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61

Dez Romano looked at his date next to him at the bar at Fulton Lounge. She was a medical student at the University of Chicago, having returned to school after a successful career at a pharmaceutical company, and she was fucking hot.

Dez thought back to when he was growing up and how hed believed women were either gorgeous or they were brilliant. Never both. Or at least thats what his father always told him. Thank God he eventually realized that wasnt the case. And in a way, todays breed of women, like this one, had shown him the path and made Dez want to be at a different level himself.

When Dez married his ex-wife, they were both from the South Side of Chicago. He envisioned that his marriage would be like that of his parents-his father ran the roost, his mother did whatever his father told her to. Dez thought he wanted that kind of relationship. Dezs wife, however, ran circles around him. She got a college degree when he didnt. She went on to get her MBA. During all that time, all that education, he was the one who had the pocket change.

He was just starting to work with the Camorra and learn the business. There wasnt much money to go around, there certainly wasnt any glamour, but he was the one, not his ex, who was making whatever money they had, he funded her financial loans. After finishing MBA school, his ex skyrocketed. She worked for one big corporation after another, eventually moving up to a CFO position at a Fortune 500 company. She had an affair with another executive and left Dez. She didnt even marry that executive. It occurred to Dez years later that she might have had the affair just for an excuse to walk out. After they were done, she just moved up and up and up, and now she was one of the top execs at her company, set to take it over in the next few years.

Dez was glad for the divorce. It had kicked him in the ass, made him step up his work with the Camorra. He wasnt able to seek success the way his ex had. He wasnt going to get an education and climb his way up the ranks. But as he started dating this new breed of women, who were so feminine, so sexy, and so in charge of their intellect and their lives, he decided he wanted to be like that, too.

So, the med student said, swiveling on her stool and facing him, what should we do after this? She had a guys name, Chad or something, and she was from a little town in Tennessee. But she owned this town now, or she was about to, like so many other women like her. She had been telling him how the pharmaceutical company was paying for med school, how she would eventually go back to work for them. Nightcap? she said, cocking her head to her shoulder.

Great. Dez left the topic of sex alone, although he knew she wanted him to bring it up, to make a flirty, seductive overture of some sort so it was clear exactly what they were about to do. But no, Dez liked making these women work, and then let them think he was taking a backseat, that they were subtly in charge of it all.

He had to admit, he thought hed played that route with Izzy McNeil, thought that hed played her to talk to him, to hang out with him. The truth was hed seen her glancing at him the moment he walked into Gibsons. Of course, he realized now that he was the one whod been played. Of course she had glanced. Of course she had spoken up. She had been sitting there specifically waiting for him to come into the restaurant.

He hadnt been able to figure out what McNeil wanted at first. When they were at the nature museum, shed tossed out the comment about working for the Feds, but he didnt believe that, not unless the Feds were doing things really, really differently. Instead, he figured she worked for the bank, the one that had brought Michael down. And now he knew she was probably working for her father, working to bring down the Camorra.

But ultimately it didnt matter who she worked for. Soon, she wouldnt be working for anyone ever again.

The med student leaned forward a little and sipped her wine. She flashed him a gorgeous smile. She had long, shiny brown hair that hung flat next to her head. She looked at her watch. I have rounds tomorrow with the gastro service at five oclock.

I have to be up early myself. But we still have time for our nightcap.

He downed the last bit of red wine in the glass in front of him, then he made like he was going to signal the bartender for another round.

She caught his arm and smiled. Lets get out of here.

He thought of what he really had to do tomorrow. He had to wait for Izzy McNeil and her father to come back to the United States, had to wait for Mommy McNeil to show up. And once he had the McNeil family together, he would kill them.

Dez had arranged something ingenious, if he did say so himself. He had gotten the place rigged so that on his command, a natural gas leak would seep into the building. His boss, La Duca, appreciated the beauty of the irony and had told Dez that a well-placed gas leak was what had led to the death of Grandma McNeil down in Arizona. Eventually, a buildup of gas in the basement of the Mexicans building would ignite the flame of a commercial water heater and the building would go up, and the McNeils would fry, just the way Grandma had, just the way they thought Christopher McNeil orginally had.

The cops would suspect that the Mexicans had set their own building aflame. They would have good reasons to think that. Dez had been slipping information to the authorities, through one of his other dealers, about the Mexicans. Their group was getting arrested one by one. The walls were closing in. And the motive for the four bodies discovered there, four bodies that the Mexicans sent up in flames along with their building, would be clear. Charlie McNeil had gotten into trouble with drugs. Trouble he couldnt pay for or dig himself out of, and so to send a message, the Mexicans had lured his family in and taken them all out. They were ruthless, those Mexicans. The cops wouldnt come looking for anyone else.

There was one thing Dez had to do before he killed the McNeils. And this part La Duca didnt know about. He would get Christopher McNeil to talk before he died, get him to tell Dez the identity of the top boss, the one in Naples. McNeil must know who that boss was, having studied the Camorra and worked against them in secrecy for as long as he had. Once Dez knew the identity of the boss, he wouldnt be relying solely on information trickling down through La Duca. He wouldnt be operating so much in the dark. Instead, he would know his audience, and he could create his other plans-the ones for the rest of his life, the Camorra, the city of Chicago. He intended to play the city the way it used to be played-with personal agendas served, but always giving back to the community at large. Letting the cops bust the Mexicans certainly had that theme in mind.

And then, yes. He was going to bring the Camorra, the new version of the Camorra, to the world.

The med student stood and tucked her black alligator purse under her arm, jerking her head at the door with a smile.

Sex, Dez decided, would take the edge off and kill some time. He stood, giving her the same smile back.

He trailed her to the door, looking at her ass. Too bad Izzy McNeil hadnt turned out to be Easy McNeil, like this chick. The interesting thing about these women was that most of them had finally realized that it didnt lessen their power to have sex with a guy. Totally the opposite. It empowered them. It was just that some of them waited longer than others, waiting until the time was right for them. He had the feeling McNeil wouldnt have let him close to her physically anytime soon, even if she hadnt been playing him. Which only made her more attractive.

But tonight he would close his eyes and pretend the girl he was slipping inside was la testa rossa.

Lets go, he said, and gestured at the door.


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