Brianna was bone tired, emotionally and physically, to the point that she wasn’t sure what was fully real anymore.
They hadn’t slept much the night before, the two of them stuck on the pull-out mattress from the couch in Carlo’s room. Carina had tossed and turned next to her, and when Carina did fall asleep, she would jerk awake a few minutes later. It happened at least five times, and every time Brianna would hug her, noticing that Carina was covered in sweat and shaking. The dreams were that bad, but Brianna didn’t ask Carina what she saw on the other side of the door with Carlo.
For the first time since they were young children, they barely spoke. They finally found something they couldn’t discuss as best friends, openly, without rules, and they had been through a lot of shit together up until that point. Maybe one day, but right then, it was still too new and horrible to put a voice to.
So, Brianna spent most of the night staring at the ceiling and wishing she was in bed with Tino instead of Carina.
At least Carlo slept.
Brianna was a little worried Carina was too generous with the extra ingredients in his drink, since they were the official Carlo babysitters.
“Don’t leave Carlo alone,” Nova reminded Brianna and Carina before he and Tino took off for Tampa to find Lola’s sister and bring her home. “Keep him in this house until we get back. Promise me, Princess.”
Nova said it like he didn’t trust anyone else in the sea of people packed into the don’s mansion. Carina was the only one. Even though Nova managed to get the don out on bond an hour earlier, he was looking to his sister instead.
“I promise,” Carina said solemnly. “We’ll distract him. I know nonno has enough to deal with.”
Nova let out a sigh of relief, like having one less thing on his shoulders was enough to make him breathe a little easier. “Grazie.”
So, they kept Carlo company, even though neither of them had much sleep. On the outside it wasn’t a hard job. It consisted mainly of Carina watching a lot of soap operas and B movies in Carlo’s room and Carlo staring out the window for hours on end after he woke up early like Carina never drugged him to begin with.
He wasn’t crying like he had when he found Lola.
He wasn’t raging like he had at the medical examiners.
Carlo was just sitting there.
It started raining shortly after the sun rose and it hadn’t stopped. For hours the rain fell, taming the hot July weather and the whole time, Carlo sat at the table by his window—starring at the rain until dark.
He was fully dressed in jeans and t-shirt.
He even had boots on, but he wasn’t moving.
He wasn’t talking.
He barely answered Carina when she tried to make conversation, and she hadtried. For hours after he woke up Carina talked about anything she could think of until she finally got tired of Carlo’s one word, mono-tone responses and just watched television instead.
The don tried too, but Carlo didn’t have much to say to him either.
Carlo just apologized, whispering, “I’m sorry, pop,” every time the don would pull up a chair and sit next to him, but they didn’t talk about why he was sorry.
They didn’t go over the arrest or the cocaine.
The don just sat there with his son, letting him be broken.
Since the house was full of family seeking sanctuary from a possible war, women kept bringing up food that Brianna found herself eating out of nerves and boredom.
Carlo never ate anything—not once.
Brianna spent most of her time alternating between texting Tino when Nova was doing the driving to Tampa and staring at her phone waiting when Tino took his turn behind the wheel. She hated that Tino had to leave, but she understood why he went with Nova.
He was an enforcer.
Brianna was used to him taking off.
She was used to the worry and the waiting too, but this time it was harder.
Night had long since passed.
The rain was still coming down.
The flashes of lightning mixed with the glow of the television in the dark room. Somewhere in the back of Brianna’s mind, she remembered making love to Tino on this bed under the glimmer of Christmas lights, but now that felt like a million years ago. Now the memory made her sad to think about. Instead, she looked back to Carlo who still sat there staring out the window.
At some point, she stopped worrying over him, and became nervous instead. Brianna got the impression he wasn’t silently mourning.
He was waiting.
Worse, Tino had stopped texting after he got to Carmen’s job and Brianna was about to come out of her skin from the anxiety after an hour of not hearing from him.
She couldn’t tell them she was terrified, so Brianna stretched out with Carina on the bed since Carlo wasn’t using it, letting her phone charge as the two of them watched television. Carina was lying sideways above the blankets with her head resting on Brianna’s thigh.
Carina had a pillow hugged to her chest, clutching at it as though she needed the comfort while her gaze kept darting to Carlo like she got the same impression Brianna did.
They both knew if Carlo was waiting, it was Brianna and Carina he was waiting on. It was starting to feel more and more like they had an enforcer in the room instead of a trusted friend and uncle.
Brianna didn’t want to be scared of him, but she was.
“You hungry, zio?” Carina asked for the thousandth time since Tino and Nova left. “You haven’t had anything. You should eat.”
Carlo didn’t look at her, he just said, “No.”
Carina sighed and tilted her head on Brianna’s thigh to stare up at her, like she expected Brianna to have an idea.
“Lola would want you to eat, Carlo.” Brianna couldn’t think of any other way to convince him. “I know she would.”
Carlo flinched when Brianna said Lola’s name for the first time since she died, but then he surprised them by saying, “Fine.”
Carina sprung up the moment the words left his mouth and headed for the door, warning Brianna on the way out, “Stay here.”
Brianna had taken a few walks, but it was obvious Carina needed a break. She hadn’t once stepped out of this room since she promised Nova she would watch their uncle.
Brianna was back to lying on her side and looking at her phone, waiting for a text from Tino. If Carlo in enforcer mode wasn’t making her nervous, the radio silence from Tino was. She was in the process of checking her last texts to see exactly how long it had been since Tino messaged her when her phone started ringing.
Brianna didn’t recognize the phone number, but she answered it without hesitating. “Hello.”
“Hey,” Tino said quickly. “I think Nova left his phone. Can you check in the bottom right drawer of the dresser in his room? I’ll call it so it’s easier to find.”
Brianna looked at Carlo just sitting there waiting. “But—”
“Aiuto, baby,” Tino said it casually, but Brianna could hear the undercurrent of panic in his voice. “Find the phone. He’s freaking out.”
Tino had never once used the family code word Aiutowith Brianna. That was a life and death code word that meant drop everything and help!
“Okay.” Brianna’s heart skipped a beat in fear. “I’m going now.”
Brianna took off, still clutching her own phone even though Tino hung up. She ran down the hallway, and when she pulled open the door to Nova’s room in the don’s Bensonhurt mansion, she could hear the shrill ring of a burner phone.
She started jerking open all of Nova’s bottom drawers in his dresser and found the phone hiding between two pairs of jeans. It was an old fashioned, untraceable flip phone from one of those places that allowed Nova to pay for monthly usage in cash.
She answered quickly and barked, “What’s wrong?”
“Nova’s been shot.” Tino’s voice was shaking. “He took a bullet right to the chest and it’s still in there.”
“Oh my God.” Brianna sat on the ground, because all the feeling fell out of her legs. Her heartbeat was thundering in her ears and her chest was tight because she forgot to breathe. “Is he—”
“He’s alive,” Tino said before she could finish. “We’re heading home. You have to tell the don to get the doctors there for him. He has a bullet in his fucking chest. This could kill him.”
She sucked in a sharp breath. “Where are you?”
“We’re still in Tampa,” he sounded more frantic than she’d ever heard him.
“What?” she choked, because she had temporarily forgotten that part. “You can’t make it all that way if it’s a chest wound. Take him to the hospital, Tino! Take him right now!”
“We can’t! Lotta shit went down and we just can’t.” Tino’s breathing was hard and uneven, like he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. “We have to pack the wound. You know, like a battle field injury. Nova’s gonna talk us through it. He thinks it’ll stop the bleeding enough to get him there, but there’s a lotta fucking blood, Bri. The don has to have those doctors ready. Nova says he’s O positive, so tell them to have it there.”
Brianna opened her mouth, but no words could make it past the fear lodged in her chest.
“Did you hear me?” Tino barked at her.
Brianna nodded even though no one could see her. “I’ll tell the don. We’ll be ready.”
“I love you,” Tino always sounded like he meant it, but this time more than most. “I can’t let him die, baby. If I have to take him to the hospital, I will. So, if I go down—”
“You won’t go down,” she said before he could finish because she couldn’t even think about it. “Please hang up and get him home.”
“Okay, I probably won’t be able to call much because I’m doing all the driving—just be ready for us.”
“We will,” she promised.
The phone went dead before she realized she hadn’t told him she loved him back, but she didn’t doubt Tino knew. Then she took off running, flying across the hallway, racing down the stairs, ignoring the looks from the few people still up and mulling around.
She burst into the kitchen, finding Carina sitting at the kitchen table with the don. The two of them were obviously enjoying the quiet since the rest of the house was packed with people.
Carina jumped up and shouted, “What are you doing? You’re supposed to be watching my zio!”
The don jumped up too, and suddenly it hit Brianna the gravity of the news she had to deliver when it’d already been a horrible two days.
“What is it?” The don asked, obviously reading the look of horror on Brianna’s face.
Carina looked at the burner phone still in Brianna’s hand.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph.” Carina clutched her chest. “It’s Tino!”
“No.” Brianna shook her head, realizing Carina assumed it was Tino, because it was alwaysTino. “It’s Nova. He’s been shot.”
Brianna never realized how invincible they all assumed Nova was until that exact moment. The don grabbed the chair like his legs might give out. Brianna could physically see the color drain from his face, making it obvious he thought Nova was as bulletproof as the rest of them did.
“He’s alive,” she added, because for a second she was worried the don might pass out. “Tino’s driving him home. He told me to make sure the doctors know Nova’s O positive. He’s lost a lot of blood.”
“Where are they?”
She winced. “They’re still in Florida.”
“Tell Tino to take him to the hospital!” the don barked at her. “You call him back right now and tell him to call 911!”
“Tino said they couldn’t. He said a lot of shit went down.”
“He’ll fucking bleed to death before they get here.” Carina sounded as frantic as the don. “Let them go down! It’s better than Nova dying!”
“They’re going to pack the wound.” Brianna grimaced just thinking about it. “Like a battlefield wound.”
“Oh my fucking God,” Carina whispered in horror. “They’re nuts.”
“Minchia,” the don agreed in a distant voice. “Did it sound like he was—” He paused, like he couldn’t bear to finish the thought.
“All I know was that he was shot in the chest.” Brianna wished she thought to ask for more information. “And he’s lost a lot of blood.”
The don looked away, his dark eyes glassy.
Brianna could practically feel his fear, and she didn’t have much comfort to offer. “Tino said he’d take him to the hospital and risk going down before he’d let him die. He did say that, so I guess we just have to trust it.”
They were silent for a long moment before Carina turned to the don. “Tino won’t let Nova die, I know he won’t. Tino’ll get him here, Nonno.”
The don took a deep breath, looking for a moment like a part of him was shutting down with one son in prison, the other upstairs on suicide watch, and now his grandson was gravely injured without the luxury of a hospital.
The don crossed himself with a quick prayer out loud in Italian, then he said, “I’m going to make the calls.”
It became all business.
The fear was hidden behind the great curtain of Cosa Nostra.
Carina grabbed Brianna’s hand, and tugged her towards the kitchen door. “We’ll go check on Carlo.”
That snapped Brianna out of her shock a little. Carlo had been alone way too long, and it started to feel like its own separate emergency. Together the two of them ran back upstairs.
Brianna made it to the room first because her long legs served her well, and in the name of urgency she didn’t feel bad leaving Carina behind.
By the time Carina caught up to her, Brianna was just standing there staring past the open window. The curtains fluttered in the hot, July air as Brianna looked out in the darkness, knowing Carlo was long gone.
Carina let out a pained cry and leaned against the window like she was searching for something. She ran her hand against the side of the house. “There’s nails here, a row of them. They’re painted over, but they’re here. They’ve been here for years. Just enough for him to step on. I bet they go all the way to the grass. Little steps for him to scale down the house if he had to.”
“Tino always stays in this room if Carlo isn’t here,” Brianna reminded her. “I’ve stayed with Tino here before. I thought Carlo was just being nice.”
Carina straightened back up and looked at Brianna in horror. “No, Carlo wanted him here because it has a place for him to get out in case the house was under attack, or—”
“Or he had to break out without anyone seeing him,” Brianna finished for her. “This is my fault. I knew not to leave him, but Tino used aiutoon me. What was I supposed to do?”
“No, it’s my fault, Bri,” Carina said it with certainty. “I shouldn’t have left. I had one job, and I fucked it up. We both know I could’ve had someone else bring him food.”
It was obvious Carlo was long gone.
Brianna knew instinctively that the sea of soldiers staying in the mansion wouldn’t be able to catch him. Maybe if Tino was here they’d have a chance. He knew the same tricks Carlo did, but without him, it was hopeless.
“He would’ve gotten out anyway.” Brianna was suddenly certain of it. “One way or the other, he would’ve found a way, Carina.”
“Maybe,” Carina agreed as she looked out the window again.
“I feel like we’re both in serious trouble,” Brianna said fearfully. “What the fuck happens now?”
“I don’t know.” Carina shook her head and looked back to Brianna. “But it’s not good.”