Then You Look At Me

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Karma

~One thing that I’ve learnt all of these years is to block devils off of my ears. ’Cause fairytales don’t end well when the fame and fortune not here.~ Jay Rock & J.Cole.

Chapter Theme Song: ‘OSOM’ by Jay Rock & J.Cole.

••

Third-person Pov

“I don’t want you boys going after Ron Moretto anymore,” Austin informs his boys as everyone is seated in the penthouse living room. “I have been thinking about it and I cannot allow you boys to get hurt. I almost lost Ansel and he’s just recovering, he’s not in a position to go after anyone.”

“But you said we could go ahead with our plan, why’d you change your mind?” Alaric questions. “Dad, look, our plan would work. We were planning on gathering all our men to raid his camp at—”

“Have you forgotten what happened last time? What if Riley hadn’t told us where you guys were?”

Riley rubs her thighs while Rainey looks at her with a small smile.

“You all would be dead. I don’t want to hear what your plan is, Ric. Stay out of this now.”

“So what? Are we just going to allow him to walk free?”

“Baby, just listen to your father,” Melissa begs Alaric.

“We won’t be allowing him to walk free. Robert and I will take care of it from here on now. It’s my battle anyway, not yours.”

The door to the living room opens and Robert walks in with Ian next to him. The brothers exchange questioning looks as both males enter the space.

“Why is Ian here?” Ansel asks and Austin clasps his hands.

“We have been doing this wrong the whole time. The key to taking down an enemy is to know his weaknesses. So, I called Ian here to ask him about that.”

The skinny boy waves to the group of people before finding a spot on the furry floor mat, and Riley and Rainey send him warm smiles.

“Thanks for coming, Ian,” Austin says, as Robert goes to sit on one of the single couches.

“How is your shoulder?” Alaric worries and the boy smirks, coiling his thin legs beneath him as he shrugs freely.

“Not bad.”

The boys smile.

“Ian. You had been in Ron’s camp for a while, did you notice any form of weakness where he is concerned?” Austin rests his elbows on his knees, while Ian scratches his nape, curling his lips in thought.

“Weakness as in?”

“Something we can use to take him down.”

“Uh, well...not really. He’s hardly at the camp. He just comes in and out,” Ian answers, and Robert sighs in disappointment.

“But I did notice something. I don’t know if it would be of any help though,” he quickly adds.

Austin nods eagerly. Any piece of information would be quite useful right now. “Share it.”

“I notice that his friend—Fred—doesn’t necessarily seem to like him.” Ian squints his eyes as he thinks back, and Austin and Robert’s trade looks before the boy speaks again.

“I would notice how he acts when Ron isn’t looking. His facial expressions change when his back is turned.”

“What do you mean?” Ansel narrows his eyes with interest.

“Mm. Okay, for example, the other day Ron came by and he gave Fred some orders, but then as soon as Ron turned around, Fred glared at him menacingly. It’s not something easy to spot, you would have to be very observant. The look was as if he deeply hated Ron Moretto. I would notice this look quite often too. I feel like...he secretly doesn’t like him.”

Austin and Robert look at each other, and immediately a thought comes to their minds. One that, if properly executed, will take down this drug lord once and for all.

••

Ian ensured to share with the men the address of Fred. Robert and Austin made their way to his house upon receiving the location.

Fred’s house is a small unfussy building, with paint-chipped cream walls and a deplorable yard. The two men glance around at the bad living conditions as they traverse up the cemented pathway.

“For being the friend of a drug lord, you would think his living condition would be better,” Austin says, and Robert nods.

“Now I see why he’d hate him.”

The two men share a pitiful titter before Austin raises a fist to bang on the old wooden door. After not receiving a response, he knocks again, idly gazing at a skinny mongrel who is casually scratching himself on the shabby porch.

The door finally opens to reveal a little Mexican boy who looks to be about ten years old. His thick eyebrows crinkle as he looks between the two men curiously. “Who are you?”

Austin was not expecting to be greeted with a child. He awkwardly shifts in his stance, nodding his head in the boy’s direction. “Hello. Is—”

The door widens as a brawny figure appears over the child’s head. Fred. He puts his palm on the top of the door edge before raising a brow at the two men. “Paquito, go inside.”

He raises his head. “Who are these people, uncle?”

Fred roughly gropes the boy’s head, pushing him under his arm and inside. “Go read a book. Y trae mi arma!”

Austin and Robert look at each other, ignorant of what he just uttered in his mother language. Soon the boy returns with a rifle and Fred takes it from him.

“Gracias. Go back inside.”

He aims it at the men, and Austin opens his palms. “There is no need for that. We came to talk to you.”

“Just to talk to you. We don’t have any weapons.” Robert raises his palms as well, and Fred looks at the two men with distrust.

“We just want to talk,” Austin repeats.

After a long moment of skeptically gazing at them, he curses under his breath and lowers his gun, stepping aside to grant them entrance. “Five minutes. I am giving you men five minutes. After that, I’ll be firing bullets.”

“Trust me, you won’t need to,” Austin assures, as Robert follows behind him.

••

The two visitors look around the small living room while they sit around a table, Fred glaring at them while tapping his fingers against the surface.

“Tell me one reason why I shouldn’t call Moretto right now and tell him that you two are here, at my house.” He grits his teeth.

“Because you’re curious.” Austin shrugs confidently. “You’re curious as to why we are here.”

Fred leans himself forward and grounds his jaws. “Speak fast, or I swear on my dead mother that I’ll blow both your brains out right here—”

A lady enters the room with a tray, and Fred leans back, snapping his lips together as she smiles shyly at the two men. She is a beautiful Mexican woman with broad hips and thighs and looks to be in her late thirties. She places a glass of red Kool-Aid in front of each of the men, before pursing her lips and leaving the room. Robert’s eyes follow her, and Fred narrows his eyes, tapping the table.

“Eyes off my sister, you fucker.”

“I was just looking,” Rob promises, reaching for the drink and taking a sip.

“We know you don’t like Ron Moretto.” Austin begins, and Fred turns his glare to him. “We know you hate him secretly.”

Fred tenses up slightly, crossing his arms against his massive chest. “How did you derive at that thought? Ron Moretto is my friend, we have been friends since— ”

“That ‘friend’ bullshit doesn’t work on me.” Austin shakes his head dismissively. “Ron was my best friend too before he killed my brothers. Friends betray friends. Which brings me right back to my purpose of visit.” He looks at Robert, who nods and rests the glass down, digging into his trousers for his cell.

He dials a number and Fred watches him as he places it to his ear. “Yes, Marco. Bring the money inside now.”

He squints his eyes. “What are you two up to?”

“We can make you rich,” Robert breathes as he shoves his cell back into his pocket. “We can change your life in the blink of an eye. Take you out of this dump.”

Fred pretends to be unfazed as he shifts, trying to maintain his stoic expression. “Elaborate.”

“We want you to get rid of Ron Moretto, and we pay you,” Austin tells him. “You’re closest to him, so he won’t expect the attack.”

Fred swallows, lifting his chin. “How much are we talking about?”

Marco enters the room with a briefcase, putting it onto the mahogany table. He unzips it and Fred glides his orbs from Austin’s and to the wad of money sitting in the bag. He gulps at the banded papers stacked onto each other.

“Two million dollars,” Rob says. “We brought one million as a down payment. If you get rid of him successfully then we’ll give you the other million. Plus, we’ll give you and your family passports to leave the country if you wish. You’ll get a car of your preference and a penthouse too.”

Fred stares at the tempting offer. Genuinely, he secretly has a deep hatred for Ron Moretto. He never admitted it, but he was jealous of him. The man has also proven to be quite controlling and arrogant and Fred has too much testosterone to stick around taking orders from him much longer. He deserves to be rich too, and he is tired of sitting under a disrespectful drug lord, eating scraps from his plate.

“How do you want me to get rid of him?” Fred asks, looking up from the briefcase.

“However you want to.” Austin shrugs. “It’s up to you. But if the job is not properly done, you won’t get the remaining offers and your ‘friend’ will then be aware that you betrayed him. Do this clean, Fred. And all the reward will be yours.”

Fred relaxes, zipping the bag up with finality. “Deal.”

••

Ron Moretto leans back in his leather chair, staring out at the colorful city lights from his transparent wall. This is his hideaway office, a spacious and secretive room that only a select few know about—Moscow and Fred.

He swirls the red liquid in his martini glass while he lays his head against his headrest. His mind has been tormented lately with images and flashbacks of the sins he had committed in his past.

Blood is on his hands, and the weight gets unbearably heavy at nights when he lays his head to rest while the world is asleep.

People would not think he—the heartless drug lord—would be faced with crippling guilt for the lives he has taken. But he does, and though the remorse of his evil deeds haunts his thoughts daily, he would never admit that to anyone. He has too much pride.

The ‘king brothers’ were the only true family he had—his blood relatives only use his name to get themselves out of trouble, but they have never once cared to ask how he was doing. Yet he set the boys up to be killed—the only people who favored him. No amount of self-rebuke and repentance can save his damned heart. He is convinced that heaven has already given up on him, and he doesn’t blame God if he has already forsaken him.

His door knocks, and he rests the glass of vodka onto his worktable, shutting his eyes. “Come.”

Fred walks in, closing the door behind him with a gentle snap. Ron breathes out harshly, sitting upright and twirling in his chair to face him.

Fred is carrying a briefcase as he sits on the large leather sofa in the center of Ron’s office, the seat rippling beneath his heavy body as he releases a tired breath.

“What is it?” Ron folds his legs and Fred places the bag onto the floor, his boss’s eyes falling to the strange carrier. “What’s that?”

“Nothing important. I came to ask you something.”

Ron leans back, tapping his fingers against his armrests. “Speak.”

Fred rubs his palms together. He took the cash with him in case he decides to change his mind about killing Ron Moretto. He plans to impose a deal to the drug lord, and if he agrees then he’ll snitch on Austin and Robert and inform him about their plan to take him down. The outcome of this situation depends on his friend’s response to his proposal.

“We’ve been selling a lot of drugs these days.”

Ron straightens his spine. “And?”

“And I was wondering,” Fred pulls his gaze to him. “If I could get a raise.”

Ron raises a brow. “A raise?”

“Yeah. The work is heavy, and I am doing a lot. My sister’s son needs his school fees paid, and I also need a proper house to live in. The money I am receiving now is too little, so I would like to propose a 30% raise.”

Ron massages the inside of his jaw with his tongue as he glares at Fred wordlessly. The silence stretches for a while until he cracks up in laughter, shaking his head.

“30%. Wow.” He simpers, rubbing his lips. “You want 30%.”

“I do most of the work around the camp. I put my life on the line. I deserve that much.”

“And if I don’t agree?” He reaches for his glass, taking a small sip while keeping his gaze on his friend. He removes it and licks his lips, smacking them from the sour taste of the alcohol while he inspects the glass. “What if I don’t agree to that?”

Fred shrugs. “You don’t have to. You’re the one in control anyway...”

Ron chuckles. “You’re right about that.”

“But you know, Moretto, lately I have been wondering...how would ‘The Groundhogs’ feel to know that the men who raided their camp weren’t the ‘King boys’ but, you-Ron Moretto?”

Ron narrows his eyes at this, tilting his head to the side.

“As a ‘friend’ of yours, if I were to disclose that to them...they would surely believe me. What do you think would happen then? All hell would break loose. You may survive the battle, but it would be bad for you and your business if the law should learn about what you do for a living. So, tell me...” He steers his torso to him. “How does that raise sound now?”

Ron laughs again as he rests the glass onto his desk, but his voice is dry and humorless. “I guess I have lived long enough to witness being betrayed. I betrayed my friends in the past, you see. So, I know what a traitor smells like. Are you threatening me, Fred?” His other hand stealthily reaches for his gun sitting in his opened desk drawer while his eyes cloud with venom.

“Call it what you may.” Fred utters, “but don’t say I didn’t warn ya—!” he raises his gun and fires a shot at Ron, who reflexively ducks his head as he opens fire rapidly. Fred crouches over to the wooden shelf in the spacious room while Ron gets up, shaking his head with a smirk.

“You fucking idiot. You can’t kill me, but good luck trying!” He aims at the open crevice where Fred’s bicep can be seen, and as he moves closer, his feet bumps into the bag on the floor.

Ron stoops down and uses one hand to quickly unzip it, his eyes rolling to the back of his head when he spots the stack of money inside.

“You fucking fool. You sold me out for some chump change!” He begins to shoot at the shelf and the feeble boards break apart as Fred positions himself in the center, merely hidden by a slim piece of wood. As Ron continues to press the trigger, one of the bullets grazes Fred’s shoulder and he curses as he pushes his hand out to fire back at Ron, who quickly seeks refuge behind a wall. The drug lord raises his gun to the ceiling lights and shoots them out, so the room is now in pitch darkness.

Fred wildly shoots in Ron’s direction, hoping that one of the bullets will accurately hit him. Instead, one of the ammo strikes a cylinder in the corner of the room and gas begins to leak from it, the stifling scent filling the air.

Fred tries to shoot again, but the gun clicks, signaling that he is out of bullets. He utters a profanity in frustration and Ron’s deep laugh echoes throughout the room.

“You came to assassinate someone, and didn’t bring enough bullets? Austin and that man who sent you should take their money back.”

Fred wipes perspiration from his forehead as he blows his cheeks out. This wasn’t how he had imagined this. He was supposed to catch Ron off-guard and kill him with only one shot. He can’t see where this battle will end well for him.

The drug dealer throws his gun down. “I am an old-fashioned man, Fred. So, let’s do this the right way. Let’s fist it out.” He moves from behind the wall, but Fred hesitates.

Ron notices this and sniggers dryly. “What? Scared to fight me? Can you only defend yourself with a weapon?” His ex-friend grounds his jaws at his jeer then reveals himself from the shelf. They can barely see each other in the dark, but Ron’s light blue dress shirt and Fred’s white jersey offer some redemption.

Ron raises his fist forward; in a position to fight, and Fred is unable to withstand the suspense. He just wants to get this over with.

Impulsively, he speedily charges into him, only to be met with a sharp pierce to his stomach. He drops a flabbergasted gaze to see a knife drilled through his shirt and his body stiffens as pain shoots through his abdomen. He looks back up to the smirking drug lord in awe.

“Never trust, Ron Moretto. You’re my best friend, Fred. You should have known that.”

Blood spumes from his mouth as the merciless man twists the knife into his stomach. “You came to kill someone but you’re the one who’ll end up dead. I pity your unwise soul.”

Ron is basking in his victory, but Fred isn’t giving up yet. With the little strength he has, he uses his foot to kick Ron’s, and he loses his footing and falls to the floor, the knife dropping from his hand. He tries to scrabble for it, but Fred grabs it before he could, immediately hovering over him as he stabs him in the stomach.

Ron grips his hand, and Fred weakly tries to press the knife farther into his flesh. He pushes it down until Ron cries out, gathering some amount of strength to push Fred away. Blood oozes from his stomach as he clutches it and Fred is still holding the knife in his bloody hand as he tries to get up.

“You fucking traitor...” Ron breathes out, his hand red with his blood. “I did everything for you.”

“Karma is a bitch!” Fred spits, staggering to his feet while groping his wound. “You were The King Boys’ friend too! Before you betrayed them! The tables have turned, Moretto!”

A sudden bright light pulls their gazes to a fire starting inside of the room. The raw, broken wires of the lights Ron had shot out gashed onto the running gas along the floor, causing a massive blaze that is gradually spreading. Soon, the whole building will be covered in flames.

The drug lord uses the distraction to pull Fred by his foot, and not having enough strength, he topples to the ground as the knife falls from his hand. Ron grabs it and without hesitation, he stabs his friend in his chest. Blood spumes from Fred’s mouth as Ron sinks it into his flesh.

“You should have known not to betray me. I don’t keep traitors around me,” he whispers, throwing the knife at the far corner of the room before unsteadily getting up. Fred grabs onto the hem of his pants, and he flashes his grip off. “See you in hell, you son of a bitch.”

He turns his back, grimacing as he clutches his chest. He begins to limp toward the exit when the sound of gunshot fills the room as a firm bullet hits him in the back. Ron staggers forward, turning around feebly to see Fred holding the gun he had thrown away in his hand.

Unable to keep going, he collapses to the floor, the light from the firing lighting up the pain on his face as he grabs the fresh wound.

Fred’s hand weakens and the weapon falls from his palm as his chest moves in short breaths. He’s about to die. He can feel it. His lifeless eyes drift to where the stack of money is going up in flames, the bag melting from the heat of the fire. It wasn’t worth it after all.

Ron laughs with the little strength he has, and Fred slides his gaze to him.

“Lately...I’ve been...feeling remorseful. I couldn’t find the will to keep going after the King family. I felt guilty...for coveting...the only people who genuinely cared for me. People can’t help how their wired,” he coughs out a glob of blood, holding his chest. “And though...they treated me like family, I just couldn’t...I just couldn’t restrain the devil in me. It still came out.” He shakes his head, tittering humorlessly. “I thought all these remorseful feelings was just because I am getting old, but I guess it was because my time was coming. I was about to die...” He shifts his eyes to Fred, who lays lifeless on the floor in a pool of blood. He is now dead, and Ron’s eyes glisten with tears as he looks up at the ceiling. “And in the end, I ended up killing another friend. People can’t help how they’re wired. This must have been how Lucifer felt. If dying means that I won’t be this torment anymore, then I’ll take it. I am tired now.”

His body relaxes in acceptance as the warmth of the fire surrounds him. As Fred slowly burns to ashes next to him, he shuts his eyes and waits for the fire to melt his flesh apart. After all, this was bound to be his fate after all the cruel deeds he did to the good. He deserves it, and for once in his life, he doesn’t feel the need to fight anymore.

••

Moscow begins to make his way to the office from his one-hour break after Ron had called him earlier to pick him up. As he turns onto the street where his boss’s office is, he identifies the strong smell of smoke. When he drives up to what was once Ron’s building, his eyes enlarge in horror as he unsnaps his seatbelt to quickly scramble out of the car.

A few random people are on the sidewalk, none finding the will to go near the scorching fire. Moscow buries his hands in his hair, knowing that his boss is--without a doubt--still inside the building. He reaches into his pocket for his cell. He checks the GPS, and the results show that Ron’s current location is on these premises, which means that the drug lord is still inside at this very moment. Cursing under his breath, he scurries over to the building but is unable to take a step further as the heat greets him. His eyes cloud with tears and he tugs at his strands as he watches the structure goes up in flames.

~

“Who wishes to fight must first count the costs.“-Unknown.

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