Flora, Sonny, Fats, and Albert, the core of the brains of the Black-wolves sat uneasily around the old rickety table. All four bristled with hostility as the looked at the former leader.
Flora contemplated Xena her dark eyes unblinking. Finally she sighed. "Why?" asked the question that had plagued her through the years. "We would have followed you to the ends of the Earth and beyond." Her words came haltingly and pain-filled, as though torn unwillingly from her. "And you turned us over to him."
"Does it matter?" Xenas own face was rigid and cold. She ignored the silent condemnation of the men that sat on either side of her.
"Yes." The answer was quick and powerful.
"I dont need to explain myself."
"You do if you want our help."
"Ill manage without it." She rose to her feet her heart beating wildly.
Flora snorted. "You havent changed." Her eyes narrowed.
"Dont you get tired of always having things your way?"
"My way?" Xena leaned forward. "My way wouldnt have had Lys dead."
Floras eyes caught hers and held her pinned. "Howd that happen?" Her words dragged them both backwards. Lys had meant the world to her. "I need to know." She hesitated. "Please?"
It echoed in her ears, and wearily Xena closed her eyes. Her shoulders slumped forward as she admitted her defeat. Her voice a mere whisper as she told the truth. "He heard what was happening on our block - didnt like the Greeks taking over." She bit back the bitterness. "He got permission to set an example. Lucky us." Willing the memory of that night to spring forward, after years of suppression. "They held me and laughed as they shot him. First in his left knee, then his right. He was so brave mother screamed, but one of them hit her in the mouth." She swallowed. "They offered me a deal Toris was out there somewhere mother was already in their clutches. If I went with them with Lyceus dead the Wolves would be finished. Theyd let my mother live."
"So you sold out." Flora finished for her.
"I did what I had to." Xena countered. "But I never spoke about any of you or the things the wolves did." She sat back down and let the icy cold that her preserved her sanity fill her soul again. Whatever decision was made shed not let them see that it mattered to her.
Flora nodded. She believed her. "Welcome home Xena." She smiled.
Xena blinked and felt an easing of a tension she hadnt noticed previously. The men were looking at her. She cleared her throat noisily and took a sip of her beer. She smiled. "Can we get down to business now?"
"Wait a minute Xena." Albert raised a hand silencing her. "Whats changed?" He raised a brow questioningly. "Why can you go against them now?"
She smiled coldly. "Because Toris got my mother back." She didnt add that it had been months ago, or that when he came and told her she could leave shed refused. Certain that she was beyond saving until a certain blonde had walked into her life.
The men all smiled their understanding. And Xena began to detail her plan of destruction.
Xena surveyed the room with a bit of smuggness. Shed brought them all around to her side and they were arguing the finishing touches of the plan that was going to destroy her worst enemy..her former lover. Her eyes were glinting with an unholy light. She lifted them to the door as she sensed someone approach the room. The door opened and her nostrils flared. She jumped to her feet. "What are you doing here?" She stalked towards the door.
Sal tried to squirm away. A hand reached out and snagged him. Her eyes never leaving Gabrielle, she spoke to the man she held by the scruff of his neck. "I really think you and I need to have a little talk about obeying orders."
"Xena, put him down." Gabrielle faced the taller woman with her arms folded calmly across her chest and a slight look of annoyance on her face. "I told you I wasnt going anywhere." Her sea green eyes fastened on those of the older woman. Xenas eyes glinted with a hardness that made the younger woman think of steel. She tried to show her why shed had to come back, but those eyes were shuttered against her. "We need to talk." She let her eyes flick around the room. "And not here." She flashed a brief smile at the hardened people that sat or stood around the room. "No offense everyone but you know how it is."
Small murmurs of acknowledgment spread quickly through the room. And one by one they all headed for the door. Xena somewhat bewildered by the behavior stepped to the side and watched as her childhood companions walked out the door. A squawk from the one she still held and a gentle touch on the arm from Gabrielle and she released her hold. Sal scurried away rubbing his neck and muttering under his breath.
The last one gone, Gabrielle walked around and shut the door leaning against it and watching Xena carefully. When the Singer refused to speak or move she sighed. "Im not going anywhere." Her eyes saddened. "I promised I was going to end this creeps hold on my family that didnt include running away from him."
"You might get killed." Xena whispered.
"Im willing to take that chance." Gabrielle responded.
"Im not." Xena listened horrified to the words as they left her mouth. She looked away, her heart pounding in her ears.
Gabrielle felt her heart skip. She quickly reached out and touched her. "You can support me, or you can complain about it, but you cant stop me its something I have to do. I have to help the people. Please tell me youre gonna be at my side helping me, dont make me leave and do it alone."
"You dont understand." Her skin tingled where Gabrielles hand. "Theres no need to risk yourself. Me and the Black-Wolves will take care of things. You can go back to the country, enjoy life."
Gabrielle smiled incredulously. "And leave you alone in danger?" She pulled her hand away. "Fat chance!" She glared at the woman arms folded angrily across her chest. "Thats not what friends do."
Xenas eyes widened in surprise. "Friends?"
"Ya," Gabrielles eyebrows knotted together. "You got a problem with that?"
"No," Xenas lips twisted in a wry grin as she contemplated the feisty little woman. "No problems at all, mam."
"Good." Gabrielles smile lit her face. "Then can we forget this nonsense and go get something to eat. Im starving."
Xena laughed. "All right."
Xena crossed to the door and yanked it open. Jox the Knife fell to the ground. "Ow." He grabbed his nose. "ya didnt have to do that." He whined as a hand grabbed him and thrust him backwards.
Gabrielle seethed with anger. How dare the little weasel listen when she had expressed a desire for privacy. She pushed him against the wall. "I ever catch you listening where you werent invited again and Ill personally see to it that you wont hear anything for a week." She grabbed an ear and twisted. "Got it?"
"I got it. I got." He waved his hands in defeat. "Ow." He cradled the side of his head in his palm. "I-"
"Dont." Xena interrupted him with a quiet word. "Be thankful she decided to handle this." One brow rose dramatically and her eyes narrowed. She deliberately lowered her voice. "You wouldnt be standing if I had to deal with it."
"No." His face paled and his eyes went wide. "I was trying to find out if you expected me to provide dinner? I gotta head home and if you did?"
Xena smiled. "No. Thanks anyway Knife. Im gonna show her around a little."
"Okay." The skinny little man walked carefully away from the two women, back to the safety of his control box.
Xena glanced amusedly at Gabrielle. "You have quite the temper."
Gabrielle fought to regain control of her breath. "Sorry." She shrugged sheepishly. "I dont know what came over me. Im usually more tolerant of people.
"Hmm maybe its the company you chose." She commented wryly.
Gabrielle appeared to consider that thought for a minute. "No." She shook her head. "Nothing wrong with the company I chose to hang out with."
Xena smiled feeling the warmth of that statement settle in to a dark and empty spot on her lonely soul, and held the outside door open, gesturing Gabrielle through it. "Come on a know I great little place. The people there will treat you real nice."
Xena inspected Gabrielle over the wineglass. Silver-green eyes that see everything and a heart that wants to heal everything. So kind, sweet, and good.
Gabrielle interrupted Xenas wanderings. "Youre a strange woman." She reached out a hand to touch Xenas hand and then quickly withdrew it.
"You shouldnt be here." Xena swirled the wine absently staring into the amber colored liquid with a slight wistful twist in her lips. This girl deserved more than to be caught in the crossfire of her insane life.
Gabrielle sighed. Despite her crisp words she felt her heart soften for this strange woman. She sipped her wine and tried to think of the right words to ease her new friends troubled soul "I cant think of anywhere else Id rather be." She looked across the table.
Xena startled by Gabrielles words looked up and caught herself staring into warm green eyes that melted the ice wall shed forced herself to live behind. Her mouth worked for a moment before she gave up and just enjoyed the happy sensation that flooded her being. She swallowed trying furiously to think of what to say. A plate of food landed in front of her and she looked up surprised by the waiters presence.
Gabrielle grinned in delight. "Oh this smells wonderful." She clasped her hands together and breathed in the aroma with obvious joy. "Mmm, its divine."
Xena smiled. At least now she didnt have to talk. She dug into her plate with a relish she hadnt felt since the last time she tasted her mommas lasagna.
Xena paused at the top step of the old three family home shed grown up on. She breathed deeply; until this moment she hadnt realized how much shed missed her old home. The open-air stalls selling fresh fish, fruit, mingled with the fresh spring flowers from Harrys Market and swirled around the wonderful aroma coming from the little mom and pop bakeries. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the smells of a dozen or more Italian pastries as the old brick ovens were opened and shut in preparation for another day. This was home. Her eyes misted over. She swore softly, now wasnt the time for sentimental journeys. She forced her eyes opened and hurries on down the steps. There was a lot of work that needed doing before she earned the right to enjoy all this.
Suddenly her head snapped up and she leapt to the left, shots echoing in her ears as she tucked and rolled, landing behind a garbage can, a gun in her hand, and her eyes narrowed and icy. She aimed carefully at the rear tire and squeezed a shot off. A smirk came to her face as she watched the speeding car careen out of control. The resounding crash and the ball of flame brought a satisfying smile to her eyes. She rose to her feet and brushed at her legs. At least two down. She glanced at the crowd gathering around the car, holstered her gun and walked away.
"Gone!" Vince ranted angrily. "How the hell did you let that happen?"
"Guido and Slick went after her." He shuddered, yet knew he had to tell his boss. "Theyre dead."
"She did it?" Seeing the anger in Bennys eyes, he growled. "I want that bitch and I want her today." He turned to his right hand. "Do whatever it takes. I want her whole family whacked. I want both families whacked." His lip curled. "Burn the grocery. Make sure word gets out about what happens when people dont do as their told."
"Sure boss." Benny wanted a piece of that bitch anyway. "Right away." He grinned to himself as he rushed to do the mans bidding.
"Shell be here." Gabrielle paced back and forth nervously. "If Xena said shed be here at a certain time shell be here."
"I dont trust her." Lefty swore for the fifth time in as many minutes. "I say we get the hell outta here and hand her and this blonde whore of hers over to Vince save our own butts."
Flora whirled around. "You want to turn her in?" She threw herself into his face. "Is that what I just heard you say."
Gabrielle watched in horror as the small woman threw herself at the tall man. Flora stood toe to toe with him. The top of her head barely coming up to his smashed in nose.
Before she could move or speak the door flew open, Flora was pushed aside and Xena was there a knife in her hand and it was against Leftys throat. "No one sells me out...no one" She let the knife prick his throat and watched idly as the blood ran down his neck disappearing beneath his shirt collar. "And if you so much as look at Gabrielle sideways Ill cut your prick off." One brow raised threateningly. "Got it?"
"Yeah." He squeaked.
"Good." Xena backed away and the knife disappeared. She turned to Flora. "Its already started."
"Dont know." She shrugged. "It was double." Her eyes shone with her pent up energy. "Car explosion."
"Good job." Flora smiled in satisfaction, her eyes glinting with the same strange glow that filled Xenas. "Then I think its only fair we return the kindness."
Gabrielle watched the conversation with growing irritation. It was
obvious the two women knew and understood each other far too well. "Excuse me?"
She finally butted in. "Some of us would like to know whats going on?"
Flora grinned. "At least two of Vinces men got taken down this morning when they fouled up a hit on our tall friend here."
Gabrielles hand went to her mouth. She spun around to face Xena. "Are you okay?"
"Fine." She grinned sardonically. "They missed me by a mile. Must have been Guido. He never did learn to shoot."
"How can you joke about it?" Gabrielle whispered the words her eyes checking over the taller womans body looking for signs of injury. "Its not funny."
Xena sobered and took the small woman by the shoulders, forcing the girl to look into her pale blue eyes. "What did you expect? I told you it would be dangerous." She let her go. "Do you want out? Theres still time, I can have Sal come get you."
"No." Gabrielles voice was small and full of fear. "I want to stay. I cant help it if Im worried about you." She swallowed hard. "I can handle it. I just thought Id know when you were in danger not like this."
Xena grinned crookedly. "Okay. Well forget about this and start over yes?"
"Yes." Gabrielle smiled. "Im sorry." She stepped away from the Singer.
Flora smiled knowingly, cleared her throat and announced that it was past time to get down to business.
Sonny blew a smoke circle. " I already told my boys where I wanted to begin our attacks.
Albert watched as the smoke rings drifted higher, growing all the time. He smiled. Life was good. "My group stands ready to interfere with his goons as they make their rounds on our block.
Fats sighed, like it or not blood would soon be flowing, hopefully it would be the full blooded Italians, not theirs. "My men stand ready as well."
"Good." Flora bounced on her heels. "Then lets go its d-day."
Gabrielle felt a silent shudder run through her body. She bit her lower lip. People were going to die already had and she was a part of it. She closed her eyes. Shed never believed violence was an answer now she was not only advocating it, she was in the middle of it.
Autolycus walked nervously down the street. Xena was back and shed taken Lila. He paused mid step. That wasnt exactly right, actually she forced Sal to have her put on a bus out of town. What was her angle? If he could just figure that out and maybe get Lila back at the same time she was one luscious babe after all and he. - "Ack." Autolycus found himself slammed against a wall and a black leathered hand wrapped around his neck. "Xe na" He choked out the name, in wide eyed fear of the deadly woman gripping his throat.
"I dont think I like you." Her voice was soft and melodic. "As a matter of fact Im pretty sure I dont." Her hand squeezed tighter. "Preying on innocent young girls like you do."
He could hardly breathe. He begged with his eyes and flailing hands for her to let him live. Gasped with relief as he felt the pressure around his windpipe lessen. "Hey, it isnt like that. Besides what did I ever do to you?" He fell back on his normal bravado, and squeaked when the hand began closing again. "No, no need for that." He held a hand up and laughed nervously. "What can I do for you?"
"I need a little favor." She sneered at him. "And you are gonna help."
"Well sure anything for you, you know that." He grinned saucily at her.
"I need to break into Sardos warehouse on Fifth Street." She smiled as he paled at her news.
"Oh no." He began shaking his head back and forth. "No, count me out of it."
She closed her hand around his neck again. "Youll help me or Ill wring your neck right now."
"You might as well wring it now." He felt his muscles constrict. "I wont live past the night anyway if I rob from them."
"Who said we were going to steal anything?" She let go of his throat, pity she needed him alive.
"Were not?" He rubbed his sore neck.
"No." She grinned evilly. "As a matter of fact you could say Im planning on making a deposit." Her eyes remained cold and calculating and her smile widened in evil delight. "And you will help me, unless your title of King is a lie."
"Oh no." He wagged a finger at her. "Dont you be trying to say Im not the tops. No one beats me."
"Then prove it."
"But theyll kill me." He whined.
Laughter touched her eyes. "In order for them to kill you, they will have to find you. I already have you. Whats your preference?"
She reached for his throat and he backed against the wall. "Good point." He opened his mouth. "When do we go?"
"Tonight." She lowered her hand. "Just after dark."
"Great." He smiled. "Ill meet you there tonight." He turned taking a step as he did so. "Ack." He found himself dragged back into the valley. She let go. "We really have to stop meeting like this. One of us is bound to get the wrong idea."
"Shut up." She glared at him. ""And follow me."
"Follow? But I have things to do."
"Not anymore." She stepped out of the alley and yanked him after her. "You stay by my side until this thing is over. Consider it my way of protecting you."
"Great." He tried a feeble smile. "I get to spend a beautiful day in the company of an ice queen." He mumbled the last words under his breath, praying she wouldnt hear.
Xena chose to ignore the man at her side and concentrate on her next stop. If she were lucky it would be a far more pleasant stop. She frowned. If she were unlucky she squared her shoulders. Better not to go there. She picked up her pace.
Gabrielle hurried down the street. She had to catch up to Xena. Something bad was going to happen she just new it. She could feel it in her gut. It had taken almost a half hour to get that idiot Knife to spill the beans. There it is. She reached the small pastry shop that was her destination, and paused by the door to gather her wits before flinging it open and stepping inside. Instantly her mouth watered and her stomach growled. She smiled embarrassingly at the man that sat stiffly in the corner booth and looked around. No one in sight. She tilted her head. A muffled noise came from the back. Cautiously she made her way to the kitchen area.
She paused at the doorway, taking the scene in and feeling a rush of anger flow into her. She leaped forward without thinking, stepping in front of the singer. "Now what a minute." She put both her hands out to stop the woman from hitting her with the large belt she was wielding.
"Get out of my way child." The gray haired lady snarled. "This one has it coming for killing my grandson."
"Gran..." The agonized groan emitted from Xenas mouth assured Gabrielle that the old woman was wrong. "Now, I know whatever happened probably looked pretty bad." She started trying to placate the woman. "But have you tried to learn her side of the story?"
"Everybody knows hers side of the story." Her blue eyes sparkled angrily. "The little slut. Pah! Lyceus not even cold and she ran into his killers arms."
Xena stood stock still. In all the years that had past shed never really believed her Gran could believe the worst. She thought of everyone Gran must surely know the truth. She let the pain wash itself over her perhaps this was what she deserved. It was her fault he was dead. She knew that shed always known
"I can see your pain here." Gabrielle tried to reason with the little old woman. "But has anyone taken the time to see Xenas pain? After all she lost her little brother..the one that looked up to her and thought she could do no wrong."
Xena looked at the little blonde in shock. How did she know so much about me? Who told her about Lys? Flora? Ill kill her.
"Now granted she made an error," At the return of madness to the womans eyes she corrected herself. "Okay, a big mistake! Going with that horrid man. But shes trying to change all that now. Shes home to help all the people and make up for the past. Give her a chance."
The woman dropped the belt and looked at her tall granddaughter. "Is this little one telling the truth?"
Silence reigned in the kitchen while the small woman weighed what she knew with the evidence before her eyes. Finally a smile lit her face and her arms opened wide. "My Babina."
"Gran." Xena let herself melt into her Grandmothers arms. "Im sorry. Im gonna make everything all right, but I need to take you somewhere first."
"Pah." The pale blue eyes crinkled happily. "Im too old to go anywhere. This," She flung an arm around the room. "This is my home...Ill die here."
"Gran its only for a short time." Xena pleaded pulling back to look into her Grans eyes. "Please...youll get to see Toris." The tall singer glanced at Gabrielle and her pain moved the smaller woman.
Gabrielle smiled and moved forward. Here was all the proof shed ever need of Xenas human side. She placed a hand on the taller womans shoulder and smiled gently at the older woman. "Please go." She carefully placed a small pleading tone into her voice. "It would really make us happy." She blinked innocently. "You could consider it a long overdue vacation."
The small grey haired woman looked from one woman to the other, sighed and threw her hands up. "I go." She turned around..."God forbid anyone tell me whats going on. And the bakery - Sweet Jesus Mary and Joseph. My poor Carl what would he think were he here today?" She stomped around shutting off ovens and muttering under her breath.
Gabrielle felt the tension ease out of Xena and smiled to herself. She squeezed the taller womans shoulder and turned to go. Surprised when her hand was grasped and she was turned around.
"Thanks." Xena looked at her with a warmth that singed her heart. "I dont think she would have listened to me."
"No problem." Gabrielle looked away, the heat too much. "Shes sweet."
"She is that." Xena agreed. "And feisty. If she had a hint off what we were going to do shed never leave."
"Speaking of leaving?" Gabrielle jerked her head toward the front of the store. "She has a customer waiting."
"No." Xena laughed. "Thats just Autolycus. I -"
"Autolycus!" Gabrielle whirled towards the front. "Wait til I get my hands on him!"
"Woah!" Xena lunged for the smaller woman laughing as she squirmed ineffectively in her arms. "Stop it." She ordered her friend. "Come on I mean it. Ouch." She yelped as a foot reached her shin. "Listen to me." Gabrielle stopped struggling, and Xena relaxed he hold, but didnt release her. "Hes not that bad and we need him."
"How can you say that?!" Gabrielle hissed. "That was my sister he took to that place and -"
"I know." Xena interrupted her. "But he thought the only alternative was her death and his...move past it. I need him to complete our plan."
Gabrielle took a deep ragged breath. "All right. But I dont have to like it...or him."
Xena smiled. "No you dont." Slowly she released her friend. "Go outside and call Blackie for me."
"Hes not there." Gabrielle muttered suddenly scared that Xena would be angry at her giving the man the slip.
"Sure he is." Xena tucked her tongue in her cheek to stop the grin from bursting forth. "Trust me. I told
him to stick by you hes there."
Gabrielle frowned but walked to the back door and called. "Ahh!" She squealed, jumping back. "Dont do that." She barked angrily at the big man.
"Sorry." Blackie hung his head down and looked at the small woman with big, sad, brown eyes. But you called me."
"I did." Gabrielle sighed. "Xena wants you." She stepped into the kitchen, shaking her head silently as the big man followed. "Youre right again." She muttered to Xena as she stomped past her.
Xena bit back a chuckle. "Blackie I need you to take Gran to Mom and Toris for me. Dont tell anyone else where you are going or what you are doing. Okay?"
Blackie nodded enthusiastically.
"And Blackie one more thing," She paused and leaned in closer. "I need you to stay with them. Protect them for me do whatever Gran says as long as its not to bring them back here okay?"
"But," His face fell and he started to argue. "you will fight here. I want to fight with-"
Xena interrupted him. "Blackie, remember Lyceus?" She swallowed as he nodded. "Someone betrayed us. Im not convinced that someone isnt still a part of the wolves. I need to make sure no one comes after my family. Youre the only one I can trust to protect the family. Okay?"
"Okay." He nodded his face set with determination. "Til death just like when we were kids."
"Yeah Blackie. Just like when we were kids." She turned to face her grandmother as she returned with Gabrielle in tow. "Gran, Blackie will take you to Mom and Toris." She kissed the old woman on the cheek and whispered in her ear. "Now you be good and stay with Mom please."
Gabrielle watched the young man leading the old woman away with a gentleness that belied his brute behavior when in the company of his peers. She shook her head amazed that one individual was capable of such a duality. She turned and faced the singer turned warrior, appraising her with new eyes. "Now what?"
Xena smiled. "Now we go to the races."
"You did say you wanted to help me." Xena turned. "Ever been to the races?"
"Um, no." Gabrielle said confusion making her hesitant.
"Consider it a learning experience." Xena grinned. "Come on."
"Fixing races again..tch, tch, tch." Xena grinned evilishly. "You do realize I have a problem with that. Especially as Im rather fond of this horse." She patted the golden mare that was stomping its feet nervously. "Good girl." She left a hand on the horses mane and glared angrily at the little man with the needle in his hand. "Want to inject that into Buck?"
"I I...I cant do that. Vince would kill me!" He stuttered nervously.
"Dont do it and Ill kill you now." She stepped forward.
The small man blanched and scrambled backward. "No no." he begged shaking his head.
She raised her pistol. "You have ten seconds. Nine. Eight." She smiled ferally as the man did as requested. She lowered her weapon and laughed. "You have until the race ends to get out of the state. And dont come back." She turned and walked away.
Gabrielle raced to catch up to the taller woman. "What what was that all about? That horse?"
"The horse will be fine." Xena raised an eyebrow. "You dont think Id of let him inject the horse with a real drug do you?" She opened her fist and showed the girl a full syringe.
"You swapped it?"
"Well teach you a lesson. You bastard." A small man with oily black hair, cut page boy style and a broken nose kicked the small old man. "I dont like Greeks." A second kick. "You people think you can get away without paying your insurance. " He laughed. "Now youll see what happens when you dont pay. " He gestured at his tall companion. "Light it and pour some on him." He spit at the man.
"I wouldnt do that." A strong quiet voice sounded behind them. "I do like Greeks. As a matter of fact. I am Greek." The person behind the voice stepped closer as the strong arms whirled around.
"Who the Fu-"
A fist slammed into the mouth. "Ouch." Fats waved his arm. "That hurt. He had a hard mouth." He glared angrily at the unconscious man. "No." He looked up at the man that was about to draw a gun. "I dont think you want to do that." He said quietly.
"Why not?" Tony snared angrily.
"Because if that gun makes it out of its holster they will kill you." He jerked a finger behind him. Smiling as the mans face turned pale and his hand fell to his side.
"What ya gonna do wit me?"
"We want you to take a message back to your boss." He licked his lips and grinned evilly. "Tell him this neighborhoods off limits to his type. And if he dont listen, he wont have ears to listen with soon. Now get." He smiled as the man ran leaving his bleeding partner on the ground. "Ignoring the stores owner he turned to his boys with a smile. "Clean this mess up dump it where we wont be blamed by the cops." He hadnt had so much fun in years. Maybe it was a good thing Xena was back. He walked away whistling.
Lenny the Shark grinned life was good. Had been for quite a few years now. If ever he wanted to retire he had plenty stashed away. He hummed as he turned the lock and opened the safe to drop yet another stack of money inside. Vince would be sending Benny over for his share tonight. He sighed. It really was too bad he had to share all this with him. It wasnt fair. He kissed a small pie of money and reverently added it to the rest, before turning for the next pile. "Ack!" He pulled back as a boot landed on his pile. "What the?" His mouth dropped open .
"Hi Len." Flora laughed. "I se youve been doing real well for yourself." She reached into the safe and pulled a single stack out. "And just where would a Snake like you get all this money?" She fanned the stack in her hand. "Gambling? Its a crime. I think Ill relieve you of the burden of confession by removing all traces of the crime." She opened a sack and began shoveling money into it.
"You you you cant do that." He said in a panic.
"Of course I can just watch me." She patted his cheek.
"But Vince will kill me." He swallowed. "Thats his weekly take in there."
She sighed. "All this and only one week? Tch, tch. If Id of known that, I might have waited longer." She looked at the ceiling. "Na, I wouldnt have. This will feed and house a lot of the people his gambling houses have made homeless."
"But what about me?"
She tied the sack. "You?"
"Hell kill me." Len whined.
"Then I suggest you take all the money youve been skimming off the top and run far and fast." Without another word she left.
Lenny stood stunned. In the blink of an eye his whole life had changed forever. If he expected to live hed better get out of town.
"But hell kill me if I dont bring his share to him." Sal protested, wringing his hands nervously. "I never agreed to help you in this."
"No." Sonny smiled sadly, "And if I had my way we would be handling you in the same way we are handling his people. Flora said no. What she says goes."
Sal breathed a sigh of relief. Hed tried to stay on the sidelines ever since Lys was killed, maybe it was finally gonna pay off.
"Of course when I pointed out that you actually carried his take to him she told me that if you refused to give it to us I was to let them," he paused as his men moved out of the shadows. "teach you what it meant to sell out your own."
He whimpered. "Ah, ah." He thrust his hand out. "Here." He pushed the briefcase into Sonnys arms. "Its all yours."
"Smart thinking Sal." Sonny patted Sals cheek. "I knew we could count on you." He grinned. "Flora also said to get rid of the drugs or we will shut you down. You have two weeks." He turned away. "You four stay here, help our friend clean up his site, or shut him down."
Lefty glanced nervously over his shoulder. He knew no one had followed him, and yet somehow he felt Xenas eyes staring into him. He swore under his breath. The Bitch was uncanny. He wished theyd killed her when they whacked her little brother. But no The Boss wouldnt listen to him, he was just a lowly soldier not even a made man. Now look at the mess he was in. The Boss had called him in and when The Boss called you went or you ended up dead. He paused in front of the Umberto Club and took a deep breath. Now or never. He stepped inside.
The club was nearly empty. He slid his jacket off and stepped down into the lobby area. The Family table was dead ahead, all the way to the back. He started walking toward it. Aware that all eyes were on him. He started to sweat. He fought to control his breath, Show fear and theyll eat you alive. He remembered his fathers words. It was because of his father he was here today. John Jay Spero was a member of the Family and his son although Greek on his mothers side was welcome. In fact his mother being Greek had made him welcome in both camps and he had used that to amass a small fortune. He grinned as he remembered that and composed his face before stooping to kiss the hand of The Boss. "You called. I came." He said. "What can I do for you?"
"Is it true?" Paul Castroni head of the entire East Side Family stared at lefty. "Are the Greeks fighting us?"
"Yes and no." He swallowed. "The way they see it they are battling Vince Sardo."
"If they battle one of my people they battle me." His eyes hardened. "Why now?"
"Xena is back."
The Father looked at him. "You know this Xena?"
"Yes." He shrugged almost apologetically. "She was a Singer and more at Vinces club." He wet his lips. "I offered to take her off his hands on more than one occasion. I am surprised he let her go."
"He didnt." Lefty volunteered the information. "She ran away from him. She hates him. He had her brother killed years ago. Hes been using her as a hostage against her families continued health."
"This is not good news. Family is important. This Vince hes beginning to be more trouble than he is worth. He has lost us good people. To me it sounds like he has performed off the record work. That is not allowed." He paused steepling his fingers in contemplation. "And yet this woman must be stopped. Kill her."
Lefty blanched. "Me eee.e?"
"You. Immediately. Now go."
Lefty nodded and quickly turned and walked out.
Paul snapped his fingers and a tall, heavyset swarthy man slid into view. "Rocky, follow him. If he doesnt go after the Greek, kill him and find her yourself."
"As you command." Rocky Garzo smiled, his cool dark eyes glinting with joy at the prospect.
Paul turned back to Dom. "And now we need to discuss what should be done about Sardo. The man has overstepped his bounds. And this Singer, who is she working with? How is she managing to hit pull hits on us?"
Dom chose his words carefully. Paul had a quick temper and if he went about this the wrong way it would be his head that rolled along with Sardos. "Boss, Im not sure she is involved." He held his hand up. "Give me a chance to explain." He took his time and spoke slowly and clearly. "You know Ive been Sardos Capo for the past three years; ever since Joey, God bless his soul, died." He paused and thumped his chest. "I never saw Xena overstep her place," He moved in with a tactic calculated to make The Boss see red. "but I saw her occasionally with bruises - I always asked if everything was all right I should have pushed the issue. I blame myself, if she has run to our enemy for safety." He paused to let the implication sink in. Everyone knew Paul had a soft spot for the ladies and could abide no one hitting them.
Pauls face slowly turned redder. If that were true? He bit back his anger. "Okay maybe the woman wasnt to blame, but it is obvious Vince no longer has what it takes to stay on top in this world." He snapped his fingers twice and two men appeared from the shadows behind him. "Take Vince out. You take over his operation. I want profits. And I want it now."
"Yes Paul. Right away." Dom pushed back his seat and immediately his bodyguards were at his side. He stepped out of the club and his car glided to a stop in front of him. Pete opened the door and he ducked his head and settled back into the soft comfort of the clothe seat. A soft sigh escaped as his guards settled around him.
"Where to Boss?"
"Take me home." He closed his eyes to gather his thoughts and spoke without opening them. "Round up the boys. Im gonna need some help on this one."
"Milo, Mike, Nicky, and Sammy?" Pete double-checked himself.
"Ya, and get the Bull we may need him." He needed to compose himself. "Tell them I want to see them for dinner tonight at seven." He hated this part of life. When it was family that needed to be whacked. How to catch Vince off guard? The man was not stupid he had to be expecting it.
The five men gathered in Doms living room. As the men sat relaxing; cigar in one hand, drinks in the other Dom let drop the bomb. "The Boss has demanded Vinces head." He took in a deep breath as mouths dropped open. "We six are taking him out tonight. We go to the club and stay there until its closing time. We all go. Nicky, I want you to stay at the car. Milo and Mike, I want you two to stand by the steps in case anyone upstairs takes exception to our taking Vince out. You two will stay at the club and explain the change in ownership. Sammy and Bull, I want both of you by my side. Nicky youre my driver. When we come through the door you start the car."
"What are you telling him?"
Dom smiled. "That the boss wants him. Im just not telling him that the boss wants him dead."
"Where are we taking him?"
Dom nodded his head toward Sammy. "You have a construction site out at the Pointe."
"Well bury him there. In the cement hell never be found." He grinned. "The Boss wants me to take over his operation. As my men that means all of you get a piece of his organization."
"What about the trouble with the Greeks?" Nicky asked.
"Ill take care of the Greek Neighborhood you boys wont have a thing to worry about." He smiled and a chill ran around the room. "Sammy gets the club. Nicky gets the garment warehouse, Milo and Mike get the trucks and Bull gets his betting operation." He looked each man in the eye. Each one owed him a dozen favors or more he let them remember that. "Fair?"
They all nodded.
"Good. Consider it done." He blew smoke circles and let it all sink in.
Lefty paused with one hand on the door to the club. If everyone was there was no way he could take her out. He wiped his sweaty palm on the back of his pants and turned away from the door. This was crazy. He had plenty of money and no woman no reason to stay here. He could leave. Theyd never find him. Yeah. Thats what hed do leave New York. Get a place in the country out in the west theyd never find him.
Silently he made his way down the hall, intent on escape he failed to hear the outer door open.
"Hello Lefty." Xena called from the entryway. "Going somewhere?"
"Xena!" He exclaimed. "No. Yes." Fear caused his heart to pound harder. Its all her fault. His world was crumbling around him and she was to blame. Without conscious thought his hand went to his gun.
Xenas arm shook a bit and a gun slid into her hand, she sidestepped and shot Lefty through the mouth. Lefty took a half step forward and fell face-down , blood all over the back of his head and neck where the bullet had emerged.
For an instant all was still. Then doors along the hall opened and heads poked out. Xena stayed still gun drawn and level. "Go back inside." She ordered the paying customers. Her eyes lifted to find Floras. "He asked for it. I dont know why."
Flora clapped her hands together. "All right people unless you want to be questioned by the Police I suggest you get back inside." Heads quickly disappeared and doors slammed shut. "I shoulda known this would happen." She sighed. "Knife, get two of the boys to dump him in the river. At least the cops will think the Mafia did it."
Xena kept her gun out, but now it was pointed down. She glanced behind Flora to see Gabrielle standing white-faced. Her heart clenched. Ive lost her. She closed her eyes and cleared her mind. "Flora, he was gunning for me."
Floras eyes searched Xenas. "If thats true?"
"It is." She insisted.
"Then he was on their side."
"Looks like it." Xena agreed.
"Albert." Flora called over her shoulder and Albert stepped around Gabrielle.
"Go to his home. See if theres anything there to link him to them."
"Xena, put it away." Flora turned wearily away. Xena sighed and followed her, checking her weapon and reloading it as she moved. Gabrielle followed the two women silently.
Rocky stepped out from a small side door. His eyes narrowed as he watched the door close behind the women. He licked his lips in anticipation. "Soon you will be mine." Slipping silently back into the janitorial closet he exited into the alley in the same way he had entered. Hed have his chance when she left the building. He could wait.
Dom sat at the Owners table, laughing and drinking with Vince all evening. Things were going perfect. Upon arrival hed told Vince he had a free evening an thought hed stop by to see his favorite singer. He had a hard time not laughing at how quickly Vince turned pale. Hed tried to cover it up, claiming it was Xenas night off. Doms eyes grew hard. That was worth killing him alone. Now that night was almost over. "Vince," Dom lifted a glass in toast. "I have to go out and see him." He smiled. "Why dont you come with me? Its about time he met you. Dont you think?"
Vinces mouth went dry. Could it be? Amid all his troubles his dream coming true? "Um, it would be an honor. Are you sure that He wouldnt mind?" He swallowed.
Dom grinned. This was as easy as taking candy from a baby. The Babbo wanted it so bad he was ignoring the cardinal rules of The Family. "The last time I spoke with Him, he mentioned you specifically. Im sure its time for you to accompany me."
"Okay." Vince fought to keep his voice even. To finally be a made man. To get his just desserts. This was great, if only Xena wasnt out there mucking things up for him. The thought of her sobered him up. What if they found out about her? Suddenly he paled. Maybe they had found out about her. "Um, maybe I shouldnt go without a specific invite."
"You have a specific invite." Dom smiled, but the smile didnt reach his eyes. "As a matter of fact. I think you want to come with me now. Your boys can close up tonight."
"No buts." Dom stood up. "Come on."
Vince gritted his teeth. Maybe if he went he could explain everything in a way that would make them believe him and he could make everything better. "Okay." He swallowed hard and forced a smile onto his face. Rising from his chair he snapped his fingers. Instantly Benny was at his side. "Lock up tonight. I have somewhere I have to go."
"You wanna coupla da boys to go with you?"
"Ah, you sure boss?"
Dom paused by Mike and Milo to put his coat on. "Explain the situation to the boys. If they dont like it. Kill them." The boys nodded their understanding.
Nick had the doors open.
Dom motioned and Sammy sat in the front. Bull waited and Dom ushered Vince into the car, stepping in right behind him. Bull went around the side and Nick headed out.
Not a word was spoken on the drive to the construction site. The car paused and Sammy jumped out opened the lock and held the gate open as Nick drove through, closed, relocked it and jumped back in the car. They drove to the back of the lot. Sammy got out again and held the door for Dom. Bull made sure that Vince got out as well. The four men stood in a semicircle around Vince Sardo.
"Um, What, whats going on here?" Vince tried to talk. "You, youre like a father to me. What are you doing?"
"A father?" Doms started out speaking low. "You lie to your father!" His voice rose and with it his anger. "You whack people without permission, you lie about how business is going, and you lie to my face about your girl." He spat at Vinces feet. "You are no son of mine."
"But Dom it wasnt like that." Vinces voice quivered. "Ya gotta listen."
"I dont gotta do anything. Kill him."
Before Vince could do more than throw his hands up to protest three shots rang out. He went down. Dom looked at him in disgust. "Bury him in a cement block." He walked over to the car. Nicky opened the door. Dom looked into his eyes for a brief second. "He was like a son to me. A son should never lie to his father." He climbed into the car and waited.
Xena sighed heavily as she headed down the street. The wait had been brutal. Gabrielle wouldnt even look at her. When Albert had returned there had been a long whispered debate. Gabrielle had been a part of it. Xena had sat back in her chair, watching her eyes cold and curious. She twitched. A long indrawn breath released itself in a heavy sigh. I wonder what part? But finally Flora had said for everyone to head home. The plan was still in tact and tomorrow would come soon enough. Xena had waited, but Gabrielle had made no move to step her way, so for the first time in weeks she walked alone. She paid no attention as she fought the tears that threatened. Why had she let herself feel again? She knew better now it would be nothing but pain again too much pain. An unexpected noise behind her. Spinning she heard the whiz of a bullet before the report sounded. She dropped to the ground and scrambled for the coverage of the parked cars, drawing her gun as she moved.
Silence descended on the street. The people from this neighborhood knew better than to rush outside at the sound of gunshots. Xena listened. Whoever her shooter was hed make a move soon. They hated waiting. Her eyes grew grim as the anger began to mount. The shot had come from behind her which meant if she made her way back towards the Club, staying hidden by the vehicles she might, just might catch the jerk. She inched back, slipping in amongst the cars, never showing her body. She stopped nears the steps and peered towards the alley., and waited. After a few minutes a movement. Her hand tightened around her gun. Someone was in the alley. Her shooter. She waited. The wind blew and she shivered. He moved. She smiled. He was alone. She stood up. "Looking for someone?" She Her voice was full of contempt.
Startled, Rocky spun around shooting. She felt the whip of the bullet as it burned her neck. She shook her head and carefully squeezed off one shot as she stepped closer to him. The man was knocked backward from the force of the bullet hitting him. He fell against the wall and slid down, his head at an awkward angle.
She stood staring at the body, her chest heaving from the adrenaline. Another damn Sicilian. She checked her gun and put it away. The cops would be here soon. She sighed. She was sick of it. She turned away and a heavy sigh escaped her. Two more Sicilians stood blocking her path.
She shook her head. "Boys, Im not in the mood to play." Her eyes turned icy and she stared first at one and then the other. Bull she knew him. "Bull, go home. Its over."
"No can do Xena." He grinned. "The boss wants you . You can make this hard if you want. Or, give me your gun and come with us."
"You really think Im just gonna come with you?"
"Be a lot easier if you would."
"No." She grinned. "You want me you gotta take me."
He shrugged. "No hard feelings." He took a step forward, reaching our for her as he moved.
She ducked and moved to the right spinning around as she did. A low laugh filtered up through her body. Maybe this was just what she needed. A good work out. "You cant say I didnt try. Come and get it boys." Xena sidestepped quickly to the left, pivoted on the ball of her foot and swung a kick with her right toe at the nearest man.
The kick caught the man behind the knee and he toppled into the path of the second man, who leaped his body and rushed at Xena. She met the attack with a straight left to the face. She felt the nose crunch under her fist and moved quickly, swinging a kick to the groin. The man came down to hands and knees and a kick to his head left him collapsed on the gravel. She laughed and a glint of madness was in her eyes as she watched the first man rise to his feet.
"Come on," She said quietly. "Come and get it."
Warily the man circled, then rushed suddenly. It was a clumsy technique and she let her contempt show as she stepped in quickly and threw a right to the belly. The blow caught the man coming in and knocked the wind from him.
Clapping came from the car parked nearby and Xena spun, a gun dropping into her outstretched hand as she came around. Leaning against a shiny black limo was Dom. She straightened up. A wry smile on her face. "Dominic." She waited.
"I gotta hand it to you Xena." He stepped away from his car. "You took out both of my boys. Most grown men couldnta done that." He looked at her feet and sighed. "I didnt believe it when they told me it was you." He shook his head. "Not my quiet singer, no, no, no." Why would she? You tell me why? If its a good enough reason," he shrugged. "I let you live."
"What I am, is reason enough." She said licking the blood from her lip.
"Is it?" He looked down as one of the men groaned. "Get up." He nudged him with his toe. "Move it." He lifted his yes back to Xena. "I liked you I truly did."
She shrugged. "I liked you as much as I could like scum."
"You oughtnta said that."
"Dominic. Stop talking already." She sneered. "If youre gonna kill me then do it."
He shrugged. "Okay, you want to join your ex boyfriend who am I to argue." He nodded towards her and without looking told his boys. "Take her down boys."
"Wait." A voice commanded from the steps. All heads turned and watched the fiery haired small woman stepping slowly down each step. "You want to know why she did what she did?" She spat the words at him. "Its called family. I thought you knew what that was?" She snorted. "I suppose you think ours dont count because we arent full blooded Sicilians like you? She glared angrily at the swarthy man. "Look at us. We are no different. Raised in the same faith, attended the same schools, our parents fought side by side to survive, and you think because one of our parents wasnt a Sicilian it makes us fair game. Thats garbage. Plain garbage." Look at Alberto! Hew looks enough like you to be your cousin. Maybe he is? Dont give me that full blooded crap! We worked hard for our homes, our parents worked hard for them and we arent going to stop until every last one of us is dead or all of you are dead. Is that really what you want?"
"Who the hell are you?"
"The name is Gabrielle." She said. "Not that thats important. What is important is that right now there are over twenty rifles aimed at you and your men." She smiled at his twinge of fear. "And if you or any of them try and harm Xena you all will die. If you dont agree to leave this neighborhood alone you will all die. And if you go back on your word you will all die." Her eyes narrowed. "We have our own Cosa Nostra and even if you take out all of us more will come and replace us." She smiled. "Dont you think it would be better for you and yours to be dealing with people you already know?"
Xena wiped her mouth off with the back of her hand. She glanced at Gabrielle. The girl was bluffing. She looked at Dom. A smile lit her face. He was buying it. A hard glint sparkled and she stepped closer to the gunman. "Kill me." She whispered. "Please. I like the idea of a blood-bath. A fitting end for our relationship dont you think?"
The man blanched and backed away. "Boss?" He swallowed. "Theyre all crazy. Lets just get outta here."
"What are you a coward?" Dom snarled.
"No," Xena stepped close to Dominic. "I think he sounds like a smart man a very smart man. He wants to live to father children. Dont you?"
Dominic didnt move. "We coulda been good together."
"Under other circumstances " Xena let her voice trail off and shrugged.
"Yeah." Dom sighed. "Under other circumstances." He looked into her eyes. "You gonna still sing?"
"I dont know." She admitted.
"well if ya do Id like it if I could come hear ya sometime."
She smiled, one of her famous half smiles and his heart jumped again. "If I do Ill invite you."
"Thanks." He turned to his boys. "get in the car." He stepped toward the open door. Turned around and looked at the small gathering. "If anybody asks you are all under my protection." With a quiet dignity he slid into his seat. Sammy closed the door and got into the front as the engine came to life.
Xena watched until the car was out ofd sight before turning around to face he r allies. Gabrielle ran down the stairs and threw her arms around her. "We did it! Were free! Free!"
"Thanks to you!" Xena smiled and closed her arms around the lithe form. "Thanks to you!"
"Can we go home now?"
"Home?" Xena cocked an eyebrow.
Gabrielle lowered her eyes afraid to let Xena see what was in them. She swallowed. "Um, its the only home I have right now." She said quietly. "I can move out if you want. Now the trouble is over."
"And if I dont want?" Xena kept her eyes on the downcast head. "If I never want you to leave?" She whispered the last.
Gabrielles head shot up. She looked in wonder at Xena and gasped at the truth she saw in her warm blue eyes. "Id like that. Id really like that."
Xena swallowed. "Good." A smile drifted crookedly across her face. "Lets go home."
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