No detail was spared for the gala, poolside event.
The sky began to darken, but the landscape lights cast a subtle glow near the guests. Jazz music played above many conversations and laughter. This would be the party to remember. I helped Uncle Sal greet his guests as they arrived.
Joe DiLorenzi, my uncle’s best friend, extended his hand.
“How’ve you been, Sal?”
“Terrific. Just look at my 50th birthday celebration…inhale that mouthwatering cuisine! What else can I ask for, except for my kid brother, Lou. He couldn’t make it due to unfinished business.”
“Too bad,” said Joe. He offered his congratulations and then mingled with the guests.
“Can you get me some calamari, angel?” asked my uncle.
I helped Uncle Sal often. He’s been wheelchair bound since he was forty-five. He was shot in the back—shattered bullet fragments are still lodged in his spine. He suffered permanent paralysis and the hit man was never caught. From his wheelchair, he still reigned as “The Family’s” Boss.
“You ok that my dad’s not here, Uncle Sal?”
“Don’t sweat it, Carmella. I’ll make him pay later,” joked my uncle.
I loathed the business. Despite who Uncle Sal was, I still loved him, but mentally detached from who he really was. I wished he would turn from his evil deeds. I often shared God’s divine love and words of wisdom with him. I prayed for him to see the Lord’s luminous ways and make them his own. I also told him how much I worried.
He’d always reply, “No worries, angel—I’ve got nine lives.”
My uncle was more willing for me to share my faith than my father was. My father’s frigid, nasty demeanor pushed me away every time. But, my love for Uncle Sal wouldn’t allow me to give up on him.
I wondered if my conversations ever loomed in the back of his mind. Did my words haunt him when he ordered a pointy, stainless knife to slash the jugular of an unsuspecting victim? Did he feel remorse each time a panicked man fell limp to a hot, led bullet of a 357 Magnum?
I sometimes wished he were a stranger.
I walked back toward Uncle Sal. We spoke during dinner. He stuttered while sharing a few bible verses that held special meaning to him.
I was taken back. My words must have chased him all these years and finally caught him.
“Uncle Sal, I’m….”
He placed his finger on my lips mid-sentence.
“Let me speak, Carmella.”
His voice cracked as he spoke.
“My ways were not His ways—they were wicked. As I begin my 51st year, I shall lay my sins at His feet. You, my angel, helped give sight to a blind man,” he said. “Your words didn’t fall upon deaf ears.”
I’m sure the heart-wrenching sob he released was from guilt as it gnawed at sores that would be slow to heal.
We embraced and our eyes glistened with hope. Not only was this a birthday celebration, but a celebration of his new life.
Aunt Lucia rolled the cake in front of Uncle Sal; all fifty candles blazed. I was filled with a new love for the man I just met.
Uncle Sal blew out his candles and everyone clapped in his honor.
Within seconds, his widened smile turned to one of bewilderment. He clutched his chest and gasped; his shirt bore the color crimson from a bullet through his heart.
“Uncle Sal…Uncle Sal—NO!”
I turned. A man clad in black tried to hop the wrought iron fence, but the gun of my uncle’s bodyguard eventually delivered a death sentence to the assailant.
I ran toward the fence. I froze in my tracks at the sight of betrayal. Evil had managed to sever through every morsel of goodness.
I felt sick at the sight of my father’s face. His eyes lacked emotion before they closed for good.
My father was set on leading The Family. I knew it was he who tried the do the job five years ago. Tonight, he came back to settle unfinished business.
The paramedics arrived and confirmed my uncle’s death. Heartbroken, I kissed him goodbye. We would never share in his newfound faith.
Through my tears I whispered…“Happy Birthday, Uncle Sal. You were mistaken about your nine lives, but God did grant you one more.
That evening I sobbed for two men—sadly, one remained lost, but one’s been found.
I learned evil knows no limit.
Neither does love.
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