Risky Choices: Chapter One

God dammit. She did it. She actually did it. Greg stood frozen, slack-jawed in the dim alley next to the abandoned warehouse. He watched Vi slip her phone back into her designer bag. As she brushed a wavy hickory lock away from her cheek, he thought regret flashed, but then she set her shoulders and strode, cool as a cucumber on three-inch heels, away from the dock. Scarlet lipstick on her full lips, flawless as always. White pant suit pristine. Eyes dry.

As far as anyone was concerned, he’d been on that boat. Absently, he brushed a hand down his face, clearing the clinging wetness from his swim to shore. He stared down at his bare, cold feet as water dripped off his pants. Heartache swelled through him, thicker than the smoke rolling off the decimated boat’s flaming debris in the harbor.

It shouldn’t have hit him so hard. He’d taught Vi to be this way. That was it though. He couldn’t escape the yawning disparity between Violet then, that sweet, loving, law school grad, so full of life, hope, and ambition, and Vi now, the cold-hearted, double-crossing, in-it-for-the-thrill-of-the-kill harpy. What a difference a decade at his side had made.

He sucked in a heavy breath and reassured himself. He needed to be dead to save Vi’s life from both Big Tony and the Maple Gang. Now, they’d all think he was—all except the one person on the inside whose help he needed: Little Toni. They’d worked through the plan time and time again. But he could never see Vi making that phone call. Toni had assured him Vi would. Damn. She sure had, all right.

When this was all over, when Vi was safe, she’d understand why he’d been so cruel in the end, why he’d left. She had to. Maybe they could even go back to the way things were. Greg turned away from the wreckage and picked his way carefully down the narrow alley, side stepping broken glass, littered cardboard, newspapers, styrofoam, and plenty of unrecognizable junk. The warehouse had been abandoned for nearly twenty years, ever since Sara Rosa’s opened up across the city and strong-armed every other syrup manufacturer in a three-state radius out of business.

He reached the stack of boxes where he’d hidden an extra pair of shoes, a hat, and a coat yesterday morning, hoping they wouldn’t be discovered by a bum through the night. Sirens blared, their wails bouncing off the tall wharfside buildings, as emergency vehicles began arriving at the dock. He tossed the boxes aside and grabbed his shoes, swiping at the alley’s grime on his wet feet before putting the sneakers on. Shrugging into the dark coat, he flicked the collar up, tugged the hat down low, and stuffed his hands in his pockets, striding for the bus depot.

If the ticket booth attendant thought it odd that Greg carried his cash in a double sandwich bag stapled to the inside of his jeans pocket, she said nothing. He thought he might die from nerves in the thirty minutes he spent waiting for the long line bus to arrive. Every passenger boarding and departing might have been someone who recognized him. He pulled his hat down as low as he could and pretended to scrutinize the layered, ripped, and weathered posters plastered over a nearby brick wall half covered with graffiti.

When he finally slid into an empty seat near the middle of the bus, his entire body ached from tension that just wouldn’t give. He hunched down, trying to ignore the dampness still seeping into his joints, and pretended to mind his own business for the next four hours, hoping everyone else did too.

With each passing mile, he thought of Vi. His Violet. What he wouldn’t give to go back to their wedding day. To choose her over everything else. They should have never returned to the States from their honeymoon in Jamaica. They should have disappeared. He’d known it then but had been confident he could handle juggling the shipping business for Big Tony and the money laundering for the Maple Gang. One year, that was all it was supposed to take to clean the 12 million. Ten years, one marriage, and 220 million later, he finally understood what was most important in life.

When he stepped off the bus and into Little Toni’s waiting arms, he pictured Vi. Out of everything, she was least likely to forgive this, but it had to be done.

“My lover, back from the dead.” Toni giggled, slipping an arm through his, leaning close as they walked to her car.

Greg tried to smile. He hated her heavy musk perfume, her purple-streaked hair, her bright nail polish. Today, it was orange and black tiger stripes. Tomorrow, who the hell knew. Toni’s link between the Maple Gang and Big Tony, and Greg’s eventual exploitation of it were the only things that would save Vi’s life. He swallowed hard. “Nice nails.”

“Oh my god, aren’t they savage! Melinda said she couldn’t get me in until Friday, but I said…”

Greg tuned her out as rain began to drizzle, remembering Vi’s subtle floral scent mixed with something entirely her own. Her warm hickory waves. Her unassuming manicures. Someday, she’d understand everything he had to do…and he would understand why she made that phone call. He hoped.



by
Lily Bly

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