I adjust my black wig as I walk into the club. The walls have a red and black tufting, and despite the bold choice it still manages to look elegant. There are sculptures of naked men and women on almost every corner, the club screams opulence, and I haven’t even crossed the lobby.
The bouncer stops me.
“I am here for the investor meeting,” I say to him.
“Your name?” he asks, picking up his clipboard.
Bouncer nods. He leads me to a large mahogany door; he points me to look at the camera, and I do as instructed. I am slightly nervous, but I know I am prepared as well. This meeting is crucial for my organisation. I want this to be a success. One could say that I am almost desperate.
But I would never let it show on my face.
I am wearing a black wig; the hair reaches my ears and the fringe almost covering my eyes. I am clad in a leather skirt reaching my calves and a white shirt with a coat hanging on my shoulders. My lips are smeared red. I look the opposite of what I look every day and it is a bit unsettling, but I carry it perfectly. The Mahogany door opens, and I strut inside with the grace of a supermodel.
It is all imperative.
I am here for the meeting, but I cannot help but be impressed by the décor of the office. The black Italian marble floor glistens under the dim lights of the ceiling. There is floor to ceiling mahogany shelves lining the wall. It is unlike the club. This is a serious workplace. It means business.
The hair on my neck stand and I slowly turn around. The timbre in his voice is one which I have heard before.
I see him standing there. His blonde hair cropped close to the skull; lips set in a straight line.
“Don Wolff,” I whisper, “what are you doing here?”
“I believe we have a meeting to attend,”
“You own this club?” I am shocked to even ask this question.
“And you must be aware of it when my assistant came to you,”
“I was, she was reluctant in telling you but I when I realised your ambition for investments I was intrigued. I would love to have you as my partner in this club.”
“Don Wolff, I have my reasons and just like you didn’t want any mafia partners. The same way I don’t want them too. I am here to make money. Money that I need for certain projects. I cannot trust you or any made man. I am sorry.”
“I will not ask you any questions. I will be focussed on my work here at the club, I will not prod. And I promised to be your ally, didn’t I?”
“You did. And my Nonno always said to trust you and only you, that despite your neutral stance, you would never betray me.”
“Our organisation does not work on lies and deceit. You want to trust, and I will give you my trust. I have been trying to get a hold of you ever since you got married. I have wanted to have deeper conversations, I have wanted to talk to you. What you said at your reception… I have wanted to talk about that.”
“I cannot tell you my reason. But at this point, I am building an organisation of my own.”
“Yes, this is my dream and my Nonno’s dream, and I will not back down till I see it convert into reality.”
“I don’t know your intentions, Valentina. But I do know that you are headstrong and I would kill to have a woman like you in my life,”
“I am sure you will,”
“Valentina, I hope you can trust me with your reasons at one point. Because I am here to support you,”
“Why don’t you like Morretti?”
“Because Rafael took you away from me, I have wanted you so bad Valentina. Every day of my life has become a torture, imagining you spending your life with him. God, Valentina!”
I blink my tears away. What I feel for Don Wolff is more profound than what I feel for Rafael. Victor and I love each other, and we hide it from each other because saying those words will only worsen the situation. There have been days when I have day-dreamed of spending my life with Victor. The life of a normal wife. Making him his favourite cakes and cookies, cooking his favourite dishes. Reading our favourite poems to each other.
But Raffaello took that dream away from me. He took it all.
This was another reason why it was vital for me to take him down. This is the reason where my plans become all the personal to me.
I plant a small kiss on his cheek and take a seat in front of him. I take my files out and my cheque book.
“So, I am accepting all of your conditions. I will not interfere in the workings of the club, but I do need a report, just to see where the money is getting utilised.”
“Fair enough. I have been conveyed your number; it is a big amount that you are ready to sacrifice.”
“I had my doubts, but now that I see you, I am sure of my decision,”
“Thank you, Valentina. So, like I said, you should start receiving the profits right after the first month of our opening, we have a long waiting list for the club. People are ready to throw money just to gain entrance into this exclusive establishment.”
“That would be great,”
“So, the money will not be a problem, this club will be a success. In fact, I was planning on calling Raffaello and you for the opening night,”
“I am sure he would be thrilled to come,” I giggle.
“So, you can take your reading these papers and just leave the cheque here. I promise that your money is in good hands, Valentina.”
I take the file from him and start reading the papers.
It is late when I return home. Late by Raffaello’s standard. Seven in the evening is not late for me. I am used to much later timings. Raffaello is in the foyer, pacing. I clear my throat, and our eyes meet. I cannot believe I was smearing chocolate on this man’s chest day before yesterday.
Now I only want his blood smeared on his chest.
The image alone brings a smile on my face.
“You seem happy,” Raffaello observes.
“Is that a crime?” I drawl while opening my shoes.
I had removed my wig; it was stuffed in my bag now.
“No, but where were you?”
“I was at a friend’s place. In SoHo. Can’t I meet a friend?”
“You can do whatever you want, just take Christian along with you,”
“Are you listening to yourself? Christian is a high-ranking official! He cannot afford to drive me around,” I spit, “you know, maybe you are the reason why he messed up the shipments.”
“Driving you around, the wife of the Capo is a duty every official, high or low, cherishes to have. I don’t care if I lose a hundred shipments, but I am not letting anything happen to you,” Rafael snaps.
“I will do as I please,” I snap back at him.
“You know I don’t have time for this, we have to go downstairs for dinner at Lorenzo’s place,”
“He got married,”
“I understand your reaction. I cannot believe it myself. He had gone to take a payment from some money I leant to one of our former associates. The man was unable to do so, and so Lorenzo married his daughter in exchange. It makes me sick.”
“Why does it make you sick?”
“There was no consent taken, and she is just nineteen. There is a twelve-year age-gap,”
“You are a hypocrite,”
“What are you saying?”
“We have a ten-year difference between us, Rafael. And I wasn’t exactly asked any permission, more like coerced into it.”
“Of course, if things would’ve been your way, you would be married to Victor Wolff already,”
“Are you jealous?”
“I am not, because you are mine, Valentina. You are my possession,”
“I don’t like being compared to this penthouse, Rafael. I am not a thing; I am a human being.”
“I am not getting into a fight with you, I am already tensed with Lorenzo’s decision. I hope the girl is okay,”
“I like how you are concerned about her; it shows the human lurking in the monstrosity that is Raffaello Morretti.” My words are soft. It does get tiring. We fight every day, almost every moment, and it hurts my mental peace. I guess I need to stop getting so worked up about his comments. He is after all my nemesis that I will get rid of very soon.
“I will get ready and so should you,”
I nod, but then a thought passes my mind.
“Rafael,” I whisper, “Are you strict about the rules in the syndicate?”
“If Lorenzo abuses this girl, will you step in?”
Rafael sighs and walks to me. He keeps his hands on my shoulder, and I let that comfort me.
“We have stringent rules, Tina. While I do not like interfering in the lives of my associates, but we have some very strict rules. Us Morrettis marry for love and not for convenience, I mean it can be an added bonus, but that is not the deciding factor. Each one is forbidden from taking a mistress, yes, I did threaten you, but I was just being a little bitch and finally, abuse is strictly prohibited. I will go out of my way to take care of the woman. Sometimes a little discipline is required, so spanking is allowed but nothing that is against the will of a woman. Consent and respect are absolute.”
I shiver at the spanking word but maintain a straight face.
“So, if Lorenzo…”
“I know Lorenzo seems to be a very old-fashioned man.” I scoff, but Rafael continues, “but I can tell you that he will treat Love with great care and respect. You will be at the dinner, and I think you will be able to tell yourself.”
“It is hard to expect those things from Lorenzo,”
“I know, but once you get to know him, you will really appreciate him for his ferocious sense of loyalty, and he had that for Love. Even though a lot of things about this relationship makes me sick, but I know he will treat her like a princess.”
“I hope you are correct about all those things.”
“I will get ready now, and is anyone else coming?”
“Christian probably, and I have called your brother Joe and his girlfriend Mimi,”
All air whooshes out of my system. I look at him with a straight face.
“Don’t look so shocked, I wondered why you never told me about it. They even have a kid,”
“How did you get to know?”
“Oh, Joe told me about it,”
“Really? Why didn’t he discuss this with me?”
“You will have to ask him that yourself but don’t prod too much, it is a private matter.”
“I will, of course, ask him. That is my right.”
“I know the two of you are best friends and more like siblings than cousins, but there are always somethings that a man likes to keep to himself.”
Somehow that sentence does not sit well with me. What if Rafael is speaking the truth? What if there are things that Joe keeps from me? Are we not as thick as I was thinking up till now? I pray to god, I hope Joe as a valid reason for revealing Joey and Mimi to our world.
I sigh and walk towards our room.