“You’re becoming a fucking disgrace. You know that, right?” Gino slammed the front door, dragging Eris in from the car after he’d collected her from the bar she’d insisted the driver take her to after she left the restaurant. Gino was furious and had screamed at her all the way home. She’d twisted an ankle on the way in but was in no pain since she was so high.
Eris kept walking to their bedroom, not wanting to listen to his ranting any longer. She’d heard more than enough of it in the car, and her neck Chapter Thirty was starting to tense up from the headache she felt coming on. That wasn’t going to stop him, though, since she could hear the click of his heels on the tile floor right behind her.
“Don’t walk away from me. I’m not finished talking to you.” She lost her balance when he grabbed her shoulder and spun her around. “I’m sick of you embarrassing me in front of my father.”
“Then stop insisting I go with you whenever you have to meet with him. I hate sitting there watching that fat pig stuff food Chapter Thirty in his mouth like—” A hard slap stopped the rest of the insult from pouring out of her mouth. Blood readily replaced the words, and Eris reeled. Their relationship had started to crumble, but Gino had never resorted to violence before.
She peered up at him with a mixture of disbelief and pure hatred. “Do you feel like a man now, you fat son of a bitch?” Her hand came away from her face extremely bloody, but the cocaine in her system masked the pain. “Get the fuck away from me!” she screamed when Gino tried to Chapter Thirty help her up.
The baby started crying after Eris’s voice rose, and she heard the nanny go in to check on him. Eris had been hooked on Gino’s product when they had met—nothing extreme, just enough to make her days more enjoyable. After they’d gotten serious about one another and decided to marry, she’d cleaned up and given up her little friend, as she called the white powder.
Because she was going to have children, she had made her decision easily. Kids had enough to deal with without being born sick because of her. Now Chapter Thirty, though, she couldn’t have cared less about herself or her husband, and instead of maternal feelings for her son she had only guilt.
Everything had changed after she’d had Little Gino and gotten pregnant again right away. She’d done everything right and fought off her demons without giving in to the craving for drugs, but she’d lost the second baby anyway. Only the small vials of white powder gave her solace after that nightmare.
“Clean yourself up before that woman you hired to take care of my son thinks you’re a bigger loser than I Chapter Thirty do. There isn’t any reason for you not to be taking care of him.” He batted her hands away and pulled her to her feet. “Little Gino doesn’t even know you. He fucking thinks that idiot you hired is his mother, but maybe that’s a good thing.”
“You’re right, but what’d be even better is if he didn’t know either one of us. Then he might have a fighting chance.”
This time he walked out and left her on the floor after he’d hit her again, only this time he’d used a Chapter Thirty closed fist.
Gino started the car and waved off the men standing outside ready to follow him. He didn’t need an entourage outside his mistress’s condo all night. He was firming up thoughts of how to rid himself of Eris when his car phone rang.
“Did Papa call you?” Stephano asked.
“I had dinner with him and haven’t heard from him since.” The streets were quiet and free of traffic, so Gino picked up speed. “Why?”
“I got a call from someone in Luis’s organization about problems in Biloxi. Something about thinking Chapter Thirty we don’t have enough cash flow for both operations.”
“That’s your problem, brother.”
“No, Gino, this is our problem, since I cut you in. If Papa finds out about our extracurricular activities, my ass won’t be the only one in shit, so don’t try to walk away from your responsibilities. I’m going to meet with these guys, but I want you ready in case I need backup.”
“Do you think you can handle this alone? We don’t need you fucking up our new deal.” Gino pulled over and looked at the dashboard clock. The green Chapter Thirty numbers read 1:48, and something wasn’t right. Rodolfo’s men weren’t the middle-of-the-night, clandestine type.
“I’m not the fuckup in the family, so shut up. Just forget I called and forget our deal in Biloxi. I’ll handle this myself.”
“Stephano!” Screaming his brother’s name did no good. The connection was dead. Gino immediately dialed Stephano’s number to find out where he was, but didn’t get an answer. “You stupid bastard.” Gino called his two other brothers. If he was right, they didn’t have much time before Stephano was Chapter Thirty lost to them forever.
Francis was in for the night and couldn’t leave without raising their father’s suspicions, so Gino tried Michael next.
“Just get out and look for him, Michael,” he said as he drove to Stephano’s favorite club.
“I told you two I don’t want any part of this business until you come clean to Papa.”
“Fine, but if something happens I’ll be sure and let the old man know how helpful you were.”
Gino slammed on his brakes in front of the club and asked the bouncer if he’d seen Chapter Thirty Stephano, getting a head shake no.
“Where are you, little brother?” Out of ideas about where to look, Gino drove to his mistress’s house, intending to leave his phone next to the nightstand in case Stephano needed him.
His instincts told him Stephano needed him more than ever, but he was out of his reach now.
The silence closed in on Stephano as soon as he shut off his engine in front of the abandoned-looking place. As he checked the address he’d scribbled on his bar napkin, all he could hear were the ringing phone Chapter Thirty and some slight clicking noises coming from the engine as it started to cool.
Stephano stood outside his car ignoring the phone and dismissed any fear at meeting at such a peculiar location and time, not wanting to jeopardize the connections driving his lucrative business dealing on the Mississippi coast. Family loyalty was one thing, but this was business, and that, his father had always taught him, came before anything else.
The closest structures were abandoned tenement buildings Stephano figured were used as crack houses. Adjusting the semiautomatic in the small of his back, he summoned up the swagger in his Chapter Thirty gait and strode to the door, which had opened when his car alarm chirped.
“Let’s get this over with. It’s damn late,” he told the guy at the door. In the faint light coming from the street, he could see his earlier guess was right. Homemade pipes littered the floor, evidence that the local dopeheads visited frequently after making a score. “Where’s Manuel?” Stephano asked without giving the first guy he passed another look. Manuel Cusso was the guy Rodolfo had entrusted the Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida territory to. He was always straightforward during Chapter Thirty their dealings, and they’d formed a friendship along the way. That was why this meeting seemed so strange.
“In his condo in Miami, if I had to guess, but then again I don’t give a fuck about the people you keep company with, little man.”
The familiar voice chilled Stephano more than the hands pressing him roughly to the wall in front of him. After a few pats along his body, he was relieved of his only weapon, then pushed roughly into a chair almost in the center of the room. Another, much cleaner-looking one Chapter Thirty, sat a few feet in front of his, and its occupant looked like someone waiting for a cup of coffee. He’d always envied the cool demeanor.
“Comfortable? This won’t take long, but I don’t want you to be miserable during our talk.” Cain uncrossed one of her long legs and kicked a crack pipe in Stephano’s direction with the tip of an expensive shoe. “Do you ever stop to wonder what drives someone to get hooked on something that’ll ruin their life? What prompts them to sit in rat holes like this and Chapter Thirty spend their days sucking on crap like that?” She pointed to the pipe at Stephano’s feet.
“You dragged me here to ask me that?”
He winced involuntarily when someone jerked his arms back and tied his hands together. He tried not to show either pain or fear, because he was in the deep end of the pool and a shark was swimming lazily toward him. Stephano’s dreams about dying at home in his bed after a long life were rapidly dimming.
“It’s a rhetorical question, so no, that’s not why you’re here.”
“Cain, you have to know Chapter Thirty if you hurt me, my father’s going to bury you. I never figured you for stupid.” Stephano shifted to find a more comfortable spot, and a few creaks escaped from his chair.
The laugh that bubbled up from Cain’s chest chilled him. “Thank you for the compliment. At least I think it was a compliment. Stupid is something I try to avoid at all costs. Stupid gets you dead. Stupid gets you caged in some penitentiary. Stupid gets you tied to a chair someplace where no one of consequence will ever find you.” She crossed Chapter Thirty her legs again and cocked her head slightly to the side as if studying him. “The question is, do you know why you’re here? Is it because of greed or stupidity? Or perhaps a little of both?”
“Come on, Cain. I know you. What do you have against me? You wouldn’t kill someone because of their last name, would you?”
“Please.” Cain cocked her head to the other side, only this time she frowned. “You’re not going to sit there and act innocent, are you?”
“You’re the head of your family. You know what that Chapter Thirty’s like. My father’s no different from you. The grudges between you two have nothing to do with me. Just like all these goons standing around here, I was following orders.”
“So you were following orders, or did you feel some overwhelming compulsion to hang out with Blue? I didn’t realize your charity of choice was to give large cash donations to gamblers with shitty luck.” The laugh came again, and again it gave him no comfort. “But enough about that. Blue’s a dead subject. Why we’re here seems like a more interesting topic of conversation.”
“Why Chapter Thirty are we here?”
Katlin took a case out of her pocket and placed it on the windowsill behind her. She then took the time to study the area outside. Stephano knew Cain and her guards would’ve taken extra precautions to lose any shadows interested in them. He’d even heard rumors of escape routes dug from private homes for just such occasions, so he was afraid that any help from the feds would never materialize.
“I’m here to share with you what you’ve shared with so many.” The needle came out of the little black Chapter Thirty case, looking surreal in Katlin’s black gloved hands.
A bead of sweat rolled down Stephano’s neck.
“You’re here to sit back and enjoy the ride,” Cain said. Someone standing next to Katlin lit a small cooking torch and poured a bag of white powder into a small metal container. “I’ve never indulged, but from what I’ve read on the subject, I understand that’s exactly what it feels like. A nice long ride no one wants to end.”
“That’s too much,” Stephano protested weakly. A slight chemical smell in the air Chapter Thirty mixed with the mildew and rot, and he could almost feel death walk through the door.
“Are you kidding? I spared no expense on your behalf, Stephano. If a little makes you fly, then I want you to soar. And if you’re worried about the quality, don’t. I had one of my associates buy it from one of your dealers.” The plunger squeaked when Katlin dipped into the hot liquid and filled the syringe. “I would think you deal only in quality.”
Stephano was mesmerized as Cain pulled a switchblade from her pocket and opened it with practiced flair. He Chapter Thirty closed his eyes as it sliced through his sleeve and barely opened them when Katlin tied the rubber tubing into place, making his veins plump up like they were anxious for what came next.
“Don’t do this.” He knew the plea made him sound small and weak, but Cain’s expression didn’t change. “You’ve always been so sanctimonious, but we aren’t so different. Except for where we come from, we’ve got the same blood running through our veins.” Someone out of his eyesight tapped on the vein in the bend of Chapter Thirty his arm.
“You ask for salvation by insulting the memory of my father, saying our blood is the same?” Cain pressed her hands together to keep from hitting him. “You and I are nothing alike. I indulge in what I peddle, so to speak, so why is it you look at that needle with such fear?”
Katlin stepped closer, inserted the tip of the needle into the bulging vein, and barely pushed the plunger. Cain judged from the way Stephano’s carotid was pumping, the coke would course through his body rapidly. And from the way his eyes were glassing up, the Chapter Thirty high would kick in sooner rather than later.
“See, that’s not so bad, is it? See what you’ve been missing just pushing this crap to other people?” Cain nodded, and another shot hit Stephano’s system.
“I feel so great I could run a marathon,” the condemned man said. He sounded as if he were vibrating with energy, and the ropes around his hands pulled tighter as he pushed against them. He apparently thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to break free and seemed oblivious to the ties biting into his skin.
Cain watched Stephano Chapter Thirty slide further and further into a world the cocaine was creating in his head. From what she could see of his hands, they were swelling and turning blue as he pulled on his bindings. She couldn’t tell if they bothered him.
“You can’t hurt me, you know.” His head fell forward, and he laughed so hard his eyes filled with tears. “Even after all we did to you, there’s nothing you can do to hurt me.”
Cain held up her hand, making Katlin hold back on the huge syringe that still held three-quarters of the Chapter Thirty original amount. “What things?”
Stephano jerked his head up, as if remembering Cain was still there. “What do you care?” The laughter had died down to some high-pitched giggles, and he appeared to be enjoying himself.
“I don’t. I just thought you would get off on the telling. If what you did hurt me, just think what telling me about it will do.”
The smile on his face made Cain think he agreed with her logic.
“You still crying over that retard you were related to?”
Cain used every bit of her self-control to refrain from Chapter Thirty getting up and slitting his throat when he spoke of her sister in such a flip tone. “If you’re referring to my sister Marie, then yes. Her death is something I’ll never get over.”
Stephano’s head fell back, and he started laughing again. He laughed so hard he choked on his saliva, but for the longest time, he didn’t stop. “She cried for you in the end, you know. Really, she cried for you the whole time, but after the show Danny put on, we just ignored the whimpering. The way that little simple Chapter Thirty brain thought you would save her from the bad men was heartwarming.”
So caught up was Stephano in the telling of the story, he never noticed that Cain was almost breaking the arms of her chair. “I wanted to call you so you could hear her screaming, but Gino wouldn’t let me.”
“Gino was there?”
Cain barely recognized her own voice.
Everyone jumped as Cain shouted.
“Yeah, we both were. Danny called us after he nabbed her. You should’ve heard him. He couldn’t believe he caught her so easily. He really wanted your woman Chapter Thirty, but you ruined that for him. Kept going on about how he got a hard-on every time he looked at the blonde you were fucking every night, but that the retard would really get to you.” He stopped talking and smacked his lips together like he was thirsty. Even though they were still sitting in the dark, dank room, Cain knew that his senses were heightened, giving him a feeling of euphoria.
“Finish your story, Stephano, and I’ll let you go.”
“He had her tied down when we got there, had her spread out and naked like some sort Chapter Thirty of freak show. The retard shut her eyes and just kept calling your name over and over. I’m not into that shit, but for a fucking deadhead, she was kinda hot.”
Cain’s hand shot up, and when Lou pulled his gun out and pointed it at the man’s head, she warned him with her eyes. As painful as it was, she wanted to hear the end of this story. “Why were you there?”
“I just went to watch, but Gino, he wanted in on the action.” He shook his head and laughed again. “He Chapter Thirty’s my brother, but that bastard will fuck anything. The burns on the tips of her nipples, those were mine. I couldn’t just sit there with my dick in my hand the whole time doing nothing. Gino got a real kick out of the way that got her hips to buck.”
“Give me that fucking torch.” Cain held her hand out as she stood.
Without being asked, Lou ripped Stephano’s shirt open.
No matter how much shit Stephano had in his system, he must have noticed the smell of burning hair and flesh. He screamed like Chapter Thirty a volcano erupting as his nipple disappeared, eaten off by the blue flame in Cain’s hand. “You bitch, you said you’d let me go if I told you.” He was crying when she moved to the other one.
“You’re right, asshole. I’m going to let you go, all right.” She pushed the plunger all the way down and stood back as Stephano started to convulse. Before long he started to shake from the seizure that had taken over, and he was choking on the foam spilling out of his mouth.
“Bon voyage, asshole, but don’t Chapter Thirty worry. You won’t be traveling alone. I’m sending your whole family on the same trip.”
Stephano’s chair started to shake from his jerking, but no one tried to stop him. At one final moment his body went completely taut, the ropes finally snapping under the pressure. Then he slumped, overwhelmed by the lethal dose of drugs.
“However we finish this, I want them all dead. None of the Bracatos will escape, but I want Gino and his father saved for last. Just like Danny, they’ll pray for death when I’m through with them.”
Katlin Chapter Thirty and a couple of the men stayed behind to remove any evidence. She put the syringe and needle back into her case, as well as the rubber tubing, then cut the ropes off without too much worry for his hands. He wouldn’t feel anything now.
Finally, she used with a disposable wipe doused in bleach to wipe down Cain’s chair. If anyone happened to discover Stephano, they wouldn’t be able to extract any DNA.
“Problem is, like Cain said, no one who matters will find you. The crackheads will come strip you of anything valuable, then leave the Chapter Thirty rest for the rats.” After making sure nothing could tie them to the scene, Katlin rifled the body for one more thing.
On Stephano’s right ring finger rested a signet ring bearing the Bracato family crest, a gift from their father, a duplicate of the one he wore proudly. Engraved inside each one was the name and birth date of the son to whom it belonged. It was one of a set of five Cain planned to collect before all this business was over. To see it again, off his son’s finger, would send Giovanni the Chapter Thirty same message as the dead fish announcing Blue’s demise. Still wearing her gloves, she jerked the ring off, walked to the car, and handed it to Cain.
“We’re good to go, boss.”
“Rest up, Katlin. We’re just beginning.”
Katlin knew Cain’s comment was fueled by rage about Marie and that if the Bracatos wanted quick and painless, the devil wasn’t in the mood to hear their pleas.