The church was filled with family and friends. All of their solemn faces watched me as I walked up the aisle. The summer breeze coming in from the windows whipped my dress around my ankles. My hand reached out and touched the cold wooden coffin.
I shouldn’t have left. No matter how important it had been for me to go to school. I knew my parents were going to have problems, but I hadn’t imagined it would be this bad. I’d only been gone for three months when I got the call from my brother, Charles, Jr.
“Richard is dead,” Junior said.
I didn’t believe him, but I still rushed home. I wasn’t met with a kiss. I didn’t get asked how my trip was. Nobody said I love you. Richard, my husband, was dead. A week before I had left for classes a new ‘family’ had moved in. Vinnie Rio and his wife Maria had introduced themselves to my parents the day I left. They didn’t do or say anything wrong at that time, but I could tell.
My parents, Charles, Sr. and Rebecca, own a deli shop in a nice Italian American neighborhood. That was until the Rios moved in. It was the way they acted. The words they used. The way they walked and dressed. I knew they were part of the mob. What I didn’t know was that Vinnie was the head and that he was willing to do whatever it took to get my parents deli.
He wasn’t interested in making money selling meats. Instead, he wanted the back of the store. The large walk-in freezer to be exact. It was the perfect place for ‘business.’ He hadn’t said anything that day he introduced himself. He waited. He had dropped hints for a few weeks, according to my brother. My dad stayed strong and wouldn’t budge. Richard got involved when Vinnie hit my dad. He started talking for him, and that’s how he ended up dead. But, lucky for me, Vinnie never saw me that day when he came to town.
Junior put his arm around my shoulder leading me back out of the church. A young boy came running up with a phone in his hand. Junior took the phone.
“Hello,” Junior said.
I couldn’t hear what was being said on the other end, but I knew wasn’t good. Junior turned white as a sheet. His hand gripped hard into my shoulder.
“Can I speak to her?”
“What is it?” I whispered.
He waved me off and continued to listen intently. I eased him over to the paisley covered chair before he fell down.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
I knelt in front of him, trying to read his face. He looked right at but didn’t see me. I could hear the guests filing out of the church, all of them looking at us with concern. As the last person left, Junior jumped up.
“Put her back on! No! I want to talk to my mother. I…”
“What’s wrong with mom?” I screamed.
Again, he waved me away. He held the phone tight to his ear. The air in the room tense. I couldn’t breathe. Something was wrong with mom and he wasn’t telling me anything. I didn’t like this, but taking the phone from him wasn’t an option. I had to wait, no matter how long it took.
“Okay,” he whispered, before hanging up the phone.
“What’s wrong?” I said, cornering him.
“They have mom and dad.”
“Vinnie? Vinnie Rio?”
“Yes. Dad still wouldn’t give up the shop after they killed Richard. Now they’ve taken them, hostage, until I turn over the shop.”
I wrapped my arm around his shoulder and lead him outside. The sun dipped under the horizon casting everything in shadows. The moon peeked through the red clouds as we walked to my car. We drove to the shop in silence.
Everybody from the funeral would be piling into my house soon enough and I wasn’t ready to deal with them. I had something else on my mind.
Junior and I walked into the deli shop. He grabbed a plate and filled it with different sliced meats and cheeses. We quietly nibbled at the food. Neither of us wanted to talk about the elephant in the room. With a sigh, I broke the silence.
“Let them have the store.”
“Let them have the store.”
“I can’t do that. Dad would kill me.”
“If you don’t, they will kill dad. Trust me. Call Vinnie and set up a meeting tomorrow.”
“Why? I don’t know how you could let those people use our shop for their work.”
“I don’t want them in here any more than you do, but it’s the only way this is going to end.”
“I’m not going to do it.”
“Charlie, if you don’t you will never see mom or dad again. Besides, I’ll call him myself if I have to.”
I glared at my brother. I was four years older than him, and I had seen and done things that he would have never imagined. I had a secret that none of my family, not even my late husband, knew. He might have felt better if he had known, but I couldn’t risk it.
The next morning I hid in the back of the store. The office sat behind the meat counter and had a perfect view of the entire store. I stretched up on my tip toes to look out the window. Junior wasn’t happy. He had repeatedly begged me to reconsider after a while I stopped listening to him.
The front bell jingling and in walked a tall lanky man in a three-piece suit. A little overdressed for a Monday morning. Francis Capo, or as his friends called him, Little Frankie, sauntered up to the counter where Junior stood. He twirled a toothpick between lips before taking it out and tapping the tip on the counter.
“The boss wants to know if you have reconsidered,” Little Frankie said in a thick Italian accent.
Junior took a deep breath and stepped back from the counter. He hesitated too long. Little Frankie slapped the counter.
“Can you hear me? The boss wants an answer.”
“I…” Junior stumbled.
I slipped out of the office. None of the family knew I existed and I was going to use that to my advantage. I had slipped on my most form-fitting little black dress. My breasts poured out the top and my butt looked perky with the help of my sky-high heels. I glided up next to my brother, drawing Little Frankie’s attention.
“Is there a problem?” I asked.
“Who are you?” Little Frankie asked.
“You related to him?”
“I’m his older sister.”
“Older sister, huh? I didn’t know they had any other kids. So, you the one in charge here.”
“Looks that way.”
“Vinnie wants an answer. He wants your freezer.”
Junior slipped further away from the two of us. He fiddled around with some of the meats, trying his best to disappear in the shadows of the store. I hated seeing him this scared.
“If the freezer is all he wants, he can have it.”
“I see there is one smart person in your family. It’s a good thing you agreed. I would have hated to mess up a pretty face like yours.”
“You wouldn’t have really hurt me, would you?” I asked, sliding closer to him.
Little Frankie cleared his throat. He rubbed his finger across his pencil mustache with a smile.
“I could think of a million better things to do to you than hurt you.”
“I bet you could.”
Junior coughed. I glanced over to see him glaring at me. I rolled my eyes back to Little Frankie who hadn’t stopped gazing at me since I walked out of the office.
“How about I come back by tonight and take you out.”
With a grin, Little Frankie turned and sauntered out. I could feel Junior’s eyes burning holes through me. Turning my back to him, I strolled into the office saying,
“You have customers.”
Late Monday evening Little Frankie pulled up outside a large white mansion. This had to be the Capo house. I had been under the impression that we were going to a restaurant. I didn’t think I’d have to impress the entire family this early on.
Little Frankie walked around the car and opened my door. I eased out, making sure my tight dress didn’t rise too far. I hadn’t changed my dress from earlier, but I had added a leather jacket and pulled my long brown hair back in a ponytail. Frankie took my hand and led me up the stone stairs to the glass front door. A tall bleach blonde woman met us at the door.
She had curves in all the right places, but every inch appeared to be fake. The only thing on her that was real was the diamonds. She smiled the best she could, but her face wouldn’t allow anything to move. Escorting use in, she motioned towards two large red velvet chairs on either side of a long mahogany table. The woman sat at the head of the table, the other end was occupied by who I guessed was Vinnie. The meant the woman had to be his wife. The other two seats were filled by another man and woman. I wasn’t interested in either of them.
“Welcome, Veronica,” Vinnie said, motioning to a maid to fill my glass with wine, “You’ve met my wife, Maria. I hope Frankie has been a gentleman.”
“He has,” I replied, taking a sip of my wine.
“Good. I was extremely glad to hear that you had allowed us access to your store. Your father was quite a hard nut to crack. I’m glad you are smarter. What I was really interested in, though, is why I hadn’t ever met you before.”
“I’ve not been in town for the past few months.”
“I see. Why?”
“I was taking some classes.”
“You do ask a lot of questions.”
“I like to know who I’m dealing with. Your brother, Junior, is it? He’s an easy read. But you, you’re different. You don’t follow your father’s rules.”
“I’ve always done my own thing. I didn’t understand why he so against giving you access to the freezer.”
“Smart girl. Enough talk, let’s eat.”
We ate. The entire night, whatever Vinnie said, we did. Nobody questioned it. The dinner was good, though. Once we finished, with a snap of his fingers, the maids cleared the table and brought us coffee. After some idle chat about nothing in particular, Vinnie turned to me.
“Maria is going to show you around the house. I like you, and I have a feeling you will be around a lot.”
Maria took my hand and led me out of the dining room. Their house was vast and full of expensive furniture, appliances, and decorations. Rooms upon rooms lined the halls of the mansion. Most of which had never been used. Maria stopped short at the top of the stairs. I screeched to a halt barely avoiding her.
“You cannot tell anybody about what I’m getting ready to show you.”
I nodded. We eased down the staircase. Our steps echoed off the white walls. We stepped into a hall that paled in comparison to the rest of the house. I figured the area wasn’t frequented by guests. Nothing was decorated and the air smelled stale. My parents had to be around here somewhere. Maria tapped my shoulder, causing me to jump.
“Now, Vinnie probably wouldn’t want me to show you this, but I thought you might need to know. This is where we keep our little secrets. Promise me you won’t say anything.”
“Good. Now, let’s get back upstairs before the boys get too lonely.”
I sat at the small table in the office of the deli shop and sipped my now cold cup of coffee. Junior had frozen me out. The most I could get him to say was a grunt. Before I left Vinnie’s home the night before they told me they would need the freezer today. I was dressed to the nines again to keep my charade up.
The front door slammed open and the bell clanged. The sound of stomping and shuffling feet sounded through the store.
“What are you doing?” Junior yelled.
A hard thump vibrated the floor under my feet. I ran out to find Junior on the floor of the store. Little Frankie disappeared into the freezer. I crouched next to Junior to make sure he was okay. He yanked his arm away from my touch.
“I told you they were coming,” I whispered.
Junior glared at me. He wasn’t hurt, but his ego was bruised. He pulled himself up and moved to the far side of the shop. A scream rang out of the freezer. I glanced around the door to see Little Frankie and Vinnie roughing up a small wiry man.
“What did I tell you last time?” Vinnie barked into the man’s face.
“I don’t think he understood you,” Little Frankie quipped.
Vinnie nodded at his henchman. Little Frankie raised a skinny arm and drove his fist into the small man’s face. Blood splattered out of his mouth. In a split second, Little Frankie’s fist drove back into his face. Blood burst out of his nose. The tiny man groaned.
“What was that?” Vinnie said, leaning down to the man, but making sure he didn’t get blood on his shirt.
“Trunk. Money … trunk.”
“I think he’s saying the money is in the trunk,” Little Frankie interpreted.
Vinnie turned on his heel and bounded out of the store. Little Frankie turned his attention back to the small man. He drove fist after fist into him until he slumped over in the chair, barely breathing. I felt Junior’s breath on my shoulder.
“Aren’t you going to stop him?” Junior barked, loud enough for Frankie to hear.
I pushed Junior into the office and shut the door.
“Look, I don’t like this any more than you do, but if you don’t keep your mouth shut, you are going to be in worse shape than that man in there,” I whispered.
“You’ve lost your mind.”
Junior stomped out of the office and right into Little Frankie. Frankie slammed Junior against the wall. Frankie’s arm drew back preparing to hit Junior. With a touch of my hand, Frankie dropped his.
“Please, Frankie. He’s my brother. I can handle him. He’s just upset about our parents.”
Little Frankie looked at me; a small smile drew across his face. He released Junior’s shirt. I glanced at Junior. He took off to the front of the store. I rubbed my hand down Frankie’s arm.
“He’s lucky you were here.”
“I know. I’m sorry he doesn’t understand your line of work. I’ll do my best to keep him in line.”
“If you can’t, I’ll have to.”
“I know. Just, give him a little bit. He’ll come around. I promise.”
“You’re going out with me tonight.”
That night Little Frankie took me to a real restaurant. The food was beyond delicious, and it should be for the price they charged. Everybody took extra special care of us. We had no reservation, and the restaurant was full, but we only waited five minutes before the best table in the place was open. Nobody ever brought us a check. After dessert, we left.
Little Frankie wrapped an arm around my waist as we walked down the street. The night air was cool, so I didn’t protest his touch even though I wanted to. A figure moved to the right of me. I didn’t think anything about it. A moment later, Little Frankie was on the ground. A large man threw punch after punch at Little Frankie not giving him a chance to get in a hit.
I grabbed the man by the collar and pulled. He didn’t budge. I swung a fist into his side. Still, he didn’t budge. I stepped back and drove my foot into his gut. He grunted and tumbled off of Little Frankie. A glass stomach, good to know.
Little Frankie struggled to stand. His left eye swelled shut, and blood poured out of his nose. I didn’t like the man, but I could let him die tonight. Once he had his footing, he turned back to the hulk of a man that was still on the ground grasping his stomach. He stomped the man’s stomach causing him to writhe in pain. Little Frankie looked at me, nodding his head, inviting me to help him.
We took turns kicking and stomping him into the ground. Once he passed out, Little Frankie collapsed against the wall. It was my turn to wrap an arm around him. I led him back to the car and sped off towards Vinnie’s.
They had their own in-house doctor. This sort of thing must happen a lot. As soon as we stepped inside, we were met by a short man with a stethoscope. He took Little Frankie to another room, leaving me alone at the door. Vinnie stepped beside, placing a hand on my shoulder.
“I don’t know. Some large man came out of nowhere and attacked him.”
“Sounds like Bubba. That’s not his real name, but he won’t share his real name. He used to work with us, but when I met Little Frankie, I sent Bubba on his way. He’s tried to get the drop on him before but never succeeded. How did you get him off?”
“He’s got a glass stomach.”
“Figures. Big guys always have an easy to reach weak spot. Come with me. I have something to show you.”
Vinnie led me back to the staircase that Maria had taken me down the other day. This time we walked the long hallway. I glanced in some of the open doors. They were small furnished bedrooms, big enough for two people. One door along that hallway was closed. It had to be where my parents were.
The hallway emptied out into a large office space. On the far wall set a large vault, one that should be in a bank. The door was opened a crack. It looked like it was filled with gold and cash.
“This is where it all happens,” Vinnie said in a grand fashion, “Not just anybody gets to see this room. Besides myself, Maria, and Little Frankie, you’re the only other person who has been shown this room without a gun pressed to their head.”
“Why are you showing me the room?”
“Your one special lady. Little Frankie likes you and you proved yourself useful today. I want you to help me. I’ve got a new store, much like your father; he’s a bit reluctant to let me help him with business. I think you can help.”
After explaining the situation, Vinnie left me alone in the office. I had everything that I needed to bring an end to the Rio family. In just a couple of days, I had done what the other officers on the force hadn’t been able to do for years. Every time the police got close, the Rio family would move. This time I had insisted that I take the lead. The guys didn’t like that a woman would be taking over their case, and I suspected that they would be extremely upset that I had finished what they couldn’t.
Back home, I slipped to my room unnoticed by Junior. He had been staying with Richard and me long before all of this started. He was watching TV when I came in. I slipped out of my cumbersome dress and slid on my PJs. Grabbing the phone, I called my boss.
“Virgil, it’s me, Veronica. I’ve got them.”
“You got them?”
“Vinnie took me to his office today. I have all the evidence we need to put him away. We can take them tomorrow.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m positive. We wait any longer and they could end up getting suspicious, and we know what happens when they get suspicious.”
“All right. I’ll get the guys together. You go in and signal us when you’re ready.”
“Sounds like a plan. See you tomorrow.”
“See you then.”
I hung up the phone with a smile. Unbeknownst to me, Junior has slipped upstairs and had overheard my phone call. He slammed my door open and stormed in.
“Cops! Cops were not supposed to be involved.”
“I’m a cop, Junior. Cops have been involved since the beginning.”
“They’re going to kill them.”
“No, they’re not. At least not anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you honestly think they were ever going to release them? They were just biding their time until they got everything they wanted from us.”
“Yes, I do.”
“This is why I didn’t tell you, or anybody for that matter, what I was doing when I went away.”
“I thought you were a secretary.”
“That’s what everybody thought. That’s how going undercover works. It’s my little secret. I need you to calm down. Mom and dad are going to be fine as long as you don’t do something stupid.”
“I can’t do this. You’ve messed everything up.”
“I’ve mess nothing up. You were never going to give them access to the shop. You were going to get yourself and our parents killed. Richard already sacrificed himself. I’m now a 30-year-old widow. How do you think I feel? I’m taking down the Rio family, and if you don’t promise me that you will behave, I will tie you up in your room until everything is over.”
Junior stayed quiet. He eased back to his room and didn’t say anything for the rest of the day. The next morning was just as quiet. That was until I started to leave.
“Be safe,” Junior said, making his way back up to his room.
The entire family was at Vinnie’s. It seemed as if it was a tradition to gather together when somebody got jumped on the street. Little Frankie could only see out of one eye, and his breaths were shallow from his bruised ribs.
As the festivities picked up, I slipped away from the crowd. I knew my team was waiting just outside of the Rio fortress. I stepped out onto one of the several balconies and stretched. A whistle sounded off in the distance letting me know they had seen my signal.
I reached in my dress and pulled out my gun. After checking the gun, I eased back inside. A second later, the front door busted open. With the distraction on my side, I took off to the staircase. Somebody reached out and grabbed my arm, yanking me around. One of Vinnie’s men hovered over me.
I swung my arm around. He grabbed my arm, causing me to drop the gun. I continued to fight him off, but he deflected every swing. An explosion ricocheted through the house. The giant looked away. I grabbed up a large ceramic vase and smashed it over his head. He took a few steps and tumbled to the ground. I grabbed up my gun and took off downstairs.
“Mom. Dad.” I screamed.
Muffled yells came from down the hall. I took off towards the closed door. I grabbed the knob but it wouldn’t turn.
“Mom, dad, if you can hear me, I need to you move to the far wall.”
Shuffling feet sounded on the other side of the door. I took a step and aimed my gun at the lock. Firing off a shot, the lock blew apart and the door swung open. I stepped inside and saw my mom and dad holding each other in the far corner of the room. When they saw me, they ran and grabbed me up in a hug. For the next minute, I was covered in kisses.
“I love you too, but we have to get out of here,” I said.
“Why are you here?” my dad asked.
“That’s a story for another day.”
I motioned for them to stay behind me as we eased upstairs. Shots bounced off the wall beside us. Ducking against the opposite wall, I glanced around the corner. Little Frankie stood behind a column and fired another shot. I readied my gun and fired at his leg. It glanced off the column missing my target.
Frankie shot at us again, missing by a mile. Having only one good eye made his job a lot harder. I fired again, this time taking out his right knee. He dropped to the floor. I raced to him, never dropping my aim. Kicking the gun away, I turned him on his stomach and shoved my knee into his back.
“I knew you were too good at being bad,” Little Frankie wheezed.
“You kidnapped my parents. Did you honestly think I liked you?”
The house went quiet. My boss stepped around the corner with two officers following him. The house was in shambles. Most of the decorations had been destroyed. The couch was riddled with bullets holes. One of the officers stepped up and handed me a pair of handcuffs. I secured Little Frankie’s hands and stood. Mom and dad eased their way into the room.
“Did you get them?” I asked.
“We did. We took most of them alive. A few were injured, and a couple had to be killed. They hit a couple of our men, but they’ll be fine.”
“Where’s this evidence you found?”
“Down those stairs and all the way at the end of the hall. If you don’t mind, I’d like to take my parents home instead of hanging around here.”
“Go ahead. I’m sure Junior is worried.
The three of us stepped up on the curb outside of the deli shop. I could see Junior inside scrubbing the counters. His face was wrinkled in a frown as he scrubbed away his anger. I motioned for my parents to stay outside. The bell rang when I opened the door, bringing Junior’s attention to me. He frowned.
“Why are you here? I thought you were working.” Junior stated, anger rising in his voice.
“I thought I’d bring you present. Especially after everything I’ve put you through this week.”
The bell rang again as mom and dad stepped inside. The frown on Junior’s face dissolved into a smile. Racing to mom and dad, he wrapped them in a hug before reaching over to pull me in. We stayed in our huddle for a few minutes more.
We closed the store for the day and spent some much-needed family time together. I explained my whole story and why I had to lie for so long. Unfortunately, Richard never got to find out my secret. He had been a causality that I hadn’t planned on. He wasn’t supposed to get so involved, but the people that killed him were in jail and there was no chance of them getting out.