March 9, 2022
The game had changed. Things that had been the standard weren’t cutting it anymore. The tricks that generations of crime had taught the Romani family were being seen through, and lies were being spat out at a record pace, all because of one. Little. Mistake.
It was a fine day for the end of an era in Redemption, IL, but no one, not the police, and certainly not the family, knew just what was going to happen today. A man, well-groomed and even more well dressed Tuxedo was brought to his knees, shame forced him to look down at a red velvet carpet. Two large men with broad shoulders, big as bulls, stood imposing on either side of him. Behind a rich mahogany desk was a rather old man. His body seemed frail, but his eyes and posture carried such weight, such an air of importance and confidence, that it was impossible to underestimate him, but someone had.
“Tell me Joey, why did I have Stephen bring you here?” The man behind the desk spoke with a heavily laid on italian accent. His eyes bore into the back of Joey’s head.
“I have no clue sir.” Joey, the man on his knees, spoke without a hint of fear or anger, trying to keep his voice as level as possible, as not to raise tempers.
The man behind the desk, the head of the Romani family, Tony Romani, opened a drawer next to him and pulled out a manila folder, and tossed it onto his desk. Photos flew out of the folder and landed all over the floor, pictures of Joey by the corner of a convenience store hunched over, trying to limit his exposure appeared all across the room.
“The hell is this Joey?” Tony’s voice dripped with venom, poised to pounce on any attempt made by Joey to defend his innocence.
“That’s a photo of me, sir.” Joey’s voice was keeping together, but just barely. Joey knew any lies would be seen through, he was sure that any attempt to deny the truth would be met with an untimely demise.
“Doing what, Joey.” a simple question, just three words, and yet that simpleness meant there was no possible way to misconstrue the message. Tony wanted Joey’s head, and he wanted Joey to bring it to him.
“I’m… talking, sir.” The answer didn’t impress Tony at all. He wanted more, and Joey knew it. “I’m talking to.. the police chief, sir.” That was all Tony needed. He made a short gesture with his hand, and both men that stood to either side of Joey immediately set upon dragging him out of the room.
“Please! I didn’t know what I was doing! I swear! I’ll never do it again Tony!” Something that not very many people knew about Tony Romani was that he takes promises very seriously. He made another gesture, and both men dropped Joey.
“You swear?” Tony slowly slid his seat out from behind the desk and stood up. With a sumptuous swagger, Tony walked over to Joey. The fear in Joey’s eyes was still ever apparent. A million things were running through his mind, but only one was going through Tony’s head.
“You swear to me, after breaking my trust, betraying my family, and selling us out to the police?” Tony kneeled down to be face to face with Joey. Tony’s face remained entirely stoic, save for a momentary expression of pain. “You would expect me to believe that you can change so quickly?”
“Yes! Yes sir! I can! I will!” Tony beckoned for the men behind Joey to back up, and Stephen and Marcos both dropped the man.
“Then you swear to me that this time you will be faithful?” Tony stood up, still looking down at Joey. “You swear to me that never again will you betray the family?” Tony brings his hand down in front of Joey, palm open, asking for him to promise himself to the Romani family. Joey’s face was immediately relieved, either after knowing that Tony didn’t want him dead, or because he was forgiven by the person that he had wronged.
For the last week, Redemption had been in a state of constant war. Bodies lie in the streets, blood flowing into gutters, and casings litter the sidewalks.
The Romani family had been taking hit after hit after hit, each one sustained leaving a bigger impact than the last. The threads that were holding the family were being tested, and many portions of the fabric were tearing at the seams.
At one of the family’s remaining hideouts, leaders of the family met for the first time since the fighting broke out. Redemption had been so peaceful, even when the police and the family were at odds, that a meeting of this size hadn’t ever had a precedent. Heads of the family were at each other’s throats amid a sea of voices, interrogating each other on who caught the federal government’s attention. The war had taken a visible toll on Tony. He looked malnourished, his eyes gaunt, and holding his head in his hands like he was debating whether he should’ve even called this meeting. The dignified gentlemen from a week earlier were nowhere to be seen.
“Everybody! Please.” One of the bodyguards that had been with him the week prior, called attention to himself. He was not typically a soft-spoken man, but today he was somber.
that the cops are after us may not be clear to any of you except for me.” He spoke with a tinge of shame. The man, Marcos, was the adopted son of the entire Romani family. Although a grown man now, he still remembered the last time that the streets of Redemption were this bad. It was a time when the Romani family was struggling to contain itself, with rebellious factions splintering off seemingly every other week, only to be stomped on by the main house. Marcos saw the pattern repeating itself every night in his dreams, and his premonitions were finally coming true.
“The FBI is after us because one of their operatives, an agent investigating us, is dead.” The room, which had previously been still full of chatter and divided attention, was now dead silent.
“I’m sorry, but that doesn’t make sense.” Chris’s words broke through the silence like a sledgehammer. “We haven’t so much as touched the police in years. Why would the FBI get involved?” Chris, the co-head of distribution for many of the family’s more profitable goods asked a question that many seemed to be asking. A chorus of ‘yeahs’ rang out through the crowd.
“I don’t know why the FBI was investigating us. Maybe the police were finally getting tired of playing nice with us. The one thing I did know was that the investigator, although captured, couldn’t be trusted.” Almost immediately, the entire family knew what had happened. Tony slowly raised his head from his hands with eyes wide.
“Marcos…” a quiver was apparent in Tony’s voice. “You didn’t, did you?”
“He knew too much Tony. did you really think that he was just gonna stick around and forget about us? No. He would’ve turned tail and ran the second that we turned our back on him. I’ve protected the family, just like I always have.” The quiet in Marcos’ voice was gone, replaced by an energy to explain himself.
“YOU DUMBASS!” James, another one of the family’s leaders, exploded. “You didn’t protect anyone! You’ve just damned all of us to life in jail!”
“All of this is a direct result of your actions Marcos.” Chris chimed in. “I can’t think of another way out of this.” Marcos was confused by that last bit, but didn’t let it show on his face. The other members of the Family seemed to pick up on what Chris was implying.
“Look around Marcos… Face it, you’d probably be safer in prison anyways.” This time another head of the Family interjected, Suzanne, sounding almost like she was siding with Marcos. Almost. Marcos looked around at the rest of the family, grasping for any sign of solidarity in his actions amongst the members of the family. Some were shaking the heads in disbelief, some wore angry looks on their faces, and still others mourned the tragedies the Family had faced this past week.
Marcos looked at Tony, but he was lost in thought. The prospect of losing one of his most trusted associates, or losing what remained of his empire… Trust wasn’t an easy thing to come by, but claiming an empire as large as his was an even rarer event. The choice was difficult, but simple.
“Marcos… you need to do it. If you truly want to protect the Family, then you need to own up to it.”
23 years had passed since the indictment of Marcos Riviera. 25 years separated from Redemption. When he was arrested, Marcos was tried and convicted of first degree murder, with a minimun of 25 years in a state penititary. The rules, once you learned them, weren’t hard to follow. Although many different gangs comprised the factions of Stateville penitentiary, No one seemed to be bothered by Marcos’ appearance. The Romani family put great effort into avoiding stepping on larger urban gangs’ toes, and it seemed to pay off. Most of the people that Marcos conversed with while doing his time hadn’t even heard of the Romani family, some were even surprised to learn that there were still Mafias and mobs in this day and age.
Marcos’ sentence in Stateville was uneventful, marked only with a few instances of several of the other inmates rioting. His release was dull and tedious, no family to greet him or friends to take him out for dinner. He knew that he was way out of the family’s territory, and even if he wasn’t, he was never going to be sure of whether or not they would even ever want to see him again, or vise versa for that matter. Although he was the one to step in front of the bus, not a single one of them tried to pull him out of the way. Even Tony sat there with his head in his hands, thinking about the best way for himself to get out of the mess. He wouldn’t blame them, he’d’ve done the same thing if it was him, doesn’t make the taste of betrayal any less bitter though.
As he walked out of the gates of Stateville, he was faced with the only question that had been on his mind for the past 25 years, where to go now? The only family he’d ever known was in Redemption, but if he stepped foot in that town, he would be recognized before he even made it to his old house. Regardless, weighing his options, he decided that that was the best one. Rebuilding burned bridges is easier than making new ones.
The journey to Redemption was kicked off with a heavy sigh, as Marcos began his long trek across the Illinois plains.
Redemption had changed in the time Marcos was gone. Gone were the days of the family, the FBI hadn’t stopped with just Marcos, he was only the beginning. James, Chris, Suzanne, all of the heads of the Romani family were either dead or serving such long sentences that might as well have been.
As Marcos walked through the streets of Redemption, he was the stagnation of the little town. Corners stores and grocery stores looked like they had been placed in the middle of a warzone. Windows were boarded up, with bullet holes placed every few feet in the cement walls. Homeless men and women sat by the road, and Marcos couldn’t help but wonder where all the industry and economics that Redemption had exacerbated had gone. Marcos kept wandering around the town, recognizing the gang’s old hideouts and warehouses, only to find that they had been sold and refurbished, only to be sold a half refurbished, and eventually left in disrepair. He wandered down the main street, the only place in Redemption that had a semblance of its former self, with centers of commerce looking like they had recently been opened and flourishing with the more well-off members of the society.
Marcos kept walking up and down the pothole-ridden roads until he felt a hand across his mouth and a tug on his shirt pull him into the nearest alleyway. As the men pulled him around the corner, they began their assault. Marcos had no chance, although he was hardened by the mafia, and tempered by prison, there was just no recourse for him against the numbers that they had.
Marcos put up a fight, landed some solid punches, but he was outnumbered. He had no idea why he was being accosted like this, but he didn’t have time to guess. He put his arms up in front of him, put his back against the wall, and endured as long as he could. The attackers didn’t let up, they kept pummeling him, going for his gut, his head, his legs, anywhere that he wasn’t guarding. Then, when Marcos saw his chance, he went for it. One of the attackers had overextended his arm too much, and Marcos ducked underneath it. He got under him, picked him up, and tossed him at another attacker. They both went to the ground, but quickly got up. Marcos however, had switched tracks to the attacker who hadn’t been caught up in that attack. Marcos was a strong man, and even though the assailant was trying to block for his life, Marcos was laying down some hate on him. The third thug finally slipped up, and Marcos knocked him out with one clean right hook.
The other two thugs had been on their feet for a second now, and had come up with a plan. While Marcos was focused on the third guy, one of the other two came up from behind and put him in a stranglehold. Marcos, finally exhausted from all the blows he had taken, just had to stand there while the other guy came around front and repeatedly pummeled Marcos’s stomach.
At some point, Marcos blacked out. The strain on his first day back in Redemption had been too much. He hung in the things arms limply. The dropped him and ran off, taking his wallet and whatever valuables he had on him. The thug that Marcos knocked out made sure to abuse him just a little more after he was woken up, just as payback.
As Marcos lay there, battered, bruised and bleeding, a familiar face picked him up and carried him through the alleys of Redemption, to the last remaining house of the Romani family.
When Marcos regained consciousness, he nearly jumped out of his skin as he recalled what had happened to him. The adrenaline from remembering what had happened made his heart pump faster and louder, wondering what they would do to him next. However, the fogginess in his mind slowly cleared as nothing happened to him. He scanned the room he was in, noticing that he was actually in a room, after staring at the ceiling for a while. Marcos was resting on a cot, and the room was lit with old school hanging lights, it reminded him of some of the Romani family’s old decorations. Tony had a certain motif that he liked all his facilities to use.
Probably the most important part of his surroundings though was that he wasn’t alone. Sitting at a wooden table ona stool was a fairly scrawny black man. Marcos hadn’t fully recognized him, but he made an audible grunt as he turned his sore head, and that caught the stranger’s attention.
As the stranger came towards him, Marcos’s eyes widened as he realized that could’ve been a very bad call. However, as the Man approached, Marcos relaxed a little, as he recognized the man’s face.
“Holy shit. It’s you.”
“Marcos, you really shouldn’t have come back here.” The man speaking to Marcos was none other than Chris. He looked different, but he didn’t seem too bad off. Chris was never exactly built, but now that might’ve been a blessing. If the streets were this unfriendly, it’d probably be better to look un-assuming.
“Marcos, why are you here?” It was a simple question, and although there were a 100 thoughts in Marcos’ head, he had a simple answer.
“Nowhere else to go.” Chris sighed at that, almost as if he was expecting it.
“In case you hadn’t noticed, the streets here… they’ve changed. The Romani family doesn’t own them anymore. In fact, I’m not sure there is a Romani family anymore.”
“What do you mean Chris? What happened while I was gone?”
“Too much man. We should’ve known, the police stopped investigating when we turned yourself in, but that’s only because-”
“They were under our thumbs anyways. We needed to get the FBI off our backs.”
“Exactly. ‘Cept of course once they got a whiff of us, it was all over. They didn’t care that you turned yourself in, they didn’t care about anything. They just wanted us rooted out, once and for all.”
“Well… did they root us out?” Chris hadn’t been expecting that question. He barely cracked a grin and scoffed at the inquiry.
“Marcos, they got Tony just about 23 years ago now. He couldn’t handle it. The constant raids, the dealers being caught as soon as they got in contact with us… etc. He wanted out, and that meant the rest of us were out as well.” Marcos was a little sullen at the thought. Tony was an aging man even before Marcos left for prison. There was little chance that he would still be alive. So much for any chance of a warm welcome home.
“What, and no one took over? A power vacuum like that doesn’t just disappear.” Chris looked like he was thinking things over a bit, as if remembering some unpleasant memories.
“Sure, some tried, but most failed. The few heads that managed to stay afloat all grabbed what they could, trying to make another empire out of the scraps.”
“No, not me. I couldn’t convince people to follow me even if I wanted to.”
“So what’s happening now? Things don’t look so good around here.” Marcos pointed to the door, indicating he was talking about Redemption.
“Oh, the power vacuum wasn’t the only thing Tony left behind. Believe it or not, Redemption was almost entirely made up of two industries. Grain and gangs. When the family disappeared, well, grain couldn’t pick up the slack.” Chris stayed quiet for a minute. He was thinking deeply about something, and Marcos didn’t want to interrupt his train of thought.
“You know Marcos. There’s nothing here for you. I don’t mean that in a mean way, I mean it literally. The family’s dead Marcos. Redemption is a dying town, and the gangs for Chicago and Springfield are already watching it, trying to see who gets outta dodge.”
“I know Chris, but where do I go? I Walked all the way here from Statesville just because I’ve never known anywhere else!”
“If you really want to know, go ask Tony. He got out of the game, now so can you.” Marcos was shocked to hear that Tony was still alive. He had to be close to 70 by now, and to think that he was able to just leave the mafia scene like that, even though the Romani family was one of the last mafias anywhere in the US… it was stunning.
“Of course he is. What, you thought he just left the family to go die somewhere in a beach city in Mexico? No! He’s living it up in Las Vegas style in Tamms supermax.”
“Imagine that huh? 70 year old mob boss making a supermax prison his new home.”
Tamms supermax is about what you expect from a maximum security prison. Brick walls 25 feet up, barbed wire gates as far as the eye can see, and bastions placed evenly around the perimeter of the compound with heavily armed guards. However, the inside of the prison told a different story.
The inmates weren’t bursting with joy, but you could tell that the stay here was tolerable. Guards wore grim faces, but their attitude didn’t match their faces at all. The visitor center had no artwork, no decorations, and yet the aura around exhurberated a vibrant energy.
“Hi, I have a 2:00 visitation under Marcos Riviera.” Marcos approached the secretary, fully expecting to get turned away with the black eye he still had and the bruises all over his body, but to his astonishment, he was welcomed right in.
He conversed with some of the guards that took him to his stall, and they explained that since some 20 years ago, Tamms had been like a different place. Supermaxes all around the country pop-up and shutdown because they just can’t handle the roughness of the prisoners, but here they were, walking down corridors without any sort of trouble.
“Yeah, Tamms is like the only supermax to date that’s had it’s visitor center open this long concurrently.” One of the guards elaborated.
They finally reached the visitor center, and Marcos recognized a familiar face among the inmates waiting to speak to their visitors. Tony immediately recognizes Marcos, even after not seeing him for 20 years. As Marcos sits down, Tony opens his mouth to speak.
“Marcos, what a surprise!” Tony, despite his age and circumstances, is spiritful, perhaps the most energetic he’d ever been. “I’d thought we’d never see each other again!”
“Tony… I don’t know what to say, I had all my questions laid out, and yet here you are, and my mind is totally blank.”
Tony, realizing he may have miscalculated Marcos’s intentions, tried to reserve himself some.
“Marcos, what’s wrong?” Tony asked, an expression of caring was now on his face, genuinely worried for his subordinates well being.
“Tony, the family is gone. Redemption is just about as well… there’s nowhere left.”
“Well, time to find a new place then, don’t you think?” the vagueness of Tonys answer perplexed Marcos.
“‘Find a new place?’ where exactly? Where can I go to be who I was again? There’s nowhere like Redemption- no, there’s nowhere like what Redemption was.”
“There might never be another place like old school Redemption, that’s what made it so exciting to be there while it was.”
“So what Tony!? You’re just gonna let your legacy die like that? You’re just gonna let Redemption die like that!?”
“It was it’s time Marcos.” Tony drew a forlorn grin on his face. “I’m an old man Marcos, if I wasn’t in here, I’d be out there, doing the same damn thing, confined to my room, fed my three warm meals a day, and taken to a courtyard to mingle with the other folks. The only difference is, I’d be doing it in an old folks home.”
“That doesn’t mean that you should just give up! You could’ve had someone help you! You could’ve had someone learn how to do all the things that you did! Redemption, the family, all of it! It wouldn’t be alive without you, and now it’s dying because you just gave up!” Marcos is downright yelling now, eager to get Tony to change his mind, although he knew it wouldn’t do much good, no one can just leave a supermax just like that.
“Marcos, don’t you see, you’ve been my right hand man since the day we found you. If there was anyone who ever learned how to do my job, it would’ve been you.” Tony started talking to Marcos a bit more sternly now, as if to get a point across. “Marcos, I’ve taught you far more than stephen ever knew about the business, now it’s time for you to take those things, how to command loyalty, how to find who to trust, how to start a god. Damn. Family.” Tony started pointing right at Marcos’s face. It doesn’t matter where you are, and who you’ve got rooting for you, all that matters is that you want to have a family, and so you have to make a family.” Tony sighed and dropped back into his seat.
“Marcos, Redemption is just a place. You said there will never be another Redemption? Good. let it die.” Marcos was shocked at those words.
“Go make another one.”
With those last words, Tony got up and gestured to a guard to take him back to wherever he was supposed to be.
Marcos sat in his chair for a bit, still thinking about what Tony had told him. All of a sudden, without a further thought, he stood up, pushed his chair in, and walked out of the building. He left where he was, and it didn’t really matter where he was going.