Pink Walls

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The Carmosinos [Part I]

“I made the trip all the way up here just to see your beautiful face.”

Alexiares Lestrange was not the sort of person you would expect to be in the running for the position of right-hand man in any gang, not to talk of one run by the infamous Cisco family.

He was the most proper man you would ever meet. He didn’t curse. He never raised his voice. He was always in a suit, always had gloves on his hands and never disrespected women.

He was the sort of man that people on this half of the country hoped to have as a son; the sort that had unlimited potential; the sort that lived in the wealthier parts of the city. But this was where you would find him, three floors above Saffron’s office in his own private world, clicking away on his laptop and doing things I knew were borderline illegal.

His skills and proficiency made him an invaluable asset to the gang, no matter what Ron said. I knew that without him, business would get a lot harder. Most of the streets respected him more than they feared Ron. His presence was enough to keep most gangs in check and the reason was simple.

Unlike Saffron, Alex was cold-blooded; he didn’t mind putting a slug into the brain of anyone he thought deserved it; he didn’t laugh or smile; he didn’t seem to have emotions at all. And maybe that was the reason we got along.

No one outside the gang knew what he looked like. Alex preferred to show his face to people who he knew wouldn’t live to talk about it and now there were legends going round about him being a ghost. If there was someone that needed to disappear, he made it happen. He was clean about it and he was never seen.

Alex didn’t make messes.

He ranked just below Saffron in terms of authority and was the only other person I talked to with when I came around.

The rest of Ron’s ‘staff’ only knew me as her favorite. They all thought I was sleeping with her to get ahead and that alone overshadowed all the contributions I had ever made for the sake of the Cisco family.

In their eyes, I was reduced to nothing but a pretty lap dog. . . and I was okay with that allusion. It saved me the trouble of pretending to be friendly or trying to prove myself just to fit in.

Working here didn’t mean I had to make friends with cold-blooded killers, yet Alex and Ron were the two people closest to me. It was hard to explain what made them different from the rest of the men in this building but what I knew was that there was a difference. As aware as I was of how much of a hypocrite that made me, there was little I could do to change how I felt.

I couldn’t help who I formed a connection with, I could only choose how it affected me. And I knew that without Ron and Alex, I would have been dead a long time ago.

It took me less than a minute to make my way to the top floor of the building. I ignored the other doors lining the hallway and made my way to Alex’s office, knocking once on the heavy oak door with the knuckle of my index finger.

“Come in,” a deep voice barked from behind the door, reminding me of the fact that I had just awakened a beast.

Alex didn’t enjoy being disturbed while he worked.

Then again, I was the exception.

I took a deep breath before turning the door knob and stepping into the brightly lit office. The first difference between Alex and Ron. She lived on the ground floor and preferred her office dim while he managed to transform the third floor of this shabby building into something of a penthouse.

From floor to ceiling, the walls were made of transparent glass. With nothing but the brick walls of taller buildings around us, I knew that there was no such thing as a view but 3D fishes flashed in and out of the blue tinted glass giving the impression that we were under the sea.

This was the ocean setting on the live mural, and it seemed to be his favorite among the other displays. Once the sun rose, the scene would change to one of the open night sky. Alex was someone who enjoyed that brand of irony.

“Kayden,” he called me once I shut the door, not in greeting but in acknowledgement.

Seeing that I was the only one who ever spent the effort to visit him, it was no surprise that the moment I stepped into the room, he already knew that it was me. He didn’t even look up from his laptop screen.

“You’re here,” his baritone voice seemed to echo all across the room before it managed to reach me. It was rare for him to say so much in such a short space of time.

I figured that he was in a good mood.

“Yes,” I walked to his desk. “I made the trip all the way up here just to see your beautiful face.”

“Please don’t do that,” he told me when I took one of his pens off the table.

I set it down in the exact spot I picked it from. Definitely in a good mood, I decided. I wonder what made him so happy.

“It’s pay day again,” I told him after a long moment of silence. No matter how good his mood was, it was a stretch to expect him to start the conversation even if we had done this every month for three years.

“Drop the money on the desk,” he laid his gloved fingers flat on the keyboard and stared into my eyes. “Don’t throw it. Don’t toss it. Don’t lob it, and most importantly, don’t smash it down in front of me.”

That last one made me grin. Finding new ways to annoy the man happened to be my pastime. I would try anything at all if it somehow made him show his emotions but till now though, I hadn’t even gotten a scowl out of him.

I reached into my pocket and got the envelope out before I seated myself on the wooden chair by the desk. It was as uncomfortable as ever, and that just made me wonder why Alex was so thrifty in his luxury.

Despite knowing that it wouldn’t take long, I could almost feel time pass through me as he worked to trace where the bills had been before they got into my hands.

“Fresh from the mint,” he told me after placing the money in a new envelope, one that had no creases, and putting it into the usual folder. “These hundreds have only seen one bank before being withdrawn by the boss.”

I nodded and didn’t ask for more details. I had gotten the answer I wanted and I knew better than to ask why Ron was getting clean money straight from the source. Instead, I chose to begin a conversation I knew Alex would be interested in. “I mentioned you to the boss when we talked today.”

Immediately, he tugged down the screen of the laptop and regarded me with undisguised interest. He kept our gazes connected and I almost found it hard to keep a straight face. Ron was the only thing that could get his mind off work.

I offered him a smile and he reached into a drawer. In no time, my knitting patterns were sitting in space between us. I could have taken them if I wanted but I had a feeling that if I tried I’d have a pen stabbed into my hand.

When I let out a small laugh, Alex crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow—the only change to the deadpan expression he had been wearing since I walked into his office.

I didn’t know whether he was threatening me or offering a bribe. But knowing Alex, it was probably a bit of both.

I sighed and leaned back into the chair. Teasing him was harder than flirting with a rock. “The boss still doesn’t think you’d make a good right-hand, I tried to say otherwise but you know how it is.”

He nodded, already lost in his thoughts. “They don’t trust me.”

“Hey,” I leaned forward to get his attention back on me. “A little piece of advice. If you want her respect, use the right pronouns.”

“I don’t care about things like that.”

“I know,” I sighed again, wondering why I had even bothered. Alex didn’t care about people’s social standings or how they chose to express themselves, he only cared about who they were. When he met Saffron for the first time, she had been posing as Ron so he addressed her just like everyone else had. In his mind, she was still the same person she was three years ago so he didn’t think see the need to change how he treated her.

“Why. . .does she trust you?” he asked suddenly, ripping me out of my headspace.

I was caught off guard by the question itself and the hint of desperation in his voice. I didn’t know what to make of it.

“Because I don’t mind it when she’s herself in front of me,” I answered honestly. There was really no other way to put it. Saffron could not be explained with words. Well, at least not any words I knew.

Alex showed no reaction to my answer and opened his laptop again. That was how I knew that the conversation was over.

Lestrange wasn’t a people’s person and he liked his personal space. He was more of a workaholic than Saffron and was the only person who actually lived in this building. He had rented the entire top floor from Ron and only ever went out to complete a job.

Like I said, he wasn’t the sort of person you’d expect to see in a gang. Straight away you would know that he came from money. His shirts were never creased, his tie was never crooked and he never had a hair slicked out of place.

If you had never seen him throw down a one-ninety pound runner before you’d think he was your average business man. Maybe he had been once, but no one knew why he was here now.

Unlike me, he did all the jobs even though it was clear that he didn’t need to and Saffron didn’t appreciate his enthusiasm, because like he said, she didn’t trust him.

I was forced out of my thoughts one more time when Alex took out another envelope and held it out to me. “The profits from your last deposit,” he said.

I took it without asking questions or checking how much money it was. Alex did everything for a reason and he had never given me any profits before. The deal was, I let him do whatever he wanted with my money and if there were profits we’d split them later. Out of principle, I never got to touch the extra money before it was transferred offshore with all the rest.

“Even if they weren’t before, the Carmosinos are going to be after your head soon. You won’t be able to survive on chicken change,” he explained.

I understood what he was trying to do and nodded gratefully. I couldn’t refuse even if I wanted to. “I’ll pay you back.”

“I don’t invest for the sake of wealth,” he replied then wound his gloved hand round the silver chain dangling down the front of his navy blue jacket. “Ron told you about the peace talk tomorrow?”

“You’re going too?” I took a glance at the wall clock above his head and saw that there was little over an hour till the meeting started.

“Yes,” a small smile tainted his expressionless mask. It was gone as soon as it appeared, but I had seen it.

He got to his feet and pushed his chair forward till it was flushed with the desk. “You can sleep on the bed here and take a shower. I have to deliver some documents to Ron.”

“Thank you, Alex.”

“I’ll be back in an hour,” he said curtly then walked out of room.

That was when it hit me. The reason Alex was in an unusually good mood today, the reason why he worked here. . . It was all because of Ron.

❄❄❄

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