CONTENT WARNING: Violence, Bad Language, Mature/Distressing Themes.

Welcome to the Family, a Short Story by Kath Rella

Is there only one cop in this whole damn station? Loretta brooded. Checking the time, she realised she had been waiting for nearly three hours. Waiting in a police station was stressful enough, but soon she would have to call her boss to say she would be late; that could be unpleasant. At least she could comfort herself that it was three hours in a police station and not a hospital. Her sister must have been, mostly, alright.

A couple of uniformed cops sauntered through the sterile, grey corridor. Like the beating of a medieval war drum, their variety of weapons rhythmically cracked against one another with each step. She overheard one telling the other about his latest pinch. Loretta rolled her eyes at the obviously embellished tale of heroics. Typical cops, she mused. She’d been fortunate enough not to have many encounters with the law, but she’d seen that almost juvenile machismo several times. One big dick measuring contest.

Finally, a man walked towards her. He looked beaten down by years of experience. Lacking the pride of the other cops she had seen that night, this man wore an aged, frayed suit with an untidy beard of stubble. He was about fifty, with deep purple bags under his eyes likely coming from years of long nights.

‘Loretta Paige?’

Loretta nodded. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

‘I’m sorry to keep you waiting. I’m Detective Moretto.’

‘Is Karla alright?’

Moretto nodded. ‘Yes, she’s just finishing up.’

Loretta bit her bottom lip. She could feel the muscles in her neck tightening, as if trying to lock her mouth shut and prevent her from asking the question. She had to know. ‘Was she…?’

Moretto shook his head. ‘Your sister was the victim of a sexual assault. But… she was able to fight off her attacker. She’s got some minor injuries but we’ve been able to get some DNA samples from under her fingernails.’

‘Thank fuck,’ Loretta said. She kicked her head back in relief and took a deep breath. As she slowly exhaled, Loretta realised what she had said. ‘Sorry.’

Moretto smiled. ‘That’s alright. I hear worse. May I?’

He gestured to the seat next to her. Loretta nodded and he sat down.

‘When can I see her?’ she asked.

‘Shouldn’t be long. Just a few formalities left.’

‘Shit…’

‘Something wrong?’

‘I need to tell my boss I’ll be late.’

‘Oh? What line of work you in?’

‘I’m a dr…’ Loretta checked herself. Stupid girl, she thought. ‘I work in construction.’

She could feel Moretto’s disbelieving eyes looking her up and down. ‘Construction?’

‘Yeah, I’m a digger driver.’

Loretta caught a peculiar flash of a smile on Moretto’s face. She knew at that moment he wasn’t buying it. Who would? A petite, twenty-six-year-old woman with perfectly maintained bottle-blonde hair was hardly the type one would expect to see on a male dominated building site.

‘I’ll go see if we can hurry things up. Leave you to call your boss.’

Loretta nodded. She waited for Moretto to disappear and for the corridor to be clear before making the call.

The phone was soon answered. ‘Yep?’

‘Hey, Nicki. I’m really sorry but I’m gonna be a bit late this morning.’

There was a moment of silence. Loretta waited. She had never even taken a sick day before, never mind tardy. Surely Nicki won’t begrudge me this one time?

‘Why?’

‘Family trouble.’

‘Okay. Don’t be too late.’

The call ended. Loretta placed her head in her palms. At least it was out of the way. It suddenly hit her that as worried as she was for Karla, she had been more concerned about Nicki. She grabbed and tugged on some of her hair until she could feel the tight pain in the back of her scalp; a ritual of self-punishment she had adopted as a child.

At least Karla’s okay, she thought. Loretta’s mind turned to her sister and what had happened; what could have happened. Her fingers trembled as her heart began pumping harder. Her blood flowed through her veins with molten rage. Someone would dare do that to her family? Her breaths became slow and deliberate as the muscles around her mouth and nose tightened, like those of a wild animal ready to attack. The man who did this could pay dearly, if she willed it.

But she didn’t. Thoughts of vengeance were one thing, but Loretta had walked down too many dark paths already in her life. Besides, it was her sister who was attacked, and her sister turned to the police for justice. Loretta snapped her head to the side, hurling the violent thoughts from her mind. She placed her head in her palms again and rubbed the tiredness from her eyes with the tips of her fingers.

‘Lorrie?’ Karla whispered.

Loretta looked up and saw Karla. Her sister had an awkward smile on her face; a smile that nervously asked, how do I look?

Karla could have looked much worse. She’d got some bruising to her face, a slightly swollen eye and there was a red mark across her neck. That aside, however, Loretta was able to honestly deliver a slight, comforting nod.

‘Hey sis, you okay?’ Loretta asked.

‘Yeah, I just… wanna get home.’

Loretta stood up and took Karla’s hand. She noted how cold it felt.

‘I’ll be in touch.’ Moretto said.

‘Thanks,’ Karla replied. ‘Come on, Lorrie. I know you’ll have to work.’

Lorretta sighed. ‘Yeah.’

 

***

 

Loretta sat in the car outside Nicki’s house. She lit a cigarette and waited for her boss. It was her first cigarette in several hours and that first swirl of nicotine immediately triggered a pleasurable moan as she exhaled slowly. Before she could enjoy it too much, the phone rang.

‘Hey, Nicki.’

‘Come inside.’

Before Loretta could answer, the call had ended. Loretta sat in the car for a moment, the cigarette drooping downward as it rested between her lips. She looked around. Nicki had never invited Loretta inside her house before.

She stepped out of the car, took one more drag on the cigarette and tossed it into a gutter. Loretta walked slowly to the front door. Her eyes shifted from side to side. It was only a short walk from the car, past the roses that lined the garden path and to Nicki’s door but Loretta was stretching it out. When she eventually reached the door, she tentatively placed her hand on the handle, opened it and walked inside.

Loretta was astonished. The house was a mess. Nicki had always struck her as someone who liked things organised, every little detail planned out and kept to order. Yet her hallway had old coffee mugs, cigarette-butt filled ashtrays and empty boxes scattered around.

Nicki emerged from the living room, dressed in her usual garb of all black to compliment her black hair. Loretta looked to the floor, half-expecting immediate admonishment for being late. Nicki reached out and placed her hand on Loretta’s shoulder.

‘Coffee?’ Nicki asked.

Having seen the state of the hallway, Loretta wanted to say no but instead nodded her acceptance.

Nicki smiled. ‘Come through.’

Loretta walked behind Nicki into the living room. It wasn’t much better in here although at least the living room was not filled with boxes.

‘Sorry about the mess,’ Nicki said. ‘Had to fire the cleaner a few weeks ago.’

Loretta knew that was a lie. Nicki was not the type of person who would have a cleaner, and it would take more than a couple of weeks for a house to become this untidy. She wasn’t about to question her boss though and simply smiled in reply.

Nicki motioned to the sofa. ‘Take a seat. I’ll be right back.’

Loretta shifted a few things and sat down, placing her hands between her legs and fidgeting with her thumbs. She spotted some old photographs on the wall. There was a muscular man in nearly all of them. He had the same black hair as Nicki. In some he wore a military uniform and in others a suit. There was one in particular that caught her eye in which he was stood next to a flag of the Soviet Union.

‘My grandfather,’ Nicki said, offering Loretta coffee. ‘He came here in the Sixties with my father. Defected. Helped build our business.’

Loretta was unsure how to respond, so she quickly placed the cup to her lips and sipped. It was piping hot. She had to clench every muscle in her body not to show the pain of her burning tongue.

‘How long you been working for me now?’ Nicki asked. She took a seat beside Loretta.

‘About eighteen months, I think.’

Nicki grinned. ‘Time flies, doesn’t it?’

Loretta nodded.

‘How’s your family?’ Nicki questioned. She took a sip of her coffee. Loretta noted that not once did Nicki’s eyes break their gaze on her.

‘Okay, just some stuff…’

‘Anything I need to know?’

Loretta slowly shook her head. ‘No, I…’

‘So why were you at a police station this morning?’

Loretta froze. Nicki nonchalantly placed her coffee mug on the floor and resumed staring at Loretta. There was absolute silence as Nicki waited for a response. Loretta’s heart started pounding inside, hard enough for her to feel the veins in her neck throbbing.

‘I… my sister was attacked.’

‘Oh?’

‘Yeah, I had to go pick her up.’

Nicki nodded and picked her mug back up. ‘Okay, that’s understandable.’

‘You’re not mad?’

Nicki smiled and stroked Loretta’s face. ‘You should tell me everything. I’ve put a lot of trust in you these past eighteen months.’

‘Yes, I… I’m sorry.’

‘Family is important. My grandfather always said that. That’s why I’m in this business. My father, bless him, he’s too old to be running things now. He needed someone he could trust to step up, and…’

Nicki was interrupted by a knock at the door.

‘It’s open!’ Nicki hollered.

Loretta turned and was shocked to see Gina Massa walk through the door. Oh shit.

She had only met Gina on one occasion. It had been about six months earlier, at one of Nicki’s strip clubs, when a couple of patrons with wandering hands had been unceremoniously ousted from the club by Gina. She may have been tall and athletic but one would still not expect that behind Gina’s tanned, somewhat pretty exterior was a brute that could strike fear into the heart of any intelligent man, and savagely humble a stupid one. If she wasn’t Nicki’s primary enforcer, Gina would probably be a champion cage fighter.

‘We good?’ Nicki asked.

Gina nodded. She looked down at Loretta. There was something about those eyes that seemed to be trying to burn through flesh like a weaponised laser. Loretta’s skin tingled uncomfortably.

‘Let’s go then. Come on, Lorrie. We’re going to the estate.’

‘The estate?’ Oh hell…

 

***

 

It had been the most uncomfortable journey since Loretta had started working for Nicki. Barely a few words had been exchanged and most of them were in code between Gina and Nicki. Loretta had struggled to focus on the road. Fortunately, it was already mid-morning and there was little traffic or she probably would have crashed.

Thoughts danced through her mind about how she came to be here. She knew what she was getting into when she took the job. People didn’t grow up in her part of town and not hear rumours about the Gusarov Syndicate.

Loretta had been desperate eighteen months ago when she walked into that strip club. At the time, she had considered herself fortunate that Nicki seemed to take an immediate shine to her and offered her a driving job instead of a dancer’s. She had comforted herself that there was more dignity in driving for Nicki than parading her naked body in front of sleazy men. Keep your head down and mouth shut, she would tell herself, believing that if she did, there would be no blowback on her, legal or otherwise.

Pulling up outside a warehouse, Loretta glanced around. The place seemed deserted. It was a typical derelict industrial estate with the appearance of an apocalyptic wasteland. She hadn’t been here before but knew that this is where various problems were solved.

Nicki stepped out of the car. ‘Wait here.’

Gina was sat directly behind Loretta. Only the sound of Loretta’s hesitant breathing broke the silence.

‘So what’s going on?’ Loretta asked.

Gina didn’t answer. Loretta looked in the wing mirror. Gina was staring directly ahead, her face resting on her left hand.

Loretta tried to control her breathing but the more seconds that ticked by in silence, the more difficult it became. She began tapping on the steering wheel but stopped once she realised she was doing it, lest it annoy the beast sitting behind her.

Finally, Nicki emerged from the warehouse and motioned to Loretta and Gina to follow her. Loretta could feel her stomach turning over itself and a burning sensation in her chest. Her mouth became as dry as a desert and she felt herself wanting to cry.

Fuck it, might as well, she thought as she took out a cigarette and lit it. Gina looked unimpressed as Loretta blew out a cloud of smoke but Loretta shrugged, rationalising that it probably wouldn’t matter soon.

Entering the warehouse, Loretta eyes widened and she almost choked on the fumes of her cigarette. She took a couple of steps back in retreat and stumbled over her feet. It was only Gina’s quick reflexes that kept her upright. In front of her was a man, restrained to a chair with his mouth gagged. A noose had been placed around his neck, ready to hoist his body to the rafters. He mumbled and fought but his restraints held him in place. Several masked men were scattered around.

‘Lorrie! Your sister’s attacker!’ Nicki exclaimed with pride.

‘I don’t… how…?’

Loretta had not even heard the man’s description. She couldn’t vouch that this was the man who attacked Karla. The sound of slow footsteps to her right caught her attention and her head snapped around. Moretto was walking towards her, carrying a file.

‘You…?’ Loretta gasped.

‘Hello, Loretta.’

‘The detective here is a friend of ours. He told me what happened,’ Nicki said.

‘But… we can’t…’ Loretta protested.

‘Oh, we can,’ Nicki interrupted. ‘Tell her.’

‘This is Vincent Chase,’ Moretto announced. ‘He’s served a total of seven years for five different sex offences. He’s also been accused of twelve others but the cases fell apart for various reasons.’

‘But you’re a cop?’

‘Yes. Nicki’s outfit doesn’t really hurt anyone. This bastard hurts a lot of people. Sometimes you gotta look at the greater good.’

‘I don’t…’

Loretta was stunned. Earlier she had entertained this idea but grim reality was setting in. An execution conducted by a kangaroo court in an abandoned warehouse.

Moretto continued, ‘Says here that two years ago, Vinnie attacked some guy in the street, knocked him out and then proceeded to rape his wife. Jury couldn’t agree the sex was non-consensual.’

Loretta just shook her head. No matter what she said, or felt, this was going to happen. At least it wasn’t going to happen to her – providing she did not protest too much.

‘You see, sometimes the legal way doesn’t work. If the jury had done its job, your sister wouldn’t have been attacked. His… suicide, ensures it won’t happen again.’

‘Go finish your cigarette,’ Nicki said.

Loretta walked and stood outside. The world around her felt surreal, as though she existed in some form of waking nightmare. She took scant comfort in not being made to watch. The faint sound of the man struggling as he was lynched drifted through the door before everything went eerily quiet.

She felt nauseous as she dragged on her cigarette. Nicki soon joined her.

‘You okay?’ Nicki asked with an almost motherly tone.

 ‘Yeah… I…’

‘Look, we don’t go to the cops. I ain’t risking everything my family built because of some rapist bastard and some jobsworth looking too closely into things.’

‘Yeah,’ Loretta said with a nod. ‘I get it.’

‘Good,’ Nicki replied. She placed her arm around Loretta. ‘Take a couple of days off. Go be with your sister.’

Loretta nodded and began walking to the car.

‘Oh!’ Nicki yelled. ‘Welcome to the family.’