Frank gazed at the streets out the auto window, rolled an inch for an engine-smoky breeze. They were his streets. And nice streets they were around Springrock. The kind of streets you retired too. Everyone was pals, saying good morning, good evening, good night. Frank made sure his men around here behaved well, got his money the right way. No one wanted these tree-sewn, flower-framed streets turning into Eastpoint in a hurry. The elite round here paid a lot of cash for Frankie’s guys to sweep the shit towards the darker corners of Carrada. The lazy, the retired, the filthy rich – good fucking clients. He was the one that made them happy here, made this place the paradise it was. He felt good about it.
“Why don’t I have a house down here? What the fuck’s wrong with me?” grunted Frank.
“You said this place was too nice, that you’d get bored,” said John.
“They’ve got bars.”
“Not the kind with dartboards and pool tables,” said Ron from the driver’s seat, his flat voice like the hum of the auto.
“You’d have to take up dominos, Boss,” laughed John.
“You fucking guys, you crack me to shit. Maybe when I retire, when there’s nothing left to clean up, I’ll come here knowing that I’m fucking done!… But no fucking dominos, I ain’t senile yet.”
“You gonna pass the crown to little Jack, Boss?” asked John.
“Not until he’s on the wise side of thirty, at least. Till then… ah I’ll probably just throw a broken stick between you two and see who deserves it more.”
An awkward silence, and then an awkward laugh.
A hole in the cobbled street made the auto jolt. Frank grimaced, John moaned and Ron raised a hand to them to apologise.
“We almost there?” asked John.
“Almost there,” Ron answered.
“Hey, Ron. When you drop us off I want you to keep an eye on Alice. If she starts seeing this Ray guy I want you to be there with them. The kid seems all right, but let’s make sure he doesn’t make any stupid mistakes.”
“You think they’re gonna start seeing each other?” Ron asked.
“I know they will.”
“Then you got it, Frank. Might be fun to see Alice rip the guy a new pair.”
Ron turned the auto right, into a grove where the road wound in an ‘S’ shape. They circled a fountain, its flawless spray rising and falling, expanding and shrinking, swirling.
“Beautiful,” said Frank, climbing out of the car and fixing the knot of his tie. The little stones crunched beneath his shoes. The sun was out, the frost and the snow was gone. For now, anyway. Wasn’t even Christmas, yet.
He stood in the shadow of the wide, amber-walled, restaurant/hotel/casino. One of Frank’s finest possessions. The beige, italic sign above the glass doors read: The Carrada Pacific. Several other black autos were feathered around the water feature.
Frank and John entered the light gilded reception as Ron pulled off in the auto. It was like stepping into a damn palace. Bookshelves, paintings, marble statues, a waterfall in the far corner that trickled down smooth rocks and bonsai trees. A guy came up to them, servility and fear in his pale young face, his clothes all red and gold buttons.
“Your table’s waiting, sir,” he said to Frank, jittering.
“What have I been fucking knighted? Nobody told me. You call me Mr Bray, not sir, you little prick.”
“Err, yes, Mr Bray. Sorry, Mr Bray.”
Frank chuckled, “All right kid, dial it down and take me to my table.”
John began to follow them, but Frank waved him away.
“Spin for a bit, Johnny,” he said, gesturing towards the grand casino through the archway behind him. “Hundred on whatever third is hot, and keep it going.”
“You sure you don’t need me, Boss?”
“I’m fucking sure,” he replied, flicking something small and white into his mouth.
John walked off with a nod and a shrug of his shoulders.
Frank followed the shaky guy the opposite way, where an archway lay under a long painting of the Civil War – the Battle of Gettysburg. There’s no fucking blood in this painting. Always paint the blood, or what’s the fucking point? Waiting on the other side was a group of men.
“Frank, it’s good to see you again,” said Michael Surrone, taking the Boss’s hand enthusiastically. The guy was all teeth, most white, one yellow. A smile like an axe wound. His square face was clean shaven, his hair black and gelled backwards. “How are you?”
Frank tasted the chalky taste of the pill in his throat, and suddenly the world seemed sharper. Every colour had ten more shades only he could see; every little smell was distinct and the beats of his own heart chimed in his ears – the mayoral candidate and his two guards, theirs were beating a lot quicker than Frank’s, that was for sure. The subtle whiff of a violet found Frank’s nose, its gentle colour his eyes. One of Mike’s guards was wearing the flower in his lapel. There was a hint of piss, too. The other one hadn’t shaken his dick well enough. Every scent from the kitchen behind them was making its way over, each twitching a different hair under Frank’s nose. Prosciutto-wrapped grissini. A fine choice for a starter.
“You know, Mikey Boy. I’m fucking fantastic.”
“Good to hear, Frank. Good to hear. I’ve ordered starters, I hope you don’t mind. Prosciutto-wrapped grissini.”
“My favourite,” Frank smiled. “I’ll meet your security now?”
“Sure!” Michael pointed to the guy with a spec of piss on his pants. “This is Ricki. The kid’s been with me for what, four years now?”
“Almost five,” came Ricki’s deep voice. “It’s a pleasure and honour to meet you, Mr Bray.” A touch of his native Italian rolled his words.
“Shake more, kid,” said Frank. Rejecting Ricki’s hand.
Mike continued, “And this is Tom. New kid, but plenty of work in security, protecting big guns all his life – none bigger than me, though. Made it big now, haven’t you, Tom!”
“You got that right, Mr Surrone. It’s good to meet you, Mr Bray.”
There was something about this kid. He had more steel in him than Frank’s auto.
“Nice, violet,” said Frank, brushing it with his thumb, his eyes fixed on Tom’s. The kid held on well – long enough for Frank to think he was worthwhile, not long enough for him to think he was carrying balls his brain couldn’t handle.
“Thanks, Mr Bray. Mr Surrone says it pops my eyes.”
Mike flared, his eyes bulging and nostrils distending above his fake-ass smile.
Frank laughed, coughed, and laughed again. “This kid’s all right. Loosen up, Mikey Boy, a smile like that looks grimmer than any grimace I’ve ever seen. Now, Tom, and you, Ricki, beat it and let us eat in peace.”
After looking over to Mike, who gave them a nod, they walked away.
“What’s this? What’s with the nodding? I tell you leave us to eat, you better fucking be leaving us to eat!” The security trembled in their retreat, and then carried on with awkward grins as Frank laughed and coughed again. But there was something about Tom, something Frank couldn’t put his finger on. There was something he liked about the kid, and plenty he didn’t, too. The uncertainty gnawed at him, suckling on his pride. He pushed a pill between his lips, chewed it, tasted the powder, and felt the universe pulse. You already took one two minutes ago, Frankie, remember?
“Frank, you okay?” said Mike.
“I’m great. Fucking starving. Let’s sit.”
He started to pick things up that he didn’t need to: a conversation on the other side of the room, trees in the grove rustling – it wasn’t even windy. He swore he heard every damn watch and clock within a mile. Tick, tock, tick fucking tock.
“Frank, you sure you’re all right?” The voice was a deep melody, fading towards the end, lost among the rush of every fucking noise in the world. His eyes skimmed the room, counting every wooden panel, every nail, the strokes of each painting. He felt hot, not dizzy though, the opposite of dizzy. If the roof opened up and the snows started again, Frank was sure he could have weaved his way between every flake. But some things were hazy. The waiter came over with a bottle of red. It was like he was one step ahead of himself, and one step behind. His movements were slow and blurred and his voice was an echoing rumble. He brought over a bottle of red with their starters. There was a small fly on the side of Frank’s plate.
“Frank? Frank, you with me?”
He snapped out of it. The table was bare.
“–I’m fine, I’m fine. Bit of a flush, but I’m good now.”
The waiter began to walk over.
“Get that fly off my plate,” said Frank over his shoulder.
The waiter hesitated, looked at the plate balancing on the middle of his arm, and spun on his heels back towards the kitchen.
Mike raised one of thick brows. His smile twitched.
“Now,” said Frank, “Let’s get down to business.”
“Of course, Frank. Well, the campaign’s going along nicely. Harvey crashed out when he got caught doing blow on Jagged Street in Eastpoint, Denny looks like he’s backing down, all the rest are outsiders.” He leant in a bit, lowered his voice. “Just Marvo to worry about.”
“Marvin Prince. Yeah, that guy’s good, I’ve seen him. His speeches, they’re fantastic, well written. His smile – it’s fucking real. Doesn’t look like his teeth are hiding a family of fucking demons like yours. I swear I can see smoke coming out your nose, even when you’ve got nothing lit.”
“Hey, come on, Frank. Play fair.” He kept on smiling.
“Don’t worry, not everyone sees it. That’s why you’re still in with a shot.”
“Marvo’s speeches… you listened to them. Bring an end to organised crime, equal rights… curfews on bars, Frank. He’s got the haughty eatin’ out his hands with this shit. Cleanest streets in the world he says. He can’t win, Frank… I have to win.”
The waiter came and put down their food, poured their wine, not a fly to be seen… except the one Frank saw crawling up the curtain on the other side of the room.
“So you’ll take care of–”
Frank slammed the flat of his fork on the table. They got a few glances, but when they saw who had made the noise they were quick back to their slops.
“…You will win.”
“All right, Frank. All right. But I, err, think I’m gonna need a bit more cash to win–”
“– to throw on red fourteen, jackass. No fucking way. You get what I give you and nothing fucking more.” Frank lowered his voice to a whisper, leaned in, grabbed a breadstick from Mikey Boy’s plate and bit off the top. He heard each dry crumb as it landed on the table. “You get to be Mayor of Carrada… that’s your fucking prize. You get greedy and I’ll give you a very different gift for Christmas, you got that? Santa Claus might have a tommy in his sack. And, when you come to know me a bit better, you’ll know I succumb to my primal need for reciprocity in my relationships, and so you… you make sure there are no costs, and no complications, surrounding my… my imports.”
“Yeah I got it, I got it.”
“I’m going to need something else from you, too.”
Frank held up his hand for a bit of quiet.
Neither of them spoke again until their starter plates were clean. Little beads of perspiration glinted on Mike’s brow. The waiter came and took their plates. Another replaced them almost immediately with a large seafood salad.
“Ah! fruta mare ensalata. You’ve picked well, Mikey Boy.”
“I’m glad. So… what is this, err, extra thing you want?”
Frank thought of the right words. They were in a public place. Had to be careful.
“I spend a lot of time at the docks – it’s a great place for business, but only when it’s nice and quiet. I need a bit of quiet in the places I work, so I can get plenty done, making the streets a better place, you know. But certain men get in the way down there, get noisy and distracting, and things can get awkward, sometimes messy. When I’m down there, I want to be there by myself. Make sense?”
Mike spoke in an angry, raised whisper. “You want me to tell the cops they can’t touch the harbour! Why don’t you just paint crooked on my fucking forehead, Frank.”
“You insult me?”
“Then why do I feel insulted?”
Mike reclined, his hands up. “I, err…”
“Okay, Mike, this is how it is. You do every fucking thing I ask you to, and you will be Mayor, and maybe, one day, more… you understand?”
“If you don’t do everything, I’ll do more than paint crooked on your fucking forehead. I’ll smear it across that pearly white fucking mansion of yours with the blood of your fucking wife, how does that fucking sound?”
“How does that fucking sound, Mikey Boy?”
“Anything you say, Frank. Anything you say.”
Frank popped a pill. He was so fucking hot, so pepped up with rage. Fucking noises everywhere, smells, sights, but he could feel other things now. He could feel God’s eyes above him, staring with disgust and trying to spit at him. He felt the molten Hell below his feet and the poke of the devil’s claws goading him. You’re angry, Frank. You’re the fucking Boss, you know that. But don’t mess it up now.
A deep breath, and then Frank spoke, his own words like drops of rain plucked from the monsoon in his head. “I’ll deal with Marvo this weekend. You… you… just fuck off and do what I fucking say.”
By D. C. Ward
Thanks for reading this chapter of our serial thriller story. Subscribe via email or follow us on twitter (Sentient_Ink) to find out when Chapter 7 will be published. But while you’re waiting, explore our many other works of fictions, spanning quadrillions of genres (well, three or four). Here’s some things you might like: Guilty (Horror Short Story) | The Coldsuit (Science Fiction Short Story | Wartorn: The Brink (Wartime thriller extract)