REDEMPTION (Book One: The London Crime King)

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Liam

"Then stay," I said, outstretching my arms onto the back of the sofa.

Alexa puts her back to the leather, head virtually resting by my arm. "Thank you." She almost smiled, clipped it. "What happens now?"

I'm not sure I can answer that question. Honestly, I thought she'd run away the second she realised I'd left her place last night. I certainly wasn't expecting to see her gallantly entering the club this evening.

After hounding Reginald for five hours, Brad managed to obtain Alexa's file. I'd briefly skimmed those documents this morning, and what I've read thus far was enough to knot and recoil my stomach. The missing Haines sisters, although once breaking news, is a historical case that soared throughout London. It happened at a time I don't recall.

Learning that Alexa lied had angered me. I was somewhat hurt but mostly fucking angry. I'd known, deep down, something about the girl didn't sit with me, yet I consciously ignored instincts and routine procedures. I always do a background check on new employees and, even though Brad had hinted speaking to Reginald sooner, I'd shut him down. Had I heeded to my right-hand man, I'd be cognizant to Alexa and Kathy's relationship before last night occurred and violently augmented.

The Haines sisters successfully pulled the wool over my eyes. Both had ulterior motives when applying here.

I exhale cigarette smoke, furtively watch Alexa out the corner of my eye. Morose and despondent, she studies the painting on the wall, likely compartmentalising her sister's prior behaviour, looking for a reason—a feeble excuse to downplay and vindicate.

Foolish, I thought, discerning Alexa's incredulous, gullible characteristics. In saying that, her impressionableness isn't defective, either. She mightn't agree with Kathy's reasoning, but she's unsusceptible to bad or unbiased influence. She remains foolishly yet fiercely loyal, and those inherited qualities are precious and uncommon. "Why didn't you ask me?" I mused, unable to fathom her analyses. "If you wanted answers, why not come to me, arrange a meeting and request a moment to discuss this matter? Our acquaintance didn't need to be based on lies, Alexa."

"I don't always get it right. I'm only nineteen, Mr Warren. I am not making excuses, but responsibilities and decision making was Kathy's forte. I'm just the baby sister," she whispered blushingly. "I waved goodbye to her one morning, and that was it—gone. I asked the police to help, and they all but laughed in my face. You," she said, sad eyes looking up at me, "were all I had to go on. Kathy mentioned your name a lot. I started asking around, conversing with random people and not one person vouched that you were friendly, approachable or understanding. In fact, their atrocious perceptive of you terrified me."

Her evasive elaboration unperturbed me. I am fundamentally aware that the streets of London have a wild and vivid imagination.

"I concluded it best to work for you." She threaded her fingers together, preventing nervous twitching. "That way, you'd get to know me and learn that I am not malicious or threatening...I am just some girl who wants to find her sister." She laughed incredulously, adopting blithe. "Now I am sitting here trying to fathom why I thought this was a good idea. Everybody loathes Kathy and, by the sounds of it, with good reason."

Kathy Pearl, before her betrayal, was one of my best dancers. Clientele requested her services above others, resulting in hefty payments after each shift, which I remunerated immensely. However, the avaricious and anathema woman got too big for her boots. Deeming herself better than others, she deliberately put a wedge between herself and co-workers, often the catalyst of female rivalry.

I didn't help matters, though. I knew Kathy was upsetting my employees yet overlooked and unheeded complaints, particularly Natalie, whose grown too fond and possessive since she and I started fucking three years ago. Kathy's special treatment and late-night office visits had infuriated Natalie. I didn't mollify or reassure the woman after she cottoned on to my extracurricular activities as I own her absolutely nothing—

"I am truly sorry," Alexa said, dragging me away from thoughts. "I also apologise on behalf of my sister. I don't know why she's done this, but I am sure—"

"Enough." I will not tolerate her defending that serpents honour. "I am more than happy to keep you on, but there'll be no more discussions concerning Kathy Pearl. I appreciate that you're discouraged; however, I am unprepared to hash this shit out further. If you cannot drop the subject, then I suggest you hand in your notice. If you're happy to continue working for me, then I advise you to leave my office, get behind the bar and forget we had this conversation."

Alexa stands on rigid legs, sweaty palms smoothing over her black shorts. "Thank you, Mr Warren."

I don't breathe until the door closes.

Rising to my feet, I round my desk and take a seat in my leather chair. I turned on surveillance, watched Alexa position behind the bar. Straight into work, she meets customer demands with a fake smile plastered on her face as if the last few hours hadn't transpired.

As she pours cocktails, her eyes lift toward the camera, pondering whether I am surveying. If only she knew, I thought, leaning back in my chair.

An older gentleman approaches the bar. He must amuse Alexa as she starts laughing, wildly gesturing between him and the dancefloor.

How can someone so innocent be related to Kathy? Yes, they have resemblances. I see that now. But they're the polar opposite, especially in the personality department.

Alexa reaches for the spirits mounted on the wall, showing me the silver lining of her stomach. My mouth goes dry. I raked my eyes down her body. Fuck me. This woman is seriously messing with my head. Her appeal is effortless, sexy, beautiful and flawless.

I am torturing myself. I should've gotten rid of her. Tampered down this obsession and fascination, I appear to have. Impossible.

What is it about her that I can't fucking shake?

Maybe, I'm sexually frustrated. It's been a while.

On the screen, Josh has emerged, trying to find out what's wrong. Alexa shakes her head, forces another smile. He squeezed her shoulder before grabbing two pitchers, tending to a group of females.

The more time I spend with Alexa, the more I am becoming attached. I'm noticing things I didn't before. Her fingernails are naturally long, apart from her index finger she nervously chews. She wears little makeup, just enough to enhance her features and she loves red: painted varnish, accessory jewellery and lingerie.

Overall, I no longer see a young girl. Now I see a beautiful woman who gains all my attention.

A knock on my door pulls my concentration away from the screen. "Come in."

The handle jerks and Natalie pops her head inside. "Brad sent me up. He said he had something for you."

I close down the surveillance, position my elbows onto the desk. Natalie's one of my go-to-girls. I haven't used her for a while. In actuality, there have been no women since Alexa started working for me. "Come inside and shut the door."

"Yes, Mr Warren." She flings long blonde hair over one shoulder, strutting toward me with determined strides. "What can I do for you?"

I lean back in my chair, thighs casually parted. "On your knees."

A wicked smile played on her lips. She descends before me, blue eyes unwavering from mine, hands fumbling with my belt and zipper. Flattening a palm against my boxer briefs, she rubs my shaft to life, teasing me through the fabric before revealing my semi-hard cock. Eyes widening theatrically, she deliberately gasps to stroke my ego.

I dropped my head back to stare at the ceiling. I don't need her melodramatic demonstration or glorified fawning. I am the proud owner of a big cock, but it's something I'd boastingly gotten over by the time I hit eighteen. I am a man now, not a young lad who requires reassurance. I want realism, breathless moans, a woman who isn't in control of her body or how she reacts to me. What I don't need is somebody thinking they know what works for me.

Natalie stroked, double-fisted and sucked me into her wet mouth. "That's it," I groan, fingers tangling in her hair. "Deeper."

She moans, tongue lapping the underside, hand massaging my balls. I shut my eyes and visualise the woman I really want downstairs.

***

I opened the cellar door and joined the men. Armed and tailored, sixteen bouncers stationed around the room, backs pressed to the concrete walls, hands clasped firmly.

Marijuana smoke lingers through the dimly lit room. Beneath the hanging bulb, Brad rose from a metal chair, buttoning up his suit jacket. "We found out what happened to the Glocks."

In the equidistant of the room, tied and chained to a wooden chair, a man whose identity is concealed behind a black sack, groans muffled words.

Hand stuffed in my trouser pockets, I stopped beside him, avoiding the piss pooling around his bare feet.

Nate, arranging tools and weapons onto the steel table, hones knives and a machete, all while whistling one of many favoured Motown tunes.

"Really?" I arched my brow at Brad, kicked the victim's discarded clothes aside. "Do enlighten me."

Brad forcefully tears the liner from the guy's head, revealing a drugged up Darren. His bruised and battered face lolled back as wrestled consciousness. Blood laced saliva dangling from his busted lips.

"Why the fuck is Darren tied to this chair, and why am I only hearing of this now?" The room stayed silent, withdrawn. "Does someone want to tell me what the fuck is going on?"

"When Darren called last night and said the cargo was missing, I knew something wasn't right, so I went with my gut and did a little investigating." Brad handed me a folder. "That fat fucking renegade jumped ship—sold you out to this guy," he points to an image, "Flamur Bajramovic."

Gathered evidence suggests Darren's passing documents to an older man whom I don't recognise. He unquestionably comes from money: three-piece suits, designer footwear, top of the range vehicle and solid gold jewellery. "Who's Flamur? I've never seen this man before in my life."

"He's the head of an Albanian mafia," Brad overturned the page—another image with Darren and Flamur at a seemingly clandestine meeting, both wearing sunglasses and fedora caps, cautious of their surroundings while engaging in private talk and ingesting coffee. "Flamur's held residency here in London for the past fifteen years."

I dropped the folder to the floor. "What does he do?"

"By all accounts, Bajramovic is a stellar citizen and commendable public figure. He's heavily involved with charities and fundraisers," Brad places a second envelope in my hand, "and he's married. Here's the fun part." He rubs his palms together. "That motherfucker leads two lives. He might preach world peace, but when darkness falls, Bajramovic a significant and willing participant of money laundering, drugs and human trafficking."

I briefly read obtained police reports, examine gruesome images of dead girls—some as young as five. "Human trafficking?"

"Yeah, mostly women." Brad grasps Darren's jaw, flashing a torch over his dilated eyes, checking he's still with us. "Sometimes young lads and the occasional children."

"What does this have to do with Darren?"

"Darren won't talk," Nate comes forward, "so we're still uncertain. I speculate Flamur wanted the Glocks for distribution and got to Darren, convinced him into assisting with generous payments." He exhibits highlighted bank transfers from Darren's accounts. "I mean, this shit has been going on for months. I got phone records and text messages confirming he sold you out for money."

I frowned at that. I pay my men well, always have. Darren betraying me for cash stupefied me.

"Also," Brad hedges, slipping a glance to Nate. "Flamur or his men closed in when conveying cargo from Gateway to the M4, drove the transits off-road, caused a collision and then shot eight men: two drivers, four carriers and two errand boys. Again, I assume Darren leaked information, which gave Flamur an advantage to attack and swipe the goods."

"What about the cocaine consignment?" I asked, rage clambering.

"They seized the freight containers," Nate confirms, jaw locking in place. "Five short tons—street value of nearly one billion."

"Well..." I drawled, schooling my features. "That fucks with my day." Dipping my head, I silently order Nate to continue the torture. "Up."

Nate unclipped the chain from the ceiling, metal coils groaning as he attached the clasp to Darren's collar.

"No," Darren groans, too weak to protest or fight. "I didn't—ah!" he cries, body stretching from the chair, chain elevating him as Nate retracts the motor. Face swollen, purple, the metal fastener around his neck tightens, cutting his oxygen supply, feet hovering above the floor.

"More," I ordered, standing back, watching Brad and Nate alternate between powerful blows to his back and ribs. "Again." Darren's pain-filled cries echoed throughout the cellar, chain lacerating his neck, blood rivulets trickling down his bare chest. "Drop him."

Nate hits the motor, and Darren's body collides to the floor, chains heavily smashing around him. My men slumped his semi-conscious body back on the chair, arms behind his back, tied and strengthened.

Losing my suit jacket, I rolled up my shirt sleeves to my elbows, accepting a knife from Nate. "You sold me out to an Albanian cunt," I said, snatching his throat, shoving the blade into his gut, "I don't fucking like that."

Darren choked on air, glassy eyes aligning with mine. "Warren—"

Twisting the handle, I abstracted the blade, repeated the process to his opposite side, all while holding his eyes. "Come on, Darren." I slapped his face with an open palm, hard. "You're embarrassing yourself."

"Boss—fuck," he cries, blood clogging his windpipe. "I can explain."

"Explain what, Darren? That you betrayed me? Was I not good to you? Did I not pay you well?" I jawed him, fissuring my knuckles. "Answer me!"

His head whipped to the side on impact, blood spitting on the floor. "Please," he begs, guilt and shame in his weary eyes. "I beg you."

"You're the Judas among my table. This hurts me," I whispered, snapping the undeserving military chain from his neck. "You and I both know how I handle traitors." Tossing the blade on the floor, I select the machete from the table, trace the serrated edge. "Rule number eighteen, Darren." He hunched his shoulders forward, head lowered, dejected. "I won't ask again."

"Warren doesn't keep his enemies close," he murmured, blood gushing from his torn abdomen. "He buries them."

"Affirmative. I don't keep my enemies close," I impale his lower stomach and, in one, graceful movement, drag the blade upward, slicing through thick flesh and organs. "I bury them."

Darren gasps, his lifeless yet shocked eyes gazing into mine. With artistic bliss, I blindly curled my hand around ruptured intestines, inciting his disembowelment.

I rip out the machete, detecting gore slapping against the floor. "Such a shame." Impaling his neck with sheer velocity, a vicious act of savagery, I shanked through tough flesh, bone-crunching. "Make sure this Albanian receives my message." Blade slicing through, I release my grip on the handle, catch his head in two hands and then drop it to the ground—it means nothing. He meant nothing. I stare at Darren's soulless eyes, wondering how we got to this place. He was never a favoured team member; however, he had been with me the longest. "Drop his body in the Thames," I order as Nate snaps on a pair of gloves. "Brad, sort the head."

My men fall into line, rolling out plastic, discarding and rolling up Darren's body. I fall back, light a cigarette and rub blood from my face.

"Mr Warren," a soft, familiar voice called, and muscles corded in my body. "You wanted to see me?" Alexa opens the door, ingenuous and carefree, eyes landing on my gruesome profile. Her mouth rounded on a sharp inhale. "I..."

Fuck's sake.

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