Balance of Power, 69

Sabrina floated on air all the way back to the ballroom. Thanks to the men of her newfound family, she had been able to put down the burden of Roy Hartley that she carried. Not that she'd spent a lot of time thinking about him over the years. The senator had been more like a distant nightmare that hovered around the fringes of her memory. No more.

More important than exorcising Roy Hartley from her thoughts, Sabrina had received from her father the kind of information she never dreamed would be forthcoming. The father who had commandeered her life and manipulated her circumstances had turned out to be more respectful of his daughter's curiosity than Cassandra ever had. There were still questions she would have liked to ask, but Sabrina didn't think any parent would supply the kind of details she was curious about like if her father had managed to make her mother lose control.

While she had been in the office with her father, the energy of the gala had changed. Dancing was less inhibited and alcohol flowed like water. Things had shifted a gear, like the moment at a wedding reception when the guests worry less about appearances and more about personal comfort. As promised, Senator Roy Hartley was nowhere to be seen. Sabrina didn't waste any time double-checking; Uncle Sonny had given his word that the Senator would not be an issue for her. She believed him. Still, Sabrina started violently when hands covered her eyes from the back. "Guess who, Sabrina Corleone?"

Her heart began to pound for a totally different reason. "GianFranco?" The hands left her face and Sabrina turned slowly around. She couldn't have prevented the brilliant smile that lit her features if she' d tried. "You said you wouldn't be here tonight!"

GianFranco gave her a crooked smile. Sabrina thought that it changed his face from just handsome to outright gorgeous. That smile was rapidly becoming her favorite part of his face. "I changed my mind. I thought it would be all right if I came after the gala was already in swing. It looks like the night is going really well."

Sabrina took a moment to just enjoy the sight of him. Formally dressed, GianFranco looked like one of those impossibly flawless magazine models. His hair was newly trimmed and the tuxedo he wore hung perfectly from his muscled shoulders. And he smelled wonderful. "Tonight is better than you could ever know."

"Perhaps you can tell me as we walk."

"Where are we going?"

GianFranco offered Sabrina his arm. "I must go and pay my respects to your father. I should have done so the moment I arrived, but I wanted to surprise you."

"I'm sure he'll understand," Sabrina said. "Would you like me to-"

"No!" GianFranco stopped walking. "I am sorry, but that is not our way. There is a protocol to these things. And while I am certain your papa will find no insult in my actions, he would certainly think less of me if I allowed you to intervene on my behalf." GianFranco leaned in close. His voice grew husky. "Though I am pleased you offered."

Sabrina was saved from having to respond by their arrival at the Corleone table. She watched curiously as GianFranco deferentially greeted her father and uncles. There was a formality to the entire proceedings that she hadn't expected among people who claimed to be like family. Sabrina suspected she was getting a glimpse into the rites and rituals of her father's murky world.

Formalities over, GianFranco was invited to take a seat at the Corleone table. Before he could pull out Sabrina's chair, the band segued into a slow number. GianFranco offered Sabrina a smile. "Would you like to dance, Miss Corleone?"

"I believe this dance is reserved for me." Michael Corleone calmly circled the table and reached for his daughter's hand. "You may ask again later," he told GianFranco as he led Sabrina onto the dance floor.

If Sabrina had been walking on air before, now she was in heaven. Resolutely she ignored the little voices screaming at her to 'wise up'. She ignored Cassandra's voice hissing the word 'traitor' at her. Instead she gave herself up to the moment and enjoyed the fulfillment of a dream she'd stubbornly held onto since childhood dancing with her father. For a few moments, in her mind's eye, Sabrina allowed herself to be that little girl playing dress-up and dancing on her father's feet.

"I've not thanked you for all the work you put in toward making this night a success for the family."

"You're welcome," Sabrina murmured. "But I enjoyed doing it. And I learned so much! More than I would have anywhere else, I think."

Michael smiled softly. "Tom is impressed by your business instincts. He looks forward to instructing you on future projects."

That was the point, Sabrina acknowledged, where she would have normally lodged some type of resistance to her father's automatic assumption that Sabrina would be a part of the Corleone world for the indefinite future. But things had changed. Her kidnapping had drastically altered her desire for independence from the Corleone men. But to be fair, so had some other things - some other people , to be more accurate.

'Here comes one of those people now ,' a tiny voice taunted her as GianFranco boldly approached and politely requested permission from Sabrina's father to dance the remainder of the song with her.

"I hope you don't mind," GianFranco asked. "I hated to interrupt your dance with your papa. You looked so happy."

"Did I?"

"Yes. You were already easily the most beautiful woman here. But when you danced with your papa, you glowed."

Sabrina ducked her head. "Silly, isn't it?" GianFranco already knew about the void she'd felt as a child. To her shock, Sabrina had found herself telling him about it in their second telephone conversation.

"It is not silly," GianFranco replied. "I believe I am jealous."

"Jealous?"

"That your glow is not for me."

Balance of Power, 70

With their jackets unbuttoned and their bowties casually undone, the three of them could have been a present-day version of Hollywood's famed Rat Pack. Michael Corleone would of course be Frank Sinatra. Both men were known in their particular circles as unquestioned leaders of the crew. Tom Hagen would be Dean Martin, willing to play second fiddle even though he was more than capable of succeeding on his own. And Santino Corleone, he would be Well, maybe they weren't really like the Rat Pack after all. Still, an air of times past wrapped around the trio like a cloak. Even the briefest glance made it obvious they belonged in a time when men were men and no apologies were made about that.

"Hell of a night." Sonny shrugged off his tuxedo jacket and flexed his broad shoulders. He made a beeline for the bar in the corner of the room and plunked down three shot glasses atop the polished surface. Twelve-year-old scotch was his choice to fill them. Sonny poured two fingers' worth in two of the glasses; to one of those he added a couple of cubes of ice. In the third glass he poured less than an inch of scotch. "What did that Vatican guy want?" he asked, deftly gathering up all three glasses. "You talked to him a long time."

Michael and Tom accepted the drinks Sonny offered. "More of the same," Tom replied. "Financial support from the Corleone family." The German-Irish consigliore ignored Sonny's disgusted grunt. "I think that was the point where Connie lost interest and wandered away. Where did she go, by the way?" Tom's asking was more of a formality than anything. In all the years he had been among the Corleone family, Connie had never truly accepted him as a brother.

"She found a fly," Sonny smirked. "She's probably somewhere pulling off his wings." Sonny had a weak spot for his younger sister, but was under no illusions about Connie's desire for power and influence among the family. "The same goes for that idiot Vincent. He left with that bony little actress from the movies." He shook his head. "Fucking her has gotta be like riding a bicycle along a railroad track ya feel every fucking bump. Give me some meat on a woman!"

"Speaking of women," Tom grinned, " you were having quite a conversation with the young lady in pink."

Sonny lowered himself into the leather armchair. "That was Jimmy's kid."

"Jimmy?"

"Yeah. Jimmy the Weasel."

Tom whistled. "That was Jimmy Fratianno's daughter? She certainly outgrew her awkward stage," he joked softly.

"It wasn't like that," Sonny shook his head. "She's a good kid. She's in town from Seattle for some kinda teachers' convention. Says she promised her old man before he died that if she was ever in our territory she'd make it her business to pay her respects."

Michael had been silent since they'd arrived home, content to just enjoy the success of the night and the camaraderie of his older brothers. They were mere weeks away from the fruition of a dream that honored the teachings they had each learned at the feet of their late father, Don Vito Corleone. And on this particular night, the old man's presence was almost a tangible thing. "I trust you relayed our appreciation of her respect of the old ways," he said.

Sonny shrugged. "Yeah. I told her she woulda made Jimmy proud. And that she could call us if she ever needed us."

All three men nodded their approval of the statement. A protective nature toward women was as much a part of them as their eyes or arms or legs. James Fratianno's daughter would stand beneath the umbrella of Michael Corleone's protection from that day forward. "She was really looking for you, " Sonny told his younger brother, "but you and Sabrina had just stepped outta the ballroom to talk about Hartley."

"The Senator did not molest Sabrina," Michael dispassionately addressed the enormous elephant suddenly in the room. "Hartley's first advance was made in her mother's presence. Though I suspect he attempted at some later time to approach her." Michael did not have to explain his reasoning. Tom and Sonny had seen the same information he did. Roy Hartley was consistent in his sick attraction to young girls. Once a pre-teen girl became the focus of his desire, he found reasons to place himself in her orbit and wait for his opportunity to fulfill his sick fantasies.

"Sick fuck." Sonny rose abruptly and went to refill his drink. All three Corleone men felt the same anger at Roy Hartley's behavior, yet none of them spent even a moment reflecting on the hypocrisy of their anger. Before stumbling onto the man's past connection with Sabrina they were more than willing to use the Senator's perversion as a tool to manipulate him into doing their wishes. Only a passing sympathy was given to the thought of his countless young female victims over the years. Knowledge of one of Hartley's prospective victims had turned the tables.

Tom joined Sonny at the bar. He refilled his glass and after a moment's thought, decided to forego his usual cubes of ice. "The state's vote on the stadium happens in a little over three weeks," he announced to no one in particular. "Three weeks until Roy Hartley's final act as a United States Senator is made official." Tom raised his glass. "Here's to Senator Hartley's final act."

"Here's to the Senator's unfortunate demise," Sonny toasted.

"Yes," Michael nodded and lifted his glass. "To the Senator's demise."