I’d Rather Be An Asshole Than A Rat.

Crow

It was almost midnight when I entered the base.

The cars were parked against the concrete wall that was topped with barbed wire. After I added mine to the line, I approached the warehouse doors, which were cracked open. The sound of loud laughter reached my ears—and I knew what I was walking into.

I almost left.

I entered the warehouse and saw tables lined with the product we had to inspect before it was sent out to a client. Mostly assault rifles painted in matte black with no serial numbers, weapons that would be used to kill both bad guys and good guys. I stopped to inspect one of the guns, to run my fingers over the smooth contours of the weapon. We had connections to all the major players to make this business thrive, to make the best weapons that assholes would pay top dollar for.

I should be proud…but I wasn’t.

The laughter continued. I lifted my chin and looked across the room to the hallway. The scent of cigars, booze, and sex was noticeable even from here. I didn’t have to witness the scene with my own eyes to know exactly what transpired down that hallway.

Charlie came from the right, emerging from a different doorway. “Crow.”

I gave him a slight nod.

“Your father wants to speak with you.”

“How about you relay the message instead?” I looked at the guns again, art that could kill.

He smirked slightly then walked away.

I crossed the warehouse and entered the hallway, the sound of voices growing louder as the smoke got thicker. It was like a haze just below the ceiling, the tendrils visible in the florescent lights. My jaw clenched before I rounded the corner and saw the party. The guys relaxed in chairs with drinks in their hands, the naked women who were paid to be the entertainment, the music from the speaker on the shelf in the corner.

And in the center sat my father with a woman my age on his lap who was wearing nothing but a bright pink thong. His cigar burned between his fingers before he brought it to his mouth for another puff, listening to whatever Lorenzo, his righthand man, had to say. It must have been funny because they laughed uproariously.

Couldn’t have been that funny.

As I stepped into the room, one of the girls close to my age moved in toward me. “Haven’t seen you before…” Her hand automatically went to my arm, and her fingers gave me a gentle squeeze.

I fucked women on my own time. Not at work, and not around my father. I stepped away and forgot about her the second she was out of my vicinity.

That was when my father noticed me. He gave the girl on his lap a gentle spank and said something into her ear. When she walked into one of the private rooms, I surmised that he asked her to wait on the bed for him.

My eyes glanced down to his wedding ring—which meant absolutely nothing.

He was an astute man, one of the smartest men I’d ever known, but he was also the most arrogant.

We shared a look, a stare packed with a million things left unsaid.

I saw my own eyes staring back at me and the same olive skin that had been in our family for generations. There was a bit of gray to his hair, but it was hardly noticeable in the sea of black. Our resemblance was uncanny…but we felt like strangers. “You wished to speak with me.”

He placed the cigar in his mouth and let the smoke simmer on his tongue before he puffed it out of his nose. “You’re in charge of the drop.” He pulled the cigar from his mouth and let it rest between his fingers once more.

Cane and I helped prepare distribution and whatever else he asked of us, but doing something so intimate had never been required of us before. “Why?”

“Why?” He stabbed the cigar into the ashtray beside him, smashing it so hard that it broke at the end. “Because I’m not going to be around forever, Crow. You and Cane have been a part of this business for years now. Time to step up.”

“You called me an imbecile last week.”

“Because you weren’t listening.”

“And what makes you think I’ll listen now?” I didn’t raise my voice, but my tone was sharp like a dagger.

A dozen men were in the room with us, watching the family drama unfold like a telenovela.

My father’s eyes narrowed, his anger officially provoked. “Then perhaps I’ll ask your brother if he’s up for the task.”

“That’d be wise.” I turned away from my father and wished I hadn’t wasted my time coming down to the warehouse, the place where he’d spit on his marriage to my mother by acting like a king when he’d never earned the crown.

“Think you’re better than me?” His voice stabbed me in the back like the tip of a blade. “Take that judgment in your eyes and shove it up your ass, Son.”

I stilled as my blood started to burn like acid. A son should always admire his father, always dream of being like him once manhood arrived. But all the respect I had for him had died long ago. I turned back around and faced his wrath. “I’m not better than you—but Ma certainly is.”

His expression didn’t change. Hard and still like a statue, he sat in the silence. Then he gave a slight nod to his men, telling them to leave the room so we could finish this in private. They all vacated their chairs and left, taking the women with them, the speaker system too. My father finished the scotch in his short glass before he stood up and looked at me. Fit and trim, he latched on to his youth with an iron grip. He regarded me as an opponent rather than family. “You’re young and naïve. You see the world in black and white, but once enough years have passed, you’ll see that the world is a spectrum of gray. There’s no such thing as right and wrong—only context.”

My eyes shifted back and forth between his. “You put weapons in the hands of criminals and terrorists. You kill people who cross you and people who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’ve never judged you because you did it for us. But what you do to Mom…that’s wrong no matter the context.”

All he did was stare at me.

“You told me loyalty is everything. How can you expect me to be loyal to you but not the woman who raised me?”

His silent stare down continued.

“Stop this, and I can forget what I’ve seen. But continue…and I’ll tell her.”

His eyes flicked back and forth between mine, his anger written in the lines of his face. “I didn’t realize my son was a rat.”

It’d been tense between us for a while, ever since the first time I caught him with a whore. We didn’t speak of it then, and I assumed it was a one-time thing that I could forget about, but then I caught him again…and again. Eventually, he didn’t bother to hide it. He paraded it around like I would approve of his infidelity to my mother, the woman who raised me, the woman who made me breakfast every morning and took me to school. “I’d rather be a rat than an asshole.”