Vincenzo used the blunt side of his crowbar to bash in the head of the last Klansmen he had to deal with that day. He didn’t know if he’d knocked out the last of the devil’s teeth or he’d ripped his throat, but the bastard was choking on something.
He wiped the crowbar on the nearest shipping crate. All around them were wooden crates carrying everything from Ford cars to below-average alcohol from Montreal. To better conceal them from the public, a half-dozen cargo ships were moored at the docks. Most had been emptied and were waiting for contraband, but they still creaked and swayed in the New York Harbor, masking the noise of a bent crowbar.
The Klansman’s hood fell off. “Stop,” he pleaded. “Please.”
Vincenzo whacked him good again.
“You weren’t sorry when you were bad-mouthing us in the back of that bar.” That was Luis, one of Vincenzo’s acquaintances. He was standing by the other two Irishmen Vincenzo had walloped that evening. Even after being indoctrinated into the Family, Luis had yet to learn when to keep quiet. Vincenzo envied that. “Bet you feel real ashamed of yourself now. Bet you didn’t think about what we could do.”
The Klansman spat out a mouthful of spit soaked with blood. “You Pope-fucking wops are all the same, ruining this country with sin.”
Vincenzo rolled the crowbar back to its pointed side and smashed open the man’s temple. His blood almost flecked his shoes.
Dominic grabbed the wilting man and sat him upright. He was Vincenzo’s other associate for the evening, one he’d known longer than Luis. Since Vincenzo had hauled these men into his car, Dominic hadn’t spoken a word. He simply knew what was expected of him and beat, tied up, kidnapped, and drove them to the docks under Vincenzo’s orders. It helped that he was taller and more muscular than most Italian men, as Vincenzo was short and Luis had the mind of a child.
Dominic rolled up his sleeves and checked his watch.
“I know,” Vincenzo said, reading his mind.
“Eight minutes until four,” he said anyway.
Vincenzo sized up the Klansman’s injuries: a broken leg, a snapped pinkie, and a cracked eye socket.
He handed the crowbar to Luis. “Dominic, help these men into the car. Luis, drive them to Bethany Hospital for the usual treatment.”
“Pay for the treatments, Sir?” Luis asked.
“All of it.” He helped lug one of the now unconscious men into the trunk. “Drop them off saying you found them on the side of the road.”
“Good Samaritan work,” Luis said. “Got it, Sir.”
Despite the time warning, Vincenzo arrived to his next appointment fashionably late. It was over at the other side of the docks, where factory buildings spat out coal and entrapped immigrant workers in its depths. The sea air was terribly intoxicating here, mixing with the smell of metal and sullying the once picturesque view of Lady Liberty.
As Dominic opened his car door, Vincenzo looked up to the factory before him. He’d grown up hearing horror stories about the working conditions of such buildings. His father would come home with scrapes that never healed and dirt that never washed out.
Vincenzo, age six, would implore that he help take off his father’s work boots.
He’d be kick for it.
Vincenzo, age twelve, demanded that he work in the factory with his father so that he could provide for their family, too.
He’d be beaten for it.
Vincenzo, now age twenty-three, was at odds appreciative of his father’s work in the past and disgusted that such work had ruined him.
But it’d led them to the work they now shared. Vincenzo, a prominent figure in the underground gangster business, his father, just a few hairs above him in rank and power.
Just a few. His father wanted to forget that detail. Vincenzo held onto it like a prayer.
Dominic opened the steel door for Vincenzo. Here, immigrants worked shirtless through the summer day to keep the cargo company going. They worked partly for the company, partly for Vincenzo’s father, as he dealt with exactly how much came in and went out through New York Harbor. Vincenzo had some control of it, if you could call such a percentage “his.” He handled where the shipments travelled to. Speakeasies, privately-owned clubs, pansy bars, they all needed him. He made sure the patrons were happy and drunk and very, very loose with their money, amongst other vices.
Bracing himself, Vincenzo inhaled and entered his father’s office.
Personally, he believed his father relished in stereotypes the way aristocrats relished in wines. He wore the suits, smoked the cigars. He greased his hair with so much oil you could smell it when you entered the room. He wanted someone to call him out, to utter, “he’s in a gang, right?” and for him to blow smoke in their face and call them a slur. His dark office of filing cabinets and oil-lit lanterns told you exactly who he was, or what he aspired to be: a gangster boss, someone as feared as he was respected.
As if someone like him could be both.
Severo DiFiore closed the filing cabinet he was searching through. “Where were you? I said to be here by four.”
Alone like this, his father only spoke in their native tongue. One would think he wanted to preserve the language. Vincenzo knew he did it to flaunt his abilities to speak a language of which he had forty years of practice.
“I was taking care of business at the docks,” Vincenzo said, taking note of Dominic standing guard outside.
His father pointed at the seat in front of his desk.
Vincenzo did as told and sat. His father continued standing.
“What’ve you been doing this past week?” he demanded. “Your Nonna’s been worrying.”
A lie. His Nonna hadn’t complained a day in her life, even with having a man like Severo as a son.
Still, Vincenzo said, “I was working. The shipment you got this week has me over Harlem, Brooklyn, and Queens in the same day.”
“Then work faster and get home to her sooner. You’re in charge of her now.”
He didn’t have the guts to point out how wrong he was, so he just said, “I can’t be there all the time to nanny her. She said she’s okay with living at my house by herself.”
His father flung up his hand dismissively. “You’ll do as you’re told. End of story. Now, what’s happening in Queens, then? How’re the bars you’re working at?”
“Everything’s going smoothly.”
He dug his nails into the tops of his hands. “Fine.”
“Are you still serving those faggot clubs?”
Vincenzo internalized his rage into a misunderstanding. A misunderstanding they’d been arguing about for ten long years. “Out of all the bars I run, pansy clubs make the most money. People love them, especially in Harlem.” He knew he should’ve stopped there, but he couldn’t help but sell it. “They’re the biggest cash grabs for liquor sales. The performers always get drunk before getting on stage, and everyone who goes there wants to drink and have a good time.”
“That’s pathetic. You know damn well why you enjoy going to those freak shows. It’s not about the money. It’s not about the Family. It’s about getting a kick with freaks who dress up like the opposite sex. You must feel at home, ‘ey, ‘son’?” he added with a sneer.
Vincenzo didn’t know why he tried. Most people didn’t get it, and most people never would. He just wished that, if the ignorant refused to listen, they’d shut up and not bog down the Earth with noise. He guessed that was too much to ask. “I’ll do what I can.”
“Good.” He handed Vincenzo documents stamped with his insignia. More jobs to do that he was too lazy to do himself. “And you’re not still seeing that faggot, are you?”
Vincenzo broke the skin on his middle knuckle.
His father cocked his head. “You are, aren’t you? Even after I told you not to.”
His heart beat fast in his small chest. He knew he couldn’t change him. Luis told him that. Dominic did, too. But it wasn’t like he could rid himself of his presence. Family ties bonded him to this man who treated him as the shit on his shoes rather than his one and only son.
Though he probably thought differently on that last part.
Severo stood up with his hand raised, palm out, the way he’d ended so many arguments back at home. Vincenzo had learned to react quickly when he saw it, but it never became any less shocking.
Vincenzo jolted backwards. His chair screeched out. He reached for the gun hidden behind his back, but he prayed he didn’t have to use it today. He’d left his crowbar at the docks.
His father snarled at him. The animal was coming out. “You’d risk endangering the Family for someone like that? Your own mother, me? You’d risk it all for that harlot?”
“She’s not a harlot,” Vincenzo said in English, “and you don’t control who I see. Campo does.”
“And Campo, what, agreed to this?”
“He did, so if you have anything to say, take it up with him. I’m sure he’d love to hear it.”
He earned a slap in the head for that, but he expected worse. Honestly, he never thought he’d be able to tell him off out loud. He’d been practicing in front of his mirror for months.
Vincenzo pulled up his slacks. “I have a meeting to attend to in Harlem. If everything’s done here, I need to head off.”
“Fuck you. You’ll leave when I tell you to leave. If I catch word of you spending nights in that bar when you don’t have to be there, I swear to God. Now get out.”
Vincenzo was already up and ready to be as far away from him as he possibly could. Tucking his overcoat close to his body, he shoved out the door and almost caught his sleeve in the doorway.
Dominic jumped at how loudly the door shut. “Vin—”
Vincenzo stomped down the stairs. He’d learned to tame himself around his father, but since he’d found his place in the Family, that control was dwindling. Nowadays, he had a half-hour a week limit around his father. Any more and he didn’t know what he’d do, but he wouldn’t be responsible for the property damage.
He didn’t allow himself to react until he and Dominic distanced themselves from the building and almost made it to the front gates.
Then, unable to hold back any longer, he turned, growled through a shout, and punched the nearest wooden crate.
He knew he’d injured himself when he pulled back and saw red. The itch faded into numbness. Blood dripped around his knuckles and in-between his fingers.
Dominic took out a handkerchief.
Vincenzo turned it down. “He doesn’t know anything about me. He doesn’t get to suddenly care who I choose to be with.”
Dominic didn’t argue. “You said you had a meeting in Harlem. That’s not true.”
He bit his lower lip. “Your father, he warned you not to visit that place.”
That place, the seemingly worst place for someone to tarnish their prestigious family’s name. As if forced prostitution and the roughing up of businesses to make sure bootleg beer got bought at the best price was something to be proud of. He hadn’t even met her, yet he still acted like he knew what she meant to Vincenzo.
Vincenzo got into his car. “Take me to the Black Kitten.”