Tino had no idea that the biggest favor he had ever done in his life for Brianna and Nova was to freak the fuck out and scream at them rather than let them touch him.
At the time, he looked like a lunatic who cracked.
He had, a little, but three hours later, when he was still wearing Lola’s blood and standing in the coroner’s office naked being photographed by a detached doctor, it seemed like Tino was the sane one and the rest of them had cracked.
How did the smartest man alive forget about the chain of evidence?
Nova should’ve known that Carlo, Tino and Carina were going to end up being forced to strip in that cold, terrible coroner’s office of all places, handing over every single piece of blood-soaked clothing one by one to a gloved man holding out a plastic bag so they could seal it up as evidence. Every drop counted, and they were very serious about it, but that wasn’t the worst part.
Just to be sure they weren’t the ones who killed Lola, the last two guys in the world who could afford to be on the grid were forced to give DNA samples for the sake of the investigation. Tino was still very shaken up over Lola’s death, but he was also sweating over his DNA going into the government’s database.
To the point that it felt like he’d snorted three days’ worth of blow.
No wonder Nova was so paranoid about bullets. If they were this intense about the evidence, collecting every single drop of blood, studying every microscopic fiber, talking about looking under Lola’s finger nails for skin, and entering all that shit into the database to be stored forever—Tino was fucked.
When it was over, the medical examiner’s assistant handed Tino a new set of his own clothes and Tino looked at them in surprise because he hadn’t left with them.
“We have clothes here, but your brother brought yours. Lucky you,” the assistant offered, making it obvious Nova remembered at some point what was going to happen to Tino for wearing Lola’s blood. “He’s waiting for you in the lobby.”
Tino was the first one out to the lobby, probably because he hadn’t been wearing many clothes to begin with, just jeans and underwear that he handed over to the medical examiner. Dollars for doughnuts, he was also far more cooperative than Carlo and Carina about stripping down and being photographed.
He was still vibrating with fury over the DNA thing, but when he got to the lobby, every drop of anger at his brother dissipated. Tino forgot things too in the aftermath, really important things. Lola’s death was just that horrendous and Nova looked completely dazed, like he didn’t know what problem to solve first because Carlo, Tino and Carina losing their clothes at the coroner’s and giving up DNA samples wasn’t his only huge problem.
The don got arrested.
And they’d done such a great job cleaning the house too. Nova, Brianna and the soldiers threw a small fortune in firearms into Jamaica bay. There weren’t many drugs even though they had been at the Mills Basin mansion to party.
Carina was off weed and benzos.
Tino was off blow.
Nova’s weed laced cigarettes slipped by—again.
The don didn’t do drugs—that often.
The soldiers were working.
And no one else had gotten there for the party yet.
‘Cept they hadn’t known about Carlo’s boots.
The only one who knew about secret compartment was Tino and he fucking forgot to tell them. The dogs found those motherfuckers in about five minutes and thanks to the labels on the doors left over from Carina’s party—they knew they belonged to Carlo.
For a heart stopping few minutes they all truly believed the cops were going to take Carlo, who was out of his mind with grief, to lock up. Then, without fucking hesitating, the don stepped up.
Those labels on the doors were old, left over from December.
The don was staying in that room because he liked the view of the bay.
The boots were his.
He even cried a little, which didn’t look that hard under the circumstances, saying he didn’t want his grandchildren to know he did blow. He was worried they were going to be disappointed in him. He let them down by setting a bad example.
Yeah, the head of the largest drug ring in North America was actually selling that bullshit. The cops fucking bought it though and the boots happened to be his size.
Turns out locking up a don was much more appealing then dragging in the devastated boyfriend of the dead woman lying on the doorstep. They had the don in handcuffs in a heartbeat.
In the end, the don went in one cruiser to the station.
And Carina, Carlo and Tino went in another set of cruisers to the coroner’s office, but it wasn’t easy to pull off.
Lola was still on the doorstep and Carlo wasn’t fully understanding that leaving her wouldn’t make much of a difference now. He didn’t want to go, and it was only Nova, cursing him out in Italian that got Carlo to play along. At that point, it was a fucking miracle Carlo wasn’t going to jail instead. So, Nova stopped being his friend, and turned into his boss. It kicked Carlo’s well-honed survival instincts into gear against his will.
None of them were safe from that shit.
They left Nova and Brianna standing there behind the crime scene tape in a sea of cops—the only two left unscathed.
It had been a really long day, but when Nova jumped up and hugged him, Tino let him. He clung to his brother harder, needing the comfort desperately. Hours later, they were both still shaking. Nova squeezed his bicep under the sleeve of his shirt, and pulled back, looking at him in concern.
“What’d they do?” he asked in Italian.
“They, just um—” Tino shrugged, and resisted the urge to look over his shoulder, even if he wanted to. He was sure to be careful of what he said despite speaking in Italian. “You know, took my clothes. Took my picture.” He stared at Nova with wide eyes. “Swabbed the inside of my mouth.”
Nova looked like he was he going to throw up.
Tino wasn’t sure if Nova had done that part or not, but history told him it was coming, and Tino was praying his brother didn’t end up losing his shit in this stark, terrible office.
He turned around and Brianna ran at him. She must’ve been in the bathroom. Her face was white in fear, but he caught her when she jumped into his arms. She was shaking too, and he held her tight, and whispered in her ear, “Amore mio. My baby.” A fresh surge of tears stung his eyes, and he leaned back to brush some of the hair off her face. “Ti amo,” he said and then repeated himself in English even though he knew she understood. “I love you.”
He pulled her to him again, tighter this time when he remembered Lola’s light eyes staring at him sightlessly in death. It all felt too close, like it could’ve just as easily been Brianna’s wide, green eyes and her blood sticky on his skin.
He buried his face in her hair, and breathed her in, realizing only then that all he’d been smelling for hours was Lola’s blood. He still felt it on him, even if the doctor let him clean up a little after they were done taking pictures. They gave him wipes to get it all off, and it was amazing he still had skin with the fierceness he attacked the project, but there weren’t enough disinfecting wipes in the universe to make him feel clean after that.
“I need a shower.”
“We’re going to the Bensonhurt place,” Nova cut in. “Rome’s meeting us there.”
“You told him?” Tino asked as he looked back to Nova, but still refused to let Brianna go. “And they know he’s coming? They’re looking out for him? They’ll let him in if he beats us there?”
“Yeah, they know. He’s not coming until later, but, trust me, everyone knows,” Nova said in Italian, his eyes wide in silent communication of one single, horrifying word.
“I hope they fucking enjoy those pictures.” Carina’s voice carried from down the hallway. “I know you’re sharing it with your friends. I don’t care. You think I care? I’ll stand out on Fifth Avenue and show my girls. I got nothing to be ashamed of. I even waxed last week.”
Nova groaned, and looked to Tino as he asked in Italian, “Did they give you anything to cover with when they took the pictures?”
Tino shook his head, wondering if this was one of those social things he was supposed to know, but didn’t because life had fucked him up. “No. Was I supposed to ask for something?”
“They took photos of you completely naked?”
“Sì,” Tino said slowly, and went on in Italian, “Is that a problem?”
“Well, it’s violating. I don’t think that was necessary,” Nova growled.
“Oh.” Tino rolled his eyes, because being violated wasn’t real high on his list of concerns. “I thought I got lucky when they didn’t ask me to jack off for them.”
“Are you joking right now?” Nova looked even more pale.
Actually, Tino wasn’t joking.
They kept talking about evidence, he figured that was the next step. Not that he had anything to hide there, and he would’ve done it without too much bother. His DNA was already on the grid. It couldn’t get worse than that, so Tino just arched an eyebrow rather than say anything. Then Carina showed up, still pissed off, and he didn’t have to.
“These puttane made me get naked for them,” Carina announced as she appeared in the lobby. “And they didn’t even buy me a drink first.”
“Stai zitta,” Nova warned her, making it clear not just with his words, but his tone, that she needed to shut up and went on in Italian, “I don’t like that they took pictures either, but we’ll deal with it later.”
Carina folded her arms rather than say anything. Her eyes were red rimmed, and she avoided looking at all of them as she glanced at the ceiling.
“Oh, sweetheart.” Brianna grabbed her. Carina tried to jerk out of her hold, but Brianna was not only bigger than Carina, but considerable stronger.
She didn’t give up, and finally Carina let out an uncharacteristic sob and hugged Brianna back. “It was so horrible.”
“I’m sorry.” Tears sounded in Brianna’s voice too as she kissed Carina’s forehead.
“She looked bad,” Carina choked, making it obvious it was Lola, and not the medical examiner’s pictures she was crying over. “She was so beautiful and look at what Cosa Nostra did to her.”
“Carina—” Nova warned, because they weren’t supposed to name the organization, especially in public.
“I’ll say it if I want. I’ll fucking scream it. No one asked meto take an oath,” Carina growled at him. “And someone should be screaming about it.”
“Come here.” Tino just wrapped his arms around both girls, because Brianna and Carina weren’t letting go of each other. He kissed his sister’s forehead like Brianna had. “We’ll get Carlo, go to the don’s place, shower, maybe chill out—”
“I’m not chilling out!” Carina tried to pull away, but neither Brianna nor Tino were letting her. “I’m not her! You think I’m my mother, but I’m not!”
If there was any day where weed and benzos were justified, this was it, but if Carina was sticking with staying clean, then Tino would too, “Okay,” he agreed. “Me either.”
“Yeah?” Carina looked at him and then asked what the others probably wanted to. “Why didn’t the dogs get your boots?”
They all knew if Carlo kept his blow in his boots, Tino did too.
“I guess we’re cosmic twins.” Tino shrugged and looked away from his sister. “I haven’t done it since that morning and I don’t think you’re like your mother, Rina. Not even close.”
“I don’t know what happened that morning but thank fucking God it did.” Nova sighed. “I gotta figure out how to get the old man outta lock up. He confessed to that shit. At least he wasn’t on probation.”
Tino and Nova both turned at the same time to see the medical examiner who’d taken Tino’s pictures walk up to them.
“Yeah?” Tino asked him.
With his luck, they were going to ask for that other sample now.
“Um.” The doctor glanced down the hallway. “We can’t get him to leave.”
Tino’s breath caught when he realized they were talking about Carlo.
“We may have to call an ambulance for him. It happens sometimes. He’s in shock and I don’t think he understands she’s gone.” The examiner looked really uncomfortable. “Your uncle doesn’t want to leave her. He heard them bring her in, and he wants to see her. We can’t allow that.” He swallowed hard, like he was suddenly very intimidated. “I explained he doesn’t have the right to her body. I know her mother’s deceased, so it’ll have to be another family member—”
“Oh my God,” Carina choked.
“Can we talk to him?” Nova asked quickly. “Can you let my brother and me in to see him before you call it in?”
“Yeah.” The medical examiner nodded and tilted his head back to the hallway. “Follow me.”
“We’ll be right back.” Tino kissed both Carina and Brianna’s foreheads before he followed Nova and the examiner down the hallway.
They could hear Carlo long before they got to him.
“He’s the one who fucking killed her! He did it! He wrote her name on a piece of paper and fucking killed his own daughter and you’re going to turn her over to him! I’m the one who loves her! I’m supposed to be with her! I was supposed to protect her! That was my job and if you think I’m letting him have her now—”
Nova started running.
Tino did too.
They both shoved past the medical examiner.
They didn’t ask to be let into the room he was in, they burst in just as Carlo yelled, “Do you know what I could do to you?”
“You could say sorry!” Nova switched to Italian and reiterated, “That’s what you could do to them. You could say sorry to them! Say sorry!”
Carlo was wearing the clothes Nova brought him, but his hair was standing up at odd angles. His face was swollen from crying and his blue eyes were wild and crazed with pain.
He shook his head in denial and started ranting in English, which made it worse, “Nah, I’m not saying that. Nope. I told them she has a sister. She has a fucking sister. I just don’t know her number. I don’t have anything on my burner but Lola’s number. Tell them I don’t carry a regular phone. It’s on Lola’s phone, but they won’t let me look at Lola’s phone to give it to them even though we all know it’s in a plastic bag somewhere in this fucking building! If they try to give her to the Brambinos first I will help Carmen light the fire that sends this place to hell.”
“I’ll find her sister,” Nova said quickly as he grabbed their zio. He wrapped one hand around the back of Carlo’s neck and forced Carlo to focus on him. “Look at me. Look at who is promising you that. I will personally find Carmen for you and I will bring her back here. The Brambinos are not taking Lola’s body.”
Carlo sucked in a hard breath, because Nova was so easy to believe when he was making promises like that, but still Carlo tried to shake his head in denial. He also switched languages and brokenly admitted to Nova in Italian, “I don’t want to leave her here.”
“You have to.” Nova’s voice cracked when he said it. “But I will get her out of this place and I will make sure she’s taken care of.” Nova grabbed Carlo’s face in both his palms. He kissed Carlo’s forehead, and went on in whispered Italian, “You have to listen to me right now, paisan. You have to trust me. If you want me to get the job done, you have to do your part, and that means saying sorry to these poor men who have a fucking shitty job without you screaming at them. They didn’t do this. You need to be angry at someone else.”
“I am angry,” Carlo promised him.
“Take a deep breath and apologize.” Nova’s voice didn’t crack this time as he growled, “Now.”
Carlo took a deep breath and looked at the two men in lab coasts standing there looking more than a little nervous. “I’m sorry,” he choked out in English.
“Okay.” Nova didn’t let go of his hold on the back of Carlo’s neck. “Can we take him?”
“Yeah.” They both nodded, and the medical examiner didn’t hesitate before he said, “Take him.”
Nova let out a huge sigh of relief and let go of Carlo, but Tino grabbed him because he knew instinctively they needed to be touching Carlo to keep him grounded. He wrapped an arm around Carlo’s shoulder and pulled him close as he whispered, “I love you, zio.”
“I know what you did for her.” Carlo choked on the words as he switched back to the Sicilian leaning Italian of his youth. A sob burst out of him as he crumpled into Tino and buried his face in the curve of Tino’s neck. “I saw the duct tape, and—”
“Come on.” Nova wrapped an arm around Carlo’s waist. “Let’s get him the fuck out of here.”
Carlo was almost dead weight, but together, Tino and Nova were able to drag him out of thecoroner’s office. There were soldiers outside the building, mulling around, smoking and talking. Tino wished they weren’t seeing Carlo quite this broken, but he couldn’t fix it.
Nova brought the limo, and the three of them crawled into the back with the girls. They had a guy sitting shotgun, but Nova put the partition up, and they were alone when Carlo fell on his side and started sobbing.
Carina moved over and put Carlo’s head on her lap. She started stroking his hair, pushing the dark, sweaty strands off his forehead as he cried openly, without shame. An enforcer’s hard reputation was everything, but Carlo broke down like nothing in the world mattered anymore.
It clearly affected Nova too, because he doubled over.
He put his forehead against his knees, and his shoulder shook in grief while he sobbed. It was obvious he hadn’t had a chance until then. None of them held it against him even if the driver and the guy riding shotgun probably heard it and knew their consigliere had a chink in his armor like the rest of them.
They all cried.
All five of them.
By the time they pulled into the Bensonhurst mansion, Tino had his head in Brianna’s lap, with her tears hitting his face as she caressed his hair.
The engine was shut off, and Tino didn’t want to get out of the car. There would be people everywhere, especially if they were at war. Other members of the family would start showing up. They’d bring their children for safety, because the don’s place was the securest on purpose.
Tino would’ve just stayed in the limo, because he was an enforcer too and his rep fucking mattered, but Nova opened the door and jumped out before Tino could pull his shit together.
“And here we go.” Tino rolled off Brianna. “This part was way overdue.”
Sure enough, they heard Nova puking his guts up in downstairs bathroom as Tino utilized Brianna’s dancer strength to help him drag Carlo to his bedroom. People looked at them, a few approached. Some of the women offered food, but Carina’s bluntness worked to their advantage. She dismissed everyone as she followed them up the stairs.
Tino fell into the bed next to his zio after they dumped him there, thinking it wasn’t that long ago that he was curled up next Carlo in Mills Basin, wrapped up in a sheet like this—before their world ended.
Brianna crawled into the bed next to Tino.
Carina laid down on the couch.
They all hid from the rest of the family.
Nova showed up, still looking green and sat on the floor underneath the window that he opened, letting in the hot July air even though it was evening. He sat there silently smoking a joint with shaking hands. He wasn’t even subtle about it, which meant he was probably still trying to curb the urge to be sick.
Then Carlo whispered into the quiet, “Where’s Carmen?”
“I don’t know whose phone she was texting and facetiming Lola from, but it’s not hers. She keeps herself very off the grid. I had to fish deep in the network to get a hint. She’s still in Tampa, and I have enough leads to track her down. I’ll just drive there, and hope I get to her first before someone else tells her.”
“Nova, you can’t go into Tampa. The old man’ll lose his fucking mind,” Carlo argued. “He already got arrested for my blow, I can’t send you into De Luca territory. He’ll never speak to me again.”
“I got a pass, the danger’s minimal.” Nova winced when he said it. “No reason to tell the old man we’re getting her in Tampa. We could say it was anywhere.”
“How expensive was the pass?” Tino asked in concern.
Nova held up his hands, as though ambivalent to his own suffering. “I guess we’ll find out.”
“I should go, especially if all you got is leads. I should be the one to protect her,” Carlo said softly. “Now I wish I hadn’t been such a dick to her. Maybe it was a placebo, but I swear to God, Nova—”
“It was definitely a placebo,” Nova cut Carlo off before he could dig deeper, and then took another long drag off his cigarette. He blew out the smoke, and his voice was raspy when he spoke. “I know you’re gutted, but please do not give this poor girl shit about her coping mechanisms the same week she has to bury her sister. I can’t let you do that to her.”
“I’ll go, zio. It’s easier if I do it,” Tino volunteered when Nova started coughing. “I’ll keep her safe. You hold it down here.”
“That’s a good idea. I have to set things in place to get the don out.” Nova gave Tino a look of relief. “And then we’ll leave. Tino and I will tell Carmen together, okay, paisan?”
Carlo was silent, and Tino could almost hear the argument, but he nodded instead. “Okay.”