I stifled a yawn as I drowsily picked up my bag and walked out of the building. It was a humid summer night, one of those nights when you find no movement in the air, nothing to relieve the stuffy feeling caused by the heat. I looked at my white trainers, they were covered in mud splatter. No matter, they will be cleaned. The job is done, so all's good. My backpack bounced up and down rhythmically as I walked faster, trying to choose all the shortcuts to get home faster, even if it wasn't the best option at this time of the night. People say that despite my calm looks, I can be quite reckless. But it never really occurred to me that this could be a bad thing. Sometimes, shit happens. And you have to deal with it.
"Hey blondie..." a rough voice whispered from a dark corner. Someone was lurking in the shadow and I didn't notice their presence until they actually spoke.
I turned around. There was a man around his fifties, his long hair was messed up and his clothes ripped and dirty. Homeless? A drunkard?
"Do you want something?" I asked sharply.
"How about you...you get over here and pass me that bag of yours?" he laughed at his own imaginary joke. So, he wants my stuff.
"I can't do that." I replied and turned my back on him to move on.
Half a second later, I felt a sharp pull on my bag. He pulled with such a force that put me off balance, but I turned around and swiftly pushed him back, which only made him look at me with a deranged smile on his face. This was not the first time I came across people like him. This town is full of them. People gone mad, people who don't care what happens to them. He would not listen to reason. He sluggishly made his way to me, and I was prepared to defend myself, as I had done in the past.
He lunged at me with no apparent plan in his mind, but I easily escaped his path and punched him in the stomach, getting him unconscious on the ground. He was drunk. he reeked of booze. I tried to pull him to a safer spot nearby. He had no idea what he was doing. I made my way out of the alley and turned left. Quickly going down the street and into another stone-paved alley, until after a few turns I finally reached my place. I unlocked the door, made it into the coffee shop, walked past the lobby and the bar, and finally I was there. The door of what looked like a cellar, an old underground passage that belonged to my family for ages. After a couple of minutes I was down, waiting in our very own old-fashioned living room. Lights were on, everything looked normal even in this hour. I threw myself on my favorite couch, and soon I heard footsteps. Loke entered the room, just like he always does, always on time when the boss is around.
"Hello princess! Why are you laying there like a dead baboon?" his calm eyes were scrutinizing me behind his glasses.
"Why, what's wrong with the way I'm sitting?" I wondered, although I knew I was being a total klutz.
He sighed. His expression was saying it all. I could not be helped, I would always be a tomboy. "The boss is inside, go talk to him." he finally said and could not help but let out a small smile.
I picked up the bag I went through all that trouble for, and went off to meet my father. He was sitting in his old armchair behind the desk in his office, as usual. He greeted me with a huge smile, the cigarette almost fell off his lips. James Danforth, the head of the family. Leadership passed on to him after my grandpa's death. A goofy individual that never resembles a gang leader, not in the slightest. Everyone thought that he has been way too soft of a leader, but he seems to manage just fine.
His office was always cloudy with smoke, always smelling like mould and cigarettes, but that night there was a flowery scent in the room, slightly tickling and refreshing.
"Did mom come by?" I asked.
"Yes she did, she tidied up the place a bit, and now everything is sparkling. I'm so grateful." he said and smiled sheepishly.
I pulled the bag off my back and passed it on to him on the desk. He looked at it and pulled the zipper open, reaching out for the pack of money I had stuffed in there earlier. He got it, and counted the bills.
"It's all here...you actually got it." he sounded surprised, and urged me to tell him how I did it. Truth is, he had sent two of his most trusted men to bring back this money, from a gang that used to owe us. But they came back empty handed. I would be surprised too, if my 18-year-old daughter managed to get it.
"Well, sometimes violence is not the only answer..." I started explaining "At first when I walked in there, in that pub full of bikers and drunk men, everyone looked like they wanted to dig my guts out. Then I found the gang people, they didn't know who I was, of course. When I told them, they all burst out laughing on the table, one of them even patted my back, joking. They did not believe me. I showed them out crest. I talked them into it. I told them how they did not want to make enemies out of us, being a small gang they would not have a chance of winning, and that we had given them plenty of space already. I kinda promised that we would keep things neutral and maybe even help them if they ever needed it...They seemed to believe me. I don't know. In any case, they paid."
He watched eagerly as I told him what happened, in the end he reached out and brushed away a smudge from my face. "The Harpoons are a weak but dangerous gang. I'm glad we have someone here who listens to reason, since our family is full of muscleheads that often neglect diplomacy. However, I still don't think you should have gone. At least not alone. I'm gonna get Loke to come with you from now on..."
I shook my head and smiled drowsily "The family has taken care of me until now. Now I feel that I need to take care of the family myself."
My father looked at me with a half proud, half worried look in his eyes.
"Diana, I just need you to be safe. You are trained, you are wiser than a lot of men around here, but you are still my daughter and I wouldn't bear to see you hurt. Every time you're out, I'm scared to death." he said and shook his head.
I assured him I would always be alright. He tried to protest, but I told him I'd take Loke with me if things looked suspicious.
I poured some hot water over the freshly ground coffee beans. Poured it slowly, as the brewed coffee seeped through the filter and dripped in the porcelain cup. The beautiful aroma filled up the air, just what I need to start my day. I liked the peaceful mornings I got to spend in here, in our coffee shop. Even if I had to work until late, it was a small pleasure I enjoyed. The customers were always quite polite, the music was relaxing, and the always present scent of fresh coffee was delightful. I tapped my fingernails on the wooden bar, and looked over at Loke, who was sitting over at the nearest table.
"You sure you don't want me to chill your coffee? It's very hot outside..." I asked.
"No, thank you, Diana." he mumbled and went on with the reading of his newspaper. His slender fingers swiftly turned the pages, and his eyes steadily raced through every line behind his glasses. I walked around and placed the cup of hot coffee on his table. Then, turned back to make an iced coffee for myself. The clock read 8.05, way too early for anyone to come in, especially during these heated summer days. I glanced at my image on our mirror near the bar entrance. I quite liked our uniform, it was a nice pleated black dress with short sleeves, that reached just above my knees. The fabric was thick and straight. I also had a white ribbon tied under my collar, forming a nice bow at the front. Loke, as our main waiter, was also dressed in these colors, a white shirt and black pants. Although, to be frank, I have always thought that this was his life uniform.
The little bell rang, that sweet chime when someone enters the shop. I looked up, my mother just stormed in holding some overstuffed grocery bags, leaves and tall veggies peeping out of them.
"Mrs. Danforth, need any help with those...?" Loke pointed at those humongous bags of hers.
"I'm fine, Loke, thanks." She walked up to the bar and dropped her stuff on a chair before smiling to me in excitement.
"What's all this for, mom? Do we have some kind of special occasion?" I asked while turning around to start some chores.
"We got exactly that, my dear. I'm thinking of having a family dinner and also inviting some friends over, how about it?" she explained, her eyes wandering around the shop relentlessly.
I didn't answer right away. Part of me never understood why my mom was so into trying to make us look like a normal family. Cause we most definitely were not. The Danforths have been the head of our underground organization for generations, the title passing from father to son, and so on. Of course, we have our followers, loyal members, families that have always been inside. But the Danforth name is well known throughout the people of the night, and is associated with the Silver Crowns, our mafia family.
I looked at my mother again. As cheerful as one can be, she has always been my hero, even though I never grew up to be like her. Always looking after us, never giving up or running away. Is this the way of life a woman wants? Kidnapping, fights, deaths, murders, unsolved crimes, coming home to my father being beaten to a pulp. Yes, there have been those days, or nights. Yet, she has always been here, a flower and a sun, never getting tired.
"I think it's a great idea." I smiled back at her. She gave me a quick hug and left, mumbling something about being in a hurry. I glanced at Loke, he looked calm and composed, as always.
"You are invited too, you know." I said as he placed his paper down on the table.
"I know there's no avoiding it!" he chuckled.
Loke Arnott, my father's right hand. He has always been devoted and loyal to a point of becoming way too serious about everything. Even though he's only twenty four years old, he is already becoming a great member of this family. His ability to think straight, and his intensive physical training have paid off. Nobody would ever guess that his tall and slender physique holds such potential to protect the ones he cares about.
A couple just came in, and I got caught with preparing their orders. A decaffeinated espresso and a lemon iced tea. I wondered whether these people knew about all the secrets of this town. They looked happy, carefree. Maybe they were newlyweds. Did they know about what happens in the darkest parts of these districts, when everything is supposed to stay still? I crushed some ice and filled a tall glass halfway up. Our town is special. I mean, there are criminals everywhere, but this is a different kind of danger. There are the normal people, the natives, who lead normal lives and die old. Most of them know that it's not safe to leave your house at night. They live in the most quiet places, they know what places to avoid. And there are the gangs. Or the families, like us. The families who have lived on due to some old tradition and continue to thrive through blood bonds. Each having their own sets of rules, allies, enemies, and reasons. I was told that this all started when the people wanted to protect themselves from the thieves and murderers that used to pass through, eventually it became a local thing, and now there are organized gangs that rule behind the scenes. It's not a lie. I am a part of the system, a cog in the mechanism.
I told Loke to deliver the orders, and I watched, silently as I usually do, trying to see if our customers were spies, criminals, or perhaps just a happy couple. Observation is the first key step when one is seeking an answer untold. Welcome to the Mystic Teacup, our beloved coffee shop, our cover up family business.