Saffron [Part III]
“If there’s nothing you need me to do,” I took in a deep breath and offered Saffron my most charming smile, “I need to borrow your laptop.”
On hearing my voice, Ron focused her gaze on me, her attention back on the present. Talking was the only way to get her out off the nostalgic reminiscence she always found herself stuck in after her usual rants.
Truth was, the only person who could make her happy was herself. We both knew that.
It was just that Ron rarely put her personal interests over running the Cisco family. She was filial to a fault, even now when she barely had any family left. It was a habit she was too used to, to change. If she wanted to be happy, all she needed to do was leave the city behind but she couldn’t bear to do that. The best she could do was complain about it to me and get it off her chest.
The empire her family created would crumble if she ever left and if that happened all hell was going to break loose in the city. Saffron hated making messes, especially when they involved innocent lives—another reason we got along so well.
She raised an eyebrow in response to my smile, the sadness she had felt moments ago erased from her steely gaze. A dangerous smirk graced her lips when she leaned her head into her palm, and I suddenly felt like a mouse being stalked by a wild cat. “You know I don’t make house calls for no reason.”
Chatty Saffron was gone and the boss was back. That didn’t bode well for me. If Saffron wasn’t interested in talking, that meant I had to do something else to prove that I was useful. It meant that it was time for me to work.
I had expected this to happen—it always did—but I was hoping it wouldn’t. I had told Olly that I would only be free on Wednesday to account for this very eventuality but really, if I could, I wanted to deliver his friendship bracelet as soon as possible. I wanted to know what the look on his face would be when he saw the colors I chose. I knew he wouldn’t expect it but even if he did, that wouldn’t stop him from being surprised.
His honest expressions were the only sight I looked forward to nowadays. Just a minute with him could be filled with a dozen awkward glances that could be captured perfectly on film. He was the highlight of my bitter winter, but now with this job suddenly springing up it would be a miracle if I managed to make it in time.
Wednesday. It seemed so far away and too close at the same time.
“So,” I shifted uncomfortably in my chair at the thought of what could be the reason behind Ron’s evil smile, “other than being worried that the Carmosinos had put a hit on my head, you wanted me for something else?”
She got up and walked to me, placing her hand on my shoulder and bending over until her lips brushed my ear.
“A job,” she whispered, like it was a massive secret, then hopped back to sit on the part of the desk directly in front of me.
When I attempted to avert my gaze from the curves emphasized by her skintight jumpsuit, Ron chuckled like I knew she would.
“Don’t worry, Kay. You’re the only man in this building I’m sure won’t think of me as a sex object,” she grinned. “Though, sometimes I do wish I could use my body to buy you over to my side.”
I scooted back until I hit the backrest of my chair in a sure-to-fail attempt at putting more distance between us. If Saffron wanted to shove her sexuality in my face, there was little I could do to stop her. “What job?”
I kept my eyes on her face when she crossed her legs deliberately and leaned so far forward that I knew that if my gaze dropped it would meet cleavage. After a while, she spoke again, “I found out who was trying to add fire to the feud between the Ciscos and Carmosinos.”
“Take a guess.”
“I. . .” a breath of relief whooshed out of my lungs when she reached back to grab a file at the top of the stack of paperwork, “can’t.”
“Daniel Guerrero Espinoza of Alphaz,” she flipped through all its pages once before tossing it on my lap.
“He is?” I took the file in my hands but didn’t read it. Ron didn’t like people being distracted when she spoke to them and I knew better than to touch that sore spot. Besides, her briefings usually told me everything I needed to have a successful mission. The file was just protocol.
“Unfortunately, a somebody,” she answered with an annoyed huff. “The beloved love child of the Guerrero and Espinoza’s families, so it’s expected that he is an entitled piece of. . .work.”
“What is he doing in a third-rate gang like Alphaz?”
“Your guess is as good as mine, Kay. Rebellion? Striking out on his own? Teenage idiocy? Frankly, I don’t give two shits what he’s up to. I just know two things,” her eyes narrowed slightly. “One, the leaders of Alphaz are obviously using his influence to deal with us. Two, we can’t touch him, not even a hair, or else this war will have all four crime families in this side of the country having shootouts in our city’s streets. And you know how messy those get.”
“Then what do you need me for?”
“I just need you to do what you do best,” that dangerous smile was back, its effect enhanced by the crimson lipstick Saffron preferred.
“Shadow him, keep his ass alive and out of hot water until his people can get him the hell out of here,” Ron crossed her arms. “I would have loved to ask you to just kill poor Danny boy, and put the blame on the Carmosinos. God knows it would have been easier to do but I need my best and most discreet man on this. That’s you and you—”
“I don’t kill people,” I said the words for her. “You can’t convince me to, no matter how much you’re willing to pay for it.”
“Not even if I paid with my body?” She winked suggestively and grabbed the cross on her right ear.
“You already know the answer to that question,” I sighed.
“Yes, yes. Even if I was naked right now, you still wouldn’t make a move,” she mimicked my sigh and uncrossed her legs. “I know but it’s still fun to watch your tortured expression when you try not to look. For the right-hand man of this city’s top crime boss, you’re pretty polite.”
“I’ve already said that I’m not your right-hand,” I filtered the emotion in my voice until none of my frustration came through. “I’m a runner, the lowest rank after initiate. Alex is the only one here deserving to be your right-hand, give him some credit.”
“Oh please,” she waved her hand in the air and her bracelets clanged noisily against each other, “you’re only a runner because you prefer not to know anything about the businesses I run. You enjoy peripheral work and I let you do it. You’ve been with me since Pa put me in charge of a little rundown gang in the Down District. You’ve worked for me longer than anyone else, if anyone deserves the position it’s you.”
“I’m getting out.”
The first frown I had gotten from her since I entered the office manifested itself and I had expected it.
Saffron never liked talking about me leaving. I liked to think that she was unhealthily attached to me. She called it friendship.
Other bosses would have let me go a long time ago when I decided not to be involved in the dirty business that went hand in hand with being in a crime family. Saffron kept me close and called me special.
It was too bad that crime bosses didn’t have friends. The only person close to them other than family was their right-hand, that was an unwritten rule, and I couldn’t be a right-hand without knowing the ins and outs of everything I’ve been ignoring all this time.
“Ah, don’t remind me,” Ron used the heel of her palm to rub her left eye. “I’m getting twitches just thinking about it.”
“You’re so damn good at your job, Kay,” she said to continue the conversation. “I know that. You don’t leave behind messes I have to clean up later unlike the rest of the people working in this shit hole. But protecting Lil Danny won’t be a walk in the park, the Carmosinos aren’t big enough to not care about the Guerreros and Espinozas but they have more gut than we do. They are going to put a hit on that kid the moment they find out he’s the little shit behind their dead bodies, at least go to the armoury and get—”
“I don’t use guns,” I leaned into the gap between her thighs and reached behind her to get Frank’s knife. All the while, I kept our gazes connected. “Cuts can’t be traced back to me and this blade is a dime in a dozen. Even the god of forensics wouldn’t be able to connect me to any of your messy crime scenes. I like to keep it that way.”
“Why are you so damn stubborn?”
“I’m getting out, I just told you that. I’m not going to do anything that goes against my conscience while I do what I have to to survive.”
“Just carry a gun, Kayden. You don’t have to use it,” she tried to reach a compromise. “I’ll pay you fifty percent more than I already do if you agree.”
“Fifty percent?” I could only stare at her. Was she serious? That would have me reaching my goal in two more paychecks instead of three. Just two more months of this then I could finally start my attempt at getting my life back on track.
“I know that you need money, lots of it. Whatever your getaway plan is, it needs a lot of financing. I can see that much. You do more leg work than those schmucks out there but you never go for the high paying jobs. How long can you last like that?”
“It’s just a matter of time.” Three months if I turned down the offer. Two months if I didn’t. Ninety-three more days of living on the streets versus sixty-two. That was a tempting difference but it came at the price of carrying a firearm during runs.
Saffron’s nails pinched the blade of Frank’s blade and naturally, my attention returned to her.
When she had our gazes locked, she started speaking again. “I know that for the three years you’ve worked for me, you haven’t once touched a penny of your pay. You’ve been asking Alex to stash all of it in one of his billion offshore accounts. What do you plan to do with all that money?”
“You’ve been spying on me.” I wasn’t surprised. It was only a given that she would find out. She wasn’t the sort of boss who didn’t know what went on in her own building and I hadn’t really been hiding what I had been up to. I just never mentioned it to her.
“Not actively. You weren’t really being secretive about it,” Ron shook her head. “If you wanted to keep the money you could have told me and I would have done it for you.”
“You weren’t exactly the warmest person three years ago. . .”
“Please, don’t remind of the dark ages,” she got to her feet and pushed me until I had no choice but to get out of my chair just to avoid falling on my face. “You can use the laptop, just don’t go looking at my porn.”
We exchanged seats in a matter of moments, and like all times before this, I marvelled at how strategically her office had been designed.
Her grandfather’s swivel chair had more distance from the ground than all the other furniture in the room apart from the desk, no matter where a guest chose to sit they were automatically placed in a lower position than Ron.
The only way they would be able to flaunt their authority would be if they stayed on their feet the whole time but that advantage was counterbalanced by the fact that they would be standing while everyone else in the room was sitting.
“You’re ace,” I told Saffron from across the desk then pulled open the drawer that housed everything I had no problems seeing—the normal paperwork that was required to run any business. “You don’t watch porn.”
“The fact that I don’t feel sexual urges doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate the human anatomy,” she rested her elbows on the desk the moment I placed her laptop in front of me. “Are you looking up knitting patterns again?”
“Something like that,” I said as I typed in the password to my guest account.
For minutes, the only sounds in the room were those of us breathing and me clicking away on the keyboard until Saffron asked, “Where’s your scarf?”
“Talking about knitting made me remember that scarf you’ve been wearing everyday for a year now. Your little security blanket,” she chuckled. “I’ve never seen you without it and you were with it two weeks ago, so where is it now?”
“I gave it,” I paused when the results for my search popped up. I clicked on the first one I saw, “to a friend.”
“You have friends other than me?” Ron pressed a hand to her chest dramatically. “I don’t believe you.”
“Your cup of tea, Saffron.”
She snorted. “Don’t pretend to have sass, Kay. You have less of a social life than the mole on Harrison’s ass.”
“You really need more friends if the highlight of our conversation is an ass mole. And Harrison’s for that matter,” I told her without really thinking my words through. My attention was fixed solely on the screen in front of me. The rest of me was just functioning on autopilot.
“Ah! You finally admit that we are friends!”
The moment she said that, I found what I had been looking for. I got out of the chair and offered her a smile. “I’m going to meet Alex now.”
“Come on, Kay,” she got to her feet and stood in front of me with her arms crossed. “You know that I always give you clean bills.”
“Doesn’t hurt to cross-check. No such thing as being too careful.”
“When you’re done with Alex, don’t leave just yet. I want you to accompany me to the meeting with Antonia.”
“Why? I’m sure you can handle it yourself. And isn’t it tomorrow?”
“Having an extra bodyguard can’t hurt, can it?” She grinned. “I’m also hoping that she’ll be distracted by your body then fumble and make a mistake. The meeting will start a minute after midnight.”
She shook her head, her expression hardening. “Like I said, Antonia is a. . . beautiful person. So get your knitting patterns from Alex’s office and get some shut-eye along the way. We’re going to be having an extra long tomorrow.”
“Sure thing, Boss,” I nodded as she walked past me to claim her rightful seat once more.
“God, Kayden, I’ve told you—” her eyes drifted to the laptop’s screen. “The patterns you were looking at were for friendship bracelets? Aw, Kay, are you making me one? Oh, which color will suit me best? Green or purple. Maybe both. . . Maybe not, it’ll just turn out like an ugly bruise. Maybe a more feminine color,” she looked down at the patches of skin visible through the gaps in her bracelets. “It has to match my color though. You’ve never given me a present before. This is all so new to me.”
I took that as a cue to begin my stealthy escape out of the office before chatty Saffron could fully resurface.
“Kay,” she looked up just when I had almost made it to freedom, “where are you going? Is this bracelet not for me?”
I said nothing.
“But if you’re not making it for me,” she furrowed her brows as though the possibility was too hard to comprehend, “who is the friendship bracelet for?”
Without saying anything that could incriminate me, I stepped out of the room and let the door shut behind me.
I had my mind made up, the first chance I got I was going to an electronics store and buying myself something that could let me use Google without having to step foot in Saffron’s office.