Authors: Michelle St. James
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #New Adult & College
A Mob Boss Serial
Michelle St. James
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2015 by Michelle St. James aka Michelle Zink
All rights reserved.
Cover design by Rebekah Zink
out of the car and rested his hand on his weapon as he headed for the low slung house with crumbling yellow stucco.
He was nowhere near safe. For more reasons than one.
The neighborhood was dingy and run down, one of the most violent in North Miami. There was the occasional lifeless palm tree, but other than that, the place was devoid of greenery.
Normally he wouldn’t risk a source he didn’t know well, but he’d been pushed to desperation by the light that had gone out of Isabel’s eyes since Diego took off with Sofia a month earlier. He’d do anything to bring it back, even talk to a small time dealer like Benito Cruz in the hopes that he’d heard something on the street about Diego’s whereabouts.
He walked to the door, hand still on his weapon, keeping his gaze casual as he scanned a group of men standing in front of the house. He could have taken one or two, maybe even three. But there were five of them, all with guns hanging out of their waistbands. He kept it cool as he ambled to the front door, but inside he was wondering if it had been short-sighted not to bring Marco or Elia. He’d wanted to leave Isabel with both men as protection — he was more skittish than ever after Diego’s move with Sofia — but this was looking even shadier than he’d expected.
“Looks like you’re in the wrong part of town, homie,” one of them said.
He was short and squat, with powerful arm muscles and tattoos that indicated hard time. Luca wondered if the red bandana around his head was a sign of gang affiliation or just coincidence.
He wasn’t anxious to find out.
“Nah, brother,” he said calmly. “Got a meeting with Benito.”
“You got a meeting with Benito?” one of the other guys asked. He was just as muscular as Red Bandana, but with an extra eight inches of height, he was even taller than Luca. Not good. “Shit, can’t be! No way.”
Luca nodded slowly. “Luca Cassano. Check it.”
He looked Luca up and down through narrowed eyes, then turned and made for the house. The others pinned him with their eyes, their body language taut and familiar. It was the posture of a coiled snake, waiting to strike. They might seem like they were sleeping, or even like they didn’t care, but they’d be on him in less than five seconds if Benito gave the word. Luca knew the stance well.
He’d spent most of his life in it.
Normally, he would mimic them in an effort to prove they were on equal footing. But he knew instinctively that it would do him no good here. He needed to act like the guest he was, show respect, until it became obvious that it would get him killed.
Red Bandana returned from inside the house, the security screen slamming against the door jam behind him.
“Boss says let him in,” he said to the others.
The big one raised an eyebrow as Luca moved forward. “You’re forgetting something,
Luca stopped, sighed, raised his arms. A moment later, the man removed Luca’s weapon from the holster at his side and patted him down.
When they’d cleared him, Red Bandana nodded toward the door. “Be cool.”
He wasn’t crazy about entering the den of a man like Benito Cruz unarmed, but it was necessary, and he nodded and stepped toward the door.
The house was dim, the air stale and dank. Faded curtains were drawn against the sunlight, and a TV broadcast Spanish television on mute in the corner. The carpet was worn and dirty, the furniture old. Luca scanned the room, his eyes coming to rest on a slender man in a suit sitting on the sofa. From a distance, he looked almost imposing, his jacket finely made, hair combed back from his forehead.
It was only when Luca got close that he saw the truth. The guy was obviously a meth head, his teeth stained and crooked in a face that was too gaunt for his large features. On closer inspection, the suit was too big, hanging on the sharp angles of the man’s shoulder blades, his hair greasy and thinning near the crown.
“Did you bring my money?” the man asked without preamble, his eyes still on the television.
Luca crossed his arms. “Do you have information for me on Diego Fuentes?”
“Doesn’t matter,” the man said. “You’re paying me to put the word out, ask around. I did that.”
“So I take it that means you didn’t find out anything?” Luca asked.
The man’s eyes shifted to his, and Luca saw that the whites had a slightly yellow cast. He wondered if it was a trick of the light or if the guy had some kind of liver problem. He did not look good.
“The guy is dark, man,” Benito said. “Went upline to three of my sources. None of them have seen Fuentes in over a month.”
“How are they getting supplied?” Luca asked. It’s not like the drug trade in Miami had dried up overnight. Someone was supplying the city, and he doubted Diego had given his territory to Lorenzo Sanchez, his Columbian rival.
Benito shrugged, reached for a pipe on a table next to the couch and started prepping it. “Some flunky of Diego’s is doing his dirty work, is what I hear,” he said.
“Flunky have a name?” Luca was talking more quickly now. He recognized the light in Benito’s eyes when he looked at the pipe. He was anxious to get back to his high, and Luca was in his way.
“If he does, I don’t know what it is,” Benito said, crinkling a baggie in his hand.
Luca rubbed the five o’ clock shadow at his chin. “Anything else?” he asked. “Anything that will tell me what’s going on inside his territory? Decrease in supply? New rivalries? Anything like that?”
Benito let out a hoarse chuckle, then started to cough. Luca waited while he hacked, the cough dry and raspy.
“Rivalry is part of the biz, man. Can’t say anything’s changed there. The drugs come in at the harbor. They go out on the streets. Money changes hands. You know how it is.”
Luca didn’t know. Not practically speaking. The drug trade was something Nico had eliminated when he took over the Vitale family after his father’s death, along with trafficking, underage porn, and a host of other income streams that didn’t sit well with him. Luca had been only to happy to see the business evolve into a modern model that relied heavily on cyber crime, surveillance, and corporate espionage.
“Sanchez still in play?” Luca asked, digging for any small piece of information that might help him find Sofia.
“Far as I know,” Benito said.
It was a paltry excuse of information for the sum Luca had agreed to, but he didn’t feel like arguing over the money, and he sure as hell didn’t feel like fighting his way out of the house through Red Bandana and the other guys guarding the front door. He removed the envelope from his jacket and set it down on the end table.
“Any idea where I might get more information on Fuentes?”
Benito took the money, but his eyes were already back on the pipe. “Nah, man. Sorry.”
Luca hesitated, then nodded at the envelope. “Take some of that money and see a doctor, will you? You’re not looking so good.”
He turned around. By the time he hit the door, Benito was already leaning back against the couch, head tipped back as he rode the first wave of his high. Luca wondered how long it would be before one of the thugs out front decided to commandeer Benito’s operation. It was inevitable. You couldn’t keep control over men like that with your face buried in a meth pipe.
He stepped out onto the crumbling porch and was surprised to see only Red Bandana left. Obviously they’d pegged him as low risk. They were lucky he didn’t have anything to prove, that he was only here to help Isabel. One slip up like that would get them all killed someday.
The guy handed him his weapon.
“Thanks,” Luca said, stepping off the porch.
Red Bandana said.
Luca headed for the car, defeat simmering in his veins. He’d started at the top, putting out feelers with Aldo and anyone else who might have a line on Diego, then worked his way down to small time dealers like Benito.
All for nothing.
Diego was a ghost. He was still conducting business, but no one had seen him in the flesh in weeks. In the meantime, Isabel was sick with worry, wandering the house at all hours of the day and night, unable to sleep and barely able to eat through her worry for Sofia.
The screen door slammed as Red Bandana walked into the house, and Luca paused near a decrepit palm tree near the car, trying to get his anger under control. He had to go back to Isabel and tell her they were still at square one, and he had to do it without letting her know how hopeless it was all beginning to feel.
He slammed his fist into the trunk of the palm tree. “Fuck!”
to the window in Sofia’s room and looked out over the lawn. Why had her parents put Sofia in one of the rooms on this side of the hall? She should have had an ocean view, like Isabel. She should have been able to wake up every day and stare out at the horizon, dreaming of all the things that were possible for her someday.
Isabel wondered what her little sister had thought about when she looked out her window at the armed guards patrolling the property, the iron fence keeping them prisoner. Had she felt as trapped as Isabel? Or had it simply been all she’d ever known, something that never even crossed her mind?
Isabel hoped it was the latter. She was with Diego now, and it seemed that no matter what Luca and Marco and the new man named Elia did, they couldn’t seem to find him. She hoped Sofia had been happy when she was here. Hoped she’d done the job of making Sofia feel safe even when she hadn’t been.
She turned away from the window and sat on Sofia’s bed, smoothing back the white eyelet comforter. A month ago — even two weeks ago — she would have cried. She would have laid down on Sofia’s bed, stifling her sobs with the pillow Sofia had once lain on every night.
But sometime in the past week she’d grown blessedly numb. She was still vaguely aware of her sister’s absence, of the danger she was almost certainly in under Diego’s care. But the worry was like a shark bumping at the bottom of her life raft. If only she ignored it, it might just go away. But as soon as she acknowledged it, as soon as she let herself revisit the stark fear she’d felt when she realized Diego had Sofia, she would never stop screaming.
Sofia needed Isabel to be strong. She wasn’t street smart like Luca and the others. She didn’t know how to fire a gun or fight. But she knew more about Diego’s business than she realized after two years in the shadows, eavesdropping when she could, filing away information for later. She needed to stay focused, think about all the different places Diego might be, all the different people who might have seen him.
For now, numbness was her friend, and she was in no hurry to let it go in favor of the utter panic that had occupied her mind during the first couple of weeks after Diego took Sofia.
She stood and walked to the dresser, idly straightening Sofia’s things, even though she’d done it countless times before. She liked touching them: the sparkly purple hairbrush, the Star Wars action figures, the books. It was a reminder that her sister was real, that there was still hope of bringing her home to Isabel where she belonged. Then she would get them away from Diego for good.
Whatever it took.
Her mood lifted when she thought about Luca, out there right now, looking for information. He’d been her rock since the day she’d realized Sofia was missing, the one good thing she had left. Even her art was lost to her now. She hadn’t been able to paint a stroke since Diego took Sofia.
But Luca… He was still here. Still fighting for her and Sofia. It had been a revelation, that someone could love her so much. It was only her love for him that had been a burden. Not because she didn’t love him. She did. She loved him more than anyone but her little sister.
But it was that love that had cost her Sofia. Isabel had been preoccupied with Luca, with the possibility of a new life with him, one where she and Sofia were free. She’d been too eager, too hasty in stealing the video that Diego had been holding over her head for the last year so she would keep doling out money from the inheritance. Maybe if she’d been more clear-headed she would have seen the possibility that Diego would do something rash.
Still, she couldn’t regret it. Loving Luca — and being loved by him — had changed her. Now she wanted the life she deserved.
And she was more than willing to fight for it.
She moved to the closet, stepping inside and rifling through Sofia’s clothes. There were things Diego should have taken with them, like Sofia’s favorite red sweater and the flowered sundress that was her favorite. Did Sofia miss them? Did she cry out for Bunny, the stuffed rabbit, still on the bed, that she’d had since she was a baby?
Isabel felt the familiar swell of panic rise in her chest and turned from the closet. She would be no good to Sofia if she gave into it. She would have to be strong. Her sister needed her.