Tino wasn’t sure how long it was quiet, but it started to occur to him that he was supposed to be stressed about something, except he forgot what.
Just like the Anti-Nova—always forgetting shit.
Seriously, though, Tino was pretty fucking sure he was dead.
Even Lola was there, but she was smacking his face in a very un-Lola like way. He blinked at her, seeing that her light eyes were wide and terrified.
Something was off.
Lola did a lot of different things with her hair, but she never went blonde. The Brambinos were blonde. And she fucking hated those motherfuckers. They all did.
Tino might be dead, but he knew that much.
Maybe he’d find those bastards in hell.
“Is he dead?” Nova’s voice, loud and terrified, started to wake Tino up a little bit. The gears began churning out of necessity because Nova sounded like he was going to keel over from a heart attack as he shouted, “Did I fucking kill him?
Lola smacked Tino again, harder this time, and suddenly pain exploded in his head.
Blonde Lola was mean.
He grunted and touched his temple as he rolled over, realizing now he was laying with his head in Mean Lola’s lap in the back of the Bentley.
“He’s not dead,” she announced.
It started rushing back at Tino too fast. This felt like waking up in the shower when he was twelve. Why the hell did he want to be here in this shit storm?
“What about the other guy?” Tino’s voice sounded scratchy even to him.
She frowned at him. “Huh?”
“Oh, he wasn’t so lucky.” She didn’t seem too broken up about it.
Tino sat up. He didn’t feel comfortable having his head in her lap. He knew now it was Carmen, not Lola, but the wires were all trying to rearrange themselves in his brain. He got key information first. Brianna at home. Lola dead. Nova killing someone out in the open for anyone to see.
“Are you okay?” Nova asked Tino frantically in Italian, and reached back from his seat behind the wheel, grabbing Tino’s knee like he needed to touch him.
“No, I’m not okay!” Tino reached forward and smacked Nova’s head. “What the fuck, Casanova?”
“I know!” Nova shouted, not sounding nearly as apologetic as he should. “But she was supposed to be protected! Hurting her is like spitting in my fucking face!”
Tino touched his temple again, feeling for blood as they drove over the bridge from Tampa towards their hotel on the Gulf of Mexico. It felt like his skull was cracked open, but he didn’t seem to be bleeding.
He looked at his shirt under the flashes of street lights, seeing the stain of red on his clothes. He turned to Carmen, really studying her, because her dress was stained too.
Tino beat on people for a living and he knew something wasn’t right. If they left the dead guy behind, where was all this blood coming from?
Why was it on Carmen?
He highly doubted she touched the dead bouncer while Tino was out. Wasn’t she in the car when it all went down?
“Are you hurt?” Tino asked her.
She stared down at herself, and it was obvious she was in shock too. Life had coldcocked her far more forcefully than the 9mm that got Tino. She still hadn’t cried. Instead she had a horrible, dazed look in her eyes, as if her life suddenly became too horrific for her brain to process.
“I don’t think so.” She pulled at her dress, staring a large crimson spot. “But where did it come from?”
So, it wasn’t just the blinding headache.
There was a very important key to this puzzle missing.
The street lights kept flashing faster and faster in the car when Nova took his anger out on the gas pedal.
“They were fucking selling her! That was against the agreement!” Nova was still raging. “The bastardi are protected by me! They’re protected by our entire borgata! I had every fucking right to end that motherfucker!”
“Where’s the blood coming from?” Tino asked as a frantic need to know rose to the surface like a freight train. It felt cardinal to survival. As desperately as he would’ve fought for air if it was being stolen from him, that’s how badly he needed to know. “Why are we covered in blood? I’m not bleeding! She’s not bleeding! Where’s it coming from?” He pulled at his shirt again, staring at the splashes of red. “Where the fuck is it coming from?”
Something about Tino’s raw terror must’ve broken through Nova’s rage. He pulled off the road into a weird clearing towards the end of the bridge. Dark, ominous mangroves rose around them on either side, and Tino realized the car was parked on the banks of the intercostal. He could hear the slow, steady splash of small waves over the hum of cars still driving by on the bridge.
Nova turned off the car and rested his head against the steering wheel. “I should just fucking drown all three of us right now.”
Carmen looked to Tino, her light eyes hollow and sad, as if waiting for him to give them a reason why Nova shouldn’t do just that.
That’s how wrecked Cosa Nostra left the three of them.
The idea of Nova stomping on the gas and sinking them didn’t seem nearly as crazy as it should.
Weird though, Tino wasn’t too inclined.
He had too many people back home.
Tino surged forward and turned off the car. “Where’s the blood coming from?”
Nova fell back against the seat and pulled at one side of his unbuttoned shirt. It was hard to get a good look because it was dark, but Nova’s bare chest was glistening in the flashes from the cars driving by.
“Oh my God,” Tino choked and pushed the button to turn on the dome light.
He let out a strangled sound of horror, because all the beautiful, cream interior of Nova’s Bentley was bathed in blood.
Tino pushed Nova’s shirt aside, seeing the nice, neat hole in his chest slowly gushing blood.
“Madonn’, Casanova, he shot you! You’re shot!” Tino placed a hand over the hole, trying to will it to stop bleeding. “Is it your heart?”
“Well, obviously, if it was my heart, I’d be dead already,” Nova said in annoyance, like Tino was just clueless about something mundane.
Tino felt Nova’s back, looking for an exit wound and didn’t find one. “You have a bullet in your chest.”
“Thanks for the update.”
“We have to take you to a fucking hospital.” Tino started hyperventilating. “We have to call 911.”
Tino reached for his phone in his pocket, but Carmen caught his hand and stopped him. “If you call the cops, they’ll have him for murder. He’s going down for sure, and you’re not in a great position either. None of us are.”
Tino gaped at her, realizing she expected him to choose between prison or death for his brother. “What makes you think they won’t know anyway? Your Desi friend’s gonna sell us out when the heat shows up.”
Carmen looked away rather than answer.
“It’s against Omertà for the Brambinos to cooperate with law enforcement. It would be a death sentence to the whole borgata. The other families would level them,” Nova reminded him, voice tight, his words clipped and controlled. “I’ll have to answer to the commission for going after the Brambinos without permission, but they can’t sell me out. If someone calls the cops, they’ll have to play stupid with the heat. Legally we might get away with it if we could just head back home. Tonight. Pretend like we never left.”
Tino fell back against the seat next to Carmen, realizing Nova and Carmen were right. If they could get back to New York, they might actually get away with it. They would still have the not so small problem of the commission coming down on Nova, which might make the police preferable. Tino had first-hand knowledge of what happened to wise guys who broke the rules, but they could worry about that next week.
Except, Nova had a fucking bullet in his chest.
“If we’re doing this, if we’re running, we have to do it now. Right this second,” Carmen snapped at him. “Do you have somewhere safe to go back home?”
“Yeah. We have doctors there who can take care of him.” Tino nodded, knowing he didn’t want to join Carmen in losing a sibling. He growled at Nova, “Tell us how to fix you. I know you fucking know how, you suicidal stronzo. I see what you read.”
Nova was silent, like he was still entertaining the idea of drowning them instead.
Nova sighed in defeat and looked down at his chest.
He pushed his shirt aside, and rubbed the blood away with his open palm, as though really studying the injury for the first time. Tino had to give Carmen props for not freaking the fuck out, because only Nova could analyze a bullet hole in his own body that clinically. Tino had been shot before, he knew how blindingly painful it was.
“I guess if someone called me with this problem, I’d tell them to use towels, shirts, anything to stop bleeding. Press and hold, don’t lift up until they can get to a store and buy supplies. It’s not a sucking wound. There’s no exit point. I’m still talking, so it’s obviously not a lung injury.” Nova’s breathing was still raspy, like he was trying to push past all the other issues to genuinely sort out what they should do. “Then, uh—” He swallowed hard, losing some of his hard veneer. “I’d probably tell them to give the guy something—pills, weed, something.”
“Why?” Tino was already pulling at the buttons to his shirt. “Why the drugs? Besides the big, gushing hole in your chest.”
“I guess, if you wanted to keep the guy alive all the way to New York—” Nova tilted his head like he was considering the problem as zu instead of the guy with hole in his chest. “You’d have to pack the wound as sanitarily as possible.” He grunted when he said it. “And that has the potential to be exceedingly, mind numbingly painful for a very long duration of time. That’ll hurt anyone, even me.”
“Do what you said.” Tino tossed his shirt at Nova. “Press and hold.”
“I don’t forget shit,” Nova reminded him. “You do remember that, right? No one wants the resentment this will cause to exist in the world.”
“He may be right,” Carmen agreed. “They don’t want mine either and I’m not going to prison. Not for them. I will make it a much better reason, I promise.”
It was obvious they were both still voting for Nova’s Plan A, which meant fuck nothing to Tino. Any boss suffering lead poisoning automatically loses all decision-making power. That wasn’t even Tino’s rule, it was an enforcer rule.
Bosses were dramatic as fuck without the bullet.
Tino popped the trunk, and jumped out of the car, desperate for clothes because the three of them were running a little thin on acceptable, non-bloody attire for a stop at the drug store.
He opened the trunk, and then stood there staring for one stunned second. He lowered the lid, and looked behind him, making sure they were hidden in the darkness as cars whizzed by from the bridge.
Apparently, a bullet didn’t stop Nova from being zu.
With a hole in his chest, and Tino knocked unconscious, Nova still managed to load up the body of Sammy, the Brambino bodyguard rather than leave it in the parking lot.
As an added bonus, Desi, the guy Tino shot in the hand, was stuffed in there too thanks to the Bentley’s massive trunk.
Tino only briefly glanced at the two men, but he knew his business well enough to be certain they were both very dead.
Nova’s dry-cleaning was still in the corner, laying under Sammy’s designer shoes. Tino opened the trunk once more and grabbed the clothes before he slammed the lid shut quickly. He glanced back to the road, but the cars were still going by none the wiser.
“I guess I should’ve told you about the surprises in the truck,” Nova still sat in the front seat with his eyes closed like the pain was catching up to him. The massive adrenaline rush from killing the bouncer was obviously wearing off. “Sorry, Valentino.”
“We’ll worry about it later,” Carmen said before Tino could respond. “We have worse problems.”
Carmen started helping Nova hold Tino’s shirt to the wound. Something about it looked a little too real and way too deadly under the dome light. Seeing his brother sitting there bleeding, Tino instantly forgot about the dead bouncers in the trunk. Nova was an asshole, but Tino was pretty sure he would lose his mind if his brother died.
Literally lose his fucking mind.
Since the day Tino first started breathing, Nova had been right next to him. Hell, there were times when Tino still ended up sleeping in Nova’s bed if the girls were busy and Romeo was training late. Tino would hang with Nova watching television in his bedroom downstairs and just pass out there.
That’s how fucked up they were.
Tino was twenty years old and he couldn’t sleep well alone—and he knew Nova didn’t either. Nova had his own, very expensive apartment downstairs and he slept on Romeo’s couch most nights.
“I have to call 911.” Tino started to legitimately hyperventilate. “He’s gonna fucking die. I can’t handle that. Fuck it, I’ll go to prison. I’ll say I killed the motherfuckers in the trunk.”
“Hey!” Carmen pressed harder on Nova’s chest. “He’s not going to die! And no one’s going to prison, because are we not calling the heat with those two coglioni in the trunk! I already said I’m not going down for them.”
“Nova could pass out and we won’t know what the fuck to do!” Tino shouted back at her. “How do you know he’s not going to drop dead on the way there? How can you promise me that?”
“’Cause I have my hands on him. I can feel his energy, and I’m telling you he’s not going anywhere.”
“Your magic hands aren’t good enough for me right now!” Tino growled at her. “If he passes out, we’re both fucked, ‘cause I’m not a doctor and you aren’t either!”
“I’m a woman.” She pushed so hard on Nova’s chest he grunted in pain. “God makes me bleed just for the fun of it. I can pack a bullet wound. I don’t need a road map from your zu.”
“If we get pulled over, you tell the heat we kidnapped you.” Nova placed his hand over Carmen’s on his chest and squeezed her wrist until she looked back at him. “Everyone at the club will back it up.”
Carmen shook her head, like that didn’t sit well with her. “I’m in this too. We both know why you killed Sammy. Besides, what happened after—”
Nova cut her off with a stern look. “I’m trusting you to protect yourself, Carmen.”
Nova’s game was full throttle.
Zu voice and everything.
And he wasn’t playing it like a guy about to drop dead.
“Okay, then.” Tino got a renewed sense of optimism. “So, we’ll go to a drugstore for supplies and Carmen will do that—” He pointed to Nova’s chest, trying desperately to stay sane under the fear. “After she’ll start driving back, and I’ll make sure you stay awake.”
“This is a great plan, except one thing.” Carmen winced at him. “I don’t drive.”
“What?” Tino shouted. “You just gave me your warrior woman speech! Now that doesn’t include driving?”
“I’m sure I could drive, but that’s too much independence and my father doesn’t trust me like he does the others. I have ten times more freedom not driving. It makes him feel safer thinking I’m trapped places.”
“Bella—” Nova sounded pained, like just hearing it hurt him.
“Nope!” She glared at Nova. “This bullet was enough chivalry from you.”
Now Tino felt like an asshole. “I guess I could drive.”
“Can you? How’s your head?” Carmen asked seriously.
“It’s okay.” Tino was still trying to breathe past the panic. “I’m actually a good driver. I can do it with a headache.”
She arched an eyebrow at him. “You’re not going to pass out and kill us all?”
Carmen was looking for a good reason not to let Nova drown them a few minutes ago, but he decided not to point that out and nodded. “I’m solid.”
The two of them worked together to get Nova in the back seat. Carmen was still pressing the shirt to his chest. Rather than let up, she told Tino to pull Nova’s shirt off too. Once he was bare chested, she just put Nova’s shirt on top of Tino’s instead of replacing it completely and risk stopping with the compress.
Tino knew there was too much blood.
Way too much blood.
“I won’t let him die.” Carmen sat straddled over Nova, both hands on his chest. She turned to look back at Tino and promised him, “My hand to God, for my sister, I can do this for you, Tino.”
He understood protecting Nova represented a lot more to Carmen then just saving the guy who unnecessarily took a bullet to defend her. From what Tino heard, it wasn’t a new thing for her.
Even still, Tino found himself fighting tooth and nail to believe Carmen’s promise. A virtual stranger. A Brambino. A lost girl who knew what loss felt like more than any of them wanted to. This was it for her, saving the bleeding gangster under her.
Carmen was them on other side after Cosa Nostra took everything. That scary thing Tino thought about late at night when he was stuck staring at the ceiling hating his life: a Tino with nothing to lose and everything to gain by blowing the whole fucking thing up.
He even began channeling his anger into that Tino, giving him a stockpile of cash and supplies to use in case he needed to take it all down just to be a motherfucker.
Tino pinned all his rage on that guy, setting it in nice, neat corners across the city so he could manage the rest of his life.
And Tino knew for fucking certain if he had safe houses full of guns and cash, Nova must have a secret empire designed to nuke the entire existence of Cosa Nostra off the map because the bullshit never stopped.
It only got worse and worse until they were all ticking time bombs. Now any one of them at any time could start trying to hurt back instead of just survive. They had the tools and the skill sets. All they required was the motivation, and it didn’t take much.
Nova just proved that.
Tino needed to give Carmen a reason to stay good so desperately, he bet his brother on it.
He got behind the wheel without another word and pulled out of the mangrove enclave by the water, praying the whole time he didn’t accidently unleash his own monster by trying to save Carmen from hers.