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22:50 Meredith Eavesdrops on Balthazar

Meredith Bell's picture

The gunfire woke up Meredith with a start. After the initial excitement at meeting Lucinda Graves, she’d felt the effect of too many martini’s, not to mention devouring her own body weight in free shrimp cocktail, take hold. Meredith had managed to steal herself a secluded corner seat in one of the booths to shut her eyes for five minutes. Of course she must have fallen asleep, because the next thing she knew the music had stopped and terrified screams filled the club alongside the relentless explosion of gunfire.

Meredith had still been half asleep and half drunk too. She’d remained seated, struggling to process the scene while everyone around her staggered about, whimpering in confused fear or sobbed while hiding under nearby tables. The untrained instincts of a newbie reporter kicked in several seconds later and Meredith reached for her purse, fumbling for her notepad.

"Balthazar Romano, I am Drago. I came find out where find your man Carmine. I owe him. You tell me."

She froze, her fingers tight around her book. Slowly she angled her head and peered over the back of the booth in the direction of the voice. Two men stood, one tall and lean in a black leather vest and tattoos that Meredith tried to memorise as she blindly sketched in her book. In his hand he held a hefty looking gun, not that she knew what kind it was aside from the fact that it was shiny and the guy held it like he knew exactly what to do with it. The other was older, framed in the glittering view of the New York skyline through the window behind him. He was dressed like almost every other guy that night, expensive looking suit and a crisp white shirt holding a wine glass in one hand. He also didn’t seem particularly bothered by the fact that the other man was pointing his gun at him.

*Balthazar Romano…* That was the business man Magdalena DeLuca’s boyfriend supposedly worked for. Carmine was hardly a common name either. So… this guy, Drago… was looking for Carmine Bocelli? Meredith frowned and slid back down into the booth to listen, her pen frantically scratching out notes.

The two men volleyed faintly cloaked threats at one another. How could Romano be so unfazed by all this? Drago had to be some kind of gang leader and from what he said, the gunmen downstairs were acting on his command. Plus he had a gun that could probably blow a man’s head off. And yet Romano paid him the barest amount of interest, as though he were no more dangerous than an annoying fly invading his personal space.

Meredith was ready to dare another peek over the back of the booth when a sudden blinding flash of lightning erupted from outside followed by a heavy crack of thunder. *What the fuck!?* That was impossible, right? There hadn’t even been a cloud in the sky when she’d arrived. Drago seemed similarly confused, he flailed, knocking Romano’s glass from his hand and grasped his face in clear pain. He must have been looking directly at the flash when it came.

"Why would I cooperate with a lowly thug like you, Drago? What is in it for me?"

Again Romano seemed unfazed, by either the sudden lightning strike or the young thug trembling before him. Meredith wrinkled her nose as an unpleasant odour wafted from their direction - urine, but damn it absolutely reeked, she actually had to hold her nose and breathe through her mouth to stop from choking and giving away her presence.

And then Balthazar did something amazing. He actually put his arm around the other’s shoulders like they were suddenly best buddies and when he spoke his voice was soft, kind, almost fatherly. *What… what the hell is going on!?*

"I'll give you Carmine, but first you have to get a little red gem from him - it's about this big," he gestured with hands and Drago nodded. Meredith’s eyes widened in horror. *Oh… shit!* "Once you have the gem, kill him. I mean really kill him -- as in no coming back -- dead. If you can do that and bring me the gem and I'll make sure that you and your men have a prominent place in my organization."

*Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck!!* Meredith slid back down into the corner of the booth. Her pen frozen on the last word she’d written. It couldn’t be… could it? That tiny red stone she’d found in Magdalena DeLuca’s bedroom… but why? Why would a man like Balthazar Romano give a damn about that? It couldn’t be worth more than a couple hundred bucks at most. Was that why Magdalena was murdered? And Bocelli’s mother?

Meredith didn’t even notice that Drago had gone. Her mind was too busy reeling out theories. This was bad. This was so fucking beyond bad she didn’t even have a word for it. And yet… it was also the story she’d been waiting for. The kind of story that could be the big break she’d been dreaming of! Romano wanted Carmine dead, but why? For stealing some dumb little gem to give to his sweetheart? But then why was he so desperate to get the stone back if he just wanted to teach Bocelli a lesson?

She waited while he heart pounded, her blood hammering in her ear drums with a mixture of terrifying alarm and gleeful excitement. But no one could link her to Carmine or Magdalena. No one had seen her enter the house and she hadn’t told anyone about the stone. The only people who’d seen her were the few she’d talked to at Papa Vitale’s - and she’d been careful to give them a fake name. The only info they had would be a description, and that she was a student at Columbia. Another lie, and surely, dozens of people must have been around, asking questions. Right?

Right. This guy had no way of finding her. But just to be on the safe side she’d write up her story and get it to her editor at the NYU Tribune. And fast.

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