When Tino was twelve, a deep seated, long brewing anger at his brother was born in a basement. Nova made a bad choice, and Tino paid the worse kind of price for it.
After that first beating with their father Tino had to constantly remind himself that his love for his brother was stronger than the anger, and still the two of them barely survived it.
Four years later, when Tino was sixteen, Nova was forced to buy Tino out of another basement by signing him up to be an enforcer, and the payment scarred worse than his body. The basement got his soul in the second round, and Tino got angry all over again—but this time, he buried it.
He didn’t have time for it.
Only sometimes, late at night, when the cocaine wore off, Tino would look at it just long enough to wish it would go away. The burden of it was too heavy. He was tired of it.
Then at twenty, totally unexpectedly, it died.
In an instant, all that anger was gone.
And Tino got to watch it happen.
He felt it gushing past his fingers as he fought to stop it.
The horror of it stained the don’s basement floor bright red, a physical manifestation of every sin Tino had dumped on Brianna night after night.
She became the lamb of understanding that killed Tino’s anger.
And this was how it was going down.
Brianna bleeding out in a motherfucking basement and it was all his fault. Holding her down felt like the darkest, most evil deed he’d ever committed. Physical pain he could take. He’d been dealing with that merda his whole life—but this?
It was too much.
The powerlessness that had haunted Tino since the day he was tossed on his father’s doorstep sucked inward, morphing into a raging inferno of anger between one breath and the next.
Tino knew he was going to crack before he heard the footsteps above them. Nova or Carmen didn’t notice, maybe because they weren’t desperate for an outlet like Tino.
Carina had already gone back up the elevator to call 911, which meant she was going to discover the guy he killed in the garages, but Tino didn’t give a fuck.
It just didn’t matter anymore.
He turned towards the basement stairs, listening intently, every cell in his body pulsing with a cataclysmic flood of dangerous energy. Hungry, like a predator stalking prey, he hoped they would come down. All he needed was the excuse, something, anything to get him away from actually watching Brianna die.
It was Lola all over again, he was sure of it. In his mind, it already happened. The blood and the coroner and the naked pictures for evidence.
“Tino, you’re not paying attention. You can’t hold her that hard,” Nova said frantically in Italian, like he knew the moment Tino checked out. “You gotta make sure she’s still breathing.”
Before Tino had to answer, Tony came down the basement stairs and said in a hushed, frantic whisper, “I hear them coming. I’m gonna try to hold them back as long as I can but be ready.”
“Cazzo,” Nova groaned, pausing for a moment like he was at a loss with what to do. “We gotta make a run for it and follow Carina to the garages. Tino can carry her, we’ll back him up.”
Rather than listen to the Zu, Tino looked to Carmen and said, “Switch with me.”
Brianna was limp in his arms when he pulled away, pale in a pool of her own blood, the marks of Tino’s fingers on her cheeks. Flashes of Lola washed over him again, torn skin, the way the blood stained her neck and forehead. Her prone form next to Nova.
Tino knew this was the moment when all his crimes finally caught up with him—just like they caught up with Carlo—and God didn’t care that Tino was forced into it. In the end, the excuses meant jack fucking shit, just like they did to his real father. There was no forgiveness. There was no mercy.
Life took Brianna from him anyway.
Just like Lola.
And his mother.
All that beauty, and passion, and talent.
That warm, soft, toasty feeling of being loved just for being Tino.
“Jesus fucking Christ, she’s unconscious. God, maybe he just knocked her out on accident. Please, ma, fuck,” Nova cursed, his hand in Brianna’s arm, still packing the grizzly injury with something white and gauzy that Carmen had handed him. “Bella, listen to her chest, make sure she’s breathing. Check her heartrate. Try to see if it’s normal or--” Nova stopped like he couldn’t finish the thought.
Tino grabbed the gun out of the back of Carmen’s shorts as she leaned over Brianna and put her head to Brianna’s chest.
As Tino pushed past Tony and ran up the stairs without looking back he heard Carmen say, “She’s breathing,” but he wasn’t paying attention.
He couldn’t do the coroner’s office.
Or a fucking funeral.
Definitely not prison.
And because of that, every single one of his senses honed down to one thought.
All his planning, and in the end, the revenge would come down to just nine bullets. If the clip was full, that was the absolute most he could bank on. Nothing else mattered but those bullets, which was why he took a moment to actually listen at the door rather than bust out of the basement like he wanted to. He could hear feet pounding in the hallway, down from the kitchen. Tino closed his eyes, and guessed there were four or five of them while trying to grasp exactly how far away they were.
From the basement, Nova barked, “What’s he doing? Minchia, Tony, grab him before--”
Tino opened the door before he could hear the rest, thinking about his nine bullets. He couldn’t blow up the organization like he wanted to, but he could take out a little chunk of the Brambino borgata before he went down.
Tino saw their faces, guns already out, wide eyed and terrified as he pointed his 9mm down the hallway. Maybe they would’ve shot him back, but they weren’t fast enough. They became nothing more than lost bullets under the tsunami of Tino’s terror that blocked out all rational thought like a storm that covers the sun.
Fired in rapid succession, but at the same time, the door seemed to explode in his face when someone else’s bullet missed their mark. Even wired out of his mind on fear and coke, Tino turned automatically, knowing in that split millisecond there had to be another shooter. His intuition paid off, and he lost a fourth bullet to the guy standing behind him.
Tino headed towards the kitchen, stepping over the bodies as he went looking for the other intruders. He stood in the foyer listening, never once thinking about Nova, abandoned with the choice of either saving Brianna or going after Tino.
Tino was too busy daring the world to end it for him.
This was too fucking difficult. He didn’t want to play anymore.
Only the world ended up disappointing him.
He started searching the first floor, and found the fifth guy in the don’s closet, hiding in the corner. When he saw Tino, he pleaded desperately, “Please--”
Tino shot him in cold blood, completely wrecking the don’s closet, which felt really good—a bonus he hadn’t counted on.
Tino stood there and took the time to listen once more, the wail of an ambulance siren grew closer and closer, making it more difficult. He tried to ignore it, thinking about the other problems, rather than Brianna bleeding all over the don’s basement, dying in the worst fucking place possible. The last person he wanted to end up in a basement, the same place that stole his soul, and yet…
The house was old.
It gave people away.
He heard a creak on the floorboards from above, and Tino looked up to the mirrored ceiling above the Don’s bed.
Tino raced upstairs. In his haste, he wasn’t nearly as quiet as he should’ve been when he forced the damaged door to Nova’s room open farther. With his gun out, he peered in, seeing the results from the Brambino’s raid. He kept his steps soft on purpose, being careful to walk on the edges of the rug around Nova’s bed as he peered into the closet that was riddled with bullet holes. The door was hanging off the hinge, like someone kicked it open.
That’s when the sixth gangster played his hand first, pumping a fuckton of bullets through Nova’s bathroom door. For one second, Tino thought he was dead, but then he realized the dumbass decided to empty his clip and hope upon hope that Tino just happened to be standing in front of a closed door.
Quite the gamble when raiding a house full of known gangsters, and Tino decided to go along with it. He fell to the floor hard enough to be heard, and then crawled on his hands and knees, using the rug to cushion his movements. He peered around Nova’s bed, pointing the 9mm at the door, and waited.
And choked a little.
Then he was deathly quiet, patiently waiting as the ambulance siren suddenly died. The red and blue lights now flashed from the back of the property, casting eerie shadows on the wall like a bad dream.
Tino tried to ignore them, keeping his gun level at the bathroom door. He only had four more bullets left—if he was lucky—or he would’ve taken a leaf out of the Brambino’s book and just blew apart the door.
Instead he waited.
The creak of a hinge reverberated through the flashing room, and Tino’s muscles all tensed at once. He met the other man’s gaze through the cracked bathroom door.
“Ciao,” Tino said casually, looking down the barrel of his 9mm at his target. “Why don’t you go ahead and toss your guns my way, sweetheart? Make it easier on both of us.”
The other gangster didn’t even hesitate, he tossed two guns out, and a knife for good measure. Tino left the Berettas in Nova’s room, because he liked to keep things interesting, and forced the other guy to his feet.
Like his buddy, this one begged all the way down the hallway because no one wanted to die for the motherfucking Brambinos. That was worse than dying for the Morettis, and Tino knew how pissed off he was about that happening at some point—hopefully today, likely not.
He would probably end up rotting to death in prison instead.
And he really wished the stronzo would shut-up, but Tino didn’t say anything other than force him down the stairs with the 9mm shoved against the back of his neck.
A part of Tino felt off, past the chaotic wall of fear and fury that surrounded him like a shield, he knew he’d gone too far past his own line.
Tino typically had orders from the administration to hold up as an excuse when things got this gritty. Once some poor fool’s name was on the paper, they were already dead, might as well do them the favor and take them out quick. Tino started looking at it as a charity of sorts. Better him than some twisted, sadistic motherfucker like his father who got off on it.
This time, there were no orders to follow, no veil of charity to hide behind, only Tino’s fucked up sense of retribution.
He could’ve let the guy go.
At the very least, he could’ve ended it fast, but instead Tino took the time to walk the other gangster back to the don’s closet. The guy got quiet then, resigned like they did as he stood there next to his dead crew member.
The image would haunt him later, but at the moment, all Tino did was push at his shoulder, forcing him to shift closer to the expensive, custom made suits in the corner before he pulled the trigger. He actually made that motherfucker move over two steps before he shot him.
It was the coldest thing Tino had done in his life, and he’d done a lot of ice-cold shit.
He felt it stain his brain almost instantly, making him think of Nova again, with all those horrible memories right there at the front—all the time.
He looked down at the two bodies lying there, bleeding all over the don’s closet and truly believed it couldn’t get worse.
Except it could.…it always did.