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The syndicate, p.1
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       The Syndicate, p.1

           Shelena Shorts
 
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The Syndicate


  The Syndicate

  Published through Lands Atlantic Publishing

  www.landsatlantic.com

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  All rights reserved

  Copyright © 2012 by Shelena Shorts

  ISBN 978-0-9857250-9-9

  Cover Design by José C. Aponte

  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written permission of the author or publisher.

  CONTENTS

  Chapter 1: THE ARRIVAL

  Chapter 2: THE FIRST ASSIGNMENT

  Chapter 3: SECOND ASSIGNMENT

  Chapter 4: COMING TO TERMS

  Chapter 5: THE ER

  Chapter 6: DAY OF ATTACK

  Chapter 7: THE RESISTANCE

  Chapter 8: THE UNEXPECTED

  Chapter 9: RESISTANCE

  Chapter 10: THE FOLD

  Chapter 11: THE AFTERMATH

  Chapter 12: THE ANSWER

  Chapter 13: MAILED

  Chapter 14: FAMILY HISTORY

  Chapter 15: HENRI’S CIRCLE

  Chapter 16: A PLAN

  Chapter 17: THE MAYBE

  Chapter 18: THE TIE THAT BINDS

  Chapter 19: A REUNION

  Chapter 20: THE FUTURE

  Chapter 21: THE PETRESCU RETURN

  Chapter 22: SOLO

  Chapter 1

  THE ARRIVAL

  As I make my way through the back hall, I ponder two of our most important objectives. One is to be better than the target; the other, to be loyal to the Syndicate—and I don’t have a problem with either. What I do have a problem with is being called to meet privately with Henri at midnight on the eve of our next Circle.

  My family’s mansion is now the center of the Syndicate’s North American operation, and though the house belongs to me by birthright, my respect for the code, and for the elders, keeps me submissively following orders. Now is no exception.

  Knowing that Henri will be able to sense my irritation, I begin counting by thirteen so that, by the time I reach his study, I appear well focused.

  When I arrive, the office door is open, prompting me to enter without knocking.

  Behind the desk sits Henri, the oldest and most powerful of the Circle. His chair is facing the wall, but his tan, finely wrinkled hands are visible on each armrest. His left hand begins tapping softly, but, to me and my fellow Guard, the tap is a near thump to our trained hearing. Knowing he can sense my presence, I wait respectfully until he slowly turns and faces me.

  “My dearest Vasile, please come—and close the door.” I do as he asks and sit across from him as he continues. “I know this meeting is very unusual, but we are approaching some of our most trying times. Our duties will be tested now more than ever.” I shift in my seat, trying to decipher the harder-than-usual lines in Henri’s face. “You are our most reliable, most efficient, and I trust you with my life. We all do.” This surprises me, because as far as I know we have everything under control.

  “I don’t understand,” I say. “Things are in order. We are fulfilling our purpose.”

  “Yes, we are. However, the Readers see a future that could not only threaten civilians, but threaten our Syndicate. I am told we will be tested like never before.”

  “Why are you telling me this? Where are the others?” There are eight members of the American Guard, so I find it strange for Henri to be speaking to me in private. Matters regarding the Syndicate are supposed to be discussed at the Circle, in front of everyone.

  My mouth opens with more questions, but Henri puts his hand up to silence me. “Because,” he says. “You are next in line to lead the Circle. I must know that you are willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill your duties.”

  I lean forward, a little defensive that there would be any doubt. “Of course I will.”

  After a brief moment of reflection, Henri stands and walks around the desk. Behind me, he places his palms on both of my shoulders. “Good. I knew you could be relied upon. Now, listen carefully…the Readers see one of the Guard going astray.” I move to turn around, but Henri holds me still. “Vasile. You must listen.”

  I shake my head. “No one would do that. The Syndicate is too important.”

  With a slight laugh, Henri replies, “I wish it were true, but the Readers are never wrong.”

  Still fighting the urge to face him, I quickly shoot back, “But who?”

  “That is unknown.”

  “None of my brothers would betray the Syndicate. I know that.”

  Henri gives me a pat on the shoulder and finally moves in front of me. Leaning on the desk, he sighs slowly and shakes his head equally so. “Vasi, you know nothing but what our Readers foresee.” His remarkably white hair and pale blue eyes, in contrast to his tan skin, create an intriguing look of godly wisdom. There’s no point in questioning him, so I bow my head and nod.

  “Now,” Henri continues, “I brought you here because it will be your responsibility to make sure our Syndicate survives the betrayal. You must never fail us, and you must always protect the Syndicate. No matter what.”

  What does that mean, “no matter what?” I think about my destiny to protect the people and fulfill my father’s wishes, but hearing orders from Henri has always given me the urge to rebel. Not from the Syndicate, but from his authority. Without responding verbally, I give a slight nod, which Henri doesn’t find acceptable.

  “Do you understand?” he presses.

  I force myself to answer. “I understand.”

  “Good. I knew you would. Now, as you know, the Readers are on their way and the Circle meets tomorrow. You will get your next assignment, and you must watch your back. Remember, one of the Guards will threaten our survival, but we do not know when. Trust no one and always be vigilant and alert.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  Henri silently crosses the study and opens the door, an unspoken invitation to leave. In passing, I glance into the eyes of our leader and, although I expect to see the steadfast composure that the Elders always possess, something rattles me.

  The Syndicate has faced centuries of threats, but never one from our own, and I certainly expect Henri to appear a little concerned at the idea, but there is nothing unusual in his eyes.

  As I make my way back to my room, it is the one time I don’t just wish my father were still around; I need him to be. With his training, my skills are unmatchable, and at eighteen I’m already the best assassin in the Guard. Not because I’m the strongest, or even the fastest, but because I possess adequate physical strength coupled with his instinct and intellect.

  Unafraid to say it, I’m simply the smartest and most reliable of the Syndicate brothers, and therefore respected. It does help that my bloodline is the oldest among our kind, so carrying out my duty is natural to me. Not trusting one of my brothers is another story. Not natural. Handling a possible betrayal from the Guard was something my father didn’t teach me about. In fact, there were many things my father, once the leader of the Syndicate, didn’t get to teach me.

  Not only the youngest of the appointed Guard, I’m also the only one with a deceased mother and father. Both killed when I was fifteen. Everything I know, I learned before my parent’s murder, and have since refused to allow anyone else to teach me, which makes my abilities stand out that much more. It also makes me feel closer to my father—unchanged, as I like to think of myself. I am, in my mind, the exact person I believe my father wanted me to be.

  Some people in the Syn
dicate even have moments of déjà vu. They say I’m the spitting image of him. Fair skin, light brown hair, and hazel eyes that seem to change color with my clothing. It’s eerie for them to see me not only look so much like my father, but to act like him, even three years after his death.

  I can’t help but ponder my memories of him as I enter my room and lie on the bed. My room is one of several in the century-old French-style mansion, but this space is simple: no photographs, no bright wall color. Just the basics. A bed, computer desk with a laptop, small reading light, and a bookcase. The walls are covered in sealed oak, stained to match the dark oak floors.

  The iron bed is situated in the corner to allow the most floor space. The bed itself has been in my family for decades and is now nearly too small for me. At six feet three, it’s virtually impossible for me to stretch out completely on the old frame, but I refuse to get rid of it. To me, it’s another method of hanging onto the memories of my bloodline.

  The darkness usually brings peaceful thoughts, but tonight my mind is racing. Trust no one. One of the Guards will betray us? Unable to shake Henri’s words, for once, I’m glad to hear the tapping of my sister’s heels as she approaches my room.

  At seventeen, Rosie is the youngest appointed member. But she wasn’t appointed for her talent alone. She was given her role as my Scout because I refused to have it any other way.

  In the Syndicate, it’s tradition for the boys to become part of the Guard once they turn eighteen. Our job is simply to hunt and kill when told. The girls can either be Readers or Scouts or a silent member. And since Rosie couldn’t see the future if it bit her, and she can’t stay out of the way, she’s a Scout, and I want her paired with me.

  The mere fact that the elders considered appointing her a year early is a true testament to my value. They need me in the Guard, and if what the Readers predict is true, they need me now more than ever.

  Her small voice sings as she approaches. “Oh, big brother, where art thou?”

  I don’t bother answering, because she’ll knock twice and just come in anyway.

  On cue, she enters. “Hel-lo? Did you hear me calling you?”

  I sit up and smile slightly. Seeing her, my only true blood relative still living, makes even the worst thoughts disappear.

  “Yes, but why respond when I know you’re just going to barge in anyway?”

  Not waiting for me to move over, she plops down beside me. “Oh, big brother, if you came to the door like a gentlemen, then I wouldn’t have to barge in.”

  “Well, I’m not a gentlemen, so that’s out, and you can stop calling me big brother.”

  “But you are. You know you like it. What are you, like, six feet six now?”

  “Hardly.”

  “Whatever.”

  I laugh, almost wanting to turn on the light just so I can get a better glimpse of her. She takes after our mother, with dark hair and chocolate eyes. She’s also tall and athletic, but prefers to keep her nails refined as opposed to fighting beastly creatures like I do. Not to say she can’t hold her own if need be.

  “Why are you here?” I ask.

  I can feel her piercing glare in the darkness. “I’m your Scout, remember? What do you think I’ve been doing?”

  “Rosie, there’s nothing to scout. The Readers aren’t even here until tomorrow. We have no assignment.”

  “You think I shut off my skills just because there’s no Hybrid on the radar? It doesn’t work like that, brother. I’m always on the lookout.”

  “Fine. I give. What did you see?”

  “Nothing.”

  I roll my eyes, about to give her the boot, when she corrects. “Well, maybe something.”

  “All right. What is it?”

  “Okay…I was sneaking in from, well, a friend’s house and thought I saw a Reader coming in the west entry. So I came to see if you guys got orders early.”

  Sitting up completely now, I turn on the lamp. “You saw a Reader? Tonight? Here?”

  “I think.”

  “Which one?”

  “Well, I didn’t see an actual Reader, but I saw a Shadow.”

  “Who?”

  “Couldn’t tell.”

  Frustrated with the vague report, I sigh. “Rosie, then how did you know it was a Shadow?”

  “It was just the way they were walking. Why are you so uptight about it?”

  I know the Readers aren’t supposed to arrive until tomorrow afternoon, so it doesn’t make sense why one would arrive early. And the mention of the west entrance doesn’t sit well with me because that leads to Henri’s study. One of the rules of the Syndicate is that all meetings are held publicly.

  The only reason we have lasted this long is because of the camaraderie instilled by our ancestors. No one ever breaks off to do their own thing, and because of our vow to discuss and make all decisions together, we have always stood strong, as one trusted unit. Never have there been secret meetings. Counting the one I just had, and if my sister is right, that makes two in one night.

  “Hello?” Rosie waves her hand in front of my face. “What’s up?”

  “I’m not sure. Just tell me if you see anything else.”

  Fumbling through her purse, she pops a piece of bubble gum in her mouth. “Sure thing.”

  She stands to leave, but turns back, sending her ponytail around to the opposite shoulder. “So you don’t know when we go hunting again?”

  “No, little sis. But, I have a pretty good feeling we’ll find out tomorrow.”

  In excitement, she rolls forward on the balls of her feet and hops out of my room.

  Since my first Hybrid kill, sleeping has never been my strong suit, but I force myself to relax in hopes of getting some answers at the Circle tomorrow.

  ***

  The first Reader arrives at three. Adela, a small, thin woman with fiery red hair, is my godmother, and I always look forward to seeing her. She steps out of the black Range Rover with her Shadow in tow, both wearing all back.

  “Vasile! Oh, my dear. I’ve missed you truly.”

  “Adela.” I kiss her on the cheek. “Can I help you carry anything?”

  “Nonsense. What do you think I have Eugen for?”

  I turn to her Shadow. “Eugen. Nice to see you.”

  Eugen sighs and smiles. “You too, brother.” He gives me a firm hug and we begin walking to the house. As a Shadow, Eugen is responsible for protecting Adela. The older Hybrids have learned about the Readers’ ability to predict their locations, so it’s not uncommon for them to come after a Reader. Therefore, the Readers are never left unprotected, and ever since Eugen retired from the Guard several years ago, he’s been Adela’s Shadow.

  Although he’s not my brother by blood, Eugen is my Syndicate brother, and it by all means feels like true blood. With Adela walking slowly ahead of us, I take the opportunity to whisper, “I see she hasn’t changed a bit.”

  Eugen winks. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Seeing my raised brow, he adds, “Let’s just say life never gets boring with her.”

  “I hear you two,” Adela sings.

  We laugh, and it’ll probably be the last time for a while. Being an active member of the Guard, I’m about to find out where to find a Hybrid, and that means business and no play.

  After helping Adela and Eugen settle in, I make it a point to watch and count the arrivals of the remaining Readers. There are five, counting Adela, and I want to identify the early arriver through process of elimination.

  I park myself with a book in the living room, just off the main entryway. Camelia arrives next, with her Shadow Paul. Followed by Joana and her Shadow Jean. But, neither Dorina nor Ramona arrive.

  Confused, I wait as long as possible until Rosie comes to get me. “Vasile, it’s time. You need to change.”

  “What about the Readers who aren’t here?”

  Rosie scrunches up her face. “What are you talking about? Everyone’s here.”

  “I didn’t see Dorina or Ramona.”

&
nbsp; “They’re here.”

  She goes to pull me by the arm, but then it registers. “Wait a minute,” she says. “You were waiting to see who didn’t arrive today, because you wanted to see if I was right about last night.”

  I don’t argue.

  “I knew it!” she nearly hisses. “Which one? And what does it mean?”

  I sense a million questions coming, and my brain can’t handle hers on top of the ones already running through my mind, so I cut her off.

  “Rosie, I’m just curious. Relax. I’m sure I’ll find out what’s going on at the Circle.”

  “Which you are going to be late for if you don’t hurry up.”

  Tradition has always been for the Syndicate to wear black, so I stop by my room to change. My choice of a black hooded sweatshirt and sweatpants is certainly on the casual side, but still acceptable.

  At six o’clock, I make my way to the west passage, into the basement, and toward the chamber where the Elders and the Readers await. Although this is my fifth time making this walk, it somehow feels very much like the first. A little anxious and apprehensive.

  Approaching the ornately carved door, I see the eight Scouts and five Shadows mingling outside. They are not part of the inner Circle. Not because they aren’t trusted, but because their orders will come directly from their Guards.

  Nodding respectfully to each of my brothers and sisters, I open the door to see fifteen high-ranking Syndicate members sitting around, waiting for me, the sixteenth member. They immediately turn and look my way.

  “About time,” Daniel shouts. He, too, is in sweatpants. Only a year older than me, he is by far my closest Guard member. Our mothers were inseparable, and, even though his father is Henri, we are best friends. I think we both equally dislike taking orders from Henri, and I smile as that thought crosses my mind.

  Just then, someone to my right clears his throat. Alexandru. Cocky Alexandru. He’s over the top about everything, from his Benz to his designer underwear. He’s living the high life and not afraid to show it. After all, what’s anyone going to do about it? When he was in high school, a kid tried to challenge him, and Alexandru broke his nose with an open hand. Then he sent the kid the dry-cleaning bill because he bled on his sleeve. He has no problem doing and saying whatever he wants, because he has the money and the ego to back it up.

 
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