. 

The Morettis didn’t need new blood. They had plenty of their own and because of that their books were rarely open. Tino wasn’t usually in on that side of the business, so he wasn’t positive when the last ceremony was, but he was fairly sure the last two members of their Borgata to get made were him and Nova. There were members of their own family bugging Nova for that honor, for an outsider to sit down and ask—was unheard of. 

Nova lifted his head and stared at Tony like he was nuts, which was probably exactly how Tino looked, but it was Carlo who said something.

“Check your driver’s license.” Carlo snorted as he turned to Tony. “You’re sitting at the wrong table, playing cards with the wrong fucking family. You want to get made, go talk to your father.”

Nova glanced to the side, looking suddenly paranoid and a lot less pleased about his big winning streak. Then he leaned forward and growled, “Did you talk to your old man? Did you make him that offer?”

“You think I’d go to the mattresses for my father? I wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire,” Tony growled like he meant it. “I been working for the Savios, but you know, they’re kinda neutral. Not my first choice.”

“I want to know what Savio gave you a job.” Nova leaned in closer, sounding really dangerous all of a sudden. “’Cause that’s like pissing on my fucking shoes. That motherfucker just said, ‘fuck you’ to the agreement I made when I got you out.” 

“What am I supposed to do, Zu? I got nothing now. I got no purpose. I need something to do before I turn into Bobby.”

“Why is this an issue with all of you? Why can’t you just find a fucking hobby?”

“Anger’s my hobby,” Tony said darkly.  

Carlo laughed.  “Not so sweet now, is he?” 

“You want to know what my hobby was? Protecting my family. My real family. The ones who didn’t have any one else to protect them.” Tony ran a hand through his hair, looking more exposed than he was probably comfortable being. “Then you stepped in and made sure they didn’t need to be protected any more. I’m grateful. We’re all grateful, don’t think we’re not, but I can’t live like this.”

Nova ran both his hands through his hair and leaned back in his chair. He considered Tony for a long time, before he shook his head. “Even if I wanted to, I can’t, Tony. The Savios are fucking insane to hire you. If your family finds out--”

“They’re not my family,” Tony grated out through clinched teeth. “Fuck the De Lucas. They never fucking helped me, and they never helped my friends. The Morettis did.”

“They didn’t know.” Nova held up his hand. “Or maybe they would have stepped in.”

“You think in all those years I didn’t go through something with the Brambinos that made begging my father for help the better option?” Tony asked in a low, vicious voice. “He knew, Zu. He knew for a long fucking time before you showed up.”

They all flinched, because that was harsh—even for Cosa Nostra. 

Luckily, Tino never had the balls to go to Frankie or the Don. He would never know how fucking pissed off he would’ve been if he asked them for help, and the motherfuckers said, ‘No.’

“Dante didn’t know,” Nova said after a long moment. “I know he didn’t. I’m not making excuses for the De Lucas, that’s between them and God, but I do know your brother had no idea you existed until I told him.”

“So, you’re not going to help me? That’s what you’re saying? ‘Cause of some fucking political loyalty to Dante?” 

“Help you get made? No, Tony, I’m not. Even if it wouldn’t piss your brother off, which, incidentally, it would, I’m not helping you sign your fucking life away to a borgata you’re not even indebted to. I can’t believe the Savios did it. They’re breaking the deal with me and using a motherfucking De Luca to dig their ditches. They’re nuts. How’d you get in?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yeah, it fucking matters. What? Did Maria Mazza get you in? You protected her while she was with the Brambinos, now she helps you on the outside, gets you a sit down with Daddy Mazza the consigliere so he’ll whisper in his don’s ear,” Nova asked, and something in Tony’s look must’ve confirmed he was corrected. “The De Lucas could fucking level the Savios if they found out. You’re not doing Maria any favors.”

“The day’s gonna come when the Brambinos are at war with someone.” Tony made it obvious he was very serious about his anger hobby. “I plan to be on the team I’m fucking certain will be on the other side of the line.”

“So, this is revenge against the Brambinos? You’re planning ahead, getting ready, putting all your cards in the right places to strike?” 

Nova had the balls to sound indignant about it, and something about that really grated Tino. If he wasn’t neck deep in Moretti bullshit every fucking day of the week, Tino would be working on an anger hobby and long-term Brambino revenge plan too. He understood completely, and he honestly couldn’t believe Nova didn’t. 

What happened to their motherfucking ship?

“Maybe he has a reason for it? Ever think of that?” Tino asked, knowing his voice sounded sharp. “’Cause you’re standing pretty fucking tall on that soap box, Casanova.”

“Okay, this is personal.” Nova sighed. “And I don’t want to play, I really don’t.”

“Yeah, how inconvenient for you,” Tino snapped at him. “Sucks when business gets personal.”

“You’re siding with him ‘cause he used to wear a band? That’s how it’s going down?”

Tino shrugged, realizing right then, he already did it. 

He was siding with Tony against Nova. 

The truth was, on both sides, there was an unabashed, unfailing loyalty carved into his soul because of what they’d been through together and that’s what really made Tino uncomfortable around Tony.  

How deeply indebted Tino felt to him. 

He didn’t have any control over it. It was just there, which Tino had mostly been okay with. Even if he avoided that old life like the plague, he wasn’t going to turn his back on his past when it was sitting at the table asking for help. If that blind, kneejerk loyalty was owed to anyone in Tino’s life, it was probably Tony, who was cool enough to never once remind him of it. Even now, Tony was playing Nova, when it would’ve been so much easier to play Tino instead. 

“I’m not an accountant, but if his father was okay with letting him rot away with the Brambinos, that makes Tony a free fucking agent now, right?” Tino said to his brother with a low growl of protectiveness in his voice. “Fuck the De Lucas, and fuck you if you don’t get it.”

“Fine. Side with him, I don’t give a shit.” Nova folded his arms. “I’m still not doing it, and it’s not ‘cause of the politics. It’s the principle.”

Tino grabbed his ten dollars out of the ante pile and shoved it back in his pocket. “I’m out.”

“You’re gonna leave?” Nova asked him incredulously. “’Cause I won’t fucking let him get made to dig shallow graves? That’s why you’re walking away? Are you shitting me right now, Valentino?”

Tino didn’t even turn to look back. 

He just left. 

And he was going to have to take the motherfucking bus to the subway, because Nova drove. 

“Hey,” Tony called out when Tino rounded the corner. 

Tino turned to him, feeling embarrassed to face him. “He doesn’t understand. He thinks he does, but he doesn’t. If he did--”

“Don’t fight with him.” Tony grabbed his shoulder and shook him lightly. “Not over me.”

Tino shook his head. “Don’t say that.”

“Your brother’s good. Don’t let motherfuckers like me pull you two apart. Go back and finish the game. I’ll figure my shit out.” Tony patted Tino’s cheek affectionately. “But I’m gonna give you my new number, your family ever needs me, just call me.”

“Not if you’re on the Savios books. We’ll never be that desperate. If you’re loyal to them--” Tino argued. 

“I’ll stay a free agent,” Tony promised him. “I’ll keep the gig with the Savios as side work until your brother warms up to the idea.” 

That was a big commitment on Tony’s part, to turn down the protection of being made by another family. 

Made men were much safer within the walls of Cosa Nostra. 

The two of them stood there and exchanged numbers. Again, something unnamed between them, that Tino had deliberately cut ties. Tony didn’t seem to be even remotely pissed about it, which was pretty typical of Tony, but didn’t make Tino feel any better about it. 

Tino put his phone back in his pocket. “Hey, what’re you doing for the Savios?” 

“Man, what don’t I do?” Tony laughed at that. “I’m a jack of all trades. That’s my magic trick.”

“You know you gotta make your bones to get made,” Tino said rather than flat out ask Tony if he was digging graves for the Savios. 

Tony smiled, and arched a dark eyebrow at Tino’s warning that he’d have to kill someone, in cold blood, in order to earn the right to be a made man. “You worried about my cherry, Tino?”

Tino just nodded. “Yeah.”

“Don’t worry.” Tony hit his shoulder. “Tell your brother I come with references. It won’t be on him.”

“Okay,” Tino lied, and promptly started working hard on forgetting that Tony De Luca admitted to being a rentable hitman.

The scariest type of hitman, in Tino’s opinion, because it wasn’t out of family loyalty. 

It was something much darker.  

There just wasn’t anything to save after that. 

A lost boy, forever lost like the rest of them. 

He never told Nova.

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