It’s time for Donnie’s story!
Since he was first introduced in Deep (The Pagano Family 4), I’ve had a soft spot for Donnie Goretti. Back then, he was just a newly made scrub, still unsure of himself and worried about fucking up, but loyal as hell. Lola noticed him back then, too, and was very, very mean to him.
Deep was published in December 2014. Ever since, I’ve hoped for a chance to tell Donnie’s story. When Trey emerged later in The Pagano Family as a man on “the other side of the pews,” I saw the building blocks for a Pagano Brothers series, where I could tell his story and Donnie’s, too, and really dig into Nick’s reign as don as well. So yay!
I began The Pagano Brothers with Trey’s story, Simple Faith, because it served as a bridge between series, connecting the dots for readers coming from The Pagano Family without requiring a great deal of backstory for readers first meeting the Paganos with Trey’s book. It also gave me a chance to peek in at Donnie and see who he is now, without leaping from the 20-something scrub straight to the 40-something underboss.
I’ve gotten to know Donnie from a range of perspectives over the years, and I might have known him better than I’ve ever known a lead character when I start their story. The result is Hidden Worthiness.
In Deep, Donnie confessed a particular weakness for ballerinas, and after what Lola did to him, I knew if I ever wrote his story, he would get a ballerina for his one true. His ballerina is Arianna, who is perhaps uniquely suited to understand Donnie and see his true worth.
The release date for Hidden Worthiness is Saturday, 5 January 2019. I’ll set up a preorder about a week in advance. Here’s the Goodreads page, if you’d like to add it to your TBR.
The epigraphs (and titles) for all the Pagano Brothers books will come from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Donnie’s epigraph is:
And it is very much lamented …
That you have no such mirrors as will turn
Your hidden worthiness into your eye,
That you might see your shadow.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 55-58
Here’s the description:
Twenty years ago, as a young Pagano Brothers soldier, Donnie Goretti was horribly injured on the job. The devastating scars of that attack led him to be known as “The Face.”
Since then, he’s been alone, reminded daily that he’s too ugly to look at, much less to love. He devoted himself instead to his work, and he rose through the ranks to become the underboss of the Pagano Brothers family.
Now, he is a man of wealth, influence, and respect. In the day, he’s a powerful executive and philanthropist. In the night, he’s the don’s ruthless right hand. When he wants companionship, he has it; there will always be women attracted to his status. But he harbors no delusions that they care about him. How could they, when they can hardly bear to look at him?
When he meets Arianna Luciano, a principal dancer with the Rhode Island Ballet, Donnie offers her the same arrangement he’s offered many other women. He’s armored his heart with cool reserve and an arsenal of iron-clad rules about what he expects, what he’ll allow, and what he’ll give in exchange.
But Ari doesn’t like rules, and she wants no part of Donnie’s offer. She sees his scars as signs of his pain, markers of his history. They are nothing to be ashamed of. They don’t diminish his worth. She wants the chance to fall in love.
If only she could make him believe it.
For a preview, I’m sharing Chapter 4, which is when Donnie and Ari first meet:
“So. Many. Phantoms.” Julian turned from the door with a wry grin. “It’s like a convention.”
Ari nudged him, and he made room for her to peer around the jamb and over the railing to the entering guests below. The gala was a masquerade ball to celebrate the premiere of the season and the debut presentation of The Phantom of the Opera, but the invitations had not specified that guests should arrive in costume as characters from that ballet. They could have worn any costume they wished. And a fair number had done so. Still, there must have been dozens of Eriks, in white masks and black capes, among the male guests below, and nearly as many Christines, most of them in either the negligée or the wedding gown. She didn’t see a single Raoul.
Ari rolled her eyes. First, it was a bit pedestrian to dress as the characters of the ballet, wasn’t it? She, Julian, and Sergei were all themselves in costume as Christine, Raoul, and Erik, but that was different—they would actually play those characters, and in fact would descend the stairs tonight in character. Second, all those women in filmy dressing gowns or flouncing wedding dresses had really missed a bet. There was an actual masquerade ball in the story. Ari was wearing an evening-gown version of that costume herself, and it was the obviously best choice for tonight. But she only spied a handful of sparkling violet and pink confections in the elegant throng below. Third, though The Phantom of the Opera had been a novel, about a dozen movies, more than one Broadway musical, an actual opera, and a ballet, virtually every guest below had chosen their expensive-but-commercially-made costume from the 2004 movie. Which was, like, one of the objectively worst versions.
And finally, she would never understand why people loved this story so much. It wasn’t romantic. Was it tragic? Sure, okay—for Christine, it was tragic. For Raoul, too. But Erik? Fuck him. He stalks Christine. Kidnaps her—repeatedly. Terrorizes her—constantly. Manipulates and gaslights her. Threatens the people she loves. Yeah, he has a sad history, but boo fucking hoo. Experiencing abuse is no excuse for being abusive.
All those women below wearing the wedding gown costume? What the hell? Did they not get that Erik forces Christine into that dress and tries to force her to marry him by threatening to kill the man she truly loves? Ari could not comprehend why women swooned over these ‘dark,’ ‘dangerous’ men who were just entitled psycho assholes.
If she were really Christine, she’d have set fire to the bastard herself.
Ari smiled privately. She did not have a romantic personality. She was not a magical thinker. It was probably her chief failing as a dancer—indeed, it had been called out as such by a few teachers and choreographers. Most classical ballets told classically romantic, classically tragic stories. Most of the girls she danced with swooned over Erik and every other dark hero and sad heroine just like the women in the audience. Dancers like that saw the ballet as the literal embodiment of such deep, painful emotion. Their body expressed their soul, and transcended the physicality of movement.
When Ari danced, her body was her soul. She felt every atom of her own physical being keenly and completely, and she felt fully present and powerful in it. Not transcendence. Immanence. She was a physically masterful dancer and experienced true joy on the stage, but she didn’t ‘leave her body,’ the way many of the girls she knew said they did. She was a competent actor and could pretend to be Christine, or Juliet, or Giselle, but she could not become them.
She was always Arianna, dancing.
That was why she was in Providence and not New York.
But she was dancing.
“Here comes Bax.”
At Julian’s observation, Ari peered along the second-floor mezzanine and saw their director strolling toward them. He wore no costume, just his usual classic tuxedo with a white silk scarf. He stopped just at the top of the grand staircase, and the string quartet below gave over unassuming background music for fanfare. She felt Sergei come up behind them and peer over her head.
When Baxter had the attention of the guests below, he smiled warmly, a beneficent god granting favors. “Welcome, Mesdames et Messieurs, to the Fall Gala of the Rhode Island Ballet. Tonight we celebrate our fall season, and our debut presentation of Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, with a masquerade. As ever, we are most grateful for your patronage and your enthusiasm, and we are delighted to share this night with you.” He extended his arms in regal invitation.
“And that’s our cue,” Sergei muttered.
Smiling, Julian shifted his posture and held out his hand, becoming Raoul. “My darling?”
Ari took his hand, and they strolled out in a classical walk along the mezzanine toward the staircase. The guests below applauded when they reached the top. As they descended, their eyes on each other, Julian stopped at the midpoint and did a simple lift. In the way they’d decided, she went into pas de chat position, and he tripped lightly down the next three steps as he turned. Polite applause brightened with delight, and Ari smiled up at Julian as he set her down. They descended the rest of the steps normally. The music became Christine and Raoul’s, and in the small arc of space left by the guests at the foot of the staircase, he lifted her again, a straight lift, above his head. Ari arced over him, her arms swanning back. Julian turned her, and she came down winding sensually around him until her feet touched the floor again. She wore dress pumps, and Julian wore dress shoes as well, so none of it was as beautiful as it would be on the stage, but their moment of make-believe lovemaking had captivated their audience nonetheless.
The music changed again, became more forceful, and they lost their audience’s attention to Sergei, descending the staircase as Erik. Sergei played the role with more menace than pathos, a decision Baxter endorsed and Ari appreciated. In their performance, he was the villain, not the victim.
As Raoul, Julian tucked Ari protectively under his arm, and they melted into the costumed crowd.
Now that was how to make an entrance.
Drowning in a sea of white gowns and black capes, her ears going numb from the constant barrage of the same meaningless drivel spewed by a multitude of mouths, Ari had had her fill of the gala by the end of the first hour. The mask over her eyes was hot, her feet hurt in a purely mundane uncomfortable-shoe way, and she’d had just about enough champagne that she was having trouble remembering to be charming and mind her manners.
This was the beginning of her first moment in the spotlight. Everyone wanted to talk to her, to touch her, to say they had met her. They all wanted to show their knowledge of the ballet as well. The talk among Providence’s cultured set was that Devonny Allera was most likely finished, and Arianna Luciano was poised to take her place permanently. These patrons of the arts all wanted to be able to say they’d supported her from the beginning. Truly, she was glad of them and their support.
But the only spotlight Ari had ever wanted was the one that would shine down on her on the stage.
Julian loved any spotlight he could get. He was charming and handsome and adored the swooning attentions of shy teen girls and blue-haired widows alike, so he moved through the crowd like Jesus through the Red Sea. Or was that Moses? She’d never paid that much attention at Mass. Anyway, Julian was in his element and soaking up every batted eyelash and overheated giggle. Sergei, too. He stayed in character all night, hamming it up as the Phantom, putting all the Bob’s Costume Shop wannabes to shame.
Using a need for the ladies’ room to effect her escape, she loitered there as long as she could, until it was getting a little weird to be standing in the corner like an overdressed washroom attendant.
Back out amongst the fabulous people, she went to the bar for a fresh glass of champagne. Rehearsals tomorrow weren’t until the evening. She could get drunk tonight, and as long as she remembered to drink water and take vitamins tonight, she’d be fine by then. If she didn’t remember, Julian would. He always took care of her.
Servers were carrying trays of champagne around the party, so the bar itself was nearly abandoned, except for the service staff. But there was one Phantom at the end of the bar, leaning there like he’d decided to try and grow roots.
Ari spared him a glance, then turned her attention to the array of glasses the bartender was filling with bubbly, never lifting the bottle, but never losing a drop of liquid, either. When she could take a glass, she did so, and turned to face the beautiful battlefield before her. As the star of the show, probably she should be out there, charming all the deep pockets.
Sighing, she put the glass to her lips again. One more glass for fortitude.
“You’re Arianna Luciano.” The lonely Phantom at the end of the bar had spoken.
Ari put her charming smile on her face and in her voice. “How can you be certain?” She tapped the glittering silver mask over her eyes.
His own mask was fairly remarkable, now that she was looking straight at him. Not a 2004-movie-whose-dumb-idea-had-Gerard-Butler-been version, but one like she’d never seen before. It was both obviously a Phantom mask and obviously unique. Professional quality, the finish done so that it seemed to be made of actual porcelain. It tied in back with silk, rather than an elastic band. And it was much bigger than most of the masks. It covered everything but his left cheek and the left side of his nose. On the right side, it even had an ear.
The shape of its face was simple, no more than a rise at the brow, a slope of nose, a curve at the cheek, a sweep of lips. No expression at all, neither victim nor villain. Nor lover. Just nothing. It was the best Phantom mask she’d ever seen.
The mask was this man’s only costume. In every other way, he was dressed for a night at the theater—a well-cut tuxedo, a fashionable black tie, leather shoes polished to a sheen.
“You’ve made an impression tonight,” he said.
So had he, suddenly.
“I hope that’s a compliment.”
“It is. I’ve watched you for a while. You’re the best dancer in the company, I think.”
Ari thought so, too. But she was more athlete than artist, so the opinion wasn’t universally accepted. Baxter certainly didn’t share it. “Thank you. You’re a regular attendee, then?”
“Season-ticket holder, yes. For about ten years or so.” He moved closer, bringing a glass of whiskey or something like it with him, and nodded at her surprisingly empty glass. “May I buy you another?”
The booze was free here, of course. And she really should be out in the party being fabulous, not tucked back in this corner alone with a masked man who said he’d been ‘watching’ her.
She looked out at the bright, swirling party. All that mingling. All those people, remarking on her arms and legs and neck.
Back here, they weren’t actually alone. The bartender was right there. Servers came back and went forth regularly. And of course this man had been watching her. She was a performer. People watched her all the time. That was the job.
She smiled and picked up another glass of champagne, lifting it up as if in thanks before she took a sip. “Thank you.”
“It was nothing.” The half of his mouth she could see twisted up wryly.
From the tiny bit of information available to her, she thought he was handsome. He had a very nice jaw, at least, and his mouth had a very nice shape. He wore a bit of beard, fashionably short and neatly groomed. The grey that glittered through it, and the noticeable grey of his short, otherwise-dark hair, suggested that he was past forty. He was on the tall side of average, with good shoulders over a trim build. His tux was custom and fit him perfectly. That mask had set him back several hundred dollars at least, and that tux was at least a few thousand. So he was rich, too. No surprise, here in the land of the oldest money.
The eyes behind the mask were jewel-rich blue. He wore a bit of makeup to add shadows under the mask, but that blue was so vivid that Ari could see one eye didn’t open as well as the other. His baritone voice had a strange, muffled cast as well. Maybe the mask constricted the movements of his face.
“You’re staring,” he said, and white teeth flashed in a brief smile.
“Sorry. I’m admiring your mask. Custom made, right?”
“Well, it’s a work of art.”
“I’ll pass along your compliment to the artist.”
They stood awkwardly together, their small talk dried up, and then he said, “I thought your performance as the Stepmother in Cinderella this spring was really impressive.”
She’d loved dancing that part. It wasn’t the lead, but the Stepmother didn’t have to be beautiful, and the solo was choreographed to show her as rough and harsh, so Ari was able to ham it up and really put her body into it.
That was an actually decent compliment—not necessarily substantive, but it was about her art rather than her body, and that alone made it a real step up from the flutterings of the guests in the ballroom beyond. Pleasure warmed Ari’s cheeks, and she smiled. “Thank you.”
With a nod, he handed her another glass, and ordered a new drink for himself with a wave.
“You know my name. What’s yours?”
Catching the eyeroll before it happened, just in case it was his actual name, she asked, “Is that coincidence or subterfuge?”
Another droll smirk. “Masquerade.”
Now, she rolled her eyes. “That’s hardly fair, since you know my name.”
“But you’re a public person. I’m not. And this is a masquerade. So tonight, I’m Erik.”
“Then should I be Christine?”
“Is that who you want to be?”
He’d come even closer, so close she had to look up to meet his eyes, so close she could smell his cologne—expensive, subtly applied. The scent of it mingled with the champagne and effervesced her senses.
“I prefer to be myself.”
“I can understand why.” His hand came up to her face, and his thumb brushed over her cheek, along the edge of her mask. “You’re very beautiful and very talented, Miss Luciano.”
Was he going to kiss her? The room was beginning to swish around on a sea of champagne, and she thought she’d let him. Why not? He was nice, and respectful. Seemed even to have a sense of humor. He knew the ballet. The evidence suggested he was handsome and rich. Checking off all the boxes, and some bonus boxes, too. Also? Champagne. So why not? What harm would a kiss do?
She raised her hand, meaning to mirror his touch of her cheek, intending it as an invitation.
He stepped back, so quickly Ari felt the rush of air fill in the spot where he’d been. For a moment, they only stared at each other.
“Darling?” Julian’s voice broke her bubbly confusion. He took her hand. “I’ve been looking everywhere. Baxter wants us to get people dancing.” He sharpened up into Raoul’s regal posture. “Come waltz with me, my love. Excuse us, sir.”
As Julian drew her toward the ballroom, Ari looked over her shoulder, but all she saw was a beautifully crafted and perfectly expressionless mask.
“I didn’t know Baxter wanted us to dance again,” she said, woozily, as Julian spun her onto the dance floor and led her into a waltz. “I’ve been enjoying the free champagne.”
“Bax doesn’t care if we dance. He’s schmoozing. This is me rescuing you, you beautiful fool.”
“Rescuing? I was fine.”
“Do you know who you were talking to?”
She grinned. “Erik, obviously.”
“Ha. Ha. Ha. That’s Donnie Fucking Goretti. You of all people should know that.”
The name rang a bell, but that bell jangled in a bubbly sea. “Donnie who?”
“The Pagano guy? Right hand of the don, or whatever they call it?”
Now she got it—and also that weird ‘you of all people’ crack. Her Uncle Mel, back on Long Island, was a shylock for one of the New York Families. Julian thought that meant she was In with the Mob.
Donnie Goretti was the underboss of the Pagano Brothers.
“That’s Donnie Goretti?”
“Yes, dummy. You were over there flirting with a killer. So I rescued you.”
“How do you know it’s him?”
“Some of the guests were talking about him. He’s a regular, I guess, and a big donor, so they all know him. They were saying how funny it was that he’d come to the masquerade. Because, you know, his face.”
His nickname was The Face. When newspeople talked or wrote about him, that was always how they referred to him: Donnie ‘The Face’ Goretti. Because he’d been horribly scarred in some kind of accident.
And he’d come to the gala tonight masquerading as the Phantom.
People were gossiping, saying that was funny? She thought of the beautiful mask that hid so much of his face, and thought it wasn’t funny at all.
She looked back toward the bar, but he was gone.
Left to right: Nick Pagano, his wife, Beverly, Donnie Goretti, and an unnamed woman leave a performance of “La Traviata.”
Donnie “The Face” Goretti (left), and two unnamed men entering the Biltmore Hotel last Friday, around 10 p.m. Tyrone Bederman’s body was found the next morning, when housekeeping entered his room. Bederman was under federal indictment. No cause of death has been released.
FREE TO GO: Donnie “The Face” Goretti leaving the federal courthouse this afternoon after all charges against him were dropped.
Opinion: Donnie “The Face” Goretti: Saint or Sinner?
ORG CHART FOR THE NEW ENGLAND FIVE FAMILIES: THE PAGANO BROTHERS, RHODE ISLAND
The roof was repaired after the school received a donation from Donnie Goretti, of Quiet Cove.
Ari clicked through the images and read their captions. When one caught her interest, she read the post it was attached to. It was dumb—she’d probably never see the guy again, and she didn’t want to, anyway—but she was curious. What had he been hiding?
She’d been wrong—most of the news didn’t identify him with his nickname, but it made an impression when they did. But most of the stories that called him ‘The Face’ were focused on his criminal activities, and there were surprisingly few legitimate news stories about him as a mobster.
Most of the stories that called Donnie Goretti out as a criminal came from shady sites and blogs run by crime-obsessed nobodies. For a mobster, Goretti kept a surprisingly low profile. Uncle Mel would say he was ‘old school.’ As an influential citizen of Rhode Island, however, Goretti made the news fairly often—donating sizeable amounts to charities and non-profits, patronizing the arts, enjoying the best the city of Providence had to offer.
In any photo he knew was coming, he showed only the left side of his face. It was the shots taken without his knowledge that showed what he’d hidden beneath that beautiful mask. He’d been burned. The whole right side of his face, hairline to jawline and back to his ear, or the place where his ear should have been, was a mottled, melted scar. Shiny and smooth in some places, rough and raised in others—a combination of skin grafts and burn scars, she assumed. His nose, his mouth, and his eye were all partly melted.
The scars were horrible, but not horrifying.
He wore a short beard. Ari found that fascinating. It was stubble, not a full growth, but still, she would have expected a man who could grow hair on only half his face not to grow hair on his face at all. Instead, he seemed to have decided that he would look the way he wanted to look, wherever he could look that way.
Where he could be, he was very good looking.
Whatever had happened to him to leave such ravaging scars behind must have been painful beyond imagining. Ari looked and looked for a story about a fire or something like that, but she found nothing. There was a story about a nightclub bombing in Providence twenty years ago, in which Nick Pagano had featured prominently, and for a second she thought she’d found the answer. But Goretti wasn’t mentioned in that story or any of the follow-ups she found.
After an hour online in the dark of her bedroom, Ari knew what Donnie Goretti looked like. She also knew he lived in Quiet Cove, was forty-six years old, and had never been married. He was on the board and/or the top donors’ circle of every major arts foundation in Rhode Island and high on the donor lists of several charity organizations as well. He’d been indicted for murder, but the charges hadn’t stuck. But of course he’d killed that man. He was a mobster. A Mafioso. At the top of the ‘org chart.’ Don Pagano’s close right hand.
A philanthropist Mafioso who enjoyed the ballet. She found that absolutely fascinating.
Out of nothing more than curiosity, she decided she’d ask in the office where his seats were. They kept track of their most prominent donors, sent gifts to their seats. She could probably finagle that information if Bernard was in the office. He liked her.
Once the house lights were down, she wouldn’t be able to see the audience, and while she was dancing, she wouldn’t care. But she wanted to know where Donnie Goretti sat.
No reason. Just curious.
© 2018 Susan Fanetti