Rebecca, my youngest sister, had been calling all afternoon. I finally had to shut the phone down. She knew I was out of town for an important meeting, and whatever it was could wait. She was irate when I left because she wanted to go out of town next week; I told her no, there was too much going on. Dad was concerned over growing tensions.
The Five Families had been more at odds than usual, and it was troubling. Sides were being taken. In the past, we all ruled our own territory with little involvement from the other families. Once a month, we would gather to go over reports and issues but mostly stayed out of the other’s way. In the last few meetings, it seemed some had more opinions than they should. If it continued, someone would start a war over it, and the last thing we needed was a war to disrupt the money flow and power balance. Needless death would follow. I’m all for a killing when the occasion calls for it, but war interrupts business and that I won’t stand for.
Sliding into the back of the car, I wait for Pete to drive down the road before returning her call. I breathe out and shrug out of my black coat jacket. Tossing the coat to the side, I wait for her to answer.She’s probably calling trying to convince me to change my mind. I’m not changing my decision; I give into both my sisters way too often as is.
After the third ring, she picks up. “Rebecca, what’s going on?” I ask, already envisioning how this conversation will go. She’ll ask me to go. I’ll say no, and she’ll try again with a little more begging in her voice. The meeting thankfully went well today, but I’m still uneasy. The quicker I get off the phone, the sooner I can come up with a plan B if shit hits the fan. I don’t believe Phillip Cruz will double-cross us, but I also know not to trust anyone in this life. Criminals, as it turns out, do not have the best consciences.
“He’s gone.” Her voice is emotionless.
My blood turns cold, and I go motionless. “Who’s gone?” I demand, sitting straighter in the black leather seat. Knowing the only person she could mean but not believing it. It’s not possible. I will not allow it to be possible.
Pete’s eyes meet mine in the rearview mirror and he hits the gas.
I was expecting her to say this, but it’s still a punch to the gut hearing it from her lips.
“I’m on my way home. Lock everything down. I’ll call the others. I’ll call Claire." Oh God, Claire. How the hell am I going to tell her that he’s dead?
“No. Claire knows. I called her.” She speaks robotically.
I wince at her words, knowing I should have been the one there to handle this. I should never have left town, I left them unprotected. “I’ll be there soon” is all I can think to say before hanging up. All the words I should say and that I want to say are jumbled up in my mind. The less I say, the better at the moment. It would all come out wrong.
“Don’t say it,” I command, looking at the men in the car. I know they want to ask about what is going on. I know they already have a clue, and I know they would lead any question with the term ‘boss’, a title that I wish still belonged to my father.
The results mock me as I stare, shocked, at the pregnancy test. My thoughts are racing so fast that I almost miss my phone dinging on the sink. Now what? Rebecca. “Hey. Can it wait?” I ask, trying to get control of my emotions. Pregnant. How? Well, I know how, but I wasn’t expecting this. We’d been careful for the most part and I’m on the pill. Yes, I missed my period, but my period has never been consistent and I’ve been known to skip it for months. I have no clue how Mike will react. We haven’t discussed kids.
My hand moves to my still flat stomach, and I find that I don’t feel as scared or worried as I’d expected. This baby will be the best of me, and maybe I can keep her or him out of this life as I have Mike. We can do this. I just need to get stuff in order with my family and Mike. Make sure this is something he wants as much as I do. The ring on my finger means nothing if he doesn’t want this the same way. I can always raise the child on my own, but I want Mike by my side. Mike left this morning for business. I’ll tell him when he gets back and hope for the best. I’m already picturing a baby boy with his eyes.
I return to my phone. Rebecca’s breathing sounds hitched, as if she’s trying to find the words but unable to say them. “Claire, you need to come now. It’s Dad. He’s… gone. Please… come… please.”
Air, I need air. I can’t breathe. There isn’t enough air. Pain.
Hanging up, I stumble out of the bathroom, tripping as I get to the door. This can’t be happening. From what Elijah and I had learned from the meetings, everything was going well. The usual issues, but seemingly nothing that would lead to the war that’s just started. But Dad is gone. The one person that was stronger than life itself is gone.
The black tie feels more like a noose than a thin piece of fabric. The dark suit is much like the ones I wear daily, but this one feels daunting. This one I’ll burn tonight, I think, not wanting the memories attached to it, even though burning them from my mind will be more challenging. My father’s cold, dead body on the metal coroner’s table flashes in my mind. No matter how much I drank last night, I cannot banish the picture from my psyche.
My father had been shot leaving a meeting at the warehouse. Danielle Ferrari had called and waited to change days; the meeting was supposed to wait till the following day when I returned home. We had given the shift-in date little thought as Danielle and my father were friends. They worked closely together and had grown together in the ranks of Families.
Adrian Regio, Danielle Ferrari, Tony Costa, Gian Marino, and now me: The Five Families that rule New York. It was an agreement going back to the homeland some hundred years ago. It started as a way to protect the others while turning a significant profit when the original men in charge moved to America. Over time, each family found their specialty and ruled their territory with blood and fear. What was once a collective mind splintered off into diversions, divided family lines these last three generations. Causing higher tensions and paranoia.
Father’s men suffered the same fate. It was an ambush, and Adrian played a role; now I have to prove it. I told my father we could not trust him. He and my father had never gotten along, and Adrian had grown bold and jealous. A deadly combination. He would never have tried anything without the belief that the others would follow him or at least fall in line. From what I’ve gathered, two of the Families have fallen in line, and I have to wonder what he has on them or has promised them. Danielle just turned rat. He was unharmed, it could only mean he was in on it.
Rage burns through me, and I can practically feel my hands around their throats.
I hear the door creak open and turn to see Rebecca. Her chestnut hair falls in tight curls. Her face is painted with only slight makeup, enough to give her more color than normal. In appearance, she’s most like Claire. In personality, she’s like no one. My father would call her his little mouse because she would enter and leave rooms as quietly as possible. Never wanting to disturb the people in the room or have others notice her. Unlike the rest of the family, who screams notice me, she’s quiet and would rather blend into the wall. In a way, she’s almost fearful of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. She should have been born into a better family. Not one surrounded by so much darkness. We have sheltered her, trying to keep the light for ourselves, and I worry that has been a mistake.
“Claire says it’s time to go.” Her voice is small as if she’s scared to say the words out loud. They do make everything more real.
I nod, turning to face the mirror once more, making sure everything is in place. Today is a day that we must stand tall and not give in to emotions. We need to show a united, strong front. Show the other families that the passing of the business will go without a hitch. Dad had been training me to take his position for years. I’m more than ready.
“You ready?” I ask.
“No. But we don’t have a choice. I’ve got your back, Rebecca. I’ll handle all of this.” She nods, believing my words. Giving her a weak smile I add, “Let’s get Claire.”
Claire waits for us by the front door. “You need to grab an umbrella. It’s going to rain,” I say. Rebecca goes to the hall closet and pulls out three black umbrellas. She hands me one, then Claire.
Claire shakes her head in refusal. “I don’t want one. Let’s just get this done,” she mutters, opening the front door and stepping into the cool air. Rebecca looks at me as if I should make her take one, but I shrug. If not having an umbrella does something for her, so be it.
Our uncles are waiting by the cars along with Dad’s most trusted men. Antonioand Chris, two of my oldest friends, stand next to my uncles. They look at me with a new form of respect. The keys to the kingdom have fallen into my hands, and now they all have a choice. Fall in line or leave. And no one leaves this life alive.
The funeral passes in a blur, much like the past few days. Angry rain falls, and my shoes start sliding on the muddy ground. The sun slides behind the clouds, making the mood even more somber. The priest speaks, but I’ve stopped listening, my mind flying in a million different directions.
I have men out looking for my sister’s fiancé, Mike. When I get ahold of him, I will skin him alive. I knew he was a rat. I knew it from day one. I should have followed my instincts and killed him when I had the chance. Instead, I let Claire convince me he was a good guy. The guy for her. I was reviewing the files my father left when I found the latest report on Mike.
They had done an excellent job burying his background. It took several attempts and trials to learn the truth. My sister was engaged to Adrian Regio’s son—bastard son at that. Once I knew that, all the pieces fell into place. He had betrayed us. Hell, half of the Five Families had. They would pay.
First, I need to tell Claire the truth. Today keeps stacking shit on in heaps.
I need a drink. I might skip the glass and go for the bottle. My lips curl thinking about everything I’ll do to Alex (Mike) once I find him, before realizing I’m smiling at my father’s funeral. My father would approve of my thoughts, but others would be confused by the grin.
They will all pay with their blood.
Claire eyes me from her seat in front of the desk. I try to ignore how much the office reminds me of our father, from the smell of cigar smoke to the pile of books in the corner. Memories circle, and I practically hear his deep laugh and voice. I need to get him off my mind. I try to accomplish this by focusing on my sister and the task at hand.
Handing her the file with the information, I know what she’ll see once she opens the folder. A picture of Mike with two other men walking, looking as if they are in deep conversation. She flips through the pages—more photos of Mike, some with the same men, others with different men. The last picture is him with Adrian Regio’s sons.
I know the moment she puts two and two together. It’s not so much in her words but her eyes. Even as she tries to debate within herself, she knows the truth. She was betrayed and, in turn, betrayed the family. But she is not the only one that’s betrayed us in this room.
“I don’t understand,” she says, but we both know she does. She keeps flipping.
“The men in the last picture are Adrian Regio’s sons,” I state, knowing she already knows. Logan and Sebastian are as different as any two brothers can be, but they are both as dangerous as their father. The main difference being Sebastian is a drunk and impulsive. Logan, on the other hand, is charming and highly intelligent. Their father is simply cruel. He never hides what he is, it’s always there lingering behind his eyes, telling the world not to turn their back on him.
“I know. I don’t understand what this has to do with Mike.” Her voice shakes at the end.
“Yes, Adrian has two sons. We have both met them. What we did not realize or know is that he has another son from a mistress. His middle son is Alexander; we know him as Mike.”
I continue to speak about what happens next, but she’s lost in her mind. I speak now because if I don’t, I’ll crumble myself, and I don’t get the luxury of crumbling.
“What do we do?” Her voice comes out cold as she bunches the pictures of her fiancé in her hand.
“It’s done, Claire. I got the call shortly after we got home from Pete. That’s why he was not there today. He was in negotiations.” I pace. The others look down at their feet. “Shortly after our father’s death, Adrian made a play. He has already gone to Nikola Costa, turning him against us. Tony Costa has been killed, leaving Nikola in charge. They both saw the opportunity to seize power. Once they made their deal, it took nothing to convince Danielle Ferrari to turn into the rat that he is. They quickly seized territories. It was impressive how easy it was for them. Disgusting even.”
I pull the 98 from my side, aiming at Matteo, giving a slight squeeze, killing him instantly with a bullet through the brain.
“Almost like they had more help than from my baby sister. But exciting news at the meeting—Adrian had the generosity of allowing us to keep some of our territories. Out of the kindness of his heart. Of course, will have to pay him for his kindness. He also gets the joy of knowing he brought us to our knees in a matter of days."
She interrupts me. “What are you going to do?”
“The only thing I can do. Adrian will never keep his promise. If anything, he will bid his time till he takes us all out, one by one.”
“Elijah, what are you going to do?”
“I…” My voice stops as I strain to hear. The men that are left stand up quickly, all reaching for their guns.
I hear the code being typed into the study. Shoot first, ask questions later. The door opens quickly with a bang as Pete enters, shuts the door behind him. Blood falls from two bullet holes in his chest. He falls, holding a hand against his wound. There is too much blood and nothing any of us can do for him now.
“Who did this?” I demand.
Blood pools at the edge of Pete’s mouth as he tries to speak. “You…have to…leave.” Each word drains him. “Adrian men….kill you…” With one last gasp of air, he is gone. There is only one way out. Leaving the study now would be a death sentence. We do not have enough guns, and even if we did, we only have six people in this room. From the sounds around us, it is a massacre.
“Claire, stop.” I reach for her arm, pulling her close. “This is not the end. It’s just the beginning.” I signal the men silently.
Uncle William and Chris lift Father’s desk as if it only weighs a pound, revealing a hidden hatch. Father had shown it to me the day I turned fifteen. He said that I would know when to use it, but he hoped I never would. I’m the last one down. We move quickly. To where, I don’t really know as long as we make it to safety. We only make it a couple of feet when the sound of explosives hit us. Claire stops.
“Elijah, they are blowing it up,” she cries, moving to turn back around. I grab her arm, yanking her forwards. Practically carrying her away. “Elijah, what about Rebecca?!”
“I know.” I continue to drag her as the men move farther ahead.
“We have to go back. Elijah. We have to go back. Rebecca.”
I stop and shake her hard. “There is no way anyone survived that. Now it’s time to move. We will mourn later, but now, we need to live to mourn.”
We run as the last pieces of our family are blown to hell, as Rebecca leaves us forever. Her death would be on my hands just as much as the ones that lit the match. I say a silent promise to her. One that I’ll keep. Rebecca, I’ll get it back. I’ll make them pay. I’ll get your revenge.