Eye on the Prize

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Chapter 15

Chapter 15

Marco was working late at his office in Dewey Beach, anxiously pacing back and forth. It was surprising that he didn’t wear a hole in the carpet. How did his life spin so far out of control? He had carefully planned and calculated every step, down to the last detail. The one thing he never expected was his greed. He never had possessions growing up, and once he did, he wanted and needed more. There was a lot of pain and suffering in his childhood, and somehow, he justified his actions because he genuinely believed he deserved all of his luxuries.

In addition to material things, he loved having money. It made him feel like a king, and he longed for more. He gave into temptation and stepped on people as if they meant nothing to him. Power blinded him, and in his pursuit of happiness, he lost track of the rules and boundaries. It was a dangerous game of deception. He behaved foolishly, and now he was desperate to put his life back together by making some changes.

Brad’s death was a game-changer. Dom and Sal were already suspicious of him, and then Brad had to throw a wrench into everything. Marco was close to planning his final escape with the love of his life. He planned on telling Diana everything once they were safely tucked away in Bermuda. No one would suspect anything since they were away on their honeymoon. The usual course of action was to get married and go on a honeymoon; except they wouldn’t be coming back.

Marco couldn’t take a chance of letting Diana in on his plans ahead of time for fear that she would overreact or feel guilty, leaving her family. He definitely didn’t want to give anything away to the enemy. He was expecting some resistance once he confessed to her, but she would learn to accept it.

Marco never expected Brad to get in touch with Diana. He didn’t know Marco’s real name and knew nothing about Diana. It was as if fate intervened once again as it did so many years ago with the fire. He would not see his life destroyed twice. He planned to instill some fear in Brad so that he would hold off going to the authorities. Marco was only buying a couple of days until he was safely out of the country. He went as far as renting a beach bungalow in Bali, a province of Indonesia. There were several places that had no extradition treaties with the United States, and Bali was one of them. He knew Diana loved the beach. Venezuela was known for not honoring extraditions, but he needed more time to be sure, so Bali was an excellent place to start.

Unfortunately, Brad fell to his accidental death, and then Dom put the pressure on him by making a silent threat to Diana’s life. It was too dangerous to go through with the marriage. He needed to break up with Diana publicly and then go to her when the situation quieted down a bit. Marco planned on talking to her alone. He showed up at the loft a couple of days ago, but Diana never showed up. He didn’t want to risk any communication with her by phone in case Dom was watching her. Marco was trying desperately to come up with a new plan because he was running out of time. There didn’t seem to be any other option other than leaving without her. It would break his heart, but he could not risk contacting her once he left the country. His life depended on no one being able to track him down. He needed to disappear from the radar.

Marco sat down and thought about Diana, and the first time he met her at college. She was full of life, and her happiness was contagious. She filled a void that he had after losing his mother and sister. Diana completed him and was everything that he could possibly want in a partner. Money was a status symbol that he desired in order to feel fulfilled in life. Since he was out of time and had to make a choice between Diana or the money, it was no contest. Money won, hands down. Although she was perfect, he would have to find another woman in his new life. It was out of his

control that fate would not allow them to be together. It was not meant to come to fruition.

A loud boom outside startled him out of his deep thoughts. How fitting was it that the sound arrived precisely at the witching hour? It was 2 a.m., and he was on edge and too paranoid these days, regardless of the time of day. Several individuals were understandably furious with him. It was the extent of their anger that put the fear of God into him. The thunder was rolling as the building shook. The weather had been nasty all day long as if it were seeking revenge. The rain was pelting the side of the building like bullets. The howling of the wind sounded like menacing ghost voices. Lightning lit up the sky for a split second and then disappeared into the darkness. Although it was dark, he knew the waves were monstrous and mighty with foam spitting as it sprayed and punishingly pounded into the sand.

He was done struggling with his emotions and trying to sort out his life, for one night. Maybe a good night’s sleep would help him brainstorm a reasonable last-minute solution to his unfavorable situation. Tomorrow was another day. He turned off the lights in the office, set the alarm, and locked up. The storm was ominously daring him to go outdoors.

Halfway to his car, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck standing up on edge as if they could sense peril. Something was wrong, and the foreboding feeling seemed to be the powerful force of his intuition trying to guide him. The little voice in his head was trying to warn him about something he could not put his finger on. Maybe it was his anxiety causing so much doubt. It didn’t take long to find out. Suddenly he felt the cold steel barrel of a gun press against the base of his skull. An impatient voice cut through the sound of the wind.

“Keep walking. Don’t make a sound or try anything stupid, or I will blow your fucking head off.”

“I received your message loud and clear the other day. There is no need for the theatrics.”

“Shut your mouth before I pull the trigger now!”

The stranger rudely shoved him toward the back of his car. The trunk popped open. This kidnapping was a nightmare scenario for Marco. He always heard stories of people getting abducted and never being seen again. His odds of getting away were slim with a gun to his head, but his fight or flight mode took over. If he willingly got into the trunk, his abductor would most likely take him to an isolated location where no help will be available. The thought of surrendering all control was unimaginable. Wherever this man was taking him was undoubtedly his final destination and worse than death. It was thought out and premeditated with no chance of escape. Although he had a gun, there were probably strict instructions not to kill him because someone else wanted to bestow that honor.

Marco decided to take the risk of fleeing. He delivered a swift uppercut with his elbow to his attacker’s ribs. The thug let out a grimace as the gun flew out of his hands. Marco took the small window of opportunity to run and yell as loud as he could. The streets were desolate due to the late hour, and the howling of the wind from the storm drowned out his cries for help. He was running in a zig-zag pattern to avoid getting shot. Marco was able to unlock his cell phone and desperately requested Siri to call Diana. It was worth a try.

She answered on the second ring. “Marco, you must know that we are finished for good, so why on earth are you calling me at this ungodly hour?”

He was panting. “Diana, please don’t hang up. Listen, I need your help and had no one else to call.”

Diana had concern in her voice. “Marco, what’s wrong? Where are you?”

“I am in Dewey Beach, running for my life. Someone is trying to kidnap me. I got away, but I don’t know for how long. Please call for help! He has a gun!”

“Stay on the phone with me, Marco. I am going to call the police and get you help. Hold on, and I will be right back.” True to her word Diana came back on the line a minute later.

“Diana, is help on the way?”

“Yes, darling. You will be fine. Stay calm. I’ve got this.”

“Listen, I have to put my phone away. My location is on, so track me and let the police know where I am.”

“Marco, don’t do anything crazy. Trust me. I will find you.”

Marco should have been watching where he was going, but his body was flooded with adrenaline, and he was reacting instead of looking. He tripped on some debris from the storm and fell to the ground. Suddenly he felt a searing pain in his leg and was bleeding. Upon closer examination, Marco realized he was shot. He got up and dragged his leg while flagging down a passing car. The car stopped, and his sinking heart let him know that it was over. Unfortunately, the vehicle he signaled was his own. Without any hesitation whatsoever, the strong hooligan opened the car door, pulled him by his hair, and unceremoniously threw him inside the Goddamn trunk. A gag was roughly thrust into his mouth, and his hands were tied tightly behind him. His kidnapper decided to show him no mercy, especially since his orders were disobeyed. The trunk slammed shut, and he plunged into complete darkness. He was all alone, yet his heavy breathing sounded as if someone was next to him. The hopelessness of the situation filled his body with dread. He never anticipated his good

fortune would come to an end. All at once, he became paralyzed with fear.

Was he going to die?

Marco’s problems continued to multiply. He was in shock from the gunshot wound, and his current predicament was dismal. Survival was nonexistent at this point if the cell phone signal was lost. When the trunk closed, he was instantly enclosed in complete darkness.

Once the engine started, the only light appeared from the soft glow of the brake lights. He was as comfortable as possible for being stuck in a trunk, but it was short-lived. The floor of the trunk was unyielding, and every time the wheels hit a bump, his head smashed against rigid metal. The carpet offered no cushion for Marco’s aching head, and he was beginning to experience motion sickness. His leg was burning and passing out would be better than the agony of the pain. The air felt thick, and he was suffocating from lack of air. He was secretly hoping that he would be lucky enough to die of carbon monoxide poisoning before arriving at what he feared to be his final resting place.

Every time there was a turn, his body was involuntarily thrown into it. It felt like he was caught in a wave that doesn’t let you up until it is good and ready. The ride was comparable to sitting in a washing machine that was on a runaway roller coaster. Marco was unable to check his watch, but it seemed like an eternity. He made an educated guess that the car was traveling back to Philadelphia. Diana warned him about the dangers of pursuing a business relationship with Dom, and it would have been advantageous for him to follow her advice. It was a tremendous fuck up on his part to steal a more significant cut of Dom’s money than instructed. It was as treacherous as his current dilemma. There he was, lying in the trunk on top of a gas tank and exceedingly vulnerable if someone hit the car from behind. The driver of the car was listening to music for the entire ride. It was loud enough for the driver to hear but low enough to make sure his passenger had no chance of escape. The phone rang once through

the radio speakers, but the driver did not accept the call over Bluetooth. Marco would not get a chance to identify the caller.

“Boss, I have the package. He tried to make a run for it, but I shot him in the leg.”

“I should be there in about ten minutes. There is no traffic at this time of night.”

“He has been quiet since I put him in the trunk, and I am not going to take any chances checking on him.”

“He never suspected that I was lurking outside of his office. The storm helped to disguise my presence.”

“So, you want me to take Broad to the end and then turn on Kitty Hawk Avenue and then Mustin Street. Right. You got it, boss. See you in a few.”

Since he could only hear one side of the conversation, Marco gathered that his ride was ending somewhere near the Navy Yard in Philadelphia.

The car slowed down and, at long last, came to a stop, and the engine shut off. The trunk popped open, and Marco was roughly ripped out of the car and forcibly dropped to the ground. His body was cramped, and his legs were asleep from the restricted space that he was in for the last couple of hours. The driver had no sympathy, and Marco was promptly rewarded with a kick to his ribs and was harshly pulled to his feet. There was no compassion or understanding for his long, uncomfortable journey, and certainly no patience in waiting for his muscles to start working again. They were walking toward what appeared to be an old abandoned airplane hangar right next to the Delaware River. There was a parking lot in front of the hangar filled with white cars, four or five rows deep. It appeared to be a car park for imported vehicles. They were all

wrapped in a white protective film. The area was desolate after hours. Once inside the hangar, he was forcefully pushed into a cold metal folding chair. His back was facing the entrance so that he was blind to anyone entering the hangar.

A few minutes later, Marco heard another car approaching in the distance. It seemed like an eternity before it arrived in front of the building and parked. The engine was turned off, and a car door slammed.

His heart began to beat a little faster and sweat broke out above his brow and under his arms. Oh God, his gut told him that this was Dom arriving to deal out a savage punishment. He did not think he could handle being tortured in his current weak state. Regrettably, Marco did not see a way out of this mess. The police didn’t come to his rescue, and he didn’t hear sirens heading his way. He sold his soul to the devil, and now he was here to collect his debt.

Thirty seconds later, he was at a loss for words when he recognized the person looking back at him. Once he was able to find his voice, he lowered it and whispered, “Oh no. Please no. Diana.

You were supposed to call the police.” “Shhh. Save your energy. It’s alright.”

“I never meant for you to get captured too.”

“Marco, I am unmistakably where I belong. Stop worrying.”

“I apologize from the bottom of my heart. It was never my intention for you to get hurt or to put you in danger.”

“Well, I would say that it is much too late to get worked up about that now, isn’t it, Marco? Do you recall how I pleaded with you in the very beginning before you returned Dom’s call?”

“Yes, I do. You stressed that Dom was a dangerous man and to be vigilant if I decided to proceed. He was not a man to be betrayed.”

“Well, at least your ears work, but your brain doesn’t process the information. You heard my concerns and absolutely refused to listen.”

“Diana, the only thing I can do is apologize. You were right.” “What made you come to the sudden realization? I didn’t give you

the information second hand or through gossip on the street. Dom is a man that I know personally, and I have a professional relationship with him. The difference is that I know my boundaries.”

“I made a mistake and was in over my head. Please, don’t panic; I will figure out a way to get both of us out of here alive. Where is Dom? Is there any way to make a run for it? On second thought, would you consider using your persuasiveness to manipulate him into giving me a pass since he has a soft spot for you?”

Diana’s answer was to pull a .38 revolver out of an ankle holster and point it at him. “To answer your question, I will not do that for a couple of reasons. First of all, I am not the one who needs saving. Secondly, Dom did not bring you here. I did.

Marco felt as if he was blindsided. His mind wasn’t registering quickly enough. He thought Dom was coming after him. Now Diana was pointing a gun at him. What in the hell was going on? She wasn’t the happy woman he fell in love with in college. The woman standing before him was wearing an expression dripping with hatred. “What about us?”

“There is no us, Marco. You have yourself to blame for your current situation. No help will be arriving to save you. I was so happy that you decided to call me in your time of need. You can rest assured that it was the final nail in your coffin.”

“Diana?”

“Are you sure you don’t prefer to use your safe word since you are clearly in danger?”

Marco was perplexed and had no clue what Diana was saying. He stared back at her blankly, waiting for her to explain.

“You clearly have no idea what I am talking about right now. I should have said safe words. Let me help you out, Marco. How about Harley Quinn?”

His jaw dropped to the floor when she uttered those words. How on earth could she possibly know the secret phrase?

“Marco, I have been hiding a little secret of my own that I would love to share with you. My real name is not Diana. You may know me better as Nadia, and I regret to inform you that there is no way in hell that you will be walking out of here alive tonight.”

The bombshell dropped, and she was pleased with his reaction to the reveal. Marco was thoroughly tongue-tied as he struggled to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

“Nadia? As in my sister Nadia?”

“Well done, Marco. You catch on so quickly, big brother. Yes, I am your sister Nadia who you forgot about without hesitation. I lost my mother and father, and you never attempted to find me. You weren’t the only person devastated by the tragedy. My life was ripped apart too, and you wrote me off as if I were dead. You are disgraceful.”

“That’s not true. How could I ever forget about you? Grandma informed me that she tried to track you down, but the foster home would not give her any personal information. The family you were

living with was going through the process of adopting you, and they did not want any complications. Child services felt that you were happy and stable and wanted it to remain that way.”

Nadia pondered his answer. “Let me give you the benefit of the doubt by saying that I can accept the reason you stayed away at that moment in time. What I don’t grasp is how you never reached out again when you were old enough to do so. You received a settlement and kept it all for yourself. Marco, you held on to the toy football that I gave you and supposedly miss me, yet you are content to leave me as a memory by not trying to find me? I even suggested it to you, and you said that I belong in the past!”

“I am truly sorry, Nadia.”

“I accepted your incompetence and tracked you down myself. I decided that we could share the money by being together.”

Marco had a disgusted look on his face. “You knew you were my sister and slept with me even though you knew it was wrong.”

“Oh please, when did you become so self-righteous? We had the same mother and different fathers if that makes you sleep better at night. Marco, you are the last person to fret about morals after ripping off innocent people. News flash: you are going straight to hell anyway, so why does it matter? I forgave you from the kindness of my heart and gave you a second chance. We loved each other so much growing up. I idolized you, but you continue to betray me. The first time was when you secretly opened up an offshore account in Bermuda and hid all of your illegal money from me.”

Marco looked like somebody hit him in the stomach. He felt as if the wind was knocked out of him.

“Yes, Marco, I know about everything. I am an investigative reporter, after all. Did you think I was anything less than excellent at

my job? To add insult to injury, you hustled my dad of all people. You stole all of his retirement money without a blink of an eye. You are a no-good scumbag, and you certainly don’t deserve my love. You must remember from years ago how I hate when people steal from me. You stole from me three times now. Three strikes and you are out. Any last words?”

Marco was doing his best to try and stand up with the chair attached to him. “Please, Diana, umm, Nadia, I swear that I can fix this if you give me the opportunity. We can share the money and travel to Bermuda together to live out the rest of our days there together.”

Diana looked over at the man who drove Marco here and instructed, “Please untie him and let him stand.”

The driver questioningly looked at Diana. “Are you sure?” She nodded her head. “Absolutely.”

Marco beamed from ear to ear and was relieved. It was a close call. In fact, too close for comfort. “Oh baby, thank you so much. I promise that you will not regret your decision. I will spend the rest of my life making it up to you.”

Once Marco was untied, and his hands were free, Diana slowly walked over to him with a look of happiness. Her dimples were showing, and her eyes were twinkling.

Marco was thrilled. He loved Diana or Nadia or whatever she wanted to call herself and wanted to be with her until the end of time. He spent his entire life missing his little sister, and she was right there in front of him the whole time. It was time for his life story to have a happily ever after.

Diana threw her arms around Marco in a hug and then abruptly pulled away from the embrace. She put her hands on each side of his neck and kissed him on both cheeks and then the lips and finally said, “I know it was you, Marco.”

The sudden realization of what Diana had just done to him hit him like a bucket of ice water. “Oh my God,” Marco thought as he touched his cheeks in disbelief. “The bitch just gave me the kiss of death.” He started sobbing like a disappointed child. All he ever wanted was to live a better life. He had his eye on the prize for so long but missed the clues that were in front of him all along. Nadia used an assumed name but with all of the same letters. She wore the surfers necklace he gave her many years ago. Marco knew it was the same necklace; however, it was so common and could be found in any souvenir shop. She loved Batman movies. The signs were all there, and he missed every single one. He played all of those investors without a second thought, including Diana’s father. Worst of all, he played the woman whom he loved the most. She was part of his plan until he was in danger with the mafia. He was only trying to protect her. Nadia played him like a violin through her deception.

Marco had nothing left, not even his dignity. Eventually, he looked up, and Nadia had her Ruger LCR aimed at him.

She spoke one last time as if giving a private eulogy. “Always remember how much I loved you. You did this to yourself by deciding to steal from me and leaving me at the altar. I despise people who steal from me. You chose this ending, and unfortunately, there is no turning back. Goodbye, Marco.”

Marco closed his eyes in response as a single tear rolled down his face. The bullet struck him between the eyes, and his chair flew backward to the floor. He was dead instantly. This time the darkness would be permanent.

Barry never resurfaced to contact Diana. She discovered a small article online about a body washing ashore north of the bay. Surfers found the body and immediately notified state police. There was no identification on the man, so he was listed as a John Doe. He was described as a white male in his late twenties with dirty blonde hair and was 6’3”, 220 pounds. Diana didn’t need a name. There was no doubt in her mind that it was Brad, and there was foul play involved.

A few days later, the Delaware Division of Forensic Science determined that the trauma to his head was caused by a fall on the rocks. There was no suspicious activity found. The current was very strong at the inlet, so the chances of survival were slim as it would have pulled him under quickly. Diana knew with every fiber of her being that Marco was involved in Brad’s death. The realization that he was murdered gave her chills up her spine.

When Diana decided that Marco needed to die, she reached out to the one person who could help her. She spoke to Dom about her decision the night he informed her about Marco’s betrayal. The news validated her determination to follow through with her plan. She asked Dom if he would be willing to provide her with a gun. He offered to do the job himself; however, Diana wanted the honor of killing Marco. She promised to get Dom his money as soon as Marco stopped breathing. He was able to get Diana an untraceable gun. It was a small snub-nose gun that was easy to use with very little kickback, thanks to the rubber grip that protected the user’s hand.

There was no external hammer, which made it double action, and for each single trigger pull, the gun loaded and shot. The most crucial piece of information was that revolvers don’t leave casings after firing. The absence of shells meant no evidence. She wore gloves to avoid prints and threw the gun in the river afterward. There would never be the need for her to use a weapon again.

Diana called Dom a week later on a burner phone. He answered on the second ring.

“Nice to hear from you, sweetheart.”

“Thank you. Likewise. I wanted to call to make sure you received my gift.”

“Yes, and it arrived as promised. It was more than I expected. I appreciate your loyalty.”

“You deserved it for having to wait so long, and I value our friendship.”

“Did your package arrive?”

“I am afraid the package was damaged beyond repair in shipping and is unable to be replaced. It’s all good. It turns out that I didn’t need it anyway. I hope you don’t mind that I got rid of it.

“Well, it sounds like everything worked out for both of us, and I certainly have no further use for it. So is Declan still with you?”

“Yes, he was very helpful and willing to do anything for me. I think I will keep him around. Your nephew Declan is the type of man who will treat me right.”

“Take care, kid, and tell Declan he better take good care of you, or else he will have to answer to Uncle Dom. He will not like that option. Make sure you both look me up next time you are in town.”

Diana hung up and threw the phone in the nearest trash can. After she shot Marco between the eyes, her and Declan wrapped him up in a blue tarp with duct tape. They proceeded to attach cinder blocks and chains. Marco’s wrapped up body was now lying at the bottom of the Delaware River somewhere. He was a missing person that no one would ever miss at all. Diana had zero remorse. Marco made her task very easy when he decided his fate on his own. Greed won over

love. He was so busy keeping his eye on the wrong prize. Nadia received retribution for her mother’s death, and she knew where to draw the line. There was no feeling of entitlement to keep more than her fair share of the cash. Swindling hard-earned cash from innocent people stopped here and now.

Diana finished her segment of the article and sent it to Kelsey for final editing. It was part of her job to look out for the best interests of the public. She had money transferred from Marco’s account into each individual account of the individuals who Marco victimized.

Each one received an emailed letter from Marco, stating that he could not live with what he had done to them and hoped they would accept his apology of returning the money they originally invested. Diana’s father was part of the group. She promised her parents that she would fix the problem, and maybe now they would be able to sleep at night knowing their retirement money was safe.

No one was in any danger of Marco deceiving them again. Diana took care of his mess and was confident that no one would ever see his face again. If his remains were ever found, she would be the last person to be considered a suspect.

Diana signed over Marco’s portion of the investment property in Philadelphia to her father. The debt investment business transferred to Drew for him to do as he pleased with the company. To answer any questions raised by her father, Diana typed a letter from Marco apologizing for the havoc he caused and explaining he was giving his business to Drew and leaving the country to start a new life. She made Marco sign it before he went to hell.

Diana loved her career in reporting and would continue to accept freelance assignments. One thing she refused to part with was the beach house in Dewey and the loft in Philadelphia. After all of the aggravation Marco put her through, she deserved to keep them.

Diana gave Dom access to the offshore account to use the money

that remained. She wanted no part of Marco’s dirty money and figured that it rightfully belonged to Dom.

It was difficult to feel any remorse for Marco’s demise. Her mother was a good woman and raised her to treat people the way you would like to be treated. Marco loved Nadia, so Diana demonstrated her love for him in return. He was given the benefit of the doubt for not maintaining a relationship once they were separated. She believed that circumstances separated them.

On the other hand, if someone purposely wronged you, then there were dire consequences for those actions. Diana turned a blind eye to her sneaking suspicions, hoping that she was wrong. Marco should have been satisfied but turned out to be exceedingly greedier as time went on. He crossed the line when he chose to steal from her father and may as well have attacked her personally. She could no longer ignore his actions. Sure, she could have let him rot away in prison, but would the lesson learned be enough payback? She came to the conclusion that an eye for an eye was the best remedy. It was the only way to make him see how much he hurt her and guarantee that it would never happen again.

Losing a mother in a fire did not give Marco the right to take whatever he wanted out of a sense of entitlement. His mother was the real victim, yet somehow, he convinced himself that he was the one who lost his life and deserved retribution for his suffering. His greed and an overwhelming feeling of injustice blinded him. Marco lived in survival mode continuously, and the deprivation he experienced with his mother’s death could only be satisfied with limitless amounts of cash. Money became the reward for his loss. She was Diana’s mother too, yet she chose a remarkably different path to help people. It was a shame to say that delusions of grandeur drove Marco in the wrong direction. No one owed him anything, and no one deserved to be robbed of their hard-earned money.

Diana did what needed to be done. End of story. Period.

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