Please note: The following short story contains scenes of violence and some strong language.
Affari Di Miseria
By Lucy Nother
New York City
I tried to keep my hands steady as I slid the stocking back on over my knee.
‘I should go,’ I said, glancing over at him.
He sparked a cigarette, pointing the case towards me. He leered.
‘Why so soon, doll? The night’s only just begun.’
I pursed my lips, turning to button up my blouse. Santoro said he wouldn’t let it go this far again. I was sick of playing the gang’s whore. I looked at the clock on the wall; they were over an hour late. They wouldn’t be coming now.
I sighed and picked up my purse, sliding my hand inside. I shot a sickly-sweet smile at him.
‘I really have to go.’
He pulled my face towards his and kissed me. I opened my eyes and saw his squeezed shut, his eyebrow furrowing causing the wrinkled creases on his forehead to travel in an ugly wave across his skin.
‘Okay. Keep your eyes shut.’
He smiled and obeyed me, his tough, calloused hands sliding themselves back up my thighs, underneath my dress and to my hips.
I took one step back, pulled my revolver from my purse and shot him straight between the eyes. His body convulsed as it hit the bed, a crimson puddle blossoming upon the satin sheets.
‘Hmph,’ I remarked, rubbing the gun down with my handkerchief.
I placed it next to his hand, the weight of the metal against the fabric causing blood to cascade down and pool around the weapon.
I slid my heels onto my feet and left, flattening my hair as I left the apartment and out into the cold New York air.
The bar was full, I could barely see through the haze of cigar smoke and loud laughter. Things had gone crazy since the end of prohibition; every Friday night saw the return of familiar faces I’d not seen for years. I scanned the laughing faces for Santoro, spotting him in the corner booth with each arm around a gang member.
I walked through the crowd towards Santoro’s booth. I slid my coat off my shoulders and rested it on a chair, the men looking up at me, their laughter subsiding. I raised an eyebrow.
‘Gentlemen. Glad to see you are all having a nice evening. Do you remember where I went when I left earlier?’
Santoro sighed and drained the rest of his bourbon.
‘Bradshaw’s wife had their baby today. We’re wetting the kid’s head.’
‘Congratulations, Bradshaw. Santoro, please?’
Santoro looked round at his gang members.
‘Excuse us, gentlemen. Get another bottle of fizz in.’
Dante Santoro descended from a long line of Italian American gang leaders, his chiseled jaw line and thick dark hair leaving no secrets of his ancestry. His tall frame was broad and solid, always adorned by the best Italian suits in New York City, accompanied by a leather gun holster that sat on his back underneath his suit jacket. Santoro was a very powerful man, and you only had to look at him to know that.
He opened the wooden door into his office, a room full of deep oak and red furniture. He walked to his desk and gestured for me to take a seat. I looked at the seat and turned my back to pour a gin from the bar cart.
‘I hope he’s dead.’
I snapped my head towards him, my eyes burning into his skull.
‘Yes, he’s fucking dead. If I knew your gunsels weren’t going to show up I wouldn’t have had to screw yet another slimy contract.’
Santoro scratched his chin, let out a deep sigh and retrieved a box of cigarettes from his draw. He lit one and held it across the desk to me. I glared at him for a moment before taking it.
‘Romano you know you’re our sec–’
‘Yes yes, secret weapon sure, sure. You know the papers already think there is a murdering whore on a killing spree in New York City, right?’
Santoro took a long drag on his cigarette, nodding slowly.
‘Yeah, I know that.’
He contemplated for a moment before resting his cigarette in the crystal ashtray. He stood and poured himself a whiskey.
‘You look nothing like a whore, Antonella.’
Antonella. He rarely uses my forename; only before we go to bed or if he wants something from me. Often both. I watched him carefully.
‘You need to be available tomorrow evening.’
‘Are you taking me on a date?’
He smiled at me, set down his whisky and placed his hands on my crossed arms.
‘There’s a gentleman who requires our… services. He’s a Chinese immigrant who has ties to an opium farm in Turkey. A few of the locals have noticed he’s starting to make money – and they don’t like it. He’s invited me for dinner. I need you with me.’
I furrowed my brow.
‘Okay… but why the dinner? You’ve never dined with clients before.’
Santoro took a strand of my black hair and tucked it behind my ear.
‘Do you remember when you came to the city, young and scared and alone? And I took you for coffee and we talked about how it tastes so much better in Italy?’
I fought the smile slowly spreading on my lips.
‘And I took you in. Gave you a home, showed ya love. Us immigrants haveta stick together, Antonella. Look after each other. This city is built on our hard work.’
I nodded. His hands gently cradled my cheeks, rubbing his thumb along my cheekbone. I met his cocoa eyes. They had a hardness to them, softened ever so slightly by his dark, long eyelashes. The corners wrinkled with a smile as he kissed me on the forehead.
‘Come on, that’s enough business. Those bastards will drink all the champagne.’
From the outside, Mr Zhang’s house looked no different to the surrounding buildings. Flats towered over shops and businesses, his home no different, above a laundromat the family owned. I learned that was a cover for the opium den Santoro was interested in.
‘Mr and Mrs Santoro. Please, follow me.’
I glanced up at Santoro. He raised his eyebrows and placed his hand on the small of my back, leading me forward. I frowned but followed his lead. Mr Zhang lead us up a narrow staircase to his home. Inside was a work in progress, the walls and flooring looked old and weathered in comparison to the new furniture; a gorgeous woven couch was scattered with rich silk cushions, beside an antique hand carved table. The smell of delicious, unfamiliar food filled the air.
By the stove stood a small woman with a short dark bob. She looked tired and gentle. She greeted us with a warm smile.
‘Mr and Mrs Santoro, my wife.’
She bowed her head slightly, us returning the gesture. Our attention was turned to the sound of a patter on hardwood floor and an incoherent babbling. A small girl no older than two came toddling towards us, holding a doll. Mr Zhang shouted something to his wife in Cantonese, shooing the toddler away.
She giggled, showing a gummy, wide-mouthed smile. Mrs Zhang scooped her up and took her through to the back room. The child waved her doll at me as she went.
Mrs Zhang returned and apologized. Her English was more broken than her husband’s.
‘Please, sit. Let us eat and discuss.’
Back at Santoro’s, the mood had lightened. Santoro seemed to be pleased with his deal. Not that he would have left unhappy; he often gets his way. The Zhangs seemed like nice people and appeared satisfied with our conditions for protection. Mrs Zhang seemed uncomfortable when her husband handed over the photos of the contracts, but it was obvious she married into crime rather than being born into it.
‘Dante, why did Mr Zhang think we were husband and wife?’ I asked, swilling the bourbon around in my crystal glass.
He looked at me as he placed his shirt over the chair.
‘Because I told him we were.’
He lit a cigarette and passed it to me after a long drag.
‘Men with wives are more respectable. It shows we are capable of love.’
I chuckled, swallowed the rest of my bourbon and walked towards him. His hands found the back of my neck and pulled me into a deep, passionate kiss.
‘You make me soft, Antonella,’ he whispered into my mouth.
I kissed him again and slid my dress off my shoulders, guiding him towards the silk sheets.
The months had passed almost seamlessly. Life had improved vastly since the deal with the Zhangs. I had formed a close bond with Mrs Zhang, she took comfort in the fact I didn’t play with clients in the same way some of Santoro’s men did. I assured her it was always quick and mostly painless. I reminded her it was for Li Wei’s safety.
I had forgotten the softness and vulnerability of being friends with women. I’d spent so many years around murderous, boisterous gang members, I’d forgotten how tender friendship could be. We had spent nights drinking wine on the sofa, after Li Wei had gone to bed, whilst the men were at the bars. I showed her jazz music on the gramophone and taught her more English.
As I pushed on the laundromat door it clunked against the bolt on the other side. I rattled it and tried to peep in through the window. The inside was dark. That was odd – I knew Mrs Zhang was working today. The opium business was booming, it wouldn’t be shut without good reason.
I stepped back, setting down the teddy bear I’d bought for Li Wei. As I walked around the building to the back door, Bradshaw emerged, placing his gun in his holster.
I looked at him with wide eyes and bolted through the door.
Blood pooled the wooden surfaces, spatters and stains up the walls. Bullet shells littered the floorboards like a battlefield. I looked around in horror at the murder scene in front of me, shaking, feeling vomit rise in my stomach. I stepped forward, following the room round to the opium cupboard.
Slumped against the door was the small, mangled body of a little girl.
My hands flew to my mouth as I gagged, tears filling my eyes.
‘Li… Li…’ I stuttered as I knelt next to the tiny corpse. I recoiled in horror as my fingertips touched the soft, still warm skin of her bloody body.
I wiped the mascara from my cheek and stormed towards the laundromat, reaching into my purse for my revolver.
Santoro was stood at the counter, moving bags of opium and cash into a satchel.
‘You fucking monster!’ I screamed, pointing the gun at his head. ‘They were our friends! They were good people!’
Santoro sighed and raised an eyebrow, turning to face me. His facial expression didn’t waver as he looked down the barrel of my gun.
‘I was worried you’d react like this,’ he muttered, rubbing his forehead.
‘She was a fucking baby! She couldn’t even fucking talk, Dante! What were you hoping to gain from slaughtering an infant?’
‘What didya think we could do? Raise her as our fucking own? Wait for her to ask in ten years why she doesn’t look like mummy and daddy?’ he spat, lighting a cigarette. ‘Its business, Romano. They had the most successful opium den in the city.’
‘Oh, so now I’m Romano? I’m only Antonella when we’re fucking, eh?’
Santoro pursed his lips, looking deep within me with those goddamn eyes. I swore in Italian, closing my eyes and shaking my head. I heard him chuckle.
‘If you kill me, you will have the whole of New York on your back.’
‘I don’t fucking care,’ I hissed.
‘I made you, Romano. Without me you’d be working in a fucking whore house.’
‘What happened to us immigrants looking after each other, huh? All that bullshit about sticking together, that was just all talk to get me in the sheets?’
Santoro dropped his cigarette and stubbed it out with his shoe, his facial expression softening.
‘I’m building an empire, Antonella. It can be our empire.’
My eyes were cloudy with tears again. I dropped my arm and let out a sob, covering my mouth with my hand. Santoro walked towards me, wrapping his muscley arms around my petite frame. I wept into his chest, feeling his shirt absorb my tears.
‘It’s business, baby doll. It’s business.’
We remained in a tight embrace for several moments, his arms pulling me closer. His lips pressed against the sweating skin of my forehead.
‘Let’s go get a drink.’
‘Yeah. I’ll need a drink after this.’
I pushed the barrel of my gun deep into his abdomen and pulled the trigger until the cylinder was empty.
Lucy Nother is a second-year Creative Writing student at the University of Portsmouth. She writes poetry, short stories, and articles, citing Charles Bukowski and Irvine Welsh as her favourite writers. She runs a blog where she shares her thoughts and poems alongside her studies. You can find her here: