Chapter 10: Addiction
James shifted nervously from foot-to-foot, and tried to resist the urge to pull at the tie around his neck. He'd done hundreds of business meetings before, but this was far more unnerving than any of those. Mike had brought him before a man named Joseph Moretti.
Moretti could've been out of a catalogue for smooth criminals. He wore a black silk suit that James was sure cost at least a few thousand dollars, with a pressed, white shirt and blood red tie. His shoes were also custom-made leather. Over his time around the gangsters, James had come to learn they had a thing about custom shoes. Whether it was for comfort or it was a status sign, anyone that wasn't on the bottom rung of their ladder wore custom shoes. It made him slightly self-conscious of his own leather shoes.
It wasn't just Moretti's clothes that made him intimidating, though. The man had a way of looking at you. It was as if in one look he could see right through you: like there was no point in lying about anything because he already knew everything about you anyway. It was really made him feel inadequate in comparison.
The best part was, if you'd asked him that morning, James would've said he was an expert when it came to a business negotiation. Now he was forced to put that feeling of expertise into question. Could he really consider himself a master if he was still dwarfed by another's skill?
It was a full minute before Moretti even said a word to him, instead just staring him down. For that reason James expected he would feel a rush of relief when the man finally did speak. Instead he found it was the other way around. A flood of ice ran though his veins and he felt terrified, as if he were a hair's breath from death, and maybe he was.
"Mr. Kingston. You've worked with Michael a few times in these past couple of months, haven't you?"
The man's voice was low, but easy to hear because it carried itself so naturally. Still, it carried a frost to it, as if the very tone itself would cause lakes to freeze over. James gulped, opened his mouth to try and speak, but found it was still far too dry. He swallowed again and tried once more to talk to Moretti, finally finding the words.
"Yes sir, I have."
Those four words took more energy from him than an hour-long conference with another company head.
"I see. He says that you were rather helpful to us in helping secure several supplies and connection. For these reasons, he feels you are ready to take the next step in our family."
"Thank you, sir."
Moretti glared at him and James physically backed up a step. It was extremely unnerving to be so disarmed by another man's power. It made him fear for his very life, and more than a little envious. He had no doubt this man had never had to con anyone into a deal he wanted, Moretti could just demand what he wanted. James wanted that same flow of power.
"I said that Michael thought you ready, not that I did. Not a lot of men have the stomach for our line of work. I'm aware of what you did to Jacob Miles, but I wonder if you would have the strength to really take another's life just because I told you to."
It was then that James really understood why he was here. This was a test, of sorts, to see if he could join the organization. His instinct was to bow out and count himself lucky if he reached the car alive. However, as he opened his mouth, his self-preservation slowly died down by another feeling.
He recognized it in a way he hadn't truly known it before. It was a hunger, gnawing at his gut. He didn't want to kill, in fact he rather opposed it. But it wasn't the idea of killing someone that stuck with him. What came to him was the feeling he held as he pinned Miles to the elevator wall. He wanted that again, that power, the strength.
There was no more powerful moment than the one where you honestly, truly held the power of another man's life in your hands, and the purest form of that was controlling exactly when and where they died. That was what had burrowed into his mind. He wanted to feel it again; No, he needed to feel that, at least once more.
It was that thought that truly helped him make his mind up.
"Give me a target and tell me how we need it done."
The moment was incredible and instantaneous, as if James had swapped bodies with another man. He stood up straight, looked Moretti right in the eyes and spoke so solidly that his voice didn't waver for even a fraction of a second. The effect was not lost on Moretti who raised both eyebrows for a second, and then smiled at him.
"Ron Shelby. He's an insurance investigator who has been making things particularly annoying for me. We're going to provide you with a sawed-off shotgun and I want you to wait in his house. As soon as closes the door behind him, I want you to kill him. Then, be sure you leave his house through the back with the gun and get in the car we'll have parked there for you. You sure you can do this?"
"Not a problem."
James said, matching Moretti's smirk point-for-point. He also knew, in that moment, that his promise wasn't boasting or any false confidence. He would be able to kill Shelby and not think twice about it. Hell, he'd be more worried about the wine he and Connie would be drinking with dinner that night.
In a few hours, James was standing at the front door to Shelby's house and one of Mike's men was picking the door for him. James had once given some thought to picking up lockpicking as a hobby but he simple didn't have the steady hands it required. It certainly wasn't as easy as some TV shows made it look: as if anyone could grab a paperclip and have it open in ten seconds or less.
Still, Mike's guy was a professional and had the door open in a little under a minute. As soon as the door opened they heard the in house alarm system being to beep softly. Such systems were fairly standard and it meant that you had so long to enter the proper code before it would start blaring in earnest and send a warning to the company who owned it.
James figured that there probably was a way to hack the keypad and convince it that it had received the proper code, but it was far easier to just disable it. So, Mike's man removed the two screws holding it to the wall, and after a moment of fussing with the wires, he snipped two and the soft warning cut out.
"Alright," he said to James. "You should be all set. So, I'm gonna grab the car and be waiting a couple blocks over. Make sure you don't leave the gun behind, and don't freeze up after you shoot, just get out. Above anything else, if you get caught for fuck's sake don't sell out. We'll get you a good lawyer and bribe the right people if you just keep your damn mouth shut, you got it?"
James nodded and checked the slugs inside the shotgun for the third time. He couldn't deny that he was feeling nervous; well, actually that wasn't right. He wasn't nervous or anxious. He was eager, excited and positively manic: almost giddy. He even laughed to himself for a while. Still, over time he managed to calm himself down and sat down in a chair that had a view on the door and shut out the lights, deciding to go for the dramatic.
It was always a huge power move in the movie when someone got home only to hear a voice speaking from the darkness. However, the trade off that wasn't discussed was how truly boring it was to be the one just waiting. It was really incredibly dull to just sit in a pitch-black house waiting for someone to open the door.
Still, he'd made his decision and he was stubborn enough that he was going to see this through. So he waited. And waited. And waited some more. After what was surely almost a full hour, he heard the door lock scrap a little as Shelby managed to insert his key into the lock. Another couple seconds passed as he opened the door, then shut it behind him. It was as he reached over to disable the alarm that he realized something was wrong. At that second James turned on the lights.
Shelby turned around, covering his eyes from the sudden burst of light. As his eyes refocused, James could see Shelby realize what was going on, and fear flashed through him. It was the very moment he'd been waiting for, because in that second, in that moment, James owned him. Shelby knew it didn't matter what he did. Oh sure, fight or flight would win out and he would inevitably try to do whatever he could, but it wouldn't really matter.
"Hi there, Ron," said James cheerfully, as if greeting a friend.
In that moment, in a weird way, he supposed he was sort of Shelby's friend. He was, after all, the last thing that the man was ever going to see. Granted, that didn't make him a good friend, but at least Shelby wouldn't die alone. It just another thing that James had taken control of. Shelby's fight instincts finally kicked in and he reached for his hip where he doubtless had a pistol.
It really wasn't a contest. James had already had his shotgun out and pointed right at his target. They could've replayed that moment one hundred times and James doubted it would've turned out any different. The spread shot spread through Shelby and he stumbled backwards, slamming into the wall and slowly sliding down the to the floor. His back left smears of blood running down the beige walls.
"W-why?" asked Shelby, coughing.
"Shhhhh," said James standing up. "It's just business friend."
James pulled the other trigger and fired the slug right through Shelby's head. It was amazing. His body automatically went through what he was supposed to do, stuffing the gun under his overcoat and sprinting out the back door. However, he didn't feel any panic, or remorse for that moment. He felt elation flood through him, as if he'd just slammed some drug into his arm, only far exciting.
Later he would reflect on that moment and have a proper name for the endorphin that had hit him at that moment: dopamine. It was a feel-good drug that the brain released upon completing something that it was anticipating was going to happen, and right then and there James' brain was overflowing with dopamine.
It was like running on air, like he was less a man and more a force of nature. He pushed through the crowd of people and ignored their shouts of indignation, running right to the black car parked on the side of the street. As he landed in the back seat the car started up and Mike's man began to drive him off the street.
"You do it?" he asked.
"Done and done," James said, a broad smile on his face.
"Damn, I owe Mike a grand."
"You bet against me?" James asked, honestly surprised.
"Nothing personal, just most pedigree children like you don't have the guts for this type of thing, but hey I've been wrong before."
James laughed earnestly.
"Sucks to be you," he said as the drove through Chicago's busy streets back towards Moretti's place.