By Cecy Robson
“What do you think, Salvatore?”
Donnie taps her iPad with her long red nails when she finds yet another pair of shoes she wants. Like I actually give a shit what she’s buying with Vincent’s money.
“Sure. Get them,” I answer, not bothering to really look and fixing my gaze back on the door.
She pouts in that way that annoys me, but probably gets Vin hard. “That’s what you said about the other six. I’m serious. Which ones should I get?”
I don’t have to tell her that Vincent will buy her whatever she wants so long as she keeps blowing him, but I come close. The muscles along my back are ready to tear away from the bone. Every nerve along my spine fires a warning that shit’s about to go down. But I don’t show it, my face giving nothing away. “Donnie, I’m paid to watch your back. Not help you pick out shoes,” I mutter.
She starts to argue, but a knock to the door shuts her up, so does me motioning her to the corner. She may spend her days worrying about what she looks like and what she’ll wear, but she’s not stupid enough to ignore me.
I lean against the wall, opposite the door. Donnie might have shrugged off Vin yelling down the hall, but I didn’t. He isn’t happy. Neither are the other mob bosses in Jersey. It won’t be long before hell itself rains down on us. “Yeah?” I ask, keeping my deep voice casual, like my piece isn’t already clutched in my hands.
“Vincent wants you in on the meeting,” Lucca says.
Lucca’s smart. And for someone who hasn’t been in the family long, he’s tough and good on his feet. But I pick up enough in his voice to know this meeting’s not going as planned. So maybe Vin didn’t send for me. Maybe Lucca thinks I’m needed. If so, things are a lot worse than I thought.
Donnie looks at me, her preoccupation with shoes nothing more than a memory. “Lock the door behind me,” I tell her.
She rushes forward. I snag her elbow and pull her in tight to whisper in her ear. “You hear shots, you leave out the back, through the alley and down the street. Find a diner, a store, any place with lots of people. Got me?”
She nods, but she’s trembling already. Shots fired means there are plenty more to come. The other family knows who Donnie is to Vin. But if they don’t know she’s here or if they find her with too many witnesses, she’ll be okay.
She clutches my arm when I start to leave. “Sal . . .” she says.
Donatella and me are from the old neighborhood. We’ve known each other since back when we were kids and we were too stupid to know shit about organized crime. Now, we’re more stupid, because we’re willingly a part of it. She wants to say something like “be careful” or “keep him safe” or something else I don’t need to hear. So, I don’t.
I crack open the door, making sure Lucca’s standing there alone, and step out.
His eyes cut toward the hall leading to Vincent’s office, where he’s meeting with Arturo, the boss in charge of most of South Jersey, including Atlantic City. Yeah. Shit’s going down. But I don’t move until Donnie clicks the door lock behind me.
Lucca starts forward, moving fast. I haul him back. “Easy,” I mutter.
That’s all he needs to hear. He slows, mimicking my pace and stance, chest out, hand curled near the piece at his waist, face hard and unreadable.
Arturo’s men stand in unison when we round the corner. At the sight of me, Vin’s men rise, too. They see what I want them to see in me and Lucca and me. A united front. It solidifies our crew and tenses Arturo’s. As Vin’s crew fixes their hard stares on the other family, I know they’re ready for what the next few minutes will bring.
I reach Vin’s office door. It’s open, wide open, and it pisses me off. An open door shows weakness and it demonstrates how scared Vin is about being alone with the other boss.
I march in and take point to Vin’s right. Lucca starts to head to his opposite side, but he catches the subtle motion of my left hand that tells him to stay by the door. I want to tell him to shut the door and lock it, but I can’t without raising the paranoia already thickening the air. Like I said, Lucca’s smart. He shuts the door and flicks the deadbolt.
Arturo huffs when he realizes he’s closed in. “What the fuck’s this?” He doesn’t turn around from where he’s seated directly in front of Vin, but his second sitting beside him and his enforcer straighten at my presence. I expected them to react upon seeing me, but I don’t expect the same response from Vin’s third, Angelo. Their reaction is so subtle that everyone gathered seems to miss it. But me, I don’t miss a thing, ever. The one time I did, it cost me the only woman I’ve ever loved.
“Just a little privacy, Mr. Sorenzo,” I answer, because Vin waited too long to respond and he’s already lost enough face.
Vin eases back in his chair. He knows I’m there and that I have his back, but his fingers digging into the armrest give away he’s scared shitless. Christ. How many times have I told him to keep his hands relaxed and his expression like stone? His ailing father has been grooming him to take over his empire for six fucking years and Vin’s still not ready. The other bosses are honing in on his incompetence. Which is why I’m not sure how much longer I can help keep Vin alive.
“Let’s get back to business,” Vin says, trying to sound harder than he is.
Arturo smiles in that sleazy way of his and tosses a hand out. “I believe we’ve reached a standstill,” he says.
“You’re right, we have,” Vin fires back, getting pissed. Good, anger is better than fear and, right now, it’s exactly what he needs. He leans forward. “You’re not getting the rest of A.C. And you’re not getting an eighty percent―”
My 380 auto is out and pointed at Arturo’s enforcer before his fingers reach the hilt. “Move and I’ll blow your fucking head off.” Without me telling him, Lucca rams his guns in the back of Arturo’s and his second’s skulls. Smart guy. I reach for my 9 mil tucked in my leather jacket, not even blinking when I shoot Vin’s third in the leg, blowing out his knee cap.
With a scream, Angelo falls to the floor howling. “What the fuck?” Vin growls, leaping to his feet.
I don’t explain why I shot one of his made men, someone he trusted. My next bullet goes into the enforcer, the impact and his pain enough to send him flying off his chair. He went for his Sig. I wasn’t waiting for him to pull the trigger. Outside, all hell’s breaking loose, my heartbeat pounding fast in my chest until I hear the voices of Vin’s family taking control.
Less than a minute later, a sharp rap to the door is followed by Benny’s deep voice. “Sal?”
“All clear,” I tell him, my tone steady. “You?”
It’s not my words that he believes, it’s the confidence behind them. “All clear,” he responds in the same tone, letting me know they have Arturo’s men on the ground.
Vin’s reaching into the drawer, pulling out his Glock. To his credit, he’s not questioning anything anymore, not after Arturo’s enforcer went for his piece. He’s reining in his shit like he needs to.
Lucca covers me as I strip everyone of their weapons. Angelo is wailing like the little bitch he is. The enforcer is swearing, pressing the wound to his shoulder as blood seeps through his fingers. I intentionally missed his heart. But no one needs to know that.
I drop the weapons beside Vin and far out of everyone’s reach. Arturo and his second haven’t said a damn thing. They weren’t scared of Vin before. But they are now.
I’m not sure what Vin’s going to say. My fear is, he may say the wrong thing in front of Lucca that makes him look pathetic. Lucca is loyal, so are a few others, but if they keep seeing Vin acting like he’s acting, they’ll lose whatever respect he’s managed outside his title of boss.
“Vin knew you were playing him, you pussy,” I tell Angelo, lying through my teeth. “Were you going to kill him in front of Arturo? Was that your way into the family, you lying piece of shit?”
In not answering, he answers enough. At Vin’s nod, Lucca puts a bullet in Arturo’s second, and finishes off the enforcer.
Vin motions to the door. “Call in a few of my men,” he tells me.
I unlock the door and do as he asks, after I make sure everything is still under control. Vin’s not ready to be boss, but he isn’t stupid, at least not completely. He knows Arturo needs to die by his hands and that he needs witnesses to see as much. I pick three who have started to question Vin’s strength, knowing they’ll tell the rest of the family what’s about to go down, and to show them what happens to those who don’t stay loyal.
The men pile in, but Vin doesn’t let them get too comfortable. He shoots Arturo in the face with his Glock while the last two who enter are still busy taking in Angelo writhing on the floor. Vin keeps his face neutral, his confidence returning now that he knows his life isn’t immediately on the line.
I take a step back when he prowls toward Angelo. Angelo was Vin’s trusted third. To be who Vin wants to be, he has to send a message. But I don’t tell him that. It’s something he needs to realize on his own. “What did he promise you after you killed me, pussy?” he asks Angelo.
Angelo doesn’t deny his intention. Doesn’t beg for his life. He knows it’s over. So, he hits Vin the only way he can. “Your father’s the pussy for letting a chicken shit like you take over.”
Vin’s heel comes down hard on Angelo’s face, smashing his nose in. But he doesn’t stop there. He snatches the paperweight on his desk and flings himself to the floor, bashing Angelo’s face in, not stopping until the side of his temple caves inward.
To anyone eyeing me, it looks like I’m watching everything and immune to it all. Yeah. My face never gives anything away. That doesn’t mean my body’s not punishing me on the inside. I fight back the nausea working its way through my gut and how hard my heartbeat thunders out of control. Weakness in the mob and in life gets you killed. I need to live, despite how my sins have all but sliced my throat.
“Fuck,” one of the boys says, looking away. He’s new and probably has killed with his gun. But shooting someone is easy. Too easy. It’s not intimate. Not like killing someone with your bare hands like Vin just did.
Vin stumbles to his feet, out of breath and covered with plenty of Angelo’s DNA. His face twists as if angry, which makes him look good, but I know better. “Get rid of them,” he says, spitting out blood that hit his mouth.
“What about his men?” someone else asks.
“All of them need to go,” Vin says, falling back into the leather seat behind his chair.
“All right, boss,” another says.
Vin’s focus darts my way. He expects an approving nod from me. But he isn’t going to get it. As much as I’m a part of this shit, it doesn’t mean I like it.
Or that I don’t want out.
* * *
I climb into my Range Rover and shut the door tight. Vin’s hand is shaking as he takes a drag of his cigarette. I knew he wasn’t going to keep it together long, so I made it like he needed to be away from the cleanup in case someone heard the shots and called it in.
“Is Donnie coming?” he asks, sprawling across the back seat.
“Yeah. She’s picking out girls she thinks you might like. Says she’ll be right out.”
I snagged Donnie at a street festival a few blocks away after I secured Vin in my ride. She flung her arms around me and started crying when she saw me. I quickly pulled her off me and led her to Vin. Donnie cares as much as someone like her can, and mostly for all the wrong reasons. I know this and, maybe, she does, too, which is why we’re outside a strip club Vin owns waiting on her and whoever she’s recruiting to lift Vin’s spirits.
“How many girls is she bringing?”
“Two, maybe more,” I answer, not because she told me, more because this has become the norm.
“Yeah, she knows how to take care of me,” he says with a laugh, despite how his hand continues to tremble.
This isn’t the first time Vin’s killed with his hands or the first time I’ve watched him do it. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t fucked with my mind or given me more nightmares to stash in my memories. Christ, it took all I had not to puke, seeing all those bodies lying in a mound and the mess Vin made of Angelo’s head. But I still have a conscience. Real mob bosses surrender their’s to get what they need. If he’s going to be one, he needs to lose what’s left of his fast.
He takes another drag, his forced humor fading. “How long has Angelo been playing two sides?”
“No idea,” I mumble.
He straightens. “Then how did you know Angelo was in on it?”
I rub my eyes. I’m only twenty-seven and I already feel too old for this shit. “He tensed at the same time and in the same way Arturo and his second did.”
Vin curses under his breath and reaches for another cigarette. “I didn’t see shit and I was looking at them the whole time. How the hell do you pick up on these things?”
“It comes from the years I spent fighting,” I answer, looking out through my tinted windows and wondering what the hell is keeping Donnie.
“In the octagon?” Vin asks.
Vin knows I fought in the mixed martial arts circuit for a few years, just like he knows I fought anyone who messed with me on the street. We’ve known each other since we were kids and long before his father became the most feared man in Jersey. I’m not sure why he’s asking, but don’t bother to question it. Vin isn’t the same guy I once called a friend.
“Yeah,” I mumble. “It helped me anticipate my opponent’s next move.”
“You miss that shit?” he asks.
Considering I was on my way to becoming the next light heavy weight champion? Hell, yeah. Fighting in the MMA put money in my pocket and gave me a way to unleash my rage. But neither were enough when push came to shove. “It was all right,” I tell him.
Vin takes a few more drags before he says, “I want you to think about watching my back full-time. I’ll pay you a hell of a lot more if you do.”
Any other boss would just tell me this is what I’m doing and not give me a choice. But for all Vin’s not the same guy I once knew, he was there when my world imploded around me. And in hiring me to watch his mistress, he’s able to keep me on the mob payroll without staining my hands with their blood. That doesn’t mean I haven’t made a lot of people bleed. It only means I haven’t killed anyone. Yet.
“I make enough watching your gumad,” I respond.
Vin doesn’t like my answer, but he doesn’t push it. After what went down with Angelo and with his second serving time, I’m the only person he completely trusts. But, despite our friendship, the time’s coming when I’ll no longer have a choice but to do what he wants.
In killing Arturo, Vin will either gain respect from the other bosses or turn them against him and the family. I don’t think any of the higher-ups want war, but they’re greedy and looking to expand their domains. My gut tells me that when Vin’s father Carmine dies, the cards unfold. But they won’t be in Vin’s favor, and if he doesn’t wise up fast, none of us will make it out alive.
The back door to the strip club opens and Donnie steps out, leading three laughing and almost naked women in clear heels forward.
“I won’t forget what you did for me today, Sal,” Vin says, right before the women pile in.
He won’t. I know that. Just like I know I added a nail to my own damn casket the day I went to him for help.
I’m supposed to take Vin and his dates back to Donnie’s. But Vin’s not waiting to get there. I crank the engine when I hear his zipper yanked down and the first sound of smacking lips. He groans, likely relieved the day is finally going in the direction he wants.
“You, go take care of my buddy, Sal,” he says between sharp intakes of breath.
I stiffen and not in a good way when a blonde with more hairspray than brains falls laughing into the front seat. With a hard stomp, I step on the brake and set my SUV in park. She’s already naked by the time I reach into the center console and shove a condom in her hand.
She huffs. “You’re kidding, right?”
“No. I’m not.”
She looks insulted, but I don’t care. She’s going to do what Vin’s paying her to do, whether I want her to or not. It takes a while for me to get hard enough for her to roll the condom in place. Once she does, she immediately buries her face in my lap.
I lean my head back against the headrest. I should enjoy what’s happening. And at one point I did, seeing it as the perks of the job.
Now, all I wonder about is how my life became what it is, and how I’ll ever survive it.