Mills Basin, New York
July 4th, 2010
After the shitshow with Brianna and Carina, Tino went cold turkey.
He’d gone this long without it before. He wasn’t typically an everyday user, but the don had been power-hungry and ambitious lately. Tino had been working hard for months, and he’d been an almost every day user for a while now. He had to have been and not noticed, ‘cause two days clean and he felt like shit. Just tired, grouchy and achy as fuck.
The don was having a big boat party for the Fourth of July at Carina’s Mills Basin place. Usually, Tino tried to play the game of including everyone on the holidays. He’d spend the afternoon on the yacht with the Moretti crew, and then he and Nova would head back to watch fireworks with Romeo in Manhattan.
Today, Tino wasn’t going anywhere.
If Romeo wanted to spend time with him, he could come to Brooklyn and hang out on the water with the rest of the guidos. At six in the morning, Tino was still sucking down coffee and wondering why the fuck he was awake.
“Who wants eggs?” Carina asked from her spot by the stove.
She spoke extra loud, because she had music blaring, and up until then, had been happily singing along to it.
“Please,” Brianna said quickly, without even the slightest hesitation. “No cheese though.”
“I’ll take some.” Nova kept looking at his phone, and then gulped his coffee like he needed it as desperately as Tino did.
“Me too,” the don agreed.
Don Aldo Moretti was seated next to Nova, looking worse for the wear with his salt and pepper hair standing up at odd angles. He was bare chested, showing off his gold crucifix, and a broad, cut build that proved Nova would age well as long as he didn’t develop Frankie’s bad habits. This morning his chest was tanned and smooth, when usually the don, like Frankie, just let it all go.
Tino knew those signs.
And he hoped to God the don didn’t knock up whatever girlfriend he was waxing and shaving for.
The don had coffee in front of him too and he was drinking it like Nova was. Even old Morettis with young comares weren’t supposed to be up before the sun.
“I’m happy you’re cooking.” The don’s voice was gravelly with sleep. “You remind me of your nonna, but why so early, niputina mia?”
“Cause it’s the Fourth of July!” Carina said it like all of them should agree after she woke up the entire house at five-thirty in the morning. “We need to beat everyone out on the water. Boys.” Brianna pointed to the three soldiers who followed the don from Bensonhurst. “Eggs? Bacon? Toast?”
They all dutiful agreed and gave Carina their orders.
“Where’s Carlo? It’s been half a friggin’ hour,” Carina asked, and with her back to him called out from the other side of the huge kitchen, “Tino? What’d you wanna eat?”
“Please don’t make me,” Tino mumbled under his breath, but then Brianna kicked him. The don glared. Nova gave him a look of warning. Carina turned to him expectantly because it was obvious she hadn’t heard him say anything over the blare of the radio. Tino just shrugged in defeat. “Whatever you wanna put in front of me, sweetheart.”
If he could eat dog food for her mother, he supposed he could choke down Carina’s attempt at cooking.
He was so burnt out, he actually gave up pretending and laid his head on the table. He pressed his cheek against his forearm and let his eyes close heavily. Carina was singing again, which was soothing. The other voices that drifted in and out of his consciousness were hazy. He was halfway towards falling asleep when Carina wandered out of the kitchen to get more eggs from the fridge in the garages.
“What the fuck is she taking?” the don barked once Carina was out of earshot. “It’s like she’s on amphetamines.”
“She’s always hyper on holidays,” Nova reminded him.
“Not like this. It’s six o’clock in the fucking morning. What is she on?”
“How the fuck should I know?” Nova sounded too sleepy to kiss the don’s ass properly.
“You’re supposed to be my eyes, Nova. That’s your job.”
“Look, I doubt it’s amphetamines.” Nova sighed like his well-honed survival instincts kicked in. “She likes downers. Booze. Weed. Absinthe. All the dreamy artist merda.”
Tino silently filled in the last one, but then just as quickly, it hit him. He sat up and glanced at the kitchen door in shock. Then he turned to Brianna, who was biting her lip and sliding down in her chair, as if hoping everyone would miss her sitting at the big kitchen table next to them. Unfortunately for her, everyone turned on Brianna at the same time.
“What’s she on?” the don growled at her.
“I think she’s going off something,” Tino said before Brianna had to.
“What?” The don narrowed dark eyes at him. “Don’t you fucking lie to me, Tino.”
Tino quirked an eyebrow at him, thinking he lied to the don all the time. Then Brianna and Nova each kicked one of his legs in perfect timing, and Tino shrugged. “I gave her shit for taking benzos like her mother.”
Nova winced. “That would do it.”
“You think it’s making her high strung?” the don asked.
They were all still speaking in hushed whispers, and Nova answered as he looked back to his phone. “Without question. Giving benzos up would make a normal person have a hard time sleeping and she’s not normal. Thanks, Valentino.”
“No, it’s fine.” The don reached over and squeezed Tino’s hand. “You watch out for her.” Then he pushed the chair back and leaned across the table to pat Tino’s cheek affectionately. “It’s good.”
It was a minor miracle Tino had the self-restraint not to roll his eyes. He just grabbed the don’s hand, dutifully kissed his ring and smiled. “Grazie.”
Carina walked in with a fresh carton of eggs. “Where the fuck is Carlo? He’ll miss breakfast.”
“Paper’s probably here.” Nova tossed his phone on the table. “I’ll check on him.”
“No.” Tino pushed his chair back. He needed to wake up anyway. This tired, he might just tell the don how he felt about everything. “I’ll get him.”
The signs from Carina’s birthday were still on the doors upstairs, except Carina’s that she pulled down before the don got there because it advertised:
Must bring cake and be good on your knees.
Carlo’s door wasn’t any less subtle as it cautioned:
A trigger happy motherfucker.
You’ve been warned.
Tino didn’t bother to knock, he just quietly turned the handle and walked in. He found Carlo right where he expected him; passed out on the king-sized bed. It looked like Carlo at least tried to get up, because he was sprawled out above the sheets in his underwear—snoring.
He snored like Nova, that soft, growly sound like he was so thoroughly Moretti, there was always a little bite to him, even when he slept.
Tino was tired enough that it gave him mental whiplash. He found himself crawling into bed with his zio like he was back over the garage in Dyker Heights.
Or in their old East Harlem apartment.
“Move over, stronzo.” Tino shoved Carlo, but he didn’t roll over automatically like Nova would’ve.
Carlo jerked awake instead, looking on the defense like any good enforcer would. He had slammed his hand against the nightstand, wrapping his fingers around his 9 mm.
“The fuck?” he mumbled, frowning at Tino.
“Carina’s cooking,” Tino explained in Italian.
“Oh.” Carlo dropped his head back to the pillow and fell asleep again.
The stronzo still didn’t move over. Must be nice to be raised an only child. Not like he and Frankie ever shared a bed. Tino didn’t need much space to sleep. He just rolled up in the blankets next to his zio, listening to Carlo snore, and promptly passed out.
He wasn’t sure how long he was out, but the next moment, Tino was jerking awake before he knew why. His hand flew to the nightstand, but his fingers tightened around nothing but air. He was tangled in the sheets and blinked in confusion. Nova knocked the 9mm in Carlo’s hand dismissively, likely because he saw Carlo hadn’t let the safety off.
“Stronzi,” Nova snapped at the two of them. “She’s got breakfast waiting for you.”
Tino was still confused. The cocaine crash made his thoughts a little fuzzy.
Carlo didn’t have the same problem, so he asked the question for both of them, “Is something going down? Why do I have to get up?” He tossed his gun back on the nightstand, and grabbed the small, burner cellphone. He frowned when he looked at it, bringing it closer to his face before he shouted in Italian, “It’s six-thirty! Get the fuck out, Nova!” Then he jerked, as if only now noticing Tino sleeping next to him. “Are you two high?”
“You snore like Nova,” Tino explained and dropped his head back to the pillow, thinking it explained everything.
“What the fuck?” Carlo mumbled in his unique combination of Sicilian and Italian as the bed shifted and he sat up. “Okay. I’m up. I think. What am I supposed to be doing?”
“Eating the breakfast Carina made you.”
“But, I don’t want to do that.” Carlo still sounded mystified, speaking only Italian, because it was his mother’s first language. “Why is she up this early when we all partied late?”
“’Cause, someone decided to give her shit for taking benzos like her mother.” Nova was obviously looking at Tino. “I think she’s off weed too. I didn’t see her smoking last night. Now she’s like Tino on speed.”
“Oh my God, why?” Carlo let out a pained moan as he rolled out of bed. “Tino, why would you do that? The world needs Carina to smoke weed.”
“Sorry.” Tino was still mostly asleep, but then Nova shoved his shoulder. “Stop.”
“If I’m up, you are too, puttana.” Nova pushed Tino again, and since Tino was already on the edge, and wrapped up in the sheet, he couldn’t catch himself before he fell off the bed and Nova cursed, “Oh, merda.”
Tino reached out, half blind and grabbed Nova’s ankle. He jerked in a powerful, quick motion and Nova must’ve been off his game too because he went down and landed on the tile. Then he kicked Tino, hard, catching him in the jaw so violently he tasted blood.
That woke him up.
Tino sprung out of the blankets and launched himself at Nova. Tino tried to punch him, but Nova was more awake than him, and blocked the punch as he shouted, “That was a reflex!”
“Reflex this!” Tino punched Nova’s shoulder with one hand and used his left hand to catch Nova the second time, even though he wasn’t a natural southpaw. Tino hit his brother in the jaw and growled, “Feel good, motherfucker?”
“Lola never called me back last night,” Carlo mumbled as he ignored their fighting because it wasn’t anything new. “She always calls me before she goes to sleep.”
Carlo hated cellphones, but he had finally caved and gotten one for Lola. An old school, pay by the month, practically untraceable burner phone exclusively for Lola. Even Tino didn’t call him on it. Carlo still had kids in the neighborhood sending Tino texts because of the Sicilian belief that a cellphone in your pocket was like carrying around the government. Plus, Tino was fairly certain Carlo wouldn’t be able to text even if he wanted to—especially on that thing.
“So call her.” Nova suggested and knocked Tino’s hand away when he reached down to mess up Nova’s hair. “Don’t you fucking dare! I just fixed it!”
Then Nova reached up and messed up Tino’s hair in retaliation, but what did Tino care? He’d just been sleeping, so he knocked Nova’s hand away and did it himself, running both hands through his hair quickly, making the course, thick strands stand up. Then he gave Nova a pointed look.
Nova started laughing. “Minchia, you should see yourself. I hope I don’t look like that.”
“You wish you looked this good.”
Tino crawled off his brother and got to his feet. Then he stared at his reflection in the mirror and winced. Nova wasn’t lying. Anyone who saw that would never give a Sicilian shit about using hair products. He ran his hands through his hair, this time trying to push it back into place, only it didn’t want to agree. He reached for the gel Carlo had on the dresser.
“No one gives a shit what your hair looks like. It’s just family. Party doesn’t start for another three hours.” Nova took the gel out of his hand and put it down again. “Fix it after breakfast. Your food’s getting cold.”
“Maybe that’ll improve it.” Tino grumbled and looked back to Carlo, who was tugging on a pair of jeans. “You coming?”
“Yeah.” Carlo held his phone to his ear with his shoulder as he buttoned his jeans. He looked at his reflection, and winced like Tino had, but he obviously decided to ignore it. “She’s not answering.”
“It’s pretty fucking early,” Nova said as he walked down the hall. “Call her again. I guarantee you she’s sleeping.”
“Just don’t talk to me,” Carlo growled.
“Okay.” Tino held up his hands as they walked down the stairs. “Remind us never to wake you up at six-thirty in the morning.”
“Never wake me up at six-thirty,” Carlo reminded them.
They got to the bottom of the stairs, and all three of them turned when they heard a phone ringing coming from the front door. It stopped just as Carlo lowered his phone with a grunt.
Nova walked across the foyer. “Gotta be the paper guy.”
“You want me to text her?” Tino asked Carlo in concern.
“Nah, I’ll just call her again. Better chance of her hearing it.”
Nova slammed the door.
Carlo was fucking with his phone, calling Lola again, so he didn’t see the look on Nova’s face, but Tino did and said quickly, “What?”
Nova opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He looked completely frozen in shock and horror.
“Casanova, what?” Tino shouted.
Then the phone started ringing again from outside.
Tino had one of those slow-motion moments in life, where everything in his world turned into frame by frame terror. Every heartbeat. Every breath.
He turned his head and looked at his zio, just as Carlo pulled his phone away from his ear.
Carlo was staring at the door again while the ringing from outside echoed through the deadly silence of the foyer.
Carlo hung up the call on purpose.
And the ringing stopped again.
Tino just stood there like Nova had, frozen, because he did this shit for a living. Everyone knew their family gathered on the water for the Fourth of July. It’s not like the Morettis were subtle about their parties. The Mills Basin mansion wasn’t guarded with big, tall walls, guard booths and gated driveways like the don’s Bensonhurst place.
Mills Basin also happened to be the only property where there weren’t cameras on the outside. Tino and Carlo used the docks for a lot of things they didn’t want on video feeds, so the cameras ran inside when they were gone to keep the government and other criminals from planting bugs, but not the outside.
It was the perfect recipe for a message job.
They probably waited for months to leave it.
And message jobs were never pretty.
They were designed to crack an entire crew—or in this case, with any luck, a whole borgata.
Usually Tino’s reflexes were fast, but Carlo slipped right by him. Tino’s body hadn’t caught up to his mind. Nova was fucking useless too, maybe more so, because he saw what was on the other side of that door.
“Casanova!” Tino screamed at his brother, because he was the only barrier between Carlo and the door. “Don’t let him see her!”
Tino spent many times in his life being pissed off that somewhere along the way he became programed to obey Nova, blindly, without question, almost completely on auto-pilot when things were tense. It was a defense mechanism, and he never once considered that Nova had the same programing. That if life threw them in the shit and Tino told Nova to do something, he’d do it, even if he was frozen terror.
Nova jerked out of his shock and downed Carlo like a fucking linebacker. The two of them hit the tile so hard, it’d be amazing if they escaped without broken bones, but Tino didn’t stop to see the fallout.
He wasn’t real sure why he did it.
Why, when his feet started moving, he left his brother to deal with Carlo and went for the door. Maybe a very stupid part of him thought he could fix it. That he could rewind time and make it not be Lola sprawled out on their doorstep. Naked, with her phone laying at her feet like they’d cut her clothes off right there and hadn’t noticed it.
Her long, curly black hair hid her face.
Tino pulled the door closed and fell to his knees in pools of blood.
So much fucking blood.
They’d bled her out completely.
Her body was cold in the middle of summer. Tino ignored it and did what he didn’t want Carlo to have to do. He shoved Lola’s hair away from her face. He let out a sob when he saw her and the absolutely horrific part was—it was a sob of relief that burst out of Tino.
They hadn’t shot her in the face, which was honestly what he was expecting.
Her light eyes were wide, glazed with death. Whoever did it had duct taped a sock in her mouth to keep her silent. It was obvious they slit her throat on the doorstep and left her there to bleed to death. They wanted Carlo to know how close he was to Lola when she died.
Tino ripped the tape off her mouth and threw the sock into the bushes. Then he closed Lola’s eyes gently with shaking hands. Her wrists were bound behind her back with a zip tie and he was working on trying to get it off, but with no knife, it was almost impossible.
He wished he had a shirt on so he could cover her, maybe wipe some of the blood off her face, done more to make her look a little less brutalized when Carlo won the battle and pulled the door open.
He had dragged both the don and Nova with him. Like a fucking bear, Carlo had managed to make it to that doorknob with Nova draped over his back, holding him in a choke hold. The don had both, big, thick arms wrapped around Carlo’s waist. The don had spread his legs wide to get leverage and stop Carlo from walking forward, but in the end, these two powerful men, feared above all others, were nothing under the weight of Carlo’s determination to get to Lola.
The world blurred out for Tino, just completely hazed white behind the rush of tears that blinded him when he heard the scream burst out of Carlo. He couldn’t cover Lola before Carlo saw her. He couldn’t wipe away some of the blood. He had to just hand her cold body over to him when Carlo’s grief had him falling down next to them.
The don and Nova let him go.
Carlo yanked her away from Tino and shouted when he felt her, so cold and lifeless in his arms. “Piccola mia.”He brushed her hair away from her face and started sobbing. “Amuri, no.”
“I’m sorry,” Tino whispered as he sobbed with him. “I’m so sorry.”
“Andate via!” Carlo screamed at Tino, making it clear he wanted him to leave. Then he turned around and shouted in English at the don, Nova and anyone else who was listening, “Don’t fucking look at her! None of you look at her!”
“I’ll get something to cover her,” Tino offered, because what the hell else could he offer him.
“No, I’m tired of men looking at her! I’m tired of men hurting her!” Carlo sobbed in Italian as he gathered Lola tighter against him and leaned over her in a protective gesture. “I didn’t take care of her. Miu àncilu.”
Tino wanted to respect Carlo’s wishes, so he crawled past them rather than risk slipping. The don and Nova both backed up, and together the three of them fell back into the foyer. It was the don who closed the door, letting Carlo have what he wanted. Tino just collapsed on the tile, leaving blood everywhere, because he was covered in it.
He laid there, sobbing, shaking from head to toe.
“We gotta get rid of the drugs and guns, Tino,” the don reminded him. “Or we are allgoing down. I don’t give a shit about me, but you can’t let him go to lock-up like that.”
Tino lifted his head and looked at the don, realizing he expected Tino to work. That was Tino’s job. He was supposed to protect the family when shit got deep.
“She was my friend first,” Tino rasped. “I dunno if you fucking know that, but she was my friend too, Don.”
“I’ll find the stuff.” Nova’s voice was shaking. “And someone’s gotta take him something to cover her. I don’t think it can be one of us. It’s gotta be one of the girls.”
“I’ll do it.”
Tino turned to see that the don’s soldiers were holding Carina and Brianna back. Both girl’s faces were red, tears streamed down their faces, but still Carina elbowed the guy holding her again and said, “I’ll do it. I’ll take it to him.”
The thing was, aside from Carina seeing the horror that was on the other end of that door, none of them could think of a good argument against it.
“Niputina mia,” the don whispered even as Carlo’s sobbing from outside washed over them. He looked lost, like he didn’t know who to protect, his son or his granddaughter. “No.”
“I’ll do it, Nonno,” Carina said, this time more firmly.
The don nodded and waved a hand for the soldiers to let them go.
Carina took off up the stairs at the same time Brianna ran towards Tino, but he rolled on his side to dodge her before she could fall down next to him. “Don’t touch me!”
He did not want Lola’s blood on her. It felt like a terrible omen. How many throats had Carlo cut and look at where he was now, sitting in a pool of Lola’s blood holding her lifeless body?
How many throats had Tino cut?
“Don’t fucking touch me!” Tino screamed it at her. “I don’t want it to touch you! Don’t let it touch you!”
Brianna stopped and pulled back, her hands held up like she could somehow stop all of this from happening. Her breathing was sharp, labored, like she didn’t know what to do, but she had obviously dealt with enough of Tino’s nervous breakdowns to understand touching him would break him.
“I’ll help Nova find the drugs and the guns,” Brianna decided, and then turned to Nova. “I’ll help you, okay?”
“Okay.” Nova nodded but reached for Tino like he didn’t want to leave him alone. Tino flinched away from him. He didn’t want the blood touching his brother either, and maybe, like Brianna, Nova understood because he just said, “Ti voglio bene.”
They scattered then, using the small window they had before the neighbors called the police to clean the house. Carina came flying down the stairs. She’d pulled the black sheets off Nova’s bed, and even though it was a good choice, since he was only one who had black, Tino wanted to tell her not to let Nova’s sheets be Lola’s death shroud.
Instead Tino just sat up, and said, “I don’t want you to go out there. I don’t want it to touch you, Rina.”
The thing about Carina was, she didn’t take direction too well.
She was pretty much on her own agenda most of the time.
So she just said, “I’ll be okay,” and opened the door.
She closed it quickly behind her.
Tino didn’t know what she did, but it was quiet. Carlo’s sobbing settled and then Carina’s voice drifted underneath the door as she sang Ave Maria.
Tino closed his eyes, remembering another time he laid sprawled out on tile covered in blood.
The song was beautiful.
Carina’s voice was still gorgeous.
But it wasn’t the same.
Tino might have thought it was his own cynicism, but Nova had stopped on the stairs. His arms were full of guns he was likely going to chuck into Jamaica Bay and hope to God the cops didn’t drag the water under the docks.
His brother looked towards the door, listening for one brief moment. The man who remembered everything would know the difference. Cynicism would have nothing to do with it when every second was ingrained in his brain, and the look of anguish that crossed Nova’s face said it all.
The innocence was gone.
The magic had died.
Carina didn’t believe in miracles any more than the rest of them did. Nova left rather than listen, as if hearing it now hurt him, making Tino feel like God had abandoned them.
And why the hell shouldn’t he?
They could go to mass and pretend, but there was no god for gangsters.
They called themselves lost boys, but they’d been pirates for a long time now. It didn’t matter if they failed to notice exactly when it happened—it was still true.