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In this fourth installment of the Five Families of New York, C. N. Phillips explores just how far a person will go to keep things together when their life is crumbling.
With death nipping at his neck like cold in the winter, Lorenzo “Zo” Alverez is faced with the inevitable fate of stepping into his late father’s shoes. With enemies coming at him from all sides, Zo doesn’t know who he can trust. But when the light at the end of the tunnel comes in the form of family, he discovers secrets
about his father that he never knew. These secrets threaten to pull him away from the other powerful families in New York and people that would risk their lives for his. When the time comes to decide where his loyalty will lie, he is unaware that the price for that choice is the heads of the people he loves the most.
Release date: March 28, 2023
Publisher: Urban Books
Print pages: 288
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Listen to a sample
Lorenzo “Zo” Alverez’s pained shout was probably heard throughout the property. He’d just stepped into the shower, and the moment the water hit his fair skin, he felt like he was on fire. He continued to curse under his breath as he adjusted the heat. The help was always turning the water heater up when he was least expecting it. In those moments, he understood what it must be like to be a lobster dropped in a boiling pot of doom.
“You all right in there, shithead?” his younger sister Daniella’s voice sounded from outside the door.
“I’m fine. They just adjusted the water heater again.”
“Whatever. Get out of my suite!” he shouted over his shoulder as he stepped into the shower again and slid the glass door closed.
He heard her say something else, but he couldn’t make it out over the water. It was still steaming hot but bearable. He found himself wondering what Daniella was doing in his suite, especially when her suite was on the other side of the house. Probably snooping through his things again. Ever since their father, DeMarco Alverez, was killed by the Chinese, Daniella felt the need to double-check every business transaction that Zo finalized.
The Alverez family was one of five of the most dangerous and feared families in all of New York. They ran a foolproof weapons operation in Queens that brought in a lucrative exchange. Before Marco was killed, he was the head honcho, but the hat was inevitably tipped toward Zo. Had he been ready to take on the weight of carrying on his father’s legacy? No. But he was trying.
With everything going on around him, Zo was forced to hit the ground running. At one point, the five most powerful families in New York worked together in harmony. A pact was drawn up before Zo was even born. The pact called for each family to have only one trade. That way no one would step on anyone else’s toes. Also, it made way for constant business to be conducted with each other, a money chain that could circle forever. The pact also stated that no family could harm another or the people they had working under them. The peace lasted for a long time, but after Barry Tolliver, another family head, was killed, everything around them altered.
At first the war had been with Barry’s son, Boogie, who unleashed his rage on everyone around him. And when he finally realized the error of his ways, it was too late. He’d already lit the spark that had led them all to their current space of feuding with the Chinese, the one that got Zo’s father killed.
The Chinese family was relentlessly trying to seize the power of the five boroughs for themselves. Zo still felt a fire in his chest toward them and couldn’t wait to get his hands on Tao Chen. He would pay for what he did to Marco. Zo dreamt many nights of what he would do once he got his hands on him. There would be days on end of torture drawn up specifically for him. But until then, Zo was just trying to keep everything afloat around him, and that meant hiding the warehouse slips showing that their last two weapons shipments at all locations had been short.
Zo snapped out of his trance and stepped backward out of the kitchen. Whoever had killed them must have still been in the house, but how had they gotten in, and past security undetected at that? It had never happened before as long as Zo had lived. His mind quickly went to finding his mother and Daniella. He turned around to run and find them, but he was stopped by a gun pointed dead in his face.
“Going somewhere?” a voice asked right before someone crept up behind him and knocked him out cold.
Copper. That was what the blood on Zo’s tongue tasted like right before he spit it out. He had come to, but he barely had time to adjust to his surroundings before he was on the defense. His arms were tired as he tried to block the punches and kicks from three big men holding him captive. He could tell by their accents that they were Jamaican, but what he couldn’t figure out was why they had broken in. They were relentless in their beatings, and at first his arms were on fire, but they quickly turned numb. He couldn’t feel them to send them the strength needed to keep holding them up. His mother’s prized white living room carpet was stained with his blood, and Zo knew seeing it would break her heart.
“Stop!” a voice boomed.
Instantly the blows ended, and the men moved back. Stepping from the kitchen was a husky Jamaican wearing a ruby red suit. He sported freshly twisted locs on the top of his head and a shaggy beard. The designer suit he wore didn’t mask the obvious fact that he was rough around the edges. In his hand was a bottle of brandy, from which he took a big swig before tossing it to the ground, shattering it. Zo blinked the blood from his eyes and focused on the man as he got closer. He was taken aback when he saw that he recognized him. It was Jahmar Brown, a man who was born and raised in Queens. He’d moved and was supposedly a big thing in Boston now. Zo’s family had been doing business with him for years. Why would he want to see Zo hurt?
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing, Jahmar?” Zo panted, still trying to catch his breath. “You know who I am and what I can do to you!”
“I know who your father was.” Jahmar’s tone was low and menacing. He stepped closer to Zo and shook something in his hand like dice. “And I also know who he isn’t anymore. He’s dead.”
“So you break into his family home to . . . what? Rob us of petty things?”
“I did see a few things that will be coming with me when I take my leave. But no, that’s not why I’m here.”
“Then tell me what you want.”
“Before Marco’s untimely end, I placed an order for a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of weapons. Weapons that never came.”
“If that’s all this is about, I can get you your weapons. And I’ll think about forgiving you for everything you’ve done so far.”
To Zo it was a sensible offer. So much had already happened, and he just wanted them to leave. He didn’t want anything to happen to his mama or his sister. He couldn’t lose them, too, even if that meant letting the Jamaicans go untouched.
Jahmar looked at his men, and they all began laughing together. Jahmar stopped laughing abruptly and spat in Lorenzo’s face. “That’s what I think of your words.”
“You’re going to regret that,” Zo said as saliva trickled down his face. Jahmar backhanded him so hard that his head snapped to the side. He forced the pain down and took a deep breath before glaring back into Jahmar’s dark eyes. “You’re going to regret that too.”
“Am I supposed to fear a man who is at my mercy?” Jahmar scoffed. “I was supposed to jump for joy when the only thing offered to give me are the guns I paid for?”
“Isn’t that what you’re doing all of this for?”
“It was, until I saw a bigger picture being painted in front of me.”
“And that is?”
“Queens. I want all of Queens.”
“Here we go with this shit,” Zo groaned. “You motherfuckas and your thirst to control one of the five boroughs is starting to piss me off. Even with me dead, do you think my family will let some fucking Jamaican come and take my father’s place?”
“How sure are you that they won’t? I’m not blind or deaf,” Jahmar told him. “I know all about the chaos that’s been happening between the boroughs. The loyalty you all once had to each other is gone. The blacks killing the Asians, the Asians killing everybody. I’ve heard it all.”
“What does that have to do with you?”
“Your families are falling apart. It’s time for new blood to rule New York. So you will work under me. I will be the new weapons distributor. You will be the one who welcomes me into the fold and gets everyone else to fall in line.”
“You want to know what I say to that?” Zo asked and sucked the blood from his teeth to spit at Jahmar’s feet. “Fuck you. I would die before I piss on my father’s memory like that.”
Jahmar gave a tiny chuckle and kept shaking whatever he had in his hand. He stared at Zo for a few moments, taking in the defiant look on his face before looking down at his hand. Slowly he opened it and showed Zo what he was holding. Two hollow-tip bullets rested in his palm.
“These were the bullets I was going to use to end your life,” Jahmar said evenly.
“You might as well get ready to use them, because I’m not doing what you want. I can’t.”
“I might have underestimated you, Lorenzo. Given the fact that you are Marco’s son, I didn’t think you’d be as nailed to the floor as him. Now that man could drive a tough bargain. But you I think I know how to break. You’re going to give me what I want one way or the other.”
Jahmar made a motion to one of the men standing close to Zo. He left the room, and Jahmar stared at Zo with an excited glint in his eye. Just as Zo was about to ask him what was tickling him, he saw something that made it feel like a hand was making a fist around his heart. Jahmar’s henchman had returned to the room, but he wasn’t alone. He had Zo’s mother and sister in tow. His gun was pointed at the back of their heads as he forcefully pushed them onto the living room couch. Their eyes, mouths, and hands were bound, and they both had a few bloody gashes on their bodies.
“Mama! Daniella!” Zo shouted and tried to get to them, but Jahmar’s fist slamming into his face stopped him.
He was knocked back, but that didn’t stop him from trying again. He lunged for Jahmar when he found his footing, but the sound of guns cocking stopped him. He was helpless as he stared at his family sitting on the couch. They were going to die if he didn’t do anything. Slowly, Jahmar put the two bullets he was holding into his magazine and placed it in his gun.
“I only have two bullets, so I’m thinking one close-up head shot will do it for the both of them. What do you think?” Jahmar said, standing in front of Christina and pointing the gun at her head.
“Agree to my terms or your mother dies.”
“I . . .” Zo’s eyes fluttered to his mama, who sat up straight on the couch.
She showed no sign of fear although she heard Jahmar’s threat. She had always been strong. She and Zo’s papa had been the perfect match. She might have been being brave, but Zo had never been so afraid in his entire life. He would have rather died than to see her perish in front of him. He would give anything to save her life. Just as Zo opened his mouth to give Jahmar what he wanted, the sound of someone clearing her throat filled the room.
“That’s enough, gentlemen.”
The voice was soft but drenched with authority. Zo’s eyes went to one of the living room entryways and fell on Diana, the head of the Dominican syndicate. Her frame seemed small standing in front of the army of men she’d brought with her, but her power spoke loudly. They wouldn’t even breathe if she told them not to. Their guns were pointed at the four men holding Zo and his family captive, and the Jamaicans didn’t dare make a move—except Jahmar.
“You wouldn’t even get one shot off before this bitch’s brain is splattered all over the wall behind her,” he said, jabbing his gun toward Christina. “Put your weapons down!”
“All battles have casualties,” Diana said with a bored expression. “Even if you kill her, you still die. You fucking idiot. Who taught you to negotiate?”
“I’m going to be short with you because I’m bored and I have business to discuss with Lorenzo,” Diana said and eyed the Glock in his hands. “You see that little indicator there on the side of your gun? It’s telling me that you don’t even have a bullet in the chamber. Do you think you’ll have time to cock your gun before . . . Actually, why am I still talking? Kill these sons of bitches.”
The order was out of her mouth for only a millisecond before gunfire rang out. Jahmar was the first to get hit, and Zo couldn’t say that he was sad to see his body twitch before dropping lifelessly to the floor. The others tried to shoot back, but it was no use. The Dominicans’ bullets ate them alive. Once they were all dead, Diana went to untie the women on the couch. When she removed their face binds, Christina looked incredulously up at her.
“Casualties in war? You were going to let that motherfucker shoot me!”
“He was never going to get that shot off,” Diana assured her with a smirk.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re late. I called you half an hour ago when I saw those motherfuckers pay off Eduardo and the rest of them.”
“Eduardo?” Zo asked, wide-eyed. “Are you sure?”
“How else would they be able to get inside?” Christina shook her head with a disappointed expression on her face. “Sometimes even loyalty fades.”
“Mama, why didn’t you say anything?”
Zo couldn’t hide his shock. Eduardo had been head of security for the estate for almost a decade. He had been responsible for keeping the Alverez family safe for so long that Zo couldn’t believe he was capable of doing something so terrible. What would make him turn on his own?
“It all happened too fast. I barely had time to call Diana for help or get to Daniella in this big-ass house by the time they broke in. I’m just glad Diana showed up when she did. But Maria and Thomas . . .”
Christina’s voice faded in sadness, and Daniella comforted her. Maria and Thomas had been more than just employees. They’d become her friends, too. However, Zo couldn’t mourn them yet. His mind was on other things.
“Why would they betray us like this?” Zo asked, still puzzled by it all.
“I can tell you why,” Daniella said, standing. “They think you’re weak, Lorenzo. They don’t believe you have what it takes to lead them the way Papi did. You have to show them. You have to find Eduardo and the rest of them and kill them.”
“She is right, son,” Christina agreed. “Your father was a strong man. He would not tolerate such insubordination, especially something that would put his family at risk. You will handle it?”
“I will, Mama.”
“That brings me to what we need to discuss,” Diana butted in. “Coincidentally, I was already going to head over here tonight, Caesar’s orders. He fears that the Chinese may be planning another attack after their last failed attempt on his life. And after what happened at his event, we both agree that we’re too old to be on the front lines. It’s time.”
“Time for what?” Zo asked.
“This is your war to fight. It’s time for the next generation to take over completely.”
“It’s all my fault. This is all my fault.”
Boogie Tolliver never thought taking over his father’s empire would create so much sadness in his life. He’d gone from the prince to the king of Brooklyn. He never wanted the crown, but it was on his head nevertheless. He held his face in the palms of his hands as he listened to the beeps of the machines connected to his girlfriend Roz’s body. She’d been in a coma for days since she’d been shot. What was supposed to be an event celebrating New York’s godfather, Caesar King, had ended in chaos and a lot of death. Boogie was hoping that the last casualty wouldn’t be Roz. But with each moment that passed, she didn’t seem to be making any progress. She’d lost so much blood, and even with the blood transfusion she’d received, her survival was still up in the air. He was coming to terms with the fact that no matter how much shouting at the doctors he did or how many prayers he sent up, it was out of his hands. Boogie hadn’t seen or spoken to anyone since the day she was shot. He barely left her side. He’d felt regret before but never like that. If Roz died, he wanted to go right along with her.
“God, I know you can hear me. Don’t take her from me, please. Bring her back. I’ll do anything. Just bring her back to me. I don’t have anything else.”
“You have a lot of things. Including the mess you still need to clean up out there in the streets.”
The voice came out of nowhere, but Boogie didn’t need to look to . . .
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