While cracking my knuckles, I peer out a window spanning one wall of my suite. Cabs honk, commuters pepper the sidewalks clouded by ominous skyscrapers blocking out the sun, and pompous pricks in Tom Ford suits weave in and out of buildings similar to the one I’m stationed in, unaware their existence doesn’t depend on the digits in their bank accounts or the nine-to-five investment banking job their daddies secured them straight out of college. It’s wholly dependent on the men who built this city from the ground up.
I don’t care what you say, New York was built by the Cartel. The Italians, the Greeks, hell, even the Albanians had a hand in making this what it is. Blood, sweat, and tears went into every skyscraper—literally. More bodies are buried under the buildings surrounding my hotel than my hotel caters for guests each night.
Before the assassination of the boss of all bosses in 1973, every inch of this godforsaken town was the territory of the Italian Cartel. If you worked here, we ran your union. If you lived here, you were living in an apartment built by my ancestors.
If you ran drugs here without permission, you were a dead man.
Nothing happened here without the Lucianos, Gambinos, and Petrettis knowing about it. They were the governors of this realm and feared more than they were respected. It was the golden era to be a member of a criminal association, a time I’d give anything to go back to.
Alas, all good things must come to an end.
If that ending had been because of criminal prosecution, I would have a different viewpoint of my family’s demise. Regretfully, that isn’t close to the truth. The three families mentioned above operated as one unit. The Lucianos controlled Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Long Island. The Gambinos influenced the Bronx, New Jersey, and Connecticut regions, and the Petrettis had a stronghold on Manhattan, New York City, Westchester County, and parts of Florida.
Between 1889 and 1953, these sanctions were untouchable. Law couldn’t catch them, rivals couldn’t compete with them, and money, drugs, and guns were in abundance.
It all went downhill when Bria Petretti and Eleonora Gambino birthed sons only a month apart.
If they had followed in their fathers’ footsteps by forging a mutually respected relationship, my grandfather, Giulio Petretti, III, and his best mate, Benito Gambino, were set to become the next boss of all bosses. They worked hard for their greater families, and the Lucianos didn’t have a suitable candidate, so originating a dual-leadership was the fairest option.
However, as I said earlier, all good things must come to an end.
My father, Col, and Benito’s son, Matteo, didn’t have the comradery their fathers had. They hated each other. Women, wayward drug shipments, even the sizes of their cocks were constantly bickered about. They didn’t want to be the boss of the bosses. They wanted to be the boss—point-blank. And that’s precisely what happened when one of my father’s coked-up friends decided he needed some extra coin he wasn’t willing to work for.
Theft never ends well in this industry. If you cross the Cartel, you die. Can’t explain it any simpler than that. However, your family, friends, and children are supposed to go unharmed.
My father couldn’t let bygones be bygones. He was only sixteen when Leone was taken out to The Hole, a grisly dumping ground regularly used back in the day, but he massacred the people he believed responsible for his death like the repercussions of his actions wouldn’t have blow on effects for decades to come.
He should have been dead, the penalty for killing a son of a prominent family member always results in the death of both the person responsible and the hierarchy of his realm, however, my grandfather fell on the knife on the agreement his son would be spared.
His negotiations were unheard of at the time. I doubt they would have been considered if it weren’t for the friendship he had with Giulio. My father forgot centuries-long relations in an instant, however, Giulio couldn’t. He didn’t want to kill his best friend, but he had no choice. He had lost a son. His death needed to be avenged.
The story of my family’s demise grows weary from that point. Some say my father was removed from all Cartel activities and left to fend for himself. Others say he was gifted the Florida chapter with the hopes he’d eventually straighten his life out and resurrect our family name from the grave.
I say they should have killed him instead of my grandfather. That would mean I wouldn’t be here, but then I also wouldn’t be twiddling my thumbs in a hotel room, waiting for word on if the ransom I paid for my pregnant wife has been received. My family name is tainted with so much disrespect, my rivals think I’m a schmuck to be messed with.
That is also far from the truth.
Rimi Castro, leader of a subsidiary criminal entity that branched off the Gambinos two decades ago, was smart when he requested a third party drop off the 3.8 million dollar ransom he demanded for the safe return of Audrey. I would have tortured him until he told me where she is, then I would have killed every member of his crew to show him I’m nothing like my father.
You don’t mess with me and expect to live. I have all the markings of my father. I’m a merciless, heartless motherfucker who kills before thinking. Audrey chipped away some of the decay the past ten months, but it will never be entirely gone. You can untwist the ugliest wreck, however, no amount of straightening will smother scars hidden deep within. They’re more hideous than the ones our bodies wear and take longer than a lifetime to fix.
I learned that the hard way almost a decade ago.
Rimi will learn it tonight.
I still can’t understand how he got the upper hand on me. I’m cautious about everything I do, untrusting of anyone, most notably those who share my lineage. My marriage is unknown, the baby growing in my wife’s stomach hasn’t been publicly acknowledged even with our daughter being due in a little over four weeks. I don’t even live in the same state as my wife for fuck’s sake, yet, she still got snared by a life someone as pure as her should have never been invited into.
I’ll be sure to fix the injustice once she and our daughter are returned safely. It won’t be just the Castros feeling the sting of my wrath, though. It’ll be the industry as a whole. An unspoken rule was broken earlier this week.
Famiglia prima di tutto. Family first of all.
Audrey may be excluded from that motto, but our daughter most certainly isn’t. She’s mafia royalty, and will be protected accordingly.
When the beep of an electronic lock sounds through my ears, I spin to face the entryway of my room. The knot in my gut takes on a new meaning when Clover enters the opulent space with the ransom bag he left with. It’s noticeably slimmer, but still, why wouldn’t Rimi’s men take it with them?
I scoff when Clover pushes out, “They checked the bundles for bugs.” His voice is rough with an Arabian accent. He isn’t called Clover because he shines luck down on anyone who locates him in a patch of weeds, it’s because you’ll be wishing for a lucky charm when he enters your life. The chances of escaping him are similar odds to finding a four-leaf clover in a patch of an overworked field.
Basically nonexistent. If he doesn’t kill you before you spot the clover tattoo on his cheek, you’ll beg for a weapon to kill yourself.
Mercy isn’t something Clover often gives. It’s why I sent him to do the drop. If I couldn’t do it, he was the next best person. Clover is a hired hitman. He has worked for my family on many occasions, and usually gets the job done without the slightest bow to his brow.
He isn’t giving me that vibe today. He looks a little undone, like his wish to kill isn’t as strong as mine. I get he’s a killer in every sense of the term, but we have to play the game as Rimi is requesting.
Once Audrey is returned, all bets will be off.
My decision has nothing to do with money. Despite my father’s many fuck-ups, I have plenty of it. The wholesale price in the industry is ten percent of its street value. There’s money to be made if you’re willing to get your hands dirty, but that isn’t what this is about. It’s the principle. If I let Rimi play me for a fool, I’ll take it up the ass from my competitors even more than my father has the past fifty-plus years.
My family name might not be what it once was, but it will take more than a weasel of a man like Rimi Castro to have me cowering from a fight. The older generation started the war, but it’s the younger generation fighting their battles.
I don’t mind. I was born to fight, and fight I will.
I battle to keep my anger on the down-low but fail when Clover places the ransom bag onto the entryway table. It’s brimming with the bundles of cash I withdrew at multiple locations earlier this week. I know federal agents are watching every deposit and withdrawal from my account, so I kept the transactions below ten thousand to ward off suspicion.
“Where’s Audrey?” Nothing but desperation is heard in my voice. Clover follows orders, he’s paid to do precisely that, so why the fuck did he go off script today? His facial expression reveals he drew blood today, his itch to kill has been satisfied. That can only mean one thing—he went against direct orders. “You were to hand over the money, get Audrey out, then we were to make our move.”
“Plans changed when they handed me this.” He tosses a USB stick onto the round table housing a vase of Audrey’s favorite flowers. India, Audrey’s neighbor/best friend, thought they’d lessen Audrey’s anxiety once she was freed from captivity. She’s been at the mercy of a rogue crew for five days. If a hundred-dollar bunch of flowers would weaken the clutch they had on her, I was open to the suggestion.
“It was supposed to tell me Audrey’s location.” Clover locks his eyes with mine. They’re deadlier than ever. “It was nothing but a snuff film. Those fuckers are playing games, so I played back.”
I’m not surprised to spot a number of dismembered fingers when he yanks open the ransom bag. Clover’s proof of deaths always arrive with some sort of body part. “I got a majority of your money back but a few bundles fell through the cracks.”
Falling through the cracks means he used the money to find marks. It isn’t a negotiation tactic he often uses, so the fact he needed it tonight exposes how dire things are.
After finding the object he’s seeking in the bag, Clover hands it to me. He doesn’t speak any words. He doesn’t need to. I recognize the ring on the mutilated index finger in my hand. It’s the same one in the bottom right-hand corner of the photo couriered to my office last week. That’s how we unearthed Audrey’s kidnappers' identity. All Castro ‘family’ members wear the same trademark.
“Was there any indication Audrey was there?” I know Clover didn’t find her. If he had, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Clover would be holed up with some hookers and the best cocaine money can’t buy, celebrating his victory, and I’d be at the hospital with my wife, having her and our daughter checked over.
My jaw works through a hard grind when Clover shakes his head. “She had been there, though. The room the ransom photo was taken in was at the back of the compound, and I got DNA proof by the bucketloads.”
“What type of DNA?” I’m shocked I can talk. I’m so fucking angry, I am five seconds from blowing my top. If Clover’s switch-up of the rules has fucked me over, he will be fucked over. No fear.
“Blood,” Clover answers nonchalantly like his life isn’t in danger. “Lots of it.”
My blood boils over when he digs his cell phone out of his pocket to show me photographs he took at the scene. Bodies litter almost every inch of the floor space, but my focus is on one thing and one thing only. The dingy, dirty mattress they had Audrey sit on when they snapped her picture for the ransom request.
Although she’s missing from Clover’s images, I can still see her ashen face and cracked lips with precise clearness. She has always been the quiet one. Softly spoken and happy for everyone else to steal the attention.
The last image I have of her isn’t close to any of those things. It’s one of pure fret. Like she didn’t believe I could get her out of this in one piece.
If the horrifying thoughts bombarding me now are anything to go by, she had reason to fret. The mattress is covered in blood. It isn’t formed how you’d expect from someone being fatally wounded by a knife or gun. There’s an outline of a body—a slim, you-wouldn’t-know-she’s-eight-months-along-if-you-were-looking-at-her-from-behind outline.
I snap my eyes shut, hopeful it will suffocate my wish to kill Clover when he announces, “Preacher did a quick swab of the mattress. Amniotic fluid was present.”
Confident I’m hearing him wrong, I shake my head before reopening my eyes. “She isn’t due for another four weeks. It’s too early—”
“Scalpel was also found…” he scrubs at his jaw before he pushes out, “And fetal matter.”
“Fetal matter? What the fuck do you mean fetal matter?” As my eyes bounce between his, horrifying notion after horrifying notion smack into me. “My daughter…” The rest of my question lodges in my throat when despair darts through Clover’s eyes. He doesn’t show emotion, not ever, but there’s no denying the sympathy in his eyes now.
Those fuckers didn’t just kidnap my wife.
They’ve taken my daughter.
Before he knows what’s hit him, I pin Clover to the entryway door of my suite, then press my gun against his temple. He’s almost three inches taller than me and nearly double my width, but that doesn’t mean shit since my fury is fueled by blackened hate.
“You killed her. You fucking killed her!” The spit of my roar sizzles on his cheeks. “If you had followed the plan, they would have let Audrey go, and my daughter would be safe.”
Some of my anger turns to vengeance when Clover shakes his head. “The fluid was almost dry to touch. This shit ain’t on me. Rimi has you played.”
The confidence in his tone should lower my agitation.
I’m seconds from ending his life as he had tried to do mine years earlier.
Arabian oil tycoons weren’t happy when they didn’t get what they paid for from my father. I’ve been making it up to them ever since.
Don’t feel sorry for me. They’re the reason all my bank accounts are in the eight-figure range. Whores, crack, guns, and unlimited entertainment are readily available in Bahrain, but you don’t enjoy it as much with your family breathing down your neck.
Rich dignitaries from the twenty-two Arab nations are invited into my home to discuss oil exchanges, money laundering, and weaponry distribution all ‘families’ are associated with. The above mentioned is the icing on the cake, and the only reason I’m not fish food.
Only a fool would turn down a proposal worth eighty-three million dollars a year.
Clover isn’t one of them.
With that in mind, I suck in a big breath before lowering my gun. Killing Clover won’t get my wife and daughter back. If anything, it will delay their return.
“What was on the USB drive?” Rimi’s men wouldn’t have given this to Clover for no reason. His family’s legacy is as bad as my mine, but instead of rising it above the ashes, he’s tainting it with more controversy.
My lips purse when Clover mutters, “Sick, twisted shit.” He has an ironclad stomach, nothing ruffles him, so for him to say the video is fucked up, it most certainly is. “I wouldn’t recommend watching—”
I cut off his words with a slice of my hand. My relationship with Audrey isn’t close to traditional. She fell pregnant within weeks of us hooking up, we got married to ensure she could stay in the country to birth my child, and we have more things out of common than agreed upon, but she’s my wife, and the mother of my child.
Our daughter makes her my family, and family comes first of all.
My heart thumps against my ribs when I crack open my laptop. Details of the ransom drop are still displayed on the screen. A team of cyber specialists have been working on it since it was received. They’ve yet to find a single snip of evidence to identify where it was sent from. For all we know, Audrey may not even be in the country.
“Cazzo…” I push out with a growl when the video commences playing on a woman being held down on the stained mattress. I can only see the lower half of her body, but her strength is undeniable. Even with four goons pinning her to the filthy bedding, she thrashes and kicks, her will to live seen without a single word being spoken.
Her stomach is gleaming from how far it’s extended, but its redness tapers when a scalpel is dragged across a section of skin usually hidden by a panty line. Although the video has no sound, I can imagine how blood-curdling her screams are. They’re removing her child from her stomach without anesthetics, acting like ruthless barbarians with callous rules.
My skyrocketing blood pressure gets a boost when one of the goons moves to the right of the frame, exposing the tiniest birthmark on the lower left side of the victim's stomach. It’s the shape of a mulberry leaf and unearths the victim’s identity in an instant.
“It’s Audrey,” I mutter out while dragging a hand over my almost black hair. “It’s my fucking wife.”
While Clover commences putting actions into place to respond to Rimi’s break of the rules, I continue watching the video. The footage is horrifying, but I have no choice but to watch every sickening second. The simplest thing in the background could be the only clue to Audrey’s whereabouts. I can’t miss seeing it because my stomach is twisted up in knots.
On instinct, my thumb caresses the screen of my laptop when a bloody and white-film-coated baby is pulled from Audrey’s stomach. Aware I’m most likely watching, a man concealing his face with a balaclava holds my daughter by her feet like he’s showcasing a prize-winning catch before he shifts to face the camera.
I freeze the image when the cuff of his sleeve rises half an inch. His tattoo is the typical flame design most bottom dwellers have. I stare at it until it's burned into my retina before hitting the play button. He just signed his death certificate, and I’m the Grim Reaper coming to collect his soul.
When the body of my child is dangled an inch from the camera, my eyes whizz over every inch of her upside-down face and grubby body, seeking any signs that she’s breathing. Her chest is as flat as mine, her nostrils un-flaring. She’s as still as a statue, her legs as frozen as her mother’s in the background.
“Come on, Fien,” I beg under my breath after taking in an identical mulberry leaf birthmark on her stomach. “Fight like your mother did when choosing your name.” I didn’t hate the name Audrey had picked, but I wasn’t a fan of it either. I wanted our daughter to have a traditional Italian name. Fien is of Dutch heritage—just like her mother. It’s short for Jozefien which is Audrey’s mother’s name. Fien’s grandmother.
My eyes shoot to the left of the screen when a pair of tiny hands enter the frame. This person’s wrists are slimmer than the man’s clutching my daughter’s feet and nowhere near as hairy, making me confident she’s female.
Just as the unseen woman removes Fien from the goon’s clutch, a white sheet is draped over Aubrey’s lifeless form, then the video ends. As I struggle to keep a rational head, I wring the screen of my laptop as if it’s Rimi Castro’s neck. I would wholly destroy it if the USB stick would come out of the carnage unharmed.
That horrifying video is the only proof I have that I have a daughter. No one knew she existed. No one knows she exists, but if I have it my way, those who now know will die to ensure my revenge lives.
Famiglia prima di tutto.
Vengeance is a very close second.
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