Bad Blood Empire, страница 1часть #2 серии Cold Blooded Series
Bad Blood Empire
Copyright © 2017 by Hale Chamberlain
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental
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“The man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world.” – Oscar Wilde
Nothing in Raphael Mattei and Mustafa Mansouri’s upbringings could have foreshadowed the profound brotherly love that would connect the two men for most of their adult lives. Raphael had spent his childhood surrounded by caring and at times overprotective clansmen on a Mediterranean island of ravishing beauty. He had moved to London in pursuit of a career as a stockbroker, following a thwarted attempt to assume executive responsibilities in the family business. Despite an undeniable business acumen, he lacked his father’s grit – a requisite quality for whoever pretended to rule over the Mattei clan one day.
Always keen to cozy up his friends, Raphael liked to point out that he would not have survived a week in Mustafa's shoes as a child. Mouss, as he had been called for as far as he could remember, had never uttered the slightest complaint about his violence-ridden childhood. He only felt gratitude for the way his life had played out and knew that the chances of his reaching the age of forty had been slim. Many of his childhood friends had been less fortunate. They were either rotting behind bars or lying for eternity six feet under, their cadavers most likely tarnished with lead bullets or stab wounds, their flesh possibly burnt beyond all recognition.
And yet, it was glaringly obvious to the two men that those opposite fortunes from such an early age had been the perfect foundation for the mutual respect they shared for each other. When all differences were stripped away, only the most genuine form of human camaraderie remained. They couldn't help bursting out in laughter repeatedly as they reminisced about the grotesque beginnings of their improbable friendship.
Just a few minutes away from London’s bustling Soho neighborhood, the upmarket Japanese establishment they had chosen for their reunion was hardly a place of excess. The restaurant had been modeled after an edo era Tokyoite eating house to such accuracy that, upon walking in, Mustafa had caught himself wishing that an assembly of geishas made a dramatic entrance wearing only their traditional flowery silk kimonos. That would have been fitting, he thought, snapping out of his sweet reverie.
This was no place for lust, however, and the two men promptly turned their attention to the colorful mouth-watering delicacies the renowned Japanese chef crafted before their awe-struck eyes. Oddly enough, the prestige of the establishment had no bearing on their rough manners. After downing unapologetically a lavish assortment of fresh tuna and salmon nigiris, they moved downstairs to a private booth in the middle of the lounge area reserved for club members. The discussion that took place when the waiter appeared to take their order would have puzzled any regular of the London club scene, yet it was a fairly common one amongst the high finance circles of the City.
"Good evening Gentlemen," the waiter said. "My name is Cameron, and I will be at your service for the night. Have you had a chance to look at the menu?"
“That’s very polite of you Cameron, but we won’t need the menu.” Raphael gave him a wry smile. “Please bring us two glasses of your best off-menu wine. And two glasses of your best vodka.” He marked a pause, and added, “Actual vodka.” Mustafa was unfazed.
The waiter immediately got the hint, nodded and disappeared at the back of the room.
“Can you believe that I’ve been a member for almost a year and after all that time, they still don’t treat me as a regular? I’m always ordering the same shit. And they keep hiring and firing their staff.” He ran his hand across his long jet-black mane so characteristic of Corsican men. “How do they expect customers to feel relaxed when we keep seeing new faces?” He frowned and added, “Mouss, you and I both know that making the customer feel at ease is the first step to the sale.”
"I have no idea what you are referring to." Mustafa grinned almost against his will but decided to set the conversation on a different course, at least until his brother arrived. "Not everyone is as shrewd a businessman as you Mattei. How is your company doing by the way? I know that Zak is killing it but his contrarian strategies are going against the grain and most asset classes have taken a beating lately."
Raphael's face became stern for the first time of the evening, and Mustafa immediately regretted bringing up the subject so abruptly.
He felt some instant relief thought, as the waiter reappeared full-handed. The man was holding a silver plate on which had been placed two glasses, a bottle of Belvedere Vodka, a small wooden box embossed with the emblem of the restaurant, and two thin steel straws. He set the box delicately at the center of the ebony table and laid down the straws in front of the two patrons with gentleness akin to someone manipulating priceless pieces of art. He opened the bottle for them and poured the liquor generously. He was about to spell out the house rules when Raphael Mattei signaled with his hand that they were to be left alone. The waiter bowed his head in consent and hurried back to the bar.
Mustafa opened the box, picked up the cloth bag that was inside and, with a tiny spoon, proceeded to extract some of its content. He drew a line of the white powder in front of Raphael and another one on his side of the table. Then, they resumed their conversation, occasionally bowing their head, straw in hand, and, as if it was the most natural and innocent thing in the world, snorting some cocaine.
When Zakariya Mansouri joined them about an hour later, the cozy private club had filled up considerably. The troves of patrons in designer suits, tie loosened, were in search of a second wind after a day's labor. The rare women were playing a game of conceited innocence in the hope of securing a rich companion. Delightful entertainment for anyone under the influence of either alcohol or cocaine. Raphael and Mustafa were guilty on both counts, although their stout builds – or rather chubby in Raphael's case – went a long way toward attenuating the effects of the opioids.
"Raphy, you gangster! You look worse than ever and yet I've missed you," Zakariya said as he took seat next to Mustafa, patting his brother on the shoulder. He shook Raphael's hand across the table, and added, "You need to stop snacking on those salty crisps, or you'll have to pay a visit to your tailor sooner than you think." The banter was obvious, but Raphael knew appearances mattered, in London perhaps more than anywhere else on the planet.
Zakariya was wearing a dark brown bespoke suit from Gieves & Hawkes – his favorite Savile Row tailor – and a tar-and-black striped seersucker tie. He had always been obsessed with shoes and was sporting a pair of we
“Look at this brat,” Raphael said. “Looking more like a metrosexual by the day. You’re like a black David Beckham, except uglier.”
Mustafa burst out in laughers, and added, "Tell me about it. The man’s barely reached puberty, and he's giving advice to everyone."
“Good advice,” Zakariya replied, and shifting his head to Raphael, “Besides I can’t even remember how many times I’ve saved your life, and you’re calling me a brat.”
"Perks of being basically family." Raphael raised his glass and sipped some vodka. "I also take pleasure in knowing that any man saying this to your face would normally end up with broken teeth and black eyes."
Zakariya picked up his glass delicately, dipped his lips in the cold liquor, and replied with a smile, "What can I say? You're like the weak little brother I never had. Except you're old and fat.“ He was smirking. “The London health craze clearly has no hold on you.”
“Give him a break Zak, the man is busy making big bucks selling dubious funds to unsuspecting investors, and he’s married to a Corsican bimbo. Takes a toll on a man, a fierce lover like that.” Mustafa poured some more of the spirit around the table, and they all clinked glasses.
Despite the cheerful reunion, Zakariya had a hard time loosening up completely. He knew he had some pressing issues to handle – not least, the increasingly belligerent attitude of the other clans’ leaders – yet he was just glad to be able to spend some time with his old friend.
Raphael looked like he had just woken up suddenly. "Speaking of lovers, my company is preparing the launch of a new private fund, tech-focused, and we're looking for seed money. Mustafa has just pledged half of the family's fortune; I hope you won't mi-". Before he could finish his sentence, Raphael coughed violently, and repeatedly. After several seconds of roaring agony, he cleared his throat and glanced back up. His eyes were bloodshot, which did not go unnoticed.
“You’re going to be alright here buddy? Not your allergy to gluten again?” Zakariya asked.
Raphael was laughing through the pain. “This goddam white…” He was blinking furiously, still feeling the aftermaths of his body’s visceral reaction to an unexpected foreign agent. “You ask for the best stuff, you trust the motherfuckers...and they give you some cheap dope cut with caffeine. Nasty stuff.”
Zak gave Mustafa an ominous glance. Square Mile – more commonly known as the City of London – was their turf, and the Japanese restaurant they were sitting in fell within those boundaries. This was one of their organization's largest profit centers, and they certainly never supplied cheap dope to any of their customers.
The Mansouri brothers left the membership club at eleven P.M. “Man, Raph really hasn’t changed, has he? It’s been fifteen years since we rescued his ass in Mantes-la-Jolie, and he keeps acting like a child who needs saving. I thought he’d spit his lungs in there,” Zakariya said.
Despite his accentuated quirks, Raphael Mattei had remained the same endearing and oddly captivating Corsican islander over the years. A man who never completely fitted in what was known as the Milieu – the French mafia. He was just too soft and good-hearted and lacked the ability to be ruthless when circumstances dictated – a trait his own father was notorious for. Because of this, he had brought upon himself troubles after troubles, and his life came close to a brutal end the day he met the Mansouris.
As they paced along London’s narrow streets, Mustafa was smiling, still lost in thoughts of the pleasant evening with their old friend. Squealing tires were heard in the distance, and he regained his focus instantly. Staying on constant alert had become a habit over the years. And it truth, he had no other choice. He held a crucial, multi-dimensional role in the Mansouris’ organization. He wasn't just his brother's bodyguard, nor was he simply a lieutenant in charge of a specific sector of the local market. No, he was much more than that.
As Zakariya liked to describe it, his brother was the ultimate enabler. The man's invaluable, sometimes irksome work in the shadows, made it possible for his brother's vision to be realized. Mustafa was the living definition of street smarts and could spot danger when most elite henchmen were still gauging their surroundings. At six feet four, his dark, chiseled figure looked like a tank exclusively made of fast-twitch muscle fibers, build to punish and not to forgive. His fashion taste for black leather and military boots did little to mitigate that gruesome impression. So much so that the other lieutenants of their organization relished spreading false rumors about him and inflating his exploits. They knew the truth was just as scary.
As he entered the car, parked in an empty dead end for safety, Zakariya was not hiding his concern. The dope that Raphael Mattei had choked on could only come from a limited number of sources, and he had a fairly precise idea of the identity of the culprit.
"The Aydins are getting reckless. Trying to compete on price with nasty white is the stupidest thing they could do right now," he said, as he turned the key into the ignition. "There's no brand recognition in that market; they're hurting every narcotics seller regardless of their affiliation.”
Of course, cocaine was never sold completely pure, and getting the purity ratio right was a tricky balancing act. Too high a ratio would be unsafe, as unsuspecting consumers ran a heightened risk of overdose or heart attack. It didn’t make much business sense either. On the other hand, opting for a low purity meant cutting the dope with caffeine or paracetamol, both of which could cause a host of severe side reactions.
Most drug cartels in London had historically settled on forty percent as their golden ratio, going up to fifty percent for dope earmarked for the wealthiest neighborhoods. The Mansouri brothers had chosen to raise the bar to sixty-five percent, knowing that greedy intermediaries would bring it closer to fifty-five percent by the time it reached the end consumers. Still, this was a marked improvement, and their enhanced white had not been well received by enemy clans. They had built their empire strategically, one neighborhood at a time, flying under the radar and slowly pervading existing consumer networks. So skillfully that, when the heads of the main clans realized they had been masterfully ousted from their own markets, over a decade ago, it was already too late.
A full-scale drug war at that point in time would be preposterous, all clan’s heads agreed on that. All gangs were able to wet their beaks under current trading conditions. The market was expanding as younger consumers were adopting the increasingly affordable drug in swathes.
Besides, the black-market industry had consolidated, with five overarching clans effectively forming an oligopoly and sharing revenues for most illegal activities in the Greater London area. Of those five, the Aydins were certainly the dodgiest. They were masters at navigating uncertainty. The flat structure of their organization, with numerous leaders and each one of them in charge of a tiny share of the business, meant they strived in shifting environments when other highly hierarchical organized criminal rings were slow to act decisively when needed.
“They’re trespassing their turf, Rayyan saw some of their guys overrunning his sector last week near Elephant and Castle. We might have to show strength.” Mustafa never drew satisfaction from initiating conflict, despite his superior stature, but he considered that respect and fear had to be nurtured into the enemy’s heart. And by invading their ground and flooding the market with cheap yet defective product, the Aydins had shown an audacity that would have to be dealt with, and fast.
A few minutes earlier, one of the organization's lieutenants called Jamal was stepping out of a locker room, his sports bag hanging on his shoulder. He was still sweating profusely, yet he was content with the way he had played. As a central defender, keeping a clean sheet was always more gratifying than scoring goals. This meant a job well done, and Jamal was a man that liked a job well done. He fancied himself like French World Cup winner Marcel Desailly – his childhood hero – on the pitch, even though he was smaller and stouter t
At thirty years of age, Jamal was the youngest of the clan, but his devotion to the cause was unquestionable, to some extent even more so than the founding members of the organization he was working for. He joined the clan in the early days of their moving to London and had climbed up the ranks all the way up to lieutenant. In this role, he had complete oversight responsibilities over specific boroughs of the city and all the activities the clan was involved in. It was his duty to recruit henchmen, train them for whatever job they would have to carry out and run it like a business. He had all the grim reporting and man management obligations that came with a regular senior corporate position, with the non-negligible exception that he was in charge of black-market operations netting over ten million pounds in annual profits.
As he paced out of the training center, the cool air from the British Indian summer slowly lowered his body temperature. The intensity of the football match he just took part in left him limping a little. He let out a muted curse as he relived a vigorous tackle received by the opposition’s striker. This was non-league football, so he was used to dealing with wannabe Roy Keanes sliding two feet off the group at the first opportunity, but he was positive that the goddamn forward had awakened an old knee injury.
He was now heading toward an outdoor parking lot a short stroll from the football ground, where one of his best men waited to drive him back to his house fifteen minutes away, in Balham. Walking through the Clapham Common had always been the favorite part of his post-match routine. He would later gulp a lamb kebab at his favorite Turkish joint on the High Street. The area was packed with quirky food stalls, farmer markets, and gastropubs, but he would inevitably make a quick stop to greet the owner of the Turkish establishment and covertly keep an eye on rival territory. He felt safe enough to roam freely in the middle of enemy turf, as the bloodsheds of the clan's early years had long given way to a more civilized drug war fought on price and scale of distribution networks.