Chapter 5 • Strictly Business
Ariana stepped out of the house dressed in her school uniform, her dirty blonde hair was tied into a ponytail with a black ribbon and her school bag hanging over her left shoulder. It's been a few days since the kidnapping and things were too good to be calm. No one heard from Russo or his people, and the Aditoris knew it was a matter of time before things would turn south. They didn't know when, but they knew it was coming.
Just as Ariana was about approach the car that was going to take her to school, Nicholas stopped her. "What?" Ariana asked.
"No buts," her brother said. "They will wait outside until the end of the school day."
"Nicholas," Ariana sighed. "It's a school, with security gates and alarms. I'll be fine."
"They wait outside." Ariana knew there was no point in protesting against her brother after that. She turned around and got in the car with the two men.
The school looked like a set from a British boarding school movie. Fancy cars queues up just outside the tall, black, iron gates as students waved goodbyes to their parents. Ariana checked her timetable for the day as she sat in the back of the car.
— break —
— break —
"We're here," she heard the driver say, and she sighed getting out of the car.
Ariana looked at the gates and then over her shoulder and saw that the men who had dropped her off parked the car across the road in the car park. She didn't want to go to school. Having double french and then maths that was followed by science was not something to was looking forward to.
"So," a boy with dark brown hair said as he approached Ariana. "When do I get to take you out, duchess?" He asked. This was Ryan Carmichael. The Carmichaels were the only family who helped politicians fund their campaigns in return for government power. But like the Aditoris, they too lived in New York hence why they were rivals who agreed to stay out of each other's ways by living on other sides of the city.
Ariana rolled her. "Go away, Carmichael," she said.
Ryan smirked and leaned forward. "Why?" He asked. "So you can daydream about me?"
"The circus is missing their clown," she said. "You should get going."
Ryan shrug and fixed the strap on his rucksack. "I heard about your sister," he said. "How is she?"
Ariana wanted to stand in the middle of the road, and wait for a car to hit her. Ever since the kidnapping it was always, 'Isabel this, Isabel that,' and Ariana was getting fed up.
Ariana rolled her eyes and turned to look over her shoulder, the two men were talking about something and it looked like they were too deep into the conversation that they wouldn't notice there was a UFO passing. Or even if she didn't walk through the school gates.
Ariana placed her school bag on the ground and keeled down before taking her school blazer off. Ryan looked down and watched her with a frown. "You're going to get dress code" He said.
"Am I?" Ariana asked sarcastically, as she tucked her blazer in her bag and fixed her black jacket before standing up.
She looked back to the car, the two men still were talking. She smiled to herself and turned back to Ryan. "If anyone asks; I'm sick," she said before taking off.
She had been walking the streets for a while. She could hear the chatter of the people as they passed by her. She could smell the food from the restaurants and coffee houses that were intoxicating. She looked down at her phone to check the time and saw that it was close to twelve o'clock. It was slightly chilly and Ariana felt cold.
She entered a very bright shop with a marble floor, glass windows and doors and round tables with chairs. The warmth in the shop made a shiver run down her spine and her face feel heavy.
She paced down the aisles, searching for sweets or crisps that she liked, but all she could find to her liking were the chocolate chip cookies. She shrug her shoulder after debating wether or not the cookie was worth it before she went to the queue and waited to order her warm drink.
She continued walking down the streets, sipping on her drink which warmed her up. She grabbed her headphones, plugged them into her phone and pressed play on a random song in her playlist. She continued to walk amongst the crowded streets, listening to her music, but a sudden and unsettling feeling caught her by the throat and she felt sick.
The two men dressed in black overcoats and black hats pulled low to prevent identification by witnesses. They had not expected an alert reaction from their target. He dropped the bag of fruit and darted toward the parked car with startling quickness for a man of his bulk. At the same time he shouted, "Bruce! Bruce!" It was only then that the two men drew their guns and fired.
The first bullet caught Alessio in the back. He felt the hammer shock of its impact, but made his body move toward the car. The next two bullets hit him in the buttocks and sent him sprawling in the middle of the street. Meanwhile the two gunmen, careful not to slip on the rolling fruit, started to follow in order to finish him off. At that moment, perhaps no more than five seconds after the Don's call to his driver, Ariana appeared around the corner. The gunmen fired two more hasty shots at the Don lying in the gutter. One hit him in the fleshy part of his arm and the second hit him in the calf of his right leg. Though these wounds were the least serious they bled profusely, forming small pools of blood beside his body. But by this time Alessio had lost consciousness.
The two assassins could easily have shot her down. But they panicked as the people approached the scene, and besides too much time had passed. They disappeared around the corner and drive off. Many of the people thronging the avenue had flung themselves into doorways or on the ground, others had huddled together in small groups.
The cup slipped from her grasp, the caramel liquid splattered everywhere as though a child had jumped into a pool of rain. Never before had Ariana noticed how time is so much like water; that it could pass slowly, a drop at a time, even freeze, or rush by in a blink. The clock says it is measured and constant, tick tock, part of an orderly world; the clock lies. She couldn't hear the world around her, but the beating of her heart drumming inside her and she was certain that every person on the street could hear it. She didn't move a single inch from her spot. She was like a statue. Her vision quickly began to blur and tears began to spill from her helpless eyes and down her cheeks.
She stared down at her father's body lying face down on the tarred street, lying now in what seemed to her a blackish lake of blood. Ariana went into physical shock. And just then something snapped within her. She pushed past the people, her legs felt like they were jelly with every step she took until she came to a stop. She inhaled a sharp gasp of disbelief and shock. Her trembling hand came to her mouth and she dropped to her knees. "No," she mumbled under her hand. "No, no, no— This can't— I can't— dad!!"
Victoria sat in the living room with Isabel, when she felt a sudden and sharp jolt in her chest. She knew something was wrong. "Are you alright?" Isabel asked the woman.
Before Victoria had the chance to speak, Nicholas was heard shouting from the study. Nicholas was on the phone with one of his men who was working undercover for him in the police department. "Somebody shout your father outside his place," said Oliver, quickly without preamble. "Fifteen minutes ago. He's alive, but hurt bad. They've taken him to French Hospital. They got your sister Ariana down at the Chelsea precinct. You should pick her up. I'm going down to the hospital now to help question your old man, if he can talk. I'll keep you posted."
The door to the study opened, and in walked Victoria and Isabel. Victoria noticed that her son's face had gone red with flushing blood. His eyes were glazed over. She spoke softly, trying her best to steady her voice, "What's the matter?"
Nicholas held his index finger to his lips, before speaking to the phone. "You sure he's alive?" He asked.
"Yeah, I'm sure," the detective said. "He lost a lot of blood, but he's not as bad as he looks."
"Thanks," Nicholas said. "Be home tomorrow morning eight sharp. You got a grand coming."
Nicholas forced himself to turned around and look at his mother. He knew he had to control his emotions. His greatest weakness was his anger and this was the one time his anger could be fatal.
"Nicholas," Victoria pressed. "What happened?"
Nicholas held his mother gaze for a moment. 'Don't dread this...I can't do this...TELL HER!' He took a deep breath and exhaled. "It's dad," he said. "Now don't get worried. He's in the hospital, he's hurt." Victoria felt as though the floor had disappeared from beneath her feet. Her eyes were slow to blink and her heat sunk to her pit of her stomach.
Isabel sat on the bed next to Ariana, who had just fallen asleep moments ago. She had been watching the girl since she was brought home by Nicholas from the police station. As she sat there in silence her thoughts took over and she began to brainstorm.
..An attempt to kill him and I got kidnapped because of a drug offer...
She bit the side of her cheek as she thought about the Aditori family and who they were.
• She remembered that from her research she found out that they were a business family— that everyone in the family was educated to deal with businesses. They had restaurants, hotels, casinos, clubs— and many other businesses.
• And they were rich.
...That would explain why Russo wanted for them to invest in powder...don't be stupid...no, seriously, why else would he want their money and partnership?...
She shook her head and thought even harder this time.
• They had friends. Very powerful friends.
She began to place all the pieces of the puzzle together, and what she ended up with was that the Aditori's were maybe, possibly, somehow connected to...Isabel shook her head once again, thinking that she was too over her head with this conclusion of hers.
Someone knocked their knuckles on the door lightly before opening the door. "She's sleeping?" Victoria asked, as she entered the bedroom. Isabel nodded.
"I'm going to see Alessio," Victoria said softly. "Do you want to come with me?"
Isabel frowned at the women. "I doubt Nicholas will let anyone leave the house," she said.
"I am his mother. He listens to me," said Victoria.
The hospital was small and private with just one entrance. Before coming to the hospital Nicholas had said no to his mother, but Victoria didn't let her son push her around like she was nothing but a solider. Visiting hours were over, but since Alessio had a privet room and nurse of his own the family and anyone who wanted to see him had an extra hour to spare at the hospital.
Alessio was asleep. He had a bandage wrapped around his throat, he had something clipped onto his right ring finger and he had a tube connected to his arm. Victoria walked over towards her husband and kissed him on the forehead, trying her very best to hold back her tears. She smiled as she held his hand in hers and brought to her chest. She was so happy to know that her husband was alive. Those news papers were all lies. Her Alessio wasn't dead.
Victoria turned to Isabel who was standing opposite her. "Where is everybody?" She asked. When they arrived the hospital was empty. No cars, no nurses, no bodyguards— everyone was gone.
Isabel shrug as she walked towards the window and looked down onto the street. There was a curved courtyard that had steps leading down into the street and the street was empty of cars. But whoever came into the hospital would have to come through that entrance.
"What are you doing here?" Said the nurse, making both Victoria and Isabel jump. "You're not supposed to be here now."
"I'm Victoria Aditori, his wife," said Victoria. "And this is Isabel Aditori, his daughter."
"What happened to the guards?" Isabel asked the nurse.
"Your father just had too many visitors," the nurse explain. "They interfered with hospital service. The police made them leave about ten minutes ago." The nurse walked around Isabel and checked Alessio's pulse. Isabel, without a second thought, reached inside the pocket of her jacket and pulled out her phone.
"Nurse, wait a minute" she said, just as the nurse stopped halfway out of the doorway. "Stay here."
The phone rang a few times before Nicholas answered her. "Nick. We're at the hospital."
"How's the old man doing?" Nicholas asked, but Isabel didn't answer his question.
"Listen," she began. "There is nobody here."
Nicholas, with confusion in his voice, "Wait, what do you mean Nobody?" He asked.
Isabel shook her head. "Nobody," she said. "No Croes' men, no detectives, nobody."
"Okay, okay. Don't panic," said Nicholas. "I'll send somebody—"
Isabel almost rolled her eyes. "I won't panic," she said sarcastically before hanging up.
"Isabel, what's going on?" Victoria asked, as she watched the girl in the room who checked if the bed would fit through the doorway.
"I'm sorry," said the nurse after checking her watch. "But you will have to leave—"
"Uhh, you and I," Isabel ignored the nurse. "Are going to move my father to another room. Now can you disconnect those tubes so we can move the bed out?"
The nurse looked at the girl with an arched, but angry expression on her face. "That's out of the question!" She hissed.
"You know my father?" Asked Isabel calmly. "Men are coming here to kill him. You understand? Now help me, please."
The sound of wheels running along the floor while screeching a little echoed the corridors silently. Isabel and the nurse rolled the Don's bed to another room in the hospital, Victoria following after them closely. Isabel had never seen a hospital so empty, quiet and eerie. She felt as though she was in a horror movie.
The sound of a door being closed reached their ears, and they quickly moved into the empty room. Isabel hid behind the wall on one side of the room with Victoria and told the nurse to do the same thing.
The tapping of footsteps roared the corridors of the hospital as they were heard coming up the stairs. Isabel slowly peered through the side window of the door, catching a man holding flowers approaching them.
"Isabel, no. Wait—" but Isabel didn't heed Victoria's words. No, she grabbed the door handle, pushed it down and stepped outside of the room.
The man turned his attention to the girl approaching him, a small smile appeared on his face. "Who are you?" Isabel asked.
"I am Emiliano, the baker. Your father saved my life by getting the government to let me stay in America."
Isabel shook his hand.
Emiliano went on, "I've come to pay my respects to your father."
Isabel smiled and shook her head. "No, but I'll tell the Don you came." Isabel placed a hand on the man's arm and turned him away from the room Alessio was moved to. She could feel that something was going to happen. Something bad since there were no guards outside and no nurses or doctors around. "You shouldn't be here Mr. Baker" she said. "You should leave quickly. There may be trouble. You don't want to get involved with the police."
The man looked at the girl with a small frown. "If there is trouble, I stay here to help you." He said. "You couldn't handle trouble alone."
Isabel looked over her shoulder and turned back to the man. "Alright. Listen, wait for me outside," she said. "I'll be out in a minute." The man nodded and walked back down the stairs.
"What happened? Who was that?" Victoria shot up from the armchair.
"I'll be right back," said Isabel. "Just stay here and don't leave this room."
Victoria only nodded and watched as Isabel walked out of the room. Alessio, who had woken up smiled at his wife as he thought about what Isabel said.
The cold wind kissed her harshly. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up and a shiver run down her spine. Her eyes searched for bodyguards, or cars— even a single car, but there was no one outside except for the baker, Emiliano.
Isabel approached the man, grabbed the flowers and tossed them to the side. "Give me those," she whispered, and fixed the man's collar upwards. She didn't know where she got these ideas from, but they were the first ones that came to her mind. "Okay, now put your hand in your pocket like you have a gun," she said. "You'll be alright."
Seconds later, a black Mercedes pulled up to the front of the hospital with four men sitting inside. They rolled their windows down and made eye contact with Isabel and Emiliano. Isabel took control of her breathing. She had to play it calm or Emiliano would panic. She placed her hand in her jacket, as if she had a gun and almost like they got scared, the car drove off.
Isabel smiled as she tuned to Emiliano. "You did good," she praised. The baker, very scared, nodded nervously as he took out a cigarette from his coat and placed it to his lips, but had trouble with the lighter. His hands shook uncontrollably, as his whole body did. Isabel took the lighter from the man's trembling hands and lit the cigarette for him. It was after she had lit the cigarette for the man that she noticed her hands were not shaking and she was calm.
The sound of sirens were heard getting closer to the hospital, and police cars screeched their tiers to halts in front of the gates. "Go," Isabel said to Emiliano. "Before they see you." The baker nodded at the girl and took off running just before Isabel was grabbed forcefully and brought to a man, no older than Alessio.
"Well gentleman," William Russell laughed. "We got ourselves a beauty." He reached his hand forward to caress her face, but she turned her head away from. "I thought I got all you guinea hoods locked up," he said in a more serious tone this time. "What the hell are you doing here?"
Isabel ignored the man's question and held her head up high as she looked in the eyes without showing a hint of fear. "What happened to the men who were guarding my father, captain?" She asked calmly.
"Why you little punk!" Russell spat. "What the hell are you doing telling me my business? I pulled them guys off of here! Now you get outta here— and stay away from this hospital."
Isabel shook her head. "I'm not moving until you put some guards around my father's room."
"Matthews, take 'er in!"
A tall and dark police officer stepped forward. This was Jack Mathews, Nicholas' inside man. Mathews raised his hand up to his head and saluted the captain. "Captain," he began. "The kid's clean. Besides, she's British. I doubt she knows our policies-"
The captain grabbed the young man by the collar. "Goddamn it, I said take 'er in!" He shouted.
Isabel stood still, thinking hard about this whole situation and if she was right then Russo must have been behind this whole hospital-police plot. "What's the Albanian paying you to set up my father, Captain?" She asked.
A sudden wave of rage flowed though the captain's veins and his expression hardened with anger. "Take a hold of 'er. Stand 'er up straight." Russell raises his hand and swung it at Isabel, her head turned to the side and her hair fell over her face. She could taste the blood in her mouth. This was the second time a man had swung his hand at her.
Just as her head turned two cars pulled up to the hospital and out ran the Aditori men who made their way up the stairs.
Anthony rushed towards Isabel and held her in his embrace. "I'm attorney for the Aditori family," he said. "These men are private detectives hired to protect Alessio Aditori. They're licensed to carry firearms. If you interfere, you'll have to appear before a judge in the morning and show cause."
Russell, taken aback by what the attorney said looked at his officers. "Alright," he waved. "Let 'er go. Come on." The police officers backed away from the hospital building and got in their cars.
"Beautiful. Beautiful." Nicholas joked as he look at Isabel'a red cheek. Isabel rolled her eyes and knocked Nicholas' hand away, and went to the desk and sat down.
The six of them sat around the room, but the atmosphere was different from their earlier meetings. Nicholas was happier, more cheerful, and Isabel realised what that cheerfulness meant. There were no longer any doubts in Nicholas' mind. He was committed and nothing would sway him. The attempt by Russo the night before was the final straw. There could no longer be any question of a truce.
"Russo finally got in touch and wants to sit down with us," said Anthony. "A negotiator is arranging the details. That means we win. Russo knows he's lost and he wants to get out with his life." Anthony paused. "Maybe he thought we were soft, ready to be taken, because we didn't strike back. Now with one of the Xavier sons dead he knows we mean business."
"We got a call from the negotiator while you went to the hospital after Isabel and ma," Nicholas said to Anthony. "The Albanian wants a meeting now." Nicholas laughed. "The balls on that son of a bitch," he said admiringly. "After he craps out last night he wants a meeting today or the next day. Meanwhile we're supposed just to lay back and take everything he dishes out."
"What fucking nerve," Bruno shook his head before he took a sip from his drink.
"What did he say?" Anthony asked.
"What did he say," Nicholas repeated. "Badda-beep, badda-bap, badda-boop, badda-beep— He wants us to send Isabel here to proposition. And the promise is, that the deal is so good, that we can't refuse."
"And what about Xavier?" Bruno asked.
"That's part of the deal," Nicholas answered Bruno's question. "That's part of the deal— Daniel cancels out what they did to my father," Nicholas laughed again. "The nervy bastards. And to think we would actually send Isabel."
Anthony said cautiously, "We should hear what they have to say."
"No, no, Consigliere, not this time," said Nicholas, his voice held a faint trace of an Italian accent. "No more meetings. No more discussions. No more Russo tricks. When the negotiator gets in touch with us again for our answer I want you to give him one message. I want Russo. If not, it's all-out war. We'll go to the mattresses and we'll put all the button men out on the street."
"The other Families won't stand for an all-out war," Anthony said.
Nicholas shrugged. "They have a simple solution. Give me Russo. Or fight the Aditori family."
"Your father wouldn't want to hear this!" Anthony shouted, as he slammed the papers on the coffee table. "This is business, not personal, Nick!"
"They shot my father— that's business?"
"Yes!" Anthony said. "Even the shooting of your father was business, not personal, Nick!"
Nicholas was quite for a moment before speaking. "Well, then, business will have to suffer, alright? And listen, do me a favor, Anthony— more advice on how to patch things up. Just help me win, please, alright?"
There was a moment of silence before Anthony took the papers from the coffee table and handed them to Nicholas. "I found out about this Captain Russell who swung at Isabel," he said.
"What about 'im?" Asked Nicholas.
"Now he's definitely on Risso's payroll, and for big money," said Anthony. "Russell has agreed to be the Albanian's bodyguard. What you have to understand, Nick, is that while Russo is being guarded like this, he is invulnerable. Now nobody has ever gunned down a New York police captain— never. It would be disastrous. All the Families would come after you, Nick. The Aditori family would be outcasts! Even the old man's political protection would run for cover! So do me a favour— take this into consideration."
Nicholas sat quietly with a hand in his hair like a little boy who's parents had just finished giving him a lecture on his behaviour. Anthony loosened his tie and unbutton the first button of his shirt, as Nicholas opened the small box on the table and offered a cigar to Anthony. "Alright," he said. We'll wait."
"We can't wait."
Isabel had spoke for the first time, getting everyone attention. Bruno looked at her with wide eyes, Vincenzi and Lazzeri were puffing on their cigars uneasily, not daring to speak, but sweating. Anthony sat down in an armchair and placed his feet on the table. It would be their skins that would go on the line if the wrong decision was made.
"Huh?" Bruno frowned.
"We can't wait," repeated herself. "I don't care what Russo says about a deal, he's going kill Alessio, that's it. That's the key for him. We need to get Russo."
"Bella's right," said Vincenzi.
Nicholas stood up and walked over to the desk. "Lemme ask you something, Professor" he said. "I mean, what about Russo? Huh? What do we do with this cop here?
"They wanna have a meeting with me, right—"
"Which you will not be attending," Nicholas cut in.
Isabel rolled her eye, and continued. "It will be me, Russo and Russell. Let's set the meeting. Get our informers to find out where it's gonna be held. Now, we insist it's a public place a bar, a restaurant— some place where there's people so I feel safe. They're gonna search me when I first meet them, right?" She asked, and Anthony nodded. "So I can't have a weapon on me then." She pauses and looked at Lazzeri. "But if Lazzeri can figure a way, to have a weapon planted there for me, then I'll kill them both."
The study fell silent, but the silence didn't last long when Vincenzi laughed, followed by everyone else in the room, but Anthony. The laughing from each of the men was a deep belly laughter, not faking. Nicholas pointed a finger at Isabel, trying to speak through gasps of mirth. "Hey, whataya gonna do, nice British princess, eh? When you don't know anything about the family business, eh? Now you wanna gun down a police captain and an Albanian Hah? You gotta stand right next to them like this and bada-bing! you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit. Come're."
Lazzeri and Vincenzi, completely misunderstanding, thought that Nicholas was laughing at Isabel for making such an offer. They too were smiling broadly and a little patronizingly at her. Only Anthony warily kept his face impassive.
Nicholas kissed Isabel on her head. "Mwah!"
"You're taking this very personal," said Nicholas.
"Anthony, this is business and this girl is taking it very, very personal."
"Where does it say that you can't kill a cop?" Asked Isabel.
Anthony locked his fingers together as he placed his feet on the small coffee table. "Come on, Isabel—"
"Anthony, wait a minute," she said, turning to the lawyer. "I'm talking about a cop that's mixed up in drugs. I'm talking about a dishonest cop, a crooked cop who got mixed up in the rackets and got what was coming to him. Now that's a terrific story. And we have newspaper people on the payroll, don't we, Anthony?"
Anthony nodded in the affirmative at what the girl as his answer. "And they might like a story like that," Isabel said.
"They might," said Anthony. "They just might."
Isabel nodded, before to Nicholas who was sitting on the side of the desk. There was a short pause as they locked eyes. "It's not personal, Nicholas," she said. "It's strictly business."