Authors: Carmen Faye
I didn’t know how I was going to tell Alex about the final deal with the Crucifix Six. I was in, my foot was in the door, and we could start making our money now. But it had to be damn good money if we wanted to make anything substantial after giving away our sixty percent.
I wasn’t sure if it was a good thing, if I’d made the right call. But I knew that if I hadn’t agreed, I wouldn’t have made it in, and then it was all over. I’d rather have forty percent in our pockets than nothing at all.
It was three days since I met with Tucci at Rumor’s Lounge, and I hadn’t spoken to Alex since. She’d tried to call me a couple of times, but I’d ignored the calls. Like a coward, I’d been avoiding her.
We had a standing arrangement though, so I was going to have to face her at some point. We were meeting for a business lunch, as she called it, so that we could discuss our next move. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the meeting was already set up, I would have had to answer one of her calls.
I really preferred doing this face-to-face. Then I could do some damage control.
The place she chose was a pop-up venue in the local park. They did it the first weekend of every month, apparently, and changed their locations every time. The idea seemed nice if you were into that kind of thing.
I just thought of phoning her to find her in the crowd of people when I spotted her. She wore a light orange tank top, shorts, and white sneakers. Her hair was in a loose braid and she wore very little makeup if any at all. No jewelry either. That was why I hadn’t spotted her before, I realized; she looked completely different than the previous two times I’d seen her.
She looked younger than before and innocent. It was a breath of fresh air, and without all the accessories and makeup, I realized how very beautiful she was.
“Nice of you to come,” she said. The sarcasm was thick in her voice. She may have looked different, but she was still very much the same person.
“Am I late?” I asked, glancing at my phone screen to see the time. She shook her head.
“I just didn’t know if you were still going to show. You haven’t been answering my calls.”
I shrugged. “It’s been rough. I’m sure you know what that’s like.”
She looked at me with that perfect poker face, and I was aware of her lips again. No lipstick. Her natural color, just a bit of gloss to draw attention. And it did. She had all my attention. How was I going to keep this professional if I kept getting caught off guard with how attractive she was?
She gave me a face that told me all about how much she disapproved without her saying anything.
“Let’s get a table, so we can talk,” she said and walked into the venue. We found a table too close to the serving area, and people milled around us in a constant stream. She didn’t complain, so I didn’t either. I was starting to admit to myself that even though I was in control of this operation, I was willing to let her wear the pants in this relationship. The business relationship. Business.
After I got us each something to drink, she got down to business. No small talk with her. I liked that.
“Have you managed to get a hold of any of the brothers?” she asked.
I nodded. “I did actually, yeah. I don’t know which one he is or where he belongs. Tucci. Bernard Tucci. That’s the one.”
Alex nodded. “He’s a good start. Not exactly someone you want to cross, but then again, none of them are. He’s the brother-in-law. He married into the family and brought a lot of money to an operation that already had more than they needed.”
“That’s how these things work,” I said, knowing that the more money you had, the more fluent you were in the language of the underworld.
“What did you work out with him? Anything at all?”
I didn’t like how she said ‘anything at all’…as if I didn’t have it in me to seal a deal so quickly.
“I did a deal with him,” I said. I was proud of myself. I’d made a decision, I’d acted on it. Bang.
“And what was the deal?”
I took a sip of the Coke I’d gotten myself. The fizz was too much, and I had to swallow slowly, bit by bit, before I answered. It was a delay that wasn’t unwelcome.
“We’re under his protection, as it were, and he’ll get us into all the good games if we give him a cut of our winnings.”
Alex stared at me. “Excuse me?” she said after a moment.
I didn’t answer her because I was pretty sure she’d heard me. The way she asked that wasn’t in a way that indicated that she wanted me to reiterate myself. It was an opportunity to change what I’d said. But I couldn’t do that because it was the truth.
“We already have to split winnings, and now we have to give them a cut, too? How much did you promise them?”
Here we go. I looked around us, noting the amount of people. More people, less of as scene, right? I was suddenly grateful we were sitting so close to the queue.
“Tucci wouldn’t have trusted me otherwise,” I said. “I had to let him know that we were worth something.”
The question was unanswered, and I hoped it would stay that way.
“How much, Rip?” she asked. She said my name like it tasted foul.
“Sixty,” I said.
“Sixty grand? That’s more than you owe me!”
I sighed. “I don’t technically owe you. And it’s not sixty grand. It’s sixty percent.”
She narrowed her eyes at me. “Of what.”
“Of our winnings.”
She swore under her breath. It was so soft I almost didn’t hear, but I was sure she said something along the lines of ‘motherfucker’. Well.
“I don’t know why I trusted you to do this,” she said after a moment. Her voice was ice cold like she’d withdrawn.
“What else was I supposed to do?”
She shook her head, and I wasn’t sure if that meant that she didn’t know, or that she just wasn’t going to tell me. She stood up.
“I’m out of here. You’re so full of shit. I don’t know how I ever thought we were going to make it big playing this way.”
“Come on, Alex,” I said, jumping up, too. “You haven’t even given it a chance.”
She didn’t answer me. She slipped into the crowds, and I was left alone at the table with two half-empty Cokes and a table I wasn’t going to use anymore. Great. I needed her for my plan to work. I needed her because of her talent, and her striking beauty that would distract the right people, and her cunning strength that wouldn’t just break in a high-stakes game.
I left the venue five minutes later. I left the Cokes right there and didn’t give a shit if someone thought the table was taken, or what they were going to do with the drinks.
My phone rang in my pocket, and I pulled it out, glancing at the screen, hoping to God it was Alex. It wasn’t. Unknown Number, and I usually didn’t answer those. I pushed talk anyway and held the phone to my ear.
“Ben Reeker,” a deep voice came over the speaker.
“Mr. Tucci would like a word.”
I assumed the silence meant yes.
The voice gave me an address and told me not to waste any time. What else was I going to do? Mope around in my motel room because the one person who could make me rich and happy wanted nothing to do with me? What could a meeting with one of the Crucifix Six do?
I followed the instructions and ended up in a rich part of town with perimeter walls so tall I couldn’t see anything. Mighty gates made of metal or wood blocked out the view, too. I found the right address and pushed the intercom button. I looked into the camera, and the gate slowly rolled open.
A curving driveway led through an elegant garden to a house in the middle of the property. It was made up of blocks of concrete arranged in strange angles to give it a modern feel, with glass railings around the porches and patios.
The front door opened just as I reached it, and Harry from Rumor’s Lounge stood in front of me. He wore a white suit and a green shirt that made him look like Godfather of the Leprechauns.
“I’m here to see Mr. Tucci,” I said.
“Mr. Tucci is unavailable right now, but if you’ll follow me, we can talk in the office.”
I realized that Harry had been the one to phone me. His voice was almost deeper in person, not fitting his less than average height and build at all. The office he led me into was decorated in shades of deep mahogany with heavy curtains in front of windows that looked out over the back of the garden and onto a swimming pool.
“I was under the impression Mr. Tucci wanted to see me himself,” I said.
“Mr. Tucci’s time is far too valuable to meet with every person he speaks to at the lounge. Now, we spoke about your deal and how you’re going to make that work for us.” He slid a piece of paper across the desk to me. “Your signature.”
It was a contract. One that laid out the agreement that I would give Tucci sixty percent of my winnings. I wasn’t aware that something like this could have legally binding contracts. And I didn’t like it either.
“Don’t you think it’s a little foolish to get the law involved in this?” I asked. I didn’t want to sign it. It was going to cause issues for me. I knew it, I just knew it.
“This is not so that we can bring a lawyer into the picture, Mr. Reeker,” Harry said. “This is so that you’re clear on what we expect of you. So that when you find yourself in a compromised position, we don’t go down with you.”
So it was like a waiver.
“If I don’t sign it?” I looked at Harry. I still hadn’t stepped closer to the desk. He looked irritated. He put his hands on his hips and his jacket opened, and I caught a glimpse of a silver gun. I didn’t know if it had been a threat, if he’d done it with purpose, but it was enough to get me to move. I stepped forward and signed the damn paper, feeling like maybe I’d gotten myself into a lot more trouble than I’d bargained for.
The upside was that I had signed with my fake name. He’d never asked for documents.
“We have an important game happening at Lady’s Luck next week on Saturday. I would like to invite you to it on Mr. Tucci’s behalf.
“What game is it?”
I wasn’t so good at Texas Hold’em.
“I don’t know if I’ll be in town next weekend,” I said.
Harry shook his head and walked around the table, coming so close to me we almost bumped chests.
“Mr. Reeker, I don’t think you understand. You just signed a contract. If you don’t show up, we are going to take further action.”
“It’s just a game,” I said, and I felt small all of a sudden, even though I was taller than Harry.
“And sixty percent of the money you win in that game is ours. So you had better show up if you want this deal to go anywhere. If you want to stay in town.”
It was a threat if I ever heard one. I swallowed and nodded. I was going to have to do this now. Of course, I could just leave Cali, leave it all behind. But the idea that there was a lot of money… and I was in with a very large group of high rollers…this opportunity only came once in a lifetime.
If I was wise I would milk it. And I’d crossed paths with scum before. I could handle myself.
“I’ll be there,” I said.
“Send Tucci my regards,” I said. The smile on Harry’s face faded, but I let myself out and walked away from him. I decided I didn’t like him.