Dark Rival I
“So, this sicario of yours,” Augusto asked, “what’s he going to do in all this? Is he getting involved?”
The others fell silent—all seven capos of the family; some looked up from the pool table, others from the TV screen. As risky as it was, the meeting at his villa had been necessary to induct two new members and discuss their strategy for dealing with the Russians.
The capos were usually pleasant enough. But of course, Silvio’s presence and involvement sat badly with them. He was an outsider, a loose gun with an unorthodox reputation. Still, that Augusto dared challenge him over Silvio in front of the capos made the back of his neck crawl.
“The Barracuda has been involved for weeks,” Stefano said, choosing a tone exactly between “don’t be so dumb” and “what, you didn’t know?”
The narrowing of Augusto’s eyes told him he’d caught that just fine. Stefano smiled and leaned back on the couch, spreading his arms out along the cushions, even though it stretched his bruised ribcage. Dominance posture. Just because he was still on painkillers didn’t mean he couldn’t play that particular game.
“So what’s he up to?” Augusto demanded.
“He’s out there fighting the war.” Stefano kept his smile in place. You gotta be the shark in the piranha swarm, his father had said. The biggest motherfucker in the ocean. Were barracudas solitary? Sharks were. He shook his head and leaned forward again. “You guys do what you do.”
“And if he gets in the way?”
“He won’t.” Surely Silvio wouldn’t stoop so low as to hit a Russian tea room while the enforcers of his various capos unloaded into those Russian bastards. Silvio knew better.
And his brother Franco . . . Stefano summoned up that face without problem. A more masculine version of Silvio, prematurely aged under exposure to heat and wind that had sharpened acne scars sustained during an especially savage puberty. Dark greenish eyes that, like Silvio’s, saw too much. Had seen too much. Gaunt, even haggard, long-legged, but broad-shouldered. Nothing ambiguous about him at all.
Yet, seeing Franco, watching him, had sent a tingle across his skin, which answered that one question, at least. It wasn’t just Silvio who could have that effect on him. Or he was rapidly becoming addicted to Spadaro men.
In any case, he’d never act on it. Silvio had breached his armor, but there was enough of it left to protect him from Franco. And if he’d learned anything in high school when he’d dated two sisters at the same time, that was not something he wanted to get himself into again.
Dating? Really? A killer and a mercenary?
Shit, he wasn’t even dating Silvio. He shook his head and stared at Augusto. “I got Spadaro from Falchi as a completely deniable asset. Over time, the cops will take a bigger interest in what’s ramping up the body count in this city, and the more we can dazzle them with bullshit, the better.”
“We can take care of our own problems,” Augusto said.
“You take care of them on your level—in your businesses, on your turf. The Barracuda is going after the head of the snake. We need to attack them from all sides, not leaving them a single moment to breathe.” Stefano smiled. “Unless, of course, you feel that the strategy isn’t sound.”
Dropping a pin now would have been the equivalent of helicopters playing the “Ride of the Valkyries.”
Stefano forced himself to breathe slowly. In, out. In, out, again. Four times. Still no protest. “I thought so.”
He was about to get up and turn away when Augusto cleared his throat. “I don’t know why you’ve got such a hard-on for this guy.”
Damn if the bottom of his stomach didn’t just fall out, right down onto his shoes. Augusto took a half a step back and mumbled “With all due respect, boss,” but that didn’t put his stomach back where it belonged.
“If we had a sicario of that caliber, I wouldn’t have had to draw in outside help.” Stefano stood and turned to give each of his capos a hard stare. “Falchi always worked with the best.”
“So what did you give Falchi to get his head of security?” Augusto asked.
Now this was really starting to piss him off. He stepped close to Augusto, but the bastard stood his ground.
Potbellied, hair getting thin on top, your average early-fifties Italian who belonged behind the counter of a greasy spoon somewhere downtown. His father’s old buddy-in-arms, though, and Stefano assumed his father had ensured that Augusto hadn’t made his move to become boss sooner. Maybe he’d promised. Maybe they’d had a deal going. But it seemed Augusto felt that now was the time to break his word. Cocksucker.
“A late sixteenth century painting, actually.” Stefano gave a grim, thin-lipped, smile. “Falchi’s out, growing roses.”
Augusto’s brown eyes met his without fear. Which could be good or bad news. Scared men turned violent. But so did men who were more determined to get their due than they were afraid of the consequences. “You don’t know what happened back when Falchi was still active. With Carbone and Spadaro and the others.”
Paolo Spadaro, not Silvio. Even though, for a moment, Stefano’d thought it’d been Silvio. Silvio had that quality about him, like a ghost, or a demon—a revenant moving through time and space. Stefano scoffed. “That was in the eighties. Times have moved on since then.”
“You can’t trust Spadaro blood. That’s all I’m sayin’, boss.”
Stefano lifted an eyebrow, but he noted the last word and that, this time, at least, Augusto was deferring. They could play this as an underling’s justified concern. He wasn’t a tyrant. He was listening to his underboss. Especially since he didn’t have a consigliere. He was struggling to appoint a new one. There wasn’t a man in the organization he wanted in the job, so Augusto was wearing both hats. It was a lot of power for an underboss—bringing the men’s grievances to him as well as running operations and heading the capos. Too much power, really, but taking it back was difficult, and not wise while under siege from an external enemy.
“Spadaro is strictly here as a freelancer to take some heat off.” He patted Augusto’s shoulder and squeezed it, even managed another smile. The capos relaxed, exchanged murmurs, looked around the room. Test passed. No weakness in his leadership as yet.
But damn if he didn’t want to know what exactly had happened back in the eighties, and whether Silvio was indeed the son of a traitor as the rumors had it.
You can’t trust Spadaro blood.
* * *
Stefano sat on what he’d come to think off as Silvio’s couch, imagining Silvio was just in the other room. That he had, like other things of darkness, simply bled into shadows of his bungalow, and would reassemble himself and take that familiar, maddening shape when the whim struck him.
Stefano was only stopping by to check, he told himself, even though the housekeeper had already thrown out the milk and other perishables from the fridge. Oddly, the landline was disconnected. The bed was made, and nothing lingered, no smell he could have picked up, no sense or taste of the man living here. Only a number of his suits hanging in the wardrobe suggested that Silvio would return at all.
Gone off with his brother, yet another cypher. Both men in one room was almost too much, more than anybody could take.
One of them is too much for you.
His phone buzzed in his pocket. He fished it out. Silvio’s number. Speak of the devil.
“How are you doing,” Stefano asked when he’d tapped the green button on the screen.
“Doing good.” Silvio sounded languid, slightly breathy. “How are you?”
“Still sleeping a lot.” Thinking of you. Wondering about you and your brother. What you’re up to over there.
“Sleep is good, means you’re healing. Where are you?”
“Checking in your place. The phone’s disconnected.”
“Yeah, pulled the plug.”
“Don’t like distractions.”
“Because so many people call you,” Stefano chided.
“One wrong call is all it takes.” Silvio sounded a touch tense there. Why was that?
Time to change the topic. “How’s Franco?”
A breathy laugh. “He’s doing well. We’re shooting a lot of bullets, all for practice. It’s hard to distract him.”
“Yes, he struck me as that type. Do you know what he wants in return? I don’t want to use his skills without giving anything back.”
Pause, possibly thoughtful. “He doesn’t like the family much, but he needs a job when we’re done here.”
“I can place him with one of my companies.” Which would mean Franco would stay around. Another potentially big problem. Stefano had a nice collection of those by now. “Or, if he’s too proud, I can get him an interview.” Rig the game somewhat less openly, for appearances’ sake. “Can’t waste a good guy.”
“He’ll never join, you know.”
“I believe I have the best Spadaro already.”
Silvio laughed. “Good save. I’ll let him know.”
Silence again, stretching out. Stefano wanted to reach across the digital divide and touch Silvio. Just smell and taste him. Odd that the most primal of senses were hungering the most for the killer. Touch, smell, and taste.
“It’s good to hear your voice.”
“You’re in some mood,” Silvio said, but his tone was soft. God damn all this, the killer sounded positively innocent, even touched.
“Has anybody ever told you it’s easy to get used to you?”
Silvio chuckled. “No. Means I’m boring?”
“No! No. It means that you leave . . . an absence when you’re not there. Unlike other people, who leave nothing.” He sounded like an idiot, didn’t he. Yep, he did. Donata found that romantic, would have kissed him now, but there was only silence from Silvio.
Stefano cleared his throat. “So, what’s the strategy?” War was easier to talk about.
“Franco and I will stay away while we hunt the Russians. Don’t want them to be able to track us anywhere. Real outlaw-style.” Silvio yawned. “They won’t connect us to you. We’ll concentrate on the boss.”
“My guys are ready to fight, too.”
“Yeah. Hopefully what’s left will turn and run.” It didn’t sound like a hope—more like a prediction. Half-bored, as if the alternative was to kill them all, and killing itself was boring and mundane and mildly annoying. It was so Silvio that Stefano couldn’t help but smile.
“How long will you be gone?”
“A couple weeks.”
Will you call me at least every now and then?
Stefano closed his eyes, fought down a wave of fear and worry. Not for himself but for the two Spadaros. Two. God help him. “Give me an update when anything happens.” Easier to phrase it as an order when the alternative was begging.
“He’s still very weak. Bullet messed up some things in his chest, grazed the spine.”
“Must have been a pretty good shot. Or lucky.”
Tap the cocksucker.
Stefano shuddered. “Right now, I’m making sure his family’s going to be okay and the bills are covered. I guess that’s the one thing that makes the family better than corporate America.” No wiggling out of responsibility for one’s men. Part of the loyalty that bound them all together, knowing that if one went to prison or the grave, their family would be all right.
“Many reasons, really,” Silvio said. “I can’t imagine getting a ‘real job.’”
Not that he ever had to, as long as Gianbattista kept him as his heir. Maybe some people couldn’t function anywhere but in the jet set or the underworld.
The world out there’s a mug’s game. His father had said that often. And being a mug was being a loser, an idiot, somebody ready for the taking. “In a real job, you wouldn‘t have to worry about getting shot.”
Silvio scoffed. “I’m not worried about getting shot.”
“What are you worried about?”
“Nothing. Nobody can take me.” Silvio didn’t wait for a protest. “I’ll be in touch. Take care, Stefano.”
The call ended; Silvio cut him off before it got too personal. There had to be fears, worries, there had to be things moving in that darkness; those inscrutable eyes were hiding more than the thoughts of a sphinx. But just why did Stefano want to delve deeper into Silvio’s darkness when his own was beginning to overwhelm him?