Bloodshed. Death. Destruction.
This was my family’s legacy and nothing I want to have anything to do with. Try telling that to my father, the patriarch; formidable and considered one of the most dangerous men in America. I used to adore him when I was a kid, following him around as if he were a rock star, my hero. Then I found out the truth.
He’s nothing but a monster, although his age and unscrupulous ways have taken a toll on his kingdom as well as his family. And I’m his son; well, one of two. My brother, Giovanni is several years older, a catch to the ladies, the next in line for the Chicago throne. And I couldn’t care less.
Montego Calduchi is the preordained crime boss of Chicago, his ruthless and brutal activities considered legendary, even among the other crime syndicate families. He rules with an iron fist, preferring to cut a man down versus hear any excuse.
There are dozens if not hundreds of people who would stop at nothing to butcher my father and if you grilled me, I’d have to say I might be on that list. The trouble with power is that everyone else wants a piece of it. Given the New York crime syndicate was muscling in, the Chicago boys had determined that their brand of viciousness meant they should be top dog. There was also concern about the various wannabes from Jersey to Philadelphia, so I’d say my father’s days are numbered.
And me? Well, I’d guess my days are numbered too, if my brother has anything to say about it. I rubbed my eyes, snickering at my lapse of judgment. I should have taken my college education and slipped out of the country when I’d had the chance. Sadly, the perks of the ‘industry,’ if you can call racketeering and extortion any kind of profession, were far too much of a draw. Within months, I was following in my father’s footsteps until I’d had enough. So, here I am. Considered the bad boy of the Calduchi family.
Only I don’t call him my father any longer, at least not to his face. I lost that kind of respect during the last pseudo war occurring on the Chicago streets.
I’m used to having all the perks of a rich man. You know what I’m talking about: fast cars, even faster boats, and the kind of women who can make a cock hard in a single glance. I’ve had three hot babes hanging on my arms for various black-tie events, the envy of every red-blooded male. Slinky red dresses with slits just below their perfectly coiffed cunts. Cleavage low enough that almost any movement created gasps from other more conservative guests. And every one of the ladies with bodies to kill. You know the drill. Every man’s fantasy. All for the sake of a thrill.
Yeah, pretty damn hot. The issue? I’m always bored as fuck. Nothing ever changes. Maybe the lack of conversation or intelligence in my particular choices had finally taken a toll. I wanted more out of life. Great. Now, I sounded like all the rest of the dumb assholes I’d graduated with. Some were perfect students, trying their best to make a difference in this jaded world. Then there were my friends, the kind of boys you warned your little girls about. We went to Princeton. The finest education money and threats could buy. What fine upstanding gentlemen. I couldn’t help but chortle at the thought. We’d taken debauchery to an entirely ridiculous level, but none of us had any fear of retribution, or concern about finances either.
That was because no one dared touch us for fear of retaliation. One phone call from our respective fathers and the local morgue would have filled to capacity.
And not a single person would have opened their mouth.
So, we were nothing but bastards, savoring the spoils of our positions. Only six years later and my old college buddies were living exactly the lifestyle we’d sworn we’d never succumb to. Three were married with kids and the other two were well on their way. I was the last remaining hope for remaining unattached.
I pushed the latest financials across my desk and leaned back in the chair, swiveling from side to side. Bishop Enterprises was doing well, despite the difficulty acquiring other companies and the tough economy. In two short years since my takeover, I’ve been labeled a success. I’m also feared among my peers, my presence at any business meeting or local event tolerated at best.
This was my attempt at being an upstanding citizen, much to my father’s chagrin. Having a legit portion of the Calduchi enterprise looked good on paper, but slowly over time, reality had set in. I was far too much like my father, accepting the old ways—enforcement. My head ached from the thought, let alone from living what I considered a lie. Hell. I wasn’t entirely certain who I was any longer. One thing was for certain. I’d become a dangerous man even if only using a pen.
At least the majority of the time.
I had another soiree to attend tonight and at minimum I needed to make an appearance. The tone would be established the moment I set foot in the ballroom. There would be hell to pay. I had no choice at this point. Time was of the essence, final deals required. If not, Bishop would lose standing in the ruthless world of real estate takeovers. A female companion was required in order to keep any concept of peace. I closed and rubbed my eyes, furious that I’d accepted the invitation. A damn real estate party for the bigwigs in the developer industry.
And I was one of them.
Granted, I had business to conduct, two companies that needed reinforcement in the pressure to sell. Neither had budged even though fairly rough tactics had been used in order to influence their decision. Nope. I wasn’t proud, but I didn’t have enough muscle behind me to go up against my father. Plus, I had a quota to fill and their pristine ethics meant absolutely zero to me. By the end of the night, they would sign on the dotted line or the illustrious party would turn into a bloodbath. What few soldiers that had been directed to follow my lead were chomping at the bit.
A light rapping on the closed door drew my attention and not in a good way. I’d given strict instructions not to be bothered. “Yes?” Watching as the door opened little more than a crack reminded me that I was a business owner with employees who needed occasional direction. “Come in, Molly.”
She was freckle-faced and perky on normal days, her strawberry blonde hair and dancing hazel eyes always giving me a smile. Today, she seemed pensive, as if the weight of the world was on her shoulders. Or that she was terrified.
“What do you need?” I folded my hands across my chest, trying to shove aside my usual anger at the interruption. The kid didn’t deserve my wrath.
“I’m so so-sorry to bother you, Mr. Bishop, I mean, sir. We have, I mean you have a visitor.” Molly was wide-eyed, her lower lip quivering.
Only one man caused this kind of reaction: my father, the bloodthirsty bastard that he was. “Let me guess.”
“Mr. Calduchi didn’t understand that you were busy.”
“You mean he didn’t give a shit.” The smile on my face had nothing to do with being happy to see the man who’d spawned me.
Her face flushed, and she fidgeted with her hair, wrapping her delicate fingers around her long strands. “Yes, sir. I mean, no, sir. I mean…”
“Just send him in, Molly. After this meeting, I’ll be leaving for the day. You can as well.” The poor girl had no real understanding of who she worked for. Every time her doe eyes looked in my direction, I felt guilty.
“Yes, sir.” She nodded out of respect, an expression of relief crowding out the near panic. “I’ll show him in.”
“No need.” The gruff voice was right behind her, the man shoving his way past my assistant as if she was nothing more than a bother. However, he did lift his sunglasses, gawking at her ass, a sensual humming noise slipping past his pursed lips. He always had a thing for beautiful women. Another attribute we shared.
I didn’t bother getting out of my chair, but I did glare at him, cognizant that his appearance inside the building meant he was more than displeased. That usually predestined that people would die. “Montego. Who do I have to thank for this amazing pleasure?”
“Cut the crap, Jagger. You know exactly why I’m here.” He slammed the door behind Molly, a gesture that actually forced the man to show some emotion. He was usually the cool cat, never getting his hands dirty.
He had enough goons to take care of his day-to-day business. I studied my father, resisting his line of bullshit.
“Where are we on the Markum and Santori acquisitions?” he demanded.
I held my tongue as Montego paced the room. “I’ll be at the gala this evening and both Richard Markum and Caleb Santori are expected guests. They wouldn’t dare defy the great Calduchi mandate so I’m positive they will sign contracts.”
“And if they don’t, you know what you have to do.”
I knew the answer, the same tactic that had always been used since his grandfather had taken the reins after a particularly ghastly turf war. “I’m perfectly capable of handling this.” The only legitimate segment of my father’s various business ventures had been placed in my hands. Then again, I was the only college graduate in the family. Brains versus brawn, asshole.
He moved closer to my desk, peering over, his black eyes glaring into mine. “I don’t need a pussy for a son. You wanted this operation. Now, you have to do your part.”
There’d been so many times I wanted to gut the man, leave him lying in a pool of his own blood, but I didn’t have the backing of the underboss or any of the capos. Killing the don could mean certain death. I wasn’t ready to take that chance.
At least not yet.
“Have I ever failed you?” In truth, I had never done anything against the family or especially my father that would cause any concern. But that no longer mattered. Given the recent threats from the muscle sliding in from New York, there was a distinct reason my father was on edge. He knew the score and so did I. Adding to our real estate holdings, whether occurring by legitimate methods or by using force would push what some in the business called inevitable back a few months.
Montego had a plan in motion to secure the city, in his manner, but the concept still needed time. I’d heard all the shit from one of the made men, a pin-headed kid who had no idea what he was getting himself involved with, even though he was one of the most brutal of the soldiers. The kid was an easy drunk. One day his mouth would land him in an early grave. At least the information he provided kept me in the loop. Poor Antonio. He had no idea I was using him as a pawn.
My father sneered and leaned further over my desk. “You’ve also done nothing to please me during the last few months. You either make this happen or I’ll assign your brother to take over.”
The usual backhanded threat. He wanted me riled, enraged, but he wasn’t goading me today.
“This is my company, Montego. Mine.” I rose very slowly to my feet, shifting until we were only inches apart. I’d always enjoyed defying the man I’d hated since I learned that my father had a gun strapped to his back instead of hero wings. My brother was much better suited for the family business and would no doubt find his way to the helm at some point. Granted, he was more of a playboy, gunning through money. Gio was also borderline psychotic, a trait I harbored in the back of my mind. I kept my eyes pinned on Montego, refusing to blink.
In an uncharacteristic move, Montego was the first one to break the line in the sand, taking a decided step backwards. “I expect to have a phone call in the morning. I suggest you find a suitable party girl for tonight. Your reputation in all areas is at stake.”
Another threat. Another day. I would indeed shove a blade through my father’s heart one day. I knew exactly who I was taking to the party. At least she was a woman I could trust in various regards, even if we sparred instead of talked the majority of the time.
He left my office without any additional fanfare, leaving the door open, strolling past the other employees.
Goddamn, I loathed the motherfucker.
“You certainly didn’t give me any options, Jagger. You know I hate the fact you call and just expect that I’m going to be your arm candy for the night.”
I’d grown up around Diana, her older brother a buddy of mine. She once hungered for more than friendship and while we’d shared a few passionate evenings, we only tolerated each other at this point. However, she would keep the guests entertained while I secured the contracts. She also made excellent eye candy.
“And you have no problems sidling up to the rich and powerful men who attend these functions, my sweet. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say your Harvard education was going to go to waste.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Diana demanded.
The nasty glare she shot me was enough to remind me why she and could never be a good match. “It means that I predict in less than a year, you’ll be married and pregnant.”
“You’re an asshole.” Scoffing, she fluffed her long red hair and grabbed her purse, keeping her head high and her eyes straight ahead as she attempted to walk past me toward the door.
I grabbed her arm, yanking her close and giving her a stern look. “Just remember who you belong to tonight, so keep that mouth of yours in check. This is an important evening for Bishop Enterprises. I can’t have you going off half-cocked.”
“I know exactly how to handle myself, Jagger. It’s you I worry about, but arrogance certainly suits you.” Huffing, she jerked out of my hold, flinging open the door and storming outside.
This was going to be a very long evening.
She remained silent until our arrival at the party, her sullen attitude exactly what I was used to. “You didn’t have to be so rough. Christ.” Diana smoothed down her dress, a very fake smile plastered on her face. Her dazzling personality had returned, the term ‘bitch’ forming on my tongue.
“If you don’t want to be treated like a child then don’t act like one.” I kept my hand on the small of her back as we walked through the garishly decorated ballroom, nodding to a few guests as we passed. The expansive space was filled to capacity, the by-invitation-only list including noteworthy politicians, CEOs, powerful influencers, and various actors and musicians, as well as the real estate moguls who ran not only Chicago but the notorious corridor up and down the east coast. Very few in the industry truly had a working knowledge of who was running the various corporations guised as land development, even proffering donations for charitable functions. Hundreds of millions of dollars were at stake.
Wars were waged on less.
“Why don’t you at least buy me a drink?” she asked offhandedly, waving to several women as they passed by. “Least you can do for forcing me to come to this shithole.”
“This shithole is a catered affair costing every guest one thousand dollars. I suggest you put on your happy face, my sweet princess. I purchased you for the night.” Yeah, I knew the words were harsh but at this point, I was weary of the nasty jabs.
Diana wrinkled her nose. “You’re such an asshole.”
“You’ve already said that. Just try to enjoy the damn evening.”
I noticed one of the holdouts just up ahead. Caleb Santori was a pious pit bull of a man, his employees hand-picked to ward off evil spirits. Or so I’d been told more than once. “How about this, my sweet. I have business to attend to. Why don’t you find us a glass of champagne? Better yet, a full bottle. We’ll have a celebration in order within minutes.”
She followed my direction, flanking my side as she turned slightly. “Be careful, Jagger. Your greed is showing. Mr. Santori doesn’t like you very much. Why don’t you offer him a position at your company, suggest that you combine your wealth instead of trying to gouge him with a lowball offer for a company he’s taken years to build?”
I chuckled and gave her an approving nod. “I underestimated you, Diana, which makes me a fool. A very good idea.” Santori and his bodyguards were headed in our direction. The true games were about to begin.
Allowing her hand to linger on my arm, she rose onto her tiptoes, kissing my cheek, her whisper sultry. “Something for you to keep in mind. I’ll get that champagne for us.”
I held back a smile as Caleb approached, his puffy face telling of years of hard drinking and frequent cocaine use, given his enjoyment of frivolous parties. I could easily best this man, acquiring his wealth and his followers, but why not use him for his other attributes, such as his understanding of the New York crime syndicate. “Caleb. I’m so happy to run into you tonight.”
“I’m certain you are, Jagger. How is your father doing?” Caleb asked, his voice just loud enough to be heard by any passing by.
“He’s doing very well. Asked that I say hello, wish your lovely wife and two daughters well.” The threat was only implied, but I could tell by his eyes that he understood. “I have a business proposition for you.”
“I’ve already told you, your damn attorney, your assistant, and half a dozen other people from your shoddy organization that I am not selling out to you. I don’t care what you plan on doing. The company is worth much more than the pittance you offered. You also can’t have the battlefield property. That’s precious to me.”
The battlefield property was the icing on the cake, a piece of land my father added to this particular contract. I couldn’t care less. “What I hope to do with the beautiful piece of land is vital to the city and people of Chicago. However, that’s not what I was hoping to talk to you about.” I held my grin as I wrapped my arm around his shoulders, walking him away from his oversized thugs.
“And what do you want to talk to me about?”
I was improvising of course, going along the lines of what Diana has suggested. By the end of my soliloquy, Caleb actually shook my hand. Not only would we be building the largest Casino in the state of Illinois, but I had his full backing on several other acquisitions and he would soon hold the title of vice president of Bishop Enterprises. Funny how life could turn on a dime.
There was one other holdout and this one wouldn’t be so easy; he couldn’t be handled by implied threats or throwing a bone about working together. Richard Markum was old school, growing up on the East Side, working his way through college working two jobs. He saved his money, finding a few investors and opened Markum and Associates when he was only twenty-five years old. Through the years, he’d acquired hundreds of pieces of property, turning some into destinations worth millions of dollars. Yeah, I’d learned everything about the man, including details about his family, his friends, and private information about his bank accounts and real estate holdings. His wife had been dead for almost four years and he had an estranged relationship with his daughter, who’d all but disappeared. The man was very much alone in his business decisions.
Through nothing more than hard work and tenacity, Richard had turned Markum and Associates into a thriving business employing over two hundred people in Chicago and the surrounding area. From everything I could tell, he was moral, ethical, and had refused on several occasions to bow down to anyone pushing his buttons.
Including my father.
I genuinely liked the guy and I only knew him on paper. I even admired him for his business ethics and his regard for his employees, but his luck had run out. He’d made a single mistake, albeit significant, and now I was able to capitalize on that in order to force him to sign a contract.
“I take it by the grin on your face that everything went well?” Diana asked as she handed me a glass of champagne, her eyes twinkling.
“Very. Your idea was brilliant. You might have a keen sense of business after all.” I scanned the room, searching for any sign of Richard. He’d confirmed his attendance and given he was an honorable man, I expected him to attend. There were no secrets. He knew the score and would come prepared for an answer. Breaking his balls could be in order, but I was more than prepared to do just that.
“And what about your next intended prey? What are you going to do with him, cut off his testicles and feed them to your hamster?”
I chuckled as I gave her a quick glance. She had her father’s brusque and uncaring demeanor, hence the concept of bitch. “My hope is that he’ll listen to reason.”
She laughed and swirled her glass. “You must be kidding me.”
As Richard walked into the room, entering with no fanfare and no one on his arm or by his side, I bristled, a cold chill shifting down my spine. The aging man certainly wasn’t formidable, but there was something about him that gave me pause. “I’ll be right back.” I headed in his direction, able to see the look of concern on his face, the way his skin seemed ashen, almost gray. “Richard. Good to see you here. I hope that you’re prepared to give me your final answer.”
Richard tilted his head, looking me dead in the eyes. In his, I could see such sadness, as if he’d given up on the world and his beliefs. “I’ve lived a long life, Jagger but I’m a lonely man. All I have is my business. There is no family that cares any longer, no grandchildren to bring me joy. Only my company. I worked hard to make certain I had a legacy and even though that no longer matters, I still have my pride. I won’t sign the contract. I simply can’t.”
The pain in the man’s eyes was telling as well as heartbreaking. For a few seconds, I didn’t want to be the ruthless fuck I’d turned into, but there was little recourse. “Richard, while I do understand and appreciate your conviction, I will have little choice but to destroy you given what I know. One call to the police and you will lose everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve.”
I wasn’t surprised by his deadpan reaction. I was shocked when he began to shake, his entire body sagging. He looked at me, his eyes reaching through mine and straight into my very soul, and I knew then what I’d done could never be undone.
As he fell to the floor, I heard his last words and they were ones that would haunt me to my grave.
“I forgive you.”