38

Long, well-manicured fingers examined the gun, extracting the clip and shoving it back in its chamber. Satisfied with the inspection, Santiago placed the gun inside of his slacks, pulling his tan cashmere sweater over it. He glanced at his likeness in a hall mirror, making faces as he did so. He patted his hair and ran his hand down the length of his sweater, feeling for the gun for added assurance.

“No one plays me for a fool,” Santiago said to the reflection in the mirror that pointed back when he did. “No one.”

Santiago reached for his leather coat when the phone began to ring. He uttered a few choice words and told the caller he’d meet him outside in a minute.

Snapping the phone shut, Santiago went to Angelica’s room once more. He surveyed it and shook his head. While it appeared that her belongings were still there, she was not and apparently hadn’t thought it necessary to share her whereabouts with anyone else. Where was she?

Santiago stepped out of the house as Dominic pulled up. Sammy jumped out and opened the back passenger door for Santiago. Santiago slammed the door, and the trio was off.

“Where to, boss?” Dominic asked.

“I want you to drive to Queens. I would have had Niko take me there, but I didn’t want my car to be recognized. Once we get into Queens, I’ll direct you to where I want you to go.” Santiago lifted his right hand and felt the gun. Hopefully, he wouldn’t have to use it.

The trio drove in silence-Sammy and Dominic sensing Santiago’s mood. It seemed that there was some urgency to the task they were about to undertake, although they didn’t know what it was yet. Santiago barked orders-a left turn here, two right turns there-and then he told Dom to pull over to the curb. Dom and Sammy looked at each other in the rearview mirror and waited for the word.

Upon Santiago’s orders, all three scrambled from the car. Dom and Sammy hung back at the bottom of the steps, while Santiago climbed them to the porch and rang the doorbell. After one minute of knocking and no answer, Santiago became enraged and beat on the door-still no answer.

He motioned to Sammy and Dominic, and they jumped into the car.

“Dom, take me to Manhattan. I’ll let you know where to go once we get there.” And they were off again.

Thirty minutes later, Santiago motioned for Dominic to pull over to the curb beyond the next traffic light and in front of a twenty-five-story apartment building on Manhattan’s east side. A tall, olive-complexioned man dressed in a traditional doorman’s uniform stood in front of the building.

Ari stood tall, almost like the building where the residents he doted on lived. He never saw or had time to react to the two gentlemen that jumped from the car that sat idling in front of the building. He had barely turned around from bidding Ms. Faraday a good day when he was hijacked from his post.

“Put me down,” Ari shouted at the men.

Sammy and Dominic said nothing but pushed Ari through the car door that stood open. Sammy and Dominic jumped into the car and took off.

Ari stared at the man that sat next to him. His eyes scanned Santiago’s face with interest. A slight grimace passed over Ari’s face as if there was some recognition upon examination. But he sat quietly, waiting to find out what was so important that he was plucked from a busy New York street for it.

“This will be painless and you can return to your little perch outside the building in a few minutes if you cooperate,” Santiago said with a stoic face. “Where is she?”

“Where is who?” Ari asked with a puzzled look.

“You know who I’m talking about. I know it was you who helped Angelica to leave my home…her home.”

Ari looked at Santiago as if he were mad. “What in the hell are you talking about? I haven’t seen Angelica in weeks.”

“You’re lying!” Santiago screamed. “You know and you’re going to tell me now.” He pulled Ari by the collar until Ari’s face was inches from his.

There was no smile on Ari’s face. In fact, it was hard as stone-like clay that had been fired in a kiln under 400-degree heat. The fine line that formed his lips was etched on the lower part of his face, and his eyes were blank like they were drawn on his face by the hand of a five-year-old child.

In slow motion, Ari took the palm of his hand and placed it over the one that had his collar in a chokehold.

“Don’t you ever put your hands on me again,” Ari said with authority.

Santiago let go, but placed his face less than an inch from Ari’s. He reached down and lifted his sweater to reveal the gun that was concealed under it. He brandished it in Ari’s face and then stared menacingly at him. “Tell me what I want to know.”

“I can’t tell you what I don’t know,” Ari replied.

Whoop. Santiago slammed the butt of the gun into the side of Ari’s face. Ari clutched his face-a small trickle of blood leaked between his fingers.

“You going to tell me now, old man?”

“Angelica is getting as far away from you as she can…you evil manipulator,” Ari said. “And I remember you. Oh yes, I remember you, now. Came to see Donna the day she died. I would bet my last dime that you killed her.”

“You talk too much,” Santiago said in a gruff voice. “I don’t like people who run off at the mouth.”

Before Ari knew what happened, Santiago hit him in the face again and then punched him in the stomach. Ari began to wretch. Dom looked at Santiago in his rearview mirror.

“Drive to the spot,” Santiago barked. He looked at Ari, holding himself and punched him again.

Somewhere outside of the city, Dominic drove. Dusk turned to dark. At some remote area amid a forest of trees, Dom pulled over. There was no reason for dialogue-it was apparent that Dom and Sammy already knew the drill.

They got out of the car and pulled a doubled-over Ari out. Though he was already unconscious, they beat him unceremoniously until Ari seemed to have given up the ghost. Satisfied that the lesson had been taught, the duo jumped in the car while Santiago looked out of the window, keeping Ari’s body in view until they drove out of sight.

“Don’t mess with me,” Santiago said to himself aloud and put the gun back in its hiding place.

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