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Brutal Prince: Chapter 20


As we start hunting down the Butcher, I have to admit, I’m pretty fucking glad I’ve got Aida’s brothers on my side. My father might have been right that I was too arrogant, too sure of our dominance. I’m spread thin, trying to secure deals, whip up votes, and put a lid on Zajac, all at the same time.

Funnily enough, I’m quite enjoying having Aida on my team, too. When she’s not setting our library on fire or chucking my most beloved possession over a railing, she’s actually pretty fucking helpful. I use the license plate number she spotted to track down one of Zajac’s men, the one who owns the Land Rover used in the drive-by. His name is Jan Kowalski, but everybody calls him Rollie.

I call Dante and Nero so we can run him down together.

We find him at a used-car dealership in East Garfield. The Butcher owns several car dealerships and repair shops. He can kill two birds with one stone, laundering money through car sales, while chopping up and reselling the cars stolen by his minions.

Nero goes around back while Dante and I walk through the front door looking for Rollie. I already know what he looks like, having had minor dealings with him in the past. Thanks to his idiotically public social media, Dante and Nero have also had the pleasure of scrolling through pictures of Rollie getting smashed at the pub, Rollie showing off the new pair of Yeezys he probably stole, and Rollie receiving the world’s worst tattoo of a pair of praying hands.

So, we recognize him fairly easily in the service bay of the dealership. He’s wearing coveralls. A filthy bandana ties back his longish sandy-colored hair. As soon as he sees Dante’s bulk in the doorway, he chucks away the oil pan from the F150 he’s servicing and tries to sprint out the bay doors like a fucking jackrabbit.

Unfortunately for him, Nero is already lying in wait behind a stack of tires. If Rollie is a rabbit, Nero is a greyhound—lean, swift, and utterly ruthless. He hooks Rollie’s legs with a tire iron, then pounces on his back, pinning him to the ground.

Meanwhile, Dante knocks out the manager with a brutal right cross, and I do a quick sweep of the shop to make sure we haven’t missed any other employees.

I find a mechanic crouched down behind a BMW. He’s older and lacks any of the usual markers of the Polish mafia—tattoos, gold chains, and gaudy rings—so I assume he just works on the cars and isn’t one of the Butcher’s soldiers.

I search him anyway, then lock him in the office after ripping the phone cord out of the wall.

Dante and Nero are already tuning up Rollie. It doesn’t take much to get him talking. He gives us the phone the Butcher uses to contact him, as well as several locations where Zajac “might” be.

“I don’t care where he might be,” Nero hisses. “Tell us where he is right now.”

“I don’t know!” Rollie shouts, swiping the back of his hand across the bloody nose Nero already gave him. “I’m not, like, one of his top guys.”

“He sent you to shoot up the construction site last night, though,” I say.

Rollie darts his eyes between Nero and me, licking his lips nervously.

“I didn’t know who was there,” he says. “I didn’t know I was shooting at you guys. He told us to spray the lot, to hit the cops and make a ruckus.”

“Horse shit,” Dante growls, his voice rough as gravel. “You knew that work site was ours.”

“You don’t know what he’s like,” Rollie babbles. “It’s not like with other bosses where you can take a job or not. He gives an order, and you have to do it. If you fuck up, you get one warning. Fuck up again, and that’s it.”

“What’s the warning?” Dante asks.

Rollie holds up his right hand. He’s missing the pinky finger, severed cleanly at the base. The stretched, pink skin shows that this is a relatively recent injury.

“I don’t care if he’s the fucking boogeyman,” Nero says, seizing the front of Rollie’s coveralls and jerking him close. “There’s only one name you should be afraid of in this city. Whatever Zajac does to you, I’ll do ten times worse. If he shoots you in the face, I’ll drag your screaming soul back from hell just to kill you again.”

Nero’s eyes look flat and dark in the shadows of the car bay. In some ways he’s the “prettiest” of Aida’s brothers—high cheekbones, full lips. It makes the viciousness of his expression all the more disturbing.

Nero pulls a knife from his pocket and flicks up the blade, so quickly it seems to appear out of nowhere. He presses the point against the jumping pulse in Rollie’s throat.

“Tell me where Zajac is, or I’ll nick this artery. Then you’ll have about twelve seconds to answer me, before you bleed out all over the floor.”

He’s not threatening Rollie. His expression is hopeful—hoping that Rollie won’t talk, so Nero can let his hand do what it’s obviously itching to do.

“I don’t know! I swear—”

With one swift slash, Nero cuts the length of Rollie’s forearm, from the rolled-up sleeve of his coverall, down to his wrist. The blade is wickedly sharp. Blood runs down in a sheet, pattering on the bare cement floor.

“Aghh fuck me! Knock it off!” Rollie howls, trying to cover the wound with his grease-stained hand.

“Last warning,” Nero says, readying his blade again.

“I don’t know! Wait, wait!” Rollie howls, as Nero’s knife comes at his neck. “I do know one thing . . . a girl he’s been seeing.”

“Go on,” I say.

“She works at the Pole. She’s got an apartment somewhere in Lawndale that he pays for. That’s all I know, I swear!”

“I believe you,” Nero says.

He sends the blade slashing toward Rollie’s throat anyway. He would have slit it wide open if not for Dante catching his wrist. The point of the knife trembles a millimeter from Rollie’s neck.

“That’s not necessary,” Dante says. “He told us what he knows.”

“He also tried to shoot us, in case you forgot,” Nero says, tossing back the hair falling over his eyes.

“I remember,” Dante says, letting go of his brother’s wrist.

As soon as Dante drops his hand, Nero strikes again, slashing Rollie’s cheek instead of his throat.

Rollie yelps, clapping his hand over the long cut from ear to jaw.

“That’s a reminder for you,” Nero says. “Next time you want to shoot at somebody, either improve your aim or stay home.”

Dante scowls, but lets this pass.

We’re about to leave when I hear a crashing sound. Shattering glass, and then a howl as somebody runs straight at me, swinging a baseball bat.

I duck, the bat whistling over my head. Instinctively, I punch the man right in the gut. When he doubles over, I wrench the bat out of his hand, then hit him again across the jaw.

It’s the mechanic. He’s got something wrapped around his knuckles, some sort of rag, which didn’t prevent him from getting a handful of glass when he punched through the office window. His whole arm is bleeding, and all the fight has gone out of him now that he doesn’t have his baseball bat. I’m guessing he was only propelled by desperation to begin with, since he had no chance of besting me, Dante, and Nero in a fight.

Now he’s panting and wheezing, trying to decide if he’s required to put up any further resistance.

“Stay the fuck down there,” Nero says, shoving him down on the ground next to Rollie. “In fact, lay down on your face and count to a hundred before you get up, or I’ll put a bullet in the back of your skull.”

I don’t know if Nero actually has a gun on him, but the two men lay obediently face down, and Rollie starts counting. We leave them there, jogging back toward our cars.

“Didn’t know you could fight, rich boy,” Nero says, looking at me in mild surprise.

“That wasn’t much of a challenge,” I say. The mechanic has to be at least fifty and a good six inches shorter than me.

Shows how terrified he must be of Zajac. He preferred to face the three of us rather than have to explain himself to the Butcher.

“Still,” Dante says, “that was pretty fast.”

“Shaking hands and slapping backs is new for me,” I shrug. “I still remember how to get my hands dirty.”

“Fergus knows how to fight,” Dante says. “They used to call him the Bone Doctor, didn’t they?”

He’s referring to my father’s stint as a debt collector and enforcer, before he took control of what remained of the Griffin family.

“That’s right,” I say.

My father could put a spiral fracture down a man’s arm with a twist of his wrist, if that’s what was required to enforce the payment plan.

He definitely taught me a few things. The number one thing he taught me is never to fight when you can negotiate instead. Because the outcome of a fight is never certain.

The problem is, I don’t think Zajac wants to negotiate. Not without spilling a little blood on the floor, first.

Aida arrives home only a little after I do. She comes up to the library, and I fill her in on what we’ve been doing.

I can tell she’s annoyed at being left out of the morning’s activities, but I will keep my promise and bring her along tonight, if that’s what she really wants.

When she heads into our bedroom to drop off her books, Jack pokes his head into the library.

“Can I talk to you for a minute, boss?” he says.

Jack and I have been friends a long time. He got himself in trouble back in our college days. He was dealing Molly at parties to pay for the trust-fund lifestyle, without actually having the trust fund. When the cops raided his dorm, he had to flush about $28K of product. I paid off his supplier, then had Jack come work for me instead.

He’s been a good employee and a good friend, if a little overzealous at times. Like with Aida’s brother on the pier. And sometimes with Aida herself. Aida may drive me up the fucking wall, but she’s still my wife. If Jack didn’t learn his lesson down in the kitchen, I’ll be quick to educate him again.

“I picked the girls up at school,” he says.


“Aida was talking to someone.”

I give him a sharp look in case he’s trying to start shit again.

“She’s allowed to do that,” I say.

“It was Oliver Castle.”

My stomach clenches up in a knot. If he had said any other name, I would have ignored it. But I can’t help feeling jealous of that shit-for-brains wannabe playboy. As far as I know, he’s the only actual boyfriend Aida ever had, and for some reason that eats me alive. The thought of them swimming on some tropical beach together, laughing and talking, Aida in a bikini with her skin more tanned than ever . . .

It makes me want to rip Castle’s face off his skull.

Plus, I know damn well he doesn’t go to Loyola. So he was on campus for one reason only.

“What did he say?” I demand.

“I don’t know,” Jack says. “I couldn’t get close enough to hear. But they were talking a while.”

I can feel my eye twitch. Aida didn’t mention anything about Oliver. Didn’t mention seeing him.

“You’re sure it was Castle?”

“One hundred percent. He left right after they talked, and I followed him back to his car. The gray Maserati.”

I nod. That’s definitely him.

“And there’s something else,” Jack says.

“What?” I bark.

“They kissed.”

The floor seems to drop out from under me.

I completely forget about Zajac. All my anger, all my desire for violence and revenge is turned on Castle instead. If he were in the room right now, I’d shoot him in the face.

“Thank you for telling me,” I say through stiff lips.

She kissed him. Then she came home to me, cheerful as ever, like nothing happened.

Maybe to her, it is nothing.

After all, we never really talked about this. We never promised to be faithful to each other. Our marriage is a business arrangement, I can’t forget that. The vows we spoke mean nothing, not really. The only real promises were the ones made by my father and hers.

Still, it gnaws at me.

Is she meeting up with him secretly? Are they fucking? Does she love him still?

I’m going to ask her.

I stride down the hallway to our bedroom, determined to confront her.

When I push my way through the door, she’s typing something on her phone. She closes it out abruptly, swiping upward to change apps, then flipping her phone over and laying it face-down on the bed.

“What’s up?” she says.

“What were you doing?” I say.

“What do you mean?”

“Just now. On your phone.”

“Oh,” she says, cheeks slightly pink. “Just adding some new songs on Spotify. Gotta make a victory playlist for after the election.”

She’s lying. She was typing a message, I’m sure of it.

I should grab her phone, demand to see what she was doing.

It has a password though, and Aida is stubborn as fuck. She won’t give it to me. It’ll turn into a battle.

Better to wait. I’ll steal her password, then go through her phone uninterrupted, without tipping her off.

So I force my face to be calm and inexpressive, and I say, “Okay. We should eat something before we head out.”

“What do you want to eat?” she asks, relieved that I dropped the subject.

“I don’t care,” I say.


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