Eye on the Prize

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Chapter 13

Chapter 13

Diana’s wedding day had finally arrived. It was the day she dreamt of since she was a little girl. Today, she was a fairytale princess. All of Diana’s dreams would come true as soon as she said “I Do” to the man she was destined to spend forever with and had always loved.

The Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul was beautiful beyond words, and she was honored to get married here. Later the reception would be at the Logan. As usual, Marco spared no expense. The sky was the limit when it came to her.

The day was beautiful without a trace of a cloud in the clear blue sky. The sun was shining so bright, and it seemed as if it were bursting with happiness. She took a last look at herself in the mirror as there was a knock on the door to let her know it was “go time.” For someone who found it difficult to accept a compliment, Diana thought she looked breathtaking and hoped Marco felt the same. Some people experience cold feet before a wedding, but Diana was never more sure of anything in her whole life. She felt a sense of tranquility and was ready to accept her destiny. Her nerves were caused by the attention that she would be getting today. Diana wasn’t very comfortable being the center of attention.

The music was playing as she stood outside of the closed doors leading into the cathedral. Drew didn’t even bother stopping the tear that unashamedly rolled down his cheek. He thought that his daughter looked absolutely gorgeous, and he was incredibly proud. His little girl was all grown up and would soon belong to another man. She smiled nervously at him and shakily slid her arm through his as he gave her a reassuring squeeze. When the doors opened, her eyes immediately locked onto Marco, who was standing at the altar waiting for her. His appearance was not what she was expecting. In fact, he looked slightly disheveled. She smiled back at the happy, admiring faces as she walked past each row. All of the guests were excited

and happy. Diana felt like running into the safety of Marco’s arms. She didn’t want to wait for one more second to stand beside him.

Diana’s father lifted her veil, and tenderly kissed her cheek before giving her hand to Marco. His hands felt clammy, and his expression was worrisome. He should be smiling, but from where she was standing, it looked like he was grimacing. Diana knew that he was in pain from being mugged last night; nevertheless, this was a joyous day. There were no redo’s and no need to look miserable. Something felt very wrong and ominous.

Diana whispered, “Marco, what’s wrong? Are you feeling okay?” He abruptly dropped Diana’s hands and sadly shook his head no.

Marco began rocking back and forth, and the color drained from his face. It looked like he was about to faint. He turned to the crowd and apologized, “I’m sorry that you all went through the trouble to be here today, but I cannot go through with this marriage.”

The crowd gasped in confusion and disappointment. Hurt and shock took over Diana’s body. Through clenched teeth, she spit her words out with venom, “What do you mean you can’t do this? As I recall, you were the one who asked me to marry you, and now you are conveniently having second thoughts on our wedding day. Marco, don’t you dare humiliate me in front of all of my family and friends.”

Marco sighed and reached for her hand as she pulled away. “Listen to me. I honestly have no choice. I hope you realize how much I love you. The only reason why I am standing here before you right now is because I know how horrible it would have been for you to wait without me showing up. Instead, I came because I am an honorable man. I needed to tell you in person that I cannot marry you. I am truly sorry. I honestly don’t know what else to say.”

Marco turned and left a dejected bride standing alone at the altar as he walked down the aisle toward the doors leading outside. Diana

yelled after him. “You coward! How dare you leave me like this in front of everyone. I can’t do this is not a good enough explanation. You owe me a better answer. If you continue to walk out of this church voluntarily, there is no chance of us ever being together again!!!”

Marco stopped walking and looked back, longingly at Diana. He paused as if he were getting ready to say something. It was apparent to everyone in the church that he was conflicted and in a hopeless situation. Instead of turning around, he opened the church door and left Diana standing at the altar all alone.

She was mad as hell and didn’t want anyone’s pity. The last thing she wanted was to talk to any of these people. Her body went completely numb as her mind was silently hoping it was all a bad dream. Diana ran into the room next to the altar as quickly as possible and waited for the guests to leave. People most likely wanted to offer words of comfort and apologize for what they witnessed, but it was honestly the last thing she wanted to hear.

What she wanted right now was to be left the hell alone.

Kait immediately excused herself from the guests who were looking for answers and ran back to the room to console her daughter. Her heart broke into a million little pieces when she saw her little girl slumped on the floor, crying in her wedding dress. She wasted no time gathering Diana into her arms and offered as much comfort and love as she possibly could under the circumstances.

She felt helpless and was unable to fix the situation. Marco made it abundantly clear that he was not coming back or changing his mind.

“Honey, please don’t cry. This fiasco isn’t your fault, so don’t go blaming yourself. I am so sorry that this happened. You don’t deserve to have your special day ruined. Is there anything I can do for you?”

“Yeah, find me a groom to marry. I am all dressed and ready to go.” Diana was crying and laughing at the same time.

“It would have been nice of Marco to arrive at this decision before the wedding day. Why the last-minute change of heart?”

“I have no clue. I spoke to Marco before I went to bed last night, and everything was fine. He was joking with me and told me how he was looking forward to seeing me today. Whatever happened took place sometime in between going to sleep and waking up.”

“Well, I for one, will never forgive him for this. What do you think of me sneaking you out of the back of the church and driving you home so that you don’t have to face all of your guests?”

Diana hugged her mother. “Thanks for the offer, mom. I love you, but I really need to be alone right now, so I will drive myself. I promise that I will be fine and will text you so that you know that I am okay.”

Diana was driving home from the church following her disaster of a wedding. Her parents were concerned about her well-being. She assured them that she would be fine and that it was going to take time to get over. Who was she kidding? It was an understatement.

Right now, she was feeling bitterness and self-pity. They shared everything together as a couple, and he didn’t have the common decency to give her a why? Marco walked out of the church to start a new life while she was left behind like damaged goods having to pick up the pieces.

She was confident that she owed him nothing and put as much as she could into the relationship. Diana meant the words that she uttered to Marco as he exited the church. There was no turning back from today’s fiasco. She gave him the chance to provide her with an explanation, and he refused. His rejection hurt her deeply, but she was not the one with a problem. Marco was flawed.

She went to the loft to pick up the clothes that she packed for the honeymoon and breathed a sigh of relief that Marco was not there. She was so angry with him that she would have sucker-punched him if he had the nerve to show his face. On a whim, she decided not to let the honeymoon go to waste. Diana assured her parents that she would be back later that night so that there was no need to worry.

She took her wedding dress off and was tempted to throw it straight into the fireplace so that she could watch it burn. The airline tickets were sitting on the kitchen counter. She took both so that he would not have a choice in the matter.

Before she left, she took a look around the loft and found it hard to believe that the life she shared with Marco was all a lie. She was deep into thought when the ringing of her phone scared her back to reality. Diana answered on the first ring.

“Diana, it’s Phil. I hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time, but can you meet me at the restaurant?”

“Sure. Can you give me an hour?”

“I sure can. I will see you in a little bit.”

Phil served jail time for his involvement in the Philadelphia Mafia.

When he completed his sentence, he decided to use his Mafia background to open a South Philly restaurant. It was a great success, and Diana covered the story. She ate lunch there regularly afterward and became quick friends with Phil.

Diana strolled into Chick’s on Washington Avenue in South Philly.

Phil waved her over to a booth. She smiled and kissed Phil on the cheek. By the looks of the restaurant, the business was doing great. She had a feeling that this was more than a social call.

Phil cleared his throat. “I appreciate you dropping everything to come here on such short notice. I know you are a very busy woman.”

“Don’t mention it, Phil. I can always make time for you, and It is a pleasure to see you.”

“I normally wouldn’t reach out for something like this, but I care about your welfare. That is why I decided to contact you.”

“Thank you. It sounds pretty serious. What’s up?”

“By now, I am sure that you are well aware that Marco is doing some investment work for Dom. I am 90% sure that he is skimming money from him. You know better than anyone that stealing from Dom is suicide.”

“What makes you think that Marco is skimming his money?”

“Word on the street is that Dom sent his soldier to collect his money from Marco on a couple of occasions, and Marco stalled without apology. There were also a few times that he didn’t respond

when called on his burner phone. Sal was sent to give Marco a warning to show him who was in charge.”

So that explained the broken arm. “Oh my God, what is Marco thinking? I specifically told him that he was dealing with a dangerous man and warned him that it probably wasn’t in his best interest to get involved in the first place. He assured me that he would treat Dom’s money as if it were his own.”

As soon as the words left Diana’s mouth, she realized Marco’s play on words. He was spending Dom’s money as if it were his own. What the hell was wrong with him? Her heart sunk to realize that her worst nightmare was a reality. All of their luxuries: the beach house, cars, fancy restaurants, the wedding. Yeah, the wedding that never happened. She felt sick to her stomach and was disgusted.

Phil’s eyes never left Diana’s face as she processed the information that she just heard. “Listen, sweetheart, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I am warning you for your own sake. Dom wouldn’t hurt you, but it is a smart idea to keep your distance from Marco. If he fails to come up with the money next time, there will be no more chances.”

“Phil, I appreciate you going out on a limb for me. I am flabbergasted that Marco would be so stupid to think that he could get away with stealing from Dom. I just hope that he comes to his senses before it is too late. I apologize for him behaving like such an idiot. As a matter of fact, he left me at the altar today for no good reason. Now it makes a little more sense to see that I am the least of his problems.”

“Anyone who would leave you at the altar is a no-good stronzo, or should I say asshole.”

“Thank you, Phil. We had the rehearsal dinner last night, and he told me that he had been mugged and did not want to report the

incident to the police. I guess he didn’t want to tell me that Dom’s soldier roughed him up. Now that you mention it, Dom was standing outside of the restaurant with me when Marco drove up. Dom said that he wanted to wish me the best of luck personally, but I am sure that it was also a warning directed at Marco. I think he wanted him to know that he could get to me anytime he wanted. Dom agreed that the police should not be called and that he would handle everything since he knew a lot of people on the street.”

“I am sorry that Marco let you down. You probably aren’t ready to hear it right now, but I do believe you will realize that your life will be better off without him. You deserve so much better. My opinion has nothing to do with Marco’s illegal activities. I would be a hypocrite if I were opposed to it. His morals are non-existent. There is a code to be followed when dealing with the mafia. His ignorance shows that he is lower than the scum of the earth.”

“I am beginning to realize that there is a lot of truth in your statement. I am sorry that I am not the best company, considering what I have been through today. Would you be offended if I went home? I don’t have much of an appetite.”

Phil hugged Diana in response and put his arm around her as he walked her to the door. “Take care, sweetheart. I hope we can get together under happier circumstances next time.”

Diana was livid as she left the restaurant. The happiest day of her life transformed into an absolute clusterfuck. Marco had countless opportunities to talk to her and discuss any problems with their relationship, but NOTHING. She was blindsided and never saw it coming. What gave Marco the right to decide that their relationship was over without her having any say in the matter? One thing was for damn sure. She was going on a honeymoon without him. If she stayed home, family and friends would pity her and act completely awkward. She was in no mood for sympathy. It would be a cold day in hell before she would forgive him for ruining the most important day of her life.

After her discussion with Phil, she was pretty confident that the problem wasn’t with the relationship. He was in personal trouble with the mob. If he would have kept his lines of communication open, she could have stopped him before it ever got to this point. He was finished.

It was a good thing that Diana put her luggage in the trunk of her car before meeting Phil. She was in the parking garage, and Marco’s truck was parked in the second spot. He had some nerve showing up here after the stunt he pulled. He would not want to come face-to- face with her anytime soon. She would not greet him as the kind, fun- loving woman with whom he fell in love. No, he would meet the woman who was scorned and betrayed and knew no mercy. Marco was lucky that he didn’t have to feel her wrath. As Diana was pulling away, she noticed that his back window was shattered. Marco seemed to be pissing everyone off lately.

Considering Marco had no problem invading her privacy, she decided to do some detective work of her own. Diana had some time on her hands and wasn’t ready to go back to her parents’ house yet, so she drove to Dewey Beach. It was time for her to check out Wayne Enterprises once and for all. On her last visit, she happened to notice that his office was located in an old building. The parking lot was empty when she arrived, but she parked on the street to avoid

attention. Glass doors were leading to the offices inside, and it was a one-story building. The sign outside listed the company name, but his office was the only one without a name on it. There was no alarm system and only one lock, as she expected. She was in a safe beach town and not a big city with people lurking around every corner.

She tested the doorknob, and the office was locked. The hallway was deserted so, Diana reached into her pocket and pulled out a tool to pick the lock. Phil gave it to her before she left the restaurant after she told him that she locked herself out of the apartment. He most likely doubted her story, but she got what she needed. It worked like a charm. The locking mechanism turned, giving her access to the office. She slipped inside, unseen by anyone on the outside. Her adrenaline was flowing, and she was excited. It was time to find some answers. Diana checked on Marcus’ location, and he was still at the loft in Philadelphia. If he were waiting for her to come home, it would be a wasted effort. He would never know that she was here since Diana turned off her location after he left her in church.

She turned on his desktop computer and waited for it to boot up.

His desktop listed a popular customer relationship management (CRM) program that she was familiar with using. The database was fairly extensive, and upon further examination, she noticed that it listed every seminar attendee. She searched by the alias that she had used on the day she attended, and her name promptly popped up. There were many different options to sort information for reports, but there were too many names to go through. Diana had an idea.

She typed in Debbie’s name, and when the search produced her name, she compared Debbie’s record to her own. After carefully scrutinizing both records, nothing out of the ordinary jumped out at her. She typed in another name of an individual that she had interviewed and looked at that record. The only difference between all three records was the field labeled ‘type.’ Hers had an “A,” and the other two had a “V.”

It was discouraging to find her interviewees in the database.

Instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment, she was extremely disappointed in the man whom she thought she knew so well. Every person she interviewed was in this database, and all of their records listed a “V” in the type field. As she was sitting there thinking, it finally hit her like a ton of bricks. He kept track of everyone who registered for the seminars, so the ‘A’ signified attendees. What could the ‘V’ stand for? He took advantage of all of them, so it only made sense that they were the victims.

She ran a report by type ‘V’ to list all of the victims. A sense of relief washed over her that she did not marry Marco. It would have been the worst mistake of her life. As she was searching the office, she found the corporate documents. The signatures were unmistakably his. There was no doubt in her mind that he was not taking orders from someone. It was obvious that he was in charge and running the entire operation. How could she possibly love a man who took advantage of innocent people? If there was ever a slight chance of reconciliation, it was now a figment of her imagination.

Many people praised Diana for her investigative reporting skills. If they only knew she was living under the same roof with someone who appeared to have a successful finance career and was robbing people blind without her having a clue. Maybe deep down, she didn’t want to know, but there was no way she could condone his behavior. As soon as the report was printed, she gathered the papers and put everything back the way she found it. As Diana grabbed her car keys, she heard a key being inserted into the office door lock.

She was so busy snooping around that she lost track of time and forgot to check on Marco’s whereabouts. If Diana didn’t move quickly, her presence would be known in a couple of seconds. She quietly opened the coat closet and hid in the back. There was someone else in the office on the other side of the closet door. Diana’s heart was beating so fast, and it felt like she was breathing heavy enough for the person to hear it. What was Marco going to do when he opened

the door and found her hiding? Maybe she should take her chances and just go out there and make up some lame excuse as to why she was there.

As she was about to open the door, a vacuum turned on. It was just the cleaning lady. Diana slumped to the floor, letting out a huge sigh of relief. There was nothing left to do but wait. She waited forty- five minutes until she heard the door of the office lock for the night. Her legs were cramped from being stuffed into a small space for so long. It felt like she was drenched in sweat from the lack of air circulation. After double-checking that the coast was clear, she locked up the office and walked to her car. There would be no need to ever return to his office again. She did what she came to do.

Diana drove straight to her parent’s house and drank a bottle of wine all by herself as her parents pretended not to notice. They kept their comments to themselves concerning the amount she was drinking. It was understandable as to why she was drinking more than usual, so there was no need to be overly concerned as of yet. Marco appeared to be a nice young man, but they learned firsthand how appearances could be deceiving. A gentleman would have too much of a conscience to wipe out their retirement fund using manipulation. The genuine Marco showed no remorse for his actions. Kait and Drew were certain that they would never see a penny of their hard-earned money, especially after today. It was one thing to hurt them, but how could he do this to their daughter?

Diana woke up the next morning to the amazing aroma of freshly brewed coffee and was pleasantly surprised not to have a hangover. She poured herself a big cup but had no interest in food. Her parents were sitting at the breakfast table with looks of devastation on their faces.

“Mom and dad, please don’t waste another minute worrying about me. There is no need to look so gloomy. I am a big girl and will be fine. It sucks that he ruined my special day, but at least it happened before we were married. I will get over it eventually.”

Her father turned to her. “You will always be our little girl, and we can’t help feeling sad for the pain he caused you. To make matters even worse, there is something that I need to show you.”

He handed his phone to Diana. His digital wallet balance read $0.

“Well, I am relieved to see that Marco came to his senses and used his last ounce of dignity to make sure that he transferred your money as promised.”

Her dad unhappily shook his head no, and her mom began to cry. Tears were streaming down her face. Her father wrapped his arms around her in an effort to console her. He was failing miserably.

“Honey, I checked with my financial advisor. He confirmed that there was no transfer to the account I specified. Not only did he leave my daughter at the altar, but he robbed me blind. We opened up our hearts and our home to him, and this is how he thanks us.”

Diana was speechless and livid. That son of a bitch! It explained everything. He couldn’t marry her since he knew he was planning on ripping her parents off. The entire relationship was part of an elaborate scheme. She found it so hard to believe that the man she

fell in love with was capable of something like this. When did it all begin, and why was she wearing blinders? Was it when he came to her house the very first time to meet her parents? Did he see dollar signs the first time he saw her childhood home? Was anything about their relationship real, or was it all a cover for his betrayal? Surely, she would have seen warning signs. Christ, she was a reporter, after all!

Marco’s behavior had been peculiar ever since he bought the beach house. She didn’t appreciate his behavior when they moved into the apartment, but things were normal before that point, so she overlooked it. Looking back, it was disconcerting the way he lashed out at her. Then, there was Bermuda, where he behaved sketchily and insisted on going off on his own. Maybe the signs were there all along, and she refused to see them. She was blinded by love. How stupid could she be? Now her parents were suffering because of her poor decision in a mate.

“Mom and Dad, I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me.

I had no idea that any of this was going on.”

Kait stopped her daughter from saying any more. “Honey, I refuse to let you blame yourself. You were bamboozled like the rest of us. None of this is your fault.”

“Mom, I should have known somehow. I am so angry at him right now!”

Drew reached for his daughter’s hand. “Sweetheart, we are all angry with him right now, but I am thankful that you didn’t marry the son of a bitch. Use your reporter skills and find a way to take him down.”

“Oh, I promise you that he will not get away with this, and I will return your money somehow.”

Drew suggested, “Let him think he got away with it for the moment and go on the honeymoon and enjoy yourself. You have plenty of time to deal with him when you get back. Maybe he will come to his senses and transfer the money before you return.”

“Okay, mom and dad, I promise to go on the honeymoon first and see what happens.” Diana had a sinking feeling that no amount of time would make the money magically reappear.

Diana went back to the apartment to pick up her laptop. Marco’s truck was not in its parking spot, to her relief. She wanted to finish up as quickly as possible so that she could get the hell out of there in case he made an appearance.

Ten minutes later, she locked the door behind her and walked to the elevator. When the doors opened, a guy in a baseball cap was standing in the back. Against her better judgment, Diana entered, and the doors closed. They were the only two people in the elevator. The hair on her arms stood up on edge, and her gut instinct screamed at her to run. She was in an enclosed space, so running was not a viable option. He stepped forward, and she immediately felt her panic rise. Their eyes met for the first time, and she felt as if he could see right through her. The elevator began to descend when he reached in front of her and hit a button. It roughly jerked and then stopped.

Diana was petrified and wasn’t sure what she should do. The man next to her was dangerous and too strong for her to overpower. She could feel the wickedness oozing out of his pores. One thing was for sure; she was not ready to die today. Before she could decide on the proper course of action, he spoke to her. “I am not here to hurt you, sweetheart. I need to talk to you. My name is Sal, and I work for Dom.”

It took a second for her voice to work since it was paralyzed with fear. When it did decide to work, she stammered, “HEEELLLLOOO, my name is Diana, but I am sure you know that already.”

“Diana, I am sorry for scaring the shit out of you, but I had no other choice. I needed to see you face to face to tell you that your boyfriend, or should I say fiancé, is a complete fuckup.”

“Well, that isn’t telling me anything that I don’t already know, Sal. I mean that with no disrespect intended. The bastard left me at the altar yesterday in front of all of my friends and family.”

“Honey, I am afraid to say that is the least of your worries. I suggest you keep as far away from him as possible. You may not realize it yet but be thankful that you didn’t marry the asshole. He would have only gotten you killed if you decided to stay with him.”

“Oh no, what has he done now?”

“I am going to have the boss tell you, so hold on to your questions.

I know Dom cares about you.” Sal handed a cell phone to Diana.

“Hi Dom, I am standing in an elevator with Sal. I wish you could have found another way to talk to me without making me lose years off of my life.”

“I didn’t want to ruin your dinner when I saw you last night. My presence sent a message to Marco loud and clear. After I heard what happened yesterday, I wanted to tell you exactly what is going on. I had to make sure no one else saw Sal, so I’m sorry for scaring you. It is not what I intended.”

“Thank you for calling me. Please tell me what Marco has done.” “I am positive that he is skimming the profits. He was given a

generous cut for his services, but the greedy son of a bitch is taking more than I authorized. I gave him strict instructions on how I wanted my business handled. I specifically instructed him to conduct business any way he chose with his other clients, but I was the boss when it came to mine. Sal gives him a drop-off time and place. Marco always made his deliveries very promptly and as expected in the beginning. There are two occasions so far that he has not answered Sal’s phone calls after several attempts. Marco should answer on the first ring as far as I am concerned, and if he misses the call, he should return it within five minutes. I called to tell you that he is out of chances and there will not be a third time. His disrespect is intolerable.”

“Dom, I am so sorry. I had no idea.”

“Honey, that is because I didn’t want you to know what was going on. If he did as he was told, there was no cause for concern.”

“I warned him from the very beginning not to betray you. I hope you realize that I had no idea that he was stealing from you.”

“There is no need to explain, honey. You have always treated me fairly and with the utmost respect, which is why I extend the same courtesy to you. I wanted you to know that I am not coming after you. However, it would be very smart of you to cut off ties with him immediately.”

“I appreciate the advice, Dom. Believe me; there is no chance of a reconciliation.”

“You must be upset, but he is not the man for you. I know that there is someone out there who is much more suitable for you.”

“Thanks, Dom. I know that you are right. Listen, I have something I need to run by you. I realize that you are a very busy man, but if you can spare a few minutes, I promise not to take up too much of your time.”

“As soon as you are in your car, ask Sal to wait outside of your window, and I am all yours.”

“I appreciate your time, Dom.”

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