No one ever dreamed of challenging Ralph. It seemed impossible; he himself was nowhere, but he had eyes and ears everywhere.

He paid informants handsomely—and why not pay out flush?
Ralph had amassed enough power to declare his store a vengeance-free zone and to enforce this edict across all gangs.
In Loony Island, if you wanted to transact business and not get a machete in the neck—truly, if you wanted to transact business at all—Ralph’s General & Specific was the spot.
And, since Ralph had the only store that mattered, all the rats in Ralph’s maze were going to buy their cheese from Ralph anyway, so any payout money, however generous, would find its way back into Ralph’s pocket.
Ralph controlled the food and the information, and, as gangs stopped fighting him, Ralph would reward them by not fighting them. This was Ralph’s genius: conquest first through pain, then through fear of pain, and finally through relief from the fear of pain. In short, diplomacy.
And then he left.
By his fortieth birthday, he’d amassed a fortune without ever filling out a W2 or visiting a bank and decided to parachute off Loony Island into luxury and ease.
Ralph bought a country mansion far out of town, a squad of vicious lawyers, a platoon of neckless goons, seven cars, twelve platinum chains, an ex-wife, some girlfriends, and some more girlfriends for the girlfriends.
Such was the influence he wielded that under his command the five gangs, even with their leader in absentia, established their separate boundaries without any further turf war.
This is power, Ralph once told Donk: When the cat’s away, the mice behave.
Ralph’s General & Specific served as a front for all Ralph Mayor’s criminal dealings. Like any successful lie, it was mostly true.
To run the “General” end of things, Ralph had hired a series of legitimate business managers, nameless straights who clocked in for eight exact hours, whose duties involved ...
... never leaving the office, making phone calls to distributors, paying bills with laundered money, and studiously looking the other way.
This worked well for a while, but inevitably the manager would prove too reputable, grow a conscience, and start asking questions, or else grow greedy, and start using their skills to skim.
Whatever the flaw, Ralph’s severance package was identical: You’d end up in a barrel full of cement and drowned in the river.
Eventually Ralph, having sunk a fourth barrel, despairing of finding the perfect balance of dependable and dirty, hired family: a second cousin, Bailey Ligneclaire.
Ralph had more known of her than known her until recent years—as she made a name for herself as an all-around badass in the fights the gangs organized in the abandoned factories, and then...
... parlayed that rep into a gig as a highly effective freelance enforcer—but Ralph must have reckoned that family is family, and even a thin blood tie might prove thicker than cement.
Donk hated Bailey getting promoted to such dangerous prominence, but he had to keep it quiet or risk exposing their connection. By then, Donk had plenty of experience smiling at Ralph while inwardly seething.
He had to keep that shit-eating smile affixed when Bailey turned out to be a dab hand at management—enough so that when she wanted to expand operations to the donut shack in the parking lot, Ralph approved the acquisition, and even let Bailey name it after herself.
Meanwhile, to maintain the “Specific” end, the more black-market part of his Market, Ralph had Donk.
While all actions had to be approved by Ralph, the only way to submit to Ralph was through Donk, who met with Ralph weekly by video conference.
Donk communicated Ralph’s decision through a byzantine code system, which he posted to the grocery bulletin board.
If you made a formal request to Ralph during “office” hours, you were obliged to make a purchase. On your receipt, you’d see a code that Donk had put in his system especially for you, which you used to cross reference for your answer on the bulletin board.
If you made a move “off-code,” you did so unprotected by the umbrella of Ralph’s approval; you went back home and prayed, hard, that Donk never heard about it, which he always did—Donk’s business was having his thumbs in all the pies.
Ralph naturally expected regular reports and regular payments, all of which he received from Donk, and Donk got to have the best of the violent criminal life without having to commit much actual violent crime.
Life at the center carried its own set of difficulties, though. The problem with being the man with the plans is everybody knows you’re the man with the plans. This breeds jealousy—as Donk explained to me, there was healthy resentment among the gang bosses toward him.
Owing to fear of reprisal and Ralph’s finely honed sense of sadism, jealousy rarely progressed to action, but Donk remained wary. Better to live a life with no obvious places to pinch.
So, Donk was always scheming. Anyone he actually loved he’d pretend not to know, or even pretend to hate. Anything he really thought, he’d hide behind five lies. Anyplace he went, he’d plan three shakes for the tail he assumed was there.
He was one who buried his business deep and then dug a dozen decoy holes so anybody spying on him would waste time at the finding.
His love, he buried deepest of all.
Out in paperback 12/1.

Preorder now.…

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21 Nov

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