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Brutal Prince: Chapter 2


Nessa’s party starts in less than an hour, but I’m still holed up with my parents in my father’s office. His office is one of the biggest rooms in the house, larger than the master suite or the library. Which is fitting, because business is the center of our family—the core purpose of the Griffin clan. I’m fairly certain my parents only had children so they could mold us into our various roles within their empire.

They certainly meant to have more of us. There’s four years between me and Riona, six between Riona and Nessa. Those gaps contain seven failed pregnancies, each ending in miscarriage or stillbirth.

The weight of all those missing children lays on my shoulders. I’m the eldest and the only son. The work of the Griffin men can only be done by me. I’m the one to carry on our name and legacy.

Riona would be irritated to hear me say that. She’s infuriated by any intimation that there’s a difference between us because I’m older and male. She swears she’ll never get married or change her name. Or bear children, either. That part really pisses my parents off.

Nessa is much more pliable. She’s a people-pleaser, and she wouldn’t do anything to annoy dear old Mom and Dad. Unfortunately, she lives in a fucking fantasy world. She’s so sweet and tender-hearted that she doesn’t have the tiniest clue what it takes to keep this family in power. So she’s pretty much useless.

That doesn’t mean I don’t care about her, though. She’s so genuinely good that it’s impossible not to love her.

I’m pleased to see her so happy today. She’s over the moon about this party, even though it barely has anything to do with her. She’s running around sampling all the desserts, admiring the decorations, without a clue that the one and only reason for this event is to secure support for my campaign to become Alderman of the 43rd Ward.

The election takes place in a month. The 43rd Ward includes the whole Lakefront: Lincoln Park, the Gold Coast, and Old Town. Next to the mayorship, it’s the most powerful position in the city of Chicago.

For the last twelve years, the seat was held by Patrick Ryan, until he stupidly got himself thrown into prison. Before that, his mother Saoirse Ryan served for sixteen years. She was much better at her job, and demonstrably better at not getting caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

In many ways, being an Alderman is better than being a mayor. It’s like being the emperor of your district. Thanks to Aldermanic Privilege, you have the final say on zoning and property development, loans and grants, legislation, and infrastructure. You can make money on the front end, the back end, and in the middle. Everything goes through you and everybody owes you favors. It’s almost impossible to get caught.

And yet, these greedy fucks are so blatant in their grift that they still manage to bring the hammer down on themselves. Three out of the last four Aldermen in the neighboring 20th District have gone to prison, including the current incumbent.

But that won’t be me. I’m going to secure the position. I’m going to take control of Chicago’s most wealthy and powerful district. And then I’m going to parlay that into mayorship of the whole damn city.

Because that’s what Griffins do. We grow and build. We never stop. And we never get caught.

The only problem is that the Alderman position is not uncontested. Of course it isn’t—it’s the crown jewel of power in this city.

The two other main candidates are Kelly Hopkins and Bobby La Spata.

Hopkins shouldn’t be a problem. She’s an anti-corruption candidate, running on a whole lot of bullshit promises of cleaning up City Hall. She’s young, idealistic, and has no idea that she’s swimming in a shark tank wearing a meat suit. I’ll decimate her easily.

La Spata, on the other hand, is a bit of a challenge.

He’s got a lot of support, including the electrical workers’ and firefighters’ unions, plus the Italians. Nobody actually likes him—he’s a blustering fat fuck, drunk half the time, and getting caught with a new mistress the other half. But he knows how to grease the right palms. And he’s been around a long time. A lot of people owe him favors.

Paradoxically, he’ll be harder to get rid of than Hopkins. Hopkins is relying on her squeaky-clean image—once I dig up some dirt on her (or invent some), she’s sunk.

By contrast, everybody already knows La Spata’s flaws. They’re old news. He’s so debauched that nobody expects anything better from him. I’ll have to find another angle to bring him down.

This is what I’m discussing with my parents.

My father is leaning up against his desk, arms crossed over his chest. He’s tall, fit, gray hair cut stylishly, horn-rimmed glasses giving him an intellectual look. You’d never guess that he came up as a bruiser, smashing kneecaps at the Horseshoe when people failed to pay their debts.

My mother is slim and petite, with a sleek blonde bob. She’s over by the window, watching the caterers set up on the lawn. I know she’s anxious to get out there as quickly as possible, though she won’t say anything about it until our meeting is over. She may look like the consummate socialite, but she’s as deeply invested in the nuts and bolts of our business as I am.

“Make sure you talk to Cardenas,” my father is saying. “He controls the firefighters’ union. To get his support, we’ll basically need to bribe him. Be subtle about it, though, he likes to pretend he’s above that sort of thing. Marty Rico will need promises that we’ll change the zoning on Wells Street so he can put in his condos. We’ll waive the affordable housing requirement, obviously. Leslie Dowell will be here too, but I’m not sure what she—”

“She wants an expansion of charter schools,” my mother promptly answers. “Give her that, and she’ll make sure all the women on the board of education support you.”

I knew she was listening over there.

“Riona can handle William Callahan,” I say. “He’s had a thing for her for ages.”

My mother’s lips tighten. She thinks it’s beneath us to use sex appeal as a lever. But she’s wrong. Nothing is beneath us if it works.

Once we’ve gone down the list of people we’ll need to hobnob with at the party, we’re ready to break and get to work.

“Anything else?” I say to my father.

“Not about tonight,” he says. “But sometime soon we need to discuss the Braterstwo.”

I grimace.

As if I didn’t have enough to worry about, the Polish mafia is also becoming an increasingly aggressive thorn in my side. They’re fucking savages. They don’t understand how things are done in the modern era. They’re still living in a time when you solve disputes by cutting off a man’s hands and throwing him into the river.

I mean, I’ll do that if I have to, but I at least try to come to an agreement before it reaches that point.

“What about them?” I say.

“Tymon Zajac wants to meet with you.”

I hesitate. That’s serious. Zajac is the big boss. The Butcher of Bogota. But I don’t want him coming to my office.

“Let’s figure that out tomorrow,” I tell my father. I can’t have it on my mind tonight.

“Fine,” he says, straightening up and tugging the hem of his suit jacket back into place.

My mother gives him a once over to make sure he’s looking sharp, then she turns her eyes on me.

“Is that what you’re wearing?” she says, raising one perfectly manicured eyebrow.

“What about it?” I say.

“It’s a bit formal.”

“Dad’s wearing a suit.”

“She means you look like an undertaker,” my father remarks.

“I’m young. I want to look mature.”

“You still need style,” he says.

I sigh. I’m well aware of the importance of image. I recently started wearing some closely-trimmed facial hair, on the advice of my assistant. Still, it gets tiring changing your clothes three times a day to perfectly tailor your appearance to the occasion.

“I’ll sort it out,” I promise them.

As I leave the office, I see Riona in the hall. She’s already dressed for the party. She narrows her eyes at me.

“What were you doing in there?” she says suspiciously. She hates being left out of anything.

“We were going over the strategy for tonight.”

“Why wasn’t I invited?”

“Because I’m the one running for Alderman, not you.”

Two bright spots of color come into her cheeks—the signal since childhood that she’s offended.

“I need you to talk to Callahan for me,” I say, to smooth it over. To let her know she’s needed. “He’ll support me if you ask.”

“Yes, he will,” Riona says loftily. She knows she has the Police Chief wrapped around her finger. “He’s not bad looking, really,” she says. “Shame about his breath.”

“Don’t stand too close, then.”

She nods. Riona is a good soldier. She’s never let me down.

“Where’s Nessa?” I ask her.

She shrugs. “Running around god knows where. We should put a bell on her.”

“Well if you see her, send her my way.”

I haven’t actually wished Nessa a happy birthday yet or given her my present. I’ve been too damn busy.

I jog up the stairs, and then all the way down the hallway to my suite. I don’t love the fact that I’m still living with my family at thirty years old, but it makes it more convenient to work together. Besides, you’ve got to live in the district to be an Alderman, and I don’t have time for house hunting.

At least my room is on the opposite end of the house from the master suite. And it’s large and comfortable—we knocked down a wall when I came back from college, giving me my own suite and adjoining office. It’s almost like an apartment, separated from everybody else’s rooms by the massive library in between.

I can hear guests already starting to arrive down below. I change into my newest Zenya suit, then I head back downstairs to mingle.

Everything goes smoothly, as it always does when my mother is in charge. I can see her sleek blonde bob across the lawn, and hear her light, cultured laugh as she makes a point of circulating through all the most boring and important guests.

I’m working my way down my own list of Cardenas, Rico, and Dowell as each person arrives.

After about an hour, the fireworks start. They’ve been timed to coincide with sunset, so the brilliant explosions stand out against the newly-darkened sky. It’s a calm night, the lake as smooth as glass. The fireworks reflect in double on the water below.

Most of the guests turn to watch the show, their faces illuminated, and their mouths open in surprise.

I don’t bother to watch, taking the opportunity to scan the crowd for anybody I was supposed to talk to that I might have missed.

Instead, I see someone who definitely wasn’t invited—a tall dark-haired kid standing with a bunch of Nessa’s friends. Towering over them, actually—he’s got to be 6’5 at least. I’m pretty sure that’s a fucking Gallo. The youngest one.

But the next minute I’m distracted by Leslie Dowell coming up to talk to me again, and when I glance back at the group, the tall kid is gone. I’ll have to speak to security, tell them to keep an eye out.

First, food. I’ve barely had time to eat today. I grab a few shrimps off the buffet, then look around for a proper drink. Waiters are circulating through the crowd with flutes of bubbling champagne, but I don’t want that shit. The line at the bar is too long. What I really want is my Egan’s Ten-Year Single Malt, up in my office.

Well, why the hell not? I already made the rounds of the most important people. I can sneak away for a minute. I’ll come back down when that pop singer gets here. That was a splurge from Dad. I don’t know if it was to make Nessa happy because she’s his little angel, or if it was just to show off. Either way, the guests will love it.

I’ll be back in plenty of time.

I head back inside, climbing the stairs to my end of the house. I’ve got a little bar in my personal office—nothing showy, just a few bottles of high-end liquor and a mini icebox. I pull out a nice heavy tumbler, throw in three jumbo-sized ice cubes, and pour a heavy measure of whiskey on top. I inhale the heady scent of pear, wood, and smoke. Then I swallow it down, savoring the burning in my throat.

I know I should go back down to the party, but honestly, now that I’m up here in the peace and quiet, I’m enjoying the break. You have to have a certain level of narcissism to be a politician. You have to feed off the glad-handing, the attention.

I don’t give a shit about any of that. I’m powered by ambition alone. I want control. Wealth. Influence. I want to be untouchable.

But that means the physical act of campaigning can be exhausting.

So as I’m walking back down to the hallway, instead of heading to the stairs as I intended, I turn into the library.

This is one of my favorite rooms in the house. Barely anyone comes in here, except for me. It’s quiet. The smell of paper and leather and birch logs is soothing. My mother keeps the fire going in the evenings for my benefit. The rest of the house is so heavily air-conditioned that it’s never too hot to have a small fire in the grate.

Over the mantel is the painting of my great great-great-grandmother, Catriona. She came to Chicago in the middle of the potato famine, like so many other Irish immigrants. Just fifteen years old, crossing the ocean alone with three books in her suitcase and two dollars in her boot. She worked as a housemaid for a wealthy man in Irving Park. When he died, he left her the house and nearly three thousand dollars in cash and bonds. Some people said they must have secretly had a relationship. Other people said she poisoned him and forged the will. Whatever the truth, she turned the house into a saloon.

She was the first Griffin in America. My parents like to say we’re descended from the Irish princes of the same name, but I prefer the truth. We epitomize the American dream: a family rising from house servant to the Mayor of Chicago. Or so I hope.

I sit quietly for a minute, sipping my drink, then I start scrolling through my emails. I can never be idle for long.

I think I hear a sound, and I pause for a moment, thinking it must be one of the staff out in the hall. When I don’t hear anything else, I return to my phone.

Then, two things happen at the same time:

First, I smell something that makes the hair rise up on the back of my neck. Smoke, but not the clean smoke from the fire. A harsh, chemical burning smell.

At the same time, I hear a sound like a sudden intake of breath, but ten times louder. Then there’s a flash of heat and light as the curtains ignite.

I jump up out of my chair, shouting god knows what.

I like to think that I know how to keep my head in an emergency, but for a moment I’m confused and panicking, wondering what the hell is happening, and what I should do about it.

Then, rationality asserts itself.

The curtains are on fire, probably from a spark tossed out of the grate.

I have to get a fire extinguisher before the whole house burns down.

That makes sense.

Until some person leaps up from behind a chair and darts past me out of the office.

That startles me even more than the fire.

Realizing I wasn’t alone in the library is a rude shock. I’m so surprised that I don’t even get a good look at the intruder. All I register is that they’re medium height, with dark hair.

Then my attention is dragged back to the rapidly multiplying flames. They’re already spreading across the ceiling and the carpet. In minutes, the whole library will be ablaze.

I sprint down the hallway to the linen closet, where I know we keep a fire extinguisher. Then, dashing back to the library, I pull the pin and spray the whole side of the room with foam until every last ember is extinguished.

When I’m finished, the fireplace, the chairs, and Catriona’s portrait are all doused in white chemical foam. My mother’s going to be fucking furious.

Which reminds me, there was someone else involved in this debacle. I dash back to the head of the staircase, just in time to see three people making their escape: a blonde girl who looks a hell of a lot like Nora Albright. A brunette I don’t know. And Nero fucking Gallo.

I knew it. I knew the Gallos had snuck in.

The question is why?

The rivalry between our two families goes back almost all the way to Catriona. During Prohibition, our great-grandfathers battled for control of the illegal distilleries in the north end. It was Conor Griffin who won out, and that money has been fueling our family ever since.

But the Italians never go down easy. For every shipment of booze Conor cooked up, Salvator Gallo was waiting to hijack his trucks, steal the liquor, and try to sell it back to him at double the price.

Later, the Griffins took control of gambling at the Garden City racetrack, while the Gallos ran an illegal numbers game inside the city. When liquor was legal again, our families ran rival pubs, nightclubs, strip joints, and brothels. While continuing to supply less-legal party drugs, guns, and stolen goods.

Nowadays, the Gallos have moved into the construction industry. They’ve done pretty well for themselves. But unfortunately, our interests always seem in conflict with theirs. Like right now. They’re backing Bobby La Spata for my Alderman seat. Maybe because they like him. Maybe because they just want to stick their thumb in my eye one more time.

Did they come here tonight to talk to some of the swing vote guests?

I’d like to get my hands on one of them to ask. But by the time I track down the security we’ve hired for the night, the Gallos are long gone, including the tall kid.

God DAMN it.

I head back to the library to reassess the damage. It’s a fucking mess—a smoking, stinking, soggy mess. They destroyed my favorite part of the house.

And why were they even in here, anyway?

I start looking around, trying to figure out what they were after.

There’s nothing of significance in the library—any valuable papers or records would be in my father’s office, or mine. Cash and jewelry are stored in the various safes scattered through the house.

So what was it?

That’s when my eye falls on the mantle, spattered with decelerant foam.

I see the carriage clock and the hourglass.

But my grandfather’s pocket watch is missing.

I hunt around on the ground and even in embers of the birch logs, in case it fell inside the grate somehow.

Nothing. It’s nowhere to be found.

Those fucking wops stole it.

I storm back downstairs where the party is just getting going again after the interruption of the fire alarm. I see Nessa giggling with some of her friends. I could ask her if she invited Sebastian Gallo, but there’s no way she’d be clueless enough to do that. Plus, she looks so happy despite the commotion—I don’t want to interrupt her.

I don’t extend the same courtesy to the rest of her friends. Catching sight of Sienna Porter, I seize her by the arm and pull her a little way off from Nessa.

Sienna is a skinny little redhead from Nessa’s college. I’ve caught her sneaking looks at me a time or two before. More importantly, I’m pretty sure she was one of the girls talking to Sebastian earlier in the night.

Sienna doesn’t protest me hauling her away— she just blushes tomato red and says, “H—hi Callum.”

“Were you talking to Sebastian Gallo earlier?” I ask her.

“Uh, well, he was talking to me. I mean, to all of us. Not to me specifically.”

“About what?”

“About March Madness, mostly. You know his team played in the first round—”

I shake my head, cutting her off.

“Do you know who invited him tonight?”

“N—no,” she stammers, eyes wide. “But if you want, I could ask him . . .”

“What do you mean?”

“I think he’s meeting us at Dave and Buster’s later.”

“What time?” I say, squeezing her arm a little too hard.

“Uh, ten o’clock, I think?” she says, wincing.


I let go of her. She rubs her arm with her opposite hand.

“Thanks, Sienna,” I say.

“No problem,” she says, totally confused.

I pull out my phone and call Jack Du Pont. We’ve been friends since college, and he works as my bodyguard and enforcer when I need one. Since we hired a whole security team for the party, he didn’t come over tonight. But they’ve proven themselves to be pretty fucking useless. So it’s Jack I want now.

He picks up after one ring.

“Heya boss,” he says.

“Come pick me up,” I tell him. “Right now.”


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