Author's note: Sammy "The Snake" Piconni is played by the wonderful Sam Grant, star of stage, screen and computers across the 'verse in Hi Mum, It's Sammy. Thanks for letting me sacrifice him as victim...eventually.
Generation 9, Chapter 4
Generation 9, Chapter 4
"Mr. Woods – you've worked for the Giovanni crime family for how long exactly?" Brian, despite all attempts to remain calm, was shaking slightly as he stood up to question the next witness. The snitch who they'd been hiding for months to get him to this moment.
"Foreva'? I mean as soon as I was old 'nough to be involved I was," the witness said, leaning back in the chair casually. It let out a loud squeak, causing more than one juror to jump in surprise. "Sorry," he said sheepishly.
"And you were there when the defendant was approached by your boss?" Brian asked, trying to hide his eye roll.
"Ya, I was Mr. Giovanni's driver in them days. I drove him and Snake, er Sammy Piconni, over to Mr. Taffity's house that day."
"Sam Piconni, as in the victim correct?" Brian asked, glancing over at the jury.
"Ya, I suppose," Woods said with a shrug.
"Do you know how, exactly, Mr. Giovanni came to be interested in the defendant?"
"He was stealing from him – at that law firm that other guy was talkin' 'bout. The boss was one of the clients. I overheard them talking 'bout takin' Mr. Taffity out to the swamp and, well figured he was done fer but the boss made him an offer 'nstead."
"What kind of offer Mr. Woods?"
"The kind you don't say no to if you like livin'," Woods said with a dark chuckle. Seeley smirked; Brian Linder grimaced and most of the jury looked horror struck.
"Seeley!" The front door slammed shut as Camille stormed into my house, without so much as a knock or greeting. "Seeley Taffity! Get your spoiled, moronic butt out here!"
"Hello Cam, nice to see you too, ever hear of knocking?" I said, slipping a shirt on as I walked down the stairs.
"Stealing Seeley? Seriously? Why on Earth would you steal from your clients?" Cam, ever the good girl, seemed horrified by reports of my indiscretions.
I briefly considered asking her where she got her information but I already knew the answer to that. "Why does anyone steal Cam?" I shrugged and brushed past her, on the way to the kitchen. This nonchalance just served to irritate her more as she stomped after me.
"Well it was stupid! Did you even pay attention to WHO you were stealing from Seeley?" Cam seemed to catch herself about to reveal something she shouldn't as she stopped and turned away from me suddenly.
"Look, Cam, if you came here to berate me about my life choices – consider it mission accomplished." I smiled broadly at her, foolishly hoping to disarm her.
It didn't work. I could see the tension rolling across her features as she tried to stop another spew of insults from popping out. "I'm worried about you Seeley...what are big sisters for anyway?"
"First off, you're only my 'big' sister by a matter of minutes," I pointed out, falling into the same argument we'd been having since we were five years old. "And second, don't worry about me. I'm fine. Besides don't you have a criminal to analyze or something?"
"Who says I'm not doing that now?" Cam retorted. I smirked and handed her a mug of coffee, though she hadn't specifically asked for one. "You're really okay?" she asked, watching me over the rim of her cup.
"I'm fine. I still have my house, my car, my inheritance – I'll be just fine Cam," I said. Camille was the only person in the world I'd probably tolerate this hovering behavior from so I didn't even comment as she gnawed on her lip anxiously.
"What about Jenn?" She asked, after a long silence between us.
I dropped my smile and turned away from her. It had been almost two months since Jenn had left and I'd been deliberately avoiding the subject both in speech and thought ever since. "What about her?" I asked, focusing my attention on a stubborn spot on the counter in order to avoid Cam's analytical eyes.
"I saw her the other day," Cam said quietly. "She's pregnant Seeley, did you know that?"
"I did," I said simply. Camille faltered between anger and sadness, unsure, for once in her life, what to say. My dalliance from the night before chose that moment to grace us with her presence, wearing naught but one of my nicer button shirts. I raised an eyebrow at her wardrobe choice, wondering just how long she spent sifting through my belongings before choosing it. Her goal, of course, was to make Cam jealous. She was too dim witted to consider the fact that Cam was my sister and therefore not worth the effort.
“Seeley,” she brushed past Cam, whose nostrils flared in response, and rubbed up against me. While annoying, it wasn’t entirely unwelcome attention. “I was missing you,” she purred, running her hand further down my leg and giving Camille a cocky smirk.
“Who the hell is this?” Cam asked, all sense of sadness and pity fleeing quickly. “Do you really need another girl…” she practically spat the word out and sneered at the long-legged tramp beside me, “to warm your bed?”
I shrugged, “I don’t know.” Beside me, the woman tensed and gave me a glare. Though rightly earned, I ignored it and pushed her hand away from me. “We’re done here. You can leave my shirt on the bed,” I said. She wilted as she sulked away, turning her anger toward Camille with an intentional shoulder bump. I waited until she was upstairs again, “I don’t remember her name.”
“Do you ever remember their names?” Camille asked, rolling her eyes. “Jenn, what about Jenn?”
“There’s nothing to say on that front Cam. We no longer see each other,” I said, sipping my coffee slowly to hide my frown.
“That’s called breaking up – by normal people,” she said. “And don’t you dare say you weren’t in a relationship and therefore can’t ‘break up’ because that’s bullshit and you know it.” Our attention was drawn toward the stairs as the unnamed woman’s heels clinked on the stairs; she was clutching her purse and jacket close to her chest. She gave us both another long glare before throwing the door open and letting it slam behind her. “Nice to meet you,” Cam called out, a small grin on her face. “You really are an idiot Seeley,” she said shaking her head as she turned back toward me.
“Well we can’t all be geniuses like you,” I said, raising my mug in salute.
“This isn’t about genius Seeley. I know you don’t want to talk about it but Jenn is…” Cam trailed off, chewing on her lower lip nervously. “She’s not doing so well, mentally or physically. I tried to offer her help but she’s too proud to accept it.”
“The subject is closed Cam,” I said, quickly growing tired of her meddling. Her response, whatever it might have been, was cut off by a solid knocking at the door. “You didn’t invite anyone else to lecture me today did you?” I asked, smirking as I passed her. Cam looked less than amused and peeked out the window anxiously.
A black town car with darkened windows sat in the street, parked directly in front of my house. "Seeley, wait..." she started to say, her eyes trained on the car.
But she was too late, I'd already swung open the door and come face to face with the bulkiest man I'd ever met. His suit, which was exquisitely made, must have been tailored to fit his large frame perfectly. Beyond him, I saw the back window of the car had been rolled down a few inches but I couldn't make out anything of the passenger. "Can I help you?" I asked, returning my gaze to hulking bodyguard on my front step.
"You are Seeley Taffity," he said, his voice low. Though I suspect it was meant to be a question, he didn't wait for my response. "My employer requests your presence at a meeting."
"And who is your employer?" I asked, glancing over at Cam. Her eyes were wide and her mouth pressed into a tight line. She shook her head quickly and tried to motion me over but the hulk placed his massive hand on my shoulder. "Oh you mean now?"
"Yes Mr. Taffity. Now," he said and started pulling me through the door frame. He nodded toward Camille, "ma'am," he said politely. I'm sure if he'd been wearing a hat he would have tipped it toward her.
Cam tried, again, to catch my attention. She stepped forward and grabbed my other arm, "I'm sorry but Seeley – we have that thing today with Mom and Dad," she said, barely taking her eyes off my visitor. When I didn't immediately break away from him, she dug her nails into my arm and hazarded a glance at me. "Remember?" she hissed, through clenched teeth.
"Don't worry ma'am, he'll be back in short order," his grip grew noticeably tighter on my shoulder.
"I'll be there," I said to Cam, giving her a reassuring but fragile smile. I turned toward the body guard and motioned toward the car. "After you.... I'm sorry I don't think I caught your name..." Despite Cam's obvious trepidation, I allowed the nameless man to steer me toward the car. A scrawny, dark haired man hopped out of the front seat as we approached and yanked the back door open just in time.
I hesitated, glancing toward my escort but he merely motioned toward the car. Vincenzo Giovanni sat inside, leaning back against the seat casually. He didn't look my way as he was engrossed in a phone call. I recognized him immediately of course, both his name and face were very familiar, and all of Cam's anxiety now made perfect sense. What had she asked me? Did I pay attention to who I was stealing from? Though my stomach dropped to my feet, I kept a straight poker face as I was prodded into the car and settled in beside the biggest mob boss on the east coast.
I kept my eyes trained forward as the car started up and pulled away from the curb. The smaller man was behind the wheel, driving without direction from either of the other men. Clearly he'd already been told where to go - a thought that was hardly reassuring as thoughts of my eminent demise flashed through my mind. Was petty theft worthy of a death sentence to a mobster? Or would he just have the burly hulk beat me to a pulp and ditch me somewhere far from help?
I peered out the window, watching grimly as we passed over the bridge that connected the more affluent city to the nearly deserted swamp. Beside me, Giovanni argued over the cell phone in rapid Italian. When he glanced my way, briefly, I turned quickly and returned my attention to the driver's slick, oily black hair. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought he may have smiled but I couldn't be sure and refused to look his way again.
Left with nothing to do but watch the possible final moments of my life pass by, my mind wandered back toward Jenn for the first time since she'd walked out. I'd regretted my words almost as soon as I'd said them, a fact I'd refused to admit, even to myself, until now. I didn't want a family or child – that much remained the same – but I hated to think of her suffering. In truth, I hated to think of her at all because it may mean I had more feelings for her than I'd ever care to admit. Maybe, if by some stroke of luck and charm, I could talk my way out of this I'd find her and apologize. I couldn't be a father but I could help her anyway. And if I couldn't, if Giovanni's brute left me for dead, I knew I could count on Camille to take care of Jenn.
Cam was the good one and the smart one. I thought about her wide eyes as I'd been led away and knew she'd put the pieces together as soon as she'd seen the car. If only I'd taken heed of her fear. But then what could I have done differently? Aside from not steal the money in the first place. I dug my fingernails into my palms, resisting the urge to twist my hands or show weakness in front of this trio of mobsters.
The car slowed as it passed over rough terrain. I hazarded a glance out the window and saw we'd pulled off the main, paved road and were navigating the swampy outskirts of Twinbrook by dirt path. In another few minutes, the car stopped altogether and both the body guard and the driver climbed out of the car. The muscle came to my door and waited silently for me to climb out as well. Though the driver opened Giovanni's door, he didn't immediately join us. Instead I was led away from the car, further into the dense growth near the water's edge. "Stay," he instructed, taking up a defensive stance a couple feet away.
I waited, my palms dripping with sweat. I shoved them into the pockets of my jeans and realized, for the first time, that I was dressed as if I'd barely crawled out of bed. Without my familiar suit and tie, I felt as if I'd been stripped of my armor. I forced myself to take several steadying breaths as Giovanni finally approached, his lackey trailing behind a few paces. "Sorry about that," he said, holding up the cell phone. "Business." I didn't trust myself to speak so I merely nodded. "My name is Vincenzo Giovanni by the way."
"I know who you are," I said, my voice squeakier than I'd like.
"Of course you do, a smart guy like you," he said with a faint smile. "I imagine you know why you're here then eh?"
"I have my suspicions," I said. I briefly considered falling on my knees and begging for mercy but my pride wouldn't allow it. Besides, he was probably expecting me to do just that.
"You've put me in a curious position Mr. Taffity. Sammy here," he motioned toward his bodyguard absently, "thought I ought to just let him deal with you. And I did consider it – I don't much like being stolen from after all. But, in spite of your moral failings, you are a Taffity and a good lawyer. And that's something I could use. The lawyer part that is, the Taffity part is merely an unexpected perk," he said. He paused, perhaps waiting for a response but I kept my mouth clamped shut. "And all the better if it's someone who owes me a debt – ya know in exchange for his life?"
I nodded slowly, "you have a whole team of lawyers at the firm Mr. Giovanni."
"True, that's certainly true. But that was a relationship set up by my pop and I think I'd like the reassurance of knowing my lawyer is one hundred percent dedicated to me and mine," he said. "Now, if you're not interested, we could just go with Sammy's suggestion and I'll take a drive while the two of you get to know each other."
"I'm interested," I said, glancing over toward Sammy and taking a small, involuntary step backwards. "I think you're right Mr. Giovanni – your family would be well served by a single, very dedicated lawyer."
"Good," he smiled broadly, though it was hardly reassuring as Sammy continued to crack his knuckles and glare in my direction. "I'm so pleased you see things my way. There is one small problem of course," he said, his smile dropping.
"There is?" I asked.
"Yes, there is," he said. "I believe you know a young lady named Jennifer Rossi? Intimately in fact?"
"I do, yes," I said, furrowing my brow. How did he know about Jenn? And why was it a problem? My mind tumbled over the possibilities quickly but I couldn't have predicted what he would say next under any circumstances.
"And you're responsible for her current condition correct?" he asked, raising an eyebrow at me.
I nodded, "as I understand it."
"You'll understand if I prefer my lawyer – who is likely to be the public face of my family – not have any unpleasant skeletons in the closet, as it were. Fix it Mr. Taffity. Soon. Or Sammy might be making another visit," he said. "I hope we understand each other Seeley. I need a clean, respectable family man in the job or your skill and lineage is of very little use to me."
"We understand each other perfectly," I said with a quick nod. "I'll take care of it." I knew, without having to be told, that 'fixing it' involved the proverbial white picket fence I'd fought against for so long.
"I look forward to the wedding then," Giovanni said grinning. "I do so love a good wedding."
When I'd asked Cam to give me Jenn's new address, she'd been so overjoyed that I had returned in one piece that she thought nothing of telling me. She tried to fuss over me as our mother might have done but I gently pushed her away with reassurances of my well being. "I need to go see Jenn," I said, diverting the subject from Giovanni's visit and everything that had gone down at the swamp.
"You're going to apologize right?" Cam asked.
"I am," I said. I glanced up toward my bedroom, considering a change of clothes and the comfort of my suits. In the end, in order to get Camille to leave sooner rather than later, I insisted that I needed to go right now and escorted her out of the house.
I stopped at the florist for an extravagant bouquet of roses that Jenn, despite her rebellious tendencies, would still gush over. At least I hoped so. I checked the GPS twice as I got further and further away from the "good" part of town I'd expect to find a Rossi living in. Cam had said she wasn't doing well, maybe her parents had refused to help her. As I thought back to my encounters with them, I could certainly see Mrs. Rossi turning her back on Jenn in an hour of need.
According to the address I'd gotten from Cam, Jenn lived in a dingy apartment building tucked just on the edge of the swamp. Graffiti and decade old posters adorned the brick walls while bars and board were affixed over every window on the building. I hesitated at the call box, glancing back at my car anxiously. With a heavy sigh, I turned back toward the box and pressed the button for Jenn's apartment. After a moment, the box cackled to life in response, "hello?"
"I'm sorry," I said by way of greeting. "I was an ass and I'm sorry," I repeated quickly, hoping she hadn't already cut me off.
"What are you doing here? How did you even know where....of course, Cam..." she trailed off, grumbling incoherently.
"Jenn, please let me come up. I'd like to apologize in person – maybe a dozen times," I said. She said nothing, and if it weren't for the breathing I would have thought she'd walked away. "I'm sorry, I'll just keep saying it until you buzz me up. I'm sorry."
"I'm not interested Seeley. Go home," she said, just as another resident approached. Her arms were laden with grocery sacks so I offered to take a couple of them, balancing the roses on top of her eggs, and followed her into the building. After escorting the old woman to her apartment and depositing her groceries, I made my way toward Jenn's door.
Whether she thought I'd left or was still stuck outside, Jenn swung open the door as soon as I'd knocked. I held out the roses quickly and peeked over the edge of them. "I'm so sorry Jenn," I said, placing my foot in the door frame just in case she tried to close the door on me.
"Don't you take a hint?" she asked, rolling her eyes. Despite her sour words, I saw a familiar glint in her eyes as she took in my appearance and the offering. She turned away but left the door open, which I took as an invitation to come inside. I closed the door behind me and set the flowers down on the rickety card table that served as both a dining room table and desk.
"Please Jenn? I miss you," I said, coming up behind her and placing a cautious hand on her shoulder. It wasn't until that moment that I realized how true those words were. "I should never have said those horrible things and I'd very much like it if you'd give me a chance to prove how sorry I am."
When she turned around, there were tears in her eyes.
As his lawyer started to stand, Seeley put a hand on her arm to stop her. "I think I'll handle this one," he whispered, grinning broadly.
"Seeley! You can't!" she hissed, trying to hold him down. He ignored her and got to his feet and the judge turned their way expectantly. "Um, my client requests permission to cross examine the witness," she said, her voice squeaking with shame.
"This is highly unusual Mr. Taffity. You have counsel for a reason," the judge said, glaring at him.
"I'm aware of that your honor. But I am a lawyer and I am within my rights to represent myself – I only wish to do so for this particular client," Seeley said, giving Woods a long look. The witness shrank lower in the booth. The judge, though unhappy, nodded. "Thank you your honor," Seeley said, stepping around the table to approach the stand. "Mr. Woods, you're here as an expert witness regarding the Giovanni family correct?"
"I wouldn't say expert or nothin'," he said, his voice trembling slightly.
"You wouldn't?" Seeley asked, glancing toward the state's table where Brian Linder was rubbing his forehead nervously. "Alright, then a learned individual in the inner workings of the family? Would that description suit you?"
Woods looked uncertainly toward the lawyers, who didn't respond, and then shrug. "I guess so."
"How did you come by your knowledge exactly?"
"Well like I said – I've been the boss's driver foreva', among other things," he said quickly, happy to understand the questions once more.
"Other things like crimes? Which ones did you barter for with Mr. Linder to take this stand?" Woods squirmed in his seat, something the jury couldn't miss.
"Objection!" the female attorney was on her feet in a flash.
"Withdrawn your honor," Seeley said, waving the question away. "Just one more question Mr. Woods. In your experience, what happens to snitches in the Giovanni family?" Woods paled visibly and shrank still lower.
"Your honor!" Laila McMullen hadn't even sat back down before raising her next objection.
"Mr. Taffity, I do hope you're not threatening the witness," the judge said, glaring at Seeley over his glasses.
"Of course not your honor!" Seeley said, looking perfectly horrified. "Merely testifying to the inner workings of the Giovanni family sir." He returned his attention to the witness and smiled, though it did nothing to put Woods at ease. "The question is withdrawn," he said, turning back toward his table. He paused just before he reached his seat and turned back. "Oh I thought of one more question. Mr. Woods – you witnessed plenty of exchanges in your time I imagine, did you ever see me doing anything illegal? Anything at all?"
"What? No, don't think so..." he said.
"Yeah I didn't think so," Seeley said, dropping down next to his horrified lawyer.