REDEMPTION (Book One: The London Crime King)

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"How's Alexa?" Brad asked, blowing warm breath into his cold hands. He rubs them together, generating heat, which is pointless as it's bastard freezing tonight. "She picked up yet?"

"Getting there." Alexa's inscrutable behaviour and wistful, melancholic bleakness are onerous and exasperatingly enervating. For me, empathising or understanding her pain is uncharacteristic—never remorseful. I appreciate she loved her sister, but that bitch doesn't deserve anyone's tears. "She'll be fine." I feel nothing toward Kathy. If anything, I am glad she's gone so that I can wash my hands of her.

Brad came to me, explained someone had hunted Alexa down in the street, frightened and followed her. He also passed on a message that she'd called in sick the following morning. As both didn't sit with me, I decided to temporarily move Alexa and her roommate, Chloe, into my home prerequisite for safety purposes—and I am glad I trusted my gut. Had I not acted on instinct; Alexa would be dead.

When I arrived at Alexa's tenanted-building, I considered options and persuasiveness, convinced she'd resist and defy me. I hadn't expected to hear a shrieking struggle—I most certainly hadn't foreseen breaking down the front door and uncovering Kathy trying to kill her sister.

Rage boiled. I attacked Kathy from behind without a shred of remorse or hesitation, slammed a hand over her wailing mouth and, in a single motion, sliced through her windpipe, spilling blood onto a screaming Alexa. She, while in her warped near-unconsciousness, convinced herself Kathy just needed medical assistance.

Since the night of Kathy's death, Alexa's ghosted everyone. She barely eats and seldom exits the bedroom—leaving us men to occupy Chloe while she's self-pitying in isolation, which is a major inconvenience, I must add. I don't dislike the girl, but babysitting an eccentric blonde is inconveniently cumbersome.

I rarely relax in my private home, but with Alexa disagreeably inhabited inside my bedroom, I return every night. We don't share a bed, though. I sleep in the room beside hers, often studying the ceiling, listening to her sobbing at night.

Tonight, however, before fleeing the penthouse to meet the men, I forced Alexa to get up and take a shower. I am sick and tired of seeing her lazing in bed, forgoing food and crying herself to sleep.

Drowning in grief and guilt, Alexa needs an explanation, to understand Kathy's irrational psychosis and death reasoning, so when I intervened, she more or less blamed me for her sister's wrongdoing. It's all good; I can handle her empty threats and ineffective insults. I am not emotionally delicate or made of glass.

Rather than fighting Alexa, I helped her calm down, kissed that wayward mouth and powered her through orgasms until she inaugurated tiredness. And it worked. She relaxed and fell asleep within minutes.

"Did you find out why Kathy attacked her?" Brad asked, genuinely curious. "Do you think she's the one that chased Alexa?"

"It's likely," I said, respiring cigarette smoke. "As for questioning? Zilch. Alexa's pretty tight-lipped." Not entirely true. I haven't interrogated the girl just yet. "Soon."

"What?" Brad scrunched up his face. "Why the hell not? Make her talk."

I shrugged aloofly. "Alexa can tell me when she's ready."

"Fucking Christ." He passed Nate a knowing glance. "The Boss has gone soft."

Both men chuckled at my expense.

"Never thought I'd see the day," Brad continues, "What happened to Warren demands answers."

"Shut up," I scold, pointing to the ball of fluff situated atop his head. "And what the Fuck is that?"

"A Fucking bobble hat." He doesn't understand why I'd even ask. "What does it look like?"

"I know what a bobble hat is, you piece of shit," I spit back, "but that doesn't explain why you're wearing it."

"Because it looks pretty, and I'm bastard cold. Is that okay with you?" He dropped a large gym bag at my feet. "Here's everything you asked for."

"I swear," Nate drawls, arming himself, "We better get somewhere tonight. I am sick of coming out empty-handed." He works tirelessly to locate Bajramovic and his hidden estates. Tonight isn't the first time we've cornered one of Flamur's warehouses. Each red flag turns out to be a dead end. "Third time's a lucky charm, huh?"

I crouched beside the bag and unzipped, passing guns to my men, tucking a switchblade into my boot. "Are the others ready?"

"We got ten men located in our propinquity," Nate informs me, "waiting for your orders. I left a few at the trucks, too." He loads his gun. "In case we need back up."

"Here you go." Brad gives me a radio transceiver. "I bought these for our special occasion."

"What are we black ops now?" Stuffing it into my back pocket, I stood. "What's wrong with the earpiece."

"I thought it'd be fun." Brad flashed me a toothy grin. "Always wondered what it'd be like to play real-life modern warfare."

He gets on my nerves. "Why's everything always a fucking joke with you?"

"What?" He gestured wildly to himself. "My life is pretty good right now. I got my dick sucked tonight. Got a gun in my hand, and I'm about to kill some Albanians. Excuse me for being," his toothpick balanced at the corner of his mouth, "blissful."

Him and his fucking bliss.

"Whatever. Disperse and lead separate troops on either side of the building. Ambush from four corners. Kill anyone who hinders the process." I clutched the Eagle and yanked back the hammer. "I want every kilo before we vacate."

I leave the men to finish up, meandering through leafless trees, jogging down the muddied slope to the eight-foot metal fence. Fingers clinging to the wire mesh, I clambered over, boots hitting the ground on the other side.

The seemingly derelict warehouse is nestled between dense woodlands and encroaching winder ice, boarded windows, vulgar graffiti, concrete crumbling from the walls and rough-hewn scaffolding.

Skulking between bright yellow industrial skips, I settled my back to the building wall, listening for any unwanted visitors. Two patrolling night guards gait around the corner, our language barrier impeding.

Tucking away the Eagle, I wiggled my fingers into leather gloves, flipped open a throwing knife and spear it straight into the unfortunate prick that stood closest to my left. A pained yet muffled moan grated in his throat, knees crashing to the ground on impact. His friend, quick on his feet, already has an arm raised, ready to shoot.

I emerged from the darkness, grabbed and snapped his wrist, disarming and jabbing an elbow in his face, knocking him out. "It's not personal," I said, opening another knife, stabbing into his chest. "Quick but effective." Looming over both bodies, I retrieved the blades and wiped their blood on my trousers, paced ahead.

Unremitting gunfire suddenly echoes into the night. I ducked, arms automatically shielding my head, not knowing where the strike occurs. "Fuck." Uprooting the transceiver, I pressed the button, holding it near my lips. "What happened?"

"Sir, machine gun," Nate grits, the line crackling. "They took out six men."

"Stay in position—have our backs." Fucking hell. I hollow my cheeks, pinching the bridge of my nose. "Call in backup." I panicked for my right-hand. "Brad?"

"Bossman," he chirps, popping a chewing gum bubble.

A sigh of relief passed my lips. "Keep your head out of your fucking ass."

"My head is never in my ass," he responds. "I don't know about you, but I'm ready to bounce."

"They know we're here," I searched for an advantage, "so fall in." Chucking the radio in the skip, I unobtrusively wandered around the warehouse, detecting sporadic gunfire—someone seized my shoulder, catching me off guard, shoving me into the wall. "Motherfucker." I throw myself back, head butting him in the nose.

"Ju pidhi!" he bellows, clutching his busted nose. "Do të të vras!"

I obtain his wielded firearm, lunge it across the floor and sling a right hook across his face. He goes down like dead weight, growling abstruse expletives. I could blow a bullet between his eyes, but I don't want to alert the others. Instead, I kicked the smug look off his face, thrust his body to the wall and sink a blade into his neck. Pain radiated off his vibrating body, blood gushes and streams down my fingers. I pinned him beneath me, witnessed the life drain from his eyes and then flung him to the ground.

Once more, I wipe the blood from my leather-clad hands, step over his lifeless body and gravitate to the rusted back entrance: two double doors and a broken padlock. I unclipped the bolt, cracked access and carefully headed inside.

An indescribable stench irritated my nostrils. Darkness and shadows clambered the sewage walls. I stopped at another door, heard on-going shooting reiterate throughout and painful screams as bodies hit the deck. I hoped the men were safe, but had faith in my most trusted, slipped into a dark cavernous space, bursting with wooden crates.

Hearing Brad's ebullience and humorous laughter assured me until somebody came in my line of vision. Tall and rabidly frothing, he yelled, abruptly triggering a firearm, sending a sharp pain into my left arm.

"Fuck." I blindly aimed fire, hearing a wretched plea as a bullet speared into my camouflaged attacker. My backside deigned to the floor, agonising pain thrumming my veins.

Shocked and taken aback, the masked Albanian falls to his knees, hand to his chest, body slumping beside my outstretched legs.

"Motherfucker," I spat through clenched teeth, clasping a tight palm to my arm. "Shit." Propping my back up against the metal partition, I slipped out of my suit jacket, lost a shirt sleeve and examined the damage. Flesh wound, I thought, biting down on my teeth, fingers sinking into ruptured skin. "Fucking hell."

Bobble hat skewed, Brad scurries between accumulated containers, spitting a curse. "Christ, Bossman." Squatting next to me, he tapped my hand away, eyes narrowing on my wound. "How the fuck did you manage this bullshit?"

"Heard your gob," I said, feigning to be unaffected by the soaring burn. "Presumed an all-clear."

"We lost nine men," he tells me, removing the silk napkin from his suit, "but obtained most of his."

My face constricted. "Is Flamur here?"

"No." Fingers sinking into my flesh, he searched for the bullet. "Almost."

"Fuck," I growled, banging the back of my head to the crate. "Hurry up."

His fingers curled around the bullet, and he slowly extracted it from my body. "Done." Clipping it over his shoulder, he tied the silk around my upper arm, preventing blood loss. "You'll need to hold out until we're back."

I stood, respiring a calming sigh. Slinging my arm back into the shirt sleeve, I buttoned up, dragged on the suit jacket and followed Brad toward the commotion. In the equidistance of the warehouse, additional men who left the trucks, shackle the prevailing Albanians.

Nate sinks his knee into a thrashing guys upper back, unheading agonising cries, knotting metal shackles around his wrists.

I paused near one of my men, his body sprawled out across the floor, blood beneath him. "Where did you get the restraints?" I asked, removing the military chain from his neck.

"Down the back," Nate said, motioning toward opened packages.

"Well, well, well," Brad chimes, using a crowbar to splinter through a box. "Look what we have here." He wrenched out a pkm machine gun and aimed at the Albanians. "I bet this bad boy slices through flesh like a knife to butter."

I rolled my eyes. "Brad—"

He triggered the weapon, and the machine gun chewed through belts of ammunition, bullets ripping and pinging into his chosen victim, splattering blood and flesh in its wake. "Fucking Christ," he said, tone vibrating with excitement. "Look at that." Motioning to the unrecognisable dead guy on the floor, he extended a low whistle. "What did I tell you? Knife to butter."

I held my frown. "Satisfied?"

Passing the gun to Nate, he dusted off his hands. "Fucking beautiful."

Nate overturns the weapon, reading its engraving. "They're Military."

Accepting the crowbar from Brad, I chiselled into a wooden crate, prying open the lid. It came off smoothly, exhibiting boxed leather shoes. I flung them aside, rummaged through, found heroin and cocaine packages. Abreast, additional crates. I checked each one, reclaimed the Glocks and Hecklers, and helped myself to imported Russian vodka. "Reverse the trucks," I ordered, and a younger soldier jogged to the loading asphalt. "I want everything distributed tonight. Nate, make the call and arrange drop-off points. I want merchandise back on the streets of London."

The trucks reversed near the open entrance, and the men collectively conveyed my stock onboard.

"What do we do about these?" Brad asked, nudging a tied up Albanian with his boot.

Deactivate and bound together, a myriad of men peer up at me from the floor, rope muffling their sobbed begging—probably have wives back home, possibly children. "They're not my problem," I affirmed, and hope flashed in their teary eyes.

I stood over them, unscrewed the vodka bottle and elevated my arm. Fear replaced optimism as I drenched their soiled clothes and bloodied profiles. One screamed, eyes trained in on Brad, who fumbles with the matchbox I tossed his way.

Standing back, I admired my handiwork, swigging leftover vodka. "Burn it."

"No, please, " one screamed, his body spasming. "I beg you."

Howling shrieks reiterated, bouncing off the walls, the grouped up men roaring, striving to eliminate limitations.

Emotionless, Brad scraped a match, ignited a flame and released it onto the older male before repeating the process. Orange and blue hues swept and licked across their bodies, the scentless air fulfilled with suffocating smoke and the scent of burning flesh.

Lighting a cigarette, I watched their skin melt and listened to their pained wailing as heat danced warmth across my face, the fire catching and claiming its nearby stock.

Like every other time we locate Flamur's hidden gems, I obliterate them with cataclysmic effect, individually abolishing his right to notoriety.

I leave the warehouse alongside my men, returning to impending Bentleys. In the background, the building groaned, metal joists resorting to the floor, smoke and uncontrollable flames belching, scattering embers into the night sky.

"I am Hank fucking Marvin," said Brad, unlocking the vehicle door, climbing behind the wheel. "Takeout?"

"Word," Nate agrees, slipping onto the backseats. "Thai."

"We'll eat at the penthouse." Relaxing on the passenger seat, I lowered the window. "I need to get this arm stitched up."

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