This is a straightforward decision, Lea thought firmly to herself. Before she could completely cut off her stream of thoughts and take a step forward to finish the task at hand, another voice floated in to her conscious: it would be an easy decision if you did more research before acting so brashly.
"Augh”, she audibly sighed out loud, a bit louder than she intended – not that her pair of guests were conscious to hear it. That grating voice in the back of her head had finally taken a break from berating her and instead had reinvented itself as a confident cheerleader. But even that voice of confidence was a bit shaky; she couldn’t deny the reality or magnitude of her mistake. The choice in front of her wasn’t as clear-cut as she had assumed it would be. She had allowed her emotions and impatience to overrule the typical methodical process she utilized when making serious decisions.
With another, deeper, sigh - Lea fell back in to the dusty armchair she had been occupying for the past hour, as she considered her options while twirling her long black hair between her fingers. Staring at the two men slumped on the group in front of her; she noticed the blood at their temples had dried, turning a deep and crusty brown. Rolling lazily to face the clock on the decrepit workbench to her left, she was startled to realize it had been two hours since she dragged her captives to their current positions. You indecisive idiot, she berated herself. Just make a decision and act on it.
With a grunt, Lea stood up out of the armchair, tossed the knife she had been holding on the workbench, and made her way to the tiny waiting room in the abandoned auto-body shop she had taken refuge in, deep in central New Jersey. Fishing a few quarters out of her jacket pocket and shoving them in to the grubby candy machine, she slowly turned the rusted innards and waited for her reward of stale M&Ms. As she slowly crunched each candy between her back molars, she considered the choice she had laid out for herself – whether she needed to kill her brother, or their father.
Lea Spazzolino had spent most of her life as a loner, which can have the unfortunate side effect of not having anyone else around to scapegoat you problems on. The men of Lea’s immediate family had no such issue – when they had problems, they tended to disappear. Usually with a bullet to the back of the head, but occasionally more exotic solutions were utilized – electrocutions, drowning, pipe bombs under the car. They were all options in the playbook of her family business.
Lea grew up understanding that the source of her family’s income was always unspoken, and innocently told others that her father ran a few construction companies, but everyone around her knew. Through forced smiles and awkward small talk, they successfully avoided grappling with the weight of Lea’s bloodlines.
As a little girl, she was never invited to play on sports teams or join after-school play dates. As she became more independent as a pre-teen, there was often a dark sedan with one of her various uncles trailing closely behind and waiting outside movie theatres, malls, and bookstores. And when she finally lost her virginity at 16 to a college junior with thick black hair, (and even thicker eyebrows), he never returned her calls. Lea was told he transferred to a school across the country. While her mother encouraged her to try and keep in touch over social media, they both knew: dead boys can’t answer DMs.
It was in this twisted web of unspoken truths and carefully placed lies that Lea matured in to a surprisingly focused and ambitious young woman. Or at least, a woman motivated solely by a desire to get away from her family, its history, and the dark shadow it had drawn over her life. After years of channelling her lonely hours in to drawing, painting, and sculpting, Lea attended art school in Maine. She achieved excellent grades and almost immediately began experiencing success in the art world at the young age of 21. To drive a further wedge between her past and her exciting new future, she assumed a new name: Lea Turner.
The proceeding twelve years spent managing her gallery between manic days painting in her studio seemed like they would never end. Truly, they had no reason to, as far as she believed. Lea enjoyed the busy nature of her career because it allowed her the focused solitude she had become accustomed to, and also kept her mind from wandering too far from the task at hand. She rarely thought of her past or abandoned family and instead spent exhaustive days painting or glad-handing clients before collapsing in her bed each night to dreams of nothingness.
However, Lea’s belief that her life would continue in this satisfying but unending cycle of art and gallery management took a dramatic shift one brisk October morning, when a fresh-faced police officer stepped in to her Manhattan gallery.
“Ma’am, my name is Officer Corden with the New York City police department, financial crimes section.” Officer Corden didn’t appear to be a day over age 26, and was standing poised with a pen in his hand, his questions neatly written on an open notepad.
“Please, call me Lea – I’m not nearly old enough to be referred to as ma’am”, Lea responded. She glanced at her watch, irritated, as her assistant was late to arrive with the paperwork required to ship a painting to one of her most long-standing clients.
“Right, okay, I’m only here to perform some standard procedural work to do with a fraudulent payment one of your clients made to another gallery – I believe you’re quite familiar with Nicolas Stakinsky?”
Lea, who hadn’t even noticed she had been pacing, stopped and turned slowly to face the officer. Straightening the creases on her perfectly pressed blouse, she took a long pause and slowly crossed her arms.
“Are you suggesting my most loyal client – and a close friend, I’ll have you know (my only friend, she thought) – is being accused of some sort of fraud?” Lea said this calmly and evenly, however her intense stare was enough to cause a few beads of sweat to break out on the young officer’s face, his pen wavering in hand.
“I am simply checking to see if you have ever had any issues depositing or receiving payments from Mr. Stakinsky, particularly in the last twelve weeks. As I said, I’m only here for a routine visit as a part of our investigation, Ma-ahem, Lea”.
“I see.” Lea breathed deeply and glanced at the large packaged painting over the officer’s right shoulder.
“No. No, I’ve never had any issues with payments from Nicolas, and as far as I know money has never been an issue for him. I am sure there must be some mistake. Perhaps one of his accountants is dirty and ran off with the real money, you can never be too careful with whom you associate with”, Lea remarked, with a dismissive wave of her hand.
At this last comment, Officer Corden found himself working excessively hard to suppress a smirk – and while it didn’t last for more than a brief moment, it was just long enough for Lea’s discerning eyes to catch.
“What exactly do you find so amusing, officer?” Lea asked, as she slowly stepped closer to the officer, her dark brown eyes as good as laser beams, peering in to the depths of Corden’s skull.
“Well, I shouldn’t be sharing this information, but as you’ve been quite – er – honest with me” the officer stammered, as he wiped fresh sweat from his brow – “Mr. Stakinsky is a close associate of your brother, Carlo. Carlo Spazzolino.”
This time, Officer Corden didn’t bother suppressing his smirk, as he flipped his notebook closed and turned on his heel towards the door.
Back in her penthouse apartment, Lea frantically searched online news outlets and true crime sites to discern what her family may have been up while she had been working so hard to ignore their existence. Hearing the name of her family – who she had not spoken to since leaving for college so many years ago – had sent a fiery rage up and down her spine. The heat now resided in the depth of her stomach, along with roughly five shots of espresso.
As the late night stretched in to the wee hours of the morning, Lea’s initial rage settled in to a calm, clear understanding. All of her most loyal clients, strongest allies in the art world, and even her lone friend, Nicolas, had clear ties to her family. Whereas she thoroughly believed her success was based on her own merit and hard work, it was blatantly apparent that her family either didn’t believe she could make it on her own, or wouldn’t allow her to.
Now, 12 years later, with her entire identity and career reduced to the equivalent of a smouldering pile of ash, she set her sights on a renewed, yet familiar, career endeavour. Lea leaned back in her chair, stared at the ceiling, and allowed all the thoughts she had so adeptly been suppressing to rise to the surface.
Slowly, in a daze, Carlo Spazzolino opened his eyes and found that he was staring at cracked concrete, with some sort of thick brown dust coating the surface. He winced at the dull, throbbing pain emanating from his left temple. Looking down at his suit jacket he spots a faint trail of dried blood, before noticing that his feet were bound together with jumper cables. As he attempted to gather his thoughts and piece together what happened, a familiar voice broke the silence.
“Hello, brother. Or I should I say, business partner? It appears the family had quite a heavy hand in the success of my gallery.”
With a considerable effort, Carlo raised his gaze to match his sisters. Lea was crouching on the ground a few feet away, creating patterns in the dust with a knife held loosely in her right hand.
“Lea? What the hell is going on?” Carlo is, at first, shocked to see his sister. As the siblings held their gaze in silence, his memories flood back to the forefront of his mind, as he realize his sister had laid out a perfect trap for him and his father to fall in to.
“I still can’t believe you two – the heads of the equally feared and paranoid Spazzolino crime family– really thought I wanted to reconnect after all these years after completely disowning you. I thought for sure you would at least have brought one or two of your goons-for-hire, but I guess I hit the right tone in my plea for ‘just family.’” At this remark, Lea twisted her face up like a gloomy over-acting clown, before breaking out in to a broad, hellacious smile.
“Lea…” Carlo whispered, his eyes wide in shock. This was a side of his sister he had never seen even a hint of. Always quiet, shy, and keeping to herself, he only knew his little sister as an obedient and even-tempered child, and now, woman. Carlos turned his body slightly to look at his father lying unconscious on the floor next to him, and was relieved to see his chest rise and fall.
“Why!?” Lea screamed explosively, snapping Carlo back to attention. She moved closer to her brother, close enough to smell the iron-rich scent of dried blood.
For a moment, Carlo just stared at his sister, before looking away in a gesture of shame. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay - that you were taken care of. The world is a tough place and you’re still family. That’s all. It was all me – papa had nothing to do with it. He didn’t even know about it, although I guess he will now.”
At this revelation, a flicker briefly appeared in Lea’s eyes. “I left the family, to leave the family. I wanted you to forget I even existed. I wanted a legitimate life. You just couldn’t let me go, could you?” Lea practically spit out these last few words, as she stood up and returned to the armchair she had spent most of the afternoon occupying.
“Lea, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry – but you have to let us go. You know our men will be searching for us, and family or not, they will take you out if needed. Please.”
“Our men” Lea scoffed. “Do you know how easy it was to connect the dots back to you, just with basic Internet access? Do you see how easy it was to kidnap the two of you? I’m surprised you have any men left at your disposal with how recklessly you’ve been managing the family business.”
“You do realize I have nothing to go back to now, right? I can’t continue operating a completely illegitimate business. My reputation, my name, will be ruined forever. It’s only a matter of time until the cops – even the idiot one who stopped by my gallery – will figure it out and come after me.”
“Lea, look, we have half the New York City police department on our payroll, we can fix this. Easily. You just have to let us go and we’ll get it sorted – together.” Carlos spread his bounded hands out in a gesture of pleading to the vindictive, unfamiliar version of his sister sitting in front of him.
“No.” Lea said quietly. “No. You’ve taken my entire life and its purpose away from me. It’s dead. I can never go back to that life – to that version of me.” Lea sighed, and stood up, “it’s time I become a Spazzolino again.”
At this, Carlo began to smile. Finally – his sister would return to him and the family, where she belonged – but just as the corners of his lips met the bottom of his cheeks, he realized his sister was not smiling back. Rather, she was staring, expressionless, as she slowly walked towards him, knife in hand.
“You’ve proven yourself unfit to run the family business. I’m sorry brother, but this is your own fault.”
With a start, Vincenzio Spazzolino awoke from a dark and disturbed slumber. The scent of fresh blood hit him with full force, and for a moment, he thought he was bleeding to death. Those coward Magliardi twins finally did more than just talk, he thought angrily to himself.
“Papa?” a soft voice whispered.
Vincenzio, with a wince, rolled himself in to a semi-seated position as his eyes continued to adjust to the dimness of the room he occupied. At the age of 68, his vision was becoming more and more of an issue. He feared he would be forced to live with the same debilitating cataracts that lead to his father giving up his position as head of the family long before he was ready. Lord knows Carlo was already making moves behind his back, in anticipation of inheriting the family business sooner rather than later.
“Where’s Carlo?” he asked in the direction of the voice he heard, the question coming out quiet and hoarse.
“Papa.” This time the voice was louder, less timid, and moving closer.
As Vincenzio’s eyes finally adjusted to the space around him, he saw his only daughter, Lea, staring calmly at him from an armchair.
“Mia figlia. You look just like your mother did at that age, God rest her soul. What are you doing here? Where is your brother? What happened?”
At this, Lea stood up from the armchair and walked slowly to her father. She crouched down in front of him, untied his feet and hands, and cupped his weathered face in her hands.
“Papa. Carlo is dead. He stepped out of line”.
“Wha—“ Vincenzio started, before Lea cut him off.
“I’m coming back to the family. After Carlo ruined my career and my life, I finally realized the true purpose of my life – a purpose I had denied and been running from.”
“Lea…” Vincenzio couldn’t manage to say more, as he processed the full weight of what his daughter had done. Lea hugged her father, and held him closely as she stroked his back slowly.
“Papa”, she whispered, “it’s time for you to step aside and let me run the family business. I’m not asking you, I’m telling you.”
Lea kissed her father’s forehead and helped him to his feet. Stepping slowly, Lea guided her father out of the abandoned auto body shop and in to the twinkling early evening light.