(17 years before)
The bullet went straight through Massimo’s head. His wide eyes glazed over as blood oozed out of the hole in his forehead. He stood still for a moment, as if his body hadn’t registered the mortal wound, then like at the snap of fingers, the body fell to the floor, now only a sack of bones.
There was a boyish scream, but Dino couldn’t tell which of his sons crumbled at the sight of a dying man. The three small figures cowered in the damp shadows at the edge of the weak lamplight. Their mothers wouldn’t approve, but Dino knew they were old enough to witness this. He looked down at his brother’s body, dark blood already pooling on the cold stone floor. Served him right. Massimo should have stayed quiet like their younger brother, Federico. That man knew what was good for him and where his place was.
A broken sob got his attention back to the boys. All three had uniform, short haircuts, so it took him a moment to realize which one was crying. Domenico. Fairest skin, only half Villani blood. Maybe that was what made him weak? He was the youngest, only eight years old, but no son of Dino’s could miss this execution. It was high time to grow up for all of them. Vincenzo, the oldest, looked at his uncle’s body with a childish scowl. When he noticed Dino watching them, he made an abrupt turn to nudge Domenico with his elbow. This was a boy who already understood some of the Family rules. Seth, on the other hand, stood in the corner, frozen like an ice sculpture.
Dino knew not to judge boys as if they were men. Time would tell which one of them would be the fittest, and he would watch them closely.
“The most important lesson of your life,” Dino said, putting his Beretta back into the holster under his armpit. “Family is everything. If one of you betrays us like Uncle Massimo, it’s up to the others to put him down.”
Vincenzo took a shy step toward the body. “But what did he do, Father?” The words were quite firm, but Dino could see his hands shaking.
“He didn’t know his place. All of us have a role to play. If you want to change your destiny, you need the balls to back it up. Otherwise, this is how you end up.” He pointed to the body before taking a glance at his two younger sons, who were still firmly pressed against the wall in the corner.
Domenico managed to bite his tongue, but he was clearly attempting to hide behind Seth, who kept watching his dead uncle with wide eyes. It was the first time they witnessed someone being killed, but with time, moments like this would become part of their reality.
Dino didn’t know which one of them would take his place in the future, but he wouldn’t make an arbitrary decision as his father had. He had already decided that each one of them would get a fair chance at becoming the Don. It was up to them. Survival of the fittest. He was also sure that the one to win such a battle would make the best successor.
All would be settled once they reached maturity.
“Daddy, can we go now?” Seth moaned and took a step away from Domenico, who wiped his eyes again and followed like a lamb.
Dino sighed and put his hand on Vincenzo’s shoulder to keep him away from the bits of skull and brain he tried to sneak up to. “I think it’s time for dinner.”