A Crowdsourced Novel
Read it here – Say what comes
Desi leaned back further in his leather chair in the waiting room of Ivan & Associates alternately turning pages in his Playboy magazine and glancing at the magnificent view of the city. He rested his feet on the ottoman. Uncle Uomo was too cheap to let him even talk about an office in this building.
Heels clicked against the rosewood floor. The culture bud receptionist smiled at him. Nice Italian girl. Long dark hair. Jacket with lapels. Kinda like a man’s two-button jacket but shorter, girlie fit—and no blouse underneath. That got Desi’s mind operating in a higher gear and he shifted in his seat. Uncle Uomo didn’t keep a receptionist like that. Didn’t have any receptionist at all. In a subdued, cultured voice, she asked if he’d like refreshments. He accepted the offer of a Courvoisier in a snifter. Nine a.m. but so what?
With an effort, he reminded himself that he sat in the den of the enemy. But the enemy lived life good.
In a moment, she returned. Leaning low, she lingered, carefully setting the cognac and steaming coffee on the table beside him. That gave him a long eyeful of what he liked to call nice assets. When she turned to go, he pinched her firm left cheek. No nylons. No panties. Just the jacket, short skirt and high heels. A smiling blush her only reaction to the old Italian custom. Then: “If there’s anything you need, please be sure to tell me.” She took a step then paused and uttered one word with an earnest stress on it. “Anything,” she said. Before he could respond to the provocation, her heels punctuated a return to her desk.
A mellow hunting mood filled Desi’s head. He’d be sure to ask her name and exactly when she got off duty. Yeah, he’d make sure he did that.
Now, with his senses on edge, he glanced around at a waiting room that shouted his idea of a successful enterprise. Four leather Eames chairs faced the glass-wall view and Desi was parked in a middle one, vaguely aware of people entering and leaving the office. Black leather couches and chairs formed two conversation nooks behind him, both vacant. All the best magazines—even tall cases of books.
Track lighting illuminating real artwork—at least he assumed it was real—paintings that must’ve set somebody’s bank account back in a significant way. The big one looked like a genuine Ivan Albright. He wondered if that’s where the company got its name or if it was some kinda visual pun. Probably the second. He smiled his approval as he sipped cognac then coffee and thought about the cheap reproductions on the walls of his uncle’s restaurant—the dump where Uncle Uomo did business.
He couldn’t get his mind or his imagination off that receptionist. A beaut like that didn’t come cheap either, and he glanced at her again after he opened the Playboy centerfold. She sat straight at her desk, working her computer, keeping her face in her own business. Efficient. Professional. He examined the playmate of the month and pretended it was her, letting his imagination ride as he finished his Courvoisier.
“Ms. Fetova will see you now.”
Startled, he looked up from his magazine. The receptionist faced him. Cool. Smart. Inviting. The kind he wanted working for him. He pushed up from the chair and followed her down a hall, fascinated by the way she moved. When they reached a double glass door, he turned to face her. “Come back and get me when I’m done.”
She declined her head then gave him a look that said of course, how he could conceive such a question and held open the door. He entered.
Some young broad with flaming orange hair sat behind a gleaming black desk like she owned the joint. The culture bud guided him to one of four high-back chairs facing the desk. On his left sat an enormous man in a three-piece suit. In the other, that grey-hair that visited his office—the same one that blew away his two guards just last night. Well those were Gionelli’s people, not his, but this Mr. Anthony Dmitri, Investment Counselor needed a shank in the back. The guy nodded to Desi as if nothing had happened. The big guy just watched. What was with that broad behind the desk? He thought he hid his fear well but thirsted for another cognac.
As if on cue, the little secretary placed a fresh snifter next to him and he thanked her with his eyes, then turned to the redhead behind the desk. People didn’t grow hair that shade. Electric. And how come she rated this big office?
“You’ve met Mr. Dmitri.” That wasn’t a question and her voice carried the unmistakable tone of command. Yeah, he met him—after the guy stuffed his two bodyguards in the dumpster. Dangerous for an old guy. Desi could hear his heart pounding and wondered if the others heard it too. The redhead grinned. “This other gentleman is called Nicky. That is all you want to know about him—take my word for it.”
Desi held his tongue and looked at each of the two men then lingered again on the woman behind the desk. Expensive gray suit. Sheer white blouse. Class. Voice sounded vaguely Russian. “When do I see the boss?”
The grey haired man spoke. “Mr. Grasso, do you recognize the center of a spider web when you see it?”
Desi thought about that a moment. This twenty something girlie was the boss? That meant she ordered the death of his bodyguards. “Your man got a little rough. What’s with that?”
“I never authorized the Gionelli family to operate in Chicago. Covet not your brother’s turf, isn’t that right, Mr. Grasso? Certainly their presence must have caused you some concern.” She sighed. “Sometimes one must make an example of such people.”
“What is this? Vegas needs to ask you for an okay or what?”
“You might put it that way. Let’s just say your uncle’s little experiment with interstate detente has come to an end.” She glanced at Dmitri.
The grey haired man cleared his throat. “More to the point are the advantages that accrue to you, Mr. Grasso.”
“As an investment advisor, I know that you will eventually sit in your uncle’s chair. Such things require planning and careful preparation. We can make that happen more quickly. For reasons that will become clear, our interests run along the same lines as yours.”
Desi fought to keep a suave expression but straightened in his chair. The only way he’d head up the Chicago mob was if Uncle Uomo got dead.
“Let’s wrap this up, gentlemen.” It was the redhead with an abrupt command that amazed Desi. “We do have another meeting. Mr. Grasso, I represent an organization that is rapidly bringing together all the petty syndicates and gangs under the umbrella of a new kind of entity.”
“What makes you think you can do that?”
“It is happening all around you. Don’t look so surprised. We have no conflict with your Italian potentates. Our interests run in a different direction.”
Desi chewed on that idea as she went on.
“We represent Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York. We are finalizing a contract with New Orleans as we speak. Chicago is next.”
Desi uttered a curse in Italian. Almost before he finished, a stab of pain ran down his neck and shoulder, instantly immobilizing him. After a minute, his toes and fingers tingled.
“Careful Nicky.” Desi heard the red head’s voice above the screaming in his head. “We want to treat Mr. Grasso with the respect he deserves.”
“Certainly.” He released his grip and Desi felt himself slump forward, helpless and numb. The giant man returned to his chair and sat at ease. It took a moment before feeling came back to Desi’s hands and when it did, they trembled. He eyed and the woman through narrowed lids—a show of bravado. “Who the hell are you?”
“There is no secret. My name is Roya Fetova. You can call me Roya if I may call you Desi. Is so much more kulturni that way.”
He squeezed his eyes closed a moment and nodded, this time knowing he caught the Russian phrase.
“Good. As I said, we are pressed for time. We meet with the mayor in thirty minutes. Let me explain the mission of our organization. We consolidate the efforts of all the petty syndicates and gangs.”
“What if some don’t want any part of that?”
“We have not found that to be a problem. Our logic is inescapable. I am aware that you are worried about your precious turf, Desi.” She smiled. “Let me assure you that we interfere with local leadership as little as possible. We do not take away what you have achieved. We do not, how you say, micro-manage our assets. But we do create stability and a market for you as a business.” She moved her hand as if brushing away a fly. “Inter-gang fighting is so inefficient. Our investors are not interested in petty squabbling. By joining a larger entity, each organization solidifies its foundation and increases its political scope at the national level. Our investors include pension funds, federal judges, senators, the president himself.”
Dmitri leaned toward Desi. “Please understand, Mr. Grasso. We securitize individual ventures into a legitimate business offering—an alternative revenue stream to our clients—one with a very high rate of return that’s not correlated to the markets in any way. There’s a huge demand for that. Think of it as an index, like the S&P-500, only better.”
“You pose an interesting problem right now, Mr. Grasso.” The big man leveled his eyes at Desi. “Your organization’s grip on this town is slipping. The Russian mob made a move on your turf last year and they’ll try again—yes, they are part of our portfolio but a volatile component. You are vulnerable. Something needs to be done about that.”
“Uomo Grasso is old school—fat and lazy.” The redhead turned and spat on the carpet. “I would deal with him but why put lipstick on a pig? He still holds his meetings huddled in a dingy restaurant. We believe there must be a new face on the organization. Under our umbrella and as leader in Chicago, you will bring your group into the twenty first century. Your office will be wherever you choose. You will pick your own staff.”
Desi’s greed and fear started to overwhelm his senses but he set his face the way his father taught him when he grew up—before papa stole from the organization and got stuffed in a box. “Exactly what you asking me to do?”
“I would think that was obvious, Desi. Certainly nothing you haven’t already dreamed of doing.” She touched a button on a console beside her. “Maria, please come in here a moment.”
The door opened and the culture bud came in.
“We are assigning you to Mr. Grasso. You don’t have a secretary, do you Desi? I thought as much. Maria, please take special care of all his,” she paused and looked at him, “His needs.” She stood. “I am sorry to cut this short, Desi, but we must join the mayor.”
“Please come with me, Mr. Grasso.” Maria’s cultured voice seemed to tickle Desi’s mind. He followed her out the door and down a hall, still fascinated with the way she moved.
She quietly opened a door to a softly lit room and shrugged the jacket off her bare shoulders. It fell to the floor.
Desi caught his breath then licked his lips. Without taking his eyes off Maria, he closed the door behind his back and locked it.
* * *
Tony Ferragomo tossed his suit coat on another chair and loosened his tie. “When do I quit shaving the top of my head?”
Roya blew him a kiss. “Not yet—but you were magnificent, Tony. Your diction was impeccable and you recited your lines just as rehearsed. You disguised your Chicago accent with aplomb. You too, Nicky. I admire both of you more than I can say. What do you think of our Desi?”
Tony was first to speak: “Candy-assed kid. Think he’s really gonna bite?”
Roya placed her fingertips together and peered over them. “When Maria finishes with him? Oh, yes. We are offering Mr. Grasso everything he ever dreamed of. Everything. Leadership. All the perks of power. And a mother organization to hold his hand. Desi needs a mama and I will be that to him.”
Agent Nicholi Segovia cleared his throat. “Well, to tell the truth, that’s what concerns me. The department believes that kid’s been looking for a way to blow away Uncle Uomo for a long time and this may just give him the balls to do it. That’s not FBI policy, but I won’t shed any tears over it. It’s you I’m worried about milashka.”
“Don’t be an old hen, Nicky. I will have no trouble keeping young Desi under my thumb.”
The big man pushed up from his chair and paced the office floor. Tony watched him put his hands in his pockets and take a long look out the wall of glass then turn back with a look of resolve. “As I see it, with that kid in charge of the Chicago mob and you handling him, we got one hell of an information pipeline. On the other hand, you just put a juicy temptation in front of yourself.” He stopped and looked straight at her. “Roya, tell me the truth. You don’t have any plans to take the reins of the local Mafia for real, do you? Or an overlord organization like you pretend to represent here?” He gazed at her a moment longer. “I’d like an answer to that, milashka. I want it now.”
For the first time, Tony saw Roya blush. “Nicky, can’t you trust me?”
“It’s a lotta power you’re holding in your hands.”
She paused and held a finger to her lips and the room grew quiet. Then: “I wonder.” She gave him a coy smile. “I will let you know when I know.”
HOW TO PLAY–This is an interactive novel. Tell me what comes next. I’ll try to write it in.
1.) IT’S EASY – Just enter an idea, such as: “their jeep drives off a cliff.”
2.) KEEP IT CLEAN – In general, if it wouldn’t fly in a 60’s Bond flick, then it’s out.
3.) SHARE – When I publish the final novel, I list contributors prominently. I take you at your word that all ideas are your original thoughts.