Eye on the Prize

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Chapter 12

Chapter 12

Diana felt so conflicted. Marco was a complete gentleman tonight at the rehearsal dinner. As long as they had been together, Marco had a calming effect on her. He always made her feel safe and loved. The information she received from Brad was particularly unsettling.

There was no way for her to find out Marco’s part in the scam in such a short amount of time, especially the night before their wedding.

The timing could not have been worse. She waited her whole life for her wedding day. It was supposed to be a joyous occasion, and Diana would be damned if she was going to destroy it with speculation. There would be time after the honeymoon for Diana to determine Marco’s role in this extortion.

As she was trying to fall asleep, her mind was working overtime.

She was unable to turn it off, no matter how hard she tried. The rehearsal dinner and wedding reception planned for tomorrow were overly extravagant, and she couldn’t help but wonder where he was getting the money to pay for it. Marco was sparing no expense for the wedding and was doing everything in his power to make it a day to remember.

Maybe if she talked to him, she would feel better.

Diana decided to call Marco even though she knew the hour was late.

He answered on the third ring. “Hello, sweetheart. Why aren’t you getting your beauty sleep?”

“I am trying to sleep, but I can’t shut my brain off no matter how hard I try. You sound wide awake. Please tell me that you aren’t working the night before our wedding.”

“Unfortunately, I have to tie up some loose ends before I can take a nice well-deserved honeymoon with you. I don’t want any interruptions from the outside world when we are in paradise together.”

“Promise you won’t stay up too late.”

“I will do my best, but I cannot wait for tomorrow to get here. It could not arrive soon enough. Just think you will be all mine in less than twenty-four hours. By the way, I stopped at an urgent care on the way back to Delaware, and my arm is broken. They put it in a cast, and I will have to see an orthopedist when we get back from the honeymoon.”

“I am so relieved that you had it looked at, especially since we are leaving the country. I feel so bad that this happened to you the night before our wedding, no less.”

“It could have been much worse, so please don’t worry.

Considering the late hour of your call, tell me what is bothering that pretty little head of yours to prevent you from falling asleep?”

“Are you sure that this is a good time for you to talk?”

Marco was getting a little nervous, wondering if Diana was having second thoughts about the wedding. “Of course. Is everything alright?”

“We are fine, so please don’t think this is about us. I promised that I would not talk about this project with anyone, but I need some advice. My current assignment is top secret due to the sensitive subject matter.”

Marco gave his reassurance. “Well, you can trust me. I promise not to tell a single soul, cross my heart, hope to die. What’s going on, babe?”

“I have been conducting interviews with people who are being scammed by a Bitcoin investor. He is taking these people for everything they have, and I refuse to back down until I catch the bastard! I feel like I am right on the scent of his trail.”

There was dead silence on the other end of the phone. It took a few seconds for Marco to gain enough composure to speak. He took a second to get his words out. Her comments caught him entirely off guard. “It may be more difficult than you think to catch a scammer. In a majority of the cases, the schemes involve foreign companies which cannot be traced.”

“I thought the same thing but not this guy. Believe it or not, this dirtball targets innocent people at real estate investment seminars and convinces them to invest in Bitcoin. Once he has their money, he spends it to fund his lavish lifestyle.”

“Wow, that sounds unbelievable.”

“Unbelievable but true. He has them install a fake app on their phone that serves as a digital wallet. The app shows personal investments and updates the balance. The major problem is that there is no money. These poor people are clueless that they are

broke until it is too late. Every time they ask for their money, he deflects with excuses to hold onto it a little longer.”

“Maybe they deserve it if they are too stupid to realize what is happening.”

Diana scolded him. “Marco, how could you say something so insensitive. They are being lied to and given false information. Just because a swindler wants to make some easy money doesn’t mean that they deserve to lose it.”

“Remember, you asked me for my opinion.”

“Sorry. It was bad judgment on my part. Anyway, I had a real breakthrough. This guy contacted me and gave me the name of the guy who ripped him off.”

Chills shot up Marco’s spine. This was not good news at all. “The guy probably wasn’t reputable. He is most likely looking for his five minutes of fame.”

Diana disagreed. “Not everyone’s actions are based on recognition or a pat on the back. This guy Brad is a decent human being, and I believe every word he said. Shit. Please forget that name. It is unprofessional of me to reveal my sources.”

“Sweetheart, it is only me. Consider it done. Did he give you his address and contact information?”

“The only form of communication is through Facebook. I don’t have his cell phone number, home address, or even an email. He reached out to me.”

Marco warned her. “Don’t rely on one person’s story. You never know what his motive may be.”

Diana felt discouraged. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be bothering you with my research the night before our wedding. I promise, no more work talk until we are home from our honeymoon.”

“No worries, my love. You are tired. Go get some sleep. I love you.”

“I love you more. Night night.”

After she hung up, Marco held his head in his hands for a long time. Tomorrow was supposed to be the happiest day of his life. Instead, it felt like his whole world was falling apart right in front of his eyes. He worked so hard to build the life that he so desperately wanted and deserved, and he would be damned to see it unravel.

To make matters even worse, Diana was investigating a scam and was on a trail that would lead her directly to him. He could not believe his ears when she said that Brad contacted her. How in the world did Brad even find her, and what were the odds? Now he had to deal with Brad after he thought he was gone for good. It was time to make him disappear.

The entire ordeal was unnerving because he could clearly see the finish line. If it were only thirty days later, he would be celebrating his new life in Bermuda with his beautiful new wife. As the saying goes, sometimes the best-laid plans go awry. He hated to admit defeat, yet it was time for Plan B.

Although the hour was late, Marco contacted Brad.

Brad groggily answered the phone. “Wayne, why are you calling me so late?”

“Brad, I apologize for the late hour. It is the night before my wedding, and I was feeling bad about the way things ended with us.”

“Wayne, I hate to tell you this, but there is no us. It was strictly a business relationship, and you took something that didn’t belong to you. I lost my savings thanks to you.”

“Yes, it was regrettable on my part, which is why I needed to call you. It is important for me to set things right before my wedding day and honeymoon. I couldn’t be sorrier for everything that transpired. Sadly, I have no explanation to offer you, but I do have your money.”

Brad’s voice suddenly had some life to it, and he was wide awake at the mention of cash. “I don’t need any explanations. Do you seriously have my money?”

“Yes, I do. The only catch is that I don’t have the time to drive to you, so you need to meet me tonight so that I can return your money.”

Brad laughed in delight. “I have to say that your news makes me extraordinarily happy. You name the place, and I will get in my car as soon as I get dressed.”

Marco, aka Wayne Bruce, gave Brad the destination where they would meet. It would feel good to tie up a loose end.

Marco parked in the empty lot at Delaware State Park on the north side of the bridge. Camping season was over, so there wasn’t anyone around at this late hour. This place was usually full of activity during the in-season. Trailers typically parked opposite the parking lot. It was paradise to camp so close to the bay and ocean. The other side of the state park featured a marina, bait shop, and a restaurant. Fishermen fished along the rail of the jetty, hoping for a big catch as onlookers watched in excitement. Sunbathers lounged at the beach, watching the surfers in the ocean. It was a fun place enjoyed by many, but Marco was alone at this late hour.

Brad hadn’t arrived yet, so he had some time to spare. He walked along the concrete sidewalk that took him to the Indian River Bay Inlet. The lights from the bridge above lit up the water and the area where Marco was standing. The sunsets from the bridge were some of the best in the state of Delaware. An outsider would have no idea why some people said a little prayer to themselves when crossing the bridge that connected Dewey Beach to Bethany Beach. In the last eighty years, four other bridges before this one had failed. Hopefully, this one would last a hundred years. More than one person fell to their death in the past, and no one was looking to be the next victim. Some people went as far as to say that the area was haunted. Four short days before Labor Day in 1785, the Faithful Steward was grounded on shoal three hundred feet from the shore after losing a fight with gale-force winds produced by a deadly storm. It happened a mile and a half from where Marco was standing, and only sixty- eight out of two hundred and forty-nine people survived.

Marco had no idea if the area was haunted, but he did know that the inlet’s current seemed angry most of the time. It was mesmerizing to watch the current traveling in different directions at once and even more so when boats traveled through. It was like nothing he had ever seen before in his life, and it bewitched him. He found himself holding his breath most of the time, wondering if the vessels would make it through safely. Ordinarily, it seemed as if the current was inviting yet

daring fishermen to pass through to surprise them with menacing conditions.

The Indian River inlet joined two bays and the Atlantic Ocean. The rising tide filled both bays resulting in a strong current due to the fast- moving water. Once high tide was reached, the water flowed out, never losing its momentum.

The inlet closed up many times in the past due to the shifting of the sand. At one time, 2,200 pounds of dynamite was used to reopen the inlet, only for it to close again less than a week later after a storm covered it with shoal. No solution was permanent until the army intervened and placed jetties along both sides to open the inlet once and for all.

Although the inlet was narrow, it was still one of the most vicious inlets along the east coast. The calm water tended to mislead boaters since wind mixed with a turning tide could instantly shift the mood from tranquil to treacherous. It was no wonder that Marco loved the inlet; it matched his disposition.

A full moon illuminated the sky. Full moons were associated with judgment day, and tonight was going to be Brad’s moment of truth. Marco put too much time and effort into his business, and he refused to allow one person to bring it all crumbling down.

Marco saw headlights in the parking lot, so he knew that he had company. It was too late for fishermen, so he knew the person was coming to see him. A couple of minutes later, he heard a car door slam. Brad walked past the deserted restrooms and gazebo and then saw Marco with his back against the metal rail at the inlet.

It was a windy night, so there was no use in yelling out to Brad. His voice would be carried away in the opposite direction. When they were face to face, Brad spoke first.

“This is an odd meeting place in the middle of the night, but it isn’t as if I am meeting with a stranger.” Brad laughed nervously as if to convince himself.

Marco did his best to reassure Brad. “I wanted to make sure that we would be alone with no interruptions. As I told you on the phone, I will be away for a couple of weeks and felt the need to take care of our unsettled business.”

Brad asked, “What exactly happened for you to suddenly have my money? I have been begging you for months. Were you planning to leave the country and suddenly feeling guilty?”

“I will answer your questions in due time, Brad. We need to have a discussion first.”

“Why does everything have to be your way and on your timetable? It is the middle of the goddamn night! You woke me up out of a sound sleep and dragged me to a desolate location. Please excuse me if I am not in the mood for talking.”

“Well, that’s too bad, Brad, because I am calling the shots. Let’s talk, shall we? For starters, have you spoken to anyone about our business dealings? You may want to think long and hard before answering this question.”

Brad couldn’t look Marco in the eyes. “Of course not. Why would you ask?”

“The reason why I am asking is that I already know the answer, and you dare to lie right to my face.”

“I’m not sure what you are talking about, but I am in no mood for games. Give me my money so that I can go home and never have to talk to you again.”

“Don’t change the subject. You sent a Facebook message to my fiancée and met with her to spill your heart out about the money you have lost. Boo-hoo, poor Brad. Did she give you a shoulder to cry on?”

“Wayne, I swear that I had no clue that I was talking to your fiancée. She said that she was a reporter.”

“Yes, she is one hell of a reporter and is doing everything in her power to catch the person responsible for stealing your money.”

“I don’t understand.”

“What is there to understand, Brad? I was working under an assumed name to keep my illegal dealings from her. She has no idea that I am Wayne Bruce, and I intend to keep it that way. I am supposed to be getting married in less than twelve hours, and you are doing your best to destroy everything!”

“How was I supposed to know that you are a lying, cheating excuse for a human being. You deserve to be caught and sent to

prison. I hate to tell you that she is not giving up until the responsible person is behind bars.”

Marco took out his cell phone and opened it to Facebook. “Log into your account and delete it.”

“I will do no such thing!”

“Do it right now or so help me, God!” Marco grabbed Brad’s throat. “Okay.” Brad took the phone and signed in with Marco looking over

his shoulder. He then deleted his account as Marco carefully watched.

“I need to make myself completely clear. You will not make contact with Diana ever again. Do you understand? There will be no second warnings.”

“Yes, I understand, but I demand my money right now.” “There is no money Brad. I spent it all. The only reason that I

brought you here was to warn you never to speak to my fiancée again. I believe I have made myself absolutely clear, and if I haven’t, you won’t live to tell about it.”

Brad lunged at Marco and was hit in the face with a fist. He was caught off guard and didn’t expect such a quick reaction. The punch packed enough power that he flipped over the metal rail onto the jetty. The water was swirling in different directions, and it was high tide. The rocks were slippery. Brad lost his balance, and his foot got caught in a crevice between two rocks. He desperately tried to get it out. Brad’s foot came free, but the jerking motion caused him to slip and hit his head. The blow caught him by surprise, and he fell into the cold water. He reached for the rocks and was holding on for dear life.

Marco held out a hand to Brad, but he refused to take it. He was frantically grabbing for the rocks and trying to climb back up. As he reached for another rock, he was hit with the current and slammed forcefully into the jetty. The water was so rough that the rocks shook. Brad had the wind knocked out of him, and he was gasping for air.

The rocks beat him up worse than a fistfight with Marco. His bones were broken from the brutality of the rocks. There was no mercy. The next wave threw him into the angry inlet. His injuries were severe, and he was getting weaker. The current was too powerful and plunged Brad underwater. He held his breath as long as he could and then took in mouthfuls of water until his larynx contracted. Blackness surrounded him, and he gave in as it covered him. He never surfaced again and no longer needed money where he was going.

Meanwhile, Marco waited on land looking for signs of life, but there was nothing besides the fury of the surf. A tremendous amount of water was rushing in from the ocean. Boats would have trouble navigating through the inlet in these conditions. A defenseless man was no match for the angry waves. The coast guard or a fisherman would find Brad unless a shark found him first.

Marco was beside himself since he never intended for Brad to die.

He wanted to silence him with a threat that he never expected to carry out. Now he had to live with another man’s blood all over his hands. Calling the police was out of the question. He would be a prime suspect since meeting in the middle of the night was enough cause for suspicion. Fucking fuck, this wasn’t supposed to happen!!

Diana was having trouble sleeping, so she snuck downstairs at her parents’ house to make a cup of hot chocolate. She sat down at the kitchen table and checked her phone as she sipped and savored the heavenly rich chocolate topped with whipped cream. There was a Facebook notification letting her know that she had a message.

When she checked, there was a message from Brad. He wanted to let her know that he was meeting with Wayne. Brad received a call while he was sleeping to meet Wayne in Delaware. Apparently, Wayne had a change of heart and wanted to give Brad his money. In case anything happened to him, he wanted Diana to know about his meeting at the Indian River Inlet.

Well, if she had problems sleeping before, it was even worse now.

It seemed odd to her to meet at such a late hour. If the money was stolen, why the sudden change of heart? It just did not add up. She wished that Brad would have tried to call her before driving to Delaware. He probably wasn’t thinking clearly for a couple of reasons. First, Brad gets a call late at night while he is sleeping.

Second, he wants his money so badly that he will do almost anything to get it back.

She finished her hot chocolate and went back to bed, hoping to find sleep. After tossing and turning for a couple of hours, Diana reached for her phone so that she could reply to Brad’s message. The message was gone, and his account could no longer be found. She was frustrated and distraught at his sudden disappearance from social media. How was it possible when he reached out to her earlier? She searched for him on the main page, and it was as if he was a figment of her imagination. He either deleted his account, or he temporarily deactivated it. Neither choice made much sense.

She could do nothing other than keeping her eyes and ears open, especially since she had no further contact information for Brad.

Facebook was the only method of contact. It was time to try and get some shut eye since she only had a few hours before it would be time to wake up.

Marco struggled with his conscience and remained at the inlet for a couple of hours after Brad fell into the water. He could not get the image of Brad out of his mind. After he finally stopped puking over the railing, it was time to figure out what to do. The right thing to do would have been to call the police and report the accident. If it happened during the day, it wouldn’t seem so suspicious. Meeting at this location in the middle of the night posed a huge problem since there was no viable excuse to be there when everyone else was in bed sleeping. Brad never resurfaced, and the only sign of evidence that he was ever there was his car in the parking lot. Since it was too late to do the right thing, Marco needed to get rid of the evidence.

He drove back to his beach house and picked up some supplies before returning to the inlet. After putting on a pair of latex gloves, he opened the car door and saw the keys in the console tray and put them in his pocket. He wasted no time removing the vehicle registration and insurance cards, and anything else in the car and trunk. Marco wiped down the entire vehicle with detailer spray and a microfiber rag to remove fingerprints. He thanked his lucky stars that he was a car fanatic when it came to a shiny looking car. Plus, the spray was good for the outside of the vehicle and tires. Every trace of Brad was removed with each spray. After he was satisfied with his thorough cleanup, Marco took the trash bag and closed Brad’s car door. It was a long day and night and time to head back to Dewey Beach. Marco cracked open a well-deserved beer and wearily plopped down in his favorite chair as soon as he arrived home.

Suddenly, the can fell from his grip and spilled all over himself and the floor as he realized that one critical detail was missed. He forgot to remove the license plates and VIN plates from the car. On his way back to the scene, he became increasingly paranoid that the police would be all over the parking lot before he could fix his mistake.

When he arrived, the parking lot was empty, but he needed to act quickly. There were only a few hours left until the sun rose. There were two VIN plates that were necessary to take off. One was in the

base of the interior windshield, and the other was on the driver’s side door jamb. Each of the thin metal plates was attached with two rivets. Marco pulled his gloves back on and retrieved a drill from his car.

There was a ⅛” drill bit attached, and he carefully applied light pressure and drilled the center of the rivet to break the inner wall of the fastener so that it would let go. It didn’t take long to remove both plates. The only other identification to tie the car to Brad was the license plates. There were four screws at each corner of the plate, which were easily removed with a Phillips screwdriver.

An hour later, Marco was safely back home and too dead tired to attempt to drink a beer. He laughed out loud and yelled, looking toward the sky, “Brad, you are such a pain in the ass even in death. You have been a problem almost from the moment I laid eyes on you. Rest in peace, man. I hope you don’t drive God as crazy as you drove me.”

He wasn’t looking forward to the long drive back to Philadelphia and took advantage of sleeping for two hours. It would have been nice to get a full eight hours of sleep, but his current circumstances would not allow for such a luxury. Marco fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. When his alarm went off two short hours later, it was a cruel reminder that morning had arrived. The sun was just starting to rise, and there would not be much time before he needed to make an appearance at the church. Marco would have to clean himself up and get dressed to attempt to look halfway decent. He stopped for a large coffee, put the windows down, and turned the radio up while making his way back to the loft.

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