I backhand him. My hit is crisp. Athwacksound reverberates through the room.
He begrudgingly gets the hint. His jaw flexing with reluctance and his brow lined, he knows he has no other choice.
“The Neptune Society,” he says. “It’s gotten out of hand. The corruption has… it’s taken on a life of its own. To a point where it’s untenable. A descent that’s gradually gotten worse over the years. Only the city’s most powerful are granted membership. The club itself has never been… it’s always been designed to partake in things that are…debauched.
“You are made explicitly aware when you join that… that you can never go against the Society’s best interests. There’s a whole complex system, a whole council, in place to ensure the Society gets what it wants. Usually against the betterment of the city itself. No one has ever been able to fully get away. If you step out of line, you’re taken care of.”
“And you’re a member,” I point out.
He hesitates before nodding. “Almost every person in a position of power is. The government officials, the CEOs and executives, celebrities…”
“So much for Ernest Adams being Northam’s great savior.”
“You have no room to judge me, Mancino,” he snarls, tugging against his binds. “You’re a member of the damn mafia.”
“The difference between me and you, DA, is that I’ve never pretended to be anything other than what I am. I’ve never acted like I was out to save innocent lives and make their community a better place while secretly destroying them from behind-the-scenes. I’m aware of what I am, DA. You are the snake in the grass that hides in plain sight before striking and bleeding all that’s good dry.”
“You have no clue what you’re talking about! You think it’s that easy to leave the Society? Why do you think I retired when I did? Why do you think I’ve spent the last seven years away from the city, here in the suburbs?!”
“Excuse me, DA. How very valiant of you. After over twenty years of corruption, your conscience finally caught up with you—”
“You’re a piece of shit who thinks he suddenly has the upper hand—”
“SHUT UP!” Delphine screams at us both. She spins around from the window, breathing hard, tears still glossed in her eyes. “For once, this isn’t about your stupid rivalry! The game that you’ve been playing for over a decade! This is mylife!”
I clench shut my jaw, knowing she’s right. I’m doing this for Delphine, to expose him so she finally sees him for who he is. Engaging in a back-and-forth insult match only distracts from the real matter at hand.
“Why?” she asks. “Why was I attacked?”
For the first time, Ernest has the decency to look genuinely ashamed. He bows his head, a heavy expression unloading onto his square features.
“It was the Society,” he says. “Your initiation. The Society determines a different form of initiation for all of its club members. Something humiliating that can later be used against them as a means of control. This NorthamNeptune person who was exposing everyone—he had only scratched the surface of everything that has been going on.”
“I never asked to join.”
“It doesn’t matter. By virtue of you becoming district attorney you would’ve become a member, Delphine. That’s what you don’t understand—there is no choice. You are involved whether you want to be or not. The Neptune Society will never let you act outside of their interests.”
“Why not tell me? Why keep it from me?”
“I didn’t know they would take it so far. I didn’t know they would have someone… do what they did to you. But don’t you see? It was to humble you. You being my daughter, they were worried you’d be difficult to control. You’d truly be out to better the city.”
I don’t buy a word he says, but Delphine seems conflicted. He’s putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of the same society he belongs to, as though he’s an innocent pawn responsible for nothing that’s gone on.
Delphine curls her arms around her torso. “You pretended for months you had no idea about my attack.”
“Delphi sweetheart, I’m running for mayor for a reason! Don’t you see? I’m trying to protect you. I’m going to go toe-to-toe with the Society once and for all. I was going to let you in on my plan eventually. With my position as the mayor and yours as the DA, we’d hold some power. Don’t you see? We could fight back from the inside. The only way to destroy them.”
“Fight the Society from the inside,” she repeats slowly.
Ernest gives an eager nod. “Don’t listen to Mancino. He’s trying to poison you. If I told you the truth about him and his wretched family, it would make your skin crawl. Don’t think for one second he’s good for you. He’s bad for you, Delphi sweetie. You know deep down he is. All he’ll do is use you then discard you when he’s done. I’m the only one you can trust.”
Delphine glances over at me for the first time in minutes. I don’t know what to make of the look other than to call it confusion mixed with the pain she’s feeling. She begins pacing. A habit of hers when she’s thinking and unsure of what to do. I grit my teeth, tempted to snap at Ernest and remind her what he’s trying to do.
But I hold back. Delphine has to see it for herself. She has to put an end to his manipulation herself.
I’ve presented her the evidence.
Ernest seems to think things are slowly moving in his favor the longer she takes to respond. The more she paces. Maybe he’s right.