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Ruined Secrets: Part 2 – Chapter 20

Luca

I take a sip of my coffee, pretending to be engrossed in something on my phone while I watch my surroundings. I agreed to meet with Ajello at seven p.m., but when I proposed a restaurant downtown, he rejected the idea, picking a small family-run café in the suburbs. Strange choice, but I accepted. What’s even more interesting is he insisted on taking a table outdoors. If he arrives with a convoy of bodyguards, it’s bound to attract the attention of anyone passing by. Whatever. I only brought Marco, but he’s waiting in the car.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spot a man crossing the street. I’m not sure what possesses me to keep my gaze focused on him because there’s nothing that stands out. He appears to be in his late twenties or early thirties, has dark hair, and is wearing a black suit without a jacket. Tall. Athletic. Women would probably find him handsome, but then again, nothing overly special. The only out-of-the-ordinary thing about him is a black leather glove on his left hand. As he enters the coffee shop’s patio, heading in my direction, I notice that he has a slight limp in his gait. It’s very subtle, and I wouldn’t have spotted it if I wasn’t so focused on him. He approaches the table, takes the chair across from me, and sits down.
“Mr. Rossi.” He leans back in his chair. “I’m glad to be meeting you in person, at last.”
“Mr. Ajello, I presume?” I ask and look around the café trying to spot his security detail.
“I don’t use bodyguards, Mr. Rossi.” His lips curve upward, and there is something extremely disturbing in his smile. It’s not that it seems fake. I’ve grown accustomed to fake smiles. That’s how our society works, apparently. People smile sweetly one moment, then stab you in the back the next. This, however, seems as if he knows what a smile should look like and mimics it instead. But there’s nothing behind his smile. No emotion. No scheme. It’s trained. Like a dancer must learn steps to the music, this man has learned to smile for a conversation, when needed. Only the movement is that of muscles matching the beat of an imagined song. Choreographed.
“So, let’s get to the point of this meeting,” I say.
The waitress comes to take our order. Ajello doesn’t even look at her, just waves his gloved hand, keeping his gaze on mine.
“A straightforward man. I respect that.” He nods. “I’ve been widening my construction operations lately, a very comfortable way for laundering drug money, and I have a business proposition for you, Mr. Rossi.”
“I’m listening.”
“You buy and sell real estate to launder your money. It must be tiring, searching for available properties to purchase all the time. Wouldn’t it be easier to have a constant supply of top-notch locations?”
“It would.” I nod “Are you offering to supply?”
“Yes.”
“What amount of net worth are we talking about?”
“Twenty million. Monthly.”
I think about his offer. “Why me? Why not someone else?”
“You’re the head of your Family. A don. You know how things work in our world, but you’re also a businessman. Bogdan doesn’t like you, which is a compliment in my book. He also says you drive a hard bargain.”
So, he also has dealings with the Romanians. Good to know.
“I’m interested.” I nod.
“Perfect. I’ll send you the details.” As he stands up, he places his hands on the tabletop, and I notice that the last two fingers on his gloved hand are in a slightly unnatural position, as if he can’t fully extend them. “I hope we’ll have a fruitful collaboration, Mr. Rossi.”
I regard him as he leaves, wondering why he murdered all the other capos. If his only aim was to take over the New York Family, killing the previous don would have been enough.
Leaving money for the coffee on the table, I rise but immediately grab the side of the chair as pain slashes through my temples. It lasts for a second or two, and then it’s gone. The fucking headaches are getting worse. I’ll go in for that checkup as soon as I’m done with the damn banquet.
Now, I can’t wait to get home, and back to my wife. I wonder if I was always this crazy about her, or if it’s something that’s built up after we were married and before the crash. It seems unhealthy, how I can’t stop thinking about her even for a moment. Even when I’m working, Isabella is constantly on my mind. Her eyes. Her hair. The way she likes to snuggle into me every night. But most of all, it’s her strong-minded personality. Her courage. She keeps amazing me every single day, this slip of a girl, who keeps playing this game, fooling the whole Family. She knew what was at stake from the beginning. I didn’t. It was only a few days ago that Damian explained it to me. If anyone finds out that Isabella has been covering for me, hiding my condition, the Family will proclaim her a traitor—someone who’s been acting against the Family’s interests. A punishment for such an act is usually death.
If I’d known this sooner, I never would have allowed her to get tangled up in this shit. There’s no coming back now. I’m not afraid of dying. But if the truth does come out at some point, and if anyone even so much as thinks about hurting Isabella, they better come at us with all they have. Because I am going to annihilate any man who tries harming a hair on my wife’s head.

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