“He was shot?”
Sylvia pulled the phone away from her ear. “He was, but he’s alright. Vincenzo was hit on his side, so he’s still at the hospital—”
“But what about Dominic?” Laurence asked. “Dear God, why didn’t he tell me? Where was he shot? How is he? Is he there? Slap him for me, Sylvia, right where the bullet hit.”
She giggled shortly, happy to finally be at ease. It’d been more than twenty-four hours since the shooting and nobody in the house had tried to lighten the mood. She was in bed for most of the day. Two blankets were wrapped around her and she had every pillow barricading her, yet she was still shivering. Mezzanotte sprawling across her feet helped.
“This’s unbelievable,” Laurence muttered. “Mitsuko, my boy’s been shot. It wasn’t just Vincenzo.”
“Wow,” Sylvia heard Mitsuko say in the background. Both were at the Black Kitten performing tonight. “It’s almost like that’s their job and it should be expected of them to be peppered with bullets. Did we not have this conversation a few months ago with Sylvia? Weren’t we against all of this?”
“Oh, hush,” Laurence said, his attitude permanently shifted. “But damn him all the same. Him and his damn work. This’s all too much to risk one’s life over. This Severo man, he’s a…He’s a big…”
“Akuma,” Mitsuko said.
“Yes, that. And a bastard. Cripes, what if they’re monitoring this call? That’s a thing those men can do, isn’t it?”
“If they are,” Mitsuko said, “then let them know this.” And she said a gratuitous Japanese saying that, while Sylvia couldn’t translate, sounded incredibly vile and unladylike even for Mitsuko. Her ending it with a raspberry noise, though, hopefully deterred the thoughts of anyone who was truly listening.
“Anyway, Sylvia, all these men aside, I’m glad you’re alright. You’re always welcome over to my house anytime. That goes for Vincenzo and his grandmother, too.”
“Thank you.” She bundled up in her blankets. “So, how do you two feel about this? About the passports and the move? Would you come back with us to Paris forever?”
Before they answered, Dominic creaked open the door with a heated bag of rice and soup. He offered it to Sylvia and went to escape, but she held up a finger, making him wait.
She’d presented this option to them after they’d found out Campo’s intent about keeping them in Paris for their protection. It was a big decision on everyone’s part, but unlike Campo, Sylvia wanted to make sure they had a choice to move.
“I…don’t know,” Laurence finally said. “It’s a life-changing offer. You said he’d prepared altered passports?”
“Yes, and the papers say we have the same boarding house we stayed in until July. That gives us six months to get new jobs, readjust, and begin anew without Severo trying to hurt us because of how we choose to live.”
Dominic crossed his arms and looked away.
“Well, if we can get there without being shot at,” Mitsuko said. “I don’t have any complaints about going.”
“You’d get to see Émeline again,” Sylvia said. “You could start a life with her.”
Mitsuko didn’t reply.
“Well, for me, I’m still thinking about it,” Laurence continued. “I still have family here. It’d be hard for me to leave them.”
“I understand,” Sylvia said, then looked up to Dominic. She pulled the phone away from her mouth. “Would you like to speak to him?”
“Huh?” Laurence asked.
“Dominic’s in the room with me. I wanted to know if he’d like to speak to you.”
“Oh,” Laurence said.
“Would you like to speak to him?”
The inner desperation in his voice was something she’d never heard before. Since knowing him, he’d never been taken by a man this strongly before.
Dominic took the phone hesitantly and cupped it to his face. He crossed his ankles as he twirled the cord around his fingers. “Hey. No, no, I’m fine. Don’t worry. Yeah, just a scrape.” Sylvia heard what must’ve been a chuckle. “It’s what we call bullet wounds, yes.”
Leaving them alone to their conversation, Sylvia left downstairs to help Nonna with the dishes. Throughout this affair, she’d never stopped tending to the house. She made sure the laundry was done and all the dishes were put away. Sylvia tried where she could. She helped reach the higher shelves for Nonna to either piece together her heirlooms or to throw them away. Many were pictures that could be saved. Sylvia discarded the broken glass.
“Frames can be thrown away,” she lamented. “Pictures cannot.”
Sylvia made sure she was especially careful about these memories.
After heavily cleaning the first floor, a knock came from the front door.
Nonna dropped what she was doing and hid behind Sylvia. Sylvia protected her and waited to hear Dominic come back down, but he must’ve still been on the phone with Laurence and hadn’t heard the visitor.
“I got it,” Sylvia said.
“Be careful,” Nonna wanted in Italian.
Sylvia made her footfall steady as pulled down the curtains farthest away from the door. She didn’t know if she’d ever feel safe opening a front door again. Staying here made her realize she had many more enemies than friends.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw what it was and quickly unlocked the door.
“Hey,” Luis said, calming the tenseness in the room. He air-kissed both of her cheeks. “Has Vincenzo called yet?”
“I don’t believe so. Dominic’s been upstairs talking on the phone with Laurence.”
“What, is he some heartthrob now? Some lovebird, talking on the phone like that.” He whined. “I can’t stand Vincenzo being so far away. I feel like there’s so much that needs to be said, but I don’t feel comfortable doing it without him.” He felt up one of the bullet holes they hadn’t yet sanded down in the main wall. “It’s a bit scary to be so up in the air like this, like our world is suddenly changing without our say so.”
“I know. Do you have any interest in coming with us?”
He turned to her. “So you’re really leaving?”
Just like him, she didn’t feel comfortable giving her answer without Vincenzo present, so she said, “I think it’s a good idea.”
Luis sighed and placed his hands on his hips. “What a day. What a week, a year. To think my boys would be in danger like this. You know, here I thought I was gonna be the one to get everyone in trouble with the way I act. Vincenzo was so serious, Dominic so level-headed. Now look at us. I feel like a buoy drifting on a misty shore, I do.”
“It’s a lot to take in. I’m scared of separating from everyone, but I don’t think any of us are safe here.”
“I don’t blame you. We really need Vincenzo here. There’s a phone down here, right? We’ll call him and see how he’s doing. Where’s Dominic? Hey, Dom!”
He came running downstairs a minute later, fixing his trousers and re-parting his hair.
“Welcome back,” he said as he dialed the hospital. “Have a nice time upstairs?”
“…Didn’t hear you come in,” was all he said.
“No, no, I heard you were oh so busy, yeah?” He winked, then hung up as all he received was dial tone. He redialed. “So, what’s your decision, then? About the move?”
“I mean, what’s there to say?” He cast a longing look upstairs. “What’s there to do?”
“To think about what we should do next,” Sylvia said.
“I shouldn’t be the one to make that decision.”
Luis got in contact with the hospital and began talking to the receptionist in the kitchen.
Dominic lowered his voice. “What I think about shouldn’t matter. Severo might not even be after me. You two should go. I’ll be fine by myself. If things turn for the worst, I can hide.”
“But what about Laurence, and Mitsuko? They’re still at risk.”
When Dominic refused to answer, Sylvia took a different approach. “Dominic, I know you love Laurence.”
He looked at her with fear in his eyes, for love was still something he associated with fear and betrayal.
“And I—everyone—love you, too. Think about what you want and how you want to live now. Severo’s your boss who will hate and criticize everything you stand for as a person.”
He turned away.
“I know leaving this line of business is meant to be impossible, and France might not be the safest place to live. We’ll still face hardships, but we’ll be far, far away from that man and the people who wish to harm us. Please consider that when you make your decision. I don’t want to see you hurt, but I don’t want to see you kill off the special part of yourself just to benefit a man who wants you dead.”
The last part, as she expected, cut deep into him, but before he could say what he wanted, Luis interrupted him.
“Okay, okay, thanks so much,” he said, and he hung up. “Okay, so good news and bad news. Good news: Vincenzo’s operation went well and there were no complications with his hip or intestines or anything like that. Bad news: he’s not at the hospital.”
“I know. Doctor said he was discharged four hours ago.”
“I thought he was gonna call me,” Dominic said. “He doesn’t have a car, he can’t drive himself home.”
“Perhaps another man picked him up?” Sylvia said.
“I don’t think so,” Luis said. “That’s not like him. We would’ve called to reassure us, especially you.”
“Then let’s go find him,” she said. “He’s in no place to be walking around or working when he’s injured and his father has his eyes on him. Where could he have gone?”
“He could’ve gone to the pier,” Dominic said, “one of his bars in Manhattan, the Kitten, or he could be walking back home.”
“In four hours, he should’ve been here by now,” Luis pointed out. “It’d barely take him two hours at most, and I’m giving him an extra half hour for his injury. Hell, where is he?”
Sylvia already had her coat on and was putting on her shoes. Luis was right, this wasn’t like Vincenzo. Something had gone wrong, but she wouldn’t let herself think of the worst. She just needed to think of a way to get to her husband before his demons did. “Let’s go.”
She kept watched in the passenger seat as they scoured through the New York streets. The frigid night air kept her awake, as did every dead-end they came across. He wasn’t anywhere near the docks—most of the men had gone home for the night—and he wasn’t at any of his Manhattan bars. In a desperate attempt, they began checking alleyways to find him crumpled up behind a dumpster or calling for a cab ride home. Maybe he’d gone out to eat. Maybe he’d slept over a friend’s house.
Those worst-case scenarios she’d been shoving into the back of her head were coming to fruition. A kidnapping, a murder. He was hurt or he’d left to a different country without telling her.
She kept telling herself that she’d find him in the blurry lights of New York, and if they didn’t, well, she’d keep searching. Abandoning him wasn’t an option. The ring on her finger kept that promise.
“We should head back home to see if he made it back,” Luis said.
“I want to keep searching,” Sylvia said. “Are there any other places he could be? Anywhere in Brooklyn either of you can think of?”
“Ah, I don’t know,” Luis said. “Dominic?”
Dominic bit his lip and looked outside.
“What is it?” Sylvia asked.
“Would it be foolish to think he’s at his parents’ house?”
“Parents’—Like Severo’s house?” Luis asked. “No way.”
“Not so much his house, but he might be confiding with his mother. I’m not too sure how close he is with her, but since he’s so close with his grandmother and he just got hurt, along with this decision about leaving everything behind, I can see him going there. If my mother hadn’t disowned me, I’d go to her about all this first. Well, maybe other people now, but she’d be an option.”
“Where does she live?”
“That, I don’t know. I’m sorry.”
“Oh, jeez.” Luis flexed his fingers over the steering wheel. “Well, I know where he used to live. Let’s check there.”
Vincenzo’s childhood neighborhood consisted of parks and wide dirt roads meant to be pavement. Construction equipment was parked off near the shoreline, left to collect dust and rust. Hardly any home had their lights on. Luis relied solely on the moonlight and his car lights to guide their way.
Sylvia craned her neck to read the tenant housing numbers. She couldn’t imagine Vincenzo living here, but she could see him growing up here. She pictured a little Vincenzo gathering the neighborhood kids in gangs, causing mischief while their parents worked hard to provide for them.
She wiped her eyes at the thought. She needed to find him.
They drove past a playground connected to a play area of slides, unsafe jungle gyms, and park benches still covered in snow. Not a soul had crossed through the snow, none that she saw, until they circled around to leave and she saw a single line of downtrodden footprints.
She gasped. There, sitting—slouching—in a swing, a hunched-over man was thinking to himself.
She jumped out of the car before Luis stopped the engine.
“Woah, watch it!” he said. “Is that him? Can you tell?”
“I can!” she replied, because ever since she’d been allowed to wring her hands through his hair, she knew when she saw her man. “Vincenzo!”
He didn’t move. He didn’t look up or even breathe. Thinking he had some sort of earmuffs on, Sylvia came to him and physically turned him around. “Vincenzo.”
His face was bruised. That’s what she saw first. His eye was swollen and the whole left side of his cheek was red and purple. Then she saw the picture she was holding. It was one Bobbie had taken of her the first month she’d come to the Kitten. To heighten her spirits, he’d designed a whole set for her and encapsulated her beauty as a woman.
And he was crying. Her Vincenzo, crying in the middle of a children’s park over her picture as a suicidal youth. He wasn’t sniffling or trying to hide it. His tears simply flowed, marking his skin a hateful red.
Sylvia took a knee beside him. “Hey—Hey, what’s going on? What happened? I thought you were going to call us before you left the hospital. Why’re you here?”
He blinked twice, focusing on her eyes.
She wiped away one of his tears. “Baby, what’s wrong?”
“…Everything,” he whispered, then wiped his eyes himself, wincing when he touched the bruises. “How’re you here?”
“Never mind that. Why’re you crying?”
He glanced down at the photograph. “My father gave me this. H-he found me, his men took me to the docks and he hit me. He said I…” Bile rose in his throat. He swallowed it down. “He said I have to kill you, and then he’s going to kill me. He said I have until tonight, and if I don’t do it, he’s killing my Nonna.” He choked up on her fragile name. “I can’t do it. I won’t.”
He fell into her to cry, and she held him tightly, allowing him that. He sounded so defeated.
Like he’d already given up before fighting.
Taking a shaky breath, Sylvia stood up and held his hand. “We’ll fight it.”
“We’ll fight how they feel about us being together,” she said, because she hadn’t gone through showdowns and shootouts just to keel over like she would’ve done in that photograph. She now had friends and a family to protect. She had herself to fight for.
“But we can’t,” he said. “It’s impossible.”
“What’s impossible. You’re Vincenzo DiFiore. You’re one of the best gangsters there are. And what were you going to do? Sit here and let these people kill us? That’s not the Vincenzo I know. The Vincenzo I know would fight and snarl and claw his way back to the top. He thinks you’re going to go through with this, right?”
“He probably has eyes on me right now,” he said, and the color drained from his face. “Please, just come with me. Stay with me until the end.”
“I plan on living several more decades with you before we meet the end.” She kissed him, and whether because of his emotional instability or the unfair choice he’d been sitting on, he kissed her back like it was the last kiss they’d ever share.
“Do you have a gun on you?” she then asked.
“Then let’s go home first. We need to arm ourselves before we do the impossible.”