Mr. Red was here again.
Ally hesitated at the end of the drive, staring at the car. A bitter swell of fear filled her chest. She should leave. Whatever deal was going on in there, she wanted no part of it.
But it was after midnight and she had nowhere else to go, no friends to call. Her feet were burning-sore from her shift at the restaurant. She was sweaty, grimy, and exhausted, and all she wanted was a hot shower and her bed. It wasn’t as if her dad was going to invite her to sit in on his meeting, after all. Women were better seen, not heard, and preferably neither.
A mosquito buzzed at her neck and she slapped at it, grimacing. It was too humid a night to stand out here. The streets stank of garbage and her clothes stank of booze from where a customer had “accidentally” spilled his beer on her. She’d go in the back door, through the kitchen, and straight upstairs. Dad always used the front room for “business.” He and his guest would never see her and, more importantly, she’d never see them.
Her heart thudded as she walked past that car and through the back gate. The car was a perfect symbol of men like Mr. Red. Powerful and daring. Sleek and alluring. She hated it. Hated him.
The security light in the back garden had died weeks ago and her dad couldn’t be bothered to fix it, so Ally had to pick her way carefully over crooked and cracked paving stones on her way to the door. Add to that the tangle of overgrown grass encroaching on the crazy paving, and the garden was a death trap in the dark. She breathed a sigh of relief when she reached the door. That sigh turned to a strangled gasp when she opened the door and saw the scene in the kitchen.
Her dad, bent over the table. Some heavy in a cheap suit held him by the neck, squashing his face to the wood. Her dad struggled in vain against the bigger man’s grip while the thug stared into space, seeming utterly disconnected from his own actions.
Mr. Red sat at the table, a gun resting before him. He looked as he always did, dressed entirely in black apart from a bright red silk tie. His brilliant blue eyes were devoid of emotion as he watched Ally’s dad, but the way he tapped his fingers on the gun barrel betrayed just a touch of irritation. A dangerous thing in a man like him.
Ally froze in the doorway, as if it might make her invisible. Her dad spat her name in a weird mixture of panic and hope, and Mr. Red turned his gaze on her. She felt his stare like a physical touch, a pressure on her skin that made her shiver. He looked her up and down with no more interest than he’d show a wad of gum on the ground. And yet she still felt like he was assessing her, measuring her. She ducked her head, unable to stare back into those summer-sky eyes.
“Allegra, isn’t it?” he asked, voice soft and cool. “Little Allegra Rose Mosconi. What unfortunate timing.”
Ally glanced at her dad, who’d gone limp, eyes closed. Fear clutched her. “I don’t want any part of this,” she said, more to Mr. Red than him. “I can just leave, okay? I can just—”
“Do you know why I’m here?” Mr. Red cut in as if she’d never spoken. “Do you know what your father has done?”
She shook her head, chewing her lip. She couldn’t keep looking at her dad. His face was flushed scarlet and sweat poured off him. He wasn’t a brave man, she knew that. He never had been, and even the bravest man would lose their nerve in the face of guns and gangsters. So she didn’t blame him for being scared. Hell, she was terrified. But she blamed him for making all the choices that had led him here. Because no doubt he had done something fucking stupid, and now they would both pay the price. She knew that as well as her own name.
“He lost twenty grand’s worth of cocaine. Twenty thousand dollars, Allegra Rose. Do you even know what that much money looks like?” Mr. Red shook his head, dark hair falling into his eyes. “So careless. How does one “lose” that much cocaine, Marco?” he asked her dad. “I have to admit, I have some questions about your story.”
“It was a mix-up!” her dad cried, his voice cracked and hoarse. “Just a mistake, a simple mistake … the guy … the guy…”
Mr. Red waved his hand and her dad fell silent, lips trembling. “How are you going to fix this mistake, Marco?” When he didn’t answer, Mr. Red turned back to Ally. “What do you think, Allegra? How can your father make this up to me? Twenty thousand dollars is a lot of money for a man like him.”
It was an impossible amount of money for a man like Marco Mosconi. He didn’t have the brains or the balls to rise higher in his chosen profession, and the only way someone made money working for men like Mr. Red was by being smart and ruthless. Her father was a worm. Ally wished she could hate him for it, but all she ever managed was pity.
“I don’t know,” she said finally, unable to bear the weight of Mr. Red’s gaze. “I don’t know.” At least he wasn’t talking about killing him.
“Perhaps he could sell something.” Mr. Red looked around the kitchen thoughtfully. “What do you have of value in here, Marco?”
Ally couldn’t help cringing. She kept the kitchen clean, but there was nothing she could do about the cracked tiles or the ever-dripping tap, or the cigarette smoke stains on the ceiling. The rest of the house wasn’t much better. There was nothing of value in here, absolutely nothing worth anywhere near twenty thousand dollars…
She felt her father’s stare before she saw it. Like Mr. Red’s, it had a weight of its own, but it made her skin crawl in a way Mr. Red’s hadn’t. When she looked at him, she saw that panic and hope in his eyes again, saw what desperation would make him say.
“No,” she said quickly, taking a step back and tripping on the doorstep. The door was still open. She could run. Run out into the hot, sticky night, where she’d trip on those crazy paving slabs and break her neck. A wave of nausea hit her. “No, Dad, please.”
“Ally.” He said her name like it was a charm, a magic spell. Full of pleading.
Mr. Red looked at her, feigning surprise. “Little Allegra Rose? Well. That is quite the offer, Marco.” He smiled, silky and poisonous.