Eye on the Prize

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Chapter 8

Chapter 8

One year had passed since loaning John Barron, from Full Circle Developers, a nice chunk of change. Marco dreamt of him defaulting on the loan and losing his assets. To his dismay, John repaid the loan right on time. Luckily for Marco, he had a Plan B for this outcome. The timing was crucial.

When the time was right, he reported Full Circle’s most recent project to the City for not inspecting and permitting unsafe conditions. He was able to count on John to stay true to his shoddy craft.

Someone like him was too concerned with making money to worry about the safety of the building. Doing things the right way costs money, and that was something that John refused to do.

The City was called in for an inspection and was not happy with the results. Full Circle Developers was shut down immediately after findings of numerous fire hazards and building violations presenting a threat to life and safety. To top it off, they were operating without proper licenses and permits. It was a relief to know that this company would never be able to put another family in danger again. It would never bring back his mother, but it would bring him closure, knowing that they were closed down permanently. The court would notify Marco of a trial date once it was scheduled. He would appear as a witness for the prosecution. Karma was magnificent!

Although Diana’s investigative curiosity surfaced when Marco gave her a beautiful beach house as a gift, she had to put the brakes on to spare his feelings. His heart was in the right place, but red flags were popping up all over the place when he presented her with such a ridiculously expensive gift. There was no doubt that Marco was working hard and making money. He seemed to put in endless hours; however, she seriously doubted his ability to earn enough money to indulge in such an extravagant present so quickly unless he robbed a bank.

She wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she was missing something. Marco invested in debt by rescuing people who could not afford their mortgage by paying off the balance that they owed. In return, they signed over the house title to him so that he could sell their house. The investment property Marco owned with her father was doing well, but they still didn’t own it free and clear. He also provided loans to developers. Even if Marco was doing well in all three areas of his business, it was virtually impossible to make the amount of money needed to purchase a beach house.

After looking through Dewey Beach’s public records, Diana discovered no mortgage on the beach house property. This information was alarming since it meant that Marco owned the house free and clear. Where exactly did the money come from for this vacation home?

Diana’s suspicion deepened even further, especially since she had no idea what Marco’s dealings were with Dom. Every instinct screamed at her that Marco was involved in something dishonest and dangerous that he should not even consider. Maybe he was in over his head. There were other gifts before the beach house. It started with new clothes, day trips, fancy dinners, jewelry, her Jeep, and countless other gifts. She never thought she would have to use her reporting skills to get to the bottom of whatever was going on. Diana knew better than to confront Marco without any hard evidence of wrongdoing.

Diana had no idea how right she was to assume that the money used to buy her new overpriced beach house was not entirely Marco’s. She would be mortified and maybe even a little terrified if she knew some of the money was mob money. Marco had already paid the first round of investors a sizable amount of returns with the second round of investor’s down payments. Showing them some money made it much easier to convince the first round of investors to keep their money invested rather than pull it out. There was not a whole lot of convincing required since the greed of making even more money kept the investors satisfied.

He simply had to steadily increase their Bitcoin wallet balances while spending the real money on his personal needs. Hey, if they were foolish enough to believe their money could grow so quickly, then they deserved to lose it all.

Brad was the only investor so far who proved to be a thorn in his side. There was always that one pain in the ass who called or emailed regularly. In Marco’s case, that one person was Brad. Even though he had a personal wallet on his phone, Brad required constant reassurance and guidance. It was more like hand-holding, and Marco didn’t have the tolerance. He felt like he was always on the defensive and never would have guessed that Brad was a skeptic since he didn’t ask numerous questions when signing on.

When he called Marco in a panic because he was afraid to lose his initial investment, Marco talked him off the ledge and reassured him. He sweetened the deal by offering Brad a bonus to recruit family and friends. Marco tried his best to be patient with Brad, but being a good listener wasn’t comforting enough. He attached his fears to the hypothetical situations that his mind created. Marco had no clue how the man survived for so long with that much apprehension. He planned on taking everyone’s money and preferred to do it with a minimum amount of work. Unfortunately for Marco, Brad was high maintenance.

He felt like he needed to reassure Brad every time they spoke to each other. It was exhausting. Marco assured Brad that he had everything under control and had his back. Lots of lies were necessary when talking to him. He had every right to be fearful of losing his money, especially when it was already gone. Maybe he should have listened to his gut feeling in the first place to avoid being robbed blind. The man definitely made Marco work for the money.

The sooner he realized that Brad wasn’t going away, the better.

Diana’s current assignment was a property theft situation in Philadelphia. One particular gentleman had lost a property that had been in his family for generations. It was an abandoned row home in a neighborhood where industrial businesses had taken over. After much deliberation, he decided to put the property up for sale for

$400,000. The man was mortified to find out that the house had already been sold for $150,000. It was difficult to comprehend that the deed transfer paperwork was forged, and the documents were notarized without his knowledge. Someone committed a crime, and the real owner was out of luck since it was officially a closed deal. Instead of making money from selling a property, he was paying for a lawsuit to get back what was rightfully his in the first place. The records department in Philadelphia was responsible for filing and recording deeds. There were no laws in place to protect the property owner. It would seem viable to check for forged signatures on titles or deeds as well as looking up notary signatures by cross-referencing them with driver’s licenses or previously filed paperwork.

Diana visited the police department, and they informed her that their hands were tied. They directed her to the district attorney’s office, who expressed an interest in offering assistance with more evidence to prosecute. They did not have the funds nor the resources to pursue the case without more information. Her curiosity and persistence motivated her to pursue the story and dig up the necessary facts to help the homeowners catch the criminal responsible for the crimes.

Most of the time, Diana felt like banging her head against the wall to find answers. People were not very cooperative in her line of work and rarely offered details voluntarily. If she wanted something, she needed to ask for it directly. Not all individuals were welcoming or eager to divulge information. Others were hesitant to get involved for fear of being identified and suffering possible retaliation. It was her job to protect her sources by not revealing them in sensitive

situations. Allowing them to remain anonymous led to valuable knowledge needed to conduct her research.

Diana had a long and tiring day and called Marco to see if he would be willing to meet for dinner. They met for burgers and shakes, and she told him about her day.

“Marco, thanks for meeting me. I needed to see you after the day I had. Hopefully, I didn’t pull you away from anything pressing.”

“You don’t have to thank me, and I am happy that it worked out. My work will still be there tomorrow, so no worries. Tell me, what’s going on? You look aggravated.”

She briefed him about the poor man who had his property stolen from under his nose. “I don’t understand what type of person could steal personal property from another person knowing that it wasn’t theirs and live with it.”

Her comment was the equivalent of a sucker punch to his gut. If she only knew that she was talking to a hypocrite. “Not everyone is good, love. You know that as well as I do.”

“It infuriates me. The property was an heirloom that had been in the man’s family for years. He lost out on the money that was rightfully his, and someone sold it for $250,000 less than he planned. What a slap in the face.”

“Does this mean that you are moving forward with the story?” “Damn right! Whoever did this took something that did not belong

to them and continues to get away with it! Well, I won’t be satisfied

until I put a stop to this. What kind of sleazeball steals money from people? He should be strung up by his testicles!”

Marco was in the midst of swallowing and choked on his food.

“Are you okay?”

It was a scary feeling, and he couldn’t breathe for a minute. He tried to cough to bring it up, but then it finally went down. It took him a second to recover and answer. “I’m fine now. I ate my food too fast and choked. I’m not going to lie, but I panicked for a few seconds.”

“I’m glad you are okay. You scared me half to death. Anyway, if it isn’t too much trouble, I need your help in accessing the MLS system.”

“Sure. Is there something, in particular, you are looking for?”

“Is there any way you can get me a report listing the home sales over the last year along with previous sale history? That would be an excellent start.”

“Sure, no problem. In fact, I will stop at the office on the way home and run the report.”

“Thanks, Babe. I have a wonderful opportunity to help people and find justice in the process, which is very satisfying to me. It is exactly the reason why I wanted to be an investigative reporter.”

“Well, I am more than happy to do my part. Would you mind if I left now so I can get started? I feel bad leaving you with the bill.”

“It’s no problem at all, Marco. You can pay next time. I will see you when you get home. Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it, babe.”

Marco was relieved to get away from the restaurant and Diana as quickly as possible. She was so hell-bent on putting the culprit behind bars. He could tell by the look in her eyes how determined Diana was

to find the responsible party. There was no stopping her once she made up her mind. She was like a dog with a bone. At least it would keep her far away from the scent of his trail. It was ironic how virtuous his fiancée was, yet she was unknowingly living off of money obtained through illegal activities. He held onto the slim glimmer of hope that Diana would change her mind once she acclimated to living the good life. By the time she found out about his illegal activities, he was confident her love for him would prevail. A bond like theirs could not be broken easily.

Marco wondered what force drove Diana to feel responsible for righting wrongs. Usually, people who were mistreated or taken advantage of somehow felt the need to help others seek justice. Diana never mentioned anything to him to warrant her superhero behavior. The last thing he needed was her poking around in his illegal activities. He created wealth opportunities outside of his everyday job on his terms. It would not be fair to him to have to alter his reality due to her feeling of obligation to rectify the world’s inequities.

The only two people Marco was interested in saving was himself and Diana. At the end of the day, it was every man for himself.

Others might view his actions as selfish, and he was completely fine with their opinion. Marco did not lose any sleep at night and had no trouble looking at himself in the mirror the next morning.

Two hours later, Marco returned home with the report as promised. Diana intended to contact previous homeowners to verify that each sale was authentic. It was a long and tedious research project. To reach the previous owners, it was necessary to track them down to their new location. Social media served a dual purpose by helping to track down some of the contacts on the report. She also created a post to allow homeowners the option to contact her directly if they were a victim of real estate fraud.

The report was sorted by the buyers’ names, allowing her to find any duplicates with a glance. One of the names was listed eight times, so she contacted the district attorney to let his office look into the lead. It was very unusual for an individual homeowner to sell multiple properties in a year. She had the resources to obtain leads but not the resources to tie them to the scam. Her job was to be a journalist, not a detective. Concerning the other names on the list, she looked up previous owner information and sale dates on the city records website. Diana contacted as many individuals as possible. She explained the reason for her call and advised each of them about the property sale. Most were valid sales, and the people were shocked and appalled to hear what was happening to unsuspecting victims. It hit too close to home, and it was horrifying to know that any one of them could have been a victim. At least they were all able to breathe a sigh of relief. She conducted interviews with the individuals who recently realized they were victims of the property scam and asked each of them to contact the district attorney immediately.

Diana continued to dig for information on their behalf. The houses involved in the fraud were all vacant. Either the previous tenants were deceased, or they vacated the property.

The district attorney contacted her a month after she began the assignment to let her know that the leads she provided, resulted in the arrest of the culprit who scammed homes from unknowing homeowners. He thanked her for her thorough research and gave her a head start before he held a press conference at 9 a.m. the next morning. The district attorney wanted to extend the courtesy to Diana

to give her time to write and release an exclusive article before anyone else. She thanked him for his thoughtfulness. The district attorney expressed his willingness to work with her in the future and revealed how much he admired her professionalism and work ethic.

As soon as the call ended, Diana wasted no time contacting the editor, who she respected the most, to see if she would be interested in buying her story. The editor was well aware that the district attorney was having a news conference the next day. Diana assured her that she was involved directly in the news that was about to be released. It was noon. The editor agreed that If she could submit her finished article by 9 p.m., she had herself a deal. There would be two hours turnaround for the article to be read and edited if needed before the 11 p.m. deadline. If the news was as good as promised, Diana’s article would be front-page news.

As excited as Diana was to have her story bought, she was instantly filled with apprehension. The hardest part of her job was to lock herself in a room while under deadline. There was an unbelievable amount of pressure to write a great article that would report the news as well as capture and keep the reader’s attention. It was suffocating, and the deadline felt like a ticking time bomb.

Everyone thought the writing was the fun part of her job, but it was like a crushing weight. The fun part was investigating, analyzing, and interpreting information to discover facts that informed the public and held people accountable for their actions.

It would be a long nine hours, so Diana brewed a pot of coffee and played some easy listening music to help her get into a relaxed writing mode. The clock was ticking unmercifully, and there was a story waiting to be told. The article needed to be objective and interesting. As a journalist, she needed to report the facts without inserting her own opinion or bias into the story.

Diana arrived at the news station with thirty minutes to spare. Her editor was waiting impatiently and eagerly read through the article.

She took a considerable risk blindly reserving the front page for a news piece she hadn’t even read yet. It was a relief to both of them that the risk was worth taking. Diana’s editor was impressed with the article, especially because it was in layman’s terms. The readers would be able to grasp and relate to the subject matter very easily. There were some minor edits but nothing out of the ordinary. Diana emailed the final piece to her at 10:30 p.m.

The story was front-page news the next day as promised. All of Diana’s hard work was paying off, and it was rewarding to be responsible for the leads that helped capture the scammer. She was rapidly becoming a respected name in the industry and was developing a fan base with her readers.

Today was the day for retribution, and Marco had been waiting for this day for many years since the day his mother perished in the fire. He was at the court proceedings against Full Circle Developers to testify for the prosecutor. It was time for John Barron’s punishment for his sins. It wasn’t the punishment that Marco would have picked. He believed in an eye for an eye, so unless John was dying today, the punishment would never be fair enough. Since dying was not an option, he would have to be satisfied with whatever the court decided.

After the judge’s harsh verdict, Marco walked over to the defendant’s table. The development company owner, John Barron, was shaking his head in disbelief and pure disgust.

“Hello John, I know this isn’t the best time, but I need to speak to you privately.”

John hissed, “I’m sorry. You mean you have more to say than you already have on the stand? Your timing sucks if I can be completely honest. Your loan was paid in full. You somehow have a personal vendetta or some hurt feelings since you also testified against me.

Boohoo. I have nothing to say to you other than fuck off, so if you have something further to discuss, call the office and make an appointment like everyone else.” His face was beet red. The poor guy might just have a heart attack and croak in the courtroom. Wouldn’t that be wonderful!

Marco fired back with pure venom, “No, surely you are under the wrong impression. I wasn’t asking for your permission to speak.

Today proved that you are no longer in business and never should be allowed to open a company ever again in this lifetime. What I have to say to you will take less than a minute of your time, and you will listen to what I have to say whether you want to hear it or not. My grandmother spoke to you approximately twelve years ago to tell you that my mother died in a fire due to faulty wiring. You were the

developer and had nothing to offer besides, “Sorry for your loss.” In other words, you did not give two shits. I lost my family due to your negligence. It took me years to get my revenge but today is my victory. I am thrilled about your loss. If it were up to me, I would put my hands around your throat and choke the life out of you until your eyes are bulging and your tongue is hanging out of your mouth. I just wanted you to know that I was the one and only person responsible for your downfall, and I have no regrets. Everything comes full circle thanks to karma. I believe you are the one who is fucked!”

John lunged at Marco and was immediately restrained by the security guards. Marco walked away, and as he opened the courtroom door, John screamed after him like a man who had completely lost his mind, “You won’t get away with this! My new mission in life will be to get revenge for your little performance today. You will have to look over your shoulder for the rest of your life. I’m coming for you, and that is a promise.”

Marco’s elation did not last too long. He began to shake when he was safely seated in his Range Rover. It wasn’t often that his emotions got the best of him, but he began to cry as he looked up toward heaven and spoke to his mother.

“Momma, I’m sorry it took so long, but I made sure that the man responsible for the fire was brought to justice today. He did not get what he truly deserved, but he will not be hurting anyone else. I miss you so much and would do anything to bring you back to me. It doesn’t feel like winning without you by my side. I love you, momma.”

Marco took a few minutes to compose himself and then peeled wheels out of the courthouse parking lot.

Later that evening, Marco and Diana were celebrating their personal victories at a local restaurant. They shared a bottle of Merlot that had subtle hints of blackberry with a smooth and soft finish. It was so smooth that they finished the bottle in no time.

Diana reached for Marco’s hand, “How was your day Babe? I wish I could have been there with you for support.”

Marco sighed, “The court revoked the license permanently from the miserable bastard responsible for my mother’s death in the horrific fire so many years ago. It will never bring her back, but he needed to pay.”

Diana was caressing the top of his hand. “I am so sorry. It must have been very difficult to relive. He deserves to lose everything for stealing your mother’s life.”

“I agree, and I promised myself that I would be satisfied with the court’s decision. It was a relief to finally get some closure. How was your day?” Marco promptly changed the topic. His grief was too close to the surface, and he wanted to keep his composure.

Diana placed a newspaper on the table. “Front page news, baby! And I caught a scammer with your help. He stole houses away from unsuspecting homeowners, and it felt rewarding to help them find justice. Low lives like him deserve to be punished for their deception.”

Marco’s color drained from his face.

“Are you okay, Marco? You look sick.” Diana had a genuine look of concern on her face.

“I will be fine. It has been a long day as well as emotionally draining. Do you mind if we cut our celebration short and go home?”

Diana compassionately replied, “No, not at all. I’m sorry. It was probably poor timing and not the best night for us to go out. I am ready to leave if you are.”

Sal called Marco on the burner phone. Marco didn’t answer the phone the first two times, pissing him off. This guy had some fucking nerve! Did he understand that he was playing with fire? Sal had no time to babysit Marco. As an earner in the Philadelphia crime family, he was expected to kick up a percentage of money every week to his boss. It worked the same in other organizations as well. He already made his bones, meaning that he killed someone to earn membership in the family.

That is why someone affiliated with the mob can walk down the street with bags of cash unarmed and unprotected and remain confident that he is entirely safe from harm. People on the street knew the consequences of ripping off the mob.

Sal’s boss had no preference where the cash came from, as long as it did not stop. Money could be made legally or illegally. His legal home renovation business simply did not generate cash fast enough. How could money be made when some people had the audacity to expect free services due to their affiliation with the mob? It was virtually impossible to make the necessary cash legally.

Sal appreciated the good life and spent a shitload of money. It wouldn’t be so bad if his weekly tribute payment were his only expense. Unfortunately, this was not the case. He also had the responsibility to pay house bills, car payments, school tuition, insurance, and business payments.

Selling drugs was a quick no brainer solution to keep the cash flowing. The drawback was that people died from doing the drugs he sold. Mothers cried for the children they lost too young, but at the end of the day, he was a gangster. It was no place for morals, and Sal had a job to do like everyone else. He was barely able to break even to stay afloat. Now and then, it became absolutely necessary to pull off a robbery to reach his quota.

Sal knew that he would do whatever was needed to generate income. Lately, it required creativeness to produce cash. He made money every day illegally.

Marco’s burner phone was ringing. He ignored the call because he was currently sailing with a prospective client and dining after at the Lewes Yacht Club. Sal definitely would not be pleased with him; however, Marco was stalling to get the money that he was already supposed to have in his possession. If he answered the phone, Sal would find out that he didn’t have the cash ready. He was overextended, especially since it became increasingly difficult to balance the returns to the investors and his personal expenses. At first, Marco spent money on professional space. Then he purchased the beach house. It wasn’t cheap to maintain a second home, apartment rent, two luxury cars, yacht club membership, and a list that continued to grow with the items he desired and deserved. Diana was his ride or die, so he would do everything in his power to make sure that she lived the life that she deserved. He was going to make it all happen because if it were up to fate, the cruel bitch would certainly give riches to someone more worthy.

Marco reflected on his life growing up poor. There was never a time where he had money to burn. Now that he was making a considerable sum of money, he was enjoying life with no remorse. Although he preferred a more lavish lifestyle, he was selective on how and where the money was spent. Marco worked extremely hard and possessed sheer determination never to be poor again.

He valued money and wanted to make so much more. Thinking back on how he stole scraps of food from the cafeteria to fill himself up when he was hungry made him cringe. He collected aluminum cans for money and helped his mom pay the bills. He took the best care of everything that he owned. Nothing was disposable when you were penniless. A lack of funds made it impossible to replace broken items.

Marco was quite keen on earning enough money to do whatever he pleased while enjoying every second of doing it. As a kid, he almost always turned down invitations to birthday parties and other events because he could not afford to buy a present and did not have

a ride to get there and back. It was easier to make up a lame excuse to avoid the embarrassment and the look of pity in the eyes of other grown-ups.

He never blamed his loving mother for their situation; she did the best that she could under the circumstances. It was unfortunate that her hard work was worth peanuts. Her paycheck barely covered the expenses. She cut corners wherever possible while still making sure that her children were showered with love and modest toys. They could not afford the Christmas that most kids took for granted but were still happy with gifts bought at the dollar store.

Being given the opportunity to attend college was a huge deal and the turning point of his life. It was a double-edged sword that cut him to his core since the possibility was only a reality due to his mother’s death and financial situation. He was probably what people referred to as a token, but it sure did not feel that way to him since it came at a steep price.

His free education taught him how to rub elbows with men dying to throw their money away for lack of knowing what to do with it. Marco would make sure it went to good use. His prospective client meeting at the yacht club was so successful that he wrote Marco a check for

$20,000. The heavy weight on his shoulders eased temporarily, allowing Marco to take a sigh of relief. Now he had the funds to pay Sal. It was an extremely close call, and he needed to ensure that it didn’t become a habit. It was no fun feeling like he was thrown into a pressure cooker. The stakes were too high.

Diana decided to call Marco, and it went straight to voicemail. He was acting unusually jumpy and anxious lately. Her intuition was screaming that he was hiding something from her, and she planned on getting to the bottom of whatever it was. When Marco gave her a new phone, she recalled him saying that they shared the same iCloud account. That was a piece of information that might come in handy to help her get some answers. She opened the app that would find his phone and give the exact address of his current location.

How very odd. Diana could swear Marco told her that he was working at the Philly office. His current location put him at the Lewes Yacht Club in Delaware. Very interesting indeed. It didn’t sound as if he was working very hard and certainly not in Philadelphia. She intended to keep an eye on his whereabouts, especially since he found a need to lie to her.

As soon as Marco had the cash in hand from his new client’s check, he wasted no time calling Sal on the burner phone.

Sal answered on the first ring. “Hey, stunod, you better have a friggin’ good reason for not answering the phone after I called you twice, and you sent me directly to voicemail, you Goddamn chooch!”

Marco cleared his throat before speaking. His heart was thumping and felt like it was going to beat right out of his chest. “I’m so-so- sorry. I promise it won’t ha-happen again. I was sick yesterday and couldn’t get to the phone.”

“The next time you ignore my calls and give me agita, I promise you will get whacked. You aren’t fooling anyone with your sick routine. I deal with weasels like you every day. I will smash your head in with a baseball bat if I find out that you are trying to run off with Dom’s money.”

Marco had a pool of sweat dripping down his face. Sal was vicious and meant business. “Sal, there is no need for violence. I have the money. I would never think about, let alone steal Dom’s money. That would be suicide.”

“Well, as long as you understand that was your only warning. I am not here to hold your hand or to mentor you. You are dealing with the big boys now. Go get in your car and make sure you are at this address in one hour, and it would be a good idea to get there on time.”

“I promise you that I will be there, but I am in Dewey Beach, so I am two hours away. I can send you my location if you don’t believe me.”

“You have two hours. If you aren’t here, then someone will notify your fiancée that you are dead.”

Marco assured Sal that he would be at the drop-off as promised.

On his way to meet Sal, Marco called and left a message for Diana to say that he was driving to the Delaware house and staying overnight. He told her that he needed a break and invited her to come along. She texted back that she had to pass because of her pending deadline but promised to meet him there for the weekend.

After sending the text, Diana tracked Marco on the location finder.

He neglected to say that he was in Delaware all day and was heading toward home right now. What a liar! A couple of hours later, he was somewhere in South Philly. It appeared to be in Dom’s territory. Diana was under the impression that Dom only needed Marco’s professional advice, but she would bet that Marco was working for him in some sort of capacity. If he was working for Dom, she was positive that he was involved in something illegal. This scenario was exactly what she had feared.

How could Marco be so careless and stupid? There was no way she could confront him without any concrete facts. Diana had no clue what was going on, but not for long. She decided to follow him.

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