AN Latro introduced us to the sexy and dangerous world of the Morgan crime family in Black Collar Empire and the novellas, Black Collar Beginnings: Cuba and Black Collar Beginnings: New York.
Now she returns with Black Collar Beginnings: Manhattan Dry a five part short story about New York’s favorite criminal royalty.
Everything in the Morgan syndicate is poised on the edge of change, and no one understands that more than Caleb. A senior in high school, he’s balanced between a false legitimate life and the deadly one as head of the family’s weapons division.
When an attack comes out of nowhere, the two sides of his world collide and the effects of that will touch everyone in the family…
Black Collar Beginnings: Manhattan Dry Part 3
Empire State Building, New York City
Caleb and Seth stand staring through the crisscrossed railing that surrounds the top of the Empire State Building. The tours have ended for the day, but they’ve been bribing security to let them up there since Caleb was barely a teenager. The night is bright with the lights of Manhattan, yet there’s a hush this far up. Seth is drunk, and he didn’t want to go home. Caleb couldn’t help but agree. They will be in enough trouble. To bring his sixteen-year-old brother home drunk on moonshine would be a nail in his social life’s coffin. Never mind that he is also riding a pretty sweet buzz.
Seth has been quiet since they left the speakeasy. So Caleb has been quiet, too. In a world that’s increasingly defined by duality, society and crime, they can always share their silence. The high of the fight and the win is dissipating into the heavy night of the city. Seth has his hands hooked around the railing, and he’s staring down. The look on his face is so whimsical. That look so often stirs an anger in Caleb. Not really at Seth, but that he will eventually have to wake up to the reality of the lives into which they were born.
Caleb’s phone chimes in his pocket. It’s a welcome distraction; a text, from someone in his division. He stares at it for a long stretch, but it isn’t a pressing issue, and the distraction he thought he wanted proves to be a disappointment. All he keeps thinking is how he had just handled a high school problem like he would handle trafficking weapons. It can’t be good. He clicks the phone to sleep and shoves it back into his pocket.
“That was a pretty big deal, huh?” Seth asks, though he keeps his eyes on the spectacular scene that is their home. Their empire.
“Yeah,” Caleb answers with a warm laugh. The truth he speaks is heavy, but the ridiculously spoiled question Seth asks is too much. So he laughs his disbelief. He knows better than to think Seth had thought ahead, but still the naiveté of the question hits home for Caleb. “Yeah, it was a pretty big deal.”
“Well, what were we supposed to do?” Seth asks, the alcohol softening the edges of his words. “It doesn’t make sense to live one life one way, and the other life a different way.”
“Yes,” says Caleb. He doesn’t want to have this conversation, but there’s no avoiding it. “It makes perfect sense to do that. We’re not untouchable, Seth.”
“Aren’t we?” Seth asks, the brat prince showing his head.
“No,” Caleb spits with more force than he means to. “You’re so fucking sheltered. You know that Dad has to pay for the protection we have.”
Seth quiets in a way most wouldn’t believe possible. Caleb knows that Seth is just now taking in the magnitude of their actions. He also knows that that means that Seth is just now measuring the amount of hot water into which Caleb has willingly thrown himself.
“So what are we gonna do?” Seth wonders, finally tearing his eyes from the cityscape to pin a wide-eyed look on his brother. Caleb laughs again. This little prick is impossible.
“I think we’ve done enough for the time being.” He fishes the Marlboro Reds from his pocket, the contraband he is now legally allowed to have, even if he isn’t allowed to smoke them under his dad’s roof. He lights one, then says, “Now, we wait to see how the cards fall. If they rat on us, they’ll give themselves away that they were at Manhattan Dry, unless they lie about where they got jumped. And if they lie about where they were, we have an an alibi that says we were at the bar. Our best bet is to deny it happened until they provide proof that it was us.”
“Give me one of those cigarettes,” Seth says suddenly. He doesn’t smoke, but Caleb can tell that his little brother is feeling the pressure of their actions.
“Fuck you,” Caleb answers. Seth knows damn well that Caleb won’t give him one.
“You just gave me moonshine, for fuck’s sake,” Seth mumbles.
“No, I didn’t.”
Seth huffs, but he stops arguing. His buzz must be wearing off, because his expression has gathered in the beginnings of a scowl. Finally, he says, “You know I meant it when I said I’d take the heat.”
Even if Caleb wants to be mad at Seth’s innocence, he can’t find his anger in the wake of those words. A rueful smile tugs at his lips when he answers. “You know it won’t work that way with Dad.”
“Why did you do it, then?” Seth asks, and his questioning gaze finds its way back to Caleb, who finally meets his little brother’s eyes. Caleb’s face has hardened with his thoughts.
“You really have to ask me that? Really Seth? I did it because those mother-fuckers jumped me. Because they didn’t have the balls to make it fair.” He pulls hard on his cigarette, and when he exhales, he imagines that the smoke will cover all of Manhattan, and that every soul in the borough will feel his indignation. He isn’t looking at Seth when he says, “Revenge. That’s what we do. It’s survival.”
Seth rests his forehead against the metal of the rail, and his brow draws in even more. “But you just said we couldn’t live both lives like that.”
“We can’t!” Caleb says sharply. “Goddammit, keep up with me. What we just did was stupid, and dangerous. We shouldn’t have done it, and there’s going to be hell to pay. But just this once, I don’t give a fuck. I will be the one to take the backlash. And it was worth it to me, because I also won’t have any pansy-assed, white collar shitheads believing they’re better than me.”
Seth’s head is still against the railing, but he’s staring at Caleb. Seth has never understood the anger that drives Caleb. Seth never had to work for it. He is the golden son, charming his way out of a new snake pit every day. Caleb is not the type to be satisfied with what was given to him–he has always wanted more, and he flaunts that by buying street bikes, and hanging out with people who didn’t go to Irving. By getting his hands dirty in his division, embracing the darkest sides of their world.
Caleb flicks his cigarette and they both silently watch it get swallowed by the darkness. That’s me, thinks Caleb. That’s all of us.
“Excuse me, boys,” a gruff male voice sounds behind them. Both of them spin around, ready for a fight. It’s just the security guy. His eyes are wide, alarmed at their quick reaction. He says, “Uh, sorry, but we gotta close up.”
Both brothers relax instantly, and Caleb says, “Yeah, sure. Thanks, as always.”
The older man nods, and disappears back inside. Caleb takes a long breath, and waits for his adrenaline to calm. Seth is still tense, visibly shaken by the lost look in his eyes. As Seth moves to walk inside, Caleb grabs his arm as he had earlier, but gentler.
“The time when we can do shit like this is coming to an end. I’m the head of a division now, and you need to start learning how to be one. This high school shit, that’s the fake life. We do it because we have to. Please tell me you understand.”
“I get it,” Seth mumbles.
He doesn’t, Caleb knows it. But there’s nothing he can do, so he lets go of his brother’s arm, and begins to prepare himself for the trip home.
* * *
Gabriel is waiting for his sons when they come home. He’s sitting in the same spot he had been in when they left. Of course he heard them leave without telling him where they were going, or even saying goodbye. Now, he’s several scotches in. He pushed his reports aside some time ago, so that by the time Caleb and Seth return, Gabe has achieved a manageable level of zen quiet.
He hears the elevator ding, then the doors swish open. He waits just long enough for the boys to get into the hallway, just feet from their rooms, and he calls to them. His voice is controlled, but it carries its command to his sons. He can feel their pause, know they are exchanging “oh shit” looks. Moments later they amble into the dining area.
Caleb glances at the low lighting, and then the scotch. Of course he notices right away that his dad is no longer working. Seth is a ball of nerves. He tries his damnedest to be as casual as Caleb, but the strain in his eyes gives him away.
Every fucking time.
“Have a seat,” says Gabe, nodding toward the same two seats in front of him where they had been just hours previous.
Neither speak as they obey. Gabe is not the kind of man to scream at his kids. He is more the kind who deals with inner-familial issues the same way he deals with his syndicate and the corporation. That he is quiet is no indication either way whether they are in trouble already, or not.
Caleb is stoic, mirroring his father’s calm in an impressive blank expression. Seth just stares at the table. Gabe takes a drink and said, “You don’t even tell your father goodbye when you leave now?”
“I was mad. Sorry,” Caleb answers, meticulously measuring the tone.
“Where’ve you been?”
“I took him to Manhattan Dry,” says Caleb.
Gabe’s eyebrows hitch up a few notches, and Seth’s eyes fly wide. Gabriel says, “You took your sixteen-year-old brother to a speakeasy?”
“He’s been bugging me to see it –”
“It was my fault!” Seth blurts.
Caleb huffs and turned a scathing look on Seth. Why can’t he just keep his damn mouth shut? One goddamned time.
“It’s your fault?” Gabe asks. “Really? How is that?”
“He followed me,” Seth says. Then he clams up. He knows he’s already said too much. Gabe lets his youngest wallow in his own silence, and keeps his weighted stare on Caleb, who meets his father’s eyes. Anyone who doesn’t know Caleb wouldn’t be able to see the real emotion in his expression; indignation, rebellion, but not guilt. Gabe knows every single nuance. Caleb doesn’t give a shit about consequences just now.
Eventually, Seth’s guilty gaze wanders to his father, then to his brother. So much seems to pass between the two of them in moments like this, and Seth can’t begin to understand. Seth does know that Caleb was right. This isn’t something Seth can get them out of.
“Seth,” says Gabe, but he doesn’t look at him. “Go to bed, son.”
Seth glances between them again, blinks, then opens his mouth like he wants to say something. He freezes like that while Gabe slowly turns to him. Then he closes his mouth, and leaves the table.
As the door to Seth’s room closes, Gabe stands and goes to the hardwood mini-bar to refill his scotch. As he does, he pours a second shot. He puts a highball in front of his oldest, and takes his seat. Caleb stares down at the liquor. He tries to keep the disbelief from his expression, but can’t, and the resulting expression mixes with his anger. It makes him look mean. Sure, exacting revenge felt good, but he’s still pissed that they ganged up on him. In his world, they would die. And part of him still wants that.
“You did exactly what I told you not to do, didn’t you?” Gabe asks.
Caleb finds his courage, takes a sip of scotch. He doesn’t make a face, doesn’t pretend he’s not used to the burning taste. “Yes.”
“They humiliated me.”
Gabe sighs, finds solace in a sip. He is silent for an uncomfortable stretch, during which he stares into the dimness of the room. The top several buttons of his shirt are undone, and his tie is strung across the back of the chair beside him. He rubs his chin thoughtfully, then says, “Caleb, there’s a world of appearances that we must uphold -”
“I know,” says Caleb. “It won’t happen again.” And he takes a much larger drink.
Gabe is watching him, again with raised eyebrows. Usually he wouldn’t abide being interrupted, but his expression is curious. This is the man Caleb is becoming, everything a successful leader should be.
Gabe says, “My first instinct is to make you quit the team.”
Caleb’s eyes flash wide, and he looks like he really means the panic that shows in them.
“But,” his father continues, “Swimming is an excellent opportunity for you to get scholarships to prestigious schools, to go anywhere you want.”
Caleb’s brow furrows. “College? Really, Dad? Am I supposed to run a division from another state?”
“Listen to me, son, if you wanted to go to college, I could arrange it. I’ll do anything for you to make a legitimate life for yourself.”
The consternation turns to suspicion. Caleb narrows his eyes. “This is my life. Fuck college. I don’t want to go to some uppity school with a bunch of douchebag nerds. I want to do what we do. I am doing what we do.”
Gabe weighs Caleb’s response for a long time, in which he downs the rest of his scotch. Caleb does the same. At length, Gabe says, “Fine. From now until the end of the school year, every minute not spent on school will be spent with the syndicate. You’ll have no room to cause more trouble, and you will at least graduate. You don’t date, you don’t hang out after school, and you don’t sneak off to beat anyone up. One slip up and you will quit the swim team, and I will demote you to the ranks of your own division. You will be on very thin ice, and I leave you no margin for error. You want to act like a big boy, then you’ll own up to it. Understood?”
Caleb takes a thick swallow. The liquor burns in his cheeks and gut, but he holds the eye contact. He has vied for respect, and now he has to earn it. As he said he would, he silently vows to take his consequences humbly. He nods, expression solemn.
“Thank you, father,” he whispers.
Caleb’s expression remains a careful mask, but Gabe can see the tension ease from the boy. Not a boy anymore. A man, a tenacious and hungry head of the family’s weapons trafficking division – and a damn fine Morgan.
At length, Caleb quietly says, “Good night.” And he leaves the room without fanfare. Gabe watches him go, watches the silent and dangerous creature Caleb has become. And he smiles, because he is proud of his son.
Catch up on the series now!!
Black Collar Empire:
After two years away, Seth Morgan has returned to New York, desperate to honor his father’s dying wish for a unified family. But the heir’s welcome is sadly lacking: his family’s criminal empire is divided, the woman he loves hates him, and his brother Caleb has become a cold stranger.
When a brotherly spat becomes a vicious misunderstanding that ends with Caleb dead, Seth is left reeling, and unsure who to trust.
Emma Morgan grew up while her closest cousin was away. She’s been sheltered her entire life from the realities of their family—something Seth has every intention of changing upon his return.
But not everyone in the syndicate is happy to have Seth home, and there are secrets surrounding Caleb’s murder. The deeper Seth and Emma dig, the clearer it becomes that not everyone shares their dream for the Morgan Syndicate, and not everyone wants the heir to ascend.
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Black Collar Beginnings: New York
Caleb Morgan is the black sheep of the family. Two years of his brother’s absence has left him cold and alone—except for Emma, the youngest Morgan. Because with Seth gone, there is no one else to teach—or protect—their innocent cousin. But teaching isn’t always pretty—not in family who peddles in crime. Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iBooks
Black Collar Beginnings: Cuba
Alone in Cuba, Seth Morgan isn’t mafia royalty—he’s a thug with a gun, and everything to prove. When the shadowy kingpin behind the Cuban syndicate finally takes notice, nothing in Seth’s world will ever be the same.
Before the Empire, there was exile. A novella, set just before Black Collar Empire.
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Part 1—Monday, Nov 3rd.
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Part 2—Tuesday, Nov 4
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AN Latro loves good wine and the ocean, and prefers to write with both. She has a passion for bad boys in books, and stories that make you feel. She can most often be found along the Florida coast.
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