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Alexander blinked his eyes open. Ambrose sat by his bed.
“Don, what are you doing here?” Alex asked. His voice was still filled with sleep. He rubbed his eyes.
“I am here to say goodbye,” Ambrose said.
Alex sat back against his pillow and stared at his elder brother. Things had been tensed in the underworld for the past few months. His brother was working very late into the night and skipping many family events to stay ahead.
Ambrose was fighting the devil. The Tsar.
“You are leaving,”
“When will I see you again?”
“I don’t know, buddy. Maybe never. But I just want to say something before you leave.”
“What is it?”
“With me gone, you will have a lot of responsibilities on your shoulders. You will become the new Don. Everything is going to be on you. You will see sides of our loved ones that you never hoped to see. You will have to grow up, you cannot behave like a ten-year-old boy anymore.”
“I am scared, I won’t be able to it,”
“That’s not true. Do you know why?”
Alex shook his head.
“Because you are my brother. You are a Valentine. Valentines are meant to be strong. Valentines are meant to lead. You will win, I know it. I know you will never bring me down. I know that you will keep our organisation safe and united. You will be the best Capo. Fearless. Strong. Relentless. Hard-working.”
Alex felt a fire in his chest. A vigour. He sat up straight and nodded.
“That is my boy,”
Alex smiled, it was so good to see his elder brother so proud and happy. He had always wanted to make proud. Maybe becoming a good Capo would be the way for it.
“I promise I will be the best Capo. I will never let you down.”
Ambrose smiled, his eyes teary and ruffled Alex’s hair.
Alexander stared at everyone in front of him. It was a dinner party, one of the most dreaded times of the year. Alex loved hosting but not this kind. The notorious Germans, the elusive Irish and the influential Italians were all here. Heads of the major crime families were all here. It was a fucking carnival.
“Now, bring a smile on your face, would you?” Laura, his mother, said.
“What is there to smile about?” Alex snapped, “I see them at work, and now I have to see them here too. Can I ever get a break?”
“When your son turns twenty and is ready to take over,” Laura said, “till then you are stuck here.”
“And what if I don’t have a son?”
“Well, then your son-in-law,”
“What if I don’t have kids, Ma?”
Laura narrowed her eyes.
“That is not an option,”
“I don’t like this pressure,”
“It was on everyone. Your father, his father and your Uncles. No one in the syndicate is free from this responsibility,”
“Ambrose is free,”
“Well, Ambrose is a disappointment for us. He is a failure. He betrayed us. He is the reason why the Mafia families have lost the fear and mystery that once surrounded us. And he betrayed you, Alexander. How can you forget that? Ambrose took the easy way out, he very easily put all his responsibilities on your head and left for Seattle,”
Alexander sighed. This was usual with his mother. Despite Ambrose being Laura’s firstborn, the woman hated him with a passion. Laura was a hardcore mafia wife. She believed in the ideals of the crime syndicate, nurtured the family and would sacrifice any of her children if it meant the larger good.
“Keep the acerbity to yourself, no one wants an acidic host,” Alexander teased.
The frown on Laura’s forehead smoothed and she sighed.
“I don’t want to be this bitter woman, but just don’t bring up his name. I hate him.”
“You hate what he did. But I know that you can never hate Ambrose,”
“What are you two talking about?” Riccardo laughed. He held two drinks in his hands.
Alexander took one from him.
“Riccardo, is your father here? We don’t want to start a party without our Consigliere,”
“Aunt Laura, he will be here soon.”
Laura nodded and walked away.
“What are you doing, man?” Riccardo hissed.
“It is your parents’ anniversary, you are supposed to be doing the running around, not your mother!”
“Well, um, I have a great gift for them. Also, I got the staff from the club to be servers for the night….”
“I got the staff from the club! You weren’t even aware. God, you look as clueless as Derek Alfonsi.”
“I am sorry, I am still a bit shaken up with that shootout at our warehouse.”
“I am telling you; it is the Wagners. If you want, I can take Lucius in the corner and ….”
“You are not doing anything of this kind,” Alexander hissed.
Riccardo shrugged and moved to the grand hall with Alexander. The two stood by the stairs. The grand ballroom was outdone, even though it was very private, Laura had still outdone herself. The beautiful flower arrangements and the centrepieces. It was all so beautiful.
The lights dimmed, and his parents emerged at the staircase. Alexander smiled; it was so good to see a smile on his mother’s face. They looked so happy. Even his cold and brutal father had a small smirk on his face.
Laura looked resplendent in a shimmering gown, and Tommaso looked dapper in his tuxedo.
“Good evening, everyone,” Tommaso’s voice boomed across the grand hall.
Alex loved his father’s charismatic yet tough personality. There was something about Tommaso. He was royal, and Alex knew he didn’t even come close.
“I am pleased to have you all gathered here. It is a pleasure to share this beautiful day with all of you. On this date, forty years ago, I got married to this little spitfire,”
Whistles and hoots were heard across the hall, and Alex too joined in.
“It feels like only yesterday when I was sneaking into the Vasilakis Mansion to meet my beautiful girl here. It made me realise two things: first, I will do anything to spend my life with Laura and second, the Vasilakis’ have the world’s worst security.”
The guests erupted into laughter. Even Dean Vasilakis grinned. Dean was Laura’s brother and Tommaso’s best friend. They were like Ambrose and Victor, but older.
“Now, I am just joking. I couldn’t have gotten in without Dean’s help. Thank you for being a great friend and an even better brother-in-law. Forty years seem a long time. We were gifted with a magnificent son, Alexander. He is all this syndicate needs. Good job, son.”
Alex’s smile faltered.
You have two sons’ father, acknowledge Ambrose. Don’t push him away. Bring him back home.
The audience’s response to his father’s statement was uncomfortable too. A few murmurs, fake smiles and overall despair. Alex cleared his throat and raised his glass.
“To forty more!”
Riccardo raised his glass followed by everyone.
A server rolled in the three-tier cake flown in from Paris and Tommaso and Laura walked down the stairs. Alex hugged his parents and passed them the knife. The happy couple cut a big slice, feeding Alex and then to each other. Laura’s eyes were teary.
“Thank you for the forty beautiful years, Tommaso. It has been so beautiful.”
“It was all you, my love. Your radiance, your strength and your positivity. It has kept me going.”
Alex sighed. He always loved their relationship. It was like they completed each other; they indeed were one another’s better halves. Alex wished to have a relationship like them. Hopefully, maybe he will find that in Bell. She was such a sweetheart with a childlike persona. He loved Bell but what good would a relationship be when its foundation was built on a pile of lies.
I am sorry, Bell.
The party moved on. The servers walked around, holding trays of appetisers and drinks. Alex was talking to Riccardo, Derek Alfonsi and Dylan Kelly. They were his closest friends in the syndicate.
“You are right about your doubts,” Dylan Kelly said, “my sources say that it was orchestrated by the Wagners themselves. The authorities didn’t bust them, no one tipped the authorities.”
“But why would they fake something of this sort?” Derek asked.
“Oh, Derek! You simple soul,” Riccardo hung his arm around Derek’s shoulder, “it is called a ploy. The Wagners maybe wanted to target something bigger. Think of the possibilities.”
“The possibilities? Okay, maybe, they want Ambrose to return. He is stirring up trouble to get Ambrose’s attention.”
“What are you saying, man? Where did Ambrose come from?” Dylan said.
“Oh… sorry, it’s just that an associate of mine informed that he saw Maximus Wagner leaving Ambrose’s house in Seattle.”
Alex furrowed his brows.
“When was this?” Alex asked.
“Four to five days ago,”
“And you didn’t think of informing me about this?”
“I didn’t think it was important,”
“Why didn’t you think it was important?” Riccardo asked.
“Well, an Uncle was meeting his nephew, what other reason would Maximus have!”
“Good god, Alfonsi!” Alex roared, “you are a Mob Boss. Why are you think like a little kid?”
“Well, what am I supposed to do?”
“Okay, man. When you get any information, try thinking about the worst possible scenario!”
“My life coach doesn’t allow that, I am sorry. I have to be positive and look for positive,” Derek said.
“Someone hit this guy on the head,” Dylan muttered, “I hope you haven’t been telling this life coach too much about our way of life. He can be an informant.”
“I am not a fool, Dylan,” Derek muttered, “he thinks I am an investment banker.”
“But what was your associate doing in Seattle,” Alex asked.
“I like to have my men around important places, you never know what information they might come up with,” Derek pointed out.
“You are an eccentric fellow, my man,” Alex grinned, “and what else does you associate have on Maximus.”
“Ambrose lives a very secure and tight life. You cannot really guess what is going on inside the fortress he lives in,” Derek said, “but word has it. And I am not really sure about this, but there may be a girl in Ambrose’s life.”
“What?” Alex brows shot up.
“If that’s true, then I am happy,” Riccardo said, “Ambrose needs happiness in his life.”
“Amen,” Dylan whispered and gulped down the rest of his drink.
“Pigs in a blanket?”
Alex turned to the server. He did everything to not let his jaw drop. It was Nicholas.
“Nicholas,” Alex whispered.
“Oh, hey!” Nicholas stuttered, “I mean, good evening, Mr Valentine.”
“Alex is fine, what are you doing here?”
“I am beginning to guess that you are the owner of the club I work at,”
“You work at my club,”
“Yeah, he just joined yesterday,” Riccardo pointed out, “you know him?”
A loud bell stopped Alex from answering
“Who could it be?” Tommaso’s voice boomed. He didn’t like anyone interrupting his poker game.
A server opened the door. It looked to be a courier guy with an associate with him.
“Who are you?” Tommaso barked.
“Sir, I am here on behalf of your older son,”
Pin-drop silence ensued.
“What has that rotten traitor sent you for?” Tommaso snarled.
“Uh… I don’t know,”
Alex stepped forward.
“Just leave the package here,” Alex said, “please escort the man outside.”
The associate walked the courier guy out.
“You didn’t have to yell at the dude, he was just doing his job,” Alex said.
“I agree with Alex on this, Tommaso,” Dean said.
“Well, I am not opening his package,” Tommaso snapped.
Alex walked to the box and picked out the letter stuck to it.
“Read it out loud,” Alessio said.
“Dear Parents, this is just the beginning.”
Alex opened the box. The others stepped forward to peer into it.
“Shit,” Dylan whispered.
“Yes,” Alex muttered, “that is Uncle Maximus.”