Chapter 1 - Audra
My mother used to say that life didn’t always give us what we wanted to get, it gave us what we needed. That was a quote that often crossed my mind these days. In some ways it was true, the hardships we went through usually made us stronger, but in other ways, it felt like something privileged people said to the people below them. Ever since I left my life in Scottsdale behind and moved to New York that quote had kept me going. Some days were easier than others.
Today was one of the others.
I had been lucky enough to land myself a job at a small café just a few bus stops from the apartment my mom had helped me find after I decided to move here. I did feel bad for leaving her behind but I always felt trapped at home, ever since my dad died it felt empty. Thankfully she understood and helped me move here where I could work towards pursuing my dreams and not be constantly reminded of him.
It was my turn to close up the café and by the time I had wiped all the tables, closed the register, and cleaned up the kitchen, it was well past midnight. I grabbed my purse from the chair I had placed it on and headed out the door, relieved to finally be on my way. I locked the door behind me and shivered underneath my denim jacket. Damn, could September really be this cold? I would have to bring a thicker jacket in the future.
I dropped the keys into my bag and turned to walk off but the feeling of cold metal against my head made me stop. I felt the cold metal ring of what I identified as a gun barrel press further into the back of my head. Fuck, I was screwed. My body froze and I almost peed myself. I wanted to run but my body wouldn’t let me.
”Hand over the keys. Right now,” a brute male voice came from behind me. My keys? Why would he want my keys? I owned nothing worth stealing and that should have been pretty obvious. He didn’t even know where I lived. As realization dawned on me I registered that he was not after my home keys. He wanted the keys to the café.
I would be fired if I handed them over to him. Mrs. Natoli was not known for her mercy and I couldn’t risk her firing me. If she did I would have no source of income and starve once I ran out of food. On the other hand, he might kill me if I didn’t hand them over.
”I said now, bitch.” His hand grabbed onto my shoulder harshly and I flinched in pain. That only seemed to entertain him cause he tightened his grip slightly and chuckled.
So much for time for consideration. What the fuck should I do?! Perhaps I could surprise him and getaway, but that might also just result in getting myself killed. A cold shiver ran down my spine, and I remembered the jacket I was wearing. I always kept a bottle of pepper spray in my pocket; I could work with that.
He, again, tightened his grip on my shoulder. ”I’ll give you to the count of three, or I’ll blow that pretty brain of yours out before you can blink 1…2…,” the man said coldly. Moment of truth. I grabbed the pepper spray and spun around and sprayed him. I didn’t know if it was the movement or the pepper spray that made him lose his grip on me but I ran as fast as my legs could carry me instead of waiting to find out. I heard him cry out behind me but I didn’t dare look back to see if he followed me.
A couple of blocks away, I noticed a bus stopped at the corner and I jumped on it. I grabbed a five-dollar bill from my pocket and tossed it to the bus driver. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him give me the stink eye but I paid him no mind and lowered myself into a seat by the back and hoped to survive the night. The bus stood still for what felt like forever and I held my breath as I, any second, expected the man from before to step in and shoot me. When the bus finally rolled away I let out my breath. I was safe.
A few minutes later I got off at my stop. Normally walking these streets late at night was scary. Tonight, it was terrifying. At every bush or corner, I thought someone would jump out and shoot me. Every noize made me grip the keys I had placed between my fingers slightly harder. The bus stop was only 50 yards from the entrance to my building, but it felt like 500 yards.
Once I unlocked my apartment I hurried inside and locked the door behind me. The reality of what had happened hit me slowly and I sank down onto the hallway floor exhausted. I threw my purse down a couple of feet away and placed my head in my hands.
I had almost been mugged. At gunpoint.
I had to call the cops. What if he found me again somehow? The thought made my heart race and fear crept back into my veins. I stretched out to grab my phone out of my purse so I could call the cops.
I got hold of the purse strap and dragged it towards me. Once I had it in front of me I emptied it out on the floor. I was well aware that I needed to declutter it, it was impossible to find anything in it. Out fell lip balms, napkins, lipstick, tampons, plastic cutlery, music sheets, a notepad, an umbrella, and my charger.
But not my phone.
I searched through the objects on the floor, desperate to believe I had simply missed it. Once that turned unfruitful, I turned the purse inside out and searched every pocket it had. Nothing. I rushed up to grab my jacket and searched through all of those pockets as well.
But I didn’t find it.
Perhaps I had forgotten it at work? I couldn’t recall using it since I left there. Surely I didn’t drop it somewhere? Unless it fell out during my escape from the mugger. I had swung the bag around when I turned to attack him… But that would be extremely bad luck, and my night had already gone from bad to worse. I couldn’t have that crappy of a night.
I would have to ask my neighbors across the hall to borrow their phone. I hated to bother them in the middle of the night, especially since they were elderly, but I hadn’t gotten to know anyone else in the building yet.
It wasn’t until I walked over to the front door, ready to unlock and open it, that I remembered they were away on vacation. Crap. I really wanted to get in contact with the police but I was not about to leave the safety of my home to take the subway to a friend and ask to borrow their phone. Nor did I dare knock at the door of a stranger, you never knew who they could be. Just the walk home from the bus stop had terrified me.
Seeing as there was nothing else I could do, I double-checked that the door and all the windows were closed and locked before I headed to bed. I tossed and turned as the mugging replayed itself over and over again in my head. I wanted to call my mum and talk to her but I knew she would be terrified and worry about me. I hated making her worry about me cause I always felt like she worried too much already. Besides, I didn’t even have my phone.
Instead, I laid there in the dark until unconsciousness caught up to me.
I woke up with a jolt to the sound of my floor creaking. A man stood on the other side of my bedroom and I wished I had brought the pepper spray with me to bed. I froze in fear and hoped it was a nightmare. It couldn’t be real. It had to be a nightmare. This was too much.
His features were masked by the darkness of the room. If he moved forward just a little he would have been fully visible in the moonlight that shone into the room.
”Glad to see you’re finally awake. We have business to discuss,” the man said and stepped forward into the light. His voice was different from the mugger, it wasn’t the same man. I didn’t know whether or not that was a good thing. At first, it relaxed me but then I realized that meant I had no idea what this man was doing here. The moonlight drew my attention to his jet black hair and tan skin. But what captivated me the most were the enchanting blue eyes that contrasted his otherwise Italian-looking genes.
I sat up and attempted to get out of the bed to be less vulnerable, in case he tried something, but I was constricted by a handcuff locking my right wrist to the bedpost.
”Who are you?” I asked, my voice in a whisper.
”My name is Santino Genovese. You caused great distress to one of my men tonight, mi cara.” Genovese? This was bad, really bad. Now all I could do was hope someone would find my body once he disposed of it.
”What?” I was not sure he even heard what I said cause I was too scared to do anything but whisper.
”Yes, it happened about four hours ago? Perhaps you recall pepper-spraying him in the face?” I recalled very well, I just wished I didn’t.
Santino tilted his head to the side and walked towards me. I tried to move away but it was hard to do so when my arm was handcuffed. As he got close he unlocked the handcuff from my wrist and I immediately rolled away and off the other side of the bed. I landed on the floor with a thud and crawled backwards into the corner.
”Please don’t kill me.” I wasn’t ready to die but I saw the moment getting closer and closer with each step he took towards me. He bent down in front of me without a word and I could have sworn that my heart was beating so loudly that all of New York must have heard it.
”I’m not here to kill you, principessa. I have a business proposal I want to extend to you.” I calmed down slightly at the notion that he wasn’t going to kill me, but what could he want from me? I had no criminal ties or powerful contacts that a man in his position might want to use. Nor did I have a lot of money.
”What do you want from me then?” I looked into his eyes and saw a softness that surprised me. I had expected to be met with the stone-cold gaze of a killer but his eyes were normal. They were beautiful and in another life, I could have gotten lost in them.
”Let’s discuss the matter further in your living room. It’s getting stuffy here.” He offered his hand to help me up but I stood by myself. From the corner of my eye, I saw him smirk slightly at my defiance.
He led the way out into the living room and made himself comfortable on my coffee table. I sat down on the couch without realizing how close that made us. There was less than a foot between our feet. I wanted to move, but I knew that if I moved away now I would look scared and I didn’t want to give him that satisfaction anymore. Time to pull on my big girl pants and pretend this was a normal job interview.
”Do I make you nervous?” His question appeared random to me but when I looked at him he seemed intrigued.
”No,” I lied straight through my teeth.
”Liar. Your whole body is telling you that you should be scared of me. Don’t think I can’t see how you’re shaking like an ash leaf. Don’t worry, it’s normal to be scared of me, I’m a dangerous man after all.” I rolled my eyes slightly at his reply. Surely he must know that I had realized that by now? I was no idiot after all. I had recognized his last name when he introduced himself, Genovese. It was the last name of the main family of the Genovese crime family, the most powerful mafia in the whole city.
”What was it that you wanted to discuss?” I asked to change the subject. I looked around for anything I could use to defend myself once he got tired of playing cat and mouse, but saw nothing. Never before had I wished that I kept stacks of knives hidden around the apartment.
”I want you to be my spy. To keep an eye on your boss for me.” He paused for a moment as if to think. ”Let me know what she’s up to. That’s all.” My boss? Mrs. Natoli? As in the cranky old lady who had owned a café for longer than I had been alive? Why was she of interest to him?
”And if I refuse?” Any kind of weapon would be nice at this point. I used to think farmers in vampire movies were silly to think a pitchfork would suffice to kill a vampire, but now as I contemplated stabbing him with the pencil that laid next to him on the table I understood them.
He leaned forward and I felt his breath fane over my face as he replied. ”Then I can keep you locked up in here until you learn not to disobey me. Do we have a deal?” He leaned back again but my heartbeat continued to run a marathon.
I forced myself to slow down my heartbeat. I had heard somewhere that predators could smell fear and I didn’t want to let him know the power he held over me. ”You’re not giving me much of a choice,” I said and looked at him again. He just stared straight back without a word. ”Yes, we have a deal. But you must promise to leave me alone after I’ve done what you ask.”
I spotted the hesitation on his face before he answered and I carefully inched my hand closer to the pencil still laying on the coffee table. I was halfway there when he gripped my wrist firmly and answered. ”I promise.”
Strangely enough, I believed him. He released his grip and I retracted my arm. I didn’t know whether he had realized what I was trying to do or just thought that I had tried to touch him. I didn’t know which would be worse.
”Thank you. But what do you want me to do, more exactly?”
”I want you to keep track of any suspicious or unusual activity of hers. I want the numbers as well, earnings and expenditures, and of course all employee lists and information.” He didn’t mention what had just transpired between us and I was grateful. ”You can start by telling me a bit more about yourself.” About me?
”There isn’t much to know about me. I’m just your ordinary New Yorker these days. Trying to keep everything on track, you know.” I tried to be as secretive as possible since the last thing I needed was for him to know more about me. ”What about you? How’s your life when you’re not breaking into people’s apartments in the middle of the night?” I said to change the subject.
”What makes you think this isn’t a hobby of mine?” he chuckled. ”I’m afraid I have to get going. But don’t worry, I’ll see you soon, principessa. Before I forget,” He dug his hand into his pocket and pulled out my phone. I guess I didn’t forget it at work then. ”Here’s your phone. Thanks for leaving it, it made finding you much easier.”
He held up the phone and tossed it to me. I caught it and laid it down next to me on the couch before I looked back up at him only to see he was already looking at me.
He got up from my table and walked to the fire exit window that I hadn’t even noticed was open. That must have been how he had gotten in. That window wasn’t lockable for fire safety reasons, so if you knew how it was pretty easy to open from the outside. Without even looking back at me he climbed down the fire stairs and I just watched him disappear without a word.
Now what? I was too tired to go back to my bed after all of this. After a moment’s consideration, I decided to sleep on my couch. I just hoped this mess would end as quickly as it started.
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