Lazaros talked to Gonzalo like he didn’t know about Donna. It went well, they had had no major beef in their past so he wasn’t that disagreeable. Either that or maybe Gonzalo was just going through the motions since he had already decided to side with Donna.
Soon, Giuseppe would talk to him and he would change his mind. Merely finding out Lazaros knew about the whole thing all along would freak him out.
After Gonzalo, the only ones missing were Donna and Roberto. They were heading towards Roberto when Lazaros got a bad feeling.
Always listen to your instincts, Emiliano had taught him, when you can tell them apart from your emotions, that’s when you’ll be at the top of your game.
He had accomplished that in a few short years since receiving that advice and at that moment, with the car stopped at a sign as the sun was ducking behind the horizon, he felt very much in danger.
He looked around, he was sitting in the backseat. Few people were on the streets, some drunk, some couples, some small groups of people planning to get drunk. He felt watched.
He found the source, one man in a group of three drunks who were waiting for the light to change. The man glanced at his car, at him, and he looked nervous.
“Drive,” Lazaros said calmly.
“Hm? The light.”
“Fanabala with the light,” he whispered, “go. Now.”
The moment the engine revved, the three drunks were suddenly not drunk anymore. Their coats flapped open as revolvers flared up, the slowest to draw brought up a submachine gun instead.
They cursed their way through a hail of bullets that shattered their windows and chipped away at the car. He felt a tire get shot flat and one of the boys grunted in pain in reaction to the whisper of flesh being perforated.
Lazaros was the first to stick his arm out the window, pistol in hand.
In a matter of seconds, the environment was filled with gunfire and bullets wheezing past across the street, the yelling of people scared and the cursing of people mad. People like Lazaros.
Marco, the driver, managed to retain enough control to drive them out of range of the shooters. It was only then that Lazaros pulled back inside.
“Who got shot?”
“’m okay, boss,” the chatterbox of the two brothers replied, “just grazed me.”
That had been Donna.
“That rotten bi…” he couldn’t bring himself to say it out-loud. Instead, he gritted teeth as if he was too angry to say it, and not actually a victim to her decades-old near-institutionalized intimidation.
“She set up a hit on me!”
“You said she might,” Marco pointed out, the other two knew they were too new to say anything.
“This is soon, this is very very soon,” he reloaded the pistol. “Let’s change cars. We’ll pretend nothing happened.”
“They just tried to kill you, boss,” Marco complained and Lazaros could understand. It was weak, it made him look very weak, ignoring something like that.
“Just for now, for my talk with Roberto. It’ll confuse him to see me alive like nothing happened, might make him suspicious of Donna.”
Frustration tugged at him abruptly, why was he explaining himself?
“Why’m I explainin’ myself? Just hurry and let’s go to Roberto.”
Would she also attack Protos? No, if Lazaros were to die, Protos would bend, that’s what he should do and that’s what he’d do. She wants as little loss as possible.
She knows I’m travelin’ light right now, it was the best time to strike.
He was seething. He was so angry he could hardly contain himself. They all knew, they all felt it in that car, he could tell how afraid they were that he would kill them.
That was the power of being a boss, everyone knew you could kill and suffer no consequences.
They switched cars with that of someone else who was heading home. Again, an intimidating glare was enough, though Lazaros still punched the man, if only to release some tension.
He almost did the same to Roberto after he slammed his door open.
“’m all outta patience for fondlin’ balls, today, Roberto,” Lazaros said as a greeting, too angry to do small talk. “I got the Shadow Conclave backin’ me up now so it’s time we became one big family again. With one boss. Me. Join the club.”
“Well, someone’s really confident about takin’ over the country, aren’t they?”
“I’ve already talked to everyone else is why, Roberto.”
“The Magnotti, Mikos, Frattaroli and Salvatore. They’re all bendin’ to the Infeperio name.”
“Are they now? And the Serratore?”
“She’ll only bend if all o’ you do it, you know that. She’s smart but not smart enough to be able to tell she can’t be on top anymore, see?”
Roberto’s squinted eye, the left one had been pulled out of him when he was a cappo a long time ago, looked him over. No doubt trying to find signs of the shoot-out Lazaros had just survived. He found none, not even sweating. Lazaros looked confident and cool in his red suit with his dark coat and pants. He was lucky no bullet had even grazed him, he looked utterly untouched.
“Sure, Lazaros,” he opened his arms, “why posture? Why delay the inevitable? I can’t fight ya, let alone when ya’ve already convinced everyone else AND have Shadow Conclave backin’ you.”
Roberto had always been the most pragmatic of them. The most ruthless too, though not by much, any of them was ruthless enough to make entire cities tremble. Lazaros smiled victoriously, a bit annoyed that he had to fake it.
“I knew you’d be reasonable, my friend! Happy to hear it. I’ll have someone contact you with details. Feel free to contact me at any time with worries and wants.”
The way he said it would’ve made Lazaros’s skin crawl…if he wasn’t the Don. The Don looked back at the man thoroughly insulted.
“What was that tone?”
“I’m asking what was that tone!” He approached Roberto and looked him right in his one eye. “You plannin’ somethin’, Roberto??” Lazaros just had Marco with him. Roberto had all of six buttons with him but once again, Lazaros didn’t back down. He made Roberto back down.
“Take it easy, Lazaros, nothin’s goin’ on. Just hard for me to swallow, aright? All o’ this is crazy.”
“Better be that,” Lazaros told him, backing away. Marco looked a bit more relieved. “Better be that.”
“Just a little bit o’ attitude. I’m doin’ what’s best for my family, it’s not ‘cause I’m afraid o’ you, aright?”
“I don’t want anyone’s fear, Roberto,” Lazaros pulled out a cigar, “I want your respect, see?” He lit it.
“Well, that’s gotta be earned.”
“Can’t do that if ya don’t gimme a chance,” Lazaros countered, then finally turning around. “Take care o’ yourself, Roberto, talk to ya soon.”
“Yeah,” Roberto replied, sitting back down, “you take care o’ yerself too.”
No talk to ya soon, though, Lazaros noticed with distaste. You wait. You all just wait.
His hand hadn’t let go of his gun ever since the shooting.
Even as they drove, his eyes kept scanning his surroundings. His time at Shadow Conclave had made him forget how he’s not immortal, and yet, he had to look immortal. Everyone had to believe he was immortal.
The car stopped at a light.
“Drive, damn you!”
This time, he didn’t question or hesitate, he pressed the foot on the gas and drove on.
“You stop at a light, again, Marco, I’ll make you tie a rock to that foot for a week, see? Maybe then you’ll learn to keep it down on the damn gas.”
He lit a cigar. At the beginning of the day, he had been planning to stroll into Donna’s territory with nothing but Florin and an amalgamation of power behind him. Now, he was invading her territory with an amalgamation of bluffs, one confirmed ally, coerced, and three buttons. Two of which were completely new and clearly open minded regarding the overall term of loyalty. They still didn’t speak much, it was hard to gauge what they were thinking.
“So what’re your names anyways?”
The one at his side glanced at him surprisingly. The one riding shotgun laughed.
“It’s been crazy, huh? Haven’t even given you our names.”
“Yeah,” he smiled in a friendly manner, they were family after all, “so what are they?”
“I’m Enzo, my brother’s named Nico.”
“Nico don’t talk?”
“Not since Giuseppe had his tongue ripped out.”
“Eesh,” Lazaros looked sorry for them even though there was probably a good reason, a reason that had him momentarily worried, “what happened? He sold out some info or somethin’?”
“Nah, he’s always talked too much but not like that. He called the daughter a bitch.” Lazaros opened his eyes. “Yeah. I begged the real bitch – that’s the mother – not to tell the boss but she did anyway.” Well, Lazaros would probably have done the same but, at least, it definitely wasn’t a reason to worry. If anything, it made him trust them more.
“This why you turned so quick?”
“I wouldn’t say we did it quick. More like as slow as you let us.” He shrugged but he was right. Don nodded a bit pleased.
“Well, ya made the right choice. Things are pretty dangerous right now but that’s to be expected.”
“You can count on us, boss.”
Lazaros felt like a villain from a fictional story, gaining stalwart allies out of a sibling duo where one didn’t talk. Seemed like something out of a story. A story people would be telling for years after he was dead, he bet, the story of the Don Lazaros.
He felt pumped once again.
He realized they were already on the outskirts of Donna’s home city, her territory. It was one of the smallest but, at the same time, the most peaceful. She kept a tight ship, there was no denying that, and up until that day, she had never had the ambition to acquire more territory.
Just then, he saw that the street was blocked. Almost at the same time, his car stopped.
“Drive to ‘em, lemme talk.”
What’re pigs doing here?!
Marco went slowly. The brothers were holding their pistols, looking calm. Lazaro didn’t even gulp, he lit a cigar and opened the window.
The cops waved them to stop, Marco turned the car around as if he was going to go back the way he came but instead stopped it as Lazaros was next to them.
“Good evening, officers.”
“I see the road is blocked?”
“Good eyes, Mr. Infeperio.” His smile died.
“And what detour should we take, then?”
“Back where you came from,” the oldest of the two said, with a voice that alerted him. He recognized her.
“Wait, I know you, don’t I?”
She sneered in contempt, which turned out to be the help he needed to remember her.
A hard-line detective that had never taken bribes. She did so well so fast that by the time Lazaros wanted to, he couldn’t kill her, not without massive backlash. She figured herself to be the one to stop organized crime so Lazaros showed her how well the system worked, the system she was ready to die for. He framed her, set her up so her chief, who was in Lazaros’s pocket, could demote her to a traffic cop. She had disappeared after that.
She looked awful. Her curly hair was now slimy and disheveled, shoved inside her hat. Dark bags under her eyes didn’t go very well with that green. She slumped, he remembered her always being so uptight, one of those people that stand tall no matter what. The years following her failure hadn’t been nice to her, not at all.
“You can read a badge, congrats.”
“Badge? What’re you doing here?”
“Blocking traffic,” she said coldly. “That’s my job though I’m sure you’ve forgotten.”
“’Course I did, why’d I keep track of you, I’m no stalker,” he smirked, “well, in that case, tell us what detour we can take.”
“Donna doesn’t want your company tonight,” she stated flatly. “Leave.”
Lazaros raised an eyebrow. He frowned at her but the woman had given up on life, she didn’t fear death before out of bravery and sense of duty, but now, she had clearly given up on everything.
“Her bribe that good, was that it?”
“I’m not on her dime,” she shrugged, “now leave or shoot your way through.”
“What do we do, boss?”
Lazaros looked over at the car. He wanted to say “both” and then shoot them and leave but, looking around, he felt trapped. There were no witnesses but maybe there was a recording device in the cop car. Even just audio would set him up enough.
She’s not on Donna’s dime…then…
Realization hit him. He grimaced mockingly at her to hide his anger.
“Thanks there, Edmonda.” She seemed to hate herself over him knowing her. Remember who she was. She seemed starkly aware of how content he was with how low she had fallen to.
“Drive, Marco. We’re going home.”
Things had gotten worse. He had been blindsided yet again.
AGAIN! The car drove off fast.
Donna had already gotten to the president. He was protecting her. That’s how she planned to beat him in the war, use of the military?
His mind raced. He had to talk to him, he had to convince him she hadn’t won, that he was backing the wrong horse. He had to let the other bosses find out he knew about this, they can’t know he was outmaneuvered again.
Or maybe they already know… Maybe he was being played the moment Giuseppe called him. Maybe Protos and Florin were already dead and his turf was already under attack.
He frowned so heavily he felt the muscles in his face protest the effort.
“Stop the car.”
Marco did as he was ordered. Lazaros exited the car and elbowed the window of a parked car, promptly breaking it.
“Take the car and go back home, Marco, tell everyone to get ready for war,” he ordered, absent-mindedly removing a shard that had drawn a bit of blood from his arm.
“War? But boss–”
“There won’t be a war,” he gave the false certainty like it was absolutely true. “Not unless we’re not ready for one. Go now, hurry.”
“Any instructions for Protos?”
“They’ll find you, trust me.” If they’re still alive.
“What about us, boss?”
There was no time to lose. An entire web of promises and bluffs was in action, with Donna in the lead. She was more respected and had made first contact with pretty much everyone but he had an advantage too, he was more intimidating. The advantage was hers since her influence could get across through a phone call. He had to talk face to face to exert his but, in turn, his was more powerful. And he didn’t need any entourage to get things done.
“We’re going to see the president.”