“I heard it from Severo, sir,” Sylvester had said. “He told everyone about it.”
Vincenzo didn’t speak as Sylvester drove him and Sylvia to Campo’s house. He couldn’t. He couldn’t think. He couldn’t think of a life without Campo.
Campo, his mentor, the provider and father figure he never deserved to have. The man who cared about his men, who helped them with the struggles they faced outside of the business, all of that was gone. He was gone.
His knee hopped uncontrollably. So many times he’d let himself fall apart, cracking more into sharp pieces, but before Sylvia, he had Campo to lean on, to fix him. Without Campo, the Black Kitten would be no more. He’d lose his right in the Family, he’d lose Sylvia. Everything he loved would be stripped away from him until he was left raw and bleeding on the pavement.
His nails tore into the top of his knuckles. If Campo was really gone, then Vincenzo had no choice but to believe that God had died with him.
Sylvia placed her hand over his. “I’m sorry.”
He just shook his head. He felt so much sorrier for her.
Campo’s house, if it could even be called a home, lay in destitute. His private property had been set ablaze the night prior. His lawn was etched with tire marks. The police had barricaded the driveway with police cars and tape. Like that would stop any of Campo’s associates from mourning.
At the sight of an officer carrying out a piece of charred evidence, Sylvia inhaled.
“You don’t have to come in with me,” Vincenzo said as he helped her out of the car.
She nodded but stayed beside him.
“Hey, you can’t just come in here,” one officer said.
Vincenzo kept walking.
“Tell me I can’t!” Vincenzo screamed.
Sylvia, as well as the officer, jumped.
“Tell me,” he said quieter, jaw clenched. “Tell me I can’t.”
The officer, who was reaching behind him for a weapon, dropped it and let him pass.
In the front entrance was a mass covered by a white tarp. By the size, it must’ve been a child, running for the front door but being unable to escape. Sylvia choked on a sob. Vincenzo continued on in respect.
The carnage seemed to worsen the deeper they walked into the house. Tables were flipped over, portraits were burned. The kitchen had the worst burns and must’ve been where the fire originated. All of Campo’s riches—the golden curtains, the art—were either charred black or gone.
In the dining room, three tarps lay on the ground: one woman, one young boy, and one older man, whose hair was beginning to thin from age, whose kind smile could brighten the direst situation.
Vincenzo’s jaw trembled. He tried to blink back the tears but they were already there. His skin had gone white and his lips blue. The bullet holes riddling his body had turned his tan suit a deep maroon. This wasn’t him. It couldn’t be.
He growled through a shout and kicked the edge of Campo’s counter. It wouldn’t matter; he wouldn’t be using it again. None of his family would. It’d been tainted. It’d been ruined.
Vincenzo bared his teeth at the voice behind him.
Severo, wearing an evening coat and bored expression, watched Vincenzo mourning with dead eyes. He had his hands in his coat pockets like he was ready to leave after this mess had been cleaned up.
That nonchalance, the act of thinking himself greater than anyone in this room. Even Sylvia had earned a better ranking in life than Severo, she who’d been the worst and should’ve been such after coming out. But she was perfect and kind and understanding. Severo, his father, was inhuman.
Picking himself back up, Vincenzo reached for his knife in his back pocket. “What did you do to him?”
Severo scoffed and looked to a burned family portrait of Campo and his family. “I got here before it happened.”
“Oh, you lying, sack of dogshit—”
A firm hand pulled Vincenzo back. Sylvia almost put herself between them before she realized how much hatred was in the air and just brought Vincenzo back.
“What did you do to him?” Vincenzo shouted. “What did you do?”
“I did nothing. I was home with your mother. I have witnesses. Where were you when it happened? Why haven’t you come sooner?”
Vincenzo had told neither his mother nor father about the trip. It would’ve caused more problems, one of them might’ve talked him out of it. “I was doing business for Campo. I just came back.”
“Where?” his father demanded. “Your Nonna seemed senile when I asked her. She said she couldn’t remember. Were you in Canada?”
A lie. His Nonna was smart and knew what kind of man Severo was. She wouldn’t have told him his location easily.
Vincenzo’s eyes went wide. Severo had lost track of him.
Taking Sylvia’s hand, Vincenzo stepped back.
Severo stepped forwards. “Where were you?”
He walked around the kitchen island.
Severo followed. “I went to the Black Kitten, you know. Lovely folk you’ve been tampering with. That bar owner, Bobbie, was it?”
Sylvia went still.
“He said you were overseas. That was until after I persuaded him in telling me where exactly you and your pets ran off to. You went to Paris, didn’t you? A little honeymoon for this freak and yourself. Why would Campo send you so far away? He must’ve paid for everything, didn’t he? Why?”
“It’s none of your business,” Vincenzo mustered up. “It was between him and me.”
“It was between you and your boss,” Severo said, “which, under the line of succession, now falls onto me.”
The thought made him physically sick. He stopped backing up, trying to imagine that kind of life. He couldn’t. Not without Campo.
An officer came up to Severo and asked him questions from his notepad. Severo turned to him, but his eyes never left Vincenzo.
Vincenzo could no longer stand it and ran when he had the chance. Two officers were examining the body of Gabriella near the front door, so to keep himself from throwing up, he took to the stairs. They were still intact, the steps, but all the walls, all the wealth and blood Campo had shed into this house, it was gone and was replaced with the smell of ash and decaying meat.
His feet walked him into Campo’s study. The door was still standing, as was his writing desk and bookshelves. The walls near the water had been burned, though, and the glass had been blown out from the heat. Vincenzo tested the floorboards before entering.
Something had to be here. Clues, photos, letters. There had to be. Campo would have known better.
“We’re looking for…something,” he said to Sylvia. “Something to help us figure out what happened.”
“Or the intentions of what that hellish demon did to him. I know my father had a hand in it. I know he did.” He touched the top of his writing desk. His paperweights had survived the fire.
Not only his paperweights, but his papers, which had been strewn about in a windstorm, were here. Around his desk, the drawers had been thrown out, the contents thoroughly scavenged through.
“He’s already been here,” Sylvia said, taking the words right out of Vincenzo’s mouth.
He pulled out the drawer someone had cracked to break the lock. Inside were papers ripped, envelopes torn without a care to who’d sent them.
They searched carefully so as not to disintegrate evidence with their touch. What had his father possibly wanted that he couldn’t already obtain? He had money and power. He had a home, two, in fact, with a wife and child he should’ve loved. He had everything he’d ever wanted after traveling to America. What else did he want?
He hated him. He hated whose blood ran through his body and what kind of man he’d wanted him to be. This? A man who’d murder to have even more money in his stuffed pockets? What type of God let a man like that breathe?
“What did he take?” Vincenzo asked, mostly to himself, because he didn’t think either of them would find an answer. Why ransack his study if only to kill him and take his title as boss? Unless it hadn’t been him, but…
He reopened a drawer and reached deep down. There had to be something, something to key him in on what really happened.
His fingers grazed a ruffle of papers.
He pulled it back. A handful of letters had been saved. They were wrapped in twine in a tightly secured bow. The name on the top would’ve made his father suspect nothing.
Émeline DuPont told Vincenzo everything and so much more.
He tore it open. His father wouldn’t have known about her. He wasn’t a sleuth like Campo, he just tortured and murdered without care. He wouldn’t have done extensive research to find out why she mattered.
He flipped through the documents. His photo. Sylvia’s. Her friends. Their friends. They were birth certificates, all forged with a masterful hand that would’ve fooled every police officer downstairs. Instead of their addresses and names, he’d fabricated new Parisian addresses for them. Vincenzo was now Jeremy Costa. Sylvia was Emilia Neuville. Even their pictures had been altered, with new hairstyles and smiles that didn’t suit them.
“What is this?” He handed Sylvia her pages.
She flipped it over. Attached underneath was a booklet stamped with an eagle. “A passport.”
Vincenzo checked his own passport. And Mitsuko’s. And Laurence’s. Dominic. Sylvia. Everyone but Luis and Ana was here.
“He wanted us to start new lives,” Sylvia said. “He wanted us to stay there.”
“Because he was scared of my father?”
“He’d wanted to protect us.”
“But to send us away.”
“It’s extravagant, ludicrous, even.”
He smiled darkly, the tears stinging his eyes. “That’s so much like him.”
Footsteps echoed down the hall. He would’ve been silent if not for the house that he burned down and the rickety floorboards he helped create.
Vincenzo wedged the drawer back into place while Sylvia stuffed the documents into her coat.
Severo stormed in just as Vincenzo stood back up. “I wasn’t done talking with you. What the fuck are you doing here?”
Vincenzo said nothing. His father had his dominant hand behind his back, hiding whatever gun he was ready to pull on his own son.
Vincenzo glared him down. Sylvia’s unwavering stare kept him from saying the wrong insult, any insult at all. His father was developing a snarl like an animal.
“Mr. DiFiore?” someone called from downstairs. “Vincenzo DiFiore, I need you down here for a second.”
Vincenzo kept himself between Sylvia and his father as they passed. His father didn’t take his eyes off of them, slowly turning his head like a hungry wolf. Vincenzo wanted to say so much to him about what he’d done, but he knew what the power of silence could do to him.
“Whatever you found,” Severo muttered. “I won’t let it leave this house. What’s in this room is for me and me alone.”
Vincenzo and Sylvia kept walking forwards.
His father swore every insult he knew at them, trying to diminish their love and their chosen lives.
They, holding hands, never looked back.