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Burned Dreams: Chapter 8

Alessandro

“I don’t fucking care that the cars were insured!” Rocco roars into the phone. “It’s been three days. I want the person who worked on the electrics in my garage found and dealt with!”

He cuts the line and slams his phone on the desk’s surface.

“It took me six months to acquire one of those cars,” he barks. “Now, they are all gone. Because of some idiot who didn’t do his job properly. How the fuck does a fucking electric panel catch fire all of a sudden?”

Yeah. Such a shame.

“I need you to take Ravenna to the hairdresser,” he continues. “She’ll visit her mother afterward, and you’ll get a few hours free. Then, I need you back here at eleven. Armed.”

“All right. Situation?” I ask.

“There’s a shipment of drugs being handed over tonight, and we’re a few men short to deal with it. Some of the guys who are supposed to work this job got pulled away by Arturo. He’s essentially gone off the deep end, been driving around town for weeks now, searching for his missing sister. I need you to fill in.”

I nod and turn to head out.

“Zanetti.”

His voice takes on that smugness and condescension he can never hide. I halt in my tracks and turn back to face him. It takes everything in me not to put my fist through his ugly mug, wiping that self-absorbed expression off it.

“Do you have anything to report? Any strange behavior as far as my wife is concerned?”

“No,” I say, just like I do every morning when he calls me to debrief. “Nothing out of the ordinary.”

 

* * *

 

As is usual when I accompany Mrs. Pisano to her mother’s place, I’m standing by the wall, my gaze fixed beyond the window. Her mother had fallen asleep on the sofa, and my charge headed out of the main room, saying she’ll wash the dishes before we leave. I’m mulling over her actions when the sound of breaking glass carries from the small kitchen area. My head snaps to the side, zeroing in on Mrs. Pisano, who’s standing in front of the sink, holding her hand under the stream of water.

“Ravi?”

“I’m okay, Mamma. Go back to sleep.” She looks down at her hand. “Shit.”

I cover the short distance between us and stand behind her. The blood is oozing from a nasty cut in the middle of her palm. “Let me see.”

“I’m fine,” she mumbles as she tries to grab a kitchen towel with her other hand. “It was just a chipped cup.”

“Let. Me. See.”

Her hand hovers over the cloth. Slowly, she looks up, and those guarded greens meet my stare. I turn the water off and take her hand in mine, inspecting the cut. It’s not deep, but it is rather long, crossing diagonally across the whole surface of her palm.

“First aid kit?” I take a napkin from the holder and press it on her palm. Her hand is so damn small compared to mine.

“I don’t know,” she says in a barely audible voice and points to my left. “Maybe in the drawer where my mom keeps her medicine.”

There’s no first aid kit in the drawer, but I find a disinfectant spray and a small roll of bandage. I remove the napkin and spray her cut. Mrs. Pisano sucks in a breath, but doesn’t complain, and watches me in silence as I wrap the length of the bandage around her hand.

“Please don’t tell Rocco.”

I look up and pin her with my gaze. “Why?”

“Just don’t. Please.”

I place my palms on the counter on either side of her, caging her in, and lean forward. “What happens to the clothes and the other stuff you buy when you leave them with your mother?”

Ravenna’s eyes go as wide as saucers. “Did you tell my husband?”

“No.”

She blinks in confusion. “Will you?”

“Nope.” I tilt my head to the side and study her. “Are you selling that stuff? Do you need money?”

A mix of uncertainty and trepidation flares in her eyes. Her pulse picks up, hastening her breaths, as well. It lasts but a moment before she pulls herself together, straightening her spine.

“Rocco never puts a spending limit on my card.” She juts her chin slightly.

“That’s not what I asked.”

“Well, that’s the only answer you’ll get.”

The corner of my lips curve upward. I’ve never seen her talking back to Rocco like this. She is usually skittish around him. My size tends to alarm most people, especially women. They get spooked whenever I’m near, whether there’s a real cause or not. Taking this assignment, I kind of expected that Ravenna would be, too. She’s not. Seems like there is much more to Ravenna Pisano than meets the eye.

“What are you doing at the spa? The invoices, receipts . . . Accounting with Hazel?”

Ravenna’s breath hitches, but her lips remain tightly pressed. It’s obvious she won’t give me an explanation. I lean forward until my lips brush the shell of her ear.

“Will you ask me not to tell your husband about that, too?” I ask.

When she tilts her head to the side, our cheeks touch. Her powdery scent teases my nostrils, urging me to fill my lungs. I grip the counter harder, suppressing the urge to crush my lips to hers. Closing my eyes, I count to ten.

This woman is too tempting. She’s a distraction I do not need, but here she is anyway, jeopardizing my self-control without even realizing it.

“Do I need to ask?” Ravenna whispers.

“No. You don’t need to ask.” I allow myself another fleeting second of her touch, then take a step back. “We should go.”

 

Ravenna

 

“What happened to your hand, Ravenna?”

I jump in my chair, almost knocking over the plate in front of me, and quickly hide my bandaged hand beneath the table. Rocco is standing on the other side, glaring at me.

“I asked you a question, bellissima.”

“I . . . cut myself when I helped Mamma with the dishes this morning,” I blurt out and regret it the moment the words leave my mouth. Rocco is obsessed with what other people think of him. And by extension, me.

“Do you know that we’re going to dinner at my father’s this weekend?” he snarls as he walks around the table. “Some of our business partners will be there! Do you want them to think I allow my wife to do menial work?”

“I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

He grabs my upper arm and pulls me up from the chair. I whimper and try moving away, but his grip only tightens.

“Please. You’re hurting me.”

“You’ve earned it.” He squeezes my arm harder, and I cry out. “I never punish you unless you deserve it. Do I?”

“No, Rocco.”

“I’m glad we agree on that.” He leans into my face. “Zanetti will take you to buy a dress to wear to dinner. Make sure you pick well so my business partners forget you’re a cleaning lady’s daughter.”

I nod. “I’ll go first thing in the morning.”

“Afternoon. Zanetti is coming with me tonight as backup, and we won’t be back before morning.”

“Backup?” I say, breathless. “Is it something dangerous?”

“Are you worried about me, bellissima?”

Worried about him? Is he really that delusional?

“You know I am.” A lie.

“It’s just a drug deal. Now, get out of my sight.”

As soon as he releases his hold, I turn and run out of the dining room. Rocco has always been easy to enrage, but ever since he’s taken on the responsibility for some of Arturo’s duties, he’s become worse. The garage fire has only ignited his militant tendencies.

Once inside my bedroom, I climb into bed and snuggle under the blanket. I wish I could kill him. Or have the money to pay someone to do it for me. Often, when I’m lying awake at night, I imagine sneaking into Rocco’s bedroom while he sleeps and raising the gun he keeps in his drawer. I’ve never fired a weapon, so the bullet would likely end up in the wall or the floor. Still, it makes me feel better, imagining the shots that would hit his chest. Other times, I imagine wrapping my hands around his neck and squeezing with all my might. Oh, how I would enjoy watching his bulging eyes stare at me as he struggles for breath. Yeah, I have very intense feelings for my dear husband.

A loud ping breaches the silence in the room, making me freeze. It takes me a few moments to realize what it is. Reaching out, I take the phone off the nightstand and stare at the notification on the screen.

New text message.

I rarely receive any. Rocco installed a device management software on my phone that only lets me communicate with people on my contacts list. And he is the only one with a passcode that allows him to add contacts or change permissions. For months, there’ve been exactly five numbers on my list. Rocco’s. The housekeeper’s. And the numbers for the three security chiefs—one for each shift. His most trusted people. But another number had been added three weeks ago.

I click on the notification and the new chat frame fills the screen. Well, fills isn’t exactly accurate since it contains only one word.

19:47 Alessandro Zanetti: Hand?

I can’t help but smile. It’s so like him. I touch the tip of my finger to his message. It’s just one tiny word, but warmth spreads inside my chest from simply looking at it. Judging by the glares I usually get from him, he hates me for some reason. Still. Except when he thinks I’m cold, or hungry, and now when I’m hurt. He cares enough to ask.

I type a quick response, then hit send.

19:52 Ravenna: Fine.

I stare at the screen for ten minutes, wondering if he’ll send something else, but the phone stays silent. I should probably delete the conversation. As benign as it is, if Rocco sees it, he will be furious. He may even hurt Alessandro because of it. I bite my bottom lip, type another message, then quickly delete the whole exchange.

 

Alessandro

 

The structure of the abandoned factory that was picked as the meeting point still has its walls and roof pretty much intact, but it’s freezing inside because most of the windows are broken.

Rocco has his arms crossed over his chest as he stands and watches two SUVs rolling through the facility’s back entrance. Until Arturo returns, Don Ajello has split the responsibilities of handling the drug business between two capos—Cosimo and Rocco. Both are in charge of construction and real estate deals for the don, but now also bear the brunt of extra work. Based on the irritated look on Rocco’s face, he is not happy having to get his hands dirty. There’s a huge difference between negotiating property contracts in an upscale restaurant over a bottle of expensive cognac, and standing in the dead of night at a cold, rundown factory in the middle of nowhere.

I take the phone out of my pocket and quickly glance again at the message Ravenna sent me earlier. It’s the fourth time I’ve done that so far.

20:02 Ravenna: Be careful tonight.

The thuds of the shutting car doors come from the direction I’m facing, so I put my phone away and assess the newcomers.

There are several criminal organizations and gangs in New York. Those who mind their own business or cooperate with Cosa Nostra are allowed to flourish. Others cease to exist in very short order. The group of men who have just exited the vehicles belong to the set that has been allowed to conduct their operations in this territory. That allowance, so far, has been lucrative for both sides.

Cosa Nostra began doing business with the Serbian syndicate several years ago, after Ajello took over as Don. I’m not certain about the extent of Cosa Nostra’s business dealings with the Serbs, but from what I’ve heard, they move close to 50 percent of Ajello’s drugs. They also run a club that presents as an entertainment place for high-end clientele, but in truth, it’s a neutral ground where most of the underground transactions are negotiated.

This club happens to be a place where the Serbian boss conducts his main business—dealing in black market precious stones, diamonds mostly. A true jack-of-all-trades, as Ajello alluded, he probably has his fingers and toes dipped in other realms, as well. The don has been trying to plant someone within the Serbs’ organization for a couple of years now, without success.

Drago Popov—the head of the Serbian outfit—approaches, and the expression on his face tells me he’s not happy to see Rocco.

I met Drago recently when I had some personal business to conduct. In a leather jacket and black jeans, he doesn’t look like a typical high-profile criminal. In fact, he seems rather ordinary. The key word here is seems. But I know a killer when I see one, and Drago Popov belongs to that label. Knowing Rocco, he’s going to underestimate the man, believing he wields the upper hand.

“Where is Arturo?” Drago asks in heavily accented English.

“Arturo is not available. I’m here in his place.” Rocco gives him a chin lift. “I want to see the money first.”

The Serbian leader raises an eyebrow, then turns to the blond man standing on his right. “Ko je ovaj idiot?”

“Capo,” the blond guy says.

Drago hmms and heads back toward his car. “We’ll talk when Arturo is back.”

“Hey!” Rocco yells. “Come back here or you can forget about any further deals.”

I take the opportunity, while Rocco and his men are focused on the retreating group of Serbs, to head over to Rocco’s new sports car. He bought the convertible the day after I burned down his garage, along with all his expensive toys inside. This one, I plan to blow up at some point, too, but not yet. Maybe in a week or so.

Two other vehicles are parked in front of it, blocking me from everyone’s view. I crouch beside it and slide my arm underneath, checking the device I planted last night. It’s a very sophisticated gadget, and it cost me a small fortune, but it will be worth it.

Making bombs was never my strong suit. Sergei Belov ran point on missions that required our unit to blow shit up. He could make a bomb, using only the stuff one might have in the kitchen, in under five minutes. I may not have the skill set to make them, but I damn well know how to use them.

Rocco is still shouting, threatening Drago that he’s going to tank his business. The cocking of guns echoes through the space. Shit is about to hit the fan. Just as I finish arming the bomb, the first gunshot pierces the air. The overhead light fixture explodes, sending shards of glass down around me. I fucking hate it when I’m right.

I switch on the receiver, making sure the signal is live, and take out my gun. A bullet hits one of the windows of the car just ahead. A few of our men have taken cover behind it and are shooting at the Serbian gang members. Gunfire rages all around.

Rocco is squatted on the other side of a low concrete wall, two of his security men flanking him. A bit to the right, another security guy is sprawled on the floor. He caught a bullet to the thigh, but he’s alive.

“Back in the cars!” Rocco yells.

I straighten and aim toward the group of our opponents, covering for Rocco’s men as they get inside their vehicles. After changing the magazine, I glance over the raised roof of the sports car. Two of the Serbian gang members are unharmed and are trying to help the wounded get inside the SUVs. I made sure none of my shots were lethal. From time to time, small brawls between our crews are not uncommon, it’s how illicit business works. As long as no one ends up dead, dealings among us continue.

Rocco rises and sends a bullet to the back of one of Papov’s men. Drago pushes the wounded guy into the rear of the vehicle and turns toward Rocco, aiming at his head. I lift my weapon and fire, hitting the Serbian’s shoulder. The gun falls from his hand, clattering onto the floor.

As he’s getting into his car, Rocco gives me a chin lift, a thank you for saving his life. The idiot has no idea that an expiration date was stamped over his pitiful existence the moment I found out he killed the last family member I had left. And I’ll be the only one who gets to end it.


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