An excerpt from the book “The Blood Ring.”
Steve Bastione believed he was a reasonable man. He did not consider himself an animal; a savage from the north coast slums. Sure, the Black Dragons were infamous for their brutal ways, but things had changed. Fame and fortune had opened a new frontier for the little-known group of drug dealers. Overnight, they had become celebrities. They were entrepreneurs in charge of a savvy business-machine, selling gang-related paraphernalia to the masses. The trade in textile goods didn’t deliver as much cash as distributing narco-psychotics. The legitimate enterprises, however, did give the Black Dragons avenues to launder the income.
All thanks to one angel. A girl whose natural beauty scored the attention of a population. Her influence on the street fashion scene changed the fortunes of an entire region. She placed Valeria Coast on the map. Her face sold more gang-issued bandanas off channel than all her commercial sponsors put together.
Steve struggled not to dwell on it. Her death affected him alone, the business had escaped unscathed. He dealt with the loss in his own way. Methodical, calm and patient, he would execute his vengeance.
He waited for Doctor Gus to regain consciousness. His real name was Glennie Lauderbach. A psychology intern working at the Psychomax Facility. When Doctor Gus opened his eyes, he grimaced from the throbbing ache Steve knew he suffered. He reached up and rubbed the left side of his face; his cheekbone, temple, and jaw. The man sported a ginger-fro and sickly white skin.
A self-prescribed Lava user, Steve thought.
“Why you call yourself Doctor Gus?” asked Steve. “How the fuck did you come up with a name like that?”
“Is that tea I smell?” said the ginger-fro.
“I helped myself,” said Steve, annoyed that this joker had ignored his question. Pressed for time he played along. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Nah, go ahead.”
“All there is, is this full strength stuff, but you wouldn’t know. This is not even your place.”
Doctor Gus looked around, a frantic disorientation visible on his face. His eyes screamed… Where am I? …eventually focusing on the sink.
“Yes, that right,” said Steve. “You’re still here.” He could see the panic begin to claw at Doctor Gus.
The back door opened with a loud thud. A troll of a man entered the kitchen, sizing up Doctor Gus with small beady eyes. The man lunged forward, seizing him by the left ear and slammed his face onto the table. Steve grabbed a chair and sat in front of Doctor Gus.
“Can we be civilized about this?” offered Doctor Gus, sounding sincere.
“No,” said Steve to the nasty-looking man whose inner ugliness permeated out from deep within his corrupted soul. “I prefer Mango caves your face in with his fist. Can you estimate the size and density of this man’s knuckles? I figure those could do serious damage if misused. There will be no respite from the pain. First, you will be feeling a skull-cracking headache coming on… “
“I get the drift, mate. Call ‘im off.”
Steve signalled to Mango, who immediately released him.
Doctor Gus climbed off the table and fell back into a chair offered to him. “What’s this shit?” he said. “I’ve nothing with you.”
“Oh, but you do, cocksucker.”
“We’ve never met before.”
“Then you have a short fucking memory.”
Doctor Gus seemed to strain his glassy eyes. “I’m attempting to fathom who you are and what you’re talking about, and why the harsh, rampant anger.”
“Nothing?” asked Steve. “No clue?”
“I don’t know you, mate.”
“You do know Eddy, right?”
Doctor Gus suddenly looked less confused, “You’re the new janitor. What the hell did I do to you, mate.”
“You treated Edward Raymundo Jaramillo, right.”
“And the rest, so fucking what?”
“Yeah, but you’re the one who helped set him free.” Steve could see the clarity ooze inside Doctor Gus’s eyes. And the fear.
He knows I know.
“What are you on about?” Doctor Gus said, his stubbornness becoming annoying.
“I know you were behind the fire in the Psychomax dorm, dickhead. At the time I couldn’t figure why you’d pull such a stunt. I thought maybe you caused the diversion to pillage the fucking drug locker or something. For me the timing was perfect, but in all the mayhem that rapist fucker got away. Some fucking coincidence, eh cunt?”
“Who are you anyway?” Doctor Gus insisted, studying the tattoos on men’s forearms. “Black Dragons? You don’t know shit, matey.”
“I suggest you keep your cockiness to a minimum,” warned Steve. “Mango over here insists we go brutal on ya.”
Mango’s demeanour shifted from mildly threatening to an outright dangerous one.
“Do you know what desperation is?” asked Steve. “Desperation is when one must cripple a security worker to steal data from the surveillance booth. Desperation is when one is prepared to mutilate another human being to get some cooperation. Mango here has this trick. He can effortlessly pluck off a person’s ears — the way the skin rips across the face is…” Steve shivered, “Brrrrrr… it’s disgusting.”
“The important word I’m hearing,” said Doctor Gus. “…is cooperation. All the rest is rubbish, mate. I’m happy to help you fellas out.”
“Who the fuck are you if you don’t mind me asking?”
“The name doesn’t ring a bell, but from the way you’ve expressed it, I’m figuring you’re some powerful corporate luminary or a distinguished thug. So, what the hell did Eddy do to upset you this much?”
“Take off your clothes.”
After considering it for a moment, Doctor Gus complied, slipping off his shirt, sports pants and… he gave Steve a questioning look.
Steve Bastione nodded.
With bare testicles, Doctor Gus sat back onto the chair. Steve examined the ginger-fro’s pale body. The lack of any markings confused him. “No tatts?”
“None whatsoever,” grunted Mango.
“No,” confirmed Doctor Gus.
Steve frowned, “This makes no sense.”
Naked and shivering, Doctor Gus seemed aggrieved, “Can you explain why I’m freezing my tits off, fellas?”
Steve hesitated before offering an explanation. “Eddy Raymundo stalked, raped and butchered Anne Bastione, and then escaped a murder conviction by successfully pleading insane.”
“That’s upsetting but still…”
“She was my sister.”
“Okay. I understand. I see this is personal. I get it. The justice system sucks. You must know I played absolutely no part in it.”
The Scarazzai Girl.
Her murder had horrified the city. The news cycle lasted an eternity, followed by a circus trial that nearly pushed him to the brink of suicide. The memories of those events disgusted Steve, fuelling his need for retribution, “No more fucking cops. No more fucking court cases.”
“Okay, done. Way to go, vigilante.”
“I’m going to conclude this fuckin’ matter myself. We’re going through my fucking legal system this time. If you don’t cooperate with me, there will be a world of hurt headed your way.”
“I understand. But first, I’d like to ask how did you find me here?”
“Mango followed you here from where you live. Going forward, I ask the questions and you provide the answers. For starters, why did you spring that cocksucker outa the Psychomax?”
“It’s a long and complicated story. It has nothin’ to do with your sister’s death. The two situations are unrelated. I haven’t wronged you. I can help you get your hands on Eddy if that is what you want.”
“Why are you talking? Why is your mouth moving?”
“Can I make a proposition?
“That’s a fucking question.”
“I’m answering your question.”
Steve glared at him, hoping to intimidate him into telling something close to the truth.
“Tatars paid me to get him out,” admitted Doctor Gus.
“Those fucking cunts,” Steve allowed the rage to settle, “What the fuck for?”
Doctor Gus seemed to struggle to find the words. “They want him to recreate what he did.”
Steve bit his lip. “To my sister? How much was it worth?”
“About a hundred thousand, but if you give me rights to whatever you do to him, I could fetch you at least a million.”
Steve raised an eyebrow, “Really?”
“You don’t know?”
Steve refrained from answering, instead, he said, “This sad existence you lead is no business of mine. You are going to deliver to me, Eddy Ray. I don’t care if you have a prior commitment with the Tatars, he belongs to me. Do we understand each other?”
Doctor Gus nodded. A mix of fear, dread, and remorse rippled across his face. “I have managed to keep my little gig under the radar for a long time. Even my most brazen productions, my biggest money earners, not one has ever come back to bite me in the ass. The system is foolproof, the encryption is un-hackable, and the identities are untraceable, so I need to be sure before sharing any of this with someone.”
“Sure of what?”
“That you appreciate what I do.”
“You’ve made an assumption that us two are alike.” Steve Bastione’s disgust elevated to a new level. “You feel no remorse for engaging in these debauched activities, but you will for making the mistake of getting in my way. This lack of diligence is going to cost you. This seedy passion of yours has come to an end. So get the fuck out of here before you discover what I do to ease the pain.”
Doctor Gus stood up to leave. “How do I contact you?”
“You ask way too many questions,” Steve said. “You must want Mango to twist your ears off?”
Doctor Gus smiled. Steve wondered if he actually saw a funny aspect of his predicament.
After taking two steps, Doctor Gus turned back to him and asked, “How he get to be called Mango?”
Steve was taken aback by the question. The man’s tenacity to pry into uncharted sentiments, to coax a relationship based on some kind of common ground, intrigued him. He saw a danger in that, but he wanted this man’s cooperation, so Steve indulged him. “He used to live in a house with this old mango tree dominating the back of the yard. I’ve been told this thing grew the tastiest fruit. Beyond the fence, there was the railway and in between was a walkway. Now from memory, I don’t know if somebody was frequently stealing the mangoes or whether it was a one-time offence…”
“It was just that one time,” corrected Mango, his voice soft and friendly.
Steve held out his hand, “There you go, a one-time offender. Mango happened to be out smoking in his yard, enjoying the sound of passing trains.”
“I was taking a piss,” said Mango.
“I was taking a piss,” the big man reiterated.
“He was taking a piss when he busts this kid with his hand around a ripe mango…” Steve looked over at Mango.
Mango nodded so Steve continued, “This kid picked a mango from one of the lower branches like he was on a farm or something. Now, imagine how much you would shit your pants if you saw a beast like this guy jump over a fence. Well, this kid didn’t shit his pants. Instead, the kid held his ground and quarrelled with this beast over his right to forage or some bullshit like that. One thing led to another and this beast ended picking the kid up by the neck and began shaking him like a rag doll. The kid fainted, fell, hit his head, and died. Over a fucking mango.”
“Fuck him,” stated Mango.
Steve turned back to Doctor Gus, “You see, the value of life is relative. To Mango, the kid’s life was cheap. He snores peacefully at night. But to the kid’s mother that life was the most valuable thing in the universe. It’s all fucking relative.”
Doctor Gus gulped. He looked indecisive on how to respond.
Steve continued, “I’ll leave how you contact me to your discretion, just arrange me access to that animal.”
“There’s something upstairs you need to see,” said Doctor Gus.
Steve glanced at Mango, who shrugged. They follow Doctor Gus upstairs to one of the bedrooms. Doctor Gus opened the door and let them look inside. Steve felt overwhelmed when the saw the naked corpse on the bed. The woman’s dark blood drenched the entire mattress. Cameras and pin-lights were strategically placed around the room. The smell was pungent yet fresh. For some inane reason, Steve suspected that the ginger-fro believed that Mango and he would appreciate this. Yet, despite the revulsion in his heart, or the empathy stinging his soul, the insidious spark of greed contaminated Steve’s thoughts.
Doctor Gus must have read their faces because the fear, dread, and remorse manifested again in his eyes. “I guess the Black Dragons are new to this sort of thing,” he said.
“Mango,” said Steve. “Go get a bag.”