It was hard to keep himself from laughing, to keep a straight face. He hadn’t felt that happy in a long while, perhaps ever.
It was weird how easy it had been and how casually his reign had been assured.
“Those three things all sound very useful.” Like signing a contract without reading, Griff had given the Don the backing of the Shadow Conclave.
Lazaros arrived back home with a winning smile, the kind of expression anyone can read.
“You got it?”
“Who do ya think I am?” He puffed his cigar victoriously.
“But you didn’t win. How did–”
“Ha, it’s never over until I DO win. You should know that,” he winked and went inside, seeing his advisor, his consigliere, grinning as much as he was.
It was the kind of smile that infected anyone who saw it. Anyone that is, who’s on your side.
A bit later in the day, Lazaros was smiling as smugly as he could right in Giuseppe’s face. He, in turn, was frowning as deeply as his cheeks allowed, trying to be intimidating.
“Oh don’t look at me like that, Imma good boss, just ask Florin ‘ere.”
Florin just smirked.
“You think I’m afraid o’ shadows, Lazaros? You want a war, I’ll give ya one.”
Lazaros shook his smile away, slowly.
“It’s all fun n’ games ‘till yer puttin’ lives into defending yer worthless ego, Giuseppe. You can’t possibly win a war, and if you start one if you cost us- I SAID US – all the buttons and capos under you, oh, I swear I’ll make you pay, see? Whatever you did to finger-eater Leonardo will seem like a vacation in the tropics, see?”
Giuseppe glared back at Lazaros without hiding any anger but Lazaro didn’t care, he even liked it. The easier someone was to read, the easier it was to manipulate.
“Yer ego’s the only thing standin’ in the way, my friend. Nothing will change once I’m the Don.”
“Enough will change, you’ll ask for a cut of everything.”
“Payment, Giuseppe, payment for a service,” he smirked, “protection, support, you’ll be part o’ something so much bigger than you, Giuseppe.” He lit his cigar right there in his office, he knew Giuseppe hated it. “You’ll be part o’ me, see?” He put the cigar to his lips and took joy in breathing in.
Giuseppe’s strong hands gripped against the armchair so hard they ripped a bit of the tissue but Lazaros, of course, pretended not to notice.
“Whadda say? Cousins?”
“I’ll sign in under yer wing, Lazaros…but God’s my witness if there’s ever an angle to take you out–”
“Ha,” Lazaros gave a quick dismissive laugh, “I wouldn’t be much of a Don if there were, Giuseppe.” He nodded at him appreciatively.
“No, ya wouldn’t…” he agreed, leaning back.
“You made the right choice.”
With that alliance achieved, Lazaros was quick to leave him to stem in his defeat. Giuseppe would hate him for a while, but then again, that was already the fact. Most of all his new family members were going to hate him, but what did it matter? They would be the firsts he’d send to fight the beasts.
“Could we really beat ‘em in a war?”
“’Course,” he grinned, “we could beat anyone in a war, the problem’s what happens next. Takeover through war isn’t really a takeover, I mean, yer not exactly gaining anythin’, the only thing you get is more territory. Nah, you either whack a guy the right way and take his stuff or you make ‘im give it to ya.”
“Heh,” Florin seemed to appreciate the thought, “where to now?”
“Where do ya think? Straight to Gonzalos’.” Florin raised an eyebrow. “Actually, lettim’ wait, I’m hungry for some ribs.”
“Ha. Gotcha, boss.”
Staring down others into submission always left Lazaros with a mad hunger. He wanted nothing but to grab a large piece of red meat by the bone and rip the flesh out of it. It made him feel powerful.
It did nothing for him that day, however, but it just made him even happier. It was probably because he was already as powerful as he could feel.
They left for Gonzalos and there, he again threatened him into submission. As they drove away, he knew that if the next boss filed in, that’d be the point of no return. That’d be when he could actually backup his threats in case the others called him on them.
The certainty of victory only made it so that when the car stopped unexpectedly, it felt all the more abrupt.
“It’s Donna’s crew,” Florin pointed out, a bit intimidated.
“What? We’re not in her territo—did you drive through her turf?!”
“No, boss,” he replied carefully, “I dunno what this is about.”
Lazaros, his senses returned to the real world, saw two cars in front of him blocking the way.
“Do I bolt?” Florin asked.
“’Re you crazy? We look weak now, we’re done for. Get yer piece and come out wit’ me.”
“Alright, boss, let’s do this.”
I should be packing bodyguards, dammit. I got blindsided by my own ego, that’s the first thing he told me not to do. He slammed the car door in frustration, it was towards himself but it would be interpreted as towards them.
“Is Donna lookin’ fer trouble, boys?”
“Donna can speak fer’erself,” a female voice surged from the car, and out she came following it.
She was an old woman, well past her sixties. She dressed in black ever since her husband had died. And no, she didn’t pick up the mantle after him, she always had it. Donna’s as tough as they come, Don learned from him especially, when he was in prison, how to deal with her.
Even with how powerful he knew he was, she still looked down at him. From above.
It made him want to lash out, to protect his ego, but he steeled himself.
“Whatever you do. You can try and swindle her, you can try and lie to her, you can try and kill her even. But do not ever disrespect her. She will stop playing the game.”
He had to play the game.
“Donna, it’s good ta see ya.”
“Is it, now, Lazaros?” Her voice grated on his ears, so much arrogance and self-empowerment. “Because I think I’m the last thing you wanted to see right now.”
Lazaros raised an eyebrow. He couldn’t act the superior, he couldn’t threaten her outright, but he wasn’t about to show fear either.
“What’re you talkin’ about?”
“Oh please, you’ve never been a fan of discretion, especially when you think nobody can stop you. What is it you got? Did you actually win the Conclave?”
He didn’t let show how surprised he was she knew about that. He also didn’t want her to control the conversation so he crossed his arms, pistol still in hand.
“What if I did? What if I didn’t?”
“Giuseppe and Pedro, and Tulio, they’re already in your shadow.”
He grinned, slightly moving his big cigar as his smirk flowed across his lips.
“Yeah, see? And we always said they were stupid, they’re actually smart, they finally saw the advantage in–”
“I know you didn’t win the contest,” she interrupted him, which was disrespectful. He clenched his pistol hand but contained his indignation. “But it didn’t end, right? I know it didn’t end.”
How? She has…oh, probably the people that were hired to act as patrols. She must’ve gotten to one of the survivors.
“But I imagine they gave you their support anyway,” she continued, “If there’s one thing we know about Shadow Conclave is their dedication to stop these monsters. I’m guessing though it’s just a guess…” her tone of voice implied that she knew she was right and that her guesses were the truth. “But I’m guessing they want you to rally everyone around here against the monsters, that’s why they support you.”
“Hmpf. Ever the creative old broad, huh? So what if you’re right? And what if you’re wrong?”
She rolled her eyes and even Florin was offended at that on his behalf. He was ready for a shootout, anyone could tell. It made Donna’s men worried but apparently not her.
“Lazaros, you don’t care about the monsters–you don’t care about anyone else other than yourself. You’re just a fat cat opportunist.”
He tapped his forearm with the tip of his revolver, smoking for a small second.
“And what if I am?”
“This is no time for games!” She cut the air with a hand motion, sounding legitimately angry. Her accent was noticeable. “These things are coming for all of us and you are playing power games!”
She seemed sincerely upset, it was a bit a surprising. It also drove him over the edge.
“This is what you come to talk to me about?” He looked right at her, no more mister cowed eye, “sanctimonious madonna trying to save everyone from the big bad Lazaros, is that it?”
She squinted her eyes, displeased, giving him that expression he had been warned about. That he had avoided all those years.
“Listen to me, boy. Listen to me and do what I say, and maybe we can all survive what is coming.”
“You have no idea what is coming,” he said, thinking that if that’s how she wants to play, he can do that too, “I was there, see? I saw it all. I know what’s comin’ better than anyone.”
“You’re power hungry and irresponsible, you’ll get everyone killed.”
“We’ll survive this by doing what I say,” he pointed at himself with a thumb, “I’m the boss, see? My country’s my turf now, you either fall in line and be part o’ the solution or you’re part o’ the problem. An ally to those beasts for all I care.”
She cocked her lips displeased, giving him that look of disappointment that is as threatening as anger, the look you give someone when they’re no longer useful to you and past being just a nuisance. But he didn’t let up, he glared powerfully and intimidating, threatening her with his look and stance even though, at that very moment, he was at a disadvantage. He didn’t say anything, he waited for her to challenge him.
“I always knew your ego would be the end of all of us, Infeperio.”
Calling him by his last name was the exclamation point to how distanced she was from him. In a usual situation, it would have been terrible, it would have meant they would never again do business together. In that situation, however, it was good to hear her refer to him with respect. Of course, he would reply back in the same way.
“Wow, Serratore, can you be any more dramatic?”
“It’s the truth.”
She had men watching, he should give a show of looking to solve their differences.
“Come on, Donna. There’s no need for this, we can work together to beat these things if they ever reach this far.”
“That is exactly what is wrong with you, Infeperio,” she pointed at him accusingly, “you think they might not.”
“I’m assumin’ they will, I’m plannin’ for it. Just like I assume that if I don’t bring everyone together, we’ll be too busy fightin’ each other and clearing out o’ town to do anythin’ worthwhile.”
“And it’ll be better if we fight now?!”
“It’ll be even better if we don’t fight at all. Face it, not one o’ us has the muscle to face all the others put together, it’s why there hasn’t been a real Don in decades. That’s over now, I’ve got the Conclave’s support. I’ve got the muscle and I’m takin’ over.”
Her hand shuddered back from the pointing as her head processed what he was saying. He had her, he felt it for sure in the look she gave him.
“Yeah, see? Yer the one with the ego that’s gonna ruin’ it all, not me. Yer the one who can’t stand to be second place, see?”
“Ha!” Her voice cracked. “That’s rich.”
“It’s true. If situations were reversed, I’d bend. I’d hate it, see? Like Giuseppe hates it – you know what I did to his nephew.” She should, it was thanks to her there wasn’t a war over that event. “I’d hate it but I’d do it. Will you?”
“Then do it, Lazaros, bend to me.”
“I don’t think so,” he frowned again, “I’m not the one losing the war you want to force, why should I back down? How’ll everyone else respect me if I do?”
“They won’t, but they just need to respect me. And they already do.”
“Ya can’t stand being second place,” he grinned, “but you are, see?” She twitched. “Ya wanna fight over that?” He opened his arms, “come at me then. I’m right ‘ere, bella Donna. Make your move. Decrease our chances of survival. Ruin the collaborations I’m settin’ up.”
She was very upset.
It was obvious in how she squinted at him and how she chew on nothing but saliva and air, clicking her teeth rhythmically in response. It could be heard over the tense silence that was propagating.
He blew smoke through the corner of his mouth, not wanting to bring his hands back in to grab the smoke, just in case she called his bluff. He was still holding his pistol, he could probably shoot one of the goons pretty quickly if she made a move, and then duck behind the car.
It should be okay, probably, he and Florin were deadly in a shootout.
“I’ll think it over,” she turned before he could read her face for what decision she had actually made, but he knew an enemy when he saw one.
She snapped her fingers at the men so they would close the door behind her and drive her away. They left quickly but Florin and Lazaros didn’t let go of their pistols until they were far enough away.
Their expressions frowned together, angry at how much of a disadvantage they had been, and at how little Donna thought of Lazaros.
“Fanabala, you old fart,” he cursed under his breath. He holstered his revolver back inside his overcoat.
“We’re okay, boss?”
It would take a few minutes for him to be certain of how to answer that.
“Debatable,” he grunted disgruntled. “Let’s go.”