Eye on the Prize

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Chapter 11

Chapter 11

Marco was walking to the parking garage in the city. He drove his car today instead of using public transportation since he had meetings in Philadelphia and the suburbs. There was just enough time between meetings to savor a delicious cheesesteak. His stomach was rumbling, but it would be well worth the wait. He took the elevator up to the fourth level of the dimly lit and dingy parking garage. It would be nice to get inside the car and blast the air conditioning on such a hot and humid day. When he opened the door to his car, he noticed the front tire was flat. He let out a string of curses and began to walk toward the trunk to check for a spare.

That’s when he noticed his rear tire was flat. He walked around the other side of the car, hoping that those tires would be full.

No such luck. Today was not Marco’s lucky day. There was a note on the passenger’s side window. “I told you that I would get you back for what you did to me. Here is a little taste of how I plan to make your life miserable. I won’t bother signing the note since you should know who this is. Consider yourself lucky that I didn’t torch your car.”

Marco kicked his tire in frustration. “Fucking John Barron!”

Diana was examining the information that she had gathered for the Bitcoin article so far. Her social media instant message screen popped up with a message.

“Hi, I saw your post about Bitcoin and would like to talk. Meet me at Longwood Gardens at 2:00. I promise that it will be worth your time.”

Diana eagerly answered, “I will be there. How will I find you?”

“I will have a Phillies shirt on with Victorino on the back. I will meet you by the admissions window, and my name is Brad.”

“I look forward to seeing you, Brad.”

Diana arrived five minutes early and walked up to the ticket window. As promised, a man was standing there with a Victorino jersey. She walked up to him and extended her hand, “Hi, I believe I am supposed to meet you here. My name is Diana.”

The lady at the ticket window smiled at what she thought was a blind date. The man turned around and shook her hand. “As I mentioned on social media, my name is Brad. I bought our admission tickets. Shall we?”

The lady at the ticket window smiled and commented, “You two kids have fun. It is a beautiful day for romance, and you picked the perfect place.”

There was no need for a response since Diana and Brad had more important issues on their mind. They began to walk together slowly. Longwood Gardens offered exquisite botanical gardens, greenhouses, and fountains. The flowers varied by season and were breathtaking. A great deal of walking was worth the beauty of what the eyes would see. It was a shame that Diana and Brad were

oblivious to their beautiful surroundings. They could have been walking a city street as far as they were concerned.

Brad began, “I figured we could walk and talk. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all. I am very interested to hear about your experience, although I am sure it wasn’t positive,” Diana replied.

“Your assumption is correct. Let me bring you up to date. I attended a real estate seminar and was pulled aside at the conclusion and invited to join the speaker for a meal. Looking back on the ordeal, I should have seen the impending doom. There were so many promises made, but in the end, my money vanished into thin air. He excelled at deception and was a master of persuasion.

Somehow, he always talked me out of my decisions. I finally concluded that enough was enough and demanded my money within twenty-four hours. Of course, he extended my deadline. A couple of days later, I received an email instructing me to click on a link to transfer my wallet to my bank account. The next day my balance was zero. He reversed the blame to me. Somehow it was my fault for clicking on the link. The only solution he offered me was a half-assed apology.”

The story was like so many others that Diana had interviewed. Marco held a real estate seminar on the day she attended. It was very clever of him to use the seminar as a ploy to select his next victim. She would never have seen through his clever smokescreen. Now she didn’t feel the least bit guilty for snooping around. “Can I trouble you to show me the digital wallet?”

Brad gave her a look of defeat. “Sorry. I deleted it. My money is gone, so what is the point?”

“No worries, Brad. If your phone is backed up, I might be able to get the information from your backup. May I borrow your phone for a second? I brought my laptop.”

They sat down on a nearby bench. Diana signed into Brad’s iCloud account with his assistance. She restored the app. It was the same app as the others.

“By any chance, are you willing to share the name of the person who spoke to you and enticed you to invest your hard-earned money?”

Brad looked at Diana. “I want him to rot in prison for the rest of his life for what he did to me and who knows how many others. I would have to assume that I am not alone in this feeling.”

“No, you are not; however, the other folks are too scared to give me a name. For some reason, they believe that they will lose the lifeline to their money forever by revealing his name. I would bet everything that I own that he spent all of their money a long time ago. I agree that he needs to pay for what he did, but I cannot chase after a ghost.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Diana gave Brad time to digest the information and think about his next step. Brad looked at Diana. “I appreciate what you are trying to do. I am mad as hell. It is my money, and I want it back because it doesn’t belong to him. I realize that my stupidity got me into this mess; however, if you met the guy, you would probably believe him too. He is so convincing and makes you feel like he is your close friend looking out for your best interest.”

“Listen, you aren’t doing anyone justice by withholding his name.

The person you were dealing with is a very skilled con artist. Not revealing his identity gives him more power to target other innocent people. If someone doesn’t stop him soon, the madness will never

end. He will get away with everything if someone doesn’t stop him. I am almost positive that his next move will be to leave the country, so we are running out of time.”

Brad turned to look at Diana. “You are absolutely right. If he lied to me about getting rich, then I have to assume that he is lying about his identity as well. The seminar was Forget the Lottery. Learn how to invest in real estate property. His name is Wayne Bruce.”

Self-consciously, Diana knew the name that would be revealed, yet she felt as if Brad had sucker-punched her in the stomach when she heard it. The day she tracked Marco’s car; it was parked outside of Wayne Enterprises. She was so close to marrying the man of her dreams, and now she wondered if she ever really knew him. There had to be some other explanation, yet Marco seemed to be somehow involved in this entire mess. She had felt bad for questioning his honor and invading his privacy based on nothing more than a sneaking suspicion. Now the facts were stacking up against him. She found it difficult to believe that he was the organizer behind this elaborate scheme.

Diana realized that she had been looking to be proven wrong this entire time. The little voice that she had been silencing tried to tell her on numerous occasions. Her life was out of hand, and she was losing her grip on reality.

Brad interrupted her internal struggle and put his arm on her shoulder in concern. “Are you okay? Did I say something to upset you? You are white as a ghost.”

“No, not at all. I apologize. I am very distraught over so many innocent people losing their life savings to one man. I want to thank you for stepping forward and being brave enough to give me a name. You are the only person who was willing to give me the name of the horrible excuse of a human being swindling money that does not

belong to him. Thank you. If I have any say in the matter, he will be punished for the crimes he has committed.”

Marco’s burner phone began to ring. He ignored the call so that he could talk to Diana first. Sal could wait a few minutes until he was finished. He needed to learn a little patience anyway.

His call reached Diana as she was driving home from her meeting with Brad.

She answered cheerfully. “Hey, Babe. How are you?”

“As a matter of fact, I am wonderful. I wanted to check in since I had a few minutes. I absolutely cannot wait to see you tomorrow.”

“You better be kidding! Did you remember that we have the rehearsal dinner tonight? I will meet you there, so you better not forget to show up.”

“Calm down, tiger. I remembered, so don’t trouble yourself. Rest assured that I will be there on time. Can you meet me outside?”

“Yes, of course, I will. I am so excited!” “See you soon, Babe!”

As soon as the conversation ended, Marco returned Sal’s call.

Sal started yelling as soon as he answered. “Either you are stupid, or you think I am. I had it up to here with your little games. I have a news flash for you. You aren’t invincible. As a matter of fact, if I were in charge, you would have a bullet through your head already.”

Marco ignored his ranting and raving like a wife ignores her husband after being married too many years. “I have a little news flash for you too. I am not available to meet tonight if that is why you are calling. Tonight, is my rehearsal dinner and the night before my wedding.”

“Sounds like your problem, not mine. No one cares about your demands. Boss wants a drop-off, so I suggest that you learn how to multitask. You have four hours to meet me at our usual spot.” Sal hung up before Marco could say another word.

Marco slammed his desk with his fist and threw his stapler against the wall. He always made work a priority, but not the night before his wedding. These guys had some balls, flexing their muscles on him. Why should he have to be under the gun to arrive at dinner on time? This was not part of the plan, and he was getting sick and tired of these tough guys bossing him around like some puppet.

Sal was furious after talking to Marco. He was fed up with his self- righteous attitude, and the fucking guy wasn’t even part of the family. A goddamn nobody thought that he had the bigger dick. It was time to put an end to this nonsense.

Sal made a call. “Boss, sorry to bother you, but it is time to do something about Marco.”

Dom asked, “What seems to be the problem, Sal?”

“Our little gopher is doing his best to show his independence and pretend that he doesn’t need to follow my orders. I waited to call you because I know you wanted me to show more tolerance.”

Phil pondered the situation for a minute. “Since you are the one who deals with him directly, what is your take on Marco?”

“Honestly, I would have iced him already. The guy is a slimy prick with a chip on his shoulder. His disobedience is disrespectful.”

“Do you think that he is performing his job in the family’s best interest?”

“Hell no, boss! I would bet my life that the dumb motherfucker is taking a bigger cut of the money than you instructed.”

“That would not be a very smart move on his part. I was extremely generous, and he dares to take advantage?”

Sal could hear the harshness in Dom’s voice and knew that he had just unleashed the beast.

Dom gave Sal his orders. “I appreciate your loyalty. Listen carefully. This is how we are going to handle the situation.”

Marco successfully made the drop with Sal and drove to the loft to change for the rehearsal dinner. It didn’t take long for him to get ready and make himself presentable. As luck would have it, he was running ahead of schedule. As he took the elevator down to the parking garage, he was thinking about how fortunate he was to be marrying the woman of his dreams. She was perfect in every way imaginable.

Marco was so caught up in his thoughts that he didn’t see the two men lurking in the corner by his Range Rover. Before he knew what was happening, a sack was thrown over his head, and he was shoved into a vehicle. They drove a short distance, and then the vehicle came to an abrupt stop.

The back door opened, and he was picked up by his neck and thrown to the ground. He was told to remove the sack from his head. Sal was looking down at him with a sinister grin on his face. Another no neck muscled thug was standing next to him. Sal yelled, “I have been waiting for this moment since the day I met you. I’ve had it up to here with your little stunts. You are probably too idiotic to realize that ignoring my calls and your consistent lateness demonstrates total disrespect to the family.” He delivered a punch to Marco’s gut that knocked the air right out of him.

Marco brought himself to his knees and was on all fours like a dog. Sal rewarded him with a swift kick to the ribs as he collapsed into the dirt.

“Boss said that this little beat down is a warning. The only reason he gave you a break was because of your hot little fiancée, or else you would be dead.”

“Sal, I …..” His ribs absorbed another kick. Marco heard a cracking sound followed by intense pain as he tried to take a breath. He was lying on his stomach, trying to recover, when a baseball bat came down on his arm. Now the pain radiated throughout his body.

Sal roughly pulled him to his feet and threw him into the back seat of the car. The car peeled wheels and stopped when it reached the parking garage. Sal’s parting words were, “Consider yourself very lucky. I would have finished you if it was up to me. Next time you will not live to tell about it. I would advise you not to let Diana know what really transpired tonight, or we will have to rearrange her pretty little face next.”

Marco was in so much pain but relieved to be alive. He was well aware of how dangerous Dom was and how stupid it was to steal from him. The punishment for not answering his phone when called was severe enough. There was no question of how the story would end if Dom knew he was stealing from him. He cleaned himself up the best that he could under the circumstances and then drove to his rehearsal dinner.

He pulled up to Positano Coast in Olde City with zero time to spare. He was immediately alarmed as he saw Dom speaking to Diana outside of the restaurant. He was delivering another warning, and Marco was receiving it loud and clear. He jumped out of the car as quickly as possible and met the two of them.

Diana immediately ran to him and threw her arms around his neck.

Marco winced in pain.

“My God! What in the world happened to you, Marco? Are you okay?”

“Someone attacked me in the parking garage of our building.” “What?! We better take you to the hospital immediately.”

“Diana, I am fine. I didn’t have any money on me, so they ran off. It was probably a couple of juvenile delinquents.”

“I am calling the police right now!”

“Diana, put your phone away. I am fine. Let’s not draw any attention. I am sure Dom could take care of the situation quietly. He has eyes and ears everywhere.”

Diana and Marco both turned to look at Dom. Marco was acting rather presumptuous and going out on a limb here. He followed orders and didn’t tell Diana what really happened and put the ball back in Dom’s court.

Dom turned and met Marco’s glare without flinching. “Marco, I can see that it was a good idea for me to take a ride over here to offer my best wishes to the bride-to-be personally. I will take care of this for you, but you really shouldn’t leave Diana outside all alone in a dangerous city. I believe you should be keeping a better eye on her. You never know what could happen. After all, look what happened to you.”

Dom showing up personally to his rehearsal dinner was a warning to Marco that Dom could get to his loved ones whenever he wanted. It personally scared the hell out of him. The idea of Dom hurting Diana shook him to his core.

“I promise to keep a better eye on her and will protect her with my life. Thank you for coming and handling our little problem.” Marco thought it was ironic that he was the little problem to which they were both referring.

Dom offered Diana a celebratory hug and kissed both of her cheeks. “Good luck tomorrow, doll. You deserve the very best that life has to offer.” He stared Marco down.

Marco would venture to guess that he would not be Dom’s choice for Diana.

Diana was clueless about everything that had just transpired between the two men, “Thank you for your kind words, Dom. Are you positive that you cannot stay for dinner? I would love for you to join us. Right, babe?” She was so sincere with a big smile on her face.

“Maybe some other time, sweetheart. I have to take care of some business.” Dom patted Marco on the back as he grimaced in pain. He followed it up with a menacing whisper in Marco’s ear, “You better go take care of your woman before someone else does. I know someone perfect for the job.”

He walked away, laughing as if his play on words entertained him. Marco took Diana’s arm. “Are you ready to dine with our guests?” “I sure am, as long as you are fine.”

“It is the night before our wedding. Nothing could spoil this night.

Lead the way, darling.”

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