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Savage Lover: Chapter 23


I’m robbing a bank today.

It seems completely unreal. Standing in my tiny, dingy kitchen, everything looks so prosaic and familiar that I can’t imagine myself doing anything but the normal activities of cooking, cleaning, or working in the auto bay.

Yet tonight, I move from (mostly) law-abiding citizen to full-out criminal.

Nero and I have our plan in place. I know what I’m supposed to do.

Yet I can’t help focusing on the thousand ways it could all go wrong. If I forget a single part of it. If I make just one mistake . . .

No. That can’t happen.

I try to picture my Dad, the very first time he showed me how to take apart an engine and put it back together again.

These are complicated machines. You’ve got to be like a machine yourself. There’s no room for mistakes.

The plan is one big engine. I’ve got to be methodical and accurate like never before.

I’m painfully tense, during the first part of the day. I remind Vic that he has a shift at the Stop n’ Shop after school. I make sure he remembers to grab his lunch bag out of the fridge. I bring my Dad breakfast in bed. I swap out a pair of brake pads down in the shop. Then I make lunch for my Dad. This time, he’s able to come sit at the table to eat with me.

“Are you alright, mija?” he says. “You look pale. Are you getting sick?”

“Of course not,” I say. “You know I never get sick.”

“Yes you do,” he says, smiling sadly. “You just never complain about it.”

“I’ve got to go out tonight, Dad,” I tell him. “Vic’s at work—will you be okay here alone?”

“Absolutely,” he says. “You don’t have to baby me, sweetheart. I’m getting better all the time. I’ll be back downstairs working soon enough.”

Seeing as he can barely hobble around the apartment, I doubt that very much. But I’m glad he’s feeling optimistic.

“You call me if you need anything,” I tell him.

“I’ll be fine. I’m gonna watch Once Upon A Time in Hollywood tonight—it’s playing on Showtime. Now that’s a movie with gorgeous cars. Tarantino loves a classic car. I read he used two thousand of them, just to fill up the streets in the background. You remember what Brad Pitt drives in that movie?”

“I dunno.” My Dad and Vic and I all went to see the movie in a theater. We were mesmerized, all the way through. Not just by the cars—by the way it sucked us into 1969, like we were living every minute of it. “Oh, wait!” I say. “Was it a Cadillac?”

“You got it!” Dad says, grinning. “A ‘66 DeVille. The same car Tarantino used in Reservoir Dogs.”

“How do you know that?”

“I read Entertainment Weekly while I’m waiting in line at the grocery store. Not now, obviously. But when I used to get the groceries.”

“Well, you better get back to that soon, Dad. ‘Cause I keep forgetting the milk, and when I tell Vic to bring some home, he gets that awful pink stuff. Puts it in his cereal and everything. It’s disgusting.”

“Your brother is deeply disturbed,” Dad agrees, nodding somberly.

It makes me so happy to see him joking around again. I reach across the table to hug him, ignoring the fact that I’m covered in grease and he’s still frail under his robe.

“Good luck on your date tonight,” Dad says, winking at me.

I flush. “It’s not a date.”

“Sure, sure,” he says. “I’m just glad to see you going out. You deserve it, Camille.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

It’s stupid, but my father wishing me luck actually does calm me down a little. I head back down to the shop to finish up my work for the day, then I shower and change my clothes.

Only then am I ready to call Schultz.

The phone rings several times. I shift uneasily, worried that he’s not going to pick up. He’s probably pissed at me for ignoring all his calls and texts lately.

Finally, I hear his drawling voice saying, “This better be good.”

“It is,” I tell him. “I found where Levi makes his product.”

“Are you sure?” Schultz says, unable to hide the eagerness in his voice.

“Pretty sure.”

“Are you at the shop? I’m coming to pick you up.”

“Yeah,” I say. “See you in a minute.”

Forty minutes later, I’m at the police station, having been brought in through the back door by Schultz.

I’ve got my shirt off, so that a female officer can tape a microphone between my breasts.

“Don’t you have a better way of doing this?” I ask Schultz.

“This is the better way,” he tells me. “This thing is a quarter the size it used to be. You got a transmitter, microphone, and battery pack and it’s all barely bigger than a zippo.”

“I just . . . I feel like someone will see it.”

“Nah,” Schultz says, letting his eyes roam over my breasts. “You’ve got a pretty big . . . crevice to hide it.”

I see the female officer narrow her eyes, shooting a dirty look back at Schultz, but he doesn’t even notice.

“So how do I know when you’re all gonna bust in?” I ask Schultz.

“We can’t just break down the door for no reason. You’ve got to get Levi to take you down to the lab. Then you gotta get him to incriminate himself, on tape.”

“What if he won’t?”

Schultz smiles coldly. “Then you’re on your own.”


“You’re all set,” the female cop says.

I pull my t-shirt back over my head, turning and bending a little to make sure the microphone stays put.

“How does it feel?” she asks me.


“You’ll get used to it,” Schultz assures me.

I see a dozen other officers suiting up in bulletproof vests and tactical gear. They’re planning to make a raid on Levi’s lab.

But only if I can create probable cause for them to enter. If I fuck this up, Schultz says I’ll be high and dry. All on my own in Levi’s basement.

And that’s not the worst part—the worst part would be Nero and Sebastian, stuck at the bank with no getaway driver.

That can’t happen. I can’t let them down.

As I’m about to leave the room, Schultz grabs my arm, pulling me back inside. It’s just me and him—the other officers are getting ready.

“Where’s your boyfriend tonight?” he asks me.

“He’s out of town,” I say, blandly.

“Does he know you’re ratting out Levi Cargill tonight?”

“He doesn’t give a fuck about Levi,” I say.

Schultz has his fingers wrapped around my wrist, holding me close so I can’t take a step back from him. He’s finally wearing his uniform again, like the first night I met him. The deep navy blue makes him look stern and formal. But his eyes are burning brighter than ever beneath the brim of his cap.

“I’ve seen you two together,” he hisses. “I followed you out to the bluffs. Saw you in the backseat of his car . . .”

My skin crawls, knowing what night he’s talking about. Nero fucked me in the backseat of the Mustang until the windows were running with steam, and both of us were drenched in sweat.

Schultz was watching us the whole time?

That fucking creep.

“That’s an interesting use of police time,” I mutter.

“I wasn’t on duty that night,” Schultz says.

I try to pull my wrist out of his grip, but he holds on tight, not letting me move an inch.

“I thought you were smarter than that,” Schultz says. “A girl like you . . . with a body like that . . . you could have picked a better class of man. You still could.”

“Are you talking about yourself?” I ask him.

“Why not?”

I look up into his face, furious and disdainful.

“Because say what you want about Nero . . . he never forced me to do a damn thing I didn’t want to do.”

I twist my wrist, wrenching it out of Schultz’s grip.

“For a bad guy, he’s a pretty good guy,” I tell him.

Then I push past Schultz, leaving him alone in the interrogation room.

It’s almost ten o’clock. I’ve got to get over to the lab.

I’m standing on the doorstep of 379 Mohawk Street. Nero and I found this place via the property records for Evan Cargill.

After Ali let slip her little comment about Levi and his brother, Nero and I put two and two together. Levi sells drugs out of his house on Hudson Ave. But he makes them in his brother’s basement.

While Evan has been squandering his inheritance in Ibiza, Levi’s been using his house. Now that big brother is coming home, Levi’s pissed because he’s got to find a new location for his lab.

Nero and I confirmed all this by doing a little spying of our own. Taking a page out of Schultz’s book, we tracked Levi to the Mohawk Street house, which he apparently visits every Thursday night to pick up the product for the week. Or I should say, his trusty bodyguard Sione picks it up, while Levi makes sure he never carries so much as a single pill on his person.

But he does come to the house. And that’s where I’ve got to meet him. If I have any hope of Schultz getting rid of my unwanted “boss” once and for all.

I knock on the door, bouncing nervously on the balls of my feet while I wait for someone to answer. I can feel the microphone between my breasts. I’m sweating a little, and I’m afraid the tape might come loose. I try to hold still, so I don’t jostle it any more than necessary.

At last the door cracks. I have to look up to meet Sione’s stern, unsmiling gaze.

“I need to see Levi,” I tell him.

He stares at me, like he’s thinking about slamming the door in my face. Then he cracks it just wide enough for me to pass.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Levi demands, the second I step inside. He’s standing there with Pauly, Sione, and a guy I don’t know. All four of them look tense and irritated. Nobody is laying around smoking weed here—the Hudson Street house may be for partying, but Mohawk is all business.

“Who the fuck told you about this place?” Levi shouts.

“Nero sent me,” I say, quickly.

“What?” Levi says, narrowing his eyes.

“He wants to make a deal with you.”

“What kind of deal?”

“He wants product. A lot of it.”

Levi casts a swift glance at Sione. I think I see his huge shoulders lift and lower in a near-imperceptible shrug.

“Why did he send you?” Levi says.

“I’m his girlfriend.”

“His girlfriend?” Levi hoots.

Pauly mutters something to Levi, maybe confirming what I’ve said. Levi’s face changes in an instant, becoming much more respectful.

“I didn’t know that,” he says.

“He wants me to check out the lab. If he likes what I tell him, his family will place an order.”

“This ain’t McDonald’s,” Levi says, frowning. “I don’t usually manufacture for anybody else.”

“Fine,” I say, coldly. “I’ll tell the Gallos what you said.”

“What, like . . . all of them?” Levi says, looking nervously from me to his men.

“Yeah, all of them,” I say. “Enzo’s been letting you run your little operation in his neighborhood. I would think you’d want to stay on friendly terms with the Gallos. But don’t let me tell you how to run your business.”

Levi licks his lips, irritated by but not quite bold enough to lip off about the Gallos.

“Fine,” he says, shortly. “Let’s go down.”

I already told Schultz I was going to use the Gallos as a cover story. Still, I hope he doesn’t get any bright ideas about using that part of the tape as evidence.

I follow Levi down the creaking wooden stairs to the basement.

It’s about twenty degrees hotter down here. I was already flushed and overheated from the stress of lying to a bunch of tightly-wound drug dealers. Now my skin starts to sweat worse than ever. I wipe my forehead with the back of my hand, not wanting Levi to notice.

“Don’t you have AC?” I ask.

Levi shrugs. “It’s hot in the kitchen,” he says.

The basement is large, but low-ceilinged. Only tiny windows set high in the walls lead to the outside. The space is totally unfinished—bare concrete floors and exposed struts. Still, there really is an industrial “kitchen” of sorts, with vats, a distillery, and a hood that vents into the backyard.

The three “cooks” are dressed in boxer shorts, leather aprons, heavy-duty gloves, and rain boots. They’re all wearing face-masks. Sweat drips down their exposed skin.

I have no idea what they’re doing. I can see various stages of drug-making in process, but I don’t know what any of it means.

“So where do you get your ingredients?” I ask Levi.

“The precursor ingredients come from China,” he says. “You start with safrole. Then you make methylamine hydrochloride from formaldehyde and ammonium chloride.”

I nod my head like I know what any of that means. Vic would understand. Hopefully Schultz does too, on the other end of the wire.

Levi continues his explanation, pointing out the various stages of drug-making. I keep nodding and egging him on, hoping this is enough “incriminating evidence” for Schultz to bust down the door. In fact, I expect to hear the cops breaking in any second.

I sneak a quick glance at my watch. It’s twenty to eleven. Not only do I need to get Schultz in here, I also need to get out myself. I’m supposed to pick up Nero and the others at 11:05 precisely.

“Then you crystallize the MDMA oil by combining it with hydrochloric acid and isopropyl alcohol,” Levi finishes.

“Sounds like a lot of work,” I say, weakly.

“Yeah, it’s a shit-ton of work,” Levi says. “And don’t touch anything ‘cause there’s mercury fucking everywhere.”

Great. I’m probably taking a week off my life every minute I spend down here.

“Satisfied?” Levi sneers. “Gonna give me a good report to Nero?”

“Yeah,” I say. “It all looks . . . great.”

“What the fuck is that?” Pauly says, pointing to my stomach.

In slow motion, I look down. Without me even noticing, the tape peeled off my sweat-soaked skin, and the microphone fell out of my shirt. It’s now dangling by my crotch, hanging at the end of its wire.

Quicker than I can blink, Levi pulls a knife and slashes the front of my shirt. He rips it open, revealing the loose tape, the microphone, and the battery pack. He rips it off of me, throwing it to the ground and stomping on it until it’s a mess of broken plastic.

“You’re a fucking rat,” he says, blue eyes alight with fury.

“Yeah, and the cops will be here any second, so don’t even think about using that,” I say, eyeing the switchblade in his hand.

To my shock and dismay, Levi just laughs.

“I don’t think so,” he spits. “I have a signal jammer in every corner of this house. The cops didn’t hear shit from that recording. Which means nobody’s coming to save you.”

He jerks his head at Sione.

“Get rid of her,” he says.

Sione seizes me by the arm and starts dragging me up the stairs.

“No!” I shriek. “You don’t want to do this!”

“I absolutely do,” Levi says, carelessly.

Sione is dragging me like I’m a rag doll. It takes zero effort for him to pull me back up to the main floor, and into the actual kitchen.

I struggle and flail with all my strength. I might as well be punching a wall. He doesn’t seem to feel any of it.

“Don’t!” I beg him. “If you kill me, Nero’s gonna—”

“I don’t work for Nero,” Sione grunts. “I work for Levi.”

With that, he closes his massive hands around my throat and starts to squeeze.

In the two seconds of blood flow I have left, I close my eyes and try to picture what Nero would do in this situation.

I remember what he told me:

You’re always going to be the smaller opponent. So don’t even try to play fair. Hit them in the vulnerable spots: eyes, nose, throat, kneecaps, groin, feet.

With every bit of my remaining strength, I stomp down hard on Sione’s instep. Then I boot him again, right in the kneecap. His trunk-like leg buckles under him, and his hands loosen slightly around my throat. That’s when I kick him as hard as I can in the balls.

He lets go of me for an instant, doubling over. I grab the knife Nero gave me out of my pocket, and I whip it open just like he showed me. Then I stab it down into Sione’s shoulder.

I could have tried to stab him in the neck. But even in my desperation, I don’t want to kill him.

That turns out to be a huge mistake.

As I turn to flee, Sione grabs my ankle, jerking my legs out from under me. I crash down on my stomach, knocking the air out of my lungs. My chin hits the linoleum, cracking my teeth together and biting my tongue hard enough to fill my mouth with blood.

Sione is dragging me back toward him, his eyes rage-filled and murderous. I flip over and kick upwards at him, but it’s useless. He’s just too fucking strong.

He grabs me by the tattered remains of my shirt and jerks me toward him, swinging one massive fist at my face.

Wildly, I grab for the only thing at hand—a cast-iron fry-pan on the stove. The pan connects with the side of his head a millisecond before his fist can cave in my face. The blow jolts him, and his fist grazes off my forehead instead, still hitting me hard enough to fill my vision with stars.

Still, I manage to grab the handle of the knife and jerk it out of his shoulder.

We both stumble backward, in opposite directions. I’ve got the knife, and he’s got about a hundred and fifty pounds on me. We circle each other, Sione looking dazed but deadly.

Meanwhile, I hear somebody stomping up the steps.

Levi yells, “What the fuck is going on up there? Don’t tell me you need help with one little—”

At that moment, the front door explodes inward under the force of a police battering ram. Somebody tosses a metal canister into the house, and it rolls into the hallway between the kitchen and living room.

Sione stares at it, his brain not quite back to normal speed.

I sprint toward the back door. I wrench it open just as the canister explodes. The light and noise are blinding.

The force flings me down the back steps onto the grass. Even though I only caught part of it, I’m crawling around blind, my ears ringing. I know I don’t have a second to waste. I sprint for the back fence, only able to see a blurry outline of where I’m going. I vault over it, skinning both arms, but dropping down safe on the other side.

I’m flooded with adrenaline, my body telling me to run, run, run away from Levi’s house as fast as I can.

Instead, I army-crawl through his neighbor’s yard, circling back around.

I can see the cops swarming into Levi’s house, shouting, “GET DOWN! GET DOWN!” to everybody inside.

Looks like enough time passed that Schultz got worried. Or he managed to pick up some of the recording.

I don’t really give a shit anymore. Schultz is occupied, so I did my job. Or at least, most of it. There’s one more thing I need . . .

My vision is starting to come back, though everything still sounds muffled, with a constant high whine over top.

I’m creeping around to the back of the police cars, to the van at the edge of the roped-off street.

Taking a deep breath, and staying low, I jog out from the neighbor’s yard to the driver’s side door. It’s unlocked. There’s no key in the ignition, but that’s not a problem. Using Nero’s knife, I turn the screws on the steering column, then strip the insulation off the battery and ignition wires. Twisting them together, the dashboard lights up. I take a quick peek out the front windshield, to make sure that hasn’t attracted any attention. The cops are all facing the other direction, focused on the house.

I grab the starter wire and spark it against the other two.

The engine revs to life.

Fucking bingo.

Resisting the urge to burn rubber, I quietly pull away from the curb and drive off without anybody noticing.


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