Balance of Power, 47
Italy was a beautiful country. The two-dimensional photographs she'd seen in National Geographic didn't begin to do justice to the lush countryside and vibrant colors. Sabrina gazed out of the window and felt an appreciation for the land her father and uncles called home. She did not, she hastened to amend her thoughts, feel some mystical tie to the land. No, what she felt was the genuine appreciation that only something beautiful could inspire.
“Thank you for being my tour guide today,” Sabrina told the young woman riding beside her. Named Claudia, she had been hand picked to show Sabrina the places that only the locals knew about.
“You are welcome.” Claudia flashed Sabrina a warm smile. She was twenty-three, dark-haired and slender. Her elfin features added an air of mischief to her appearance. “Don Michael desired that your first views of our homeland be taken through the eyes of a native, not a tourist. He wished you to see Italy as your countrymen do.”
Sabrina was tempted to challenge the other woman on just how many Italians would view her as a countryman if not for Michael Corleone's power and will. But it had been an enjoyable morning. Sabrina was loathe to destroy the mood.
The outing had begun on shaky legs. After escorting Sabrina to meet her guide, her uncle Santino had excused himself and returned to the Corleone compound. Perhaps sensing Sabrina's apprehension at his absence, Claudia had set out to distract Don Michael's newfound daughter. She shared the local history of each stop of their outing, even taking the time to teach Sabrina some simple Italian words, unaware that Sabrina was already fluent in the language.
“I am glad you could join me for dessert,” Sabrina said as the car pulled into the private entrance of Rome's most popular culinary attraction. It was the only tourist site that had been included in their day's itinerary.
Claudia's brows rose playfully. “To eat dessert is not a sacrifice,” she replied. “Beside, my papa has promised something special just for you.”
“Your papa?” Sabrina followed the other woman's gaze to the restaurant's name on the wall. “ Claudio's. And your name is … I'm sorry. When you told me that you had family here, I didn't make the connection.”
“There was no reason you should have,” Claudia reassured her. She gave Sabrina a gentle nudge toward the dining area. “That is my older brother, Angelo. He is also headwaiter here. He will show you to our table while I let Papa know that we have arrived.”
“Alright.” Sabrina allowed Angelo to seat her at the table. He smiled encouragingly at her as he inquired about her outing with Claudia. His English was more accented than his younger sister; Sabrina suspected that was deliberately done to give Angelo an authentic ‘Italian' air.
Angelo disappeared for a moment. He returned bearing an icy pitcher of water that he used to fill Sabrina's glass. “Papa has looked forward to the dessert he prepares for you,” Angelo smiled. “We hope that you will enjoy it.”
“I am sure that I will.” Sabrina could not help but smile in return. Angelo seemed as genuine as his sister and Sabrina felt relaxed for the first time since being coerced into coming to Italy. “If Claudia comes back to the table, would you tell her that I excused myself for just a moment?” She nodded discreetly toward the restrooms.
“But, of course,” Angelo replied.
Balance of Power, 48
Humming an impromptu tune, Sabrina unlatched the stall door and stepped out. "Oh, sorry!" She nearly collided with a petite brunette wearing wire-rimmed glasses. Instead of retreating, the stranger moved to box Sabrina in place in the stall. "We can help you, Sabrina," the woman said quietly.
"We can help you escape, if that's what you want."
Sabrina's brows furrowed in confusion. "What are you talking about?"
"I don't," the woman hissed, "have a lot of time here! Do you want us to help you get away?"
Despite being enclosed in the small bathroom stall, Sabrina glanced around her as though she expected a camera crew to appear out of … somewhere and inform her that she was the subject of a very bad practical joke. Deep inside, she knew that her current encounter was anything but a joke. "Who are you?" Sabrina demanded. "How do you know who I-"
"Who you are?" The stranger evaded Sabrina's question. "We've been watching you for at least five years now. Ever since Michael Corleone's name mysteriously appeared on your official birth certificate."
Sabrina was staggered by her words. In the past weeks she'd idly entertained the thought that Michael Corleone had known of her existence before deciding to reveal himself that day at Dartmouth. Hearing it confirmed shook her more than she believed possible anymore.
"I- I don't care," Sabrina managed to say. "He's my fa-" She could not choke out the word 'father'. "He is my family," she said instead. "I won't betray that."
The woman sighed. "You have made a bad choice, Miss Corleone. Luckily for you, we will continue to watch you. I just hope we can get to you in time when you need us. And you will need us."
With that parting shot, the strange woman left. Sabrina's body sagged as the surge of adrenaline that had filled her at the start of the encounter fled her body just as quickly.
Sabrina was dismayed to realize that over the course of her disturbing encounter with the unknown woman, she had violated every rule Sonny Corleone had so patiently sought to teach her. The young woman failed to alert her guards promptly, she had allowed the stranger to engage her in conversation, and she had allowed the woman to depart unchecked.
She left the bathroom and approached the guard waiting just outside the restroom door. Calmly, so as not to attract attention, she spoke. “The woman who just left the restroom approached me.”
The inflection of Sabrina's voice sent the guard into immediate action. He gestured toward a man in the corner who followed him from the restaurant. Uncertain, Sabrina returned to her table. Gavino, the head of the security detail assigned to her, was waiting there. “A woman-”
It was as far as she got before the surly guard cut her short. “To the car,” Gavino ordered, his face set in its usual scowl of disapproval.
Sabrina followed wordlessly. Under the best of circumstances Gavino tended to intimidate her. The large, hulking Italian made no pretense of his feelings about Don Michael's illegitimate bi-racial daughter. That he thought bringing Sabrina into the Corleone universe was a mistake was obvious in every glance.
The ride home was an awkward thing. Gavino normally rode in the front seat with the driver, but this time had slid onto the back seat beside Sabrina. He neither spoke to her nor did he look at the young daughter of Michael Corleone for the time it took them to return to the compound.
“Into the study,” Sonny Corleone directed his niece as soon as she stepped from the limousine. Sabrina followed in silence, but not before glancing back uncertainly at her guard. Gavino stood just inside the doorstep in discussion with Albert Neri.
Sabrina was forced to run in order to catch up to her rapidly retreating uncle. Santino was focused upon making his way to his brother's study. And for the first time that Sabrina could remember since being introduced to Santino Corleone, she felt no comfort from his presence.
Carefully Sabrina took the seat that Santino indicated. She found herself staring into the impassive faces of her Uncle Thomas and her father, Michael Corleone.
Tom's softly spoken dispassionate query was simple enough. Yet Sabrina was hesitant to respond.
“Sabrina?” Santino's curt call jolted her attention back to the present situation. The young woman's gaze swiveled to the corner of the room where Sonny stood just inside the shadows.
“We had just arrived,” she recounted. “I decided to make a quick trip to the ladies' room and-”
Michael Corleone interrupted softly. “Sabryn…”
Sabrina understood instantly her father's directive. Reluctantly tearing her eyes away from the relative security of her Uncle Santino's stoic face, she turned and met the dark implacable eyes of the ‘Don'.
“I went to the ladies room.” Sabrina's eyes did not waver from her father's. “I was just about to wash my hands when a woman walked up to me and addressed me by name. She asked if I wanted help in escaping.”
“The compound?” Tom Hagen asked.
“No,” Sabrina replied, her eyes still locked with her father's. “My life with …Papa.” Her slight hesitation at the use of the title was obvious. “She told me they could help me if I helped them . When I told her that I wouldn't betr-”
Sabrina shut up abruptly. “I refused her help,” she finally rephrased her original statement. There was no way she would recount to her father that she had refused to ‘betray' him. The word was too revealing of Sabrina's grudging loyalty to her father. Cassandra had managed to instill in her daughter the belief that loyalty to family was an unbreakable rule … even though the older woman frequently broke that rule herself whenever a promising man came along. “And then she left.”
Reluctantly the young woman added, “She said that they'd be watching."
“Very well.” The words were an obvious dismissal by Michael Corleone.
Sabrina rose and moved toward the door. Futilely she attempted to catch the eye of her Uncle Santino. Her guilt at her own poor handling of the situation disturbed her and she needed the reassurance of knowing that Santino was not too disappointed in his new niece.
Silence reigned for several minutes after the door closed behind Sabrina. “Except for some security lapses, she did well,” Tom remarked.
“Yes. She passed our test,” Michael observed. ‘As I knew she would.'