Authors: Terrence McCauley
Russo’s eyes narrowed. “What is this, anyway? Who the hell are you?”
“I’m the guy you need to listen to very carefully, because I’m only going to say this once.”
But Russo was already way past listening. “Who are you? The Treasury? IRS?”
“If I was, you would’ve been arrested the moment you stepped out of your house this morning.”
“Then I don’t have to talk to you or listen to you or do anything except throw you out of my office.”
“Calm down,” Hicks warned. “This doesn’t have to get nasty. And I’m not going anywhere.”
But the finance man began to push himself out of his chair. Hicks reached over the desk and fired a straight right hand that nailed Russo in the center of the forehead just above the bridge of his nose.
The bigger man dropped back into his chair like a sandbag. Hicks normally didn’t like hitting a prospect, but Russo was different. He was an alpha male and used to being in charge. The sooner he accepted the new order of things, the better everyone would be.
Russo sat spread eagle in his chair, dazed. He blinked and shook his head; trying to shake off the cobwebs, but Hicks knew they wouldn’t clear that easy. “Keep your head still and breathe,” he told him. “It’ll pass quicker that way.”
Russo cradled his head in both hands. “What did you hit me with?”
“A straight right hand in the right place,” Hicks said. “And I won’t hit you again unless you make me. I know you think those Mixed Martial Arts classes have taught you a few moves, but you still ride a desk all day. I don’t.”
Russo seemed to forget how dizzy he was. “How the hell did you know about those classes? They’re…”
“Off the books, I know. A favor from one of your friends in the Nassau County Police Department. His brother in law owns a dojo near your house and he owed you a favor, so he set you up with a few free lessons for you. Not that you couldn’t afford them, of course. It’s the fact that they’re free that’s important to you, isn’t it, Vinny? The principle of the thing. A sign of respect.”
Russo sank even lower in his chair, legs spread even wider. “Who the hell are you? How do you know so much about me?”
“Who I am isn’t important. How I know so much about you isn’t important. But the fact that I know a hell of a lot about you is of the utmost importance because that knowledge is going to be the basis of our relationship from here on out.”
“Relationship?” Russo blinked. “What are you, a fag?”
Hicks grabbed the commemorative stapler from his desk and threw it; hitting him in the balls. Russo stifled a scream as he shot forward to cradle his manhood.
“We don’t do sarcasm here,” Hicks told him. “Next crack like that gets your nose broken.”
Russo looked up at him; his face red and his eyes watering. “What the fuck is this, blackmail? You want money, you little son of a bitch? If you know so goddamned much, then you know who I am. You know who I know. Shit, one phone call from me and you don’t walk out of this building alive.”
“Now you’re embarrassing yourself,” Hicks said. “The mobbed up guinea act might play with the pensioners you reel in here, but I know better. You’re a nice Italian boy from Ronkonkoma whose old man provided sound financial planning for cops and firemen and teachers until you took over the business and moved to the big city five years ago. You move money for some really nasty people, but you don’t have enough juice with them to have anyone killed on your say so.”
Russo forgot all about his sore balls. “How did…”
“Your father died from a bad heart almost seven years ago,” Hicks went on, “but mom’s still doing well, though. Works at the library three days a week and volunteers with the Don Bosco Society on weekends.” Hicks smiled. “I wish I had her energy. You’re about as mobbed up as I am Chinese and, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not Chinese.”
“No,” Russo went back to cradling his head in his hand. “You’re just another asshole trying to put his hand in my pocket. Fine. Fuck you. Just tell me how much it’ll take to make you go away.”
“Vinny, Vinny, Vinny,” Hicks shook his head. “There’s more to life than money. I’m not here to blackmail you. I’m here to help you.”
“Great. Where have I heard that one before?” Vinny said. “You’re just another asshole looking to take a bite out of me. Just like every other parasite in my fucking life. My wife, my kids, my partners.” He lifted his head from his hands. His face was flush and pale in all the wrong places. The spot where he’d punched him was an angry red and on its way to being a hell of a bruise. “But I’ve dealt with pieces of shit like you before in my time.” He pushed the big file back toward Hicks. “What’ll it take to make you and all of this mess just go away?”
“I just told you I’m not looking for money, and I’m not looking to add to your troubles.” He pushed the folder back toward Russo. “You’re right about there being a price for keeping the material in that folder quiet. The price is you. Or, to put a finer point on it, your agreement to work for me.”
“Why in the hell would I go to work for you? I don’t even know who the hell you are or what you want.”
“I’m someone who can make your life very easy if you’re smart enough to let me.”
The damage to his ego brought the old Russo back to life. “I’m not interested in working for anyone. I’ve already got a boss and you’re looking at him. I’m not just going to roll over for you or anyone just because they walk in here with a pile of paper.”
Hicks ignored the bluster and laid it out as simply as he could. “From this day forward, you and I are going to help each other. My presence in your life and your business will be negligible, so long as you do exactly what you’re told when I tell you to do it.”
“That’s what you think,” Russo laughed. “Because if you know anything about me, you know I didn’t get this far by taking orders.”
“And you won’t get any further if I send that file to Vladic.”
Hicks went on. “You’ve ripped off a lot of people, my friend, but Vladic’s the worst, isn’t he? He might be an ignorant peasant who probably wouldn’t understand what all of it means at first. To him, it’s just a bunch of account numbers and transaction statements. Might as well be in Braille for all the good it would do that ignorant bastard. But when he passes it along to one of his money guys—and he will—they’ll explain it to him. And when they do,” Hicks shrugged a little, “well, I don’t have to draw you a picture about what he’ll do next.”
Russo looked at him through his fingers. “You wouldn’t do that. I’m not good to you if I’m dead.”
“You’re no good to me if you don’t agree to work for me, so what do I care?”
Russo let out a heavy breath as he rocked back in his chair. Hicks didn’t see the point in pushing him any further. To do so would only lead to more posturing on Russo’s part, and they’d already had enough of that. Hicks had made his point. Now all he could do was sit and wait for the seed to take root.
Hicks had learned long ago to let Assets take their time in making up their mind. Rush them and they’d say anything just to get away so they could think of ways out of it. Hicks made sure they completely accepted the bit before he hooked them up to the plow. And Vincent Russo wasn’t used to being a workhorse.
But he’d have to get used to it if he wanted to go on living.
Russo’s chair slowly turned away from Hicks, toward his tenth floor view of the northern half of Park Avenue. The snow was falling heavier and had just begun to stick on the window ledges of the buildings in the area. “I don’t even know your fucking name.”
“You can call me Hicks.”
Russo kept looking out at Park Avenue. “That’s it? Just Hicks? No first name?”
“What difference does it make? It’s not my real name anyway.”
“Figures. Who do you work for?”
“I don’t see as how that makes a difference, either.”
“Sure it does,” Russo said to the window. “If you were connected to one of my clients, I’d be dead already. If you were a cop, I’d be in a cell. So that means you’re either federal or some kind of intelligence guy.” He lolled his head back against the headrest of his chair. “So, you CIA? NSA?”
“None of the above,” Hicks said. “All you need to know is that I know everything about you. I’ve been tapped into every corner of your life for months. I know everything there is to know about you, your company, your wife, your rotten marriage, your daughter who hates you and your son’s nasty heroin problem. I know about the hundred grand you keep in your safe at home, your whore on Fifty-third Street, and about that nice Dominican girl you met at the Campbell Apartment last week. You should keep it up, by the way. Those selfies you texted her of your junior partner down there really impressed the hell out of her.”
Russo closed his eyes and faced Park Avenue again. “Jesus.”
Hicks went on. “I know about your accounts in the Cayman’s and Belize and in Cuba. I’ve got all your email accounts, your cell phones, your passwords, your bank accounts, and every other secret you’ve kept from the world all these years. I know which clients you’ve stolen from, how much, and when. There’s nothing about you I don’t know.” He leaned forward in his chair. “And none of that will matter as long as you do exactly what I tell you to do.”
“Which is what?”
Hicks sat back in his seat. “Anything I know you can deliver.”
Russo turned his chair to face him. “And what the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Exactly what I said. It might involve you giving me information on one of your clients. Or moving money for me. I might need to borrow your boat or one of your cars or vacation houses. I’ll never ask you to do anything you’re not qualified to do. Whatever it is, whenever I ask for it isn’t your concern. You do exactly what I tell you to do when I tell you to do it and your life goes on exactly as it has been until now.”
“And if I don’t,” Russo said, “Vladic gets this file.”
Hicks nodded. “So do all of the other clients you’ve scammed, but I think Vladic will get you first.”
Russo drummed his fingers on the desk while he thought it over. “I know I’m no angel, but this is a damned dirty business you’re in. Doing this to people trying to make a living.”
Hicks smiled. “But it’s fun. Especially when I get the chance to screw over a guy like you. But like you said earlier, you’re used to being your own boss so let me give you a valuable piece of advice. Don’t try to find a way out of our agreement.”
Russo pointed at the file on his desk. “What can I do to you while you’ve got this?”
“You’re thinking that now, but in a few hours after the dust settles, your ego will start eating at you. You might think you can actually do something about this, so I’m warning you now. If you hire someone to investigate me, I’ll know about it, and there will be a penalty. If you tell anyone about our arrangement—your priest or your shrink or your girlfriend—I’ll know about it, and there will be a penalty. You try to run, I’ll find you, and there will be a penalty. If you run, I’ll find you,” Hicks said, “and I’ll drop you off on Vladic’s doorstep with that file stapled to your chest. And don’t think about killing yourself, either. If you do, that file goes to Vladic and your business partners. Your partners will bankrupt your family and we both know what Vladic will do to your wife and children, especially your daughter. What he lacks in brains he more than makes up for in cruelty.”
Russo stopped looking out the window. “Don’t threaten my family.”
“I’m not threatening anyone, ace. I’m just informing you of what penalties will occur if you try to break our contract. And if you start feeling sorry for yourself, like you’ve been picked on unjustly, remember that you put yourself in this position by screwing around with other people’s money. Vladic’s just the only one capable of cooking you over a slow fire for a month before he starts to really hurt you.”
Russo sank even further back into his chair. He ran his hands back over his slicked-back hair and let out a long, slow breath. Hicks knew he was still looking for that exit; that escape hatch that would get him out from under all of this. The OMNI profile said he would. The profile also said Russo would accept the bit in time, but he’d buck before he did it. “When does this special relationship of yours start?”
“It started the moment I walked into this office. I’ll let you know what I need and when I need it. It might be tonight. It might be never. I’ll never ask you for anything you can’t deliver, so don’t waste time by making excuses if I call. Vladic gets an email. And if I contact you, don’t get smart by asking me any details about our discussion here today. I’ll just assume you’re trying to record me or you have someone listening in. If that happens, Vladic gets an email. Understand?”
Russo closed his eyes and nodded.
“That’s not an answer,” Hicks said.
“Yes, goddamn you. Yes, I understand.”
Hicks slipped his ski cap back on as he stood up and went to the door. He didn’t worry about fingerprints because he’d never taken off his gloves. He’d never handled the file he’d given Russo without wearing gloves, either.
He paused before he reached for the knob. “I know you’re going to have some sleepless nights over this. But I’ve been doing this a long time and I know how to make this painless for all of us. Do as you’re told and you’ll make a lot of money in the bargain. And if it matters, you can find comfort in the fact that you really never had a choice.” He finished it off with a smile. “I’ll be in touch. And remember, I’ll be watching.”
Hicks made sure he gave the receptionist a furtive waive as he went for the elevator. He was sure she didn’t notice, but it was good to stay in character.