Dominic Anderson is a former hitman, an ex con, and a borderline sociopath on the path of redemption.
He spent the last two years of his life in jail, trying to become something different.
But when he comes back to his hometown, all his good intentions, the prospects for a future devoid of bloodshed, are challenged by the reality of the situation he has to face.
He may have changed, but the Pits--the Ghetto where he used to live--hasn’t.
In the ruins of a city, a hellhole where life is worth nothing, there are no normal jobs for a ex-convinct.
But for a former hitman?
Way too many.
The only problem?
He swore he'd never kill again.
A promise that will be tested when Jackie, the psychotic boss of the Arian brotherhood, comes to knock at his door, asking to settle a debt Dominic has no way to repay.
And that’s when things start to get interesting.
The last sunrays sparked through the dark clouds, a thick blanket enveloping the city below like an oppressive coat.
Behind them, the sun looked like a sick patient, struggling to come out just to be swallowed, inexorably choked down as it disappeared.
The mountains north of Risbury were steep and harsh, far from the civilization and the chaos brought by men.
And yet, they provided the perfect spot to observe the city below.
The old man liked chaos, he was born in it, but sometimes a more detached point of view was required.
That’s why he chose this place.
Well, that and in a tiny part for his personal amusement.
He liked to see the city from above at night, to look at the sparking lights and the people below, toiling like ants to gain more wealth only to buy things they didn’t need.
The lights were the embodiment of that illusion, the erroneous belief that all their progress, their riches and science could keep the darkness at bay.
They couldn’t, of course they couldn’t, but who was him to say otherwise?.
After all It was him who gave the pharaohs the idea of burying themselves with all their wealth, him who invented the usury and always him who forged the first coin, convincing the ancient men that currency was the foremost symbol of civilization.
Of course all this happened thousands of years ago.
Since then the apprentices, the human beings, have long exceeded their master, inventing many creative ways to shackle themselves, finding their own path to damnation.
In the last years he had been just an observer.
Until now at least.
“You never got tired to watch them, don’t you?” Someone said.
The old man didn’t turn. He didn’t need to.
Like usual he felt her long before she talked. For a moment he enjoed her closeness, the resonance taking place when two of their kind met , just to grimace when he went deeper, trying to estabilish a connection.
He hated that smell, hidden deep beneath the surface.
The sour stench of a soul.
“I see you still haven’t choked her.” He said with disapproval.
She shrugged, noncomittal.
“She has her uses. Especially now that we are so close.”
“Close yes, but to what? “He wondered. ” We are taking an huge risk with this plan of yours.” He warned.
“That bloodline already failed us once. You remember that right? What happened twelve yea---”
“--it won’t happen again.” She interrupted him. “We won’t fail this time.”
He shook his head, but he didn’t insist. It was too late for that.
“At least, is he ready?”
“Oh, he is ready.” She smiled. “I can feel the smell of his desperation. He is on the brink. A little push is all he needs , then he’ll be perfect.”
She said, looking at him with expectation, awaiting for his decision.
The old man took a deep breath.
“Do it then.” He said at the end.
She smiled and then she was gone, like she had never been here in the first place.
The old man frowned.
He could feel the warmth behind her smile, the happiness radiating from her like something tangible.
Joy was an human emotion, one the Seven never experienced.
He was almost worried for her.
As usual there was a long line of people crowding around the cash register of the small and dirty pawn shop.
It was a bad year for the folks of Risbury, a small mining town of around one hundred thousand souls.
But maybe it was more appropriate to say a bad decade, judging by the look of helplessness and desperation of the people standing in line.
Perhaps that was the reason of the heavy, almost stifling atmosphere, or it was only due to the heat, the ragged breaths of the people squeezed like sardine inside the small shop.
“I have already told you.” The old man said, and Dominic could heard an accent of annoyance in his voice.
”Two hundred bucks, no more than that.”
“Come on, I know this Tv is worth more than that!”
Dominic replied, his hands moving a little too fast when he pointed at the forty-six inches tv.
He was gesticulating again, he knew it.
He always started doing that when he was close to lose his temper, something that was becoming a habit lately.
He tried to slow his breath and calm down, but it wasn’t easy. Not today, not when his time was running out.
“Sure. It would be worth one grand or more, if the screen wasn’t scratched.”
The old man pronounced every words clearly like he was talking to an idiot. But Dominic knew he was lying. He always did.
It wasn’t an old model but a brand new curved Tv, and the “scratch” as the old man called it, was less than a centimeter wide in the lower left corner of the screen.
“Two hundred, take it or leave it”. He said and from the look on his small black eyes, Dominic understood that it was his final offer.
The two of them knew each other well, they were old acquaintances.
The old man could sniff a man need for money better than any hound and if haggling was an art, he was like the Shylock of the ghetto. But he had no interest in pounds of flesh, he traded in money and favors.
He placed the bills on the chipped, white lacquered counter and waited.
Dominic couldn’t see under his knotted white beard, but he knew that he was smiling at him. Mocking him.
His cheeks twitched and his nostrils flared.
He had to take the money, he needed it.
“Fuck you” he hissed to the old man, picking up the bills.
“Always a pleasure” The shopkeeper scoffed.
Dominic kept repeating himself to control his temper, to don’t go crazy like usual and fall back in his old ways.
But on the way out when he saw a trash bin, he couldn’t stop himself.
He kicked it once, but it was fuller and heavier than he expected and only wavered a little. He did again and it went down this time.
It was stupid, even him couldn’t’ argue with that. But when he saw a brown liquid---coffee probably---running on the white tiles of the floor, his elevated heart rate subsided. The drumming inside his head slowed down, becoming a distant pulse on his temples.
The customers shifted aside to let him through, the old man’s screams still following him when he went out. There was dismay in the looks the people around gave him. Not for what he did, not that.
This wasn’t a good neighborhood to begin with, and a small act of vandalism was nothing worth mulling over. It was him that they were looking, or try not to.
The way he moved, the bleached messy hair and the height over six foot caught the attention, but it was his face that provoked alarm.
There was a touch of madness in his sunken green eyes and the elation of a lunatic on his gaunt face.
Once outside the air was fresher, but not by much. Risbury was hot and humid by day, cold and humid by night.
It was just the end of spring but the small city always seemed to have a climate of its own ; The mountains surrounding the valley where Risbury was located, insulated the city from all sides except for a small mountain path in the south. For their shape, close to a noose, someone decided to call them the “Hanging Mountains”.
All in all, spring and summer were like a sticky torture for everyone except the mosquitoes.
For sure it wasn’t good for Dominic’s nerves, and it became even worse when he checked his wallet.
I am still two thousands short. He refrained from his first impulse: come back inside the shop and beat up the old man.
It is his fault! Greedy bastard!
He wanted to hit him, break his bones and smash his nose making his entire face look like blood pudding.
He clenched his fists and closed his eyes, but the red mist inside his head was hard to dispel.
He really needed that money.
He was aware the consequences of not paying Jackie back. The boss of the Arian Brotherhood was even worse than him, crazier and more short tempered.
Maybe no one ever explained to him that a dead man can’t pay his debts, but it wouldn’t have been the first time he killed someone just because he was pissed, stoned or simply bored.
Taking a loan from lowlifes was a bad move, he knew that. By all rights he fully belonged to the category, though he was trying to change.
But the job hunt in a failing mining town hadn’t gone well for an ex con decided to leave behind his criminal ways.
A common problem for ex-convincts, but the Pits---the place where he was born and lived for most of life---, was anything but common.
The district was old, born in the late nineteen century as dormitory for the silver mines workers.
It had been smaller at the time, just a cluster of shacks of wood and straw on the left bank of the old river.
It was only decades later, when the river was drained, its water over-exploited by the mines and refinery, that the Pits became what they are now.
A cauldron collecting all the scum, the unemployed and ethnic minority the city didn’t want downtown.
Dominic thought about ditching big Mike and go home instead.
Despite his uncle, Dominic liked Ray’s under-boss well enough, but right now he wasn’t in the mood to talk with anyone.
On the other hand, free food and beer sounded more than good at the moment.
He weighed the pros and cons, wondering if his nonexistent pride was more important than an empty stomach.
Of course it wasn’t.
The real problem was keeping his antisocial behavior in check for an entire night without beating someone to a pulp.
A quick visit. He decided in the end. I’ll eat, say hello to the children and leave.
He nodded. That would do.
Big Mike’s house was a condo just one block away from the old man’s pawn shop. The building per se was an ugly chunk of concrete, a skyscraper made in the late sixties that had seen better days.
The only good thing was that Mike had access to the terrace at the top, one of the best spot to make a barbecue in the east Pits.
Dominic climbed the stairs, his stomach growling at the smell of cooked meat.
He saw the Davis brothers waiting just outside the door leading to the top floor, acting like bouncers for the occasion.
Marvin, the one standing on the left, was the perfect image of a jinx. His face was sharp and pale, his nose hawkish, he had dark circles under his eyes, thin lips and wore black from head to toes.
Sam, on the other hand, was short and fat, colorful as much as his brother was grim. He wore a Hawaiian shirt, smiled a lot and talked way too much. The exact opposite of his brother who didn’t talk at all, but smoked; like a chimney judging by the cigarette stubs spread all around him.
They made a strange pair, the jinx and the chatterbox.
Needless to say, Dominic liked more the former than the latter.
“Dominic” Sam greeted, displaying a megawatt smile.
”I told you he was coming, didn’t i?”.
He glanced to Marvin, then back to Dominic, without giving neither of them the chance to say a word.
“He didn’t believe me”. He said to him shaking his head with regret.
”But I never doubted you.How could you miss little Lisa birthday?. Of course you couldn’t. She---”
...at that point Dominic stopped listening and glanced at Marvin with sympathy.
The oldest of the Davis brothers gave him a death stare, or maybe was a blank stare, the difference was subtle. Another way to say he was as expressive as a stone wall.
“----and after that time, she started to avoid rubber ducks.”
Sam finished, his cheeks were red, his breath short.
Dominic swallowed, terrified to ask what the hell he was talking about. But it wasn’t over.
Sam squinted his eyes and scanned Dominic like he was doing a radiography.
“By the way Dominic, where is your gift?”
Yes Dominic, where is it?.
He asked to the other Dominic, the one that would never forget to buy a gift for his Goddaughter’s birthday. Escape from reality at its best.
He was saved by the bell, namely One-Eyed Johnny and his new flame, Pamela, a blonde wearing a dress so low cut it showed more than half of her “assets”.
“Pamela, darling. You are dashing as usual.”Sam greeted.”And Johnny. Good to see you too. It’s been a while, isn’t?. Since that story with Jack Carter. Ugly business that one---”
..and here he goes again.
Johnny good eye quivered under Sam’s barrage. The same guy who faced the Girsby gang alone was sweating bullets now. Dominic understood his plight, but he couldn’t miss this chance to escape.
“See you later”.He said before running through the door, leaving Sam with his new victims.
Once he got upstairs, Dominic was greeted by the flickering lights of candles placed all around the terrace. Romantic but unsuitable for a ten year old birthday.
Dominic repressed his first instinct---pounce like a wolf on the buffet table---and searched to greet the host instead.
Big Mike was on the other side, close to the edge of the terrace.
He was tall, way over Dominic six-tree and built like a mma fighter. His hair were short and black with just a bit of gray here and there, a chiseled jaw and a mouth made to smile.
Overall, he was handsome, just some years older than Dominic twenty-nine, and big enough to look intimidating if he wished to.
That wasn’t the case tonight.
Maybe it was because of the simple white polo shirt and the pair of jeans he was wearing, but he looked more approachable without his usual black suit and fedora hat.
Mike hadn’t seen him yet, which meant Dominic now had a problem. He had to cross the entire terrace to meet him and greet the other guests, most of which belonged to his uncle Bill’s gang, a particular brand of family in the east Pits.
Like usual he was under dressed with his black undershirt and torn jeans, but that wasn’t the issue here.
The problem was that just the thought he could have to mingle with the others guests provoked in him shivers, nausea and a strong desire to puke.
He squinted his eyes, gritted his teeth, and clenched his fists, giving the few who actually wanted to approach him---or were compelled to do so out of respect for his dead father--- a good excuse to stay away.
It wasn’t a difficult task, his reputation as wild card was well-spread in certain circles after all.
Thankfully neither Bill, or worse Jackie, aka crazy dog, were among the guests, otherwise the evening would have taken a completely different turn.
“Dominic”. Mike greeted with that smile he usually saved for the ladies.”You came.”
The big guy didn’t bother to hide the surprise in his voice. He always been like that, straightforward and direct since they were kids. That why, despite his profession, Dominic liked Big Mike so much. Among countless backstabbing assholes, with him he always knew where he stood.
“How could I miss it?”Dominic asked, but his voice sounded hollow.
He could feel the stares of the people around him like blades. The men were smoking and drinking near the grills on his left, the women whispering inside their ring, gossiping like old hens about Bill O’ Sullivan mad nephew.
Mike gave him an understanding look.
“I know you don’t like it here. But if you only stopped to talk with the guys I am sure---”
“Mike” Dominic cut him off, his voice low but strong.
”That’s an old argument, forget about it. Besides, except from you, i have no interest in making friends with Don O’ Sullivan hired muscle”
He said, without hiding the contempt he was feeling.
”Present company excluded, of course.”
Mike looked at him for some seconds, then sighed.
“Stubborn as a mule.”He muttered, shaking his head.”You and him both. Stubborn fools.”
“It runs in the family”. Dominic tried to joke, but his voice was strained.
”But enough about that. Where is your girl?”He asked to change subject and Mike let him. The big guy knew quite well how far he could push him.
“Downstairs with her friends.”He said and frowned.”Ten kids in front a tv, taking turns to play with a metal box.”He snorted, looking unhappy.
“Metal box? You mean an x-box?”
“Call it as you like” He grumbled.”I regret the day i smuggled that thing from downtown. She pass most of the time playing with it. It’s not healthy.”
Dominic tried hard to don’t smile. It was cute seeing a two hundred and fifty pounds criminal boss acting like teddy bear, all protective with his little girl.
“Come on Mike. It’s her birthday, let her do as she likes. Besides, probably owning that thing, made her the most popular kid in the neighborhood. Isn’t that right?”
Mike nodded, reluctantly, like admitting it was more painful than pulling a tooth.
Since two years ago when the city’s council decided to cut off power from the entire Pits, electricity had become a luxury.
Aside from his uncle Bill, Mike was one of the few who owned a generator. Moreover, the access from the Pits to downtown was restricted, and only few people had the means or the money to find some goods. Which meant Lisa was probably one of the few kids able to play with a console in the entire district.
“She still plays to much with it.”Mike didn’t give up, though his protests were growing weaker.
“Isn’t better than playing in the streets?
To that, Mike had nothing to retort. He knew all too well that the streets weren’t safe.
“Say the truth, you are only grouchy because your little girl doesn’t spend all the time with her old man anymore.”Dominic teased.
Mike expression was funny to look at.
“I am not grouchy”
“Sure, Mike” He grinned, turning toward the buffet table.
“I am not!”Mike said from behind him, sounding outraged.
Dominic tried hard to don’t laugh.
Mike was a tad overprotective with his little princess. Not that he blamed him. Life wasn’t easy for kids in the Pits. It wasn’t easy for anyone, but for kids it was worse.
It had been a year since the last school closed down, removing the last layer of protection separating the kids from the streets.
Now the only choice most of them had left was to join a gang.
His stomach was growling, his mouth salivating and he had the distinct impression he would faint if he didn’t eat something soon.
He stuffed his plate with three sausages, a couple of burgers and filled the gaps with mashed potatoes. The taste was only so and so. Not that really mattered, not after a week eating food from a can.
He wolfed down the food under the horrified gazes of those staring at him. Not that the other guests were particularly refined, but he really looked like a barbarian, barely remembering to use the fork.
Only when he re-filled the plate for the second time, swallowing everything like a black hole, Dominic was satisfied. When he was done he took a beer, uncorked it and went to the edge of the terrace.
He was about to have a smoke, his arms resting on the railing when he heard someone talking.
“Another one went missing?”
It was Vinny Marcone, a balding man in his late fifties. He was wearing a horrible khaki suit coat---left unbuttoned because it couldn’t hold his giant belly---over an even worse looking flowered shirt. There were breads crumbs all around his collar, a big mustard stain just over his breast and his face was so swollen, red and round it looked a lot like a balloon.
“Yeah, another woman. Sarah Fitzroy.”
The man Marcone was talking to was Will Gerardi, also called Bricklayer, a stockish brute working as cleaner for the Malone family. And no, he didn’t get that name working for construction, but for the alternative use he made of concrete.
“Micky Carson’s cousin?”
Gerardi nodded.“She disappeared like all the rest of them, from her own home. The night before she was there, the next morningshe was gone.”
“I can’t believe nobody saw anything.”
Vinny shrugged with fatalism.
“Maybe she just left.”
“Right.”Gerardi snorted.”Like those before her? Remind me, how many went missing just the last month?.”
“Over twenty. But there is no proof someone is kidnapping them. Why they would do that in the first place?”
“Hell if I know. Organ trafficking? Sell them as sex slaves? They were all young women, and you know no one cares if they are from the Pits.”
“Most of them were women, not all of them.”Vinny remarked.
“Bah.”Gerardi waved his hand, dismissing it.” The men don’t matter, they were beggars, vagabonds. Maybe they moved to the West Pits, you know, to the Patron’s territory. I heard Barria is handing out food for free there.”
“Don’t say that name in here. “Vinny warned. “You know how the Don flips out if he hears it.”
“Bill isn’t here.”
“But Mike is.”
Vinny glanced at Dominic and then back at Gerardi. They exchanged a look and lowered their voices.
They realized he was listening.
End of the story.
Dominic threw away the cigarette, no more than a stump by now, and went to pick up a new beer to wash his throat. He neededit, what he just heard left a bitter taste in his mouth.
He was on his third beer when Mike, still close to the edge of the terrace, waved at him.
Another man, tall and brawny beneath the black suit was at his side.
Gary D’ Antonio, Bill O’ Sullivan top enforcer.
Dominic frowned. He liked the guy even less than he liked his uncle.
Him and D’ Antonio were like water and oil, and Mike knew it well.
But what worried him most was the big guy’s behaviour. He looked uncomfortable, his shoulders stiff, face down avoiding eye contact. Gary on the other hand stood motionless with his hands linked behind his back.
When the son of a bitch arrived? He mused. What does he want from me?
Gary was Bill best hitman, a stone cold killer of the worst kind. One of the few who actually liked the job.
Dealing with him was like dealing with a snake and if Mike wasn’t here, he would have just left.
But he was here.
It’s useless to think about it. Let’s get over with it.
Under Mike’s gaze, who looked at him with baited breath, he walked towards them. Dominic reminded himself he had to be civil, for Mike’s sake, if nothing else.
“Gary D’ Antonio..”He started to say but blanked out, forgetting all his good intentions when he saw Gary’s ugly mug.
“..what the fuck are you doing here?”
Mike shut his eyes, while there was spasm at the corner of Gary’s mouth. It was the usual tick, the same he had when they were kids and something or someone made him nervous or angry.
For sure, he wasn’t nervous now.
“I could say the same. This is a party for Don O’ Sullivan’s men.”He looked at him from head to toes, his lips curling into a sneer. Another one who didn’t like his wardrobe decisions.
“Is that so?”He said and took a steep forward, invading Gary’s space.”And here I thought this was for Mike’s daughter.”
“It’s the same. Lisa is Mike’s daughter and Mike is a member of the family. A loyal one.”
“That’s funny coming from you, gun for hire”
The spasm on Gary mouth went on full swing as he got closer, until the two of them were merely inches from each other.
“Do you still run like a good puppy every time Bill calls you?” Dominic asked.
“All right, that’s enough” Mike said, but neither of them seemed to hear him.
“A puppy is always better than a mad dog”
“Mad dog?”Dominic laughed, but without mirth.”Sorry, that name is already taken and Jackie doesn’t like competition. But you should know it, shouldn’t you? After all you were his cleaner before making your way inside Bill’s family.”
Gary tensed up, his mouth setting in a hard line.
“Tell me Gary, how many people did you kill just because Crazy dog didn’t like the color of their skin? Ten? Fifteen?..More?”
Gary clenched his fist like he wanted to hit him, but then relaxed, all of the sudden.
“Still keeping score Dominic?”He asked with a taunting smile.”Don’t worry, i am nowhere near you. Some kills are more meaningful than others, but none beat the murder of your own blood.”
That was it. His words were enough to turn Dominic into a raging lunatic.
He struck, his fist straight into his face. Gary moved his head a little and the jab only brushed alongside his jaw. Dominic tried a second time but Gary ducked and charged with his head down, likely to tackle him.
“Enough!”Mike shouted. Him and two other men nearby attempted to separate them, but they were clinging tightly to each other, Dominic clutching Gary’s collar, while the hitman was pulling his hair so hard, it looked like he wanted to rip them off.
Dominic heard a sound, close to a sob, coming from the other side of the terrace, near the stairs.
It was faint at first but quickly became stronger. Someone was wailing.
First Dominic, then Mike and Gary, and finally all the people attending the party turned in that direction.
It was Lisa, a little princess dressed in pink, together with maybe a dozens others kids. It wasn’t her, but another child the one crying. However even the other kids, some barely five or six years old, were on the verge of bursting into tears.
A woman, probably the mother, tried to calm down the crying kid while Sam Davis distracted the remaining children with a pint of ice cream. At the same time, but without mutual agreement, Gary and Dominic separated from each other.
Gary gave him a last glance, filled with venom before walking away with a couple of his thugs.
From the way the other guests were looking at him, and only him, it was clear who they thought it was the one to blame.
Not that they were mistaken. He did start the fight.
“I suppose that’s my clue to leave.”Dominic said.
“Sorry” Mike said from beside him.”It’ my fault.”
“No, it’s not” Dominic denied immediately.
“Yeah, it is.”And muttered.”I should have expected he would come.”
Him, meaning Gary.
Dominic squinted his eyes. From the way Mike was talking, he didn’t look like he invited him. But the Davis brothers would never let through someone Mike hadn’t invited, unless that someone was higher than Mike in the food chain. And there was only one person higher than Mike inside the family.
Dominic felt his gut churning. If his uncle was involved, it was bad news.
You could count on it.
He stared at Mike, reading him like an open book. The big guy looked strained, like a bow’s string stretched for too long. He had seen that look before, years back when he asked him about Ricky Malone’s daughter. The night his life changed.
He had that same look, like he knew something but he couldn’t talk about it. Dominic opened his mouth, looked at Lisa playing with her friends and closed it.
Things were different now, the big guy had things to lose.
He was fairly sure Mike would answer him if he asked, but he couldn’t put him or Lisa at risk for his sake.
“Sorry for the mess.”He said at the end. He wanted to say goodbye to Lisa, but the best thing he could do right now was to leave.
Mike nodded, like many times in the past understanding him at once.
The Davis brothers weren’t guarding the door when he left. He went down the stairs but when he was about to leave the building he saw a shadow, leaning on the wall at the corner.
It was Marvin Davis.
This was strange. The brothers were inseparable, like twins joined at the hip.
Marvin had his eyes closed, arms crossed and a cigarette between his lips. When Dominic turned, walking toward him, he opened his eyes.
“You have to meet the Don”. He said, without beating around the bush.
Marvin always looked a bit gloomy, but now he was evenmore grim than usual. Although Dominic didn’t like at all what he was saying, he didn’t interrupt him.
Marvin didn’t talk much but when he did, he was like a prophet, a prophet of doom. If he talked something bad was about to happen.
“Mike has protected you long enough. It was his task to bring you to to the Don.”Something flickered in his gaze.”Now it’s Gary’s turn.”
After that, he threw the cigarette on the floor, stepped over it and went upstairs.
“Fuck” Dominic muttered after some time, still looking at the point where Marvin disappeared.