Dez Romano felt his body buzzing with excitement. God, he loved this moment. Manipulating it as he had.
He was in a room that had been used as an office in this building years ago. The only thing left in the room was an old metal desk. It was bulky and heavy. It would work.
A second later, Ransom opened the door and shoved Christopher McNeil into the room, handcuffed. McNeil looked distraught, Dez was happy to see. The family must not have known he was alive. That must have been a hell of a thing to explain.
Dez pulled out his handgun, a Sig Sauer P250. He rarely got to use it or even flash it around. He’d decided years ago to run his business the gentleman’s way. But even gentlemen needed a piece sometimes. And he had no idea what McNeil was capable of.
He pointed with the gun at the desk. “Cuff him to the leg.”
Ransom shoved McNeil again, who fought against the momentum, but with his hands cuffed, he fell to his knees. Had to hurt like hell, but McNeil’s expression never changed.
Ransom pushed McNeil into a seated position on the floor, undid the cuff of one arm and secured it to the leg of the desk. Dez nodded, then jerked his head at the door, indicating to Ransom that he could leave. He didn’t want anyone else to hear this conversation. If it went right, he would be one of the few people in the Camorra to have this information.
Ransom didn’t look happy at first, then a thought seemed to go through his head, and with a slight smile he moved toward the door.
Dez knew exactly what that smile meant. “Don’t touch the redhead,” he said.
Ransom stopped, looked at him.
Dez shook his head. “Not just yet.”
Ransom smashed his lips together, looking like a starving dog being held away from food. But he nodded and left.
Dez stood taller. He liked looking down at someone like McNeil, who seemed sickened and defeated by the talk of his daughter. “Who’s at the top of the System?” Dez asked him.
McNeil’s glasses slid a little down his nose and they cocked slightly to one side, making him look like a once-brilliant professor gone senile. “The top?” McNeil asked.
“You know what I mean.”
Earlier, McNeil had looked like a pretty fit older guy, but now his chest sagged toward his bound hand, which wouldn’t allow him to sit up much. “Jesus, is that what you want to know from me?”
Dez gave him a single nod.
“No one knows who’s at the top.”
“You’ve been fucking with the System for twenty years, pretending you’re a part of it but working for the government the whole time, right?” That was what his boss, La Duca, had suspected.
McNeil nodded, and Dez felt his first wave of triumph. He couldn’t wait to call the duke.
“So all those years,” Dez said, “and you don’t know who’s at the top? Why don’t I believe that?”
McNeil shook his head. He looked fatigued and ancient. “No one knows. If I did, I wouldn’t have to keep fucking with the System, as you said. If I had that bit of information, we could have shut the whole thing down. You know it as well as I do. The top likes the clans to war. I’m sure the top likes that you’re one of the clans now and that you’re fighting against the others, too. Maybe you’re not fighting in the same way they do in Napoli, but you’re still trying to scratch your way up.”
He was right. Every word of it. Dez said nothing, gave nothing away with his face. He tucked his gun in his waistband and withdrew an automatic switchblade from his pocket. “This is called a Bradley Mayhem, and-”
“I know what it is.”
He glanced at McNeil, then back at the blade, touching his finger to the tip. He kept talking, as if he hadn’t been interrupted. “I used to use a different blade when I was growing up. This one’s sharper. Much. I don’t like to use it anymore, but it does a good job-”
“Look, save me the tough-guy speech about how you’re going to cut me until I tell you who’s at the top. I’ve been tortured by better than you, and if I knew I’d tell you. I planned on telling you whatever you wanted. I’m done fighting you guys.”
Dez took a breath and steeled his eyes at McNeil. He ignored the comment about others being better than him.
“If you like,” McNeil said, “I’ll tell you who I’ve considered. Who I think it might be, especially given recent events.”
“The second in command to the top is the one who gets the face time with the clans.”
“And who is that?”
“The brother to my sister’s husband. Paulo Traviata.”
Dez nodded. He’d heard of the guy.
“I’ve known of his position for…well, for a long time,” McNeil continued. “He’s kept his power ever since, but you could never tell exactly who he was answering to. For a long time, we thought it was Antonio Crispino. You know him?”
“Then we thought maybe it was Crispino’s cousin, the guy they call the Hammer. He got his nickname because-”
“I know how he got the name,” Dez said, and he felt thrilled that it was true. “But it wasn’t him?”
“No. We had a couple of other guys on the line, too, but truth is we’ve never been able to know for sure.”
“What happened recently?”
McNeil closed his eyes, swallowed hard. “My brother-in-law, Maurizio.” He blinked his eyes against something only he could see. “I won’t bore you with the details, but his body is about to be discovered. If it hasn’t been already.”
Dez felt his eyebrows rising. This was interesting news. He might be the first to know it, and to know it from the U.S. would be an accomplishment. “Did you do it?” he asked. “You killed him?”
McNeil glanced up at him with a pitiful expression, then looked back at the floor. Nodded. “Had to. He came after me. Knew where I was.”
“And you think that makes Maurizio the one at the top?”
McNeil nodded. “It makes sense with his brother, Paulo, being the number two.”
“If he was, why would Maurizio try to take you out on his own? Why not tell Paulo to have one of their guys do it?”
McNeil breathed out a long breath. “Because it was personal. Because it was me.”
“Maurizio Traviata,” Dez said to make sure he had it right.
McNeil nodded. “There. You got what you wanted.” He looked up at Dez, directly in his eyes. “Now keep up your end of the bargain.”
“By letting you go? Along with the family you ran away from?”
McNeil said nothing.
“Are you sure it’s Maurizio?” Dez said.
A pause, then, “No.”
Dez studied him. Believed him. McNeil didn’t know for sure. Fuck, that was disappointing. The whole story about Maurizio Traviata was good, sure, but it wasn’t solid. He couldn’t use it to his advantage if he didn’t know for sure. He felt disappointment flood his body. And yet, he reminded himself, this was still a coup. And now, Dez would walk out and get Ransom; they would go into the basement and activate the gas leak, and they would leave. The duke and whoever was at the top-unless it was the recently deceased Maurizio Traviata-would sit up and take note of Dez’s feat. He would kill McNeil, the traitor of all traitors, symbolically taking out his family at the same time and making an example of the Mexicans, who hadn’t been living up to what they’d promised him.
“It’s too bad you didn’t have the right answer.” Dez closed the blade, put it in his pocket and looked down at Christopher McNeil. Sad how the guy had slipped. He would die here, alone in this room, which was what he deserved.