4 Protection

The various crime families of New York followed a strict hierarchical structure. After all, order was needed in any organization; that was especially the case in the criminal underworld.

At the bottom of the hierarchy was the Associate. Associates are individuals who are part of crews led by made men. They commit crimes under the protection and instruction of made men, handing over a share of their earnings to their superiors.

Then there were Soldiers, also known as made men. They are the lowest members of any crime family—technically, associates are the lowest members but they aren't part of the family. Even though soldiers are the lowest-ranked members, they command high respect in their organization.

Nico Capputi was a soldier of the Rossetti Crime Family in charge of debt collection, loansharking, and bookmaking. Through his job, he had gotten in contact with David's father, Gregory Watson.

And now, as fate would have it, he employed David under him. A few weeks back, when he saw David single-handedly fight off the men under him, he had been thoroughly impressed. Being the shrewd man that he was, how could he miss out on such an opportunity?

Thus, David became an associate working under him. He had assigned him to collect protection money from the shopkeepers in the Clinton neighborhood in Manhattan.

Nico hoped that, with David's help, he would be able to climb the ranks of the Rossetti Crime Family and finally become a Capo—the next rung on the organized crime ladder—one day.

Nico had never been good physically, to begin with. He had made it where he was today by using his wits and cunning. Thus, he believed that with a capable fighter like David under him, he would surely rise sooner or later.

Currently, he was sitting in his base of operations, which happened to be a bar in the Clinton neighborhood called the Mulligan. As he took a sip of bourbon from his glass, he asked an associate sitting across from him, "Where's David?"

"Boss, he went to collect money from the shopkeepers," the associate respectfully replied.

Nico nodded, took another sip of his drink, then got back to doing the accounting of his cash flow for the week.

The Clinton neighborhood, also known as Hell's Kitchen, was as busy as any other day. A flurry of people walked on either side of the sidewalk as they went about their business and the streets were packed with cars, as usual.

David was just another person on the sidewalk, but unlike most, he was on his way to collect money from the next shop on his list. Over the past few weeks, he had been getting used to the life of an associate.

He didn't have much work to do, though. Nico was considerate enough to not give him any difficult jobs in the beginning. All he had to do was collect money from the shops on his list on time and make an example of those that failed to pay.

As David walked among the crowd on the sidewalk, he appeared to be in a daze. But in fact, he was looking at the system panel in front of him.

[Name: David Watson]

[Age: 16]

[Affinity: XXXX XXXX]

[Strength: 1.1]

[Agility: 1.3]

[Constitution: 1.1]

[All system functions are locked]

As he viewed his stats on the panel, he couldn't help but wonder, 'My stats have only increased by 0.1 in the past two weeks. I wonder how long it'll take them to max out.'

Although the increase had been minuscule, he could still feel great changes in his body. For one, much to his surprise, he found that he had actually grown in height. Other than that, he had also developed quite a bit of muscle throughout his body.

It didn't make him bulky, but more athletic. Naturally, he was very satisfied with the changes. It was like he'd been injected with the super soldier serum he had seen in movies.

The very existence of the system and the changes in his body left him feeling incredulous. Sometimes he wondered if he was in a dream.

As he was lost in his own thoughts, he reached his destination. He stopped in front of a store and glanced at the sign over its entrance that read 'Jimmy's Pub'.

He entered the store and walked directly toward the cash counter. The bald cashier sitting behind the counter was dozing off but was woken up by the sound of footsteps heading his way.

The cashier jolted awake and greeted, "Welcome to Jimmy's Pub. How can I—" However, the words got stuck in his mouth when he saw who it was. "Oh, it's you."

He displayed a fawning smile, "Good morning, David. How's it going?"

David didn't reply, simply staring at the cashier with a bored expression.

The cashier's lips twitched and he awkwardly laughed, "Ha ha, I'm good, too. Anyway, here's the money." He took out a handful of bills from the cash drawer, arranged and counted them, then handed the stack over to David.

The young associate took the money and counted it again. A few moments later, he took out two $1 bills and returned them to the cashier. "There's $2 extra." With that, he turned around and left the store.

The cashier looked at the two dollar bills in his hand, then at David's departing back. He couldn't help but admire, "What an honorable thief.…"

However, the next moment he cursed, "Ptui! Who cares if he's honorable? Those bastards have been ripping me off for as long as I can remember. What're they protecting me from, anyway? Hmph!"

On his way out, David happened to overhear the cashier's curses. He couldn't help but chuckle and mutter to himself, "Don't you get it? We're protecting you from ourselves, kekk."

He stuffed the money in his pocket and headed toward his next destination for the day, which happened to be a newly opened grocery store. It was a store owned by a family of Irish lineage.

After about a fifteen-minute walk, David entered the grocery store and, just like before, stood in front of the shopkeeper with a deadpan expression. However, things didn't go as he'd expected.

"The hell are you looking at me for? I already paid this week's protection fee," the burly, middle-aged man behind the display case confidently said.

David narrowed his eyes and asked, "Who'd you pay it to?"

"I didn't bother asking," the shopkeeper replied. "He said he was sent here by Nico."

David looked into his eyes for a few moments, then took out his phone and called Nico. The shopkeeper saw him call somebody and couldn't help but involuntarily gulp and covertly reach for the baseball bat he kept under the counter.

Meanwhile, David's call finally went through. "Boss, it's me. The guy at Ronan's Grocery says he's already paid this week's money.... I see.… All right, Boss, I'll see you later."

He hung up and put the phone back in his pocket, then looked at the shopkeeper and smirked. "Your loss."

Before the shopkeeper could even speak a word, David lunged over the counter, grabbed his head, and smashed it against the glass of the display case.

"Aaaagggghhh!!!" The shopkeeper's head smashed through the glass and he fell limply to the floor. Small shards of glass had pierced his face, making it bloody.

David bent over and picked up the baseball bat that the shopkeeper was still holding. He couldn't help but scoff, "You idiot."

Then he went around the store and slammed the bat into all of the glass display cases. Within a few minutes, he had completely destroyed everything in the store. Bottles, snacks, and broken wooden racks were strewn across the floor.

David threw away the bat and looked at the shopkeeper, who was looking at his store with regret and anger in his eyes. He then grabbed a cigarette pack lying on the floor, took out a cigarette, and lit it. He walked toward the shopkeeper and stubbed the cigarette on his forehead.

"Aaaarrrgggg!!" The shopkeeper screamed in agony and tried to remove David's hand but was unable to.

David narrowed his eyes and coldly muttered, "You're new here, eh? Next time, just shut the fuck up and pay."

He turned around and walked out of the store. The people at the entrance, who had heard the earlier commotion, made way for him. Some looked at him with fear, others in anger.

David didn't pay them any attention and simply walked toward the next store on his list.

[Countdown: 787 days…]

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