Disclaimer – Not mine, I just make them do bad, bad things.
Much love and thanks to my beta-love, Carrie ZM
and to my pre-readers, Planetblue and Robsmyyummy Cabanaboy
for all the time and energy they've put into this fic.
Also, massive thanks to LaMomo for all the Italian translations.
Wednesday, March 14, 1956
"Mr. Cullen," a voice booms from behind the interrogation room door as it swings open, and two of Chicago's finest walk in.
"Gentlemen," I say with a smirk, raising my cuffed hands in the air.
The short one with the crew cut and the glasses drops his files on the table and fishes the keys to the handcuffs out of his pocket while the other takes a seat. "I'm Detective Biers. This is my partner Detective Crowley."
I dip my chin to the smug-looking prick with the greased back hair who's sitting across from me, scowling and clicking his pen cap incessantly.
"We'd like to ask you a few questions with regards to a few of your former associates," Glasses continues, removing the cuffs.
"I'm sure I won't be much help, officers." I tap my temple. "Bad memory."
"That's detective." Crowley sneers, scooping up the files and slamming them on the desk. "And we figured you'd need some help jogging that memory of yours." He slaps a photo down in front of me. "Let's start with this one."
He points to a mugshot of a fella named Diego and I shake my head. "I'm sorry, I don't know who this is, officer."
"DE-TEC-TIVE!" Crowley spits.
"Whatever you say, Slick."
"How about now?" Glasses asks, sliding over another photo of Diego. Only this time, he's battered and bruised up with his eyes swollen shut and resting in his current state.
Slick leans over the table. "Diego Martinez. He died of blunt force trauma – ring a bell, now?"
A few baseball bats to the head will do that to ya', I think to myself as I eye the Bridgeport boys' handiwork. I push it back towards them. "Sorry. I don't know who that is."
"Witnesses say he was last seen at Emmett Cullen's rehearsal dinner. Were you there?"
"I was, but I didn't see this gentleman, although I was a bit distracted that evening."
"And why's that?"
"Because that's the night I met my wife."
"There he is!" Uncle Carlisle holds his arms open as he steps out of his shiny black Bel Air, snapping his fingers at his driver. "Sal, grab his bags."
Sal jerks his chin at me, takes my suitcase and shakes my hand. "Been a long time, kid. How ya' doin'?"
"I'm all right. Good to see you, Sally,"
"Come here you," Carlisle says, hugging me tight before holding the car door open. He looks older, graying at the temples.
I slip inside the car and he follows. "How's it goin', Uncle C?"
"Good, good. How was your flight?"
"Uneventful." I reach into my pocket and hand him an envelope. "Before I forget, Momo sends his regards."
He pulls it open and brushes his thumb over the bills in the envelope then runs the Cuban cigar beneath his nose. "How is Momo?"
"Doin' well. He's got a good thing goin' down there."
"I haven't been to Havana in ages," he muses, stuffing the envelope in his front pocket.
I shrug, looking out the window at my city. "Not a lot has changed down there in the past five years. Not like here," I say, tapping my finger against the glass, pointing at the ever-growing Chicago skyline.
"Lots of changes in the landscape," he agrees, peering out his window. "Lots of changes coming within the family as well." He looks to me. "Big changes."
"Nah, not yet. But I'm slowin' down. Got this thing goin' on with my lung, keepin' me up half the night." Waving his hand like no matter, he continues, "But we're goin' to have some movement in the ranks. Philly's gonna be steppin' down soon. He's got the Feds all over him for some tax bullshit, and we don't need that kind of attention."
Philly Neri's a goddamn disgrace. I have no doubts that if my father were alive today and still the boss, that skinny fucker wouldn't be breathing, let alone the consigliere to the family. "That's too bad."
Carlisle shrugs. "Eh, what can ya' do?"
Fucking shoot him in the face, that's what you can do. "Where are we headed?"
"We've got an important meeting, but I gotta make a quick stop first."
"Like a sit down?"
Carlisle smirks and Sal chuckles while he double parks in front of a flower shop. "Something like that, come on."
Welcoming bells hit the glass and we remove our hats as we enter the store. The florist gives my uncle a wave and points to the phone, mouthing the words 'one minute' to him before going back to her conversation, ignoring the two ladies standing at the counter. "I'm sorry. I missed that, Mr. Banner. You said you wanted to send your wife a bouquet of what?"
A short brunette waiting to be served in front of us nudges the older woman next to her. "Two bucks says it's an 'I'm sorry I cheated' special."
Carlisle and I laugh, but the older woman gives her a pinch and whisper-yells her name. "Isabella!"
"You and that mouth. I swear you'll never find a husband if you keep that up." The older woman looks to the ceiling. "Lord, forgive her."
"Well, lots of flowers can say 'sorry.'" The corner of the florist's lips turns up and the smart mouth brunette quirks a brow at her mother. "Hyacinths or maybe …" She listens and scribbles down his order. "Red roses should do the trick then – we'll send them right over, Mr. Banner." Hanging up the phone, she turns to the ladies. "How can I help you gals today?"
"I'm here to pick up an order of corsages for Rosalie Hale, but she might have placed the order under her mother's name."
"Are you a member of the Cullen-Hale wedding party?"
"Yes, I'm Rosalie's personal attendant, B—"
"I thought that was you!" Carlisle interrupts, extending his hand to her. "Bella, right?"
The brunette turns around startled, but smiling. "Mr. Cullen."
"Good to see you, sweetheart. How've you been?" he says, shaking her hand and pulling her in for a kiss on the cheek.
"Swell, thanks. I'm just running some errands for Rose before the rehearsal tonight."
Her mother butts in, getting her face time in with the boss, which I don't mind because I'm getting a better look at her daughter, and I gotta say that the view from behind has nothing on the view from the front. I start from the bottom up, good gams, great hips, nice rack, but it's when I see the smirk and the eyes that I know I've been caught. She stares at me, and I stare right back, fuckin' shameless.
"Bella, this is my nephew, Edward." He claps me on the back. "He's one of Emmett's groomsmen."
"Pleasure to meet you," she says, sliding her hand into mine.
"Mr. Cullen, I've got your order all ready," the florist cuts in carrying two huge bouquets of white flowers.
"Thanks, Mrs. Cope. Just put it on my tab." He takes the flowers and nods to Bella and her mother. "We'll see you ladies this evening." I give Bella's hand a quick squeeze before letting go and placing my hat on my head. Carlisle slaps the bouquets into my chest. "Come on, we're late."
Ten minutes later, we pull into the cemetery, and I look at my uncle who's coughing into his handkerchief. My father is buried here. This is one of the last places I remember being before my uncle sent me off to Cuba five years ago.
Clearing his throat, he stuffs the handkerchief into his pocket and straightens his tie. "It's the most important sit down I have every week." Glancing out the window, I see my mother and Aunt Es standing over his grave. "Your ma … she's missed you." I nod, thinking that maybe I should've called her more than once every couple of months over the past few years. "We all have."
"Do you think she knows?" I ask, turning back to look at Carlisle, wondering if he ever told her the truth about why I left.
Shrugging, he tilts his head back and forth. "She may suspect." Sal opens the door for him. "Let's go pay our respects then we'll grab somethin' to eat."
"Wait a minute." I point at the tall man with graying hair standing protectively by a car near my father's grave. "Is that Chopper? What's he doing here?"
"Yeah, Aro. He's, uh, your mom's …" He waves his hand, looking for the word. "Driver. Has been since all that stuff with your dad went down. At first it was just a safety measure, now I think she just keeps him around for companionship."
"Companionship?" I raise an eyebrow at him, considering the last time I saw Chopper he was quartering off the piece of shit who supposedly murdered my father on a dirty feedlot floor at the Yards. He's certainly interesting company for my mother to be keeping.
"Like I said, kid." He pulls his fedora onto his head and angles it slightly. "Lots of changes."
Carlisle's voice echoes throughout the cemetery, letting them know 'look who he found.' I hear my mother stifle her gasp and watch as her eyes well up with tears.
"Ciao, Ma,'" I pull her in for a hug and notice that she feels smaller, almost frail. Hardly the crazed woman I remember weeping over my father's bullet ridden body at the morgue, screaming at my uncle in Italian.
I'll never forget how her eyes looked as she pled with him, demanding that he kill them. Kill them all.
Which we did.
My mother cradles my face and peppers kisses all over my cheeks. "I've missed you, figlio mio. Let me look at you." She gives me a quick once over. "You look just like him. Es, doesn't he look just like my Ed?"
Stepping forward, my Aunt Es wraps her arms around me. "We've missed you so much."
"I've missed you, too."
An awkward silence falls over the three of us until Aunt Es can't take it any longer. "So do you have anyone special these days?"
"No!" My mother answers for me, making a face at her. "No one special from Cuba."
"Tonia," she scolds my mother, twisting her lips. "He's a grown man, he can have a girl from Cuba."
"No!" my mother says, her accent still thick as ever and always sharper when she's displeased. Shaking her head, my mother wags her finger. "No Cuban girls for my son." She turns back to me, cupping my face again, eyeing me hopefully. "We find you a nice Italian girl, yes?"
"Whatever you say, Ma," I tell her, kissing her cheek before crouching down to place a bouquet in front of the gravestone.
Running my hand through the grass, I think back to the day of the burial, remembering that there was a foot of snow and the ground was frozen solid, so they weren't able to dig a hole for his casket. I lower my head and close my eyes, silently mouthing the words Father Francis said at the burial.
May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
We each quietly reflect and stare at my father's tombstone, until my uncle starts hacking into his handkerchief again.
"We've gotta go," my aunt says, dabbing her eyes. "Our hair appointments are at eleven o'clock."
My mother rises to her feet making the sign of the cross to God above, before blowing a kiss to her love below. "Yes, let's go. Edward, I'll see you tonight." Waving, I watch her as she turns to my uncle and smacks his arm. "Get him to your tailor immediatamente."
He laughs. "Will do, Tonia."
"Grazie." She and Aunt Es barely make it ten steps before she yells over her shoulder. "And burn the hideous Cuban shirt he's wearing!"
A new suit, a shave and a shoe-shine later, I step out of my uncle's car feeling more myself than I have in years. My hair feels a bit stiff from the amount of Brylcreem the barber slapped on, but I suppose I'll get used to it.
"Ho-ly shit. Look who it is, gentlemen," my cousin Emmett drawls from the steps in front of the cathedral before flicking his cigarette.
Widening my arms, I pull him in for a hug. "How's it goin', Em?"
Emmett slaps my back a few times. "I'm great. How you been, huh? Nailin' showgirls two at a time out there in Ha-v-ana?"
"Nah, man." I say, when he smacks my cheek then gives it a smooch. "Get outta here with that."
Smiling, he releases me and starts making introductions. "You remember Paulie, yeah?"
"Of course." I nod, shaking Paulie's hand, noting the pox marks in his cheeks that earned him his name, Paulie 'Pox' Pagano. From what I remember he's one of the wild boys from Chicago Heights. "Good to see you," I say before turning to our longtime friend. "Felix."
"How ya' doin', Eddie?"
"Eh, all right." We do the half hug, half shake thing. "Can't complain. You?"
"Doin' well. Gotta wife, couple of kids." He shrugs. "Life's good."
Felix is one of the few fellas I've missed since leaving. On the surface, he's a laid back guy, keeps his head down, and does his thing. Word from the bird is that he's one of Carlisle's top earners, but he's more well-known for his headline-making hits over the years than any amount of money he's brought in for The Outfit.
Emmett jerks his chin to the one guy I don't recognize. "And this fat fuck is my driver, Benny Cheney. We call him Big Ben," he says, slapping the poor bastard's gut. I give his hand a quick shake, not remotely surprised by his dead fish grip. This kid is weak.
When I turn back to Emmett, his eyes are trained to the street, and his hands are shoved in his pockets, rocking back and forth on his heels. I follow his gaze to the stacked blonde making her way up the steps, her eyes never leaving his. She doesn't even need to open her mouth because I can spot a crazy broad from a mile away, and this one is just his type. "This must be the new missus."
"Sorry I'm late," she purrs, reaching for his face.
He palms her ass like they're not standing on the stoop of the house of the Lord. "Gimme some sugar."
"Christ," Felix mutters, heading into the church. "I'll meet youse inside, I'm gonna go say a prayer for those two."
I look at Paulie who lights up a cigarette and inhales deeply before waving in the kissing couple's direction. "Looks like we get dinner and a show."
Reaching back, Em flips him the bird as his intended breaks the kiss. "Baby, I want you to meet Edward." Extending my hand to her, she sizes me up. "Edward, this is Rose."
"It's nice to meet you."
"Likewise," the dame says, shaking my hand like a man. "Em's told me so much about you."
"Growing up and stuff. I've seen pictures." She pauses, like she's waiting on something, and I see Em give me a look.
"He's told me a lot about you too," I lie smoothly. "This guy's crazy about you."
Em squeezes her to him as she eats that shit up. "She knows I am."
Giggling, she excuses herself, leaving us to catch up.
"Benny," Carlisle calls from the corner, thumbing towards the brunette from the flower shop who's lugging a huge box up the sidewalk. "Make yourself useful, go help the lady."
Emmett slaps his butt like a mule. "Go get 'er, Big Ben."
"Gentlemen," Carlisle greets us as I light up a smoke.
"That's the girl from the flower shop, yeah?"
Carlisle smirks, watching Benny's interaction with her. "Yeah, that's Bel-la."
"What's her story?"
Paulie snorts. "One word - ball buster."
"That's two, dipshit." Emmett motions for my cig and takes a drag. "She's a good friend of Rosie's. They grew up together on the north side, debutant shit and all that. I think she's tryin' to be a nurse or whatever the broads are doin' these days."
"Until she finds a husband," Paulie adds. "Some poor sucker's gonna get reeled in by that face and figure and before he knows it, his balls are wrapped up in some butcher paper in her pocketbook. Mark my words."
Em hands back my smoke and nudges my arm. "Why? You into her?" I shrug my shoulder, watching Fatty Arbuckle sweating up a storm as he carries her box of flowers. "Because her daddy might have a problem with that."
"Oh yeah?" I ask while they all chuckle around me.
"Yeah," Carlisle cuts in with a slight smile. "The honorable Judge Charlie Swan might object. But for the right price …" He pats his pocket with the envelope. "I'm sure he'll allow it."
"Lots of eligible ladies here tonight," Aunt Es says, taking my arm while my mother links her hand around my other as we enter the restaurant for the rehearsal dinner. "What about that one?" She points to a tall, tan brunette checking herself out in her compact. "That's Giuseppe's daughter, Gianna. She's—"
"No," my mother says firmly. "I know her mother, and I saw her at the grocer buying a jar of sauce." She shakes her head. "No. She's no good for my son."
"Shameful," Aunt Es agrees sounding just as disgusted.
"Edward," Carlisle calls from behind us. "Can I see you a moment?"
"I'll save you a seat," my mother says, patting my cheek.
Pulling me close, my uncle lowers his voice. "Listen, I want you in on this. Two uninvited guests showed up, and we're going to have a little talk in the back office. You don't have to say anything, I just want you there. You need to watch." He points to his ear. "And listen carefully. Understand?"
I nod and he leads me back to the office where I notice two men standing in the middle of the room surrounded by Emmett, Felix, and Paulie.
"Gentlemen," Carlisle says quietly, shutting the door behind him. "I wasn't aware there was a meeting planned."
"That's 'cause there wasn't one." Emmett circles the two men before inviting them to sit at the chairs in front of the desk. They sit, but he remains standing over them. "What's this all about, Diego?"
The one with the scar over his eye leans forward in his seat. "The timing couldn't be helped."
Em's fists clench at his sides before hiding them in his pockets. "So cut to the chase. What's so fucking important that it couldn't wait?"
"We are … unhappy." Diego gestures in Em's direction. "With how things are being handled. Particularly the gaming in Chinatown."
I suspect he's anticipating a reaction, but Emmett doesn't bite. "And?"
"And … we're losing profits. This is unfortunate given how many years we've done business together." He tilts his head, giving Em then Carlisle a pointed look. "We don't appreciate—"
"No, you don't appreciate," Emmett interrupts him. "That's a part of the problem. We've done business together for many years. If you're losing profits, it's not 'cause of the games we've got going in Chinatown. It's your neighborhood with your scumbag clientele. Clean up your fuckin' backyard before dumping your shit in mine."
"But the Chinese…"
"But nothin'," Emmett interrupts him. "Our business with the Chinese is just that – our business. Not yours. Now kindly see yourselves out."
Diego stands abruptly and I see Paulie and Felix move for their pieces. "That's disrespectful!"
"Nah, Diego." Emmett stands to his full height and steps forward, calmly correcting him. "It's disrespectful to show up at my rehearsal dinner, unannounced, demanding a sit down." He jabs his finger into his chest and narrows his eyes. "If you ever pull some shit like this again, I'll show you what being disrespectful is by sending Felix and his boys over for a visit with that cute little sister of yours." Leaning in, he grins and his voice drops. "Ma-ria."
Felix blows Diego a loud kiss from across the room.
Emmett smoothes his hands over Diego's shoulders before seizing them and smiling out the side of his mouth. "Do I make myself clear?"
Two loud knocks sound behind me and Rose barges in. "Emmett, they're serving the food and we really need …" Her eyes widen, taking in the scene, but she recovers quickly. "To start the speeches."
"Gentlemen, I'll see you out," Paulie cuts in, holding the door open behind her.
Diego nods to Emmett and follows his associate out, but not before grabbing Rose's hand to kiss it. "Best wishes on your wedding, Ms. Hale."
Paulie leads them out of the room as Felix walks up behind Emmett for instruction.
"Send the boys down in Bridgeport to see him and his buddy for a baseball game and some steak," Em says over his shoulder nonchalantly like he's not ordering a beating. "Make it bloody."
Rose saunters up to Emmett, kisses his cheek and apologizes. "Sorry about that."
"Don't ever let it happen again," he warns, tipping her chin up.
"I won't. I promise." He hugs her to him, and she tugs on his tie. "But just a heads-up. If I ever hear of you visiting his sister or any other girl for that matter …" She hums before whispering loud enough for us to hear. "I'll swing for the fences."
Shoving a cigar in his mouth, he strikes a match and lights it up, watching her walk away before turning to me. "She sure is somethin', ain't she?"
When we return to the private dining room, I notice Big Ben chatting up the pretty brunette I keep seeing … Bella. He's leaning in and speaking closely, propping all his weight on the bar beside her.
"This ought to be good," I mutter to myself before motioning to Emmett that I'm gonna grab a drink.
Walking up behind him, I listen as he embarrasses himself.
"You like cars?" he asks, trying to sound smooth. "Because I've got a brand new Cadillac Coupe de Ville sitting outside." She doesn't acknowledge him, but she doesn't brush him off, so he keeps going. "They showed it at the auto show last year. Did you go?" Still nothing, but he won't let up. "You know, the one at the Amphitheatre? I'll bet you could've modeled next to the cars. Are you a model?"
Her mouth turns up in amusement, but this is too painful to watch. I've gotta put this kid out of his misery. "Hey, Big Ben, right?" I ask, gripping his shoulder.
Startled, he turns and looks at me like I've got a dick in my mouth. "Yeah, uh, Edward, right?"
"Right. Listen, Emmett wants you to go stand by the car."
He looks confused. "He said that?"
"Yeah, he wants you to go outside and stand by the car."
"Just stand there?"
"That's what he said." I shrug. "I mean, if you wanna go interrupt the speeches and ask him, be my guest."
"No, no," he says, putting his drink down. "Did he say until when?"
I smile. "He'll come get you."
Benny excuses himself, kissing her hand, and it takes everything in me not to put my foot in his ass to move him along.
I raise my chin to the bartender to get his attention.
"Well, you just scared away another potential Mr. Right," she deadpans.
"Yeah, you sound real broken up about it. You want a drink?"
She laughs. "Tom Collins, please."
"Scotch for me and a Tom Collins for the lady."
She thanks me when I hand her the drink, giving me a small wink as she wraps her lips around the straw before looking out over the guests. I follow her eyes to her mother who's talking to a young guy and pointing in Bella's direction. "Jesus, my mother's relentless."
"Tell me about it, I got those two," I motion to my mother and Aunt Es, "scouting potential wives for me."
"Yeah, they've got all these prerequisites. It's ridiculous."
Grinning, she swirls the straw in her drink. "Well let's see …" She points to a platinum blonde Marilyn Monroe lookalike. "That's Lauren. She's single, good family, nice girl."
"Nah, not my type." I turn up my nose at the sight of her.
"Then how about the brunette over there? That's Gianna, she's—"
"Nope. She doesn't make her own sauce accordin' to my mother."
"Well that's unfortunate," she says, looking slightly appalled.
"Are you Italian?"
"I am. Well, half-Italian. My dad's Irish." She laughs. "But I'm Italian enough to know that you should always make your own sauce."
We stand in a comfortable silence for a few minutes, her running her finger along the pearls of her necklace and watching people around the room, while I try to figure out what it is about this broad that's got me so intrigued.
"So what's your type then?"
I'm quiet, just standing there until she finally meets my gaze. "I know it when I see it."
"Oh," she says softly with a shy smile and steps a few feet away from the bar, raising her glass to toast me as she goes. "Well then I hope you find what you're looking for."
I already have.
A/N: Eek. Writing in a different genre is terrifying - thanks so much for giving it a go!
This is the first full-length fic I've done in ages. I plan on posting each Thursday night, so there'll be one more update this week, and then one chapter a week after that until complete.
Huge love and thanks to my pals and fellow admins at The Lemonade Stand for featuring Burning Saints on their Sneak Peek Saturday (and for all the hand-holding because you guys know I'm a hot mess of nervousness before posting anything). I appreciate you, ladies!
*shamefaced* Carrie and I have been crazy busy, so we only have one to let it WIP tonight, but it's a damn good one.
Summer Rain by Ninkita - She walked in, with her attitude and a polka dot umbrella. Whatever else I expected this miserable, rainy night, it definitely wasn't this.
Tell me, pals – what are you WIPing these days?
See you on Thursday and thanks for reading!