Envy by Eve Marian
Blood dripped down my knuckles, circling along my wrists before splashing onto the concrete floor. My heart hammered in my chest and adrenaline rushed through my veins as I sneered at the man before me.
“Please,” he begged, but the roaring in my ears dulled his voice. He opened his mouth again, but I crashed my fist down onto his face before he could say another word.
More blood spurted on my hands and shoes.
Damn. Those are Italian leather.
Someone handed me a white towel, and I wiped my hands as I stared at the man crouching on the floor sniffling.
“Who sent you?” I asked, scrubbing the ends of the towel between the creases in my knuckles. My voice was low. I wasn’t sure if he could hear me through the pounding techno music upstairs or the rushing of water through the pipes above our heads. But those were the same reasons I had chosen the musty basement of my nightclub to hold this interrogation.
He shook his head, refusing to answer my question for the second time.
I never ask a third time.
From the inside of my suit jacket, I grasped the soft leather handle of my weapon. The edges of the long blade caught a distant fluorescent light, and it shone for a moment within the dark room. The two men standing on either side of me didn’t say a word, but the man on his knees whimpered.
“Stop, please,” he pleaded, holding up his hands.
I crouched down in front of him, pointing the knife at his throat, and waited. “Tell me which family sent you here to kill me.”
“I… I didn’t… “
I pressed the knife against his neck, and he closed his eyes. “Okay, okay,” he said. “But promise me, you won’t kill me if I do.”
I couldn’t decide if this man was stupid or inexperienced. Probably a bit of both. Whoever had sent him was getting desperate or foolish.
I nodded and waited for his answer.
He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and shot me a look as dark as I’d ever seen. Nearly as dark as the one I saw in the mirror every night.
“Sangunero,” he whispered.
My lips curled into a sneer at the mere mention of the name. Although I’d suspected the Sicilian mafia was behind this, my hand gripped the handle tighter.
I nodded again, resolved.
Easing the knife away from his throat, I asked, “Who gave you the order specifically?”
His eyes widened as he watched the men behind me step around my body to hold him down. He rocked his head back and forth, pleading with them.
“They won’t help you. Look at me.” I grabbed his face, forcing him to look me in the eye. “Who gave you the order?”
He struggled as both my men held back his arms. “I can’t tell you that. He’ll kill me.”
“And you think I won’t?” I spat.
He feared this other man more than my knife at his throat. I couldn’t let that happen.
I trailed the tip of the cold blade down his neck, and his eyes danced wildly. “What are you doing?”
The men behind him tightened their grip and stared at me, waiting for my command, but I ignored them for now.
Pressing the tip of my blade over his heart, the man struggled to get away. “You promised you wouldn’t kill me.”
“I did,” I said as I moved my knife up.
Keeping my word held value. People knew where you stood if you always did what you said you’d do.
As soon as I found my spot just below his shoulder, I pressed the steel into his soft flesh. He screamed, and one of the men covered his mouth with a beefy hand.
“Drop him off in front of the hospital,” I said, wiping my knife on the white towel. “If he lives, he can deliver our message.”
“What message, boss?”
I stared at the man, watching his eyes water in pain. His muffled screams fell on deaf ears.
“You tell whoever sent you I’m in charge of this territory. Me. Do you understand?”
He nodded emphatically. “And you tell that motherfuckerthat I’m ready. If he has the balls to try anything else, then come and get me.”
My retreating steps were silent as I climbed up the stairs, the blaring music drowning them out.
I took the elevator to the third floor, where I’d set up an office. Washing my hands in my private bathroom, I felt Vito at the door.
“Do you think the Caruso family was behind this?” he asked, crossing his arms in front of his stocky chest.
I dried my hands, searching for any traces of blood, and found none. “Yeah.”
“What are you going to do about it?”
I rubbed my face with both hands. I was tired. It was only ten o’clock, but it felt as though it was nearly dawn.
“First thing in the morning, I’m calling two meetings. One with the mayor and the other with the police chief. Everyone needs to fucking know that the lower west side belongs to us. There can be no question.”
I pushed past Vito and walked over to my large mahogany desk. It belonged to my grandfather until he was gunned down more than twenty years ago. My stepmother was prepared to throw it out last year, but I imagined how many nights he must have poured over that desk, so I asked them to ship it here instead. Family meant something to me.
A map spanned across the five-foot desk, covering our entire town, including the downtown and its suburbs. The population continued to grow in this mid-size town in upstate New York year after year. It was one reason why I moved here from New York City. The other was to be nearer to the Crawford brothers.
My grip tightened on the edge of the desk, and the wood groaned in protest. Easing my fingers, I cracked my knuckles instead. At first, I only wanted to appease my curiosity. Why had my mother chosen to stay with them and not me?
Then, an opportunity presented itself that I couldn’t resist. One that would hurt the Crawfords, and I took it because that was what I did. I hurt people. I took pleasure in it, too, because it filled a void deep in the pit of my stomach.
Vito sighed next to me, staring at the map as well. “I don’t understand why the Caruso family would try to take up residence here.”
Good question. But I had an idea.
The Sicilian mafia was losing ground in the old country. Many of its leaders had been arrested and sent to prison. Those that got away scrambled to set up residence in new spots. The Caruso family had always been one of the strongest in the Sangunero organization. So, either the Caruso family was trying to expand to impress their new visitors or their new visitors were making plans of their own. I wasn’t sure which one it was yet, but either way...
“It doesn’t matter why,” I said. “The real question is how. How did someone get access to my private garage and plant an explosive device underneath my car?”
If Vito hadn’t found it yesterday, my organs would have been splattered all over the black leather interior.
“We have a rat,” he whispered beside me, and the hairs on the back of my neck stiffened.
I nodded. “Yeah, we do. Now we just need to set a trap.”
He crossed his arms again, the fabric of his expensive Italian suit barely rustling. “How?”
Pursing my lips, I thought of the hundreds of people we employed throughout this neighborhood. We owned restaurants, nightclubs, jewelry stores—hell, we even had a dojo. It could be anyone. I pursed my lips. “I don’t know yet.”
“Well, what do we do in the meantime?”
I drew a line from our territory on the lower west side straight across to the east. “We expand.”
Whenever the mafia reorganized, there was disorder within their ranks. It would be the perfect time to make moves below the surface with no one noticing. My family’s organization was stable. The heads of our family back in Calabria still had a stronghold in their area, with the Italian government focusing all its attention on Sicily right now. If we didn’t make a move, we’d be stupid not to take advantage of this opportunity to slip through, while all the attention was elsewhere.
I pointed to a building on the corner of Main and First streets.
“What’s that?” asked Vito.
“That’s our next acquisition—Luxor Bar.”
“Why that bar?”
“Because it’s on the east side and we know the bar business.” And because Ryan Crawford regularly frequented that place. It would piss him off to know that I owned it. I also heard his girl worked there. Ryan would lose his mind. It was perfect. “Meet with the owner tomorrow before I speak to the mayor and police chief. I need them both to understand how serious I am about my territories.”
“What do I say? We have nothing on this bar owner forcing his hand. Maybe give me some time to do a little digging and—”
I shook my head. Vito didn’t get it. “We have money. Lots of it. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll meet him in the basement. That’ll change his mind.”
Vito snicked. “So, you want me to make him an offer he can’t refuse? You got it, boss. Was there anything else?”
He watched too many movies. But this was real life. There were no credits at the end and no one was walking off the set after someone slit their neck. Vito and I had been friends for a long time, but he only joined the family business this past year. He would learn soon enough how our family runs the business. Our organization was named after one of the deadly sins, L’Invidia. Envy. The desire to possess what belongs to another.
Vito will learn we do not just desire it. We take it. By any means necessary.
“That’s it for now,” I said, moving away from my desk to stand in front of the large window overlooking the dance floor. Bodies twerked along with the heart-thumping beat. A man pressed himself against a willing body and the woman raised her arm to hold his neck as their hips moved rhythmically in sync.
“Wait,” I called out to Vito. His steps halted near the door. “Ask the valet to bring my car around. I think I’m going to visit Marisa.”
“Do you want me to text her for you? Give her a heads up.”
“No. She knows the arrangement. She’ll be home.”
“Sure thing, boss.” He tapped the door frame and left.
Alone in the room, I stretched out my right hand. My fingers and knuckles were swollen, and there were several cuts spanning across the back of my hand. The swelling would go down by morning. It always did. The cuts would heal. It would all be worth it if that piece of shit delivered the message. I didn’t think the Caruso family would stop pressing, but they would know that I wasn’t scared.
When my father first took me under his wing, his first lesson was to never be afraid. Not just mask your fear, but never feel it. Fear weakened your resolve. It slowed down your reaction time. If you had nothing to fear, you had nothing to lose.
The next lesson was to strike first. To act; never react. First thing in the morning, I would expand our territories. I would take advantage of the disorder and use the crumbling bodies to rise to the top. There was opportunity in chaos and I was going to seize it.
I pressed the elevator button and checked my watch. Nearly ten minutes had passed since Vito left. My car should be outside by now.
But when I reached the street, my car wasn’t there. Standing in front of the club entrance, I pulled out my phone and called Vito.
A woman wearing a tight red spandex dress and nude heels sauntered over to me. “Do you have a light?” she asked, raising her cigarette. Her red, pouty mouth distracted me for a moment. Then I heard his voice.
“Hi, this is Vito. Leave a message.”
I nearly growled at the answering machine but stuffed my phone in my pocket instead. “Hold on a sec,” I told the woman. Reaching inside my jacket, I pulled out a lighter. Flicking it open, I watched as her red mouth came nearer. Her lips circled the cigarette and my mind immediately went to Marisa’s mouth circling me.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Giancarlo,” I said and pulled out a cigarette.
She raised her eyebrows as I lit my cig.
“Aren’t you going to ask me for my name?” Her voice was playful, if a bit whiny.
“No, sweetheart,” I said. “Because my name is the only one you’ll be screaming in about an hour.” I stuck my neck down the street, looking for my car. “As soon as the fucking valet gets here.”
The woman’s eyes widened, and she raised her hand. I waited for the impact on my cheek, instead, she held up a finger. “Give me a minute to tell my friend. I’ll be right back.”
“Sure thing,” I said, and took in a long drag of my cigarette.
Where the fuck was my car?
My mind contemplated Marisa’s face when I brought another woman to her door. She loved surprises, and threesomes were her favorite.
As I imagined limbs in various positions, a horrible screeching sound rounded the street corner. At first, I thought it was the valet, but it wasn’t a sleek sports car barreling toward us. It was a mammoth SUV. Souped-up tires and a silver grill drilled to the front. Fucker was going to hit someone if he didn’t slow down.
“Get back,” I shouted to the few patrons behind me, then stepped forward.
“Hey!” I yelled at the driver as he approached. I didn’t notice the backseat window rolled down until it was too late. But I knew before I caught the first glimpse of the barrel that I was fucked. It was too late to run. And even if it wasn’t, I would never give these assholes my back to shoot. They would have to blow my face off first.
I pulled out my gun from inside my jacket and pulled the trigger. Over and over again.
Bullets rained down on the street and piercing screams deafened me momentarily. But my vision was clear. I saw their faces and I recognized them.
Sal Caruso Jr. pointed the weapon at me himself. At least he hadn’t sent a newbie. I should have been pleased. Instead, I was furious.
A roar sounded inside my head. Motherfuckers!
I unloaded every bullet I had into their truck. At this angle, I missed their tires, but hit the back window. Glass shattered onto the street and the screams continued until all I saw was the back of the truck. The driver turned right onto the next street and the SUV was gone.
I stood panting, my gun drawn, staring after the truck. I turned toward the chaos behind me. “Is everyone all right?”
Horrified faces stared back at me. I glanced at the woman in the red dress and watched as her eyes rounded near my waist.
The gun. I was still holding it.
I safely tucked it into the holster inside my jacket. “Are you hurt?” I asked, taking a step toward her. She covered a sob with one hand and pointed at me with the other.
Raising my hands, I said, “I put the gun away. I won’t hurt you.”
She shook her head. “It’s not me who’s hurt.”
I glanced at her friends, whose eyes were similarly round. Despite their pale faces, I couldn’t detect any injury.
A man wearing a tight gray T-shirt pointed at me. “Dude, are you okay?”
I looked down at where he pointed. A red spot expanded along my side. When I touched the spot, it was sticky and warm. I stared at my red fingers dripping with blood.
Then I felt it. Shooting pain up my side and an intense burning, as though someone had lit a match to my flesh. The world tilted on its axis, or maybe it was me because the woman in red now stood at a ninety-degree angle, along with the rest of the crowd and the building. Blue fog swarmed my vision and then everything went black.
They had received my message and had sent one of their own.