“So? Is she in the bag like the others? I didn’t really understand from how she left it.”
He saw Florin looking at him in the rear-view mirror. He liked Florin, a lieutenant that didn’t mind being your driver and was great in a fight? He couldn’t have been luckier.
“Florin, if she were willing to get in with us, she would’ve done it. Hell, I would’ve gone to her first if that was the case. I was savin’ her for last because I knew she’d only bend if I had the rest o’ them queued up.”
“Hm,” he thought it over, “then why not just whack us back there?”
“That’s the question,” Lazaros nodded in agreement, “I’m pretty sure that’s what she was considerin’ but I’d say it was probably the odds. They were against us but eh, we’ve handled worse.”
“Heh, ain’t that the truth,” he smirked, nodding in agreement.
“Best bet? She’s going to try to whack me quietly, or turn the others against me. She knows they’ll prefer her to me, especially the way I been winnin’ them over.” The entire span of her actual potential to ruin his plans hit him then, like a wall of wind. He flared anger and punched through the car’s window.
“Augh!” He pulled his hand back and glared over the cut he had just made. “Damn it! Why’s Donna gotta ruin everything?”
“Just think it through, boss, you always find a way. Should we call Protos?”
“That’s a good idea, actually,” he was already tying a bit of the scarf around his wound. “Stop the car, I’ll have ‘im meet us at Gonzalos’.”
The Don left the car and walked up the first building he saw. He demanded to be let in and use the phone, he also told them to leave their home so he could talk to Protos in private.
He told him the situation so Protos could think about it on his way there, that would mean less time wasted.
Then he left towards Gonzalos.
She can actually ruin everything, he thought to himself as he went into the car, not bothering to tell the couple they could go back into their home, how’d she know so much, anyway? I swear if there’s a rat in my crew…
There should be. Though all of what she knew could be explained purely by information gathering and her own considerable ability for deduction, knowing who he had talked to and what attitude he was showing was too much of a stretch. And all in the same day?
Not normal at all.
He eyed Florin in momentary suspicion but just as he did that, he realized how else she could’ve done it.
She beat me to the punch and told everyone what I was going to do, everything started falling into place. He had underestimated her initiative. She knew I went to participate in the Conclave. She obviously knew when I was back and once I left to meet with the Conclave again, it must’ve been easy for her to guess everything else.
That was when she had then contacted all the bosses and had told them what Lazaros would be doing once he was back from the meeting, knowing him well enough to predict his how his diplomacy would go once he had the backing of the Conclave.
He pictured it, her predictions coming true, revealing how predictable he was and further driving all of them to her side.
Hate. He hadn’t felt hate in such a long time but there it was.
Even thinking it made him hesitate. Donna had him trapped, he had disrespected her intelligence and now he was cornered. But why engage him like that, then?
She doesn’t want a war.
That was her trying to avoid a fight between them, she was sincere in that much. He looked ahead again, Florin was glancing at him worryingly so he relaxed, smiling like he had just figured out what to do, the expression he made whenever he found the perfect plan.
That relaxed him but the Don did not have a perfect plan. He just knew it was important for others to think he did.
What could he do?
When you don’t have a plan, he recalled Emiliano saying, you disrupt the others’.
He imagined himself yelling at Gonzalo. Telling him he knew Donna had warned him, threatening him. Sometimes, however, the best way to disrupt is just to do the unexpected.
“Let’s go back to Giuseppes’,” he suddenly said.
“What? Shouldn’t we be hurryin’? Get to the rest before she does?”
“She already got to ‘em all, Florin” he grunted, “that’s why I came right away back, but then I had to go and be summoned again to the damn Brittas and now she’s way ahead o’ me.”
Florin turned the car around, upsetting other drivers but neither of them cared all that much.
“We’re goin’ back.”
“What about Protos, boss?”
He cursed at the skies.
“’Madonn’! Stop the car.”
He just opened the door and waited for Florin to stop the car, it took a more feet than it should but he was too into acting to pull back on even that. He got out while the car was still whining into a stop.
“You turn around and go gettim’. Meet me there.”
“What? Boss, you want to go there alone? That’s nuts!”
The car behind them honked, the Don turned around and silenced the driver with a glare. He then closed the door and walked to the passenger window.
“Call your crew too, tell ‘em to meet ya there.”
“Boss, you’re too angry, ‘re you sure–”
He slammed his hands against the roof of the car, “jus’ geddit done! Go go!” Florin stepped on the gas and the Don saw him turn his car around, upsetting another bunch of drivers before continuing on back towards Gonzalos’ turf.
He stepped in front of the car that had honked at them and gave the driver a mean look. He pointed at his door. The man hesitated for a few seconds but Lazaros just frowned even more heavily, breaking the man’s will with a look alone.
A minute later, the Don was driving off with the man’s car after giving him a standard threat.
“You tell the pigs ‘bout this, I’ll find you.” He didn’t need to say anything more, he could see in the man’s feeble eyes that he wouldn’t tell anyone anything.
He drove fast. Florin was right, he was angry, maybe too angry to be making split-second decisions that could affect his bid at ruling a criminal empire.
On the other hand, if there ever was a time to go all in, that was it. He had seen the beasts first hand, those monsters were unstoppable. Even if he won, it was likely he would only enjoy it for only a few weeks.
It would be worth it.
He might not be sure of the full extent of Donna’s plans but now that her ambition and preparation was evident, he felt ready to meet them. And he knew one thing for sure, she was still playing how she always played, cautiously and meticulously, sitting back and seeing things unraveling as she dictated them. She never got in the middle of things. She was never in danger.
She was not going all in.
Ah ha! He suddenly had an idea. Giuseppe would be at some meeting somewhere, not at home, so that’s where he went. He parked the car right in front of the building’s armed guard, two big men concealing pieces.
It was an apparently small one apartment building but the inside was richer than most mansions.
He didn’t skip a beat, especially once the guards recognized him.
He liked how it took them long seconds to even figure out what to say to him. He just stopped in front of the gate, waiting for them to open it, but instead, they awkwardly stared not knowing what to do or say.
“You openin’ this or what?”
The two, both taller and bigger than Lazarus, traded a preoccupied glance. Finally, the one on the left found words to say.
“Giuseppe ain’t ‘ere.”
“I know he ain’t ‘ere, now open the door.”
“We can’t just do that, Mr. Infeperio.”
“Don Infeperio,” he corrected, making the man gulp.
“You should leave,” the nervous button told him, showing courage. Lazaros considered his options, he could shoot them but there were probably more of them inside. He could try and turn ‘em?
“D’you know what I’m doin’ ‘ere?” They shook their heads. “I’m here to stop Giuseppe from making a very bad mistake.”
“He ain’t her—”
“By taking his wife and daughter,” he interrupted. The two looked at him shocked but he just spit out the spent cigar and got another.
He let the silence last as he lit the new one and took a big slow puff.
“Yeah. You dunno anything, you’re too down the food chain, but the monsters who’re tearing through the Eastern nations? They want the whole thing. They’ll come for us. Meanwhile, the Shadow Conclave, ever hear of it?”
They shook their heads, their unwillingness to get aggressive outright was promising.
“They’re this super-secret organization, see? They wanna take out the beasts, but what really matters is that they’re backing me, see? So yeah, I’m gunning for top o’ the food chain and I’m ready to fight for it, and I’ll win too, see?” He paused to breathe out the smoke, using it to keep his tempo and his calm. It was easy to lie when it was just some small details in between truths.
“Giuseppe already agreed to bend, see? I was going to unite everyone peacefully but guess who’s gettin’ in the way?”
They didn’t answer, of course, they wouldn’t be smart enough. If they were, they wouldn’t be where they are in life. But that was okay, stupidity is easy to lead on.
“Donna, you hollow-heads. She turned your boss against me again, but if I get his blood, he’ll think twice about fightin’ me in a war. Fer a while, at least.”
They looked so confused he almost laughed.
“I’m goin’ to win, and even if I don’t, you know if we go to war, Giuseppe sure as crap ain’t gonna win. I’m the only real contender that’s here, see? Talkin’ to you ‘cause you can be of use. You follow what I’m saying?”
“We ain’t no rats.”
“Helping me ain’t being a rat, I’m not a pig,” he said a bit impatiently, it was time to start making them feel that was an offer they couldn’t refuse. “Helping me’s the thing to do if you wanna live to see the end of the world,” he grinned, “or a long life should the world not end – which it won’t, of course.” Now to make it clear to them that if they refused him, they would not only be choosing the wrong side, the losing side, but they would be painting a personal bullseye on their backs.
“Turn me down now and I’ll make sure you two see exactly one day o’ action when the war starts. If I can guarantee you anythin’ is that I’m not backin’ out. That’s why I’m here.”
He paused for two seconds, thinking if he should really say it. “Alone,” he said it.
They seemed to notice that for the first time. They looked behind him and then back down at him. They were thinking, he could tell by their pained faces.
They looked at each other. If it were just one dumb son of a gun, he’d be convinced, but the higher the number, the harder to sell a side turn. If they doubted Lazaros even the slightest bit, he would be dead.
In fact, if they were smart enough, they would just kill him. Everyone would believe them if they told them what he had said and Donna would easily convince Protos to bend, he wasn’t the type to look for revenge no matter what, he’d seek survival for the family.
They nodded at each other, however, lighting up Lazaros’s heart.
“Alright, boss,” he then noticed they were brothers, their brows were almost identical, as were their noses. That was why it had been possible to turn them, they counted as one. “We’re with ya.”
He smiled. He gave them that winning smile he had had just before talking to Donna, this was the start.
“Go inside, make up some lie and bring’em out to the car here.”
They nodded, looking serious.
They went inside the gate and Lazaros could hardly contain himself. He laughed in his head, he had pulled it off. This small part and it was such a small part, but with it, he could see an unraveling chain of events that looked unstoppable to him.
They came out with the girls and the look on the mother’s face made Lazaros feel so utterly powerful.
How is he here? The mother seemed to be thinking. She didn’t understand, why had her husband’s own men, probably men she talked to – had been friendly to – how and why had they just delivered her to him?
And the answer was power. Not money, just true power: the thing that can move anything in the world. Because it can move people.
The lady didn’t want to worry her daughter, a pretty eight-year-old.
“Beautiful ladies, hello, let’s not make any noise, yeah? The neighbors will get upset,” he smirked. The mother hesitated, probably considering whether or not to yell. He focused on her and didn’t give her much time to decide.
“Go on, get in” he opened the car door and nodded them inside, the other hand inside the overcoat as he gave them a polite little bow. The little girl giggled and just went inside, the mother almost grabbed her but thought better of it in a moment of hesitation. That was it.
“Don’t worry,” he stood up straight, “odds are these’ll just be some short holidays.”
“Odds are?” She asked, a bit anxious.
He shrugged in response.
“Why do you think I’m doin’ this? It’ll all depend on Giuseppe, see? N’ how much he cares for ya. Now go on in.”
He didn’t have to explain much. Although she didn’t get the long-term plan, she understood the short, she knew she was being kidnapped for leverage. Scared and nervous, she stepped inside the car. It was a four-sitter so he sat one of the brothers with the girls and the other in the front with him.
You think you can get one up on me, you old hag? He drove on, his hands still stiff on the wheel.
He yet felt cornered, grasping at the entire web she had fashioned to entrap him. However, within an hour, he had force-grasped a fighting chance. He was loose enough to have a shot and if there’s anything he doesn’t waste, it’s that one shot.
I’ll show you what happens when you go against Lazaros Infeperio. No matter who you are.