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Authors: A.M. Madden

Stone Walls (6 page)

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I couldn’t argue with her, I was…I am. I’m very screwed up in the head. Especially when it comes to relationships. I’ve dated plenty, but Peter was my first serious boyfriend. If I had a crystal ball in college, and it showed my life in New York including Peter, I would have no doubt thought I hit the lottery.

Andrea motions for me to get off the phone while Peter gives me every single detail of his life, from the last time we spoke a few days ago. Andrea leaves the room, returning a few minutes later with a piece of paper.

I think I just figured out what our problem was with him. Peter was the girl in the relationship, and you were the guy. He’s a yapper
.
I can’t believe we missed that character trait.

Oh my God
, she’s so right. I cover my mouth to stifle a giggle as he continues and continues. After several more very long minutes, Andrea starts making slashing motions across her neck.

“Sounds like you’re doing great over there. Peter, I have to go. My job is also kicking my ass. Andrea is here, and we’re working.”

“Oh, sorry, Ella. Okay, I’m glad I caught you. I’ll give you a call in a few days to check in.”

“Um, sure. Take care, Peter.”

“Bye, Ella.” There’s a short pause before he says, “I do miss you.”

I can’t say I do as well. Does that make me a shitty person?

Yes.

“Bye,” I mumble before hanging up the call. I look up at Andrea who’s rolling her eyes so severely that it looks like she’s having an aneurysm.

“We are evil.” I point at her and chastise, “You are evil.”

“Oh my God, blah, blah, blah. Put a bullet through my head. Go get dressed.”

“Why?” Maybe she did have an aneurysm.

She sighs and widens her eyes. “Go. Get. Dressed.”

“What. For?” I enunciate each word in the same annoying manner

“Rob texted me while both you and yap-face were catching up. We’re meeting them at The Grind.”

“Them?” She doesn’t respond. “Them who?” Again she doesn’t respond and sighs impatiently. “Andrea, it’s almost eight. I’m in my pajamas and very happy being in them.”

“Do you turn into a pumpkin at eight? It’s a cup of freakin’ coffee. It makes sense, so Rob doesn’t have to come all the way over here to get me and then go all the way uptown to take the bridge.”

“But my apartment is on the way to the bridge.”

“What do I look like, an atlas? Get dressed.”

When I continue to gawk at her, she pulls me off the couch, pushes me into my bedroom, and starts stripping me naked. “What the hell?”

She leaves me in my underwear while rummaging through my closet. “Here,” she says, throwing a pair of jeans and a skimpy tank at me.

“He’s. Not. Interested.”

“I say he is,” she responds with her nose in the air.

As I put on my clothes, she starts yanking a brush through my hair.

“Ow.”

She ignores me and continues to yank, deciding to put my hair in a ponytail when it doesn’t cooperate with her. My hair is probably terrified of her. “Okay, then I’m not interested,” I say through gritted teeth from the pain she is inflicting.

“I say that you lie.”

My nerves get the best of me, mixing with the pizza in my belly to make a very bad combination. “Sometimes I think you take full advantage of how grateful I am for all that you did for me.”

She stops brushing to meet my eyes. “Of course I do.”

I’m consumed with this case. I’ve been thinking of nothing else since Farley slapped that folder on the table in that briefing room. A small part of my logic says Rob’s right. It doesn’t mean I’ll walk away. It’s why I became a cop. I would never risk Rob’s life. I’d protect his with mine in a heartbeat. He trusts me. Besides my brother, he’s the only person I trust with my life.

We met with Farley’s team at eight this morning and are only now leaving twelve hours later. He admitted he’s a machine that rarely eats, sleeps or pisses. He expects the same from his people.

Farley has seven agents on the case, each with their own sub-team, so basically an FBI army to take down Politto. He introduced us to the head guys on his team. We were all supplied with preprogrammed burner cellphones, Politto’s address, other candid shots, a list of all the Volante goons who now work under Politto, as well as a list of Politto’s goons he personally hired.

“In the past six months, two of Volante’s main men have gone missing. Both would frequent a strip club called
The Pole
.” Farley flashed a slide showing the front of the strip club. He then switched to side-by-side shots of the two missing capos.

“Politto owns the club. He also owns pieces of the largest construction firm in the five boroughs, a few car dealerships, and three gyms. Frank runs
The Pole
. He’s the stupid link in the Politto chain of command. Chances are if he had anything to do with their disappearances, he fucked up somewhere, and we’ll find it.”

Farley flips to a slide of another man. Portly and older, his smiling face makes him look more like a grandpa than a mob boss. “We predict Razzo is next on the list to disappear. He’s also a capo who once worked for Volante. He was very loyal to Volante. Once Politto took over, Razzo suddenly pledged allegiance to his new boss, committing all sorts of crimes to prove his loyalty. He shares ownership of the gym franchise with Politto. We believe his original loyalty to Volante still marks him as a possible traitor in Politto’s eyes.”

We were briefed for hours with the history of the Politto family, as well as the Volantes. When pictures were flashed up on the screen, one familiar face instantly made me sick to my stomach. I never saw him in person, but I’ll never forget that face.

Victor Politto Sr.

“Is he okay?” my mom asked the cop standing on our front porch. It was late, and my father still hadn’t returned.

“Dave has been arrested for drunk driving. We pulled him over for speeding, and he failed his Breathalyzer test. Carol, we found three pounds of cocaine in his trunk.”

“Cocaine?” My mom asked incredulously.

It all made sense now. The gifts, the hostility, and the way he completely withdrew from our family all suddenly made sense.

My mom froze in shock. “I knew you’d be worried. If you want a ride down to the station, I’ll take you,” Brett offered.

Brett Tranner’s parents were friends with mine. When younger he’d come over whenever his parents did, to play baseball in the backyard. He was a few years older, and once he started high school, I rarely saw him. When I did, he was always friendly. He was a great guy who chose a commendable profession. His mom had passed away, and the connection between our parents was severed. Regardless, he still visited my mom at the bank every so often, just to say hello. That house call was definitely not easy for him to make.

My mother stood stiffly, conflicted on what was the right thing to do. She knew she should go to my dad, but I could see the dread in her eyes as if it was the last thing she wanted to do.

As Brett waited for her to decide, he pulled out a picture from his back pocket. “Do you know this man?”

My mom and I scrutinized the photo. It was of a portly, older man. He wore a suit and a scowl. My mom shook her head. “Should I?”

Brett looked uncomfortable before saying, “He’s the gentlemen Dave called to bail him out tonight, but he refused.” As Brett filled my mom in on the man’s name, I continued to stare at the mean face staring back at me. His eyes were cold as ice.

“Volante would be rolling over in his grave if he saw what had become of his legacy. He may have been mafia, but he had his morals. One was to never mix business and pleasure. Volante’s men were not allowed to dabble in the drugs they peddled.” Farley looked at us and said, “Frank likes cocaine. Politto specializes in cocaine. Present me with a plan tomorrow on how you and Frank will become BFFs.”

We nodded, and he finally dismissed us.

On our way out of FBI headquarters, Rob scrubbed a hand over his face. “I need a drink.”

“You just sobered up, you sure you ready to take that on again?” I asked even though I could use one myself.

“Fine, then I need coffee. Let’s go.”

Compared to what it looks like in the morning, The Grind is fairly empty. I follow Rob to a table near the window. “We’ll order when they get here.”

“They?”

“Andrea and Ella,” he says, like it’s obvious.

“Really, man? She’s not interested.”

“She’s coming, isn’t she?”

I consider that for a minute. Would that make me think differently? I’m not sure. I already thought she was pretty hot, even when she acted aloof. Her aloofness is also the perfect hand in my face, stopping me from even entertaining what I would like to do to her. Shit, if I found out she was interested, would I be able to resist?

Doubtful
.

Clarity hits. “This isn’t the time to be starting up any damn relationships,” I complain out loud. “I need to end the one I’m in and keep my head clear. You of all people should understand that.”

He gauges me before saying, “We’re not asking you to marry her, dude. Just hang out, get to know her.”

“Why? Why do you need me to entertain her? What’s wrong with her?”

The internal debate is obvious as he processes his thoughts. “She’s had a rough go. She deserves to be happy.”

“And I’m the key to her happiness?” I ask incredulously. “Why me?”

“Andrea is right. You two are perfect for each other.”

“If we are so perfect for each other, why didn’t you try to fix us up sooner?”

“Because.”

I cross my arms, waiting for him to enlighten me with an answer.

He lets out a huge puff of air. “She’s only been in New York for a year. She’s had a boyfriend for most of the time. He recently moved to London. She could use some cheering up.”

“She’s pining away for a guy, so the obvious solution is to dump her in my life as a substitute?” I stand before adding, “Rob, I’m not the solution to Ella’s happiness. Are you forgetting about Nat? I’m not made for a committed relationship. I’ve fucked Nat for over a year and yet I feel nothing for her.”

His eyes widen, but not at my comment. He’s looking over my shoulder, and before even turning around I know I just stuck my fucking foot in my mouth. I wait for him to look back at me. The confirmation I need is all over his face.

“Fuck.”

“Shit, Ben,” he says, shaking his head.

By the time I turn, whoever was there is now gone. “Fuck! Why didn’t you clue me in?”

“I didn’t see them walk in.”

Rob pulls out his phone and starts frantically texting. The way his thumbs fly over his screen cannot be good. “Well, there goes that,” he says after a few minutes. He puts his phone down and scrubs a hand over his face.

“Wasn’t meant to be,” I try to make light and sit heavily in the chair across from Rob.

When someone smacks the back of my head, I turn to see Andrea seething over me. “What the hell, Ben?”

“Who the fuck knew you were both standing behind me? And besides, I didn’t say anything bad. It’s the truth. I’m not the right guy. If you two would finally get that through your thick skulls, none of this would’ve happened.”

“Is she upset?” Rob asks as Andrea sits beside him.

“No…or so she says. She said she’d see me tomorrow before she hopped in a cab and took off.”

They both glare at me from across the table. “Did you two honestly think we would take one look at each other, fall madly in love, and live happily ever after?”

“Yes,” Andrea has the nerve to respond. “Let me tell you a little story. Sit back and be quiet.” My groan doesn’t deter her in the least. “Once upon a time…”

“If this is going to take more than sixty seconds, I need coffee first,” I interrupt, earning me another scathing look.

She ignores my sigh and begins again. “Once upon a time, there was this sweet, gorgeous, sexy girl named Ella. Ella was very shy, barely interacting with those around her. It was the first day of college in a big scary city. Ella lived a very sheltered life with her mother. They were best friends. Ella’s mother was very protective of her only daughter. She gave up everything to have her and knew it was the best decision she had ever made. Ella’s mom provided a very loving, safe, idealistic life for her daughter. They moved a lot, always in search of that perfect place. It made Ella crave stability in her life. Ella voiced her desire to attend a big college in that big scary city.”

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