REDEMPTION (Book One: The London Crime King)

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Snagging a Macallan bottle from the mini bar, I fall onto the leather chair behind my desk and imbibe enough alcohol to relax tense muscles.

Alexa only left the office ten minutes ago, and I’m already anxious, waiting for her return. I hate when we’re apart. Over the last few weeks, distancing from each other has been challenging. Subtly but frequently, I demanded she returned to Club 11, or to spend the night with me at the penthouse at least. Alexa, however, stubborn and empowered, adopted a different approach regarding her relationship with me. Perhaps her insistence on staying at the Coffee House and sleeping in her home was an impenetrable fortress she built between us, unintentionally protecting herself from me just in case I broke her heart again.

We send an array of messages, though, I thought, unlocking my phone and reading the one she’d sent me this afternoon.

Alexa: Sorry, I missed your call. I am in bed with a cold. Make me better? I promise to love you forever.

The lying little con artist. I damn believed that sickness tale and prepared to collect her after that bogus trip to the Grape and Vine. I wanted to spend the entire weekend in bed together.

I give credence to Alexa’s successfully misleading charm. She fooled me and even dared to cajole my men into conspiring against me. I specifically protested the idea of celebratory gatherings and the disobedient woman schemed regardless.

Tonight, on arrival, I instantly discerned too many familiar faces in the crowd. People I seldom socialise with unless exchanging favours. The dancers, who normally wear next to nothing, dressed in impressive attire, sophisticated with a touch of elegance. I knew the high-priced champagne, tailor-made tuxedos and pretentious gowns embodied grandiose defiance courtesy of my beautiful woman.

I had calmed down for nanosecond until witnessing Alexa’s cosy display with her co-worker, Jace, the apparent homosexual whose shifty eyes haughtily disrobed her while they talked. Alexa, so trusting, unassuming and oblivious, believed his lies and spurious claims. I, however, know a serpent when it audaciously provokes me.

Jace watched me advance. He even curbed a smirk when perceiving the cocked Desert Eagle. He feigned horror and thickened his harmless, inoffensive bullshit, calculatedly convincing Alexa that I am tempestuously dogmatic and he’s a saint who preaches world peace—fuck off.

“You cancelled the party.” Brad entered my office, hair and clothes dishevelled, belt buckle slackened, clanking. “I thought you got over festivities...” His eyes bounced around the room. “Where’s Alexa?”

I sent Nate a message, ordering him to escort guests from the building. “Alexa’s home,” I said, popping a cigarette between my lips. “She’s spending the weekend at the penthouse, so needed to pack a bag.”

Brad was startled by this revelation. “That’s good,” he quipped, helping himself to the minibar. “Do you need me to pick her up?”

No, he’s had too much alcohol. It’s not usually a problem because Brad’s actually a better driver when under the influence, but I am not testing fate with my woman in the car. “Where did you go?” I pointed to the lipstick and smudged foundation on his shirt collar. “Cherry?”

He shrugged, collapsing onto the leather sofa. “I didn’t get a name,” he said minus shame. “I don’t understand women.”

I use a match to light my cigarette, snubbed the flame and exhaled smoke. “Said every man roaming on this godforsaken planet.”

“So this bird lets me pummel into her from behind,” he begins, and I prepare myself for the exaggerating raconteur. “And it was decent, fun, whatever.” His lips flatten into a grim line. “She was a virgin.”

My eyebrows climbed. “You fucked a virgin?”

“Well, she didn’t tell me that,” he fired back, disgusted by their occurrence. “Bloodied cock and whatnot.”

“That’s what you get for being irresponsible all the time,” I respire a slew of smoke, watching him closely. “How did you handle Jace?”

Brad was confused for a moment. “Oh, the inked guy?” He jerked a shoulder. “Fine. He left willingly—didn’t argue the matter.”

Odd, I thought, lightly twisting in my seat. “Not even a bit of lip?”

Pursing his lips, Brad shook his head. “He apologised for offending you and went on his merry way.”

Unease gnawed my stomach. “I don’t trust him,” I said, and his lips stretched into a knowing grin. “No. It’s got nothing to do with Alexa. There’s something off about him; I feel it in my gut.”

I scratched my jaw, finished my cigarette and picked up my phone. Scanning through recent dial history, I clicked Alexa’s number. “Welcome to the o2 messaging service—” I ended the call and sent her a text message.

Me: Are you ready?

Nate strode into the office, tossed his suit jacket onto the coffee table, rounds my desk and loads surveillance.

Me: You looked beautiful tonight.

I gave him a sharp look. “What the fuck are you doing?”

“Sir,” he murmurs, fingers tapping the keyboard, “do you know this guy?”

On the screen, Nate zooms in on a middle-aged male, lingering near the customer bathroom facilities. He stands with his back to the camera, phone to ear.

Brad joins us, settling his palms onto the desk, eyes narrowed on the screen. “Isn’t he one of Alexa’s work friends?”

I had no idea. “What about him?”

Me: Maybe keep the dress on. I need something to hold onto when I bend you over.

Closing the screen, Nate dragged up another camera angle, confirming the man had previously sat around a table with Alexa. He holds a close conversation with Jace, paying scarce attention to the others. “Again, what about him?”

Me: Fuck the dress. I want you naked, writhing beneath me, those sinful legs wrapped around my waist while I fuck you.

My cock is hard just thinking about it.

“He left them before you confronted Jace,” Nate explains, loading a third camera angle. “After utilising the restroom, he vacillates near the fire exit, speaks to security, convinces him to let him smoke a cigarette in the alleyway. I mean,” he ponders, itching his jaw, “I don’t know why the doorman authorised it—”

“Call him to the office so I can ask him.”

Me: Don’t worry, baby. I plan to make love to you, too.

“He’s not there,” Nate continued, and my scowl deepened. “That’s how I knew something wasn’t right. The fire door was left open, no sign of security. I checked surveillance on my laptop, felt the strange activity was noteworthy and brought it to your immediate attention. I don’t know what this means, though. Probably nothing...” He’s unconvinced, worry lines merging above furrowed brows.

I anxiously waited for Alexa’s response, drumming my fingers against the desk.

Brad perched his backside on the desk, uprooted his phone, dialled a number. “What’s your station?” he asked. I assumed it’s our head bouncer, Tim. “Who’s patrolling the back? Alfie?”

Nate dipped his head, recalling the name.

“Well, where the fuck is he?” Brad asked, hand crushing the phone. “No, Tim. No fucking Alfie is guarding the back. The boss wants to know why.”

I overheard his raised voice. “Give me that,” I grit, snatching the phone, placing it to my ear. “Tim, quit talking so much or I’ll take a peeler to your fucking face. Find Alfie. Now.” Ending the call, I checked my phone, wondering why Alexa still hasn’t messaged back. “Locate Alexa.” My apprehensions were escalating to a concerning speed. Maybe I am tired, irritable, famished. I need a good night’s sleep, Alexa on my arm, early morning breakfast. “Any luck?”

“Her home surveillance is down,” Nate said cautiously, and I sat taller. “The bugs are fine, though.” Pointing to the screen, he counts red dots. “No, one’s missing.” One by one, the red locations intermittently disappeared from the monitor. “What the hell is going on?” he barked, unable to conceptualise tonight’s strangeness. “Sir—shit.” Snatching Brad’s phone, he dialled Alexa’s number, sharpened cheekbones sinking. “Something is wrong—”

I gripped the phone, listened to the automated message. “The number you have dialled is not recognised,” the female voiceover robotically said. “Please hang up and try again.”

Amid our tense confusion, reverberations rippled beneath our feet in coalescence with high-pitched screams and bursts of sporadic gunfire. “Fuck.” I lunged from my chair just as the glass window shattered into a million pieces, spraying shards across the room, bullets whipping through the air.

We ducked in unison, knees colliding with the floor. “Who’s in the building?” I yelled, rolling onto my back, retrieving my Desert Eagle, yanking back the hammer.

“I was in the middle of ushering people out,” Nate confirmed, crawling toward the door, dashing into the hallway.

Thick smog and effluvium dispersed, hunkering low in the office. I followed Brad into the hall on my hands and knees, warily slammed the door behind us, concealing whatever detonated chemicals clambered the four walls.

Full-throttled screaming and gunshots reiterated from downstairs. I plummeted the stairs, passed frantic armed security, oscillating in numerous directions, obscuring the clubs’ admission routes.

I shoved my shoulder into the door, burst into the dance room, stumbled over strewn dead bodies, shoes slipping across pooled blood. “Fuck.” People hysterically stampede toward the entrance to avoid bombardment, but our masked attackers aim fire with reckless haste, popping off victims, endeavouring to fight security.

A man wearing all black and a balaclava steps out in front of me, arm raised, ready to shoot. Snatching his wrist, I snapped, detected bone-crunching, disarmed, shot him at close range with his own bullet. He drops to the ground, crimson streaming onto the tiled floor. I unmask him, check he’s dead, note the Nazi tattoo on his neck.

Panic floods my veins. I run to the burly bloke wrestling with one of my men, wrap my arm around his neck and drag his thrashing, kicking body to the side. I thrust my gun into his spine, pulled the trigger, captured him like a deadweight. I remove his coverage. Again, another unidentifiable man, but the Coat of Arms emblem tattoo scrolled onto his neck confirmed my trepidations.

Chucking him aside, I locate Brad brawling near the bar, dodge gunfire and combative strikes, pry him off an Albanian, dismissing his passionate blathering and determined threats. “Let Nate finish,” I ordered, impelling him to fish through the frantic swarm. “Now. Brad.”

Spearing a hand through his tousled hair, he spat blood from his mouth, rudely jostled screaming hordes into walls, parting space for us to exit via the main doors.

Cold winds blow across my heated face as I sprint down the street, seeing gusts scatter, disperse into the night, their ear-piercing howling grating on my last tether.

Brad unlocks the Bentley door, falls behind the steering wheel, fires the engine. “What about Nate?”

“He’s fine.” I shut the door behind me, open the dashboard, retrieve ammunition, reload my gun. “The men are fine,” I assured him firmly, knowing they had an advantage. Blowing out my cheeks to catch my breath, I wiped a bead of sweat from my brow, pinched the bridge of my nose. “Drive—”

My phone jerked in my pocket. I quickly fumbled and answered a withheld number. “Warren.”

Alarming silence maintained for ten harrowing seconds. “You lost.” His throaty voice and unmistakable accent coiled my muscles.

“You think you’re tough, huh?” I drawled, voice reducing to a threatening drone. “You call me on a private number and make a mockery out of me!” I snapped, punching the dash, anger clinging to my veins. “You didn’t win, Bajramovic. This cowardly act you orchestrated tonight certifies your death—I am going to find you,” I promised, vehicle vibrating as Brad speeds down the street. “It’ll be my most gruesome killing yet.”

“Mund ta provosh. Ju nuk do të fitoni.” he taunts, chuckling into the receiver. “Warren.”

I cut the call, lunged my phone onto the back seats and sank back against the leather. Brad is too quiet, lost in deep reflective thought and muteness. He mightn’t vocalise his concerns, but I know, as he drives towards Alexa’s tenanted-building, he speculates something is wrong. I agree with him, I thought, gazing out the window, watching the streets of London pass in a colourful blur.

“Nate’s fine,” I said, knowing he needs to hear it. “Alexa’s fine—Fuck.” A severe crash collided into the back of the Bentley, and my hands instinctively slapped onto the dashboard, tyres shirking as Brad tussled the steering wheel, spitting out a slew of expletives.

“Goddammit,” I growled, and we dropped our heads in tandem, the rear window shattering on a loud crash, glass spraying throughout the vehicle, bullet spearing into the front windshield. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” Lowering the passenger side window, I twisted in my seat, extended my arm into the night and aimlessly fired at a black Tesla, bullets pinging off their protective exterior. “Keep driving.”

Brad stomped onto the accelerator, skilfully wading between on-coming traffic, razor-focussed on not getting us killed.

I heard a hiss when a bullet flew past my ear, unremittingly releasing shots from the chamber, aiming for their driver’s side. One penetrates the windshield, and their vehicle swerves. “Got them,” I said, back slumping against the dash. I watch the car spin out of control; its speed spiralling at a rapidly unstoppable pace, tyres skidding as the passenger undoubtedly fights to regain control.

Brad extends a low whistle, witnessing the Tesla collide into another vehicle through the visor mirror. “Bang, bang, motherfuckers,” he chimes as the car toppled, metal roof harshly scraping across the road. He holds up one hand, alternatively counting with his fingers—pause. “Boom.”

I sank back in my seat, hearing a head-splitting explosion echo into the night. Via the visor mirror, I watch thick smoke clamber toward the dark sky, heart beating wildly and untiringly against my ribcage, adrenaline coursing amid my blistering veins.

He tersely turned another corner, veering the Bentley down Alexa’s street. I see an assemblage of neighbours loitering the pavements, mugs in hand, dressing gowns, concern and devastation in their round eyes. “Stop the car,” I whispered, and he eased off the accelerator, applying pressure to the break. “Now, Brad.”

I flung open the door, shoes hitting the road. I tuck the firearm into the waistband of my trousers, impolitely elbowing through devastated mobs, drowning out their hysteria. And then I see it, uncontainable smoke billowing heavenward, the council building groaning, disintegrating, violent flames licking through windowless frameworks.

Police cars, fire engines, ambulances and emergency services mound the cornered off catastrophe, flashing blue beacons and nearing sirens, omnipresent.

Through blurred vision, I broke into a sprint, shoes hitting the floor and blood roaring in my ears. I ducked under the yellow tape and felt the fires tantalising heat on my face. An officer bolted towards me, ordering me to stand down—I slammed my fist in his face, dropped him. “Alexa—”

“Bossman.” Brad snags my shirt collar, knuckles fisted under my chin. “You can’t go in there; it’s gone—”

“Call her,” I demanded, heaving for breath. “Call her, Brad. That’s a fucking order.”

He let go of my shirt, fluctuating with the phone in his hand. “Boss—”

“Give it to me.” I claimed his phone, dialled her number. ”The number you have—” I lunged it across the street, fingers tousling my hair, clinging to roots. “No. She’s not there, Brad. The penthouse,” I prattled, nodding assuredly. “Alexa’s at the penthouse...” Whispering groans protracted as the fire spread rapidly up the building’s exterior, claiming residential floors. “Brad...”

Why did I leave her unattended?

Why didn’t I prevent this?

“Fuck,” I groaned, rubbing two hands down my face. “Ah, fuck. I knew...” Never am I lost for words. “I fucking knew this would happen—” Someone speared me to the ground, grazing my face into fallen leaves and mud. “Get the fuck off me.”

“He hasn’t done anything,” Brad defends my honour, arguing with the officer who is presently jabbing his knee in my back, immobilising me to the ground. “For fuck’s sake!”

I struggled and relented.

Pinning my arms behind my back, the officer handcuffed my wrists, disputing with my right-hand man.

Burying my head in the grass, tasting salt on my lips, I closed my eyes, inhaled through my nose, heaved back a choked sob—I don’t cry. Don’t show emotion, weakness, fear. “Fucking hell.”

Roughly lifting me from the ground, the officer boastingly babbled in my ear, taking great pleasure in my arrest. “Liam Warren, I am arresting you for assaulting a police officer. You do not have to say anything. But, it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court—”

I faced him head-on and spat in his face.

“Bossman,” Brad cautious, spitting out a curse.

Salvia slapped his chin. He shut his eyes, wiped away my uncaring disrespect. “Anything you say may be given in evidence. Do you understand?”

Six officers stand-by, expecting a struggle. I blinked back tears, licked them from my lips. “You’re a fucking jobsworth,” I tell him, breathing strained, heart-crushing in my chest. “Everybody knows I got London by the fucking balls.”

His nostrils flapped, cheeks flaring red.

I purposely shifted, and he flinched, ripping dry laughter from me. “Three days cunt,” I warned as his fellow officers intervened, using force to drag me toward a police vehicle. “I’m coming for you.”

“Boss, keep your mouth shut,” Brad advises, keeping his distance. “We’re going to be right behind you and—”

I don’t hear the rest. Unrepressed vigour tossed me onto the backseat, door crashing in my face.

I just lost the love of my life.

Alexa Haines stole my heart, and I don’t want it back.

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