Lethal Honor: A Dark Mafia Prequel (Sample)

 CHAPTER 1

Kenzo

“And yet, you frequent the Gilded Stage,” I say.

The conference room falls silent. The bastard up front—let’s call him Mr. CEO—is redder than a set of brake lights. Sweat instantly covers his forehead, his hands quivering at his sides. Everyone in Vegas knows the Gilded Stage—one of the only nude strip clubs with an alcohol license in the entire metropolitan area.

“The Gilded Stage. Off of Sammy Davis Jr. No?” I laugh. “You were just boasting that you spend half of the company’s profits on homeless shelters. I had no idea that all of those strippers were sleeping overnight at the club.”

He stutters as he fixes his jacket: “A-ah, w-well, if that’s it—” He straightens his posture. “Let’s finish up for today. Thank you for coming to the quarterly stockholder’s meeting.”

I chuckle to myself as the other stockholders line up around Mr. CEO. A few of the business suits give me side-eye, but I keep to myself—for now—and whistle Heart’s Barracuda. Technically, I am a stockholder, but only as much as it gives me access to this kind of meeting. Corporate blackmail is one of my specialties.

Once the room is quiet, save for Mr. CEO’s jagged breath, I inspect my target. Mr. CEO’s got white hair and a proper demeanor, like he listens to classical music and looks down on tattooed people like me. He’s shuffling through his belongings, trying to get out of the room before I approach him, but the Wilson sisters croon in my mind and I mark my steps to their guitar strums. 

He probably doesn’t even realize I’m from the Endo-kai yakuza. And why would he? My irezumi tattoos are covered by my suit. 

“Heading out so soon?” I ask. 

“Hi. Glad you could make it,” Mr. CEO lies as he offers his hand, his palm clammy. “I’m not sure why you asked about the Gilded Stage, but I—”

“Oh, I think you do.” I shake his hand feverishly, a big ass smile painted on my face, like I’ve been waiting for this moment since the day I was born. “I’m Kenzo Watanabe. You may know me from the Samurai Corporation?”

His brows furrow, but he doesn’t budge. Even with the taunt during the meeting, he still doesn’t realize the amount of danger he’s in. 

“All of us like to spend a little money on strippers, right? It’s like giving back to the community when we’re locals,” I say. “But rumor has it you can’t help but spend a couple thousand—maybe more—on a particular platinum-haired, blue-eyed nineteen-year-old with fake tits. I don’t blame you. I’ve seen Daisy in action.” 

His jaw drops as soon as I say her stage name, poker face be damned. He scans me quickly, checking to make sure I’m not a reporter. The reasons for my questioning are far less noble than that. 

“She’s gorgeous,” I continue, “but marking your strip club visits as a company expense when it’s just you there, late at night, jerking it while she jiggles her titties in your face?” I tsk off to the side, tilting my chin down. “I don’t think the rest of the stockholders would approve, considering you’re running such a philanthropic business.”

He puts a hand under his chin, wiping the sweat away. “I sometimes schedule business meetings there—”

“But it’s more than that, isn’t it?”

This time, I rest my hand on his shoulder, making sure he understands how small he is compared to me. My suit hides my frame, but I’m pure muscle, and it shows in my grip on his shoulder. His posture tightens; I grin. People don’t like it when I invade their space, but it’s a power move and a warning. 

I’m not afraid of crossing boundaries. 

I pull out my phone, showing him a few photos we took and other footage we bribed out of the manager from the security cameras. Mr. CEO walking into the VIP room. Mr. CEO and Daisy laughing on the couch. Then, Mr. CEO’s face buried between her silicone breasts. 

“Does your wife know?” I ask. “It’s a progressive world these days. Maybe she’d be into it. But somehow,” I smack my hand down on his back, “I doubt Mrs. CEO would like that.”

“What I do in my private life—”

“But it’s not your private life if you’re using company funds to fuck strippers and snort Shabu Eight.”

The color drains from his face. 

“Shabu Eight?” he gasps. He reaches for his pocket as if he can find a little snort, anything to calm his nerves. “You’re—”

“From the Endo-kai, yes.” I lick my teeth. “Have you heard of what we do to failing companies like yours?”

“I—”

“Now, listen carefully, Mr. CEO. It’s my job to come in and help you find your way. Here are your instructions.” I wrap my arm around his shoulder, making sure he knows I can snap his neck right now if I want to. “You’re going to sell your company’s assets, then you’re going to give us the money. We’ll keep your secret safe. No one will ever know.” Adrenaline flushes through me, my eyes widening, and he flinches. “Think of it as a protection racket. We’ll protect your company from finding out the true reason it’s failing.” I chuckle, then run a hand through my wavy black hair. “And you can still die with your honor.”

“You’re bluffing,” he chokes.

Even though his skin is pale and his temple is twitching, his eyes are round and glowing, like he’s still got some fight left inside of him. I smile; a reaction like this isn’t common. I like it when they have spunk like this. Usually, they’re ready to give it all up, just to stay above water. 

I quickly shoot off a text to one of my soldiers, then nod to the side. 

“Now, I’ve got some men waiting,” I say, gesturing toward the windowed wall of the conference room. A few soldiers round the corner, and Mr. CEO’s lips tremble. “We can take care of this right now, or you can work with us.”

“W-what do you want?” he asks. He eyes their guns. “J-just sell the assets?”

Now we’re getting somewhere. 

“You have two weeks to sell the company’s assets and transfer the funds to one of our offshore accounts. Our kaikei—that means accountant, by the way—will contact you about the exact details. And as for me?” I lean in so close, I can see the pores on his nose pooling with oil. “I will see you again, very soon, if you don’t comply.”

I bow my head and walk through the door, leaving Mr. CEO stuttering behind me. The soldiers exit too, getting into their SUVs. I slip into my 1970s Dodge Challenger. It’s an older car, but completely restored and modified to fit today’s luxuries. The radio speakers blast Heart, the volume cranked so loud they’re about to blow. I race down the highway, back to our headquarters. This—adrenaline and classic rock music—is my fuel. 

I reach the Samurai Castle Resort & Casino. It’s a big resort right across from the Bellagio Fountains and next to the Paris Hotel. Tomo—our kumicho, our boss—worked with an architect to design the resort to appear somewhere between the traditional samurai castles of the 1700s, and the modern elegance of luxury escape destinations. It satisfies the cheesy tourists and the posh high rollers. The old man is a damn genius. 

As I toss my keys to the valet, one of the wakashu—the newest soldiers of the yakuza—pops up next to me. 

“Kenzo-san,” he says. I push a hand through my shaggy black hair. I need a trim. “There’s been an incident.”

Four words you don’t want to hear, no matter your position in the mafia. 

My head pulses. “What is it?” 

“It’s about the Gilded Stage,” he says. Damn. The strip club is coming back to haunt me already. “Someone’s been selling over there. Cheaper too. Taking our business. It’s not one of ours.”

As far as my position goes in the Endo-kai yakuza, I’m the sokaiya—the corporate blackmailer—and I run public relations for our front-facing company, Samurai Corporation. 

But in my off-time, I also manage drug relations for our imported meth and MDMA mix, Shabu Eight. Three jobs keep me entertained. 

We have sellers at the Gilded Stage; it’s how we confirmed that Mr. CEO, was, in fact, spending a shit ton of money on our product there. And a new seller encroaching on our territory, right at the Gilded Stage? It’s ballsy. Too confident to be insignificant. 

“It’s not good,” the soldier says. “Selling it at a cheaper rate. Might not even be the real thing. But he’s claiming it’s pure, you know? Like it’s a legitimate Endo-kai product. It’s cutting into our business at the club.”

I give a long groan. Tomo isn’t going to like this. I motion to the wakashu with the glasses standing next to the first soldier. 

“You hear anything about this?” I ask. He’s one of our newest members. I try to make it a point to learn everyone’s name—it’s part of how you keep a mafia family like ours close—but I don’t know him yet. I’ll have to change that. 

“It’s a couple,” he says. He pushes up his glasses. “A boyfriend and a girlfriend. Might be married. Don’t know. I think one of them dances there.”

“Ah.” I smack him on the shoulder. “A dream team of meth. Thanks.” 

With that, I head toward the high rollers sports lounge. Though Tomo, our oyabun, likes to take sports bets for fun, he prefers the sports lounge because of the high rollers he meets there. And as I expected, he’s sitting on a plush barstool, his daughter and personal bodyguard, Cherry, standing beside him. 

Kumicho,” I say. He’s my adoptive father, but I’ve called him boss since the day I met him. It’s more respectful that way. His crew cut gray hair complements his sharp jaw. He scrunches his wrinkled forehead, but then dips his chin with authority, like an emperor. Cherry and him are the same average height, though size isn’t a thing to that man; I’ve seen Tomo beat the hell out of giants.

“Kenzo,” Tomo says. 

The bartender gets me a glass of whisky. Cherry sucks down a bottle of water. Like usual, she’s dressed in red—to avoid bloodstains, she says. 

“Pissing around, huh?” she teases. We grew up together, and though we aren’t related by blood, we treat each other like family, and that includes giving each other shit. 

“Like you did last week,” I say. 

She smacks the bar top in faux anger, and I bark with laughter. I don’t beat Cherry at blackjack often, but I haven’t played another game with her since our last round. After years of losing to her, I finally won, and I’m not gonna let that go. Cherry’s half-Japanese, half-Polish, but she leans into her mother’s features; some people don’t realize that she’s a hafu until they learn that Tomo is, in fact, her father. Red clothes fit her from head to toe, and a septum piercing hangs from her nose like a bull. Her tank top shows off the tattoo on her arm: a maneki-neko, or welcoming cat, resting a paw on the devil’s head. 

“You cheated,” she shouts. 

“I beat you fair and square,” I remind her, holding my glass of whisky above our heads like a trophy. “You are the one who’s been pissing around.”

She rolls her eyes. “Get your head out of your ass.”

“Hey, kumicho,” I say in a serious tone for once. Even Cherry stiffens. “One of the wakashu mentioned a new rival. Someone’s been selling at the Gilded Stage, and it’s not one of ours.”

Tomo’s brows furrow. “Have you been there yourself?” 

“Not yet.”

He rubs his chin thoughtfully. The cacophony of sports games echo around us, but I’m calmer here. Always am. Las Vegas makes sense. The action never lets me down.

 “Dice is still going there, eh?” Tomo asks. 

I nod. Dice, Tomo’s other adoptive son and my chosen brother, has a crush on one of the strippers there. Even if he’s only there for a few minutes each time, he never misses her shifts. 

“Has he mentioned anything?” Tomo asks.

Dice isn’t the kind of person to talk about things, and every time that I’ve gone to the Gilded Stage with him, he stares at his crush like she’s a glowing, neon insect trap and he’s the moth. He doesn’t say a word to her, and to be honest, it’s creepy. Still, he’s never said anything about the Gilded Stage, only that Lily is off-limits. 

“Nah,” I say. “Want me to check it out?”

“Dice is there right now, no?” Tomo says. If Dice isn’t in his torture basement or collecting a blood debt, he’s likely at the Gilded Stage, so I nod. “Dice will bring them in, then. That way, we can discuss where these dealers actually got their mix.” 

Discuss. It sounds so nice when you put it that way, but we know what he means: interrogation. 

“They’re probably making it locally. A fake mix,” I suggest. I nudge Cherry in the ribs. “Maybe it’s you, Cherry-chan. Our favorite wannabe chemist.”

“Fuck off,” she snorts, punching my arm. “At least I didn’t blow up a shipping container.”

“It was empty, and that was one time,” I say. 

“Dice will take care of it,” Tomo says, cutting off our sibling rivalry. “I’ll call him now.”