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Burned Dreams: Chapter 4

Ravenna

The faint morning sunrays fall onto the surface of the vanity table before me, illuminating the multitude of scattered makeup bottles and cases. I tilt my head to the side and start applying the second layer of concealer over the bruise near my left eye. It’s not that bad since Rocco slapped me with his open palm. The mark is almost gone, but I don’t want to take any chances. It’ll be cloudy today, and I’ll look ridiculous wearing sunglasses.

When I’m satisfied with my work, I retrieve the paper I’ve hidden in my eyeshadow compact and unfold it.

Nude heels, but genuine leather only. Italian.

Shawl and sweater – pastel color, preferably blue.

Pearl earrings.

It’s a list of the things Mrs. Natello would like next time. Shoes and clothes aren’t an issue. I’ll easily find those at the boutiques. But earrings will pose a problem. My husband usually buys me gold, so I don’t have a pearl pair in my jewelry collection. And I can’t risk buying them because I already got a gold pendant less than two weeks ago. If I start buying jewelry too often, Rocco will notice and demand I wear some of the new pieces.

Below the list, four sentences are added.

I can’t sleep at night because of the worry, passerotta.

Please consider telling Don Ajello somehow, or let me do it. Please.

I love you, Ravi.

I brush my thumb over my mother’s neat handwriting. Since I was a kid, my mom loved hiding short notes for Vitto and me in our room and waiting for us to find them. It was never anything important, only a few words such as: “We’re having your favorite pizza for dinner” or “I heard you did well on your test. Nice work!” written on folded sheets. The notes were never signed but we always knew they were from Mamma. My father was never the openly touchy-feely kind, and his handwriting looked as if a crow dipped its leg in ink and wrote the thing.

A sad smile pulls at my lips. Mamma has always tried her best to compensate for my father’s lack of affection and to make me and Vitto feel loved. Knowing the truth about my marriage and keeping silent is killing her, but I made her promise that she won’t say a word to anyone.

Before I married Rocco, I imagined myself finishing college and starting a family. I hoped I would have a husband who wouldn’t just be a figurehead, but a man who would truly love me. Two, maybe three kids to spoil. And a home full of warmth.

It was a nice dream.

I don’t dream anymore. The only thing I have now is the resolve to get myself out of this nightmare.

In the early days after my wedding, I deluded myself with the notion that I would find a way to tell someone what was going on and ask for help, but Rocco took away my phone and forbade me from speaking to anyone except the housekeeper and maids. My mom and brother were the only people I was allowed to see, but always under supervision. Having me locked in the house would raise questions, so Rocco insisted I go to get manicures and do some shopping. That way, people wouldn’t suspect anything. Either Rocco or a bodyguard was always with me whenever I left the house. Without means to contact anyone and being under constant surveillance, my hands were tied. Secret notes between my mom and me were the best we could do, and only when we managed to trade them without my security detail noticing.

Rocco loves dragging me to dinners and parties with other Cosa Nostra members, and there are always many people. I hoped that someone would figure out what was going on, but it didn’t happen. In public, Rocco has been extremely careful not to lash out at me when there are other people close by, and he has never hurt me in front of witnesses. But I’m sure some people have noticed. Like the guard at the gate, when I was sporting a huge bruise on the side of my face three weeks ago. He had come to Rocco’s window, asking something about shift change, and I saw his eyes widen when he’d seen me. But he quickly looked away.

After a month, I kicked my hopes out of my head and decided I needed to save myself. There’s no such thing as a knight in shining armor. Not for me, at least.

In one of the notes, I requested Mom to ask Melania, my childhood best friend, to get me the Viagra placebo pills. In the next one, I told her to see which of her clients would be interested in buying my unworn clothes. The half sister of Capo Cosimo, the cranky old lady for whom my mother has worked for decades, said yes. I had to resort to buying the clothes she wanted because Mrs. Natello is much taller than me.

The sound of leaves being crushed under the tires reaches me from beyond the open balcony door. I crumple my mom’s note and put it in my pocket to dispose of later. With one last look in the mirror, I grab my coat off the back of the chair and rush out of the room.

There’s work to be done.

 

Alessandro

 

“Report on yesterday,” Rocco barks the moment I step inside his office.

“As planned,” I say. “Shopping. Lunch. Her mother’s place. Back to the mansion.”

Rocco furrows his eyebrows and leans over his desk, obviously less than thrilled with my account.

“I need you to be more specific than that, Zanetti. Did she meet or speak to anyone? What did she and her mother talk about while you were there? Did they mention me? I want to know everything, including the order she made at the restaurant.”

“We visited five stores where she bought a bunch of clothes and shoes. She didn’t meet anyone or speak with anyone other than store employees. We didn’t go to a restaurant. She grabbed a pastry from a bakery at the mall.”

“Filling?” he asks.

I tilt my head. “What?”

“What was the filling, Zanetti? Ravenna is not allowed to eat sweets unless I specifically allow it.”

I fist my right hand at my side. The sick bastard controls what his wife eats. “It was a cheese pie.”

“Good. Proceed with what happened at her mother’s place.”

“They talked,” I say through my teeth.

“About?”

“About the clothes she bought. And then we left.”

Rocco takes a pen off the desk and starts tapping it on the rim of the glass offset before him in a slow, uneven rhythm. The sound is extremely irritating, threatening my already thin restraint. Each time he is in my field of vision, I need to employ every damn self-control technique I know, so I don’t just kill the motherfucker on the spot.

Does he ever think about the woman whose life he took? My wife lay in a puddle of her own blood, in the middle of the street for almost half an hour until the ambulance arrived. That day, a few blocks away, an upper floor of the city parking garage collapsed, killing and injuring several people. Traffic was tied up for miles. Fire and police departments assisted with rescue and evacuation. Medical personnel were busy triaging and getting the injured to the nearby facilities. Amid the chaos, it took too long for the emergency vehicle to get to Natalie. One life in a city of millions. One death that shook my world. Of course, he doesn’t spare a thought for her. He probably forgot it ever happened.

But I will make him remember when the time comes. He will remember the woman he killed when I cut his wife open in front of him and make him watch as the life slowly seeps out of her.

The image of Ravenna Pisano sprawled on the floor, covered in blood, flashes before my eyes. I’ve always found it comforting to imagine the way I would kill the motherfucker’s wife, like finally fulfilling a life-long promise and shedding the weight of the burden I carry, but now, instead of the peace of mind, something else rises within me.

It’s denial.

The image of Mrs. Pisano’s bloody face blurs in my thoughts and transforms into an unknown woman.

I dig my nails deeper into my palm as I clutch my fist and focus on the pen Rocco is still hitting on the glass, trying to shove Ravenna Pisano’s likeness back where I envisioned it to be. It doesn’t work.

“And nothing else happened, Zanetti?” Rocco asks. “Nothing unusual?”

I shift my eyes off the pen he’s holding and meet his gaze. His wife secretly hiding clothes at her mother’s place would probably count as unusual. As well as having her friend give her an unknown substance from the pharmacy.

“No,” I say.

“Good.” He throws the pen back on the desk and powers up his laptop. “Ravenna is probably waiting for you by the front door. She has her weekly spa appointment scheduled.”

Of course she does. It seems like the only things that interest Mrs. Pisano are shopping and beauty treatments. My mind goes to the scene from yesterday when I watched her scrub her mother’s kitchen so the older woman wouldn’t further hurt her back. It doesn’t add up.

Nodding, I leave the office.

Just like her husband said, Ravenna Pisano is standing by the front door, holding her coat over her arm. I reach out to take the coat from her, but she quickly takes a step back.

“Please, don’t,” she says.

“Why?” I ask.

“Just . . . don’t.” She puts on her coat, opens the door, and steps outside.

I follow her as she rushes down the stone steps and stops on the last one with her head tilted up toward the sky. There is nothing above that would attract her attention, only gray clouds. She stands like that for almost a minute, breathing deeply and staring at the vast nothingness before heading to the car.

 

* * *

 

Situated in a modern building, the Wellness Center takes up the entire second level and promises its patrons nothing less than heaven and luxury. That is if one is to believe the sign in the lobby directing us to this place. As Mrs. Pisano walks toward the reception desk, the click of her heels echo off the marble floor, somehow complementing the soothing sounds of nature playing from well-hidden speakers.

“Mrs. Pisano.” The girl on the other side of the desk smiles. “I’m glad to see you again. Hazel is waiting for you.”

“Thank you.” Mrs. Pisano nods and turns to face me. “You need to wait out here. Men are not allowed inside.”

I raise an eyebrow.

“This is a female-only spa, Alessandro. There are naked women in there. Please, wait here. I won’t go anywhere.”

The whole explanation spills out in one breath, and the tone of her voice is slightly higher than usual. She’s nervous and trying to hide it. Why would she be nervous about her spa appointment? I focus on her face and nod.

“I should be done in four hours. It’s a complete body wrap and face cleansing treatments and then a massage afterward. It takes a long time.” She motions to the door on the left. “See you later.”

I watch Mrs. Pisano as she disappears, then take a seat on one of the white leather chairs set against the wall and wait. Elegantly dressed women come in and leave, passing under two huge crystal chandeliers that hang from the high ceiling and illuminate the white and gold posh interior. A strange, sweet scent of flowers and coconut tickles my nostrils. It permeates the air as if someone dumped a ton of bath salts somewhere nearby.

My eyes scan the elaborate space and I spot a brochure lying on the coffee table, getting a glimpse of the extravagant prices. Jesus, no wonder this place looks like it can rival an art gallery or a small museum. There are even paintings that decorate the opulent walls. I wouldn’t be surprised if the price tag on those is in five figures.

Turning away from the white marble sculpture standing by the reception desk, I concentrate on the door that Mrs. Pisano went through earlier. It’s identical-looking to the six other doors leading off this reception area. Nothing special about it except for the fact that, in the past hour, none of the other clients have walked through that one. I take a quick look at my watch, then leave my spot and head toward the exit.

The Wellness Center building is nestled between two smaller ones. The one on the left is office space—cubicles with desks and computer equipment are visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The building on the right, however, seems to be residential, its windows and balconies facing the spa. I’m certain there’s one that will have a view of the room that Mrs. Pisano entered, so I head inside the apartment building.

There are five residences on each side of the second-floor hallway. I stop at the third on the left and ring the bell. A man in his early thirties opens the door and swiftly steps back when he sees the gun in my hand.

“I need to have a look from your balcony,” I say.

The man’s face drains of color, and he quickly moves to the side. He doesn’t utter a word as I walk across the living room to open the sliding door and step outside.

Most of the windows belonging to the Wellness Center are frosted, obscuring everything that happens inside. There are two, though, in my direct line of sight, that aren’t. These clearly don’t belong to treatment rooms or other spa facilities because I can see office space with several desks inside. At one of them, Ravenna Pisano is perched in front of a computer, vigorously typing something on the keyboard.

Another woman is seated next to her, holding a thick blue folder and a pen. The desk is facing away from the window so I can see the lit monitor, but I’m too far away to be able to discern what they’re working on. I watch them for a couple of moments, then leave the apartment and its freaked-out resident, returning to the spa to wait while my charge finishes her “beauty treatment.”

 

* * *

 

Later that night, after I drop Ravenna Pisano off at home, I drive back to the Wellness Center. The entire time my thoughts are filled with what happened that afternoon. When Mrs. Pisano came out, all she did was thank me for waiting. Our trip back to the mansion passed without a word. I glanced at her a couple of times through the rearview mirror, and she seemed way too tense for a woman who supposedly spent half her day at the spa. The tension didn’t leave her tiny frame when we arrived, and she exited my car. She passed by me as I held the door open for her and entered the house never once looking me in the eyes.

I reign in my thoughts and focus on the task at hand. There is a fire escape on the back side of the building, and I use it to get to the second floor. After a quick recon, I pick the lock of the emergency exit door and neutralize the security system. I didn’t have time to get the floor plan for the building, but finding the office I’m after isn’t hard. The blue folder I spotted earlier in the hands of the woman sitting with Ravenna Pisano is still lying on the desk. I open it and leaf through the printouts within.

Supply orders. An invoice for the lease on the location. A dry cleaning receipt. More statements for items the spa center requires.

I set the folder where I found it and power on the computer. The monitor lights up, displaying the login screen. Above the blank password field, the username reads Hazel with the word Accounting next to it.

Why in the world would a capo’s wife secretly deal with a spa center’s accounting?


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