Three men, standing side by side in that lobby, wearing three piece suits and sunglasses, made the receptionist stop reading her magazine.
“Can I help you?”
“Just here for a visit.” I tipped my head and the Divani brothers followed me pass the desk and down a long corridor. The man I wanted to see had no idea I was coming and I wanted to keep it that way.
I breathed in the pungent scent of cleansers. The same scent that curled my nose when I entered a hospital. Except for the thin carpet, cheap vinyl sofas, and chairs it wasn’t much different. Employees wearing scrubs passed us, all with their phones in their hands as they headed for glass double doors. Paying no attention to the strangers in the hall. Maybe they should have.
“This is the one.” I turned to the left and pushed the long bar, opening one of a pair of heavy metal doors.
Inside we stood in front of a large extravagant desk with pillar accents. Around the desk, wrinkled and deteriorated bodies sat in wheelchairs. Some babbling incoherently, others slept with bent necks to their chests. They made me uncomfortable. I never had a problem with the elderly, when they were functional, but seeing them in that state caused sadness. Misery I usually chose to avoid.
I’d never stepped foot in a nursing home before. I’d always imagined it to be a quiet place, like a library with nurses shushing. This was busy. Women in crimson scrubs darted this way and that, slipping into one room, then another. Little lights above the doors flicked on, lighting up the walls like it was Christmas. Here and there, they would turn off. A few moments later an employee would come out. And sometimes the light would relight moments after their exit. And an irritating dinging sound interrupted all thoughts and it rarely stopped.
I walked by several round tables filled with perfectly styled grey haired women who knitted or worked on puzzles. They gazed my way with curiosity as I passed.
I strolled pass a flowered sofa where the owner of the parked maid buggy sat watching a soap opera. Even she didn’t question our arrival. I’d expected at least one worker to stop us.
I stepped into the last room. I gazed, taking in the beige wallpaper with golden lines on the upper half of the wall and dark oak stained wood on the bottom. I gazed at the chipped, stained white tile. The flower patterned curtains and the faux wood nightstands, the metal bed, but mostly I glared at the man lying in the bed. His eyes closed and his hands laying peacefully on his stomach.
How the hell was it possible? Instantly, my mind went back, analyzing every detail of the memory.
“Stop your whining.” Adrian Gianetti stood in the door, watching me sob into my pillow. “It’s been five damn years!” The day Sara died haunted me every single day. The pain hadn’t faded even slightly and I mourned as if it had only happened the day before. “There are many other girls in this world. Get over it!” My father had spat the words many times over the years. The monster acted as if I had lost my favorite toy. He wanted his son to be cold. He wanted me to feel nothing and desire everything – like him.
“We have business to take care of,” my father growled. “Stop acting like a child. You had your fun, but now it’s time to grow up. It’s past time for you to grow up”
The words stung my ears. “Haven’t I done enough of your dirty work? Whatever you came here for, just leave me out of it!”
“Get up out of that bed, boy!” Adrian stormed into the room and jerked the blanket away. “You will do exactly as I tell you or you’re out!”
“Kick me out! I’d rather live on the street!” I’d returned to my father’s home a few months after that terrible day, unable to bare living in the apartment I shared with Sara and found myself stuck, spending my fulfilling his whims, rather I knew the reason or not. We’d traveled to Coeur de’ Lile the night before. I didn’t know his goal. I honestly didn’t care.
“Kick you out?” Adrian laughed. “Like I would reward you? There’s only one way out of my life boy.”
“I really don’t care. Cut my throat. Shoot me. Drown me – Whatever.”
“I don’t know where I went wrong with you. You disappoint me.”
“Good!” I didn’t care what my father wanted. I was not like him and had no desire to be. “I’m glad old man!”
“I can hurt you deeply without touching you at all or haven’t you figured it out by now?” Adrian smirked and left the room.
I lifted my head from the pillow and stared in disbelief as the truth unfolded in my mind. My breath caught in my lungs, unwilling to let the oxygen pump in and out. I ran from the room and into the living room of the hotel suit. I searched and found him standing on the balcony.
“You did it? You’re the one who sent Jacob!” I roared as I took long strides across the distance, intent on taking out all my rage on the man who had caused my agony.
“Don’t get too cocky, son.”
I stopped mid-stride and slowly took the last steps unable to believe what I was seeing.
“Mickie?” Three rooms over, my little sister sat on the balcony.
My step-mother, Eva had decided to divorce my father and had ran with Mickie in the middle of the night. My father had no idea where they were. His henchmen couldn’t track them down because I had given her enough cash to keep her from leaving a paper trail. How the hell did he find them?
Adrian stood with his arms resting on the railing of the balcony that stood high over a cliff, took a draw off his cigarette, then dropped it over the side and watched it fall for an eternity before it hit ocean water.
He then picked up the sniper rifle propped it up next to him and focused his eyes on the teenager talking on her cell phone on the balcony three rooms over, having no idea the father she hid from lurked so close.
“I have a right to see my child, don’t I?” Adrian brought the gun to his shoulder. “Did you forget about her? You have lost your wife and your best friend, should I add a sibling to that list? You think you have nothing to lose anymore, but I think you’re wrong.”
“She’s just a baby,” I choked.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Adrian continued to make his point while I stood helpless. “You thought you could help that bitch wife of mine hide from me. Yes, son, I know you helped Eva take my daughter. You know as well as she does that the only way out of my life is death. And right now … you are more use to me than she is … either way you’ll learn your lesson.”
I flew at him. Unable to contain the rage. This man admitted to sending my best friend to kill my wife and now he wanted to kill my little sister. The attack caught him off guard and the weapon fell to the floor, firing its shot, the bullet hitting the glass door behind me.
My father moved quick, catching my mid section with brute force, and taking me down by the waist.
My feet left the comfort of the cement pad and my head hit hard enough to make my ears ring. Blinding pain circulated my skull. I didn’t have time to fully regain focus before my ribs received their fair share of my father’s temper. Over and over. He kicked. He stomped and I endured, curling in a ball to protect already battered parts of my body.
“You’re weak just like your mother!” he screamed.
I grabbed his foot and tripped him, but he didn’t fall. He bounced one foot, stumbling backwards until he finally rested against the balcony and regained his balance. It bought me enough time to get back to my feet.
“Come on!” He beckoned, curling the fingers of a flat hand.
I stormed across balcony, my arm pulling back and connecting as soon as I was close enough. By then anger and pain blinded all rational thought. He had taken my entire life from me and condemned me to live an unwanted legacy.
I no longer saw him as my father. I saw him as my enemy and there would be no peace as long as he drew breath. I grappled him, moved behind him and put my arms under his. I locked my hands behind his neck, bending it forward until I heard a loud pop. My father went limp.
The dead weight in my arms was more than I could handle on my own, but I somehow managed to maneuver his upper half and drop him. He laid draped over the railing like a rag dog. I curled my lip. Grabbed his legs and used every ounce of strength to give him one last shove. And I watched him as his body fell from the tenth floor, until it made a splash below.
I stepped closer to the bed. The man’s eyes opened. I glared. “You really don’t know who I am, old man?”
I wasn’t convinced. Not when his gaze locked on me with familiar detest and pure evil radiated from his eyes.
“He’s not the same man, Sean.” A man I hadn’t noticed sitting in the corner made his presence known.
“He’s been here the whole time?” I growled, crossing the distance in long strides and snatching the lapels of his expensive suit.
“Remember who you’re talking to, boy.” Bruiser Bates. “I might be a little older, but I haven’t lost my edge.
“You’re not in a position to threaten me.” I nodded toward the men standing at the door. “You’re outnumbered.”
“Ah, yes – the ignorant muscle head and the skinny mute.” He chuckled. “It’s nice to see some things haven’t changed. I figured they’d be dead by now.”
“I figured the same about you.”
Bruiser Baits disappeared a couple months after my father’s death. Leaving behind his family, his car, and his luggage – the classic sign that someone had scratched the made-man. I imagined him strapped to a cinder block under miles of ocean or buried beneath the cement foundation of a construction site. He’d been the first of a series of disappearances, leaving only myself and the Divani’s untouched.
“My disappearance should have started a war with our rivals. Guess I knew you wouldn’t send the boys to avenge me. You were never loyal and look at you – running the whole operation – what little is left.”
“HOW. DID. HE. GET. HERE!”
“Still the same stupid kid. How do you think? He survived your assassination – or your attempted assassination I should say.”
I slowly let out an irritated breath. Bruiser had always been the type to infuriate people with short answers that divulged few details. I turned my attention to my father, towering over him. He didn’t look much different than the last time I’d seen him, despite the slightly pale complexion and gaunt cheeks.
“You always liked to brag … father. I know you’re dying to tell me exactly how you screwed up my plans.”
“Juice.” The deep voice sounded nearly angelic. “Juice.”
“He doesn’t know you or that life anymore.” Bruiser peeled opened a container of orange juice, dropped a straw, and placed the beverage in his friend’s hand, holding it while he drank.
“Prolonged time under water causes a lot of damage … maybe I shouldn’t have brought him back. I wouldn’t have if I knew he’d live like this.”
“So that entire day, you were with him at the hospital. What I don’t understand is why you didn’t feel the need to contact his son?”
Bruiser had been with us on that last trip. I didn’t know his whereabouts during the time of the altercation. He’d returned later that night. He seemed to have no knowledge of my crime. Nor did he question when I told him my father had left. He’d even spent hours searching when morning came and my father still hadn’t returned.
“He managed to say your name as soon as the water cleared his lungs. But that was the last thing he ever said that had a damn thing to do with his life.” Bruiser wore a pained expression. “For over a year, I thought that hospital could bring him back. They tried every method they had and a few experimental treatments – I told him when we were kids that I would always be at his side. I won’t break my word.”
“I’ll be back,” I warned. “Don’t get any bright ideas about moving him.”