Catch-22

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

The stranger clicked his tongue and (thankfully) shoved the gun into his pocket. “Aren’t you tired?”

“Of?”

“Being the victim.”

“I—I mean it’s not like I can do much about that…”

THEN

Nobody liked a weak boy. 

And he was practically the weakest as they come, what with his wiry limbs and pale skin stretched thin over ribs that definitely shouldn’t have been that visible. 

So, this poor, weak boy couldn’t do much to defend himself when delinquents happened to stop by.

And, as luck would have it, this particular delinquent just-so-happened to be bloodthirsty, too. What an absolutely fantastic turn of events!

A new wave of pain crashed over him. Another punch was probably thrown—he could hardly tell with his right eye bruised and swollen shut.

The punk growled, baring his yellowed teeth. “Y’think you’re so smart, eh?” his terribly scratchy voice hissed. 

He flinched and shrunk backward only for his shoulder blade to hit a brick wall. 

“I already told you, I don’t—”

Another hit, this one targeted at his stomach. 

He doubled over and gagged, coughing up blood onto the already-dirty pavement. 

Bulbous nose grinned like a shark, obviously proud of the damage. “Oh, do go on, darling!” he said with an awful imitation of what was most likely supposed to be an upper-crust accent. 

“Listen, then!” he screamed, his throat almost raw from the tension. “I don’t have any money! I don’t have for God’s sake! Just leave me—” he spared a worried glance at his unconscious mother laying on the ground a few feet away. “Just leave alone, please!”

Bulbous nose scowled and curled his fingers into a fist like he was going to strike again. And he would have if it weren’t for the barrel of a gun being pressed to the back of his skull. 

The punk blanched and dropped both arms to his sides. It was quite ironic. The very same miscreant that had been harassing him had gotten a taste of his own medicine, albeit magnified by a thousand. After all, even a single bullet could do a lot more than a fair of fists. 

Despite his worn-down, beaten-up state, he couldn’t help but let out a quick little snicker. 

“Don’t bother,” the man with the gun said, his voice laced with a foreign accent. “The kid’s just as broke as you.” 

“Y-yes, sir!” Bulbous nose squeaked, his eyes bulging out of their sockets. 

“Good. Now get lost.” 

The punk scurried away in an instant, leaving him alone with a torpid woman and an armed stranger. 

Suddenly, as he stared at the M-1911 in the stranger’s hand, a realization settled in:

He probably wouldn’t be making it out of this situation alive. 

He’d need a lot more than just dumb luck to get out of the alleyway in one piece. Perhaps a sweet little deus-ex-machina would suffice. 

Or maybe some smooth talk. Because, evidently, he was no fighter. 

“You’re pathetic.” 

“W-what?”

“I said you’re pathetic.” The stranger chuckled humorlessly, fiddling around with the M-1911 in his hands like it was a toy rather than a loaded gun. “But this is the first and last time I’m ever gonna repeat myself, got that?”

“Oh.” He bit his lip, squirming under the stranger’s heavy gaze. “Thank you. For that, I mean.” 

“Mm. But a simple thanks isn’t enough. I just saved your scrawny little ass, you know.” 

Ouch. Well, that was a little bit rude. Still, he didn’t have much room to complain. 

“There is something else you could give me in return, though,” the stranger added, an odd tilt to his tone. 

There was an awkward silence. 

“You wouldn’t want, um…” His face grew red. “...that, would you?” He prayed that he didn’t have to explain what ‘that’ was. 

“Of course not.” The stranger glared, his lip upturned in a ‘how-could-you-possibly-suggest-such-a-thing’ sort-of way. “I prefer women, not skinny little alley boys.” He adjusted his sunglasses, briefly revealing chocolate-brown irises. “But enough about me. Tell me a little about yourself, kid.” 

He wasn’t so open to the idea of giving this suspicious man his entire life story. Though, with the killing machine displayed openly in the other man’s hand, the idea of ‘stranger danger’ diminished in importance. “A-and if I don’t?”
“Then I won’t hesitate to have your brains splattered all over this wall.” 

He winced. There really was no choice, was there?

But he couldn’t help but wonder why. Why would this man bother himself with a ‘skinny little alley boy’ like him? Why did he care? 

“Fine. My name is…” He continued to ramble on, cherry-picking only the most useless information about himself to tell. Hobbies, likes, dislikes— the kind of stuff someone would say when forced to introduce themselves to the class on the first day of school. “...my favorite color is maroon. Unless maroon’s a shade. Well, in that case—”

“Cut the drivel, I really couldn’t care less,” the stranger interrupted curtly. “Tell me how you ended up here. That’s all I really needed to know.” 

He wrapped both of his feeble arms around his equally-as-feeble midsection, his legs swaying like willows. “Arson,” he managed to squeeze out. “Six months later, they still don’t know who did it and my dad’s still gone. And my mom...” He looked at his mother, vision clouded with grief. She was still unconscious after a particularly merciless burglary from a few days ago, and her right leg was a burnt-off, bloody stub. How her heart managed to continue beating through all this, he didn’t know. “She’s seen better days.” 

The stranger clicked his tongue and (thankfully) shoved the gun into his pocket. “Aren’t you tired?”

“Of?”

“Being the victim.”
“I—I mean it’s not like I can do much about that…”

“But you can,” the stranger said firmly. “There’s a way out. You’ll be free.” 

Free? 

He toyed around with the word inside his mind, debating on what to do with it. 

Freedom was good, freedom was bright. 

“How?”

“Let’s just say that I know some people. And, trust me, you’re nowhere near ready to handle the big stuff. But we could use an errand boy,” the stranger elaborated. “Someone young innocent-looking.” 

His heart sped up. 

Innocent-looking? Why would they—

Suddenly, it made perfect sense. 

Why this brown-eyed foreigner wore a three-piece suit and carried a gun, why this brown-eyed foreigner was wearing sunglasses even though not even a single ray of sunlight could be seen through the impenetrable wall of clouds. 

“Errands?” He wondered whether the ‘errands’ in question were just as insignificant as fetching alcohol from the cellar or just as major as, well…

“You know I know, but I can’t tell you too much or I’d have to kill you. So.” The stranger extended a gloved hand. “Deal or no deal?”

 


NOW


“Hey, Lucy!” 

Luca looked to the doorway, only to be greeted by the smug and handsome face of one of his oldest confidants. “Val.” 

“Back from la-la land, already. That was quick.” Valentino threw his head back and let out a deep, boisterous laugh. “What were ya daydreaming about, huh?”

Luca scoffed and leaned back, both his legs at an angle that would’ve earned him a faceful of bleach had he been in the wrong place at the wrong time. He put on his tough-guy voice, one that he’d perfected over the years. “Girls. Like the ones in those magazines of yours.” 

“Ha-ha.” The cocky, teasing look in Valentino’s copper eyes quickly vanished. “But really. You weren’t fantasizing about double-Ds. I can tell.” 

Luca stiffened. That was the scary thing about Valentino—he could tell. “Whatever, it doesn’t matter anyway.” 

“Does it?” Valentino crossed both arms over his chest. “Come on, you know I know.” 

 And with that little remark, a strange feeling of déjà vu passed over Luca. “Whatever,” he said, finally relenting. “I was just thinking about… before.”

Valentino sighed and joined Luca on the leather couch, his head resting on his arms. “Ah, the good old days,” he said breathily. “I remember, you were such a ragamuffin. Could’ve snapped your neck like a toothpick.” 

Luca let out a non-committal hum, though this mind was somewhat of a mess. 

The memory was a bitter one. He never liked to be reminded of… his childhood. 

Oh, what the hell. I never had a childhood. 

It was taken. 

Too soon. 

Although, one could argue that Luca was a child. He was hardly eighteen and stood at a laughable 5’7. 

“I mean, I probably could kill you with my bare hands now, too,” Valentino pointed out. “You know. ” 

Luca gave no response, his pupils tracing the intricately-patterned wallpaper absently. The room felt far too big, and he felt far too small. It was a nauseating sensation in itself but was downright unbearable when paired with the odd, violent sort-of tension Valentino was emanating.

He can kill me. 

If he wants to. 

Luca Laforet wasn’t weak. Not anymore. 

After accepting The Deal, he was given a minuscule role in the Brooklyn . However, he decided to make it his mission to prove himself to his superiors that he could be more than just the Italian-American mafia’s goddamnpet

And, two years later, Luca had finally managed to work his way up the ranks. It was quite remarkable for an eighteen-year-old to score a spot within the Camorra’s inner circle. 

It’s been a long time coming. 

“Humor me, please.” Luca sat up a little straighter and looked Valentino right in the eyes. “you want to? Kill me?” 

“Hm.” Valentino drummed his fingers against his knee, his expression pensive. “Certainly, if you were, say… second-guessing. There’s no room for turncoats here.”

Luca’s blood ran cold. He could only hope that his guise didn’t betray his unease. 

Why would he suspect me? 

And, a more important question:

Do I suspect myself?

It was fun, for the most part. Hanging around some of the most powerful men in New York, merrymaking at white-tie events that only the most affluent of socialites could even hope to attend, getting away with anything and everything—

In the end, it was just a smoke-and-mirrors game. They were sordid criminals, though they bore ties instead of tattoos and guns instead of shackles. 

The bottom-of-the-barrel, the lowest of the low. 

Luca thought, holding back a laugh. Right. 

He had one foot in jail, and the other in his own grave. 

He was walking on eggshells, always wondering if they’d be caught. Always wondering if this day would be his last. 

And while Luca would consider himself a curious person, he didn’t like to be left wondering. Not when it came down to matters of life-or-death, and—more often than not—it did. 

But there was no point in questioning the morality of it all at that point. He’d already gotten so far, and he’d sacrificed his entire existence to get there. 

Oh, The Deal had given him freedom, alright. 

He’d been taken out of a cage, only to be placed in another one. 

And no matter how glamorous this particular prison was, it was still a prison nevertheless. 

Given the opportunity to leave, he would take it. 

But there was no such opportunity. That didn’t matter, though. All he had to do was make his own opportunity.

I could run away. From Brooklyn, New Yorkhell, maybe even the States altogether. 

“I see,” Luca said after what felt like an eternity of silence. The air was swimming with a foggy unrest; all the things that went unspoken would stay that way. 

“C’mon, it was just a joke! Don’t get your panties in a twist,” Valentino said, though it was clear that his earlier statement wasn’t 100% insincere. 

No kidding. 

 


“We’re starting to question your loyalty, Laforet.”

Luca narrowed his eyebrows and hardened his gaze. “On what grounds?”

Martillo chuckled. “I have eyes and ears everywhere, you know,” he said.“And one of your little friends tipped me off. 

Val?

Luca felt his pulse quicken, going at a tempo of what was probably more than 125 beats per minute. 

It wasn’t a joke at all. 

Suddenly, Luca found it next-to-impossible to maintain eye contact with his higher-up, let alone come up with a clever way to deny all accusations. So, he settled with a generic response. 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

And, as expected, Martillo saw right through it. 

“Aw, that’s sweet,” Martillo drawled. “Sweet And here I was, thinking two years actually taught you something about the art of denial.” 

Luca eyed the ashtray on the desk— looking but not really seeing. Things were going south, and fast. And, of course, the sour icing on the miserable excuse for a cake?

There was a 99.999% chance that Luca Laforet would be six feet under before nightfall. 

No—scratch that. He wouldn’t even get a proper burial. Martillo and his men would probably dump his body into a ditch in the middle of the woods, leaving his rotting corpse as a feast for the wolves. 

“Look, I’m not planning anything,” Luca insisted pleadingly. “I swear on my father’s grave. .” 

“Don’t try arguing with me,” Martillo demanded. “Valentino’s a psychic. He can pick your mind apart, bit by bit.” A smirk played upon his lips. “And he already has.” 

Luca froze in his seat. His body was numb, his mind was blank, his mouth was dry. 

After a long 60 seconds of quiet, Luca managed to find his voice again. 

“How will you do it?”

“Hm?”

“Kill me.” 

laughing! “Oh, no. I have no intention of killing you.” 

‘“Then?” Luca threw both his arms up in an aggressive shrug. “Then, what?”

, Laforet. Suppose I kill you,” Martillo mused. “Cui bono? Who would benefit?”

Luca didn’t bother answering the rhetorical question, leaving Martillo to answer it himself. 

“Certainly not us. Now, don’t let this get to your head, but you’ve proved a major help to us. By killing you, we’d be doing nothing more than hurting ourselves.”

“A-and your point?” Luca didn’t know where this was going. If they weren’t going to kill him, what else they do? Torture? 

“Let’s just say… you won’t be leaving anytime soon.” Martillo tapped his earpiece. “” 

Luca was on the brink of a nervous breakdown, and it certainly didn’t help that his boss was so insistent upon being cryptic about everything relating to the situation. 

The door flung open, revealing a pair of burly men and—

All the color drained from his face. 

Shit. 

Standing before him was his mother. 

She was hunched over, being held up by one of the men. Both her hands were bound tight with a coil barbed wire that pierced through her skin, drawing drops of blood. 

His heart dropped to the ground. 

“What have you done to her? Why did you bring her into this?!” Luca demanded, hot tears pricking at his eyes. 

“Simple,” Martillo said a-matter-of-factly. “She’s collateral.” 

Luca realized. They’re using her to keep me in line. 

“You won’t face any consequences lest you try to leave. Though, I’m afraid I can’t guarantee the same for .” Martillo looked to the woman like she was something he found at the bottom of his shoe. Like she was an “Surely you understand now, hm? Only weak boys run away. You’re not weak, are you?”

Luca gulped. 

It’s a Catch-22. 

If I stay, I’ll die. Eventually. 

If I leave, my mom will die. 

It was a low move. Taking that familial bond and using it against someone. 

Exactly to be expected of someone like Alessandro Martillo. 

Oh, The Deal had given him freedom, alright. 

Fake freedom.

 


Submitted: February 21, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Commander Cryptic. All rights reserved.

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