Owned:A Mafia Menage Romance

By: Meg Watson

“They're probably all from Idaho or something,” she says as she comes back toward me. “How am I supposed to tell the difference between some big, dumb farmboy and some big, dumb Russian gangster anyway? Anybody can get a tattoo, you know.”

“Absolutely true,” I say and turn away so we don’t have to look at each other and see what we really think. No matter what she says, I can tell she's shaken by being in the small private room with them. We may talk shit about them, but those Russian guys are actually scary as hell.

Every time they come for a meeting with Daddy in our club I practically spend the whole time holding my breath and looking over my shoulder. They’re unpredictable. That’s how they’ve managed to shave off so much of the neighborhood, by being willing to do things we would never do. Things that take people by surprise.

Not like my family. The Cosa Nostra has rules. A code. We’re brought up with a list of expectations that you just don’t ever question. It’s in our blood.

But ever since those Russians started pushing further and further into the neighborhood, things have been changing. Folks didn’t want to stand against them because they didn’t know what would happen, or how bad it could get.

People say the worst things could happen. In the old days, you knew a guy could fall on the wrong side of some deal, and he might end up getting disappeared. But nowadays you don't just find one guy dead, you find his entire family dead. Kids too. Grandma, pets, everybody.

They’re absolute savages.

But we can't talk about that. Especially not me and Gianna. It's not our place, and if anybody caught us there would be hell to pay. Our cigar club has been neutral territory for generations and that means we don’t talk trash about the clientele, no matter who they are. Daddy has been working on this supposed peace thing for so long and so hard that if I did anything to mess it up I don't even know what he would do to me.

Not that I really think he would do anything really bad. For all his gruffness, I know he loves me deep down. Of course he does. We’re all about family. Not like those Russian monsters. They don't give a shit about anybody.

But with Italians, our blood is thicker than concrete. It's the thing that holds the universe together. And we’re practically steeped in from the moment that we’re born. It's everywhere. Rivers of it.

It didn't used to be this way. I mean there were always other families, and then there were the Puerto Ricans and the Blacks too. There has always been a presence like this in Chicago, or so they tell me. It’s just a way of life.

We do a service, working underneath the conscious awareness of your average person. We keep things moving. We keep the money flowing in and out. People say that it was Prohibition that really let the families come into power in the 1920s, but if it hadn't been that it would've been something else. There's always somebody trying to keep people from the things they want, so there's always going to be room for somebody else to deliver that service. That's all we do.

But the Russians and Albanians showed up in the 80s or 90s or something like that. And they're a totally different animal. Impossible to negotiate with. They say that they have codes of honor but nobody seems to be able to figure them out. Every time we get a peace, the peace gets broken. Over and over again.

When Daddy was a young guy, he brokered the first peace with the Russians who started moving in on our territory. Not like we were going to compete for our own business in our own neighborhood. Some of the protection arrangements went back three generations. It was a tradition.

But somehow little pieces of what we had got chipped away here and there. Every agreement left us with a smaller presence. It's like standing on an island but the water is rising. Pretty soon there's going to be no island left.

And the ocean is made of blood. It's like that.

But because Daddy is the boss, he gets to keep the peace. He always figures something out and the floodwaters recede for a little while. Still, they always come back. And he has to go figure something else out again. That’s what he’s doing right now, back there in the smoking room with the Russians.

Gianna twirls a long strand of sable hair around her finger, probably the last sign she'll show that she really is anxious about those guys. Her eyes dart between the closed door and my iPad. As I am tallying my tips and cashing myself out from the drawer, I hear her breath snort out through her nose.

I ignore her and count out my take in twenties, then grab my bag from below the counter. One small stack goes in the front inside pocket of my purse, and the other bigger stack goes in the envelope at the bottom.

“He’s gonna catch you one of these days,” she mumbles just loud enough for me to hear.

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