Chapter 5: Bohemian Rhapsody
Karma is a bitch. An evil, torturous, conniving ass bitch. There I was, making a living off of the power of blackmail, and now I was a victim of the same. Miles and miles of dirty little secrets that could not only ruin my life, but my parents’ lives and the lives of the innocent people that worked for me.
I was still in a daze, floating through my daily routine, barely working, completely mind-blown by what I had just witnessed the night before.
There was a secret society …
of females …
of all ages and races …
of all occupations or lack thereof …
that ran the world from wine-stained glasses,
and private bedrooms.
I was just as intrigued by my unexpected affiliation with the Diamond Secret Society as I was scared to death, but I tried to erase my face of that expression when Andreas rushed into my office.
“Hey, Mrs. Donato! My mom said you made it to their meeting. I’m glad the directions I gave you were helpful.”
“Yes, they were extremely helpful. Thank you. You and your family have a beautiful home.”
“Thank you. So, was my mom able to give you some tips at all?”
“Oh, yeah. She gave me some tips all right.”
“See, I knew it! I knew the group would rub off on you; they rub off on everybody. Mom always says that she has the best time during those meetings. Something about being able to forget your cares for a couple of hours and be around like-minded people surrounded by chocolate and wine. I guess it’s a girl thing.”
I scoffed. “More than you know.”
“So, do you think you’ll go back?”
“Uh …,” I sighed with a light chuckle. “I don’t think I have a choice.”
“You know, the group seems to have that affect on people. Mom says that once people come to one meeting, they just can’t bring themselves to leave. It’s like … they have to come back.”
“It’s something like that, Andreas. Something like that.”
“Mrs. Donato,” Talia hailed as she walked into my office. “A Cordelia Donato is here. I imagine she’s kin to your … umm …”
I immediately jumped up out of my chair. I couldn’t help but wonder why Lorenzo’s mother decided to show her face at the shop, especially since, in the three years of them buying the building for us, neither she nor Lou had visited before. The intense level of surprise must have been written all over my face, because a smug grin occupied hers.
“My lovely daughter-in-law.”
“A title that is subject to change any day now. How can I help you, Cordelia?”
“Wondered if you might have a minute so we could talk.”
“Dare I ask what about? Did Lorenzo send you here to serve me with the divorce papers?”
“Actually, he asked me to inquire about his diamond.”
My eyes enlarged as Chloe leaped up from her chair. “That coward has an insane amount of balls to humiliate Hazel and then send you over here to collect her engagement ring; you are even more insane if you think you’re leaving here with it. Tell him to have that TV wench buy him a new one.”
“I don’t remember her being this feisty at family dinners.”
“I don’t remember your son being a jerk to my baby cousin either.”
“Could you two give a rest?” I harshly requested to everyone’s surprise. “Last I checked, this was a place of business, not Love & Hip Hop. Chloe, you and Frank start working on tomorrow’s delivery schedules. Talia and Andreas, man the phones. Delivery check-ins should be coming soon.”
“Uh, sure, boss.”
“Cordelia, in my office. Now!” I instructed. She did not hesitate to comply. “You sure have some nerve showing up here.”
“You might want to get used to it, dear, because you’ll be seeing my face more often.”
“And to what do I owe the displeasure?”
“I’ve been assigned to you … as your mentor.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I’ve been advised to school you on all the inner workings of our organization.”
“Are you out of your mind? I have a business to run! I don’t have time for this right now.”
“Well you better make time, because in case you forgot, you don’t have a choice. And quite frankly, I’m a little offended right now.”
“You’re offended. You’re offended?”
“I feel like I should be welcomed with … a little more kindness since I’m stepping on enemy territory.”
“Wait, wait, wait. He cheats on me with your best friend, and I’m the enemy now?”
“Let’s just say, I’m certain my husband would have a few questions for me if word ever got back to Lorenzo. As for Silvana …” Her sigh was deep and heavy. It caught my attention. “I definitely have a bone or two to pick with her.”
“Oh, you didn’t co-sign on their union?”
“You must be joking. I didn’t even know about the two of them until he brought her by the house the other night.”
“How did you not know? You, the Diamonds, don’t y’all know everything? What was that glorious speech? We know all, see all, are the universe’s be all and end all …”
“I knew of his extra-curricular sexcapades, but to be quite honest, Silvana is not … how do I put this? She’s not respected in most circles, therefore I did not feel the need to consider her a threat of any sort. She basically slept her way throughout the town until some old shameless fool decided to marry her, and he placed her in the right rooms with the right people. Ever since he became ill, he gave her the okay to appease her sexual appetite with other men as long as she stayed by his side until the day he died. Now that he has one foot in the grave, she’s set her sights on my son as her next prey. Needless to say, I’m less than pleased.”
“Wait a minute. If she’s all about getting connected, what the hell is she with Lorenzo for? He’s with her because you two wouldn’t help him with his career.”
“She’s not worried about his career; she’s worried about the fortune that comes with being our son.”
I had to laugh at that one. “Well then she’s in for a rude awakening, because you cut him off as soon as he turned eighteen.”
“As soon as he married you,” she corrected. My face fell with disappointment.
“All this time, I’ve been defending you, saying that you guys wanted to help him build character and pay his dues, meanwhile you didn’t help him as punishment for marrying me? What, my humble beginnings were too inferior for your well-to-do superiority?”
“What? No, no. You’re misunderstanding, Hazel. We loved you. We always have, and we still do, but we knew that if we made it easy on him, if we set him up with a career, then he would never evolve into …”
“Into what? The cheating bastard that just left me for a cougar-slash-golddigger so he could piggyback on her reality TV fame for an acting career that you could have easily given him in the first place!”
“A man has to find his own way. It’s a lesson you’ll understand when you have children of your own.”
“Says half of the duo that raised one of the most self-entitled, ungrateful, lazy …”
“Hey, Hazel. I understand you’re hurting right now, and Lorenzo has a lot to do with that, but he’s still my son, and if you think that I am going to sit here and listen to you talk him down, you are sorely mistaken.”
“And you’re sorely mistaken if you think I’d ever take a lesson in parenting from you. Not after what your son is putting me through.”
“I’m not responsible for his decisions, Hazel. If I had a say in it, he’d still be with you, but I can’t take any action on that unless you tell me that you want him back.”
My eyebrows dropped to my nose. “I’m sorry, what?”
“You’re still in love with him. I can tell. It’s why you’re so angry. You’re heartbroken, and we can help you with that.”
“We?” I doubtfully chuckled. “How on earth can the Diamonds help mend my broken heart?”
“We can get rid of Silvana.”
“What’s the point of that? All he’ll do is go for some other woman who will promise to do the same she did.”
“That is definitely a risk, yes, but I know my son, and I know how much he loves you. If he could have you and his dream of acting, he would. Deep down, you know that to be true.”
“He mentioned that as he walked out on me with her, yeah,” I sarcastically hissed.
“You know, the world would not miss Silvana Nicol. I could bring it to a vote for the council. I’m sure they would agree with me,” she continued as I zeroed in on her face. “Of course, you’d have to give the process some time. Once Mason dies, Silvana will be the sole holder of his estate, and then we’d have to wait for her and Lorenzo to marry, and then once we get rid of her, he’ll collect all her money and be rich enough to write his own ticket in this town.”
“I’m sorry, what the … wait a minute. You don’t mean to … kill her, do you?”
“Well that’s one option, yes, but there are many ways to get rid of someone, as you’ll soon find out.”
I kept waiting for the joke to be over, for that sneaky simper of hers to play peek-a-boo at the corners of her mouth revealing the presence of a punchline, but there was none. Her face was serious. Her tone, eerily earnest. “Please tell me you’re kidding.”
“You have much to learn, and you will, because you’re a diamond now. You’re sure to observe all the ways we ensure that the scales of humanity remain in balance.”
“But she’s not a threat to humanity; she stole my husband! That’s not punishable by death!”
“It depends on who you ask.”
“Oh my … I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation right now. Is it really that easy for you to get rid of a friend?”
Her creepy cackle made me want to throw up. “Dear heart, friends come and go, but Diamonds are forever. You are my Diamond Sister now; we would do and have done anything for each other. You will be expected to do the same.”
I could feel my blood boiling to the tip of my head.
I wanted to roar and scream: I want out of this shit!
But when my mouth opened, all that broke free was a thin whisper.
“What … have you brought me into?”
“Me? You brought yourself into it the day you chose to walk the dark path under the bright lights of this big city. Did you honestly think that you could do so undetected, that no one would ever touch you?”
“I’m not killing anyone, Cordelia,” I softly cried. She took it as a sign that I needed instant comfort, not realizing that a touch from her hand was no longer welcome.
“And you don’t have to, Hazel. It was merely a suggestion, one to take into consideration if you so chose.”
“I am deeply concerned with how casually you’re talking about this.”
“Would it make you feel better to know that the world is full of secret societies, each one doing their part in making sure that all things go according to plan?”
“Whose plan? Who makes the rules? What kind of shit …? This is insanity!”
“No, it’s orderly, and we intend to keep that order.”
“Even if it means taking lives?”
When her eyes met mine, I was turned to stone by the gripping and emotionless expression that was staring back at me. “By any means necessary. Now, I’ve given you a proposal. Do take it into consideration. Be sure to let me know your decision as soon as possible in case I need to bring it up to the council. I greatly suggest a conversation with Lorenzo to help make matters easier.”
“I – I don’t …”
“Oh, and one more thing, Hazel. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you at this point, but I feel inclined to do so.”
“Remind me of what?”
“Diamond business is Diamond business. Nothing of what we discussed is to be mentioned to non-members. You do remember that, don’t you?”
I nodded sulkily, but that wasn’t enough.
“I need to hear you say it, Hazel.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“Good! Now, just in case you decide to get back into the dating scene, here is that list we mentioned of untouchables. You will be receiving a call from one of us soon about when and where our next meeting will be.”
“When and where? You mean it’s not always at Sylvia’s house?”
“Heavens no! We have to change it up frequently, so no one gets suspicious. One of these days, we may call a meeting at your house.”
“But … how can you do that without my permission? What if I have guests over? What if I don’t feel like having any damn company?”
“When we call on you, it is in your best interest to respect that call.”
“You mean obey you … like a dog?”
“Conform … until you have been perfectly cut to the shape of a true diamond.”
“Cordelia, I didn’t ask to be a part of your little diamond family. Y’all forced me into this!”
“You’re right, because diamonds are created best under pressure. Some of us are Perfect Diamonds, born and bred from a woman whose ancestry dates all the way back to the very first Diamond Secret Society meeting. Others, like you and I, have more lumps of coal in our background and we had to be pressured into the diamond dolls we are now. I understand. It’s scary at first, overwhelming even, but soon you will see that what I’ve granted you is a gift.”
“What gift? You’ve ruined my life! You and your damn son. I swear, I regret the day I ever returned his gaze.”
“Be that as it may, it’s too late for regrets. This is where you are now. Embrace it. The sooner you do, the easier life will be. I’ll see myself out.”
“Oh, no. Allow me,” I snarled guiding her back toward the front door of the store. I saw as Andreas, Talia, Chloe, and Frank stopped and stared to watch me guard the door while Cordelia got in the car.
“Haze, are you okay?”
“No, Chloe. I’m so far from okay!”
“What happened? What did she say? Do you want me to take care of it?”
I shook my head. “There’s nothing you can do. There’s nothing anyone can do.”
“What do you mean by that?”
The rich tone of concern in her voice begged for a look at my face, and when I turned toward the four of them, their petrified gazes stopped my heart. God knows I wanted to tell them the truth about what was going on. I wanted to break down and confess that on top of Lorenzo leaving me for some mid-life vamp, I had been tricked and intimidated into joining a secret sisterhood of psychos.
But I couldn’t say a word.
It would just place them in the fire right next to me, and I couldn’t do that.
I wasn’t going to put anybody else’s life in danger.
“Haze?” Chloe said again, bringing me out of my terrorizing thoughts. “What’s going on?”
I sighed, helplessly. “Nothing. Just … her coming here has me a little rattled. That’s all.”
“That was so disrespectful. Who does that woman think she is?”
“Hey, cousin, my offer still stands to beat him up for you if you want me to.”
“No, Frank. I don’t need anymore drama in my life. I appreciate it though. Now, has everybody checked in thus far today?”
“Haze, the schedules are basically the same every week. Are the check-ins really necessary?”
“Yes, the schedules are necessary because it ensures everybody’s safety! And what are you questioning me for? Did everybody check in, yes or no?”
“Who are you getting snappy with?”
“No,” Andreas said nervously with his eyes on the daily chart. “Chenoa hasn’t called from her one o’ clock, and Alan hasn’t checked back in since 12:30.”
“What time is it now?”
“Uh … almost three. It looks like Alan’s done for the day, but Chenoa has a 3:30.”
“Shit. Hurry up and get them both on the phone. Now!”
“You got it,” Frank said as he dialed one and Andreas rushed to dial the other. “Uh … cousin? Alan ain’t picking up.”
“What? Has anything come across the police scanners?” I panicked. They shook their heads in answer before Andreas passed me the phone in his hand.
“Mrs. Donato, I have Chenoa on the line.”
“Hello? … Where the hell are you? What’s all that noise? … You’re with Alan? Where? … What damn party?”
“Haze, what’s going on?” Chloe asked as I raised one finger to silence her. I could hear her teeth sucking in anger.
“Since when do you two meet with clients outside of our arrangements? You know what? Nevermind. I’m going to have the boys come pick you up. Stay right where you are!” I demanded before ending the call. “These fools decided to go to some hotel party Dax Matisse is throwing. Frank, Andreas, I need you two to head over to the Sunset Marquis.”
“All the rock stars love being close to the Roxy. You got it, cousin.”
“Do you want us to bring them back here so you can talk to them?”
“No. They sound like their either high or drunk. Just take them home. I’ll talk to them tomorrow.”
“I didn’t know Chenoa or Alan did drugs,” Talia whispered as the boys ran out the door.
“They don’t. That’s why I need to find out what’s going on with them. Their behavior today … This isn’t like them.”
“They’re probably acting out because they’re worried about their jobs and how Lorenzo being gone is going to affect them,” Chloe suspected.
“What’s to worry about? He’s gone; I’m running the business. And what?”
Chloe shook her head in a way that made mine jerk back in confusion. “His absence is changing you, and you don’t even realize it.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Hey, Talia, why don’t you get a complimentary basket together and take it to Chenoa’s 3:30 before they think she stood them up?”
“Oh, crap! Right. I’ll get right on that.”
As she sprinted toward the studio, Chloe eagerly pulled me to my office. The second she closed the door and folded her arms, I knew I was in for it.
“Hazel, I am saying this with genuine love and compassion: you need to pull your head out of your ass, not now, but right now!”
“I get it, okay? Your husband left you, your heart is broken, and I’m sure his mother stopping by didn’t help, but you are out here snip-snapping at the same people that are trying to be there for you, including me! Now, none of us has a problem helping you get through this, but you being rude and talking reckless to us? That’s just not going to work.”
“Are you kidding me right now? Am I not going through enough hell?”
“So you’re saying that because you’re going through hell, we have to go through it with you? How is that fair to us? We didn’t cause it.”
“No, you need to hear this: if you don’t get a handle on your emotions, you are going to lose everything you’ve worked so hard for.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, I already have. The husband I tirelessly supported, the marriage I worked so hard to save … I sacrificed the life I knew I wanted, the life I was promised just so I could end up being the sole owner of Hollywood’s favorite whore store!”
“And who told you to do that, Hazel? That was a decision you made on your own. Take some responsibility for your actions and stop complaining like somebody put a gun to your head and forced you to do this!”
“You have no idea what this feels like, how bad this hurts! You’ve never been married. Hell, you can’t even keep a boyfriend for more than five months, and you have the nerve to give me advice? Please! Go back out there and man the phones like I pay you to.”
Her eyebrows rose with sincere shock. “Oh I know you lost your mind now. Heifer, I had a job before you gave me this one, and I took this job to help you and your criminal ass husband keep it off the police’s radar!”
“How in the hell … Oh, you have power now? You helped us come up with the coded flower system that makes it easier for everybody to know who the client is and what style of sex they like?”
“No, but I brought in the police scanners that keep you alerted to whether or not the cops are going to flood one of the hotel rooms your escorts are screwing in. So yeah, I do help with the system around here that keeps everybody safe, and I have way more power than you think I do, baby cousin.”
My eyes rolled around my head as a knock sounded at the door.
“Uh, Mrs. Donato, can I come in?”
“Yeah, Talia. What’s up?” I asked as her face slowly, and tensely, peeked through the door.
“I have Chenoa’s 3:30 on hold. I offered to bring him the complimentary basket. He said he didn’t want it, but he wouldn’t mind a gift card if it was available.”
At Donato’s Budding Deliveries, when one of our customers requested a gift card, it was code for asking if a complimentary visit from their preferred escort could be placed on hold for future reference … like a credit. It wasn’t something we usually offered, but under special circumstances, I would permit it.
“If it’s that pig loan shark, Lester Ward, the answer is Hell no.”
“Actually it’s that one real estate guy. Uh, the one who’s face is plastered all over the billboards on Rodeo Drive.”
“Logan. Carter Logan. Did he say why?”
“He’s going to Europe with his family for three weeks and he would like to secure a delivery with Chenoa in advance.”
“This city is full of womanizers.”
“Well at least you know you’ll never go out of business,” Chloe smirked as I sneered at her.
“Lucky me. Talia, tell him that’s fine, and be sure to mark it on the calendar. After that, you can go home for the day.”
As she went to close the door behind her, I reached to keep it open, but found myself being pulled back in the opposite direction.
“Why would you complain about the city being full of womanizers when that’s how you keep the doors of your business open? What’s going on? Do you want out?”
My shoulders shrugged as my eyes welled up with irritation. Even though Chloe and I called each other cousins, we were more like sisters, which is why she kept nagging me about being unfair to my employees. She knew that wasn’t the normal way I talked to people. She knew something was wrong with me. “I always wanted out of this, Lo. You know that. I just … I can’t afford to let anybody down right now, not to mention I couldn’t walk away from this business if I tried.”
“Because of finances, an emotional investment, what?”
“Because … because we’re in too deep. If I closed the doors of this shop and stopped servicing Tinseltown’s elite, do you honestly think they’d let me get away with it? All the dirt I have on these people, all the dirt we have on these people? It’s funny, you know? We’re so protected from being arrested, but we’re still prisoners in fear of exposure.”
“You still worry about Aunt Sarai and Uncle Raph finding out about this, don’t you?”
I nodded. “Especially now that I’m in this by myself. I’m just so … mad! How does Lorenzo get to walk away from this and leave me with the responsibility of his brainchild?”
“Haze, I don’t know what picture perfect vision of Lorenzo you have painted in your mind, but he was never responsible. Every significant move that man made in his life was because of you. Even with this business, you’re the one who’s been running it; the only thing he ran was his penis into other women,” she said as I shook my head in laughter. Chloe didn’t wait to join in. “I’m serious. You are and have always been the brains of this operation, but if you feel like this isn’t what you want anymore, then take control and get out of it.”
“It’s not that easy, Lo.”
“Yeah, actually it is. What if I told you that I could help you get out? What would you say?”
“Uh … is that answer not obvious? Hello! How?”
“You’re in the business of blackmail. Collect as much information as you can on the perverts in this town, and you’ll be able to protect yourself and everybody else you care about.”
A little snicker left my lips. “And have everyone we service out us to the police? I’d be universally known as a pimp and my staff would be shamed as prostitutes. I opt out of living the real life version of The Scarlet Letter. Thanks for the thought, though.”
“Haze, look. You don’t have to worry about the police with me in your corner, because Frank and I can make sure that none of you will be implicated in any way.”
“Oh, now you’re bringing Frankie into it? Okay. I’ll bite. How? How can you and Frankie protect us?”
“Because we’re undercover agents. Frank works for the FBI, I work for the CIA, and we’re investigating some of your clientele.”
A deafening silence filled the room, before a flurry of giggles left my throat. “Come on now, Lo. This is not the time to be cracking jokes.”
“I’m not joking.” Her tone was stern, and the smirk that occupied my face … quickly found its way to the soles of my feet.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“If you really want out, we can give you a way out. We can help you close this shop for good, but in order to help you, you have to help us.”
“What … the hell … are you talking about? How are y’all undercover agents? How did I not know about this?”
“Because it’s a secret. Look, Haze, we don’t have a lot of time. Now, Frank and I worked out a deal with the federal government that ensures that you and everybody employed will not be convicted of any charges, but the catch is … you have to give us what we need on the people we want. And I don’t mean the lightweight stuff you keep in The Vault; we want the rooms bugged, and we want sessions recorded. In exchange, all of you will get full immunity for the activity that has taken place through this shop, we close it down, and you will all be free to live the lives you want … anonymously.”
“Are you insane? Do you know the kind of people we service here? These aren’t just the cutesy entertainers and the famous jewelers and, and the show-runners behind the scenes; we have underworld kingpins, folks that could have you disappear off the face of the planet with one phone call and the snap of their fingers, and you want me to snitch on them? Are you crazy?”
“Look, plain and simple, it’s either snitch or get arrested. Those are the choices you have right now. To be honest, Frank and I already have enough dirt on folks to shut you down.”
“Then why haven’t you?”
“We told our bosses that we could get them more information if they gave us more time, but truthfully, we wanted to have the opportunity to warn you first and give you a chance to save yourself … and your crew.”
Once again, I was placed in a position where I couldn’t believe the state of my life. Even worse, I couldn’t believe my own cousins were taking their turn at benefiting off of the crumbles of my destruction. “How could you do this, look at my vulnerability as a shot at advancing your career?”
“I see it as us keeping you out of jail. Our bosses are giving us one month to get all we can. Are you in or out?”
“Are you really giving me a choice?”
“See, that’s what you’ve never understood: you always had a choice, Haze, but you’ve been choosing wrong. Maybe helping us is the right choice.”
I was starting to feel like the right choice for me was to dye my hair, change my name, get plastic surgery, and run like hell to a place where no one would ever think to look for me. But that would leave my staff in the grasps of the police, and quite possibly, the Diamond Secret Society. I didn’t know how I was going to protect myself from them let alone my team! The only thing I did know was that I had to figure something out, because on one hand I had Sylvia and her band of minions telling me that I had to keep my shop open despite my previous plans to do otherwise, and on the other hand, my cousins were proposing a way for all of us to get out.
One way enabled me to live, while the other encouraged me to die.
The last time I was given that option, I sacrificed my dream …
And it had been killing me softly ever since.
This time, I wanted to make a decision I could live with.
“Okay. What do I have to do?”