Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Happy Family . . . Not

Mario pulled into the garage next to the two-story office complex. It was about twenty minutes from Regina’s restaurant, and the Cavelli family owned the whole building. All their businesses operated from here, each with a name that sounded respectable and completely above board, but what happened behind closed doors was another story. Anthony had his men sweep the building periodically for bugs, and sometimes they found a few. As far as the city cops were concerned, their informant was usually quite reliable. But the Feds were a different story; they planted bugs fairly regularly or positioned men outside to observe the proceedings as best they could.

As Regina and Anthony got out of the car, he asked her, “Do you think you can manage to be civil to my father?”

“Of course, I can. I forgave him a long time ago for forcing me to marry you and live in hell,” Regina replied with an edge of sarcasm. She sometimes couldn’t help but give snide remarks, especially when she was around Poppy. It was a shortcoming she was still working on.

Instead of being sarcastic in return, Anthony said calmly, “That’s exactly what I mean. The old man thinks we are happily married. I’d like to keep it that way. Now just do as you’re told and everything will be all right.”

Normally he would come back at her or threaten her in some way. For the second time today, Regina wondered if something was wrong. She kept quiet, hoping to pick up on what was really going on.

Stepping into the building with Anthony and Mario at her heels, Regina tried to focus. She always found it difficult to be in Poppy’s presence, especially now in her condition. He had always wanted a grandchild. It was a topic that had been on his mind, and lips, since the death of Anthony’s mother. Lord, I need You to help me keep my cool and not give myself away.

A little prayer never hurt in stressful situations.

They walked into the outer office and a very nervous Mary greeted them. She came out from behind her desk.

“What’s the matter with you?” Anthony asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Mr. Cavelli, your father is in your office,” Mary said with much excitement in her voice. “He came about twenty minutes ago and just walked right in. Then he started dictating letters to me. I didn’t know what to do! I didn’t get a chance to call you. I was just about to now. He’s been making phone calls and asking me questions . . .” Mary was very close to being frantic.

“Calm down, will you? Just bring us some coffee and type those letters like he asked. Don’t worry about it. Did the accountant drop off anything?”

“No, sir, he hasn’t.”

This did not seem to make Anthony happy at all. Grabbing Regina by the arm, he whispered, “Don’t forget what I told you.”

They walked in and found Poppy on the phone, sitting behind Anthony’s desk. He motioned for them to come in, as if it was his office they had just walked into. Instantly, heat shot through Anthony’s body. He didn’t like this situation at all. Poppy had no business, none whatsoever, appearing so comfortable in Anthony’s office.

Poppy hung up the phone and, with a huge smile on his face, got up to greet them.

For a second, Anthony smirked at Regina’s expression. Hugging her was like trying to hug a fence post. She never returned his father’s hugs, but it didn’t seem to phase Poppy or discourage him from trying.

“What a pleasant surprise! Anthony, why didn’t you tell me Regina was going to be here?” Before Anthony could answer him, he went on, “My son can’t seem to tell me if I will ever become a grandfather. Regina, Dear, can you give me an idea?”

“I’m sorry, not yet. You know we’re still young. There’s plenty of time for that in the future.” Forgive me, Lord, for telling such a lie. It amazed her how this man seemed to forget that he had forced them to get married. He lived in some fantasy world in which they were all one big, happy family.

Mary walked in with the coffee tray and set it up on the table.

“Okay, I’ll drop it for now. But I have a wonderful idea. Why don’t we all go to lunch together? I would love to visit with you in a more pleasant environment.”

Anthony smiled and said, “That sounds great. I guess we won’t be needing that coffee, Mary. Thank you anyway.” He turned to his father. “Why don’t you two go out to the car? I have some instructions for Mary before we leave.”

As soon as they were out of hearing distance, Anthony whispered in a low growl, “Mary, I want you to call the accountant and tell him that he’d better be here with the books before I return from lunch. Make sure he understands — wait. Forget that. Instead tell Jimmy to go there in person and pick it up. He’ll know what to do if it’s not ready.”

“Yes, sir. No problem.”

On his way out to the car, Anthony made a call. “Yeah, it’s me. Can you talk? Listen, I want to know what he is up to before it happens, not after. Why wasn’t I told about the visit? That’s not what you get paid for! No more excuses — just keep a better eye on him!”

When Anthony joined them in the limousine, he was back to his pseudo cheerful self again. “So, Poppy, where to?”

“Mama Rosa’s Seafood Palace. I’m in the mood for some fish.”

“Great. Mario, you heard him — Mama Rosa’s.”

Regina started to pray. Lord, give me strength to hold down my lunch. And help me to behave in a way that would please You. It really didn’t do her any good to be upset. Nothing ever seemed to change.

© Nadine Z. 2007

Friday, March 30, 2007

John Has Hope

John arrived home tired and frustrated by his day. Captain Merrill had sent him home early, since he had come in around four a.m. to do paper work. He often did that when he couldn’t sleep. John lived alone, except for some goldfish, in a small one-bedroom apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

His living room was dark beige. He wasn’t sure it had been painted that color originally, but years had passed since anybody had tried to do anything with the walls. John didn’t mind the fading, since he was rarely home anyway. He was able to fit a recliner, a loveseat, and a nineteen-inch color television in the living room area. He had a small portable CD player on an end table next to the recliner. His bedroom was cramped with a double bed; a dresser; and one end table that held a phone, a lamp, and an alarm clock. The bathroom had a tub with a fish shower curtain.

The last area in the apartment was what some would call a kitchen; others would call it a closet. It contained a small oven with a four-burner stove, a refrigerator, a sink, and a small counter that separated the kitchen from the living room. He had two stools by the counter where he ate his meals. It was a small place, but he could afford it, and it was located only about twenty minutes from the precinct.

Out of habit, he went right to the answering machine and hit play. A familiar voice filled the air. “John, this is your mother. I was wondering if you could stop by for dinner on Sunday. Your sister will be here and . . . well, we all miss you. I love you, Honey. Call me.”

The next message was from some salesperson telling him he’d won free airplane tickets to Florida; all he had to do was examine a time-share in Tampa. The final message was from his sister. “John, it’s Lisa. How are you doing? The kids miss you. I miss you, too. We all hope to see you Sunday at the folks’. Mom says she’s making your favorite pot roast. Well, anyway, know that you’re loved. Bye.”

He couldn’t help but think how lucky he was to have a family who cared so much for him. They were always trying to make sure he stayed connected to them.

He felt a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a message from Mrs. Cavelli. He was about to press the button and reset his caller ID box when he noticed that it read four new calls. Funny, he thought he’d heard only three. He reviewed the calls listed and noticed that one of them was from Regina’s Place.

I wonder why she didn’t leave a message. He thought about calling her back but quickly dismissed the idea. Too risky. He didn’t want to get her in trouble. Thinking about his next move, he pulled open the refrigerator and saw there wasn’t much in there: some beer, an apple, and milk that was probably expired.

“Well,” he wondered out loud, “since there doesn’t seem to be anything for dinner, maybe I should go out to eat. And wherever shall I go? Regina’s Place seems to be as good a place as any.”

© Nadine Z. 2007

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Regina Gets Ordered Around

Driving back to the station, John didn’t say much. Regina was more stunning in person than the pictures he’d seen. Maybe she’d call him when she wasn’t being watched. Maybe that was why she had given them the brush-off.

Maybe she was afraid to talk to him in front of that big goon — or Frank. Maybe he should have gone alone . . .

Frank was the first to break the silence. “You see, John? I told you it would get us nowhere. She practically threw us out! If she knows anything, she’s not telling. Now are you gonna give up on this crazy idea of yours?”

“I think she’s just scared. That big guy works for her husband. He’s probably there to keep an eye on her. At least now she knows there’s someone out here who can help her.”

“Have you lost your mind? Help her do what? She doesn’t look like she needs any help. Do you live in some kind of fantasy world? Were we both in the same place? She’s not going to call you! She seems to be very loyal to her husband. You need to just leave this alone and look for another angle, or else you’re going to get yourself killed.”

John was quiet for a moment. “Maybe you’re right. I guess I’m just kidding myself.” He didn’t want to continue this conversation. Next time, he’d go see her alone. It would be less intimidating for her, and he wouldn’t have to hear “I told you so” from Frank.

He changed the subject. “Hey, Frank, did you watch the game last night?”

Anthony looked at Mario. “Get the car. I want to go and have a little talk with my wife before Poppy comes over.”

Mario knew that tone all too well. For Regina’s sake, she better have the answers Anthony wanted to hear.

Regina could hear the staff in the kitchen. She must have lost track of time; they were probably getting ready for the lunch crowd. She needed to go and check with the chef to make sure there weren’t any problems with the morning deliveries.

Anthony stepped through the restaurant’s front door and walked over to where Vinny sat at the bar. “Where is she?”

Startled, Vinny answered, “In the back, Boss.”

“Follow me.” As they walked toward the kitchen, Anthony instructed, “While I talk to her, you go into her office and bug the phone. Use this.” He dropped a small listening device into Vinny’s palm.

“No problem,” Vinny answered, closing his hand over it.

As they approached, Anthony saw Regina talking to the chef. He glanced toward her office door and noticed it was open a crack, which made it pretty easy for Vinny as he slipped into the room and disappeared from view.

“Hello, Darling.”

Regina jumped. “Anthony, what are you doing here?”

“Chef Paul, please excuse us,” Anthony said as he grabbed her by the arm and started walking her toward the back door. “I need to talk to you alone,” he hissed.

Before she could protest, Anthony had her outside the building. He spun her toward him and released her arm with a shove. “I heard you had a visitor today,” he said as he stood nose-to-nose with her, glaring into her eyes.

“I see Vinny couldn’t wait to call.” Regina took a step backward.

“He told me you handled yourself very well.”

“Now, what else would I do? I know how this works.”


Anthony closed the distance between them, and she hurriedly asked, “Did you come over here just to tell me that? You could have called.”

“I wanted to see your pretty face,” he replied as he reached up and brushed her cheek with his hand.

Regina wiped her skin where he had touched her. She had never liked it when he stood close to her or touched her in any way, which amused him. “Very funny. What else do you want, Anthony? I have work to do.”

Anthony didn’t appreciate her tone and made it known by grabbing her arm again and squeezing it.

“Anthony, stop — you’re hurting me! I only asked a simple question.”

“Let’s get something straight, Babe. You don’t ask me questions, simple or otherwise. I’m the only one who can ask questions. Is that clear?”


“Good.” He let go of her arm and continued, “I’m here to convince you to come back to the office with me. Poppy is coming for a visit and I know he would be happy to see you.” Regina would be enough of a distraction to buy him more time, in case the accountant was late.

Regina thought convince was an interesting word choice. Knowing he wasn’t going to accept no for an answer, she took a deep breath and said, “Sure, I’ll come with you. I’ll go get my purse and lock up first. I also need to give the staff a few minor instructions. Is that okay?” She knew that asking him for permission would calm him down and stroke his ego at the same time.

Anthony eyed her with a superior air. He always enjoyed these little bouts for power. They ended the same every time — with him on top. “Sure, go ahead. I’ll wait in the car. Don’t take too long.”

Regina walked back into the building, rubbing her arm where he had grabbed it. It still stung a little. What was Anthony up to? She stepped out of the kitchen just in time to see Vinny freeze outside her office, the door swinging slightly behind him. Wait a minute . . . Did he just come out of my office? As she approached him, she demanded, “What were you doing in my office?”

“I wasn’t in your office,” he replied matter-of-factly. “I was just standing here waiting for you, ma’am.”

Regina didn’t buy that. She knew what she had seen but decided it was best to drop it for now. Anthony hated to be kept waiting, especially by his wife. “I’m going to be leaving for a while with Anthony. Tell the staff that if there are any problems to call me on my cell phone.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Vinny said with a smile.

Regina went in and retrieved her purse from the desk drawer. She looked around her desk, and nothing seemed to have been moved. Still, she had the uneasy feeling that Vinny had been snooping around. Vinny was coming out of here — she was almost certain of it. What was he up to — and did it have anything to do with what Anthony was up to? She left and locked the door. She gave the chef some minor instructions and then went out the back way.

Anthony was waiting in the limousine. Mario saw her approaching and climbed out to open the door for her.

“Let’s go,” Anthony immediately instructed. They drove in silence, which was fine with Regina. It gave her time to think, time to pray, and time to prepare herself to be in her father-in-law’s presence.

© Nadine Z. 2007

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

John and Regina Meet

Vinny pulled into the parking lot of the Long Island restaurant. He climbed out of the car and opened the door for Regina.

"Thank you, Vinny." She went to the back door and unlocked it.

"Is there anything I can do for you today Mrs. Cavelli?" Vinny asked, following closely behind her.

Regina couldn’t say what she really thought, or she might have to repent later. Besides, it wasn’t Vinny’s fault her husband was the way he was.

"I’ll be in my office getting some paperwork done. I really don't want to be disturbed. When the staff comes in, will you let them know that?"

Vinny nodded and then walked over to the bar. The bar was made out of beautifully crafted oak, with a dark brown finish, and a dozen or so stools that neatly line the one long edge. Behind the bar was a large mirror with grapevines etched along the edges. The left side of the mirror held two shelves with all the different alcohol and mixers lined up on them. On the right were the drinking glasses. At the end of the bar a television set hung from the ceiling. Vinny walked behind the bar and poured himself some mineral water. He turned on the television. He might as well watch TV, since there wasn’t anything else to do.

Regina walked to the back office next to the kitchen and unlocked the door. The key in her hand was the only one to this room, her inner sanctum. It was the one place she could be herself and not have Anthony's eyes watching her. She’d decorated the room with soft shades of blue and gray. She had made the curtains herself; they matched the small love seat. A rectangular coffee table and a plush, round chair sat at the other end of the room. Her desk was made of mahogany, a present from Anthony's father. He loved mahogany and gave it to her when she bought the restaurant. The restaurant was a good distraction. Anthony’s father was kind to her but she resented him for the pain he caused her family. She struggled with her feelings for Poppy. If it wasn't for her bargain with him, then she wouldn't be married to Anthony. But she’d no choice. If I hadn’t married Anthony then . . . She decided that she wouldn't dwell on the past. She had done what she had to do. The future of her child was at stake now, and that changed things for her.

Regina had so much on her mind that it was hard to know what to do first. Who could she trust with the information from Anthony's black book? She knew Anthony had some cops on the payroll; one for sure. He’d been very careful not to reveal who it was, not even to his own men. And lately it had felt to her like Anthony was having her watched twenty-four hours a day. Both she and her baby would be dead if she gave the copies to the wrong person. Lord? Help me to find someone I can trust. Guide and direct me in this situation. She opened up her drawer where she kept her Bible and opened to the book of Acts. Her eyes fell right on Acts 2:25-28:

David said about him: 'I saw the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices. My body also will live in hope, because You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence.”

Oh Lord, thank You for Your word of encouragement to me, Regina prayed. The knock on the door startled her. She wasn't expecting anyone because she had asked Vinny not to disturb her. "Who is it?"

"It's Vinny, Mrs. Cavelli." He opened the door a crack to stick his head in and continued, "I know that you didn't want to be disturbed, but you have some visitors that insist on speaking to you. It's a couple of cops."

"Show them in."

Vinny walked in, followed by two men. The blonde haired one walked over to her with a smile on his face, holding his badge in one hand and extending the other one.

"Mrs. Cavelli, my name is Detective John Nelson and this is my partner, Detective Frank Holstrum."

Frank nodded his head in acknowledgment.

Regina didn’t extend her hand but simply looked the two detectives over, saying nothing. She wondered if God answered prayers this quickly.

Since there was no response from her, John continued. "If you don't mind, Mrs. Cavelli, we’d like to ask you a few questions." He took out his note pad from his pocket and opened it up.

Cops made Vinny nervous. He interrupted, "As I told you before detective, Mrs. Cavelli is a busy lady, and she ain’t got time for your questions."

"Does Mrs. Cavelli have a tongue or do you always speak for her?" John asked, sarcasm sliding through his tone.

Before Vinny could protest further, Regina raised her hand to stop him. "I have a tongue, detective. Forgive Vinny. He’s very protective of me. So, what type of questions would I possibly be able to answer for you?"

Vinny gave Regina a confused look.

"Well Mrs. Cavelli, I have questions regarding your husband and some of his business affairs."

"In that case, why don't you ask him your questions?” Before he could answer, she continued, "I'm quite sorry, because I don't know anything whatsoever about my husband's business dealings. He doesn’t tell me how to run my restaurant, and I don't tell him how to run his business. So I have nothing I could possibly help you with. I'm afraid you've wasted your time coming here and now you’ve wasted mine as well. If that is all, gentlemen, I have work to do. Good day to you both. Vinny, please show the detectives to the door."

Conversation over, she returned to her paperwork as if they weren’t there.

John was a bit surprised by her words and her cold manner. Everything he'd ever heard about her or read described her as gentle and kind. He was not expecting this forceful, strong-minded woman who didn't even give him a chance to speak. He decided he wasn't giving up that quickly.

"Here's my card, in case you change your mind."

Regina didn’t look up, so he placed it on her desk.

"Good day, Mrs. Cavelli. Sorry to have troubled you. Let's go Frank."

After the three men left, Regina picked up the card and looked it over. He had written his home number on the back. She quickly copied it and placed the number in her pocket. Vinny walked in to see her looking at the card. She pretended not to notice him standing there and tore up the card into little pieces and threw it in the trash. Vinny smiled as he watched her.

"Is there anything else I can do for you, ma'am?"

"Thanks, but no. If you don't mind, I'd like to finish up my work."

Vinny closed the door to her office, took out his cell phone, and placed a call. Anthony answered on the first ring.

"What's up?"

"It's Vinny, boss. I thought you’d like to know who just paid your wife a visit. It was that detective."

"What happened?"

"He wanted to talk to her, but she just blew him off and sent him packing. She was really something," Vinny was quite impressed with the way Regina handled herself.

"Interesting." Anthony paused, considering what he wanted Vinny to do next. "I want you to bug her office phone just in case she decides to contact him."

"I don't think so boss. She ripped up his card."

"Don't question me, just do as I say."

Anthony hung up in Vinny’s ear. Vinny hadn't meant to upset him. I was just that you would think a man could trust his own wife. What do I know? I do as I’m told.

Regina sat at her desk and prayed, Lord, can I trust Detective Nelson? Should I call him or not? Nelson - why did that name sound so familiar? She thought about it and then remembered the cop guarding her parents was also named Nelson. She wondered if there was any connection. It was something she’d have to look into. She placed her head in her hands and sat there for what seemed like an eternity. She could feel the God’s peace. She reached for the phone number in her pocket and dialed. As the phone rang, her heart took a flying leap. Suddenly she wasn't sure if she should do this. He couldn’t possibly be home already. His answering machine picked up. What should she do? Should she leave a message or not? She got scared and hung up the phone. Maybe she'd try again later.

© Nadine Z. 2007

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Poppy - the Head of the Family

Before Anthony left, he took another look at Regina. She was just lying there, quietly breathing. It wouldn't take much effort, he thought, to place a pillow over her head as she lay there. She wouldn’t even see it coming. That happy thought lingered a bit too long in his mind; he could almost imagine it happening. He shook his head and convinced himself that it wouldn't be in his best interest, at least not yet, to give in to that desire. Poppy wouldn't be around forever, and then he’d have more freedom to do whatever he wished to his wife. He'd be free of her one day. He walked out to the front of the building where Mario was waiting. As soon as Mario saw him, he climbed out and opened the door for Anthony. When they were both seated, Anthony said, "Let's go. I want to beat the traffic before it gets bad."

Regina looked out the window and watched as Anthony drove away with Mario. The black stretch limousine was hard to miss even from the penthouse apartment. Anthony owned many cars, but he liked taking the limousine when he had to meet someone. It made him feel important. She walked over to the desk and opened the secret drawer, but the black book was gone, just as she figured it would be. Anthony always carried it with him wherever he went. Tomorrow is another day. Maybe tomorrow.

“I’d better get ready and see what is going on over at the restaurant,” she said out loud to herself. Sometimes in this hostile environment, the sound of her voice eased her nerves.

She was nearly dressed when she heard a knock on her bedroom door. "Who is it?"

"It's Vinny, Mrs. Cavelli. I just want you to know that Mr. Cavelli asked me to drive you to the restaurant. I'm ready whenever you are."

"Just a minute." Regina finished buttoning her blouse and then opened the door to find Vinny waiting for her. At six-foot-three and pushing two-fifty, he was absolutely Herculean, and it was pure muscle. He made her nervous, but she knew better than to let it show. She was the boss's wife and had to be self-assured, even if she didn’t feel it. "I'm ready." She paused a moment to get her thoughts. "You know, I'm feeling much better. I can drive myself to work."

Vinny smiled as he said, "Mr. Cavelli was very worried about you this morning and he wanted to make sure you got to work safely. He also wanted me to hang around and drive you home later. I’m at your disposal today.”

“Isn’t that nice.” Regina replied.

“Besides, you wouldn't want me to get into trouble with the boss?" Vinny smiled.

Regina realized this was a losing battle, so she relented. "No, I wouldn't want you to get into trouble with Anthony. Let's go then."

"After you, Mrs. Cavelli." He stepped out of the way to let her pass. He didn't mind the days he had to watch her. It was an easy way to make a living. She was usually pleasant and never caused any trouble. To tell the truth, he liked her. Why the boss didn’t trust her was beyond him, but it wasn't his job to ask questions, just follow orders.

After his mom died a year and a half ago from a heart attack, Anthony wasn't sure Poppy would ever recover from the loss. It was then that Anthony had taken over the daily business operations. But now Poppy wasn't in mourning anymore, and Anthony was afraid he'd want to come out of retirement.

He arrived at his father’s house right on time. He walked up the front steps, and before he could knock, Stuart opened the door.

"Good day sir. Your father is waiting for you in his study."

"Thanks, Stuart." Anthony said as he entered the house. He always thought it was creepy how Stuart knew someone was at the door before the doorbell rang. The man had been with the family since before Anthony was born. No one knew how old he really was. His English accent added a touch of class to his persona. Stuart's thin frame made him appear even taller than his six foot stature. Poppy trusted him, and as long as Stuart wanted a job he had one. Poppy offered him retirement, but Stuart refused. Since he had no family of his own, he enjoyed keeping busy. His loyalty had been proven on more than several occasions.

Anthony walked down the long hallway and found his way to his father's study. The door was open and his father was on the phone. Poppy motioned for Anthony to enter.

Anthony sat down on one of the leather back chairs opposite Poppy's large mahogany desk and looked over at the pictures to his left. There were framed, smiling faces of his mother, of him and some of Regina. It irritated him that his father seemed to care so much for his wife. Maybe that added to his hatred of her.

The entire wall to his right contained floor-to-ceiling bookcases that held hundreds of books. His father, an avid reader, enjoyed collecting books, especially first editions. He had a separate library in another part of the house that contained even more books, but he kept his favorites in his study.

Finally, Poppy finished his call and hung up.

"Buon giorno, Poppy." He walked over to the back of the desk and greeted his father with a kiss, as was his custom. Poppy motioned for him to sit back down.

"So my son, two things I have to ask before we get started. First, how is that beautiful wife of yours? And second, am I any closer to being a grandfather?"

Anthony hated it when his father started conversations like this. How could he explain to his father that the marriage he arranged for him was not one of love. And as far as he was concerned, kids would never enter the picture. It would require more than he was willing to do.

"She's a bit sick today, but I think she'll be all right."

"Morning sickness, perhaps?" Poppy asked with hope in his eyes.

"So, Poppy, why did you want me to come by today?” Anthony was determined not to talk about Regina or having a baby. Both subjects made him ill.

"Can you only think of business?”

Anthony didn’t answer him; he just looked around the room.

“Very well then. Let's talk business. I want to discuss something with you." Poppy paused, then got up from his desk and sat in the chair next to Anthony's. "Since your mothers death, God rest her soul, I've been a little out of it. I mean, her death was so unexpected. That was why I needed some time off. I started to lose my edge. I became . . . complacent."

Anthony sighed. He did not like the direction the conversation was going.

"But I feel the time has come for me to get involved again in some of the daily operations. This is no reflection on you, of course. You've done a fine job. I don’t mean to take over the whole operation again, just . . . I would like to be kept abreast of different situations and deals that come up."

Anthony just kept silent. He could feel his blood start to boil. If the old man thinks I'm going to just roll over and play dead, he's got another thing coming to him. He enjoyed the power he now possessed and would not give it up without a fight. Poppy couldn’t just give him ultimate control and then change his mind again on a whim.

Keeping his true feelings to himself Anthony responded. "If it's not going to be too much of strain on you, then I think it's a great idea. It’ll be good for you to get involved again. I welcome all your experience." Anthony placed his hands over his heart and hoped he sounded sincere. "Look, Poppy, there's some things that need my attention back at the office. If there isn't anything else, I'd like to go."

"No, nothing else."

Anthony gave his father an awkward hug and kissed him good-bye.

When he was about halfway out the door, Poppy said, "I’ll see you over there later." This made Anthony stop in mid-step. Poppy continued, "I thought I’d look over the books and see where things stand."

"Sure thing, see ya later." Anthony said without looking back. He felt his heart start to beat faster.

When Anthony got back to the car, he took out his cell phone and called the accountant. "It's me. Did you finish?" He took a deep breath and yelled, "I don't want any more excuses! My father is coming to the office this afternoon and everything better be ready! If it's not, you and your family are going to wish you’d chosen a different profession."

Anthony snapped his phone shut, tired of all the delays. He took out his black book and flipped through the pages.

"Mario, when we get back, cancel all my appointments. Poppy is coming."

Mario, concerned asked, "Is he taking over again, boss?"

"Don't worry about it. I'm still the one in charge, and that's all you need to know."

"Sorry, boss. I don't mean no disrespect." The last thing Mario wanted to do was get Anthony angry.

The rest of the ride was spent in complete silence. Anthony still didn’t speak even after arriving at the office. He just marched in, grabbed his messages off Mary's desk, and slammed his office door.

Mary, a very pretty woman in her mid twenties, made a quite efficient secretary, which surprised most people, because her short skirts and high heels fed the assumption that she was just another pretty face.

"I guess it's not a good time to ask for a raise." Mary winked at Mario, and they smiled knowingly at one another.

© Nadine Z. 2007

Monday, March 26, 2007

Enter the Cop

The one-seven was full of activity. Ladies of the evening protesting their arrests. Drunks asleep on benches as they waited to be processed. Crooks of all types locked up in jail cells. The place was crowded and noisy. It wasn’t one of New York’s bigger precincts, but it kept plenty busy. A stale smell filled the air, the result of overcrowding bodies.

Sitting at his desk, Detective John Nelson was oblivious to the noise and insanity that surrounded him. Everything about him reflected that attitude. He dressed as casually as the department dress code allowed, which meant he was the only detective who wore sneakers with his shirt and tie. He still had dinner at his mother’s once a week, and he’d been to every birthday party ever thrown for his partner’s kids. He was focused, almost to a fault, and determined to catch whoever it was he was after.

In this case, Anthony Cavelli.

John’s eyes were pinned to the open folder in his hands. Regina Cavelli’s picture smiled up at him from the pages. He couldn’t bring himself to pull his eyes from hers. They seemed kind and compassionate - yet she was married to a monster. It was well known that Regina fed the homeless and paid hospital bills for poor children. Not many people would do that. How did a girl like that get mixed up with a man like Anthony Cavelli? John couldn’t help feeling drawn to her. There was something about those eyes . . .

“Hey, man. What are you doing?”

Frank Holstrum and John had been partners for the past five years, ever since John had made detective. Frank was older than John and more experienced. The father of three kids, he was married to a woman who some said was too pretty to be with a man like him. But what he lacked in looks, he made up for in charm. He was a nice guy who got along with everybody. Unlike his partner, he always dressed well — but only because his wife picked out his clothes every day.

John hadn’t heard Frank come in.

“Hey, are you deaf or something?” Frank asked. It was not the first time John had ignored him with his face buried in a file.

“Oh . . . hey, Frank. I’m just looking over the Cavelli file.”

A look crossed Frank’s face. Leaning over, he placed his hand on John’s shoulder, whispering quietly, “You know, John, people are starting to talk. You have to get a grip. You’re starting to obsess about this guy. You should pay as much attention to your other cases as you do this one.”

John jerked his shoulder away. “I don’t need this type of crap right now, Frank.”

“Screw you, man.” Frank turned and started to walk away.

“Look, I’m sorry, Frank. I didn’t mean to bite your head off.” Frank turned around, so John continued, “You know how much this case means to me. I just got an idea . . . a new angle. I want to bounce it off of you.”

Frank rolled his eyes and shook his head. “What is it this time?”

“I know I’ve said this a hundred times, but I think we’ve been going about this thing all wrong. Look —” John thrust the picture of Regina in front of Frank. “You see, this is the key — Anthony’s wife.”

Frank shook his head. “Bad idea, John. That’s the kind of thing that will only get you in trouble . . . or dead.”

“Listen. I think this could work. She’s nothing like her husband. She doesn’t seem to be messed up with the family business. So, that being the case, I bet we could get her to turn on him.”

“How do you know? You’ve never met her. You don’t know anything about her. She might be the force behind the man for all you know.”

“It’s just a feeling I get. She owns a nice restaurant; she gives to the poor and needy. Maybe she doesn’t know what kind of guy he is, and we can enlighten her. You know, get her on our side.”

“You’re crazy, John.”

“Come on, Frank. Let’s give it a try. Just once.”

Frank just looked at him a minute and then sighed. “Are you forgetting that her father worked for the Cavellis, too? Do you have a death wish? You can’t go around harassing a man’s wife, especially if that man is Anthony Cavelli. Did you forget what happened six years ago with your brother?”

John’s complexion changed. He didn’t have to be reminded. His brother, Sam, a detective, was working on the Cavelli case back when Antonio “Poppy” Cavelli was still in charge of the family. His brother’s name and reputation were ruined by his death. John swore he would not rest until he cleared his brother’s name and exposed the truth about his so-called suicide.

“Look. I’m not my brother! I’m going after the Cavellis with or without your help. I know they had something to do with Sam’s death, and one day I’m going to prove it.”

Frank studied him. “All right, you win.” He paused before proceeding, “It’s not that I care that much about you; it’s just I’ve gotten used to you being around. I would feel guilty if something happened to you. So tell me the plan, and let’s go catch the bad guy.”

“Now that’s more like it. I figure we can pay Mrs. Cavelli a visit today at her restaurant and see what’s cooking.” He chuckled at his play on words. Frank just rolled his eyes again. “This might work, you know. I really think she could be our one weak link in this whole thing.”

“That’s the big plan — that’s it?” Frank saw the excitement in John’s eyes and gave in. “All right, but I’d better come with you to make sure you don’t do something stupid.”

“Thanks.” John smiled. “Okay, well — no time like the present.” He grabbed his jacket and they headed out the door. It was a good plan . . . or maybe Frank was right and it was going to backfire on him.

But no, he had a good feeling about Mrs. Cavelli. All that information he had about her couldn’t be wrong. She wasn’t like the rest of the Cavellis. He could see it in her eyes.

Besides, everything else he’d tried had failed.

© Nadine Z. 2007

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Meet Regina & Anthony - the Woman & Mobster

In her penthouse in the middle of Manhattan, Regina Cavelli stood quietly by her window, staring down at the street below. She could see people rushing from one place to another, proving that New Yorkers knew two speeds — fast and faster. Often New Yorkers were known as cold, unfeeling people, but it wasn’t that they were inconsiderate; it was more that they just kept to themselves, minding their own business. Regina had never known anything else.

She had the kind of beauty that stood out in a crowded room. With dark brown hair and glistening hazel eyes, she could light up a room when she smiled, which was often. She was a strong woman, with equal parts of compassion and confidence. Her strength was born out of her faith, and she needed both virtues — faith and strength — to deal with the man she was married to.

She turned around and gazed at the figure sleeping so soundly in her bed. Her husband looked sweet and innocent, almost childlike, when he slept, but she wouldn’t use those words to describe him when he was awake. Physically speaking, Anthony was a very good-looking man — a fact that didn’t escape him. He put on charm like a comfortable pair of jeans. His six-foot stature, jet-black hair, brown eyes, and olive skin made him very popular with the ladies. For better or for worse, marriage hadn’t hindered his social life at all.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a faint knock on the door. She walked across the room and opened it to find Lilly standing there with a breakfast tray. Lilly had worked for Regina’s family since she was a little girl. She’d been like a second mother to Regina, praying for her for years. It wasn’t until after Regina had married Anthony that life had opened her enough to hear about God. Regina would always be grateful to Lilly for introducing her to Jesus, because a relationship with the Lord had been Regina’s refuge.

With a nod, Regina thanked Lilly for breakfast and Lilly left as quietly as she could. The man currently sleeping in Regina’s bed disliked her housekeeper and made no secret of it. To keep the peace, Lilly stayed as invisible as she could around him. The only reason she had stayed this long was to keep an eye out for Regina. She had promised Regina’s parents she would watch over her after they were sent away. Regina and Lilly knew that without the Lord, Anthony couldn’t help being the way he was. Regina had watched Lilly pray for him, over and over again, in spite of his cruelty to her.

Regina sat down, poured herself a cup of coffee, and then just sat there, staring at the steaming liquid and letting her mind wander again. Was it really a good idea for her to have caffeine in her condition? A croissant with jam was her favorite breakfast, but she wasn’t quite up to eating this morning. Her stomach felt too queasy, and it might not stay down.

Two chairs and a small round table stood near the window where Regina liked to sit and enjoy the Manhattan skyline. Antique nightstands were on either side of the bed. On each stand glistened a beautiful Tiffany lamp given to her by Anthony’s father, Poppy. Anthony’s rolltop desk stood in one corner of the room. A gas fireplace took up part of the wall that led to the private bathroom and walk-in closet.

She started to pray, God, give me your wisdom to do what is right. Guide and direct my every step. Protect me . . . Her prayer was interrupted by sounds of Anthony moving about in the bed. When she heard his groaning, she wondered what type of mood he would be in when he woke up.

Regina,” he muttered, “get me some coffee.”

Regina poured a fresh cup and added two sugar cubes. She walked over to the bed, her hands shaking slightly. Anthony was sitting up now.

When he saw the cup trembling in her fingers, he yelled, “What’s the matter with you, woman? Be careful or you’ll spill that coffee all over me!”

His response answered her question about his mood.

“I’m sorry, Anthony. I’m not feeling very well this morning. Here’s your coffee, just the way you like it.”

She placed the cup on the nightstand. Anthony grabbed her wrist and pulled her down to the bed. She hated it when he grabbed her, because he would often leave a bruise whether he meant to or not. He just glared at her, as if he could read her thoughts. She turned her eyes, but not her face, away from him. When he looked at her like this, it scared her. There were times she felt brave enough to stand up to him, and other times fear just got the best of her. She started to pray for strength.

“You kinda look green. I’ll have Vinny take you to Doc’s today to make sure you haven’t got anything seriously wrong with you.”

It wasn’t that Anthony was really concerned with Regina’s health; it was just his way of making conversation.

“That’s okay, Anthony. I’m sure I’ll feel better if I just get a little rest before going to the restaurant. I think I’m just overly tired. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”

She hoped he believed her. The last thing she needed was to go to Anthony’s doctor and for him to find out that she was pregnant.

With a look of indifference, he let go of her wrist. “Suit yourself. I don’t care if you get better or not. But I’ll have Vinny stay here to drive you to work later.”

“I’m not that sick,” Regina replied as she got up from the bed. “I don’t need Vinny to drive me to work. I’m quite capable, thanks.” As soon as she said it, Regina realized that it had come off a bit abruptly.

“Let me rephrase that for you. Vinny will stay and drive you to work.” His glare went straight through her heart. If she could have melted into the surroundings, she would have gladly done so.

She didn’t feel like arguing with him. “That’s fine,” she said simply, then walked around to her side of the bed and slipped under the covers. She lay down on her side, grateful for their king-sized bed, which ensured that their bodies never had to touch at night.

“If you’re not up by ten, I’ll have Lilly wake you, okay?”

“That’s fine. I should be better rested by then.” She closed her eyes and silently prayed, Lord, deliver me and my child from the danger we are in. Give me the strength to do whatever I must do to protect my child. Most importantly, please don’t let Anthony ever find out that I’m pregnant.

As Regina lay there, Anthony stared at her and wondered if she was hiding something from him. She had been acting strange lately, stranger than usual. He had a real knack for reading people; in his line of work, he had to be able to tell if people were lying to him. She was too smart to double cross him — that much he knew. Even then, it wasn’t like she knew the specifics of his business. But he was sure she had overheard plenty.

Her edginess was what bothered him. He wasn’t sure what was going on with her, but he knew he didn’t like it. Of course, there wasn’t much he liked about her to begin with.

He took another sip of coffee and then got out of bed, pulling on his robe. On the other side of the door, he found Vinny and Mario standing guard. Anthony always kept a guard or two outside his bedroom. He was able to sleep better at night knowing someone was watching the door.

With the physique of a bodybuilder, Vinny was much larger than Mario, but he was a gentle giant. Anthony liked having him around because he intimidated everyone he met with his size alone. On the other hand, what Mario lacked in size he made up for in attitude and cruelty. He was one of Anthony’s most fearless men. There was no job he wouldn’t do, without hesitation. He never questioned orders or thought about the ramifications to himself.

Mario’s left cheek bore a scar he received as a souvenir from a fight with a drunken, six-foot-three sailor at a bar several years ago. A week later, that same man’s head had been found in a dumpster behind the bar — a knife wound on his left check. The police never recovered the rest of his body. Though never proven, it was commonly known who had killed the sailor. Mario’s reputation had soared.

Anthony closed the door behind him and said, “Vin, I want you to hang around here until she wakes up and then drive her to the restaurant.” He never greeted his men with hellos; he wasn’t interested in their personal lives. Usually he just spoke what was on his mind.

“Sure thing, Boss. Do ya want me to stay at the restaurant or go to the office afterwards?”

“I want you to stay there and keep an eye on her. I’m not sure, but I think she’s up to something. I don’t want her to know you’re watchin’. She’ll think you’re there to help her out.”

Vinny nodded his head to show he understood what Anthony expected.

“Did you take care of that situation last night?” Anthony asked Mario.

“Yeah, Boss. No problem; it went smooth as silk. After last night, no one will ever try that again.”

“Are there any loose ends I’ll have to worry about later?”

Mario seemed surprised that he would even ask. “Everything’s tight, Boss.”

“Good. I couldn’t have my people doing their own thing and then thinking they can get away with it. That’s not the kind of example I want to set. After I get dressed, I’ve gotta go see Poppy. Get the car and meet me downstairs in thirty minutes.”

Anthony enjoyed being feared by people. He got a rush when he entered a room and knew that with one look, the largest man present would lick his boots if he asked. He relished watching them jump when he said to and bend over backward just to please him. He enjoyed being the boss and the power that came with it. For the most part, life was good to him.

He went back into his room, where Regina lay asleep. If it wasn’t for his father, she wouldn’t be lying there. Why had he ever agreed to marry her? He knew the answer to that, but every once in a while it helped him to say it, even if it was just to himself.

Mostly, it was all that God stuff that got on his nerves. He blamed Lilly for that. In the beginning Regina at least used to be interesting. She wasn’t afraid to come back at him. He enjoyed the war of words they would have, but now she was just too nice most of the time to suit him. It had never been a marriage of love, just business. They both had agreed to it for their own reasons. Now he was trapped, and a man in his position shouldn’t have to live this way.

As much as people feared him, Anthony feared no one — except maybe his father, Antonio Cavelli. Anthony had called him Poppy since he had first learned to talk, and Antonio’s associates had picked up the nickname as a term of endearment. Through the years, it had stuck.

Poppy was old, but he was tough. What he said went, without discussion. They often disagreed, but Poppy always won in the end. Anthony wondered what in the world the old man wanted with him today. Whatever it was, he was sure he wouldn’t like it. Poppy never beckoned unless he had something he wanted to enforce. Anthony felt like he was a teenager trying to sneak in after curfew whenever he visited his father under these circumstances. He didn’t like going into a situation where he wasn’t in complete control.

He’d better get ready or else he’d be late. Poppy hated it when people were late. He felt it showed a lack of respect, and the last thing Anthony wanted to do was sit through a lecture on respect.

When she heard the bathroom door close, Regina opened her eyes. She lay very still until she heard the shower running. Then, carefully, she reached behind the headboard and grabbed a small camera she had hidden there on a nail. She silently got out of bed, her eyes fixed on the bathroom door. With her heart racing, she walked over to Anthony’s desk and reached underneath to the secret button. Anthony didn’t realize Regina knew about it. She had seen him use it one night when he thought she was asleep. The hidden drawer opened, and she took out the little black book concealed there. The desk had been custom made with a drawer that was as big as the book but no bigger. She opened up to the middle of the book, where she had left off, and started taking pictures, keeping an eye solidly planted on the bathroom door. After snapping several pages, she stopped and placed the book carefully back in the drawer and closed it. There were only a few pages left. She figured she needed maybe one more opportunity.

The water suddenly shut off in the bathroom, and her heart missed a beat. She slid back into bed and closed her eyes.

Oh, Lord, please calm me down, she prayed as she tried desperately to steady her breathing. She nearly forgot to put the camera back but did just before the door opened. Oh, God, she thought to herself, I pray he didn’t see me move. She pretended to be still asleep and rolled over to her side. She could feel his glare on her even with her eyes closed and her back toward him. Please help my heart to stop beating so fast.

Gradually, her heart began to calm down, and she started to feel more at ease. Thank You, Lord. Soon he would be gone and she could relax. She continued to lie there, praying silently.

© Nadine Z. 2007

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Prologue - the Prophet

In a tiny cabin just outside of a small town in Tennessee, an old man was asleep. His wife of forty-eight years lay beside him. The room was unpretentious in appearance, from its simple wooden bed frame to its handmade chest of drawers.

A man reaching nearly to the ceiling stood at the foot of the bed, watching the old man sleep. He wore a simple tan tunic; his steel blue eyes could penetrate your soul. He waited patiently for the old man to come fully awake. The room was quiet and dark, except for the light that emanated from him.

The old man suddenly jolted from his sleep, momentarily startled by the sight of the man he had come to call Samuel standing at the foot of his bed.

Samuel told him he had a message for him. It was not the first time Samuel had come with a message, and the old man knew he needed to pay close attention to what he had to say. He looked down at his wife, sound asleep beside him. She never woke during these visits.

This otherworld visitor told him a story of a young woman whose life was in danger. The old man understood what he must do; he knew what was expected of him. He needed to press in, pray, and listen closely to the Lord for direction. As Samuel continued his tale of this young woman, the old man’s heart filled with compassion. Samuel stood behind him as he got on his knees beside his bed and started to pray for the young woman he had never met. And so the journey began.

© Nadine Z. 2008