If you haven’t yet heard, Mobster’s Bones will finally be released to the mobster-loving world on June 30, 2015. But if you just can’t wait any longer, here is a sneak peek of the first couple chapters to get you started. Enjoy!!
My heels click too loudly on the cement sidewalk. I’m moving fast. My fist tightens around the strap on my bag, and I pick up my already hurried pace. I shoot a quick look behind me. No one is there, but I know they are, watching me. My shoulders tighten like someone threw an ice cube down the back of my shirt. The Saturday night special in my purse should comfort me but it doesn’t; I can’t fire at shadows. I’m too nervous to even pull out my phone.
I know better than to be out on the streets at night even in a town where my dad is a Capo. I have never been afraid. I really haven’t had a reason to be. Best friends with the mob boss’s son, Antonio, my father a bad-ass enforcer for the Delisi family make it a no-brainer. Stay the fuck away from me.
Street and porch lights on symmetrical houses flit by, illuminating the cracked pavement then casting it into darkness. I’m two houses away and the pavement stretches before me like miles of empty wilderness. My breathing is labored. Echoing in my ears are abrupt huffs of air in tandem with rushing blood.
I run up the stairs and unlock the front door, throwing myself into the living room. I slam it behind me and click the lock. I turn, leaning up against it, exhausted. I kick off my shoes and slide down to the floor.
Why is this happening to me? This is destroying me. A tear pricks the corner of my eye. It is shredding me to pieces one eerie bit at a time. I realize paranoia is consuming me as I pull my legs up tight to my chest. I wrap my arms around them and bury my head. I have to tell someone. I will look weak, but I have to. I can’t take this anymore.
“Remind me to never, ever, ever drink again,” Jake whines. His arm is slumped over my shoulder. He reeks of tequila and Chinese food. I turn my face away to steal a compulsive look at my watch. Celia should be coming over for our biweekly “date.”
“Your learning curve is messed up,” I point out. “If you were on track with your age matching college years, you would have been in high school for your first hangover, probably on some cheap ass beer in some pimpled-faced teenager’s cellar. But lucky you get to experience the hard shit at a testosterone-fueled frat party.”
“Being smart and a prodigy athlete sucks sometimes,” he slurs in my face.
“Dude, don’t talk,” I grumble, turning my head away from his breath. “You’re too close to me for that, just walk.”
I help Jake down the steps of the frat house and out into the fresh fall air. The glow of large bulbs hovering high above our heads lights up the thick lush green grass that outlines the cement walkways of Notre Dame’s campus. Newly fallen yellow, red, and gold leaves are scattered everywhere.
“The fact this hasn’t happened earlier in your academic career amazes me,” I mock. “You’ve been here for three years.”
“Why are we leaving?” Jake slurs.
“We? I came to get you! You’re trashed and you said you feel sick. Don’t talk.”
Jake’s legs wobble, making it more difficult to keep him from crumbling to the ground.
“Maybe I wanna talk,” he challenges me.
“It’s not your best fuckin’ moment, man, shut up.”
“You’ve changed,” Jake declares cryptically.
“Whatever.” He is annoying the shit out of me. I am being a good friend by dragging his ass out of there. If he loses his scholarship, he won’t ever graduate.
“Where is the crazy guy I met my first year?”
“Plans change… people change…” I trail off.
“Last year changed you.”
“I’ve had a lot of changes.”
“No,” he garbles with force. “I’m not talking about losing Megan to the freakin’ Mafia; I’m talking about after the casino last year… After all the bullshit went down with them coming here: Erin, Megan, Antonio, Vito,” Jake lists, swinging his head back and forth. “I know you can’t talk about it. But it made you a fuddy-duddy.” Jake stumbles; talking lucidly and walking at the same time is a struggle for him.
“Who says that?”
“It’s a saying,” Jake insists.
“Yeah, if you’re ninety years old… Anyway, maybe I’ve matured.”
“That’s only part of it,” he comments.
“Well, you’re the double F.”
“What the hell is that?” I catch a direct whiff of his breath.
“Fucking funny,” I tell him, wrinkling my nose and turning my face away.
Jake laughs but stops, stiffening next to me.
“Oh shit… I feel sick.”
I steer Jake off the path and toward the bushes.
“Hold it for two seconds.” Jake doubles over, clutching his stomach while letting go of me. He wobbles over to the evergreens and pukes violently. My own stomach lurches watching him.
Jake flicks a thumbs-up at me after fertilizing the bushes with tequila and Kung Pao chicken. I lead him to the parking lot and we hobble over to my sedan, and I fold Jake’s tall body in.
“Watch your head,” I warn before closing the door on him. I hop in and drive the short half-mile to our dorm, which is the most deserted I have ever seen outside of summer break.
I roll into a parking space in front of O’Neill Hall and get out. I pull Jake out of the passenger seat.
“Come on, big guy,” I say, hauling him to his unsteady feet. I sling his arm over my shoulder again and make it to the elevators. The steel doors slide open when I press the up arrow. Inside, I jab the number three. “You have a game this weekend,” I remind him, sounding like a nag.
“Shit!” Jake spews. “It smells like something fuckin’ died in here.”
“That smell would be you,” I inform him while plastering him against the elevator wall to keep him from tipping over. “It’s congesting into a stench in this small space.”
“Oh, man, I’m foul,” Jake proclaims, swaying.
Gears grind and clink together.
I have never heard that noise before in all the millions of times I have ridden in this elevator. It rocks violently; the lights flash in rapid succession three times and go out. I brace myself with my hand on the wall in the pitch-blackness.
“What the…?” I curse.
Tha-thump! A silent second of what the fuck passes.
“Troy!” Jake shrieks in panic. “I’m blind!”
“You’re not blind,” I shoot back. “The lights went out.” I step toward where the panel should be and hit something with my foot.
“Are you on the floor?”
“I think so,” Jake mumbles.
“Dumb-ass,” I mutter, while beating buttons and feeling around for an emergency switch. “Shouldn’t back-up lights come on?” I wonder aloud.
Snorting and hissing emanate from the floor; Jake is snoring. Great. I didn’t expect a response but he’s sleeping. Really? What a fucking night this is turning out to be! I glance down at my watch like I would be able to see it in the dark confined space. Celia is going to be waiting for me. I hate being late.
No matter what I press or push nothing happens. The elevator is totally dead. I scrub my hands over my face in frustration. Now what?
I go to reach for my phone but from outside the doors of the elevator is a scratching noise. I lean closer to listen. Someone is out there.
I rap on the metal. “Hello!” I yell. “We’re trapped in here!” I pause, listening.
Rattling and the doors shift, letting in a beam of light. Thank God! Someone is going to get us out of here. I put my fingers in the opening and push, helping the doors to open. Gradually, they separate and slide back. I am ready to thank whoever is out there but the hallway is empty. I survey the length, and the area is deserted. Stepping out, I lean down to pick up Jake’s arms. I drag him out into the hall, afraid the doors will close and seal him in.
He is totally out; the movement doesn’t wake him. I stare down at him snoozing on the carpet of the dorm, deciding on how to get him to his room.
As I lean over to hook my arms in his to lift, something sweeps against my back. Rough cloth scratches my cheek and then everything before me goes dark. My arms automatically flail, punching at the air. I can’t see. Through the blood pounding in my ears, a muffled laugh echoes around me. My blood runs cold as strong hands grab my arms and wrench them behind my back, straining at the muscles of my shoulder with a bitter sting.
“What the fuck?” I yell. “Get off me!” I struggle, but my assailant shoves me, forcing me down the hallway. I wobble and trip but stay upright, keeping up with the pushing. I am shoved into a room; the door slams with a sickening crack. My hands are free. I rip the bag off my head ready to pummel on whoever grabbed me, except I see who it is, and I am stunned.
“What the hell are you doing here!?”
The sensation of being stared at haunts my insides. I should not be going out tonight. I run a flat-iron through my hair, gazing at myself in the mirror over my dresser. It’s a small comfort to know I’ll be with a bunch of people. If I keep repeating to myself that there is safety in numbers, it helps a little, but somehow, it doesn’t make any difference. A room full of friendly faces doesn’t change this. This thing is tearing away at me a little at a time.
My newly applied makeup is going to be ruined because of the tears welling up in my eyes. I snatch a tissue out of the box on my dresser to dab them and knock over some of the many stuffed animals I have around my bedroom. Dad started bringing them back from his trips years ago. I love every single one of them. Now that Mom is gone, they’re an even greater comfort.
I pick up the fallen ones and notice the clock reads ten. It’s time to leave to go meet everyone. A faint creak in the floorboards makes my head snap in the direction of my door; I freeze, straining to hear more. Nothing. I walk to my window and peek through the closed blinds. I leave them shut all the time now. It is suffocating but I have to. Opening them makes me feel exposed. I gasp, letting the air out of my mouth in tiny puffs passing across my pink-stained lips.
I tap down the stairs to the kitchen in my new spiked heels and black form-fitting dress that I love. I push my long hair to my back and grab my purse off our round table, slinging it over my shoulder.
My throat is dry; my nerves have sucked up all of the moisture in my mouth. I pick up a cup and push the water dispenser on the refrigerator. A nightlight automatically comes on. The light shines on my cup, the floor, and the back door beside me. As the cup fills, my eyes dance around and fall on the lock. It is pointing up on the doorknob. My brows furrow in confusion. We never use this door. Why is it unlocked?
I place my pocketbook and cup on the counter and check it. I open the door. Yes, it is unlocked. My heart rate increases. I play with the lock, opening and closing the door to make sure it isn’t broken. It’s fine. Possible scenarios mix with rational explanations of why the door would be unsecured. Panic fights with my logic; it overcomes me. I must get out of the house.
I snatch my bag off the counter, dipping my fingers in, placing my hand on my gun. Tense, I walk toward the front door. My hand slowly pulls my gun from my purse as I leave the kitchen. The house is toying with me, taking away my only small sense of safety. A few dim lights are on for security, which right now does me no good.
My steps quicken, compelling my body to get out—go. I flip the locks with my free hand and dash out the door, slamming it behind me as though the bang against the doorframe will leave all the bad karma behind.
I clip down the steps to my car and jump in, pressing the lock button as fast as I can. I let out a breath and turn in my seat to check the back. Nothing. I close my eyes and attempt to gather my wits before starting the car and pulling away, my hands shaking on the wheel.
The bouncer at Club Angeles waves me through and touches his hand to my back. I flinch as his fingers graze my flesh. My nerves are bare threads tethered onto nothing, the slightest touch setting me off. I need to calm down. Taking in two sharp breaths, I offer up a pained smile; my friends are coming toward me.
“Hey, San!” Antonio kisses my cheek. Megan, his fiancée, hugs me and her flaming red hair brushes my face.
I really like her. We never hung out much until I hooked her up with Antonio. I’m glad I did. It was a win-win for me. I didn’t have to watch Antonio, Mafia enforcer and future mob boss, sulking about a girl he loved, but couldn’t have. I have never seen him so happy. His good looks only got better. And I made a good friend.
Actually, I made a best friend who’s a girl. I’ve never had one. All of my friends for my whole life have been guys—Antonio, Ronnie, Louis, and Vito. We are all friends. All of us with the exception of Megan have been extremely close since we were toddlers. Our mothers would hang out at the playground while all of our fathers worked. Not necessarily in the conventional sense, but worked all the same.
“Are you okay?” Megan inquires, putting her hand on my arm. “You look like you’re about to cry.”
“I do?” I didn’t think I looked that bad.
“What’s wrong?” she probes, extremely concerned.
“Are you all right, San? Megan’s right, you do look like you are going to cry.” Antonio is in my face.
“It’s nothing.” I brush them off. “We can talk about it later.”
“Are you sure?” Megan keeps pushing, not convinced. The two of them stand in front of me with consoling expressions. I hate that. I don’t want pity or sympathy.
“Yeah. Let’s have some fun,” I encourage, not letting my anger show through.
It wasn’t until we were older that we came to understand that we were set apart. Not for being Italian, but for belonging to families in the Mafia underworld. I was set apart from the guys because they would always be out doing errands for Antonio’s father, or doing guy stuff I wasn’t allowed to do. I probably could have been more involved if it wasn’t for Antonio and my dad. They are both overprotective and want to keep me out of the business. I’m not sheltered to the point of cluelessness, and I have handled myself in some tough situations, but what’s happening now leaves me at a loss for how to fix it on my own.
“Come on.” Megan takes my hand, breaking me out of my thoughts, and the three of us make our way to the dance floor.
I am glad that Megan has adjusted so well to this life. I was worried that it wouldn’t work out. It did, though, and for that I am thankful.
The colored lights above us jostle and whirl, reminding me of how things are and that the way things are run here in Palmetto is what I know. There are rules, and if you break them, there is a penalty. It may be a violent one or a slap on the wrist, or worse, you could be made an example of. The latter is definitely not something you would want, so you follow the rules. But this fear of being watched doesn’t follow any rules.
Ronnie joins us on the dance floor. For just a minute, I forget. I forget the shadows, the ghosts, the unexplainable discrepancies in my life. I twirl and spin. A couple of guys I don’t know try to dance with me but Antonio sends them one deadly glance and they turn the other way. He leaves Megan and me dancing while he goes to talk to Gus Vinnacco.
Antonio has made his mark on Palmetto. Everyone knows who he is. They know what he is capable of and what he is bred to do as the mob boss’s son. Everyone fears him. Antonio has proved himself to the “family” over and over again. It is well known that we’ve been close friends since we were little, so why would someone bother me? It all feels like a sick joke.
Antonio is posturing, he’s angry. I watch while I’m dancing with Megan. I can’t hear what Antonio is saying but I can tell he is yelling at Gus.
Megan leans in. “Antonio is really pissed.”
“I can tell.”
“Gus has been not showing up where he’s supposed to be. Antonio has had it with him,” she shares.
I let the music wash over me, not wanting to get involved with Antonio’s mob business right now. Megan does some fancy moves trying to make me laugh while we let Antonio do what he has to do. It only lasts a few minutes before my mind comes back full circle. And I’m back right where I started before I got here.
This whole bullshit thing is a weakness. I don’t like being a target or feeling vulnerable. I’ve seen silhouettes of a man. I blink and he’s gone as quickly as he appeared. Since my mother died last year, I’ve been a mental wreck. This just adds dread to the overwhelming grief. It ramps up the loneliness I feel. It sits on my heart like a boulder, each feeling of fright adding to the weight, while unraveling me at the same time.
The pressure of a hand on my shoulder makes me jump in my skin. I turn and it’s Gus. He had a major crush on me when we were kids. I smile but it’s artificial. The pulsing lights fill Gus’s eyes, making them flicker ominously. I clear my own vision to shake off the eeriness. Megan’s face appears in front of me and some of the iciness slips away but the incessant pounding of my heart tightens my chest. This was a mistake. I can’t do this.
“I should go,” I yell into her ear over the music.
“Do you want us to come with you?”
“No!” I insist. “I’m going straight home.”
“Let me get Antonio and we can walk you out.” Megan turns and I bolt. I don’t want to inconvenience anyone. I head for the exit and out into the night air, pulling it in deeply to my lungs—trying to get rid of the suffocating feeling that plagues me daily.
What the hell is wrong with me?
“Hi,” Vito says.
“Hi? All you can say is hi? You just fucking grabbed me, put a bag over my head, and scared the shit out of me.” My eyes search the room. “Where’s Jake?”
“Where you left him?”
I run my fingers through my hair, catching a glimpse of my watch, frustrated. I try to calm my speeding heart.
“What did you do that for?”
“Because it’s fun.”
“You are so messed up! Did you fuck with the elevator too?”
“Yup.” Vito walks around my small dorm room. He opens my mini-fridge and takes a can of beer, popping the top. He sits down in my desk chair, relaxing like we’ve been friends for years and he is just stopping by for a visit.
Vito is a scary-ass dude. He has that kind of tough presence that can’t be taught. You either have it or you don’t. That is why he makes a great enforcer for the Delisi family in New Jersey. I wouldn’t have even known him if it hadn’t been for my friend Megan falling in love with a mobster.
Today, two years later, I’ve got a mobster, Vito Rossi, drinking my beer stash and hanging out like we’re frat brothers. I run my hand over my chin, my beard stubble a rough reminder of my need for a shave. I reach into my fridge and grab a beer. I sit on the end of my bed, sinking down.
“What are you doing here?” I take a long swig of the cold amber liquid, waiting for an answer.
“I need a favor.” A smug grin crosses his face.
“No. No, no, no, no, no, no!” I ramble on, knowing exactly what favor means in his fucked-up world. “At no point have I ever solicited to be indoctrinated into the mob. Nope. Haven’t. You take care of Megan and her sister, Erin. I am grateful. I did a favor for you last year. One and done. No more. No favors, ain’t gonna happen, nuh-uh! I’m halfway done with school, and I have no intention of becoming a missing person.”
“You don’t even know what the favor is.”
“I don’t have to know what it is; I know who it is coming from. You or Delisi.”
“Okay, fine, I need your help.”
“What could I possibly help you with?”
“It sounds better than favor.”
“Oh, shit,” I mutter and gulp down the rest of my beer, needing another one immediately. Anything he asks for, whether a favor or help, is not good.
I rise off the bed to answer the door, my heart slamming in my chest again at the knuckles rapping. Vito throws his hand out to stop me.
“Ask who it is,” he orders in a growling whisper. I narrow my eyes at him.
“Who is it?” I call out through the solid wood in front of me.
“Uh, Troy, It’s me.”
I whisper, “It’s a girl I fool around with.” I tip my wrist to check my watch. “She’s right on time.”
Vito’s face curls down into a yeah right scowl, not believing me. The entire rest of the conversation is in fast whispers.
“I do,” I mouth. He points to the door, letting me know to take care of this. I take a step closer to the slab of wood separating Celia from me and the scary-ass mobster next to me.
“Hey, Celia, I’m kind of busy right now, can you come back another time?”
Vito smacks me, startling me.
“What?” I mouth.
“She’s gonna think you’re with another girl. That ain’t fuckin’ right.”
“We’re not exclusive,” I say.
Vito rolls his eyes.
The sweet musical voice carries through my door again. “Um, Jake is on the floor out here. Can you help me get him to his room?”
“I’ll take care of it,” I call back. “Thanks.”
“Oh. Okay.” She pauses, hesitant. “I guess I’ll see you later.”
“I’ll call you,” I shoot back, letting her know that I’m not blowing her off.
Vito mutters to me, “Chooch.”
We wait a few minutes listening at the door. Vito motions for me to crack it open. I look down the hallway to the left, empty—to the right, empty, except for the long sleeping body by the elevator.
“Help me get Jake in his room,” I say.
“Help you?” Vito questions, his dark eyes devilish.
“Yeah. Help me.”
Vito and I get Jake up. We both sling an arm over our shoulders. Jake’s feet drag on the carpet. He’s out cold.
“He’s a couple of doors down. He has a game this weekend. The team is going to go nuts if he’s not at his prime.” We stop and I reach into the front pocket of Jake’s jeans, fishing around.
“What are you doing?” Vito asks, a look of horror on his face.
“What do you think? I’m getting his keys.”
“I don’t know what you dorm buddies do around here. Maybe you swing and shit like that.”
I hurl him a glare and unlock Jake’s door. We hoist Jake up onto his bed. I untie his sneakers.
“What the fuck are you doing now?”
“I’m taking his shoes off.” The implications that we are gay are getting annoying. “Would you want to sleep in your shoes? I’m guessing no,” I challenge as I slip them off.
“Oh.” He admits understanding. “Now you owe me a favor.”
“For helping you move Jake.”
I don’t bother to get in a pissing contest that I would have had Jake in his room already if Vito hadn’t cut the power to the elevator, put a bag over my head, and shoved me into my room. My face says it all—not the same thing.
“Are you friends with Megan?” The sound of his question is unnerving.
“Yes.” Hesitation makes me draw the shit out of my yes like it is the longest word in my vocabulary. I don’t like where this is going.
“Erin?” His girlfriend… My brother’s ex. A girl I’ve babysat.
I am reluctant to respond. “Yes.”
“Then let me explain something to you.” He puts his arm around my shoulder like a very bad scene from The Godfather. “You are friends with them. In turn that makes you friends with me… and Antonio is marrying Megan, your friend. Antonio is going to be the Boss. We treat friends like family. That means you are friends with, and practically family with, all of us.”
“I find this a very big stretch,” I cut and Vito looms over me even though we are almost the same six-foot-three-inch height.
“I don’t.” He glares at me with an icy expression. “I find it… the way it is.” His words carry a cold chill to them.
“So you are not asking me to do a favor, you’re telling me,” I clarify.
“I haven’t asked since I’ve been here. I told you what I needed. A favor.”
I park my car in the driveway, hesitating to go inside. I really wanted to ask to stay at Megan’s for the night but her mother is a horror and doesn’t like me. Her daughter and Antonio becoming an item is all my doing. I could have asked Antonio for a place to crash, but it just seems wrong now. He’s marrying Megan. The time for sleepovers is done. I have to face my nightmares alone.
I take my gun out of my bag and hold it in my shooting hand; I slip my purse over my shoulder and hold my keys in the other. I get out of the car taking a deep breath. I can do this. It’s your imagination.
I slam my car door. It booms in my ears. I glance behind me fast, then to the side, and then my other side. My gun is by my thigh. My eyes dart around looking for any sign of trouble. They are hurting, straining to see the slightest movements in the darkness. I step forward and spill over my own feet, my anxiety getting the best of me. I want to be inside the house so bad that I’m unable to get myself under control, as if something is chasing me.
My fear catapults and gets the best of me and I start running. Clack-clack-clack ricochets off the sidewalk as my heels meet concrete. I steal a peek behind me, frustrated and angry for letting this get to me—and at the night for being so dark.
I spin back around only seconds from my front steps and run smack into Louie. I scream and he grabs my forearms. My gun is limp by my side.
“San! What the fuck?” he chastises. “What the hell is wrong? You look like you just saw the fucking devil!”
My heartbeats are in my ears as the blood rushes there. My breaths are shallow, making me dizzy.
“Are you okay?”
“Um…” Terror paralyzes my words. “Yeah… I’m fine. I just got spooked, that’s all.”
Louie’s grip on me is making me feel confined. He lowers his head to look in my eyes. His brown eyes are inquisitive, concerned.
“Come on.” Louie wraps his arm around my shoulder and leads me up the steps to my house. At the top, I put my key in.
“Thanks,” I utter, my hands shaking.
“Is your dad here?” he wonders.
“Do you want me to come in? I have to tell ya. You look fucked up.”
I lower my eyelids to glare at him. “Thanks.”
“No, seriously.” He is uncertain about leaving.
“I’m okay,” I punctuate and Louie doesn’t believe me. “Thanks. I’m good.”
“All right,” he sighs. “Call if you need me.”
I close the door behind me and lock it. I move the tiny lace curtain aside and it scrapes up against my face. I stare outside into the blackness of night, checking the space beneath the streetlights—nothing. I watch as Louie bounces down my steps. My breathing had seized at some point, and I let it out. Damn, my chest hurts. I switch the gun from hand to hand and wipe it on my shirt, getting the sweat off.
I walk to the living room and throw my purse on the couch. I click on all of the lamps, including some small ones by the chairs close to the fireplace. I continue to the kitchen and flick the main light switch for the bright overhead lights for cooking. Better.
I check the back door that was unlocked earlier. Locked tight. Great.
I toss the water I didn’t drink from earlier into the sink and refill the cup, keeping a tight hold on my gun. I balance my water and gun, turning on the light for the stairs. It shines brightly. It relaxes me. I check the front hall closet; clear. I go through the rest of the house sipping on my water, carrying my gun, and checking for any signs of an intruder. With each room that passes the test, I breathe a little easier.
I investigate my dad’s room and his closet; they are clear, there is nothing there. I stop at my room and my heart pounds a little harder. Did I shut my door? I quietly put my glass on the floor by the wall and raise my gun. I suck in air and slowly turn the knob. I make sure my gun is at the right level like I’ve been taught and let the door slip open.
I open and shut my eyes.
I do it again, gradually trying to clear the image of a sea of white fluff that covers my carpet—white against brown. I rush in and can’t believe it. All of my stuffed animals have been decapitated. Their innards are scattered across my floor. My mouth drops open and all of the memories that I cherish about each one of them comes to the surface. Vito winning me the largest teddy bear I own at a carnival. Antonio punching Gus in the face for playing keep-away with my favorite bunny.
I reach down and pick up what is left of him, Mr. Squeak. My dad got him for me on my tenth birthday. I hold his broken body to my chest in a surreal haze and squeeze him as hard as I did so many years ago when Antonio handed him back to me.
Who would do this?