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La Don-a: The Rise of the Swan - 7

Updated: Feb 19


Author's Note: Warning this chapter of this Historical YA contains mentions of domestic violence, mentioned/implied rape, and child abuse.


7 Bee’s Knees: To working dirty and playing hard


Ever since he was young Joseph Moretti learned to take what he wanted and keep it firmly within his grasp. The more he wanted or loved something, the harder he should hold on to it, so that's exactly what he did, with friends, work, material things and even partners. When he first saw Geraldine Salazar, fire in those eyes and the wild strength in her every move, he knew that she would become one of those things. The young girl wasn’t a great beauty, in fact her looks were fairly plain, another face in the crowd, but there was something about her that he had never seen in any women before. It was like finding a lioness after only knowing kittens.


Even in his family all the women knew to keep quiet and let the men take care of things outside the house. They handle things inside the house but all to their husband's preference, they were still expected to be obedient and docile. The other women around him were either chippies or bluenoses [prudes] but Geraldine fit into neither title for this reason despite her lack of great looks she was special in his eyes. Joseph didn’t like to be challenged, this was a well known fact but he liked to tame the untamable, he liked the strength and power that came from being the only one that could extinguishing that wild fire. The high that could only be achieved after a greatly difficult, long but fruitful hunt. From the moment her father brought her to their tavern later turned into a drum she became his and the only reason he had not claimed her was for the sake of prolonging that thrill. All powerful predators enjoy playing with their food before devouring it.

There was another reason why he didn't take what was already his, he got busy with the family business. His father, the businessman that he was, saw an opportunity when they began to hear rumors about Prohibition and what it could do for the organized crime. In that time they had been slowly becoming prominent family in those circles but only as loan sharks and his father wanted more so like any good Moretti he took it.


There wasn’t much of a battle as New York hadn’t been considered a key player in the rise of organized crime, it was far too diverse for one group to be able to take over. Everyone race that had a slice of the city protected it fiercely and wouldn't let it go. Instead the city was broken up like the slices of a cake, with each borough being controlled by a gang. That all changed when Tommaso ‘the executioner’ Moretti decided he was tired of sharing or settling for a piece of the massive pie and instead began to earned his name. As soon as he achieved the impossible and took over as king of New York, all boroughs included, Tommaso passed down his new empire to his only son.


“What many didn’t know was that Tommaso had actually fallen ill”


“I thought you said he was…” Helen intervene but a sigh and an a look from the older woman had her closing her mouth.


“The man had smoked like a chimney in a factory ever since he was old enough to hold a cigarette moving on to cigars when he grew older. Over the years that vice caught up to him and he was diagnosed with lung cancer in the late stages meaning that there was nothing to be done. They staged some grand story about how the man died in a gang war going against a whole gang by himself and holding down the territory until his son arrived with reinforcements by which time it was too late for the older man. Unfortunately, he was too injured and never made it to the hospital.” Geraldine spoke as if she was reading directly from a book, word for word. It felt rehearsed and to Helen's ears off somehow as if those words were nothing but that, words.

“It sounds…”


“Fake, yea I know but back then people were either too stupid to see it or too scared of the Morettis to say anything. Everyone had their own opinion, the most popular one was that Joseph killed his father to take his place, that was actually one of the reasons he began to be known as ‘the judge’ because he passed judgment on others and sentenced them based on that judgment. After he took over unlike his father he sent others to carry out that punishment and never really got his hands dirty unless his temper got the better of him.”


“Somehow that sounds more believable.”


Joseph did not miss his father, to him the man was stupid; he almost let all they had go to waste over some stupid vice. As people that profit of vice that make others stupid, in Joseph’s opinion, his father should’ve know better than to fall for them. Joseph had tried to get his father to stop smoking many times but all it got him was a couple slaps to the face and a bloody eye. He rubs his chin thinking about them almost as if feeling them once more despite the years.


He sigh waving the though away, he was in control now and he no longer had to worried about the old fool making a mess. Joseph sat in his office located in the back of one of his family’s restaurants, he was supposed to be taking care of the tedious task of going over the list of people that owed them money. Despite having the resource Joseph didn’t like leaving anything having to do with money in the hands of anyone but himself. He trusted very few people and even then none that he trusted with his money, he likes to think that was what kept him in power despite his young age.


“How’s my swan?” He asked the stone-like man that had just walked into the room. The man was a beast at a little over six feet four. But it wasn't just his height that made him such an imposing figure, he also had natural scowl that filled anyone with fear. Despite his size, he was the perfect shadow, the ideal bruno [enforcer] that any boss would want to have by their side.


“Isn’t that…!?” Helen exclaimed as she though of the wall of a man that had greeted her outside, she had almost turned around at just the sight of him alone. But Geraldine didn't acknowledge her reaction and just continued talking.


The man barely spoke which unnerved many but Joseph knew him to be very talkative, something he had eventually trained out of the man because talking too much in this business meant death. Despite this, in this case, Joseph didn’t like the long silence from the man. “Well…?!” the boss stood in a three piece suit as he demanded, his voice hard and firm. He had not even looked up until his question was greeted by silence. In a flash he had his knife so close to the big man’s eyes that were either of them to move even an inch it would graze it. The big man’s eyelashes touched the blade as he tried desperately not to blink.


“There was a commotion there earlier today,” the tall man finally found his voice although he knew better than to move away from the knife because it would only chase him and that would make things worse for him.

“What kind of commotion?” Joseph was intrigued but like everything he said there was the undertone of danger that made everyone cautious around him.


“Bunch of coppers running inside. They were all copped [grabbed by the police] and taken to the big house.”


“Why would they take two young girls and a broad that can barely open her mouth without getting knocked around by her jobbie [man]?” Finally Joseph moved away taking the knife with him, as he processed the situation.


“I don’t know boss, but there was a large crowd…”


“Find out what’s going on, I want to know in the next few minutes or this knife will find a new home,” The big man rushed away, that speed should not have been possible for a man his height and built but he moved with a strange grace. Everyone knew the importance of their boss’ swan as he grew to calling her, if it had not been obvious the man made it very clear that he carried a torch for her, some even believed he was dizzy with the dame [deeply in love] but none dare mention it where he could hear. All they knew was that Geraldine Salazar was not to be touch because claimed or not she was Moretti’s woman and anyone even looking at her would lose their eyes.

 

Elsie was scared; she thought that it wouldn’t be possible after all she went through but it was and she found it unfair. The girl had been sure that her father was the only monster in her world, the only one she had to ever worry about and once he was gone she would be free. But as her sister and her were ushered into the station and men her father’s age and maybe younger leered at her much like her father had done, she was proven wrong. Some were kinder with their stares only looking awed or mildly interested but most did not seem to care that she was a little girl or that Geraldine had her in a vice grip and was glaring fiercely at all of them. With her sister by her side she felt much better because despite Geraldine’s glares not doing much, Elsie still felt like nothing could get to her while Geraldine was there.

The station was loud and filled with constant movement that was making Elsie even more uncomfortable. Officers dragged criminals in with their usual force; some were so forceful it was almost as if they were personally vexed by the criminals’ actions or behavior. The young girl wondered how her mother was treated when she was brought in, were they firm with her or vexed and rough. Once more she felt the guilt overwhelmed her, her mother would not have been in this situation if it had not been for her. While the officers that brought them in chatted with the woman sitting behind a desk at the front of the wide open station, Elsie looked at the ‘criminals’ being brought in.


One of them was a young boy who’s pockets were stuffed with something ‘thief,’ then she turned to a woman with a long dress that was pulled up by an officer to reveal belts around her thighs and each held what looked like small barrels on either side. The men were the most violent and scary for her as they leered despite her clearly too young age. One even broke free and almost made his way to her but before she knew it and could even close her eyes in fear Geraldine was in front of her covering her from the man. Her sister did not flinch as the man towered over her, fortunately he was pulled back before he took offense to Geraldine’s lack of fear.


“Oh come on! I just wanted to play and maybe teach the older one some respect,”


Geraldine could feel everything inside of her screamed that she should run or cried until someone came in and saved her, but the firm and clearly terrified presence of her sister helped her keep the appearance of bravery. There was a horrible stench in the air that was making her sick, it was almost as if someone had baked day-old sweat for hours and later finished it off with a sprinkle of old moldy food. She never hated her enhanced sense more than in that moment, she wondered why she couldn’t have gotten sound instead. She feared what the cells must stink like and she felt for her mother, the woman did not deserve to be in such a place simply for defending her daughters.


“Come this way,” They were led past the front desk through the open space that held individual desks and to the back where a few doors led to private rooms and a hallway to the side which, based on the stench coming from it, led to the cells. It was like a the sea of desks and intrigued faces that made them both uncomfortable. Then to Geraldine’s fear two doors were opened and she knew what was coming. She hugged Elsie and whispered softly in her ear before they were ripped apart and practically dragged to the separate rooms.


“What did you say to her?”


“I asked her to stay strong and remember that what mom did was out of the love she had for her.”


“You thought she was going to crack?”


“Elsie withstood years of abuse at the hands of the man that was supposed to be her father, all to protect us,” There was a certain defensiveness in Geraldine's tone and had Helen pulling back. So far she has been faced with Geraldine and just glimpse of Mama Swan but she did not want to meet the full thing.


“I had no doubt she was going to hold firm as long as it took but back then I wouldn’t put it pass the gumshoe [detective] to push her farther than any child should be pushed.”


“You think they would torture her?! Did they?!”


“They probably would not risk doing it physically but mentally…That I wouldn’t surprise me.” Geraldine knew from experience how much more effective and dangerous mental torture could be. “Like I said it was just a precaution, if there was one person I trusted to keep a secret and withhold information it was Elsie. But I will give it to them, they were good and for a second they made me doubt,”


After being placed in the room Geraldine was left alone which confused her but she allowed herself to breath and release the tension she had been holding on to since her mother told her to lock themselves in the room. She could feel the water pour from her skin like sweat as her element reacted to her emotions. Immediately her body began to shake as she choked on a few sobs, it suddenly hit her that everything was so messed up and she really couldn't so anything about it. Geraldine tried to pinpoint the moment her life became such a drastic and spectacular mess but she couldn't.


Soon the time seemed to weight heavy and make her more nervous and anxious. There was no way of knowing how long she had been there but she wanted out, she worried for Elsie and what they could be doing to her. She was aware of how men acted around her little sister’s beauty and how naïve Elsie still was, mainly due to years isolated by their father. Finally a gumshoe swagger into the room she was placed in, looking smug and satisfied as if they had already won. There was an arrogance in his demeanor that pissed Geraldine off, “You know where I’ve come from?”

“If I did you wouldn’t really be asking.” She saw a crack in the arrogant and confident armor, there was a brief flash of anger and it was all she needed. Geraldine realized that he was one of those men that could not stand women or girls like her, the kind that believed ‘women should know their place’ which was silent and pleasing a man. His ‘brilliance’ was dependent on the stupidity of those around him and when he was in front of people smarter than him, he was exposed and that infuriated him.


“I see we have a smartass, well you will be happy to hear that your sister told us everything, so there is no use in lying.”

 

Ernest sat in his father’s office waiting for the man to arrive, his posture was stiff and rigid like it always was when he was about to face his father. The older man insisted on having a weekly meeting to catch up on everything going on, even the most insignificant little detail. Thomas hated nothing more than to be caught off guard by anything “I don’t want your failures to affect the rest of the family,” by the rest of the family the man meant himself and his political campaign Ernest knew this very well. To the American people Thomas Roberts was an upstanding citizen and patriot, who cared about the people as he, much like them, clawed his way to the top when the truth was that he was old money dating back to when America was first born.


The older man prided himself on having the picture perfect family, the sweet daughter who was just a darling, the patriotic son that died for his country, and the ‘average joe’ son that was just one of the people. The son that married an immigrant and had a normal job serving the community, the son that the people most related to, the son that Thomas behind closed doors was the most disappointed in and wasn’t shy about letting Ernest know as such.


“It was quite ironic that the child that he hated the most was his greatest asset, the one that he needed the most. The problem was that Ernest never realized the power he had over his father.”


Ernest sighs as he continued to wait for his father, the man was late to their meeting as usual. His father always berated him when he had been late for supper as a kid and would even beat him, saying how valuable a man’s time was and how disrespectful it was for him to play with it. He said that it was the ultimate sign of disrespect yet the older man was always late to all their meetings. His father’s disregard and disdain for him was made clear with these actions, as if that were not enough, the man made sure to also voice it loud and clear with his constantly disapproving and patronizing tones.


“Ah good, you’re here.” Ernest knew that his father had been aware of his presence from the moment he arrived, the man insisted on having the meeting every week on the same day, at the same time. It was even in the man’s agenda which Ernest knows for a fact that the man’s assistant goes over every morning and even an hour before every meeting.

“What has happened so far?”


That was it, straight to business; there was no greeting or small talk, not even an explanation as to why he was late but Ernest wasn’t surprised, he wasn't expecting anything else. That did not make it hurt any less, much like living in the desert you don’t expect rain but you sure as hell wish for it. He lowered his head and proceeded to tell his father everything that he wanted to know, things that he knew could get him fired as they were not meant to be shared with civilians. But Thomas Roberts was never denied anything and if anyone dared to try they would pay dearly for it.


“...some drunk that offered his daughter…”


“What did you say?”


“Of course, I did not accept,” This answer seemed to have the opposite effect of what Ernest intended. He almost flinched at the look, once again he’s messed up and disappointed his father.


“Tell me about this drunk,” the order was strange to Ernest but he followed it as he always followed all of his father’s orders. This time hoping to get rid of that look in the man’s eyes that he was so familiar with.


“He was some drunkard that some agents picked up, the man is a nobody, regular working class. He mostly ranted about his wife being useless and giving him only daughters so he would be happy to offer me one,” Ernest recounted the conversation with the man with clear disgust in his face and voice. Any parent that would blatantly sell their child for their own personal gain was absolutely the most disgusting creature in the world to him.

“From an average family you say,”


“Yes, although I didn’t really meet the family,”


“A hard-working immigrant family just looking for a better life,” Ernest realized that his father was no longer talking to him. He grew worried as he could almost see the wheels turning inside the man’s head. He knew that look, his father was plotting something. The man was moving the pawns around his chess board and it never went well for Ernest or his family since they were usually the favored pawns of his father.


It was how Leonard found himself in war and suffered for it yet is treated as if he was the one that failed. That was how he found himself leaving a job he actually liked to do a job that he absolutely hated. That was how he found himself spending all his savings, meant for Leonard’s wedding, on renovating a house that was perfectly fine to begin with. Ernest braced himself for what his father was about to say and who would be the next casualty in his father’s plans, he prayed it was not his son, but once again God ignored his pleas.


“Leonard is long overdue for a wife, isn’t he,”

 

For a brief moment Geraldine worried that they really got to her and Elsie talked, she wouldn’t blame her especially if they pressured her to say what they wanted her to say or even threatened her. But then she saw the glint in the man’s eyes, due to her childhood and the father she was cursed with and later spending her time hanging off Joseph's arm paraded like a prized doll, Geraldine became good at reading men. She leaned back with a confidence and smirk of her own that would no doubt make the man want to punch her. But she didn’t care because she was going to show him that she was smarter than he thought and he was dumber than he wanted to be.


“If that’s the case then why waste your time on me.” She saw the flash in the man’s eyes and that was enough to tell her that Elsie understood her message and had said nothing that would incriminate their mother.


“Listen here, you brat…!”


Just as the man was no doubt going to threaten her or even use a little violence like most men and coopers did with uncooperative prisoners, a young man rushed into the room panting, his eyes wide with fear or worry, Geraldine wasn't sure. The young man whispered into the detective’s ear and the older man’s expression completely changed, his eyes even widened. “Are you sure?” the younger man nodded and they both turned to her and she saw something different in their eyes. Geraldine wasn’t sure what it was because no men had ever looked at her that way but she liked it.


“It was the first time I saw fear in a man’s eyes when they looked at me, it was an addictive feeling that after just one time, I was hooked and I wanted more. At that moment I wanted all men to look at me with that fear and respect. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it but that day I promised myself that it wouldn’t be the last time I saw that look in a man’s eyes.”


“Sorry about that young lady, you are free to go.”


The tone this time was polite and proper, the fear was still in both their eyes and a little in the detective's voice. Geraldine was intrigued about what caused this change but she couldn’t let the opportunity pass her by so she took the time to ask for more “what about my sister and my mother?” There was a flash in the man’s eyes as if he was going to snap at her, he clearly knew what she was doing but he held himself back. She could see him biting his lips almost to the point of making them bleed and she smirked internally.


“Your sister is free to go but I’m afraid your mother confessed to murder, we can’t let her go,”


Geraldine wanted to scream that her father deserved it and that it was self defense but she kept her mouth shut before her luck ran out. Instead she nodded at the man, letting him lead her out of the room. Once outside in the big open space, Geraldine realized that she hadn’t asked him why she was being let out. Suddenly a force crashed into her side and she was distracted, by the scent she realized that it was her little sister.


“Geraldine!” Her little sister, while relieved, looked really confused and even a little scared. Geraldine was happy to notice that she was overall in the same condition she was in when they were separated.


“What happened?” A gumshoe came out from behind her with a sour expression on his face, it was clear that much like his colleague, he was not happy. Geraldine wasn’t sure if it was because his time with Elsie was interrupted before he could do anything or if he was just angry to let them off so easily. She wasn’t interested in finding out or testing their luck so she led her sister towards the exit ignoring her question until they were outside.


“I have no idea,” She didn’t want to leave without finding out about their mother but she felt it better to drop Elsie off at Margarita’s or Dorothy’s before returning for more information.


“My swan!”


As they stood on the steps to the station, they both suddenly heard someone call out; that voice and words made Geraldine freeze, suddenly the gumshoes’ behavior made sense. There was only one person that called her that, the bane of her existence besides her father but since her father was dead, this was currently the only bane of her existence. The teenager -now a man- that her father had wanted her to so desperately keep happy. The reason that she was not married off like her sisters were, she turned around to see him standing there smiling at her deceivingly dashing in his three piece suit. The twenty-four years old man who was ten years her senior, had grown a lot over the years, some may even call him handsome, at least those that didn’t know how rotten he was inside.


“Joseph?” The young man raised an eyebrow at the fourteen years old and she winced, “Joey,” she corrected using the nickname the man insisted she use for him, “what are you doing here?”


“I didn’t know it yet but that was my beginning down this path, what led to the life I now lead. Like everything in my life it all started with an arrogant and selfish man that felt he was entitled to more than he was given.”






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