Twisted Roses

Page 66

“You really going to go through with it? You going to expose him when the Five Families reunite?”
“That’s the plan. I just need the second half. I still have a few months to locate it.”
Rhino whistles. “Nobody can ever say you don’t got balls. There’s no going back once you do, is there?”
I give a shrug with my hands deep in my pockets and wander over to the poolside. The chemical stench of bleach occupies the summer air. The pool guy seems to be on a mission to finish cleaning as fast as possible, judging by how he tosses in the bleach tablets.
“Condolences about your mother,” Rhino says. “Still surprising it’s hitting Lucius as hard as it has, huh? Then again, he won her over for a reason.”
It’s the perfect segue into what Ireallywant to speak to Rhino about.
I walk over to the empty reclining chair next to him and sit down on its edge. Facing him, my face stoic, my gaze ready to pick up any minute clues, I take a stab in the dark.
“He did win her over all those years ago,” I say. “You were around back then.”
“I sure was. Minus a hundred pounds. Can you believe I was a gym rat?” Rhino laughs.
“My grandfather, Leandro, he wasn’t fond of Lucius, was he?”
Rhino’s bushy brow lifts and humor glints from his half smile. “Ohhh, so you’re looking for the scoop, is that it?”
“I was trying to get a hold of Stefania to ask her. Then she died.”
“You’re not saying what I think you are?”
“I put nothing past Lucius.”
“He’s been away all summer. Working on expansion in other parts of the country.”
“If I can multitask, so can he. What do you know about her?” I brandish a handful of screen caps from the VHS video. All various snapshots of a young Lena Burtka mingling among the other women in attendance the night the video was filmed.
Rhino takes the photos. Lines crinkle around his eyes as he squints looking at them. I’m half a second away from offering to go grab his reading glasses when he grunts. He chugs more of his whiskey and then hands the photos back.
“She looks familiar.”
“I bet she does. Who is she?”
“Hey, hey, toothpick!” Rhino shouts out of nowhere. He raises a begrudging fist at the pool guy, who looks like he weighs as much as one of Rhino’s thick thighs. “If you can’t hold the skimmer pole properly with those scrawny arms, maybe it’s time to beef up in the gym!”
The kid, who looks no older than twenty with his speckle of chin hair and knobby Adam’s Apple, is so startled by Rhino shouting at him, he flails with the long pole in his arms. He would have tipped over into the pool if not for his big feet gripping the edge.
I force Rhino’s attention to return to our conversation, pointing to Lena in the photos. “Who is she, Rhino?”
“That night was the usual Five Families meeting. It started off like any other. Pretty civil with the business talks and discussions on future endeavors.”
“This was when Leandro had begun taking Lucius under his wing, mentoring him as his successor.”
“Right, I was low-level at the time. As you can see by the pictures, I wasn’t allowed to sit at the big boy table. Lucius brown-nosed his way in, though Leandro was always suspicious of him.”
My gaze falls to the frame-by-frame photographs. One of the photos showing the group of women mingling in the background offers a clear shot of the table where Leandro, Lucius, and Kozlov were sitting.
“Leandro was right to be suspicious.”
“He believed he had tamed Lucius. Particularly after, well, you know. Whatever was, uh, rumored to have transpired that night. Your grandfather underestimated him. Never expected him to strike back. Lucius can be calculated like that.”
“And Lena? Where does she fit into all this?”
“You’ve got some preoccupation with a Russian prostitute. Any particular reason?”