Chapter 23: A Change of Scenery

Sometimes, because of himself, Vincenzo didn’t go to church. He either had work to do or couldn’t take two hours out of his day to sit in the silence that church evoked. The feeling of being trapped in such a crowded building didn’t help, either. His nerves often led him out with a cigarette and the hum of the organ on his lips. Nonna never spoke her disappointment aloud, but he always saw it on her face.

That morning, he dressed up in his best suit and tie and drove Nonna to their church. Nonna had thought he was merely dropping her off, but after his night with Sylvia, he could’ve gone to church every day to sing his prideful heart out in the front pews.

When he didn’t leave after helping her up the steps, Nonna smiled and snuggled into his offered arm.

“Thank goodness,” she said under her breath.

After church, he quickly left to drive Nonna home. He didn’t like how the priest was looking at him throughout the sermon. He never liked him, even when he came as a child, and now he seemed ready to kick him out because he seldom visited. Wait until he learned the truth about him. He’d call the cops on him only to figure out he had all of them on a leash.

After driving Nonna home, he then left for Campo’s house. He could no longer push this visit aside. He had to bring up these confrontations. With his power, he could possibly stomp out this annoyance by himself, but he knew Campo could dismember and eviscerate every disgusting man involved with ruining his love life.

He just wished he could do that himself.

He drove down Brooklyn’s snowy coastline. The guard waiting outside Campo’s, too familiar with Vincenzo’s car, nodded once and opened the black-clad gate.

He parked close to the fountain and fixed himself up properly before walking down the path to his front door. As he waited to be let in, he couldn’t help but look up. Four stories, with balconies in every bedroom window. He dreamed of owning such a beautiful house, but he’d never compete with what Campo had given him. After pleasuring Sylvia in a new way he thought he’d never reach, he was not only proud, he wanted a better house, more money to give her things, so going to his boss with his tail between his legs because he couldn’t be a man, it was a bit humiliating. Sylvia told him otherwise.

“You’re a wonderful man,” she’d told him.

It’d take some time for him to believe that.

“Vinny!”

Vincenzo turned to stone. What a hateful nickname it was, but what was even more hateful was that joyous voice. Growing up, he rarely heard happy children, just screaming or hateful ones. He never saw a child so happy to be alive.

Gabriella bounded out of the house and wrapped her arms around Vincenzo’s waist. He stumbled a bit, but he should’ve expected it. He didn’t appreciate it and, if she was any other child, or grandchild, in this case, he would’ve swatted them away, telling them to back off if they knew what was good for them. But little Gabriella d’Antonio, she was a special case, the pride of this house.

Gabriella beamed up at him as he pet her head. Not knowing how else to handle kids, he treated her as one would treat a cat. “Good morning, la mia stella. Where is your nonno?”

She pouted against his thigh. “Are you here just to see him?”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“Yes! You never come to visit. You used to visit again and again when I was a baby. Now you don’t even come to say hello. It’s not fair.”

“Years ago, I needed to care for you. Now I don’t.”

Her pout remained. “Let me see your gun.”

When she reached around his waist, his boundaries came back up and he stepped around her and into the house. Campo’s footman went to take his coat and hat, but he didn’t need another set of hands on him. “I’ll be right back, Gabriella. Go play with your cousins. I know they’re around here somewhere.”

“They never want to play with me, Vinny, please.”

He waved her off and ascended up the steps to Campo’s study. Up and down the halls were pieces of art and finely decorated tapestries. Inside this house lived cousins and daughters and grandchildren alike, dozens of bedrooms that kept his loved ones within arm’s reach. Across the hall, he saw two of them running around with a ribbon. They looked just like Campo.

In his study, Campo was sitting at his desk, organizing papers near his paperweights and lacy lamp. He had his phone in his hand and he was about to hang up when he looked up. “Oh, speak of the devil. I was just calling you.”

Vincenzo withstood a kiss on each cheek. “I’m sorry for coming unannounced. I decided to go to church and didn’t have the time to call ahead. Though, I suppose I came at a good time.”

“Three times and I thought something might’ve happened to your Nonna. I was this close to calling your father again. I just got off the phone with him this morning.”

“Oh.” Vincenzo’s mood soured. “Speaking of…”

Campo’s smile faded. “Speaking of?”

“I need to speak to you about something.”

 

 

Vincenzo explained the situation to him. He’d thought keeping Sylvia’s break-in to himself was for the best, but now it was affecting him, his family. It’d come to the Black Kitten, his second home. Those crimes of hate weren’t because of Sylvia anymore, they were intrinsically tied to each other, and he needed it to end.

When he finished, Campo asked, “Did you get a look at these men? Are you positive that it was Drago and Luca?”

“I don’t have any memories of what occurred at the Kitten. Dominic told me what he saw. The thing is, Hannigan’s also confronted Sylvia and I, seemingly out of nowhere when the two of us were out in Brooklyn. And I don’t know what Drago and Luca wanted with me. Maybe they only wanted to talk. I hope you can see why I’m so agitated as of late.”

Campo lit a cigarette. “You should’ve told me this sooner.”

Vincenzo lowered his head. “I’m sorry, Sir.”

He pinched between his eyes, thinking over the situation now thrown on his doorstep. “Look, I won’t sit here and act like I know what you people endure to be the way you are. Some people are appalling and unfair to those who challenge the norms that have been set in place for generations. Yet it happens every generation, and us old folk seem to be surprised by catalysts like you.”

Vincenzo’s cheeks went hot at what he assumed was a compliment. “My father never got that message.”

“He didn’t, no.” He took one of his fountain pens and wrote himself and note. “Is that all you have for me?”

Vincenzo looked up. He didn’t think the conversation would end so quickly as it’d started. Why had he been so nervous about bringing it up if it was only going to take ten minutes to find an answer? “It is, Sir.”

“Okay. Vincenzo, my boy, how about you head out to the Viola Tavern for now? Some of their stock has been going missing. Either that or someone is taking a few too many behind the bar. If you could check in on that for me. Then, after that, I need you to go down to Manhattan and talk with a man on my behalf. He has a debt to me that he forgot was due yesterday. Here’s the address.”

He took the note. “Of course. I apologize for burdening you with my troubles. I hope we get all of this figured out soon.”

He picked up his phone and dialed a number. “I’m sure we will.”

 

 

The next day, Vincenzo drove Sylvia to work and summoned up the courage to kiss her on the pavement. He would’ve stayed for her performance if not for Campo. He’d called him during breakfast that morning. By the sound of his tone, it didn’t seem urgent, but that was Campo’s charm. He could’ve massacred an entire family and would’ve been as composed as a saint in the same breath. All that he pressed on the phone was that he needed to meet with him today whenever he was free.

He stayed quiet in Campo’s house and tiptoed up the stairs. He saw little Gabriella sleeping in her princess room and Campo’s adult children resting in the rooms across the hall. Their bedposts must have been faux gold. He’d believe nothing else.

Instead of being at his desk, Vincenzo found Campo standing by his windows, overlooking the calm water with his hands behind his back. Late gulls and egrets, startled by his stare, flapped their wings and began their flight south.

Campo turned and nodded at Vincenzo. “Any new upsets with your villains?”

“Not that I’m aware of, Sir, no.”

“Good.” He offered him a seat.

He sat. “Is everything okay?”

“Absolutely.” He handed him a document that didn’t mean much. He tried making sense of it before Campo continued. “I’ve been in touch with a few people in a place called the 7th arrondissement. I’m not quite sure how they go about naming their counties or suburbs in that part of Europe, mind you, but I do know it’s close to that Eiffel Tower that’s in all the magazines. I’ve seen it once. Very wonderful.”

“The Eiffel Tower, sir?”

“Paris. France. A wealth of liquor and wine in Paris, you know. Their speakeasies and bars, they’re nothing compared to what we’ve done—what you’ve done—but they’re trying, alright. Anyway, I’ve been in touch with folks who’re doing real marvels there. They have a great deal of booze in Europe and, through connections, in Canada as we do. Some of their ports I’ve been trying to get my foot into for months.”

“I don’t follow, Sir.”

Campo smirked. “I’d go myself, but I don’t have the time to boat myself to Europe. Plus, I know your birthday is in January. I’d love for you to celebrate it in France.”

Vincenzo forwent trying to speedread the letter and set it down on the table. “Sir?”

“If you’d be so kind, of course. It’d be about a week’s journey, and I’ll take care of all your expenses. I have an apartment ready for you and any company you wish to bring with you as well.” He winked when he said that. “I know you and this Sylvia Belmonte are becoming close. Are you planning to marry her? What a turn to propose to her in Paris.”

Vincenzo’s head and heart twisted into a knot, the thought of marrying Sylvia almost tipped him over in his chair. “Sir, we can’t. It’d be too complicated.”

“Isn’t every wedding? And you don’t think I can pull some strings for you to tie the knot? Vincenzo, you’re like my own son. Consider it taken care of. That is unless you don’t pluck up the nerve to propose to her. I’m holding my breath for that moment, Vincenzo. I mean it.”

He did want to stay on this topic—Could he really wed them? Would he pay for his wedding?—but still, “Sir, you’re sending me and her to Paris?”

“Actually, I booked an apartment, so if any of your friends from that bar wish to come, they’re more than welcome to. Luis, Dominic, your grandmother. More the merrier.”

Vincenzo played with the edges of his document, making sure it was real. “I’m not sure what to say.”

“Hopefully ‘yes’. I’ll need you to persuade those queer folk to let me into their excess of gold, and I think you’d do much better than I would ever. And with your father…”

At the mention of such a man, Vincenzo looked up. “What about him?”

He blinked, then smiled. “Forget it. He’s been on my mind. I plan to have a word with him and how he’s been handling himself under my name.”

“Do you mean with his men? With Drago and Luca?”

“Yes. And anyway, you’ve been working hard, and your birthday is in a few days. You deserve a break to Paris, as it were. So? Do I have your word, or do you need some time to think it over?”

“No, I mean…” His heart pushed out of his throat. “I’ll do whatever you ask of me.”

“Perfect!” Hearing his affirmation, Campo gathered a heavy manila folder for Vincenzo. “Your departure will be ready this Tuesday at nine. I have the address labeled here on this document, as well as who you’ll be working with and the apartment you’ll be living in. Her name is Émeline. She’s a niece of mine.”

Vincenzo ran his hand through his locks, taking off his hat with him as he compiled the papers in his folder. He didn’t even think he could pinpoint France on a map, and now, through Campo’s powers, he was not only safe, he’d be going on vacation with Sylvia and his friends, to a place that most people dreamed of. “Thank you, Campo. Really, this’s…I’ve never even left the continent like this. In my adulthood, of course.”

“Yes, of course, my boy. It’d be my pleasure. Now go off, be merry. Be merrier there than you would be here.”

“I…” He pulled himself together. “Would it be possible to make a phone call here before I leave?”

“Of course.” He pushed his candlestick telephone over to him.

He didn’t know who to call first. Sylvia? Luis and Dominic? Would they even want to go with him? What about Ana and their kid, should they come? Nonna? Laurence? Didn’t Mitsuko serve in France?

He called what felt the most natural.

“Hello?” Bobbie asked, answering over the shouts from the Black Kitten.

“Hello, Bobbie,” Vincenzo said too loudly. “It’s Vincenzo. Is Mitsuko available?”

“Let me find her,” he said, and set down the phone, leaving Vincenzo to twirl the cord, hoping his boss didn’t mind him calling a pansy bar from his personal phone.

“So,” Campo asked him, whispering. “Do you have the ring yet?”

“N-no,” Vincenzo said. “I don’t, sorry.”

“Do you need help paying for it? I’ll get you a nice Tiffany ring, whatever the cost.”

“I have the means to buy it, Sir.”

“So when should I mark it on my calendar?”

“I…” He never had a date in mind. Before he died, preferably, but he never imagined that people like him could ever get married, so it’d never been a focal point for him growing up. Having Sylvia around seemed like enough at first, but with the thought now in his head…

Someone picked up. “Yeah?”

His thoughts scattered. “Oh, uh, hello,” he said into the phone. “My apologies for calling you out of the blue.”

“Oh, God, it is you. Well, am I in danger of being shot at right now? Should I take cover? Should I run?”

“On the contrary.” He grinned. “I wanted to ask you if you knew any French.”

“Like the language? Only vulgar sayings that shouldn’t be uttered outside of a bedroom. Why?”

“How do you say, ‘I just got offered a vacation to France, so start packing, and I’ll be there in two hours to talk it over’?”

“What?”

“My boss’ sending me to France to do business with an alcohol supplier. I don’t know all the details, but he said I can bring some of you along. It’d be like a fun trip overseas. It’d be about a week”—he checked the paper—“yes, about a week in France, in a place called the 7th arrondissement. Are you interested in coming?”

She was quiet for a long time. Campo went back to work, the songs from the Kitten made Vincenzo bob his head.

Then, in a faint voice he barely heard over the static, Mitsuko said, “Tu me brises le coeur.”

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2 thoughts on “Chapter 23: A Change of Scenery

  1. Just want to say I absolutely adore everything about this book—even if it’s not finished yet, it’s already among my favorites. The characters are all so believable and likeable, and I absolutely adore Vincenzo and Sylvia’s relationship, how they’re both quite flawed but still try so hard to do their best. And how immersive the setting is; although still rather dangerous (fitting the era), everything still feels so optimistic in the end—anyways you’re doing a wonderful job so far, and I can’t wait to read more!

    Like

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, James! This honestly made my Christmas. ♡ I’m so happy that you’re enjoying their world & I hope you enjoy the rest of their story!

      Like

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