A/N: A brand new scene has been added at the end of this chapter (if you read before 9/12/21) with minor changes throughout the rest of the chapter**
The little office in the news station, always quieter than the hustle and bustle of the rest of the newsroom, remained a getaway of sorts for Elias Payne. A getaway where he could sit down and research for hours without having to take a break to run downtown and grab coffee for everyone or scramble to gather all the information he could on a breaking story before the news broke into whatever show was airing at the time. A getaway from real life, from negativity, from grief. Simply… a getaway.
At the age of twenty-seven, Elias had finally made the jump to investigative journalism. He’d worked his ass off to get the position without using the weight of his parents’ name or status, despite how many times they’d explained their distaste of the career and the method. But as long as he carried out his first story with an interesting, ground-breaking scope, he was sure he’d finally make them proud of all of the decisions revolving around his journalistic career.
Thankfully, Vito Minetti was an interesting subject to research. Identified as one of two prime suspects for the Horror Twins murders, there was quite a bit to go through for a story featuring him. Elias’s original angle on the story had been simple: prove once and for all that Tito and Vito Minetti were, indeed, the Horror Twins, a set of mafia enforcer soldiers who had wreaked murderous havoc in damn near every state across the country for the last fifteen years.
Elias had spent the two weeks researching both Minetti men before focusing his sights on Vito specifically, the ‘younger’ of the set. In the state of California alone, Vito was present for every single Horror Twins murder there’d ever been. Tito, on the other hand, hadn’t been. He’d been there for a large number of them, but certainly not every single one. It made the case for Vito stronger, and proving that only one of the twins was present for a nice chunk of the homicides proved Vito even had a higher body count than the other half of the Horror Twins.
It was an investigation Elias had been looking forward to for years, one he had always kept to himself in hopes he’d still be able to deep dive into it once he got a shot at investigative journalism. And now he finally had his shot, and he had no intention of letting anyone down.
Elias lifted his head at the knock on his door. “Yeah?”
His boss, an older white man named John, opened the door and stepped into his office. “Hey. Just checking in on the Minetti research. Wanted to make sure you were handling everything okay before I leave for the day.”
“Actually, there’s something I want to talk to you about.” Elias sorted through the papers on his desk before grabbing his notepad. He pushed himself to his feet and walked over to John. “So I’ve gone through and cross-referenced every single one of the Horror Twins murders in California with when Tito and Vito were in the state. Vito was present in the state for every single one of them, but Tito wasn’t. He’s been there for around eighty-five percent of them. I’d like to focus my investigation specifically on Vito, and I was hoping I could get the a-okay for that.” Elias tapped a finger to his notepad. “He has the higher body count of the two. Christ, I might even be able to prove that this bastard is the Horror Twin. Vito could be the whole darn thing. Tito might not be involved at all, and I’d like to see if I can prove that. Imagine the headlines.”
After a moment, John smiled. “Ah, why the hell not. Go for it, kid. Focus in on Vito and see what you can find.”
“Thank you.” Elias cleared his throat, taking a small step back. “I do have another… thing to run past you before you head out.”
“Sure. I’m listening.”
“I know Vito actively visits several bars here in Kansas. Like… every night, actively. I want to know if it’s completely idiotic to go to one of those bars, wait for him to show up, and… try to get close to him.”
“A lot of investigative journalists ‘befriend’ the people they’re investigating. Through email, texts, letters, in-person. It’s shown to be an effective method of getting to the story. So if you think it’s your next step, do it. I support you in that decision.” John jabbed a crooked, calloused finger into Elias’s chest. “But keep your head on a swivel, Elias. Vito Minetti eliminates problems. While you’re befriending the man, don’t become a problem for him. I can help you out of a lot of bad situations, kid, but I can’t make a mafia hit on your head go away.”
Elias nodded. “I’ll be careful. Thank you.”
“Sure thing. You keep me posted, all right? You’re doing great.”
“I will. And thank you.” Elias smiled. “Again.”
John chuckled. “You’re welcome. I’m gonna grab lunch before I go catch my flight. You wanna come with, or are you gonna hole yourself up in here for the day?”
“I brought salad, don’t worry. Enjoy your lunch, man.”
The older man nodded. “I’ll do what I can. Don’t get too lost in the numbers and research. Remember to actually eat the food you brought. Don’t lose yourself long enough to starve or there won’t be a story at all.”
“I appreciate the concern. I’ll do what I can,” Elias echoed. John gave him a two-fingered salute and walked out of the room, closing the door behind him. Elias sat back down behind his desk, letting out a slow breath. He’d always considered himself an intrepid journalist, even when he wasn’t doing much more than buying coffees for the crew, but investigating Vito Minetti of all people took that fearlessness to a whole new level. If what the public knew about the Minetti Horror Twins could be applied to Vito without a shadow of a doubt–and Elias was pretty damn sure it could–then this was the most dangerous thing he’d ever done.
Elias had chosen Drake’s Place as his bar for the night. Though there was a good chance Vito would settle into one of the other bars for the night, if he sat at Drake’s for enough nights in a row, Vito was bound to walk into the bar at least once. By all accounts, Vito was an alcoholic drug abuser. A recipe for danger and disaster, of course, but a guarantee that he wouldn’t suddenly stop going to bars, Drake’s Place included.
All Elias had to do was wait.
When Vito hadn’t arrived by eleven, Elias packed up his notepad, recorder, and phone, paid his tab, and headed home.
His heart skipped a beat as he pulled up to the house. His mother’s car was in the driveway. He parked on the street, leaving enough room for her to back out without issue, and shut off the car. He clutched the necklace charm resting on his chest, eyes glued to the house. It was well after eleven-thirty. Was there any possibility for good news to come from the woman that late in the night?
Elias drew in a breath and forced himself out of the car, satchel in hand. Locking the car with his fob, he headed up toward the house. The door was unlocked, which he knew wasn’t something he’d done that morning before leaving for work. He had locked it. He had no doubts about that.
“Glad to see you finally left the bar,” his mother said from the kitchen.
Elias cleared his throat as he kicked off his shoes. “Were you worried?”
“That you were at the bar? No. Worried about the bar you chose? Absolutely.” She turned around to face him as he stepped into the kitchen. She crossed her arms over her chest. “Vito Minetti hangs out at that bar, Elias. I know you know that.”
“I’m sure a lot of people hang out at that bar. I know damn well he wasn’t there tonight.”
“You know that because you were looking for him.”
“Don’t think you can bullshit me, Elias Michael. George knows what he saw. You scanned every person who walked into that place all night long.”
“George? Like… George, the company volunteer that gets signatures at our charity events?”
“Yes, and when he noticed you were creeping around the bar, he called us. He was worried about you and the danger you were putting yourself in by hanging out at a place like that. Not to mention the danger you’re putting our company in.”
“If a ‘place like that’ is so bad and dangerous, why was George there?”
“Don’t change the subject. This isn’t about George. It’s about you.” She pushed herself away from the counter and marched over, jabbing a finger into Elias’s chest. “If it gets out that you’re out there lounging at mafia bars in search of Vito Minetti, it’s going to destroy this company. It’ll destroy your father and I, and it will destroy all the hard work Joseph put into it before he died.”
Gently, Elias pushed his mother’s hands away. “It’s not going to ‘get out’ that I’m doing anything, because I’m not. The place being rumored to be a mafia bar doesn’t make it true. I was there for a date.”
“A date that stood you up?”
She snorted. “Not to a Payne, it doesn’t.”
Elias stared at her for a moment before sighing. He was too tired to keep going around in circles, anyway. “I’m not interested in Minetti, Mom. I’m doing a story on him.”
“You’re not interested in him? Not even a little?”
“Not like that, no. Interested in proving he’s a murderer? Yes.”
“Oh, Elias.” She grabbed both of his hands, held them up near her chest. “Your father and I just worry about you so much. If anything happens to you because you want to stick your nose where it doesn’t belong—”
“Nothing’s going to happen to me, Mom. I’m playing it safe. Tonight was just for observation, and he didn’t even show up. I just wanted to see the guy in his ‘normal’ mask. You know, the one he puts on when he’s not killing people. I want to be able to separate Minetti into his categories, into his masks, but I need to know him a little bit before I can do that. That’s all.”
“What are you going to do when he finds out?”
“He won’t. That’s sort of the point, Mom. He’s not going to know until it’s too late for it to matter. By the time he finds out, the cops will finally have everything they need to lock him up for the rest of his life.”
“It’s dangerous, and I don’t want you doing it. Neither would your father.” She shook both of his hands. “Joseph wouldn’t have wanted this kind of danger for his boy, either.”
“Dad would be worried, but he would have supported me in my career. That’s just how Dad was.” Elias cleared his throat, gently removing her hands from his. “Look, Mom, I love you, but this is what I’m pursuing. It doesn’t put the company in jeopardy. It doesn’t risk anything with the charity. I’m just trying to help remove at least one monster from the world.”
“Fine.” She took a step away from him. “Then you have until the charity event to realize how dangerous and idiotic this is. If you don’t leave it alone, your father and I will make sure you aren’t allowed to carry on Joseph’s legacy. Do I make myself clear?”
Elias fiddled with his necklace for a moment before nodding. “Yeah, Mom. You make yourself clear.”
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