Twin Cities, Gemini
The synchronization meetings that Werner liked to hold at the beginning of each week were events Cadence actually enjoyed. But calling them meetings did them a disservice. Despite Werner’s attempts to keep things professional and controlled, they always unraveled into something resembling the chaos that graced cheap late-night bars. Mostly in part thanks to Maria—but Cadence liked to think she had a hand in at least one or two of the derailments. Of course, neither Werner nor Olive found them particularly amusing and Atienna always tried to patch up the whole mess as gently as possible.
It was fun to pretend that they were more than a couple of randoms forced to work together due to mystical circumstances.
That being said, despite the get-togethers being enjoyable, Cadence could have done without it this week. She had two other meetings of high importance lined up after all. Two important meetings just because some guy fell in love with some girl.
Cadence paused on her stroll through the city on top of a small bridge as she thought on this. She peered down at her reflection on the softly rippling canal below her. She understood the sentiment. Falling in love and causing a bit of chaos. Love. The one thing that could conquer everything and anything.
Cadence frowned a bit. Her outfit wasn’t very appropriate for the meeting she was heading to, was it? Just her usual overly large suit that she still hadn’t gotten to the dry cleaners yet. It wasn’t really presentable for this kind of meeting, right?
Damn. Werner was rubbing off on her.
A gondola passed beneath her distorting the reflection.
She pulled away and snapped her ringed fingers. The usual glowing copper light began there at her fingertips before sliding up her arm to her shoulders to her other arm to her legs. When the light faded, she gave the gawking passersby a wink before inspecting her reflection again.
A crisp, well-fit reverse monochrome suit, and—
She touched her beaten hat and watched as it transformed into a black fedora in a flash of light.
The building that housed her second meeting of the week was one that everyone knew belonged to the Romanos. Like everything in this city, it was hidden under a false guise—an art museum. And what a grand art museum, it was.
Wide, polished marble stairs unfolded up to a path lined with the pillars that held up a stucco roof. The pathway, in turn, led to great glass doors that reflected back the dim city lights.
Climbing the stairs took great effort as did the walk to the doors. But it wasn’t bad. The weather was pleasantly warm with a soft wind blowing up from the south, and the crickets were just beginning to sing.
When she entered the building, she was met with a cold updraft, veiled darkness, and a burly man who gave her a once over and then a nod of approval. The v-lights in the place were dim, and she had to inch forward slowly in order to not trip over the rug. She could barely make out the glass cases of pottery that lined the walls and the abstract murals hung up on frames behind them. Not that she needed light to tell what they looked like. She used to sneak in here all the time with Nico, the Romano children, and the younger Foxmans when she was a kid. All to try and see if they could sneak into one of the executive meetings.
She slipped through the door which was also guarded by another burly man at the back and stepped into a different world.
A large ballroom unfolded before her. Glittering, gray chandeliers hung high above velvet-tiled floorboards and cast shattered rays of light across the pale walls and even paler square dining tables that dotted the room. At the center of it all was a large circular wooden table above which a grand chandelier twinkled. A spotlight on a stage.
Men and women huddled in loose yet tight circles with eyes that flickered, hands that gestured, smiles that assured. Waiters and waitresses weaved in and out of the sea of chatter smoothly, efficiently.
A pleasant place, a tourist might think if they took a quick glance around.
But appearances were deceiving.
Cadence weaved through the crowd, offering friendly handshakes and tips of the hat to the bigwigs. There was old Caporegime Donato, who once again asked her to transmute a couple of lottery tickets for him. He had a bag leg from the war and had unfortunately dragged along his son who had an attitude that even put Olive’s to shame. Feliciano Donato, a twenty-something man with a square jaw and narrow eyes that always seemed to be scheming who wielded his father’s status like a police baton. Cadence didn’t really know the younger Donato too well, but she heard enough about him from the Foxmans to keep their conversation pleasant and short.
Then there was Caporegime Agape whose name meant love but whose Family-designated duties meant anything but that. Although she was a small woman, her presence was like none other. Whether it was due to her hawk like eyes, the deathly tight bun she always wore, or her bright red lipstick, Cadence hadn’t a clue. Maybe it was all three.
As usual, Agape appraised Cadence’s body from beneath her librarianesque glasses as they spoke of the hosts and hostesses working at her business front. As usual, Agape said, “If you’re not going to work in the medical field as a transmutationist, you might as well come work for me. Being able to change what you look like would be very popular with the patrons.”
To which Cadence responded with, “I’m already popular with your patrons by personality alone, Agape.”
Cadence greeted Caporegime Benedetto next. Benedetto was a large man that made everyone in the room seem like dwarves. He had bad burn scars eating up half his face from the war and always seemed to be grimacing, but his loud and booming laugh was jolly enough to brighten anyone’s day. Even Verga had gotten along with him before he’d kicked the bucket.
Cavallo received Cadence’s next greeting, but the old man kept the conversation short and brief stating that he had other people he needed to greet too. Or maybe he thought he was above her now since he’d recently been given the title of Caporegime. Cadence didn’t blame him. It was natural.
A minute later she spotted the police commissioner of the city intermingling with one of the lower-ranking executives and immediately ducked her head. Vincente Giustizia. Although Ricardo paid the commissioner off well enough, he was still someone she didn’t want remembering her face too well. The man was praised for his pretty boy face and suave personality, but he just rubbed Cadence the wrong way.
After making her last round greeting the Romano heads and a couple of their underlings, Cadence laid eyes on someone who was not intermingled with the rest of the chattering crowd. She approached this person slowly, thoughtfully, and then reached out to tap her shoulder.
“Hey, doll, what ya doin’ all by your lonesome?”
Matilda jumped and swiveled. Her lacy white dress flowered outwards at her turn. Her hair had grown out even more over the past couple of months and was tied into a neat ponytail. The tenseness in her shoulders released slightly as she met Cadence’s eyes.
“Not gonna mingle with the others? Ya seem like that the social butterfly type, y’know?”
“I don’t know why I accepted the invitation. I don’t even understand what this is all about.” Matilda frowned, traced the butterfly-shaped birthmark on her face, crossed her arms stiffly, and then began to rub them nervously. “I’m not like anyone here.“
It was hard to tell whether Matilda’s disdain was directed towards herself or to the others surrounding her, but Cadence had an inkling. The swindler cast a glance around the room and hummed in thought before flashing a grin. “Nah, ya fit in just right. I mean with the way you and your pals have been deliverin’ the goods these past couple of months, it’d be weird if ya didn’t get a pat on the shoulder. Saints! You’re practically parta the Family now!”
Matilda’s face brightened only briefly. There was still that dim fire in her eyes. Leftover embers from that night in Warehouse 13 three months ago.
“Word of advice. Take it easy and fake your confidence till ya make ‘cause there’s a lot of people out there who’d do more than kill ta get where you are.” Cadence pulled away with a tip of her hat. “And don’t think about it too much. There are times ta think and times ta enjoy.”
With that, Cadence re-entered the social sphere. She chatted up several of the waitresses who were walking around with platters of food and wine and was just about to get a phone number when—
“Well, you’re lookin’ unusually sharp today, Cadence,” came a rumbling voice that carried all the way over from the large round table at the center of the room.
The table was evidently much more lovingly attended to than some of the others. Expensive wines and half-eaten sirloin steaks and other foods Cadence didn’t recognize were piled up on there. The extravagance made sense. This was a table for executives, after all.
“Hey, what are ya implyin’, Mr. Carl Foxman? ” Cadence approached the two men dressed dark green and dark blue suits who were seated there. The man in the dark green suit grinned while the one in dark blue suit remained impassive. “I’ve always been the most attractive one outta all of us.” She spied the empty seat to Allen’s left. “Is Francis doin’ any better?”
“Yes, he is,” came a voice from behind paired with a musical chuckle. “And I have to agree with Allen. You look nice.”
Cadence looked over her shoulder. And broke into a grin. “Francis! Well look at ya. The way they were all talkin’, I thought ya was a goner after ya got stabbed. Shouldn’t ya be restin’ a bit more or somethin’?”
“You’re starting to sound like the old doctor, but I do appreciate the concern.”
Cadence turned on her heels with a shrug. “I mean ya just called Carl Allen. I know ya guys are brothers, but I expected that sorta slip from Carl not you.”
“I’m just pullin’ your leg, Carl, ya know that.” Cadence chortled.
Francis was dressed in his go-to crisp, dark maroon suit. His hair was loosely styled back as usual. There were faint dark circles beneath his eyes—not the kind that could easily go unnoticed. Cadence didn’t have time to address it because the man was soon shaking out a cartoon of v-cigs in her face.
Waving off the offer, Cadence arched a brow. “Aw, come on, Francis, stop teasin’ me like that. Ya know I’m tryin’ to abstain from that kinda stuff.”
Francis lit a v-cig and put it to his mouth. He took a drag. “I thought I’d try at playing devil’s advocate.”
“Sure you should be doin’ that?” Cadence nodded to the cigarette. She then craned her neck back towards Allen. “Nothin’ the eldest Foxman brother has to say?”
“Francis is an adult,” was all Allen said.
“Smoking ain’t bad for you anyways,” Carl said as he accepted a cig from Francis. “That’s all propaganda. Tryna kill good business.”
“I’d expect the money talk from Allen but not from you,” Cadence returned, amused.
Francis took a seat beside Allen before taking another drag and gesturing to the chair across from him.
Cadence found herself arching a brow again. She chuckled. “That’s kind of ya, Francis, but ya know that—”
“Only don of the Romano Family and executives are permitted to sit at this table,” came a voice from behind.
Francis looked past Cadence and smiled. “Fortuna, it’s good to see you.”
“Aw come on, Fortuna. Can ya go one day without pickin’ on me?” Cadence sighed, giving Francis a look. “Besides, ya don’t really fall into any of those categories either, do ya?”
“If you think I’m not going to use Ricardo’s status to my advantage to combat my other disadvantages, then you’re naive,” came the reply.
“If I talked about my father like that, he’d beat me into a coma,” Carl scoffed. “And what’s this about disadvantages? I remember when we were younger—”
“Carl, careful. This isn’t the time or the place for that sorta talk,” Allen interjected, not even looking up from his steak. “This is a meeting between business partners, not friends or family.”
A mirthless chuckle. “Hearing you talk, I can tell that you four really haven’t changed at all.”
Cadence turned on her heels.
There she was. The girl.
Her wavy dark hair was tied in an elaborate bun that blossomed from the back of her head like petals of a flower. An equally dark dress hugged her neck and arms and ghosted her calves. Earrings that resembled the chandelier above their heads twinkled above her shoulders.
Fortuna was cute, alright. She’d always been the best looking one out of all of them. When they’d used to run through the streets wild causing trouble, Fortuna’d always be let off easy when they were caught in the act. Carl had argued that it was because she was a girl, Allen had argued it was because of her status as Ricardo’s daughter, while Francis had insisted it was because Fortuna had a silver tongue. Cadence knew it was all the above and then some. Her fortunate circumstances were one in a million, but her drive was also one in a million.
Fortuna brushed past Cadence and took a seat at the table. She waved her hand and summoned a waiter to fill up a glass of wine. After taking a sip, she nodded in Francis’s direction. “You must be feeling well to be at your v-cigarettes again—though you don’t look it.”
“I appreciate the concern, Fortuna,” Francis returned, “but even if I had a foot in the grave, I wouldn’t miss an important event like this.”
“Your foot was in a grave.” Fortuna frowned somewhat, swirled her glass. “If this is you merely trying to prove the Foxmans’ resilience in response to what happened that night then—”
“A bunch of cowards—just thinking about that night pisses me off!” Carl snapped abruptly. His fist started shaking. “Once I get my hands on the bastards who did it, I’m gonna—”
“There’s no use getting worked up here,” Francis assuaged. “Besides, everyone knows we have no leads on who paid those goons to jump me.”
“No leads—what, Francis!” Carl snapped. “It’s obviously those Campana—”
Uh-oh. Not good.
“Say, Francis,” Cadence interjected, leaning over the table and looking the man up and down. “I heard ya really went all out that night. Took out some of the guys in the alleyway yourself like some sorta superhero.”
“Is that how they’re playing it on the street?” Francis looked away from Carl and appeared amused. The expression flitted away quickly. “Well, unfortunately, reality isn’t such a pretty picture. Stefano and Maximallian were the only ones of ours who made it outta there alive.” A glower. “And three of them got away. I can’t even remember their faces—”
A creaking sound cut their conversation short, and the chatter around the room suddenly died down. Cadence didn’t need to look up to know who it was. The change in atmosphere at his mere presence was enough of an identification.
It was the boss. Ricardo Romano.
Cadence clapped a hand on Fortuna’s shoulder and arched a brow. “Not sharin’ the grand entrance with the boss?”
Fortuna merely gave a quiet humph and took a sip of her wine.
Quickly, quietly, the individuals within the room began to shuffle to their respective tables. Like clockwork.
The Caporegimes and other executives did not even glance at Cadence as they seated themselves at the table in front of her. Those sitting at the square tables behind her, however—well, she could feel their stares. Why are you speaking with the executives, those eyes seemed to ask, who do you think you are. Talk about drama. Well, that was fine. It was the situation, after all.
Giving each of the four a tip of her hat, Cadence pulled away from them. She spied Matilda sitting stiffly at a table with two other men and headed towards her. Might as well keep her company, Cadence figured.
“Please, Cadence. Sit here. You are family.”
Cadence froze and turned her head. Ricardo locked eyes with her from across the room. She hadn’t seen him face-to-face in a month or so, but it seemed as if he’d aged ten years since then. The wrinkles on his cheeks were accentuated by the fragmented light of the chandelier, and there were circles darker than Francis’s beneath his eyes.
What was the old man playing at?
“There is an empty chair beside Fortuna for a reason, Cadence,” Ricardo continued as he seated himself in-between Agape and Cavallo at the table. “The matter we’re going to discuss also pertains to you, so it would be easier if you were here too.”
That definitely hadn’t been notated in the invitation. Well, maybe it’d been in fine-print somewhere. But Werner would have pointed it out if it were, so in the end this had all been a trap. Well played, Cadence concluded.
“I see,” Cadence returned with a feigned smile of realization. “I didn’t realize. Thanks for the invite.”
As Cadence seated herself beside Fortuna, she felt something prick her back. An intense stare. Living in the Twin Cities made one attune to these sorts of things. It was always best to know when one had eyes on them—wanted or unwanted. Rolling her neck, Cadence threw a subtle glance back in the direction of the stare.
It was Donato’s son, Feliciano. He was seated at one of the smaller square tables closer to the central main table, and his glowering intensified as their eyes met. Jealousy, probably. Cadence figured he definitely had some sort of complex. But since he was Donato’s son, she couldn’t say much about it. And so, picking up the knife and fork set beside the plate in front of her, she began to make diligent work of the steak there. She popped a piece in her mouth and felt it melt on her tongue.
Saints, this was good.
She placed her utensils down after savoring the taste and glanced up to find Carl still working on his steak. The clack of his fork against the glass plate echoed around the quiet hall. Instead of kicking Carl into etiquette as she had been expecting, Francis’s gaze remained fixated on Ricardo. Allen instead whispered to Carl, and the latter stopped, choked a bit on the large piece of steak he’d just swallowed, and straightened himself with watering eyes.
“First off,” Ricardo began as he signaled a waiter for a glass of wine, “I would like to thank you all for submitting your selection for the next mayor. We will take into consideration all of your selections and compile them. Of course, this will take additional time and consultation with the recent developments.” There was a pause. “Which is, as I am sure you all know, the reason for why we’re here today,” Ricardo continued, “and I’m sure you all have your opinions on this matter. Additionally, due to this matter, we will move our discussion on Ophiuchus's investigation of Verga's ELPIS shipment to next week. But first—” He gestured across the table to Francis. “I am glad you’ve made a full recovery, Francis.”
Francis returned the smile cordially. “I appreciate your kindness, Mr. Ricardo. And as always, we are glad that you’ve invited us to such an important meeting.”
“Of course, Francis. The Romano Family and the Foxmans have shared a partnership for many years. Not consulting you about this affair would not only be rude but also dishonorable. While on the topic of your incident, I once again am offering the Romanos assistance in finding the culprit.”
“No need,” Allen interjected thickly. “This is something we’ll handle on our own. But it’s appreciated, Ricardo.”
Ricardo nodded. “Then we may move to the matter at hand. In regard to the Campana—”
A chime rang through the room as Fortuna finally placed down her glass and met her father’s eyes. “There’s no point in beating around the bush. Ambrose Campana has proposed to me.”
Agape shook her head, pushed up her librarian glasses, and pursed her red lips. “That’s absolutely ridiculous. The gall that boy has. He’s worse than his father. At least the don of the Campanas is better at hiding his intentions.”
“Agape, I understand your position puts you in a mindset that,” Donato said with a hum, rubbing his bad leg and then reaching for his fork, “gives you a jaded worldview on love and the like, but I like to have a little faith in humanity. And the youth of today. Love.”
Bendetto grunted in agreement from beside him and stroked his scarred chin. “I remember when I met my Lucy. You said we’d never make it, Agape, but look at us. Ten years and still going.”
“I agree with Agape,” said another. “The Campanas obviously want to gain a foothold in the Family and—”
“Ultimately, it’s my decision since I am the one being proposed to.”
Everyone turned their attention to Fortuna. She met each of their stares head-on with crossed arms.
“You four haven’t changed” was what Fortuna had said to them earlier, but Cadence figured that out of all of them Fortuna herself was the one who’d changed the least. Always straightforward and to the point.
“A union between the Campanas and the Romanos would be advantageous for the Campanas, yes,” Fortuna said evenly, “but it would also be advantageous for the Romanos. We would be able to expand our business to the west side and make use of the manufacturing plants there too.” Uncrossing her arms, she finished with, “Any hurdles that we could encounter on the way are nothing if you can see the bigger picture.”
“Fortuna!” A loud bang resounded around the room followed by the clattering of silverware. “How dare you!”
Cadence whipped her head forwards and found Carl standing with both of his fists pressed against the table. His veins were visible on his neck which was beginning to turn an almost inhuman shade of red.
“Hey now, Carl,” Cadence tried as she raised a hand.
“Stay out of it, Cadence!” Carl jabbed a finger in Fortuna’s direction. “You know the Campanas are behind what happened to Francis!”
Cadence winced and glanced at Francis, but the youngest Foxman’s attention was still fixated on Ricardo instead of his brother. Cadence felt something crawl up her spine as she registered his expression. Something about it was familiar. Hot, burning ha—
“They went after us because we refused to do business with them!” Carl snapped, slamming his fist back down on the table. “Because we are loyal to you!”
Fortuna exhaled. “You think the Campanas would risk a war with us over something like that? That aside, what’s all this about loyalty? The Romanos and the Foxmans are business associates. If profit appears elsewhere, the Romanos are going to invest in that profit. That’s all there is to it.”
Carl faltered for a moment before he leaned across the table. “You really are a b—”
Before Carl could finish, Allen grabbed Carl’s arm. “Enough, Carl.”
Carl opened his mouth but then closed it and pulled back.
“It seems as if you already know our views on this situation,” Allen said, addressing the table as a whole as he released Carl from his grip and rose to a stand. He wiped his hands on the provided napkin, dabbed his mouth, and threw it onto his plate.
Cadence watched as Carl and Allen exited the room without another word. She then turned her attention to Francis who remained seated and staring at Ricardo. She kicked his foot from underneath the table.
Francis stirred from whatever daze he’d entered. He stared at her for a moment before he unlit the v-cig dangling from his fingertips and pocketed it. He leaned forward and cleared his throat.
“I apologize for my brothers’ outbursts. This whole situation has clearly gotten them riled up.” He clasped his hands together. “Their actions today do not define how the Foxmans view the Romanos, and I hope this does not sour our relationship in the future.” A pause. “I’m sure we will be able to work something out.” Francis stood, pulling his napkin from his lap and setting it to the side. “We appreciate the invitation.” He smiled cordially at Fortuna. “And congratulations, Fortuna. Ambrose is a lucky man.” With that, he too left the room.
Whispers returned with his exit.
Caporegime Donato rubbed his bad leg again and shook his head. “I knew it from the beginning. Those boys aren’t suited for this kind of business.” His voice was quiet enough to be lost in the chatter of the surrounding tables but loud enough to carry around their own table.
Out of the corner of her eye, Cadence saw Feliciano smirk. The guy really had a punchable face. Why was he enjoying this so much anyways? Probably enjoys other people’s suffering since he’s so miserable himself. What a stand-up person.
“You’re just jealous ‘cause they hit it big in half the time it took you to,” Caporegime Bendetto said as he shoved a large piece of steak in his mouth.
“I’m not the type of person to worry about pride,” Donato returned, “but don’t tell me you’ve never thought about them like that. You know best that their needs to be a separation between business business and personal business.”
Cadence resisted arching a brow. She could have sworn Donato was fond of at least Allen. Did Carl say something to him or something?
Wow. I don’t really care, aren’t you and the Foxmans close? came Olive’s thought, which came much more forcefully than the previous thoughts had. The prince always precursored his statements with I don't care which Cadence found humorous since she could feel that he in fact really did care. Cadence spied him and his surroundings out of the corner of her eye. It looked like he was wandering that Sagittarian city again. If you have any tips on being that two-faced, I’d like some. It’s impressive.
It’s a bit more complicated than that, kid, Cadence thought back as she side-glanced at Fortuna who had returned to sipping her wine.
“Cadence, I hope you don’t share their sentiments,” Ricardo called out to her suddenly. “You’ve been in our employ for many years now. I am aware that you view yourself as a mere associate of ours, but I was wondering if you would be willing to fully extend your services out to the Campanas as a friendly gesture.”
Cadence raised a glass. “Of course, boss.”
It didn’t help that right after the Romano-Foxman meeting Cadence and the others lost contact with Werner and Olive. It was strange. Not having the kid’s sarcastic snaps just ghosting the edges of her mind. Weird not having Werner’s reporting and understood and is that clear and, of course, the wonderful you should attend to that in reference to cleaning.
As their disappearance drew on, Cadence’s chest became wracked with worry and her stomach twisted with a bottomless nausea that started to knot into cramps. Atienna’s thinly veiled concern most likely, she figured. Cadence had half the mind to call Nico up about it but knew it would be fruitless since she hadn’t been able to reach him since he’d been sent out to Argo. In fact, Werner had been her only means of communication with him.
The silence was uncomfortable so the next day Cadence stopped by the Casa De Bambolle. She spotted Agape managing the storefront, so she quickly disguised herself as a patron and took to chatting up the hostesses and hosts within.
But the noise from there was still not enough.
Cadence then swung by the Sognare. As usual, the bartender did not even look up at her entrance. He cleaned the already spotless glassware behind the counter as she played her favorite hopping tune.
When she was leaving after she’d finished her final song, the bartender grumbled as usual about his bar shutting down per lack of visitors.
“Don’t ya worry, pal. Y’know me, I’m always here to keep this place open for ya.” She reached into her suit pocket, pulled out a fistful of cens from her wallet, and tossed it onto the bar top with a wink.
The bartender pulled the cens over the table grumbling. “Yeah, but what am I gonna do when you’re not here anymore?”
“We celebrate,” Cadence said, waving the man off and nestling at the back of the bar with her piano. Right. A celebration. It was only a matter of time now. Everything was in place. "Besides, I have an inkling that you'll get another visitor real soon."
Relief came swiftly after when Werner and Olive returned to them. They both seemed to be tense from whatever had happened, but Cadence figured she’d be able to iron that out swiftly.
The dreaded Campana-Romano get together was at the very end of the week. If it wasn’t bad enough that Cadence had to attend the meeting instead of perusing the gambling dens for tourists like she usually would, she also had to traverse the maze that was the west side of the city.
While the east side of the Twin Cities was constricted by spider-webbing roads, the west side was threaded through with crisscrossing canals. The sound of slapping gondolas against small wooden ports was as common as the squawks of seagulls. The popularity of the gondolas in this half of the city made v-ehicle usage sparse, and only a few could be seen parked along the sides of buildings. The buildings were older here—more brick and mortar than metal and steel. Unglazed windows were a cens-a-dozen as were bird droppings. City workers armed with scrapers and mops made their way up and down the walkways mechanically, dutifully.
Cadence was familiar with these parts well enough to know which corners were tourist traps, which alleyways people were most likely to get jumped, and which districts were shown in the popular magazines. Cadence was headed to one such district.
The Giorno District. It was strategically littered with all sorts of high-end stores and restaurants with twisting metalwork displays of arts popping up in-between them. Men and women in suits and dresses flocked the streets like doves on a wedding day. When Cadence was younger, she’d like to imagine bringing Alma to these kinds of sites. They’d laugh to themselves loudly and then quietly judge people who were just like Cadence—people who were from the opposite walk of light, people who did not belong in such districts. What a dream.
The meeting destination was hidden beneath a casino—the largest one in all of the Twin Cities. Its front entrance was blazed to the underworld and back with flashing v-lights, and its walls were decorated with all sorts of art pieces that originated from various countries around Signum.
Despite its grandeur, Cadence couldn’t help but think that the Foxmans’ casino was better. Despite the warm greeting she received in the back of the casino as the Campana bodyguards led her to a hidden room there, she couldn’t help but feel a bit out of place. She didn’t let them know that, however, and gracefully waltzed into the meeting room with a smile.
The atmosphere within this meeting room was completely different from the Romano Family one. If insincerity and tension had a smell, then this room was permeated with it. The scent was a lot like alcohol and not the good kind. Too clean.
Four tables had been set up at the room’s center in a square formation. Cadence didn’t really see a point to the tables being there since there was no food to be eaten anywhere. The only thing close to a meal was the cheese blocks and wine bottles the waiters and waitresses carried around the room on stainless steel platters. Cadence resisted frowning. She’d hoped that she’d at least get some free food from this meeting, but it looked like she was going to have to hit one of the restaurants on the strip before heading home.
It was less crowded here than the Romano meeting, Cadence realized as she scoped the place out further, but she figured that it made sense since only executives and specially deemed associates had been invited to this one. Only a handful of people were seated, and Ricardo among them. He was lounging beside a thin man with dark eyes and dimples. The thin man’s face was lined with wrinkles, but his grin was youthful. The don of the Campanas. Oddly enough, he looked as normal as could be. If Cadence didn’t know any better, she would have thought he was some office worker in uptown.
Hands in pockets, Cadence kept to the walls. She smiled when she received glances from familiar faces and offered a respectful nod to those who greeted her. All formalities. Stiff and awkward. There was a brief temptation in her to reach out to one of the others to garner some free entertainment but she thought better of it. Although she did not think she was a decent person, she felt like she was decent enough not to subject them to this kind of torture.
Cadence almost chuckled at the dramatic thought and then froze as she felt a particularly curious gaze prick her skin. She shrugged her stiffened shoulders and scanned the crowd. It did not take long for her to lock eyes with the starrer.
There he was. The boy.
He had inherited his Cancerian mother’s fair hair and skin while maintaining his Geminian father’s dark eyes, dimples, and height. When their eyes met, he beamed. Cadence mirrored the expression.
“That hair! You must be Cadence Morello!” Ambrose exclaimed, closing the distance between them. His voice was comparable to Francis’s in melodic quality, albeit several octaves deeper.
Cadence spread her arms wide open. “And you must be Ambrose Campana. Have ta admit. I’m a bit star-struck ta have the don’s son talkin’ ta me all friendly-like.”
The corners of Ambrose’s eyes crinkled. “Oh nonsense. You’ve known Fortuna for quite some time, haven’t you? And the Foxmans too.”
Cadence did not allow her surprise to show on her face. “I see the Campanas are well-versed in the word on the street.”
“Well, we have half a city to look after,” Ambrose provided. He scanned the crowd. “While it pains me to see that the Foxmans have declined our invitation, I’m glad you’re here. I’ve heard many good things about your services. Frankly, my father’s always wanted to hire you out, but his sense of rivalry against the Romanos prevented him from requesting you.” Ambrose extended a hand, still all smiles. “But now that there will be a union between us, I hope we can work together in the future.”
Cadence mirrored his smile again and accepted the gesture. “My pleasure.”
Intuition, came Jericho’s sudden thought. He was very lightly synchronized. Cadence could barely feel him. Regardless, his presence was a bit of a comfort. The memory of the emptiness left by Werner and Olive was still scratching at the back of her mind. This man is involved in illegal business.
Not really intuition, detective, Cadence thought back. Besides, look who you’re thinkin’ to.
…Yes, I know you are ‘Cadence’. A beat of silence. You shouldn’t be involved in this type of business. It is illegal.
And yet ya still haven’t reported it to your Serpens Establishment. Kinda warms my heart actually. Makes it feel like we’re friends or somethin’. Cadence did not allow her mental smile to seep to her cheeks. We are friends, right?
Yes, we are friends. What—
“Your thoughts seem to be elsewhere, Miss Morello,” Ambrose interjected. “Are you alright?”
Cadence glanced down and realized that she was still gripping Ambrose’s hand tightly. Thanks to Jericho’s influence of course, she figured as she chuckled an apology and released the man from her hold.
“Just can’t believe you and Fortuna are a thing,” she said. “But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. You two are perfect for each other.”
Ambrose’s eyes glittered, and his smile climbed a bit. It would’ve been charming if Cadence didn't feel unnerved by it.
“I think so too,” Ambrose agreed. He stared past Cadence’s shoulder, and she could see Fortuna reflected in his eyes. “We’re going to make great changes to this city together—me and her.” He gave Cadence a cuff on the shoulder. “Well, time to join my bellflower.” And with that, he departed.
Good for them, Cadence thought, watching Ambrose join Fortuna who was speaking to one of the executives of the Campana family at the corner of the room. Cadence snagged a glass of wine off a platter and reclined back against the wall. She took a sip, gave a pleasant hum in response, and watched the pre-meeting pleasantries unfold.
An abrupt and cold wind whistled through the room cutting Cadence’s serenity off short. For a moment she thought she had synchronized with the prince and was experiencing his windy city. But then—
—there was an ear-piercing scream from one of the waiters followed by a loud crash.
Cadence looked up and found herself frozen stiff in place. But not because of the cold.
The floor was littered with shattered bottles of wine. The red and purple liquids seeped in between the remnants of the glass bottles and around the fallen platters that once held them up. The silver platters themselves reflected a startling scene.
An invisible line now divided the men and women who had been casually chattering just a moment earlier. They faced that invisible line—rather, each other—in frigid silence. The Romanos were on the right and the Campanas were on the left. In-between them and eclipsing the invisible line was the table Ricardo and the Campana don had been seated at. It was almost perfect reflection accented by the weapons they had pointed at the divide, at each other. Normal pistols, conducting guns, conjured guns.
“Enough!” came a furious shout from the corner of the room. It was Fortuna who was now pushing herself between the two groups. Storming over to the Romano side of the room, she slapped away the gun that Bendetto had been pointing at a stocky Campana capo. “This isn’t the time to be doing this!”
Ambrose was behind her, snapping at the Campana side of the room. “Stop being idiots and get some medical Conductors in here now!” He did not wait to see if any of the Campanas abided by his order and instead scrambled towards the table that sat on the invisible line.
Fortuna soon joined his side and remained standing stiff as stone.
Their bodies blocked the view of the sight as did the bodies of the executives who began rushing around and out of the room. Nonsensical shouting filled the air as did a peculiar smell.
Usually Cadence would keep as far away from this type of chaos as possible—she’d fold into a corner somewhere, step behind someone, maybe even put on a different face—but this time she found herself being pulled forward by an invisible string. Jericho.
She pushed past the crowd that had gathered around Fortuna and Ambrose and nearly slipped on the wet floor. She managed to catch herself halfway through the action and grimaced down at her shoes. They were stained red now. But it wasn’t with wine.
Cadence slowly looked up at the table—the center point of the invisible line.
She saw the don of the Campanas first. He was lying face-first across the table, arms splayed out like a bird. There was blood pooling beneath him, but Cadence couldn’t tell from where.
Ricardo Romano was laying right next to him with a knife embedded into his back. There was something tied to the end of the knife’s hilt. A piece of paper. A note in Common.
Jericho read it to her plainly—
“You cannot run away from what you’ve done. What is taken must be returned.”