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Carlito Brigante is the eponymous character from Carlito's Way(Film) and After Hours, novels by Edwin Torres. Torres has stated that Brigante was a combination of several men he knew in his street days, as well as a compilation of several of his own personal characteristics. Born in the 1930s in Spanish Harlem, Carlito starts out as a small time thief, eventually working his way up to being the heroin kingpin of the neighborhood. Around 1970, Brigante is arrested during a drug bust and is sentenced to 30 years in prison. This marks the end of the novel, Carlito's Way. After Hours, which is the start of the Carlito's Way movie, begins with Brigante beating his prison sentence thanks to his lawyer David Kleinfeld, played by Sean Penn. During After Hours, Carlito tries to leave his life of crime behind and retire in the Bahamas with his girlfriend Gail. Circumstances conspire against him when Carlito innocuously accompanies his young cousin to a drug trade which quickly goes awry. Carlito is forced to shoot his way out and kill the dealers to escape. Kleinfeld asks Carlito to take control of a nightclub mismanaged by Saso (played by Jorge Porcel). It is at the club that Carlito is introduced to Benny Blanco ("from the Bronx"), a young up-and-comer in the drug trade who believes himself to be a young Carlito Brigante, which angers Carlito. An old friend named Lalin visits Carlito at the club, but is discovered to be wearing a wire, revealing the District Attorney still hasn't forgotten about Carlito. Carlito crosses paths with Benny again when Kleinfeld finds a love-interest in a waitress at the club named Stephie. Benny, who instead wishes Stephie to join him, and angered at Carlito's rejections for champagne, confronts Kleinfeld and proceeds to manhandle Stephie. Carlito is forced to take action when Kleinfeld, under the influence of cocaine, snaps and pulls a gun. Blanco's henchmen draw weapons but are dealt with by the bouncers. Carlito threatens to kill Benny if he comes to the club again. Benny promises to kill Carlito if he ever sees him again. A furious Carlito knocks Benny down a staircase. The young gangster takes a severe beating at the hands of Pachanga and a bouncer from the club until Carlito tells Pachanga to "let him go", subsequently realizing that he has made a fatal mistake sparing Blanco's life. While visiting his client, Tony Taglialucci, the imprisoned mobster angrily accuses Kleinfeld of stealing one million dollars from him and threatens his life if Kleinfeld doesn't break him out of Rikers Island jail. Kleinfeld solicits Carlito's assistance by pressuring him with notion that he was responsible for Carlito's early release from prison. One of Tony's sons named Frank "Frankie" Taglialucci accompanies Carlito and Kleinfeld in a boat readied for Tony's escape. Kleinfeld instead proceeds to kill Tony T. and his son, while Carlito painfully watches realizing that mob retribution is guaranteed. Carlito recognizes that Gail was correct in her judgment of Kleinfeld, along with his own premonitions. Soon thereafter Kleinfeld is stabbed outside an elevator in his office building. Carlito is escorted, along with Gail to District Attorney Norwalk's office. Norwalk plays a tape of Kleinfeld agreeing to testify against Carlito. Carlito personally visits him in the hospital to learn the truth. Kleinfeld admits betrayal to save himself. Carlito unloads Kleinfeld's gun without his recognition. He also notices a suspicious policeman, who subsequently turns out to be Tony's other son, Vincent "Vinnie" Taglialucci, come to avenge his father and brother's death in disguise. Vinnie shoots Kleinfled fatally in the head, as Kleinfeld draws his empty chambered gun.

Carlito realizes that he must swiftly leave with Gail and his accumulated club profits to the Bahamas earlier than expected. Carlito rushes to the club to claim his money and notifies Pachanga to have Gail meet him at the train station. Carlito's quick exit is halted by Pete Amadesso, Johnny Manzanero, and Joe Battaglia, a posse of Italian gangsters that were involved in the drug business before Carlito was arrested. Vinnie arrives at Carlito's club to join the other Italians and makes a comment about the lawyer. Carlito puts on a ruse, claiming he hasn't seen Kleinfeld lately. The mobsters recognize he's involved, and after Carlito gathers his money and escapes, they pursue him into a subway station. Carlito kills all of the mobsters except Vinnie, who is fatally injured by the police. As Carlito approaches Gail and the awaiting train out of town, he is ambushed. Carlito spots a man in sunglasses and an arm-sling, but it is too late to realize who the man is. "Hey Carlito, remember me? Benny Blanco from the Bronx?" proclaims Benny as he shoots Carlito three times in the abdomen with a hidden, silenced pistol. Pachanga admits he betrayed Carlito to Benny so as to look out for his own future. Benny proceeds to shoot and kill Pachanga as well and runs off. Brigante fades in and out of consciousness as he peers at a subway advertisement titled "Escape to Paradise".
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