Club 11 underwent bombardment by the Albanian mafia, and I lost many men, loyal foot soldiers who lived and died by the syndicate, protecting my empire. Unknowing employees scattered alongside guests, some escaped, others weren't so lucky. Joshua Fitzpatrick was one male who outlived devastating pandemonium. To this day, I'll never understand how the jokester from behind the bar managed to outsmart dexterous gunmen. Via surveillance footage, Josh fought his way to my office while commotion occurred, tackled and brawled with two masked kleptomaniacs, striving to empty my coded safe. On attack, Josh took a bullet, a flesh wound to his left shoulder, yet reclaimed his opponent's weapon and killed both men with adopted gallantry.
Nate and Brad stand on either side of me, watching the monitors, impressed by Josh's newfound personality.
I hear the door knock. "Come in."
Moments later, Josh cracked open the door and popped his head inside. "You wanted to see me."
I gesture to the leather corner suite. "Sit."
He entered the office with a slight limp, left shoulder bandaged half-heartedly, doused with dry, cracked blood.
"Why didn't you run like the others?" I asked, balancing a cigarette between my lips. "You aren't a trained soldier, Josh. You aren't a sharpshooter, neither do you possess a gun." I remained aloof while he paled by the second. "Nate hadn't delivered orders in my absence, either."
"I apologise," he said, swallowing what looked like a painful gulp. "I acted on instinct, sir. I was just trying to help."
Impressed is an understatement. "You didn't check into the emergency unit," I mused, lighting my cigarette. "Why?"
He pondered my question. "I didn't want to raise any more suspicion without your authorisation—I needed to get my story straight, I guess."
Brad side-eyed me. "How's the flesh wound?"
Licking his dry lips, Josh carefully unbandaged his arm, revealing raw, infected flesh. "I managed to stop the bleeding," he explains, wincing as he shifted. "It's fucked, though, right?"
Nate rounded the desk, squatted before Josh, examined the damage. "It needs stitches." Before another word passes around the room, he vacates the office in search of medical supplies.
Josh stared at the door. "Where's he going?" The panic in his voice humoured me. "Shall I go to the hospital?"
Laughing dryly to himself, Brad wandered to the mini-bar, rummaged through preferences and selected a Jameson bottle. "Quit fretting, Josh," he chimes, handing the lad some liquid courage. "It doesn't hurt..." He looked heavenward in intense concentration. "I lie. It hurts like a fucking bitch."
Josh choked on oxygen, eyes widening at Nate's return. "No, I'm okay," he stutters, ebbing back in his seat. "Don't come near me with that kit, Nate. I don't even need my arm—"
"Shut up," I scolded, and the boy cursed under his breath. "You're giving me a bastard headache."
Complaining further, with unnecessary profanity, Josh uncapped the bottle, chugged thirstily and prayed to whatever God he latterly sought after.
Nate snaps on a pair of sterile gloves, adjusts his black-framed glasses and abstracts a syringe. "Just a little anaesthetic," he tells Josh, injecting into his laceration.
"Christ," Josh whelps, gritting his teeth. "Quit laughing, Nate. It hurts!"
My brother drowns out complaints, waits a few minutes and begins to clean the wound. "Time to stitch you up."
"Stitch me up," Josh repeated in disbelief. "Why can't we be like normal fucking people that go to hospitals where I can get stitched up by a normal fucking doctor," he shouts, slapping Nate's advancing hands. "Don't fuck with me, Nate."
Josh tries to clamber off the sofa. Brad shoves him down and stands before him like an impenetrable wall. "Do we look like normal people to you, Josh?" The lad stayed tight-lipped, eyes cast downward, defeat etched across his pained features. "Besides, normal is boring, so stop acting like a pussy and let Nate sort you out."
Eyes darting between the men, Josh breathed out a relented sigh. "If I pass out," he warned, passing Brad a haughty glare, "I am blaming you."
Equipped and eager to proceed, Nate begins to fix Josh's gash while mumbling about antibiotics.
I stood, tuned down their conversation, watched my men rebuild the main function room through the recently fixed window. Everything needs replacing: mirrors, podiums, furniture, booths and bar. Flamur's men succeeded, annihilated my establishment, leaving me with a hefty coverage bill.
My eyes landed on the bar where few employees work tirelessly to assemble new chiller cabinets, restocking shelves with glasses and spirits. I know Alexa's not here, but I found myself searching regardless, recalling how she preferred to operate the last cash register, closest to the door.
Distress strangled my heart. I pressed a palm to the window, lowered my head. I'd give anything to go back, change her direction, be a stronger man—decline job application. I wouldn't have gotten to know her, but she'd be safe—alive, or is that wishful thinking? Bajramovic planned to recapture her, so I guess death was always on the table.
I breathed out cigarette smoke, scratched my stubble jaw.
Why did I let her go home that night?
Why didn't I protect her?
Why did her reassuring smile cloud my judgment?
"Bossman," Brad called, dragging me out of my lachrymose state. "Are you with us?"
"Of course." I blinked away desired recollections, a fake smile on my lips. "Recite the rules."
"You live and die by The Brotherhood," said Nate, closing his medical case. "Judas doesn't belong around the boss' table."
Josh grimaced in confusion. "What?"
"Never show weakness," Brad continued, punching the code to my safe. "Never obtain a weakness."
It was an innocuous statement, one I'd instilled many years ago, yet it hit me hard in the chest. Alexa, I thought, collapsing onto my leather chair. She was, and will forever be, my greatest disadvantage.
"It's imperative." Nate sat on the coffee table, shirt stretching to accommodate his muscular arms. "A woman..." His lips sloped into a deriding smirk. "Or male, perhaps?"
"I am not gay," Josh replies on a dramatic scoff. "I love women—and why are you telling me all this?"
Brad shot me an amused smile, tossing Josh's folder onto my desk.
I opened it and scoured, sensing the lad's curiosity. "No parents. No children," I said, reading articles of his childhood. "Grandmother? Is she problematic?"
"Why?" His perplexity soared. "What the fuck has my gran got to do with this fucked-up intervention?"
"Rule number two," I barked, and he bristled. "You do not disrespect your boss. You will respect me. You will never challenge me. Have I made myself abundantly fucking clear?"
Nate and Brad persisted calmly, accustomed to the laws and my belligerence. Josh, however, stood to his full height, wanting to be anywhere but this office. "I apologise, boss. My grandmother isn't a problem."
His mediocre life bored me. I closed the folder, flung it in my drawer, retrieved a stainless steel Glock. "Serpents will knock on your door. Detectives will occasionally sniff your backside," I proceed, adding bullets to the gun's chamber. "Both will offer you a substantial amount of money. It's tempting. Accepting bribery to mislead or destroy me for capital, but no amount of cash is worth your life."
"If you betray the boss, The Brotherhood, or the syndicate, it ends with your demise," Nate drawls, retrieving the gun from my hand, offering it to Josh. "Training starts next week."
"Well, look at that, Joshy boy," Brad chirps, slapping the lad on his back. "Bossman is impressed. From now on," his eyebrows danced mischievously, "you're one of us."
"What?" Baffled, Josh rubbed the back of his neck, daunting realisation flickering in his round eyes. "Oh, hell no," he protests in a high pitch screech. "I don't want to be one of you. Are you fucking crazy? Have you seen my face?" He points to himself as if to state the obvious. "I like it. I want to keep it."
"You are wasted down on that bar, pouring drinks for minimum wage. You got potential, kid." I address Nate, "Take him on. Train him to his fullest capacity—I want him ready within two weeks, so don't alleviate or hold back." Hiring someone off the bat is a first for me. Usually, Brad assists while we scope and hire recruits. Since Josh showed Loyalty without so much as a batted eyed lid, I'm willing to negotiate terms and conditions.
"No," Josh persisted with stubborn ferocity, hands hugging his hips.
"Are you certain?" I asked, knowing he's easily breakable. "You don't need the extra cash?"
"Money?" Now he's interested. "Like a raise?"
"Yeah," Brad exclaims with bogus excitement, popping a toothpick between his lips. "An extra eighty grand a year. Then there's the club and restaurants where you dine and drink for free, not to mention the cars, accommodation, tailoring and lifestyle, funded by the organisation, courtesy of our generous boss. As long as you amalgamate with Bossman, your life will be exceedingly blissful."
Him and his fucking bliss.
Pound signs chimed in Josh's eyes. "That's a lot of money."
"No fucking shit, kid," I grated out, becoming exasperated. "Now, are you in, or are you out?"
Josh beamed, rubbing his hands together. "Oh, I'm fucking game."
Money always wins.
It's around midnight. I ordered the men to lock up the club and have the night off, leaving me alone in my tranquil solace, surrounded by darkness. Nursing a bottle of Macallan, I relax in my leather chair, listening to serene music with only the lyrics and my thoughts to contend with. I raised the joint to my lips, toked a lungful of haze, dropped my head back on exhale.
Tomorrow, the real work begins. I must visit my deceased men's families, offer my condolences and overcompensated paycheques to guarantee their silence. It's part and parcel of the job. When a man signs a contract with me, he knows premature death is on the table. In the event one loses his life, he formally prepares, ensuring any relatives or companions are unknowledgeable of his wicked, nefarious existence, yet compensated greatly for his privation.
Once encumbering sentiments subside, I must sit with Reginald, one of many powerful men comfortably sitting in my back pocket. Club 11's attack didn't go unnoticed. I need to conduct a phoney explanation, so the Chief can eliminate any prowling detectives, sniffing around my establishments, requiring statements, understanding—one taxing headache that I don't need of late; it's nothing sterling cannot fix, though.
Money is power, and I have a fuck load of it.
Since the night I killed my father and his wife, inherited lavishness and affluence became a significant factor in my life. Firstly, I hadn't comprehended just how rich I was.
"Hello," the squalid bed and breakfast manager chimed the second I fell over the threshold. "How can I help?"
I was cold, tired, hungry. "I need a room," I said throatily, backpack handle gripped firmly between clenched hands. "Is my pushbike okay outside?"
Ruffling her salt and pepper locks, she glanced past my shoulder, drumming pink polished fingernails on the desk. "People rarely venture around these ends," she said, nodding assuredly. "I think it'll be alright."
Rain dews danced on the tips of my dishevelled hair. "How much for a basic room?"
She fired the outdated computer, tapped the keyboard. "Thirty quid."
Clearing my throat, unzipping my back, I carefully combed through the money, handed her a fifty-pound note.
Elevating an eyebrow, she raised the note above her head, checking the hologram beneath the ceiling light. "How old are you?"
"Eighteen," I lied, praying my adventurous towering height and husked voice fooled her. "So, can I get a room or not?" Peeved my by impoliteness, she flung me a room key, prattled off a door number. "Keep the change."
I found my room on the third floor. It's floral decorated walls, matching coverlets and curtains were unbecoming but, in my dire circumstances, luxurious. I tossed my backpack on the random high-back chair, removed my hoodie, smelt perspiration emitting from my body.
Inside the en-suite bathroom, I switched on the light, waited for the sporadic bulb to brighten, and studied my reflection in the mirror. I hadn't shaved, not once while pubescence commenced. I made a mental note to swing by the convenient store tomorrow, purchase essentials: razors, deodorant, and manscaping equipment. Hell, I might stop at a local barbershop. It's been months since my last visit.
Dragging the shower curtain aside, hitting the warm water, I waited for the steam to pervade the all-tiled room, lost the remainder of my clothes and luxuriated in heavenly euphoria. I scrubbed my skin raw with those complimentary samples, slathered my skin in soapy suds that smelt like coconuts and paradise.
Utilising an available towel, I knotted the rough texture around my waist, returned to my room and closed the blinds. I stood near the mahogany dresser, eyes bouncing from the double bed to the backpack, unsure what to do with myself.
A wave of nausea pirouetted in my stomach. It's occurred often tonight, dreaded panic. "I killed my father," I whispered, spearing two hands through my hair, gulping down omnipresent bile, fearing a life of imprisonment.
Did I leave fingerprints at the crime scene?
Were the cameras in the house?
Had there been any witnesses?
Will I wake up to the police raiding my impermanent home?
I slumped onto the bed, concealed my face behind clammy hands. "I am fucked," I groaned albeit relishing the all-encompassing comfort. Nuzzling my face into the sheets, I blinked rapidly to abolish unwanted tears burning my eyes, wondering if someone had found Bill yet.
Perhaps I shouldn't have left him.
Why didn't I call the emergency services?
What if he rots in that cave?
Shaking away pessimistic thoughts, I snatched my bag, emptied its contents onto the bed. I eyed the gun, immediately stuffed it under my pillow, assured I'd never brandish it again.
My stomach grumbled, reminding me to feed it. No, I'll wait until morning. I need a solid plan—a permanent home, somewhere to call my own.
I brushed a thumb across a wad of cash, a vainglorious smile dancing on my lips.
"One million." I am rich. My father's blood money in my hands. "Nice one, dad." I counted so many times, assured my mind played tricks on me.
That night, I laid awake with my hand on the gun handle, listening to my surroundings. I hadn't rested but found the warmth and financial security reassuringly therapeutic.
Sunrise settled on the horizon, and I packed my scarce belongings, redressed in my old, faded, tattered clothes and vacated the building without a backwards glance.
Frost clung to the pushbike handlebars. I gripped the tatty rubber, almost straddled the seat. No, I no longer wanted Trevor's bike. I dropped the rusted piece of shit, stormed ahead with an ever-present smile on my face.
Many questions filtered through my mind as I journeyed around the impressive streets of London.
Did Bill know who I was the day he approached me?
Did Bill ever intend on informing me of Ray, or was his evasive slip due to his impending death?
I wanted to know how Bill knew Raymond.
I wanted to know why Bill never trusted me with this knowledge.
Those questions will forever remain unanswered. Bill and Ray were dead—never coming back. "It's over now," I muttered to myself, pulling my hood over my head, concealing my identity somewhat.
Locating a bustling burger van, I stopped in my tracks, licked my lips and hurried across the street. Even waiting in the queue was luxury. I inhaled the permeated morning air infused with cooked meats, ordered two breakfast rolls and scarfed them down with hungered glee. Scrounging for meals was a thing of the past. Looking for private banks for cold showers were an afterthought.
I stopped at a clothes store, purchased tracksuits, boxer briefs, socks, and hygiene products to keep me going until my next spending spree. Pleased with my new wardrobe, I popped into the barbers, as aforementioned, underwent a new image, clean-shaven, black hair styled to perfection.
I felt like the dogs bollocks, trainers tight yet comforting on my feet, brown paper bags in hand, whistling some of Bill's favourite tunes as I waded through commuters.
"It's filthy," I heard a woman shout, and my nosiness got the better of me. "Not fit for an animal."
Christ, she's cantankerous this morning. I rounded the street corner, parked my backside on someone's wall, openly assessed the two argumentative people displaying pure hostility for all to bear witness.
"It's not that bad," the older male disputed, his tousled, crumpled suit in need of an iron. "And it's cheap."
I tore through a packet with my teeth, flung a handful of peanuts in my mouth.
"False advertisement," she argued, melodramatically gesticulating to the stone, scaffolding encircled building. "False!"
Amid their quarrelsome parade, I studied the "To Let" signposted beside the residential polychromatic masonry building, then scoured the neighbourhood—peacefully quiet, meagre vehicles, no commotion and minimal citizens. It's perfect, I conclude, watching the infuriated woman return to her parked car, shouting blasphemy to the middle-aged dude whose nearing a stroke or contemplating suicide.
I waited until her car speeds passed, leaving thick smog in its wake. "Hey," I called out, double-checking the road for blindsided vehicles before joining the unidentified man. "Liam Warren," I introduced myself, dusting salt from my hands. "Who are you?"
Creases develop around the man's wary eyes. He neatened his royal blue tie, cautiously shook my hand. "Reginald," he confirms, settling a clipboard to his chest, hiding his sweat-saturated shirt. "What can I do for you, Warren?"
"Bad day?" I mused, itching to get a look inside that spare room.
"Something like that," he mutters, wiping sweat dews from his bushy brows. "Do I know you or something?"
"I want that flat," I delved straight to the pint. "Preferably today."
His brows jumped in surprise. "But you haven't even seen it."
I motioned toward the footpath. "Then lead the way."
He hesitated before lasering in on the tenanted building. Fishing keys from his cord trouser pocket, he unlocked the door, stepped aside for me to enter. "Top flat," he said, pointing to the stairs. "Go ahead."
I ascended the wooden stairs, waited for him to unbolt the second door, eagerly pushed my way inside. "You said it was a flat," I pointed out with haughty scorn. "There's a fucking bed in the living room."
"Well," he breathes, pondering his lie, "it's a bedsit, but there's a private bathroom at the back."
Stopping beside the stained bedspread, I mentally catalogued the paperless walls, wooden floorboards, inadequate, archaic furnishings and pointless kitchenette. "Does the oven work?" I ask, fumbling with the rubber buttons. "Can you check for me?"
A question reared in his gaze. "Do you not know how to function appliances?"
No. "Obviously," I fibbed, gesturing to the stained kettle. "Did this dump pass an electrical safety test, though?"
"Yes," he retorts, highly affronted. "I am an honourable estate agent. Thank you very much." He shoved me away from the small kitchen area, demonstrating how to use appliances. "Satisfied?"
"I'd rather have an unfurnished property." Bed bugs probably reside in that filthy mattress. "I can purchase a new bed and whatnot."
Reginald nodded. "I can make that happen."
Pleased, I dropped my backpack on the sofa, and dust particles bounced off the threadbare cushions. "I'll take it."
"Listen," he sighed, rubbing a hand over his weary features. "I wouldn't blame you for snubbing this shambolic place. It's unaccommodating and overpriced."
"I don't care."
He sliced his eyes. "Are you even old enough to rent a property, Warren?"
"You hate your job," I said assuredly, slumping onto the smoke-infused sofa.
Reginald grunted in agreement. "Is it that obvious?"
"Why are you living this life?" I popped an eyebrow, evading his initial inquiry. "You're a grown-ass man, Reginald. Quit the day job and sort your shit out."
"You got quite an opinion for a young man," he sniped, stationing on the brown armchair. "Tunnel vision, Warren. Not everything in life is black and white. As you said, I am a grown man—a man with responsibilities. I can't just quit my job—"
"It's a choice," I interject, finishing the rest of my peanuts. "You live a mediocre life by choice."
I don't know why Reginald entertained my quarrelsomeness. "I wanted to be a police officer." He laughed at his previous ambitions. "Until I got my girl pregnant and needed money. My father raised me the right way, Warren, so I married the woman, got myself a nine till five and took care of my family. Over the years, I started to resent life. Bills piled up. Debt collectors hammered down on my door..." He slipped off his tie, tucked it in his pocket. "I got the agency breathing down my neck because I'm not hitting sales, too—shit. I shouldn't burden you with my dramas. You're only young."
I might've been young, but I was calculated and determined. "Be a police officer—"
"It's not that simple. I don't have money to fund those courses. Plus, I can't afford to take time off work. How will I pay the bills? What about my wife?"
"I got one wish, and that's for ye to be the best version of yourself. Ye will use your pain, anger and resentment to become a man." Bill carefully slid the gun into my bag. "If ye want somethin' bad enough, then yet take it. Don't accept nothing but the best, Liam."
I stared Reginald down, considering my future.
"Money makes the world go round," Bill husked, his gold tooth glimmering beneath the sun. "It dominates everything and everyone."
"Fuck money," I scoffed, cracking open a lemonade can. "I don't give a shit for paper."
"Aye, ye won't be sayin' that when slamming down those bills and demanding respect, lad."
I swear Bill forgets we're homeless bums. "Whatever you say, Bill."
Yanking my bag, fumbling with the zipper, I tossed five wads to Reginald, witnessing shock claim his protruding eyes. "Quit the day job," I ordered, and he hadn't looked up from the paper. "There's enough money there to keep your family afloat."
"I can't take that from you," he said, although he never tried to hand it back. "It's wrong. You're only a kid."
I shrugged. "Money is paper. I want to help you. Besides," I smirked deviously, "I get the feeling you'll benefit me in the future. Now, sign me up for this shithole. I need a place to sleep tonight."
Reginald produced a twelve-month contract and quit his job. He had enough money to clear debts and live comfortably with his small family before joining the police force.
Funding Reginald Burton was a lucrative investment. I knew, maybe not today, but someday, the conniving fool would reciprocate my generosity that day—
My office door knocked, ripping me away from nostalgia. I frowned, glancing at my watch: four a.m. "Come in," I shouted, and the door slowly crept open. "Brad if that's you..." Alexa entered the room, quietly locking the deadbolt behind her. "Alexa," I whispered, eyes narrowing, outlining her silhouette. "Is that you?" I mightn't see clearly through the darkness, but I felt her. "Baby."
She stepped forward, nervously fumbling with her fingers. "Liam."
My beating heart lunged to my throat. I abruptly stood, a wave of light-headedness momentarily paralysing me. "Come here," I rasped, hands positioned to the desk, breathing becoming cumbersome. "I don't like repeating myself, Miss Haines." Her hand suddenly touched my back. I turned my head, caught my breath. "Baby."
"I missed you," she whispered, hand cupping my jaw. "Liam."
I closed my eyes, relished in her soft, familiar touch. "Please be real." My hands fell to her waist, tugging her closer. "Fuck, you better be real."
She smiled against my lips. "You're drunk."
I shook my head, tasting whiskey on my lips. "No," I swore, wrapping her in the thrall of my arms, inhaling her sweet perfume. "I'm sorry."
Flinching in my hold, she eased her head back to look at me. "You don't apologise to anyone."
"For you," I choked, my voice raw, husky, "I'd do just about anything." Her fingertips traced my lips. I took her wrist in my hand and kissed her palm. "I was scared."
She eased me onto the chair, slowly straddled my lap. "Nothing scares Liam Warren," she half-joked, enveloping her arms around my neck.
"Except you," I remind her, kissing the corner of her mouth. "You enamour me, Alexa."
She teased my earlobe with her teeth. "Is it Love?"
"Yes," I said without hesitation, hand ascending the length of her spine. "A love like no other." I sensed her merriment. "Come home with me. You belong in my bed. God, I fucking missed you."
"You couldn't save me, Liam." Her lips almost touched me. "Why didn't you save me?"
"No. Don't you dare." I captured her face between my hands and felt her tears on my fingers. "I fucking love you."
I jerked my eyes open, inhaling a choked breath. Quiet loneliness greets me, the music repeatedly playing in the background. Putting a hand to my chest, I breathed through my erratic heartbeat, wishing I still slept.
Grabbing my phone from off the desk, I searched through text messages, reread Alexa's witty responses, and found an old voicemail. "Liam," she chimed in my ear. "I am drunk. Very drunk, actually. You were mad at me tonight..." She sighed defeatedly down the phone. "I hate it when you're mad at me." Pain locked inside my chest. "Anyways, I wasn't going to call because you hung up on me earlier and stubbornness seemed reasonable, but I had to hear your voice. Chloe and I just got back from the cocktail bar, and, well, I guess, I miss you," she whispers, and I can hear rustling where she's climbing into bed. "I know you get jealous, but it's senile. Everyone knows how much I love you."
I dropped my head back, stared at the ceiling.
"That's never going to change," she adds, ending the call.
I scarcely recall the night in question. "Fuck," I growled, tossing my phone on the floor, fingers clinging to my hair. "Fuck, Alexa."
Tersely jumping out the chair, pacing the office, I listened to the music drone, lifted the Macallan bottle to my lips—lunged it across the room, shattering the glass into shards. "Fuck's sake," I yelled, booting the coffee table, fragmenting futile ornaments. "No."
Without Alexa, everything felt pointless. Rage attacked me from the depths of my core, welding to my burning, throbbing veins.
On a growl unrecognisable to my ears, I claimed Brad's old bat from the display cabinet and destructively wiped out my office. The monitors crackled and spewed across the floor—everything followed: paintings, furniture, mini-bar and showcased vinyl collection.
It's not enough; nothing is enough.
"I fucking need you," I barked, flinging the bat across the floor. I ripped Bill's canvas off the wall, whacked it against the sofa rear until it's broken four-corners met in the middle. "Fuck."
It means nothing to me.
Everything in life means nothing to me without her at my side.
Saving cocaine from the floor, I keyed some to my nostril and sniffed enough to dampen my rage. I stumbled toward the damaged unit, vinyl discs crunching under my weight. I almost hurled the turntable, hesitated. Searching through strewn cases with intense panic, I find the Il Divo copy, replacing the music.
It rotates, filling my office with wistful chords. I salvaged the only intact bottle from the floor, lost the cap, guzzled whiskey until my throat burnt.
My eyes glaze over, back hitting the door, body slumping onto the floor. "You left me," I whispered into nothingness. "I can't believe you left me."
The bottle slipped from my fingers and rolled across the floor.
Fighting for breath, I buried my head in my hands, shoulders quaking, an excruciating pain restraining my dying heart.
Five seconds later, I sobbed like a fucking baby.