I smoothed the dress and took a look at myself in the mirror. We were at the boutique of an established designer trying on the wedding dresses. I was getting claustrophobic, to stand in this tight dress and twirl with a smile on my face, excited about the prospect of getting married. But in the truest senses I had decided to schedule the fitting was to fulfil an ulterior motive.
I discreetly looked at Caporegime Joseph sitting on the settee. He was my cousin, son of my Father’s youngest brother. He was a confidante and an accomplice to my mission. Joseph was two years older to me but still paid for the mistake of his father, a traitor to the Ricci, Carlos Ricci was an FBI informant, he had tipped off the authorities about some classified information. What followed was gnarly; he was brutally killed by my father. Joseph’s mother too died soon after and our grandfather decided to take him under his wing.
I slowly walked to Joseph.
“Have you decided upon the next step?” I asked. My voice was low, almost a murmur, but I knew he had heard me.
“Your mother is following us everywhere, how would I decide upon anything with her present here?” Joseph said.
I turned to Lily, she was perusing through the dresses. Feeling my eyes on her she turned to me and gave a hesitant smile. Walking in our direction I saw her assessing my dress, a frown between her brows.
“I don’t know Valentina, sweetheart I am not feeling this dress,” Lily said. I nodded in agreement
“I think I am not really enjoying her collection,” I said.
“Me neither,” Joe quipped.
Mother gave him a tight smile and turned to me. It has been this way since the start, she had always thought of herself as superior whenever it came to Joseph, maybe it was because she had a husband who stayed loyal to the syndicate. She thought Joseph was weak, she thought that he had no response to her sneers and sarcastic remarks, but she was wrong. Joe simply didn’t feel anything for the woman.
In fact he let her have her moments. After all, everyone wanted to be superior and this was her way.
“Well then we can visit another showroom,” Lily said.
“I would love to have you here with me,” I said softly, “but Joe just received a message from Father,”
The fear crawling into her eyes made me want to mock her but I refrained. I could feel sorry for her, she was after all very timid and skittish with the only times she felt like a superior was in front of Joe but it was all her fault, Silvano was not difficult to control, one had to just learn a way to control his anger.
I did and that’s why he loved me and adored me. I think I am the only one on his good side.
Being in power didn’t always mean to stand on a tower like Superman.
Being in power didn’t mean having people to fear you.
Sometimes it was about staying low. It was about being manipulative and working from behind. It was about achieving your ambition in the most inconspicuous of ways.
I never considered an ambition to be small.
I once remember asking my mother something when I was young.
“What did you want to become when you grew up?” I asked as Lily braided my hair.
“A wife, I have always loved your father, being his wife was all I ever wanted to be,” she replied.
I was five then but I still wanted to barf at her answer.
If she wanted to be a wife then she clearly didn’t do a good job at it. Our house while filled with all sorts of opulence was still not beautiful.
Because it was filled and not decorated, she didn’t even have the basic intelligence of hiring an interior decorator.
I brought myself out of the thought and turned to Joseph, waiting for him to give his message.
“A few important associates are coming with Uncle Silvano, he has asked for a lunch,” Joe said.
“Oh dear, we must leave then,” Lily fretted.
“Mom, how about you leave, I would still like to do some shopping, Joe will drop me by evening,” I said.
“Oh okay, be home before eight though, you know Don Morretti will be coming to pick you up for dinner and please pick a nice dress too, for the occasion,” she said and walked out of the boutique. A few guards climbed inside the car with her.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said to him, “I am starving.”
I popped a curly fry in my mouth and turned to him.
“If we want you to be the Don Ricci then you’ve got to start breaking up the hierarchy,” Joseph said, “you cannot be a leader till Raffaello and Silvano aren’t trustworthy.”
“And how do you think we will achieve this?”
“I say, we create a rift between them, once we get them to start fighting each other, the organisation will start to feel neglected and that is when we start creating trust for us,” Joe said.
“That’s all good but what makes you think Silvano is ever going to fight with Morretti, he worships Raffaello, fear him even,”
“It is easy to ruffle your Father’s feathers, he has been promised the seat of Consigliere once he steps down from position of Capo,”
“We can get him to believe that he will not be becoming a Consigliere,” I said, “that’s going to threaten my father. To be completely cut off from the organisation will irk him like anything.”
“I say we sabotage the shipment that is arriving from Venezuela, make it look like the Morretti did it; we have to create a solid foundation for the mistrust to be built upon. He needs to see the proof of perfidy by them.”
A smile came on Joe’s lips and he nodded.
“I will have a man in my ranks discreetly tip the police about it, be ready tonight when you are having your dinner with that fiancée of yours because it is not lasting for too long.”
“Noted, however, can we trust this man of your?”
“Of course, he is a true made man, worked under Nonno, even the soldiers and associates respect him.”
“Do I know him?”
“Riccardo,” Joseph said, “you know him.”
The name did ring a bell in my mind; he was one of the guards at Nonno’s estate. Nonno had a selection of guards for his protection, all of which he had selected himself. He told us that it was our army when he left, that each one of them was loyal to Nonno’s cause. They wanted the clan to be run by pure Ricci members and a Ricci member who was capable for it. I was the chosen one and everyone agreed with Nonno’s choice, no one said I was a girl and hence not capable of being a Capo.
“Well, tell him to do his job well,” I murmured, “I mean I don’t want to sit at that dinner table for too long looking like a cotton candy.”
I looked in the mirror; I was wearing a pale pink midi dress for my dinner with Raffaello. Silvano had received a call in the morning from the devil himself, he wanted to meet me this once before the wedding. I didn’t understand the reason but I found myself going over the first time we met. I knew he was affected by me but I also knew that he knew of my façade, he knew I hid things.
I gulped and picked my purse and walked downstairs. My stomach felt weird, it was a sign of nervousness. I couldn’t be nervous around him. I closed my eyes and took a few relaxing breaths. I was to be the Capo; I couldn’t let just anyone get to me.
Only he was not just anyone.
He was my fiancée and the most deadly man on this planet. He was revered in the underworld, when he received the ten years to prison, my Nonno had laughed. If ever the authorities could find the proof against him, then he wouldn’t be out of out of jail till they put him in the coffin. But someone had found proof and he was let off in just ten years. Such was the influence of Raffaello Morretti.
A soldier came up to me.
“Ms Ricci, Don Morretti is here.
I nodded and walked out of the house. There it was, that unfamiliar twisting of my core, this feeling was now becoming familiar. This man was affecting me and I didn’t like it. He was gaining power over me and I couldn’t let that happen. I had to be guarded.
The luxurious sedan, a black beauty, glistened under the moonlight. I saw him stepping out and I stopped myself from falling on the ground. My legs were weak just by looking at him. The heat crept up my cheeks and I thanked the gods it was the night time. Joe would have guffawed uncontrollably had he seen my love struck avatar. That thought sobered me up, Joseph never let go of any opportunity to make fun of me.
He wore a silk shirt, an emerald green, tucked into a pair of black dress pants. He looked like a Greek God. His black hair was open and grazed the collar of his shirt. His eyes met mine and I instantly lowered my eyes.
“I see we are keeping up with the pretences,” he said.
I just blinked and let the confusion show on my angelic face. Like hell I would confirm his allegations.
He just walked to the car and opened its door for me. I stepped into the luxurious car and he closed the door and climbed into his seat. He turned to me and gently caressed my cheek. The blush intensified and I wanted nothing more than to simply pull my dagger out of my holster and stab myself with it. But this blush was a good thing because at least my act looked believable now.
The car drove out of the estate and soon his hand found my thigh and placed itself there. I thanked the gods that I had strapped my dagger to the other thigh, he would’ve felt it otherwise and then he would question me.
And I would probably have to kill him.
“What martial arts did have you practiced?” he asked me.
I turned to him, how did he know?
“Your form,” he commented, “I have done kickboxing.”
I wanted to scoff at that. I was a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belt, on my way to gain the coral belt.
“I have done ballet not any martial form,”
That was the truth. My Nonno had taught me Ballet, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and a lot of jujutsu as well along with expertly using weapons. I could skin like a nightingale and kill at the same time.
“I don’t think that to be the complete truth,” he said.
“It is, Don, I am woman and we are not allowed to participate in violent activity as per the regulations of our family,” I whispered softly.
He didn’t prod after that but I could see his knuckles getting white has he gripped the steering wheel tightly; he had even removed his other hand from my thigh as well. We soon reached the restaurant; I could see the two guards stationed outside, he helped me out of the car and placed his hand on the small of my back. We entered the restaurant and I knew instantly that many recognized him. Most of them probably owed him something while the others knew him by reputation.
He led me to a table and helped me sit.
The waiter approached us quickly.
“I will have a glass of sparkling water,” I said and smiled softly at Raffaello’s questioning look, “I don’t consume alcohol.”
He nodded and told the waiter his choice of wine.
“I know that you keep secrets,” he said.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” I whispered and sipped my water. At this point I was only waiting for my plan to take action, I hoped the authorities had reached and caught hold of Silvano’s delivery today.
“I don’t know Tina,” he whispered, “but I can smell secrets and deceptions from a mile away.”
I gulped and gave him a stiff smile. He was beginning to prod, I know what he was doing, he would figure me out slowly and slowly, all my moves and actions and plans. He would be patient but slowly he would for sure figure me out and then one day like a lion he will come out of his den and attack me.
I had to beat him at his own name.
“I know that you keep secrets too,” I whispered too.
He raised an eyebrow and a dangerous smile appeared on his lips.
“I can tell you each one of them, what secrets would I hide from my lovely wife?”
“I am not your Wife… yet,”
“It just remains to be officiated,” he whispered, “you were mine the moment I had my eyes on you.”
“That sounds romantic,”
“That is a secret of mine actually; I can be very loving and caring for whatever that belongs to me,”
“Well, you can say the same thing about me; I am very possessive of what belongs to me,” I said. I meant the title of Capo, I meant the entire Ricci clan. It was all mine.
We just stared at each other, his authority was engulfing me from all sides, he was trying to make me cower but I couldn’t, the blood running through my veins didn’t allow me. He wanted my secrets then I will give only those. I will satiate his thirst.
“And as far as secrets are concerned, you were right about me, I do martial arts and ballerina,” I whispered, picking his glass of wine and gulping down its contents. “I do Jujutsu and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Your kickboxing sounds very tame now, doesn’t it?”
“I didn’t know your father allowed of this, Ricci women with arms,”
“Father doesn’t know,” I said smiling at the waiter with gratitude as he placed the entrée in front of us.
“It must have been your Nonno then,” he said.
“It was, he was a bored man at his estate and so he took it upon himself to teach Joe and I some discipline,” I said. This was a false statement, my grandfather was not bored. He had an ambition, he couldn’t remove my father but he could make us remove him as the Capo and sit on that chair ourselves.
“Roman is a respected Don, even if it has been three years since his demise,” he said. He poured some more wine in the glass and did the same for me.
“To Roman Ricci,” I raised my glass slightly and he did the same.
Our conversation continued smoothly after this. I think his thirst for my secrets was satiated for a while, maybe he thought I would guard them better but he surely didn’t expect me to say it so easily. Whatever it was, I was still contemplating this man, still trying to study him. I had to make sense of him before I took further action.
There had to be someone who knew him well.
Someone I had to get to before I got married.
The ringtone of phone brought me out of my reverie, my heart started to beat against my chest. Had it happened already?
God I wanted to jump with delight but I kept my excitement in check and slowly took a sip of my wine. I observe his expression go from mild disinterest to livid in a span of few seconds. He says nothing but hangs up the phone. He nods at the waiter and takes care of our cheque before we are out of the restaurant.
I don’t ask him anything, he is enraged, he is volatile.
The car stops in front of my house and he pulls me out of the car with a vicious grip. We enter the foyer and find my father standing.
“Care to repeat what you said to me on the phone?” he snarls like a wolf. I can feel every part of him thrumming with untamed energy; he is trying to keep a lid on his anger. Even my father looks scared but tries to bring about braveness on his face.
“Your soldiers were supposed to make sure my goods were delivered safely, now the authorities are prowling the dockyard, they are checking each and every cargo reaching tonight,” Silvano said.
I bristle silently. He already knows that the authorities are here, Joseph couldn’t do anything correctly! I keep my face blank and listen to their conversation.
“That news reached me before you, Silvano. Your delivery will be made next month, it will give time to let things cool down on the port. And as far as authorities are concerned, you need to look into your ranks,” he said, “you may have a mole.”
My senses are on high alert. I will have to inform Joe about this, he couldn’t get in trouble for his foolhardy. I school my features when he turns to me.
“Our dinner was rudely interrupted by your father, his lack of trust should not interfere with our bonding, I will let you know about the next time we go for out,” he said.
“That wouldn’t be n-necessary,” my mother said and we turned to her. She looked like a skittish doll.
“What do you mean Lily?” Silvano asked her.
“I mean to say that next week we have the gala at the Wolff Manor. Everyone is supposed to have a date,” Lily said.
The Wolffs were one of the leading German families. The Ricci were strong allies to them while Morrettis were neutrals. I had to be at the gala, I had to formulate good relations with them for the times to come.
“Well, I shall see you at the gala then, Tina,” he said and walked out.