“I want lead on the jaune,” Vinny said when he stopped pacing. “I know where it is.”
That caught my attention. Donato and I had kept the yellow diamond’s location between us, the rest of the team only getting information as necessary.
“Congratulations,” was the only reply I gave, and his expression turned murderous. He wasn’t going to get a confirmation or denial from me. “Now that you’ve wasted my time…” I waved dismissively.
Vinny had called me three hours ago, insistent we meet. Considering Donato had said he was going to cut him out of the business, warning bells had gone off in my head. I’d agreed to see Vinny, but on my timetable and at my warehouse in Hunts Point. This place made me angry, and though I needed to keep my head on straight, I also wanted some of that rage to fuel me against him. He was up to something, and I halfway hoped he was looking for a fight. In my state of mind, I was game.
I turned to go, not willing to give him another minute of my time. A hand landed on my shoulder after I’d only taken a few steps. I twisted my head toward Vinny. He dropped the hand immediately, going so far as to take a couple of steps back.
“Let me handle the diamond, and I’ll tell you what I know about your father’s death,” he said, and my jaw clenched.
What the fuck was he up to? “If you want to negotiate with someone, you have to bring something to the table they actually want,” I said, walking away again.
“And what my older brother had to do with it,” he finished, stopping me in my tracks.
“Whatever shit you’re trying to stir, stop it,” I warned with a low rumble.
His eyes glittered in triumph, and now I was nervous around Vinny for a brand new reason. Normally, it was his careless mistakes that set me on edge, but now I could tell he knew something. It was in his eyes.
“Suit yourself,” Vinny returned with a shrug. He brushed past me, bumping my shoulder like a fucking juvenile punk. “But remember, Daniel. You’ve got rose-colored glasses on when it comes to my brother. He wants to make sure you keep them on so he can continue using you as his puppet.”
The metal door slammed shut with his exit, and I searched the room, wild-eyed, for something to punch. There was nothing but empty space. My temper boiling, I snatched my phone out of my pocket and dialed Donato.
“Does Vinny know where the jaune is?” I asked, surprised at how calm I sounded.
“I don’t know,” he answered. Donato was a master manipulator when the circumstances called for it. Vinny had rattled me, and I questioned if I was being lied to. Blood thicker than water, and all that shit.
“He claims he does. I’m curious as to how that’s possible,” I said coldly, struggling to keep the accusation out of my tone.
“You know how resourceful he can be when he chooses,” Donato said smoothly, successfully evading the question.
“I thought he was out.”
“That takes time, Daniel. If I tell him he’s done, that will only make him more volatile. We’ll have to wait until he’s made as a rat.”
That made sense but did nothing to calm my nerves. “I didn’t confirm or deny anything, since I wasn’t sure what you’d told him. If he’s involved, I’m not,” I said firmly. I meant it. I was done with Vinny Salvatore.
“Don’t let your temper guide you. Know your enemy. If you refuse to deal with him, you can’t know what he’s up to and you lose,” Donato reasoned, and my teeth clenched.
“So we proceed as planned?” I gritted out.
“What does he know of the other situation?”
Silence was the only sound in my ear for what felt like an eternity.
“Nothing.” Donato’s voice was deadly quiet, but it held an undercurrent reserved for when he was especially pissed.
“Are you sure about that? Because he seems to think he has information on that front.”
“What kind of information?” he asked in a clipped tone.
“I acted like I don’t give a fuck. You know how he is when he thinks he has something you want.” I paced in a circle, the click of my shoes echoing off of the metal walls. “Any idea how much time we have now?”
Donato let out a frustrated sigh. “My source doesn’t know. He’s dragging his feet, so a couple of weeks maybe.”
“I haven’t heard anything on my end, either. Let me know before anything happens.”
I ended the call, uneasy. Donato had never given me a reason to question him, but my inability to trust completely was fucking with me. I felt like a pawn in a long-ass game of chess, and as much as I hated it, Vinny’s comments had shaken me. There was probably some partial truth in them.
I did have rose-colored glasses on when it came to Donato. That tended to happen when someone always had your back or at least made you think they did. Now that a seed of doubt had been planted, it was amazing how quickly it took root.
I’d been betrayed by my own flesh and blood. Donato could easily do the same to Vinny. Or he could do it to me. He’d said he wanted to give me a way out. I wanted that too. But what we wanted didn’t matter. Questioning Donato’s motives today didn’t change what I had to do. I owed it to him to see this through.
I stood in the center of the warehouse, the past flooding my mind as a reminder of why I could trust no one before I could stop it.
“Son, I have somewhere I want to take you.” My father used that smile he wore right before he conned someone. It was cunning, enticing, and I knew better than to fall for it. But what if this time it was genuine? He never called me son. Maybe today things were going to change. Maybe we’d be like a real father and son should be.
“Where are we going?”
“To take care of a little business. Thought you’d like to see what your old man does. You’re grown,” he said, slinging an arm over my shoulders, his eyes shining with what looked like pride. I’d never seen that before from him. “Maybe you’ll want to follow in my footsteps.”
“Sure,” I said, and he squeezed my shoulder, his grin widening. If I worked with him, we could be closer. He wouldn’t ignore me. And he’d look at me with pride all the time.
We climbed into his car and drove toward the city. He asked me about school. We talked about sports. He said he’d seen how I threw a pitch, and if I kept that up, I’d be headed for the major leagues. I couldn’t hide my surprise, and a warm spot began to grow in my chest. It had never been like this between us, not in all my fifteen years. This was what I’d always wanted. Just to hang out. Talk. Have him pay attention to me.
When we arrived in a seedy-looking area of the Bronx down by the docks, unease slithered down my spine. I didn’t like it here, but my dad wore an expression that said we’d just arrived at Coney Island for a day of fun.
“You ready?” he asked. I nodded, but I had no idea what to be ready for. We got out of the car and walked toward what appeared to be an abandoned warehouse.
He pulled on a metal door, sliding it back. I hesitated, fighting the urge to run. I told myself this was what I had to do to be closer to my dad. I stepped inside, and the door closed behind me with a loud creak.
In the center of the room, a single light hung from the ceiling. My eyes adjusted to the darkness, but I couldn’t see the periphery of the building. I didn’t like it. It felt like there were people watching from the shadows. It’s not like that, I convinced myself. This was business. My father wouldn’t bring me into harm’s way.
A man stood under the light. He had on a suit that looked expensive, which he filled out with muscle. Despite his salt and pepper hair, and the wrinkles around his mouth and eyes, he was no old man. There was a presence about him. He demanded respect and instilled fear. I stayed rooted in the doorway, shivering when his gold tooth glinted in the light. I’d never met anyone like him, and I hoped never to again. My father shoved me forward. I shuffled my feet until we stood right in front of the man. He towered over me, and I wasn’t short. I tilted my head back, the hairs on my nape standing when our eyes met.
My father stepped back. I clenched my hands into fists at my sides to hide their trembling. The man didn’t speak, appeared to inspect me, though for what, I didn’t know. I swallowed hard, uncomfortable under his microscopic gaze. The man seemed content to keep me under it for as long as he pleased.
My instincts screamed for me to get away. My brain knew that it was too late.
“Do you know who I am?” he finally asked, and I shook my head, unable to speak. “I’m the man who owns you.”
I roared as I recalled the words spoken to me in this very spot. “No one owns me!” I shouted to the emptiness, the sound bouncing off the walls. Except her.
God, I needed her right now. She’d calm me. Settle the turbulence. I needed to feel her around me.
You can’t have her.
I roared again in frustration. I’d had to give up my safe place in her. Deep down, I’d always known the life I’d lived would take her away from me, but I was having a harder time accepting it than I’d anticipated. I needed to see her, but I had to stay away. Be the man she needed me to be. One strong enough to let her go.