Vincenzo remembered trying to drive himself to the hospital. He’d said he didn’t want to get any more blood on Nonna’s floor. He’d made it to the front door before the pain made him pass out into Sylvia’s loving arms.
He assumed they’d followed them to the hospital. When he was out, high on either morphine or opium, he heard Sylvia talking him through the pain. She assured him that he was going to be okay and that she’d always be with him. Or maybe he was just dreaming that. He was deep into them like he’d never wake up. He didn’t want to, honestly, if he knew Sylvia would be whispering into his ear.
But then he heard another’s voice. It was softer than Sylvia’s but deeper, yet somehow even more familiar than hers. The only other woman with that sweet of a voice was Nonna, but she only left the house for church. Had they brought her with him?
He precariously opened his eyes. They felt swollen and he wanted to fall back asleep, but this person, whoever they were, were too close for his comfort.
Whoever had taken him to the hospital requested one of the nicer hospital rooms for him. It was a private room, furnished like a bedroom with lacy curtains, a comfy bed, and an armchair to his right. In the armchair was someone he hadn’t seen in months. It made sense why her voice brought him out of his dreams.
His mother held a handkerchief to her lips as she looked down at Vincenzo. She’d been crying, her eye makeup black and blotchy around her caramel-colored eyes. It looked like she’d been dressed for a party before coming here, as she wore her black gloves and real Japanese pearls she must’ve bought for herself.
“Mom?” he asked, coughing from how dry his throat was. The cough awoke the dormant pain in his side.
“Oh, dear.” She held his non-IV hand, trying to keep from sobbing over him.
Vincenzo stared at her, baffled. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d talked with her alone like this. He searched the room, waiting for his father to ruin everything.
“It’s only us,” his mother said. “He’s downstairs. He’s only allowing me a few minutes to see you.”
She nodded, then knelt and played with his hair.
If he hadn’t been so drugged up, he would’ve felt some type of way. In his head, Nonna had become his mother, and Sylvia helped his need of being touched and held when he needed to be. After years of her existence melting away from memory, who was she now?
His mother. He knew that. But her touch had lost that meaning.
“I don’t have much time, and I know I haven’t told you this enough times this year, but I do love you, Vincenzo. I love you so much more than I can put into words, in however you choose to dress, in however you choose to live. You’ve become your own man and I’m so incredibly proud of you. Remember that, okay? I’ve always loved you.”
Those delayed emotions flowed into his head. He must’ve been really dreaming. She never used his name when speaking to him. She called him “him,” she abided by those rules, but it was always “son,” “he,” and he’d thought that was all he’d ever receive.
Hearing the name he’d chosen for himself, it made his nose tingle. But why? Why was she telling him this? Because she’d almost lost him? Did that make things more real for her?
He didn’t have the chance to ask. When she looked back at the door, anticipating someone or something, the opium hit hard, and he fell back asleep.
Vincenzo lay awake early the next morning, the addictive taste of morphine still in his veins. He was more aware of his scar today, which, after carefully lifting his arm, he found a bad scar the length of his pointer finger above his hip. He sighed; yet another mark he’d have to make up an excuse for having. At least this looked more believable as a bullet wound, but getting it from his father—his new boss—was something he had to change in his story.
With his mind clear and his hospital room empty, Vincenzo finally filtered through the memories of that night.
His father had shot at his own mother’s house. He knew it. No one else hated him as much as his father did to do something like that. How inhuman could a man be? It’d been so easy when Vincenzo had joined, when Prohibition had just begun and money was coming in in ways he’d never imagined. He’d just gotten his surgery, he had Campo as his new father, and he’d been introduced to the concept of pansy bars, the safe haven he never knew he needed. He’d never felt comfortable living as himself, but Campo had given that to him.
Could he do the impossible? He had to run away for good, that much was now painfully obvious, but could he leave everyone behind? For good? Run to Canada, or even back to Paris? He’d have to cease communication with Nonna. The Black Kitten would be a dream too good to dream about. If Campo had still been on board with shipping them off to Paris and leaving them there, would his spirit think ill of him for leaving again on his own accord?
He tapped his foot underneath the covers. The drugs were wearing off and he needed to leave. He needed to see his friends and family and decide where to go from here.
When he was able to sit up and take more medication, he asked his nurse for a phone.
Sylvia picked up after the first ring. “Hello? Vincenzo?”
He didn’t know why he chose that pet name, but upon hearing it or his voice, Sylvia bawled into his ears, blubbering his name and how thankful she was that he was okay. “Oh, Vincenzo, darling, you sound so much better.”
“Thank you,” he said, because it was nice to hear it spoken.
“Can we come to visit you? They wouldn’t let me into your room because we aren’t family. I’ve been so worried, I haven’t slept.”
“Don’t come now. Whatever they gave me is making me thick. Really, all crossed-eyed and everything. You’d think they’ve given me a bottle of rum to dull the pain.”
She chuckled through her tears. “So, will you be discharged today?”
“I should be. I’ll call back when I meet back with the doctor. I just didn’t want you fretting about it all morning.”
“Oh, I have been, don’t worry. Are you feeling any better?”
“A hundred percent,” he lied. “I’m sure I’ll be back this afternoon. Wait for me, okay? Tell Nonna I’ll be home soon, and pet Mezzanotte for me.”
“I will. Dominic and Luis are here, too. They’re protecting me. Do you want to talk to them?”
Hearing how stupid he was sounding, he said, “No. Just tell Dominic that he’ll probably have to pick me up sometime today.”
“Of course. Listen, you sound tired. Go back to bed and rest. Make sure to take your medicine and relax, and don’t sit up unless you need to.”
“I will, I will.” He shut his eyes, already heeding her advice. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” she said sweetly. “Heal up well.”
An hour later, his doctor came in with a clipboard and a smile. “Good morning, Mr. DiFiore.”
“Good morning. May I leave?”
“Careful now. I have to check your wound before you get up and walk around. Your party is waiting downstairs for you, you know. You must be popular.”
“They are?” he asked. Why were they already here? He hadn’t yet called.
“They are. Now, may I?”
Grimacing, Vincenzo obliged and helped him get access to the scar. They must’ve undressed him to tend to the bullet sound. He’d never live that down.
“How fortunate,” the doctor said as he probed the wound, “that God allowed you a second chance.”
“Yes, He’s very considerate of me.”
When he pressed on the scar and Vincenzo grit his teeth, the doctor sat up and nodded to himself. “It seems alright. Are you having trouble breathing or eating? Does it hurt when you lay down?”
“I’m fine, it’s just a grazing. May I please leave now? I have someone important waiting.”
“Of course. You and your…business seem to attract immediate attention.” He helped him to the door, then gave him a bottle of cocaine for the road. “Take care now, Mr. DiFiore.”
Dominic wasn’t waiting for him in the foyer like he’d planned, so Vincenzo checked the bathroom, then went through the double doors outside. He braced for both the cold and the pain as he walked down the icy steps. It’d felt so much warmer in France.
Before he turned to scout out Dominic’s car, one of the black cars parked outside opened its door.
Three men wearing black suits came out.
Vincenzo stopped and went back for the hospital doors.
Two men came out of the hospital and blocked his path.
He quickly ran through all of his options, but his mind was still dragging from the medication. He couldn’t run. He couldn’t fight. He didn’t see Dominic anywhere.
He’d been set up.
“Come with us,” one of the men said, and Vincenzo had no choice but to follow.
His father’s docks were uncommonly empty that afternoon. Only a few boats were tied up, covered in a foot of snow, abandoned for the winter. Flecks of white hit the pane of the car and melted upon contact.
The driver stopped at the longest dock. “Get out.”
Vincenzo controlled his breathing and got out by himself. He didn’t know any of these men. He tried to, God, he tried to recognize anything. A scar, a hairline, but nothing came. He was lost at sea facing an unknown foe.
“Unknown.” Like he hadn’t known the man he was meeting his whole life.
His father was standing at the end of the dock, coat flapping in the wind. Whether he was facing him or not, Vincenzo couldn’t tell, and he knew he didn’t care either way. This was just a business meeting for him. Or something worse.
Vincenzo lowered his head as he stepped on to the dock. He watched the murky water slosh against the wood. His uneven footing made the boards creak like piano keys until he met his father’s shadow.
The two of them were silent. The waves carried on. Snow continued to fall.
He punched him in the stomach.
Bile rose in his throat. He choked on the air in his lungs as he shielded his scar, but Severo kept hitting him until he fell and rolled into a ball to keep himself from coming apart.
Severo knew where he’d been shot. He kicked and struck at his sore side, breaking Vincenzo into begging that he stop. He didn’t. His boot struck his body and face until a protective numbness spread over him. It did little to mask the real pain of the assault.
After Vincenzo swore he’d die, Severo stood over him and stepped on him. “You have been a fucking sore on my side since the day you were born. Year after year, you’ve disgraced me and your mother’s name with your fucking habits in a back alley. Now, though, now that Campo’s out of the picture, I don’t have to sit back and let you sully the Family name any longer.”
Vincenzo spit out blood. He’d been kicked too hard in the mouth. He couldn’t close his jaw all the way. “You killed him.”
“He was ruining the Italian name by being so lenient with you people. I put a stop to it.” He grabbed Vincenzo by the hair and made him look at him and not his shoes. “You have one last job to do for me, do you understand? One last job, and you’re done.”
Vincenzo didn’t ask for elaboration. He knew what he meant. Every gangster knew what that meant.
A piece of paper fluttered between Vincenzo and Severo. It fell face-first. He flipped it over.
“I want him dead by nightfall. If I don’t see a burial mound behind your house by midnight, you and everyone in that bar is dead.”
Vincenzo burned a hole into the picture with how hard he stared at it. He’d never seen this photo of Sylvia before. She was sitting on a chair, posing with the sweetest smile towards the camera. She was so beautiful, even then. Now, forever, she’d always be beautiful.
Satisfied with his work, Severo buttoned up his coat and left Vincenzo to his final job.