Paolo struggled to hide his relief as Sofia entered the door of the restaurant. She looked stunning and Paolo couldn’t stop himself mouthing ‘Wow!’ as she came up to him. He went to kiss her lips but connected with her left cheek as she skilfully turned her head right, then quickly left. There was no way that in such a public and classy place she was going to commit any faux pas... and besides, when she’d taken such care to fix her lipstick, however cute Paolo might be, he wasn’t going to spoil it.
Paolo had straightway lost the initiative.
Paolo arrived 10 minutes early at Langan’s. He’d known Sofia would be dressed to the nines, so he’d taken a bit of trouble to smarten himself up. He looked awkward; it wasn’t his kind of scene. He stood in the restaurant foyer and when Sofia didn’t arrive on the dot of 8pm a look which was a combination of irritation and anxiety came over his face.
Sofia, of course, arrived late, ten minutes late. After all, she couldn’t seem too keen by arriving on time. Maybe Paolo should have waited outside, to watch as she sashayed spectacularly along Stratton Street.
Maybe she got lucky or, more likely, it was Sofia’s powers of persuasiveness, but a table for two was available that night, upstairs... not ideal, but at that stage beggars could not be choosers.
Sofia cancelled whatever else she was doing that evening to meet Paolo at 8pm, after she’d had a chance to go home and get changed into something dressy, befitting the restaurant or more particularly the other diners.
Sofia looked fabulous. She’d made the very best of herself, with tight-fitting dress that presented her figure superbly. It wouldn’t be just Paolo who appreciated her that night.
Paolo’s response was hardly enthusiastic. “Er, er, I was thinking of a takeaway maybe, but...”
“Well you don’t want me that much then, do you Paolo?”
“I do, I do, it’s just...” Paolo had stuff on his mind which wasn’t 100% romantic. “But OK....”
“Go on... I’ll pay, you bloody skinflint!” interjected Sofia, aware that in a way, Paolo had already paid, handsomely... and she didn’t really mind, she wanted to see him anyway. “I’ll see if they have a table at such short notice... and if I’m lucky, then you might get lucky too! If not, take some bromide!”
Sofia’s soft spot for Paolo was still there. ‘Wow,’ she thought, ‘he wants me. Maybe, just maybe...’ But such thoughts weren’t going to prompt Sofia to go running over to Paolo’s place. He was going to have to earn whatever he was really after, even if it was just her.
“Tell you what Paolo, why don’t you take me out to dinner because that’s what I want in return! I’m free tomorrow or if you’re really desperate, I could cancel the gym and make it tonight. Gives me an excuse to dress up. How about Langan’s, that would be nice?”
“Hi Sofe, I need to see you.” announced Paolo on the phone.
”Need, Paolo,” she replied suspiciously, “not like you to be needy, is it?”
“I want to see you. Want, need, what’s the difference anyway?”
“Well the level of urgency, for one and also the implication that maybe you don’t actually want to see me but interrogate or dump something on me. That’s the difference as I see it Paolo!”
“I want to see you. It’s been a while and I like you, being with you... oh you know what I mean. The urgency is because I want you!”
Paolo hadn’t seen Livia for days now and absence wasn’t making his heart grow fonder. Rather the reverse as he at last saw her for what she was, and what he was to her - nothing, absolutely nothing.
He knew from his call to Sofia earlier that she’d had lunch with Livia a few days ago. He needed to know what that was about, but that was only part of it.
After a number of evenings of careful reflection, he really wanted to see Sofia again, not only to find out what Livia had been after.
He was falling for Sofia.
Naturally, Livia had no intention to share the top job with anyone, particularly not Marcia. However, it seemed a good way to end the conversation on the one hand and to keep Marcia sweet on the other.
“We must do this again soon... after all, we’re only a few miles away from each other.” Livia ended the lunch, firstly by beckoning for the bill, which she insisted on paying and offering Marcia a lift home, which the latter declined. “And next time maybe we’ll really talk business. Keep your eye on Tony though, he’s nuts!”
“You’re telling me!” agreed Marcia.
Livia’s lunch with Marcia didn’t get much further than considering everyone in Tony’s organisation who could conceivably take on the top job if Tony somehow became ‘indisposed’. They didn’t discuss how Tony might become indisposed.... or disposed of... at this stage.
To bring the discussion to an end Livia made a suggestion.
“Why not a job-share then... and we can name ourselves Monelli Widows. Many organisations have twin bosses, so why not twins’ widow bosses? We’ll divvy up the role according to what sort of things we like best or are best at.”
“I’ll drink to that!” agreed Marcia.
One of Paolo’s great attributes was that of looking forward, not back. He didn’t dwell on might-have-beens. He was a pragmatist and a realist.
Realistically, Livia was out of his league. For one thing, she was quite a bit older than him - too much! He rationalised that anything lasting between them was not to be... but he was able to sweeten the pill a bit by remembering that she had already given him the prize of her body... and she couldn’t take that away. But sex with Sofia was better...
But he wouldn’t rock the boat... for now.
Paolo didn’t like being pushed around, bossed about, treated disrespectfully. Tony had the right to give orders; he was the boss after all, even if Paolo had plans to change that. But Livia’s capriciousness was becoming a bit too much to bear. True, she was beautiful... everything he could and did dream of, on the outside. But she simply wasn’t nice within.
Paolo compared Livia to Sofia, from whom, despite her blackmail, he had experienced considerable warmth. Only when compared to Livia’s external features did Sofia come second. Nonetheless, she was beautiful too and sex with her was really exciting.
Livia may have thought Paolo was under her spell and would do whatever she asked for her favours and the carrot of the top job in due course. Indeed, Paolo had been completely enraptured by her. However, he might have been young but he was nonetheless a bright boy... and one who’d already shown himself as cold hearted and ruthless. Whilst he may have ridden the moods and verbal blows from Tony’s tongue, what Paolo really hated was being made a fool of.
Reflecting on recent events he realised that Livia was manipulating him shamelessly. Making a fool of him.
Had Livia forgotten the encouragement she had given to Paolo before she went away and Terry’s demise? From Paolo’s perspective, he was still the crown prince, waiting. From Livia’s perspective he was a means to an end, and the end she’d already allowed him to achieve in having sex with her was no more than a dead end, literally if necessary. Livia was a user, a manipulator, as ruthless as a mantis. Livia was ideally suited to take over from Tony, having ‘made him redundant’ along the way.
Livia had qualities for sure, and she was determined to exploit them.
“So who else then?” asked Livia. “Who could do the job and is someone we could trust?”
“Well both our kids are far too young.” Replied Marcia, “and looking round the crew, there’s not a lot of choice. Franco’s the best tough guy, but has neither the brains or the subtlety to run the show. Paolo has been pretty close to Tony, and he seems to have ambition and probably knows what’s what...”
“Paolo?...” exclaimed Livia, “Gimme a break... he’s no more than a child... an adolescent, more interested in exercising what’s in his pants! Paolo? Boss? No bloody way!”
“Would you want your greedy little sister in control of your future though?” This was Livia’s million dollar question and both of them knew the answer.
“I think I’ve probably answered that already... no bloody way! Don’t get me wrong, I love my sister... but I know her too well and there are still silly little unresolved issues from our childhood that might crop up and if Sofia had the whip hand... then I’d have to kill her!” Both women instantly burst into laughter. But the underlying truth seemed to disqualify Sofia from the top job.
But would Sofia agree?
“Sofia? Well she’s certainly got the balls for it, and she’s bright... brighter than me. But she’s got a pretty good job in Town which she likes. It gives her plenty of freedom and enough to live reasonably well on.” Marcia was articulating her thoughts.
“But is enough enough? From what I know of her, admittedly nothing like as much as you Marcia, she is extremely ambitious and not even the sky’s the limit!” Livia was pushing hard. She needed the low down on her competition.
“Yeah, well she’s always been a greedy cow!” Marcia laughed, but meant it.
“When you say any one of us, do you mean us two?” Marcia was getting her head around the implications of what Livia had said.
“Maybe...” answered Livia cryptically, adding “if either of us could be bothered with the responsibility. “I’m not sure I’d want to do it,” she lied, “my life’s looking up right now and with Terry’s insurance payout, I should have enough to live on.”
“Probably not my thing either, except to keep the money rolling in.” Marcia wouldn’t admit to plans to take over either, “Who else then?”
“Sofia’s an ambitious girl isn’t she?” supplied Livia.
Livia's face went all serious.
"Sure he's suffering right now, just like he's made lots of others suffer over the years, including you I imagine, otherwise why would you be so against him? My worry is that the business might be suffering, and with a fifty percent share in it, I could be suffering too. And so could you Marcia; your little bubble could burst at any time!"
"Marcia was taken aback by this.
"So what do you suggest we do then Livia?"
"We need a replacement... really soon!"
"Like who?" came the question.
"Any one of us." Livia answered.
Livia was off the hook... because Marcia didn't seem to give a fig. Livia had gleaned something from her questioning though, or so she imagined. Marcia and Sofia weren't that close and Livia doubted that Marcia knew if Sofia was servicing Tony now and then. And she guessed Marcia wouldn't even care if she were anyway.
Undaunted, Livia continued. "So what are we going to do about Tony then?"
"Do about him?"
"Yeah, do about him!" confirmed Livia.
"Do him in you mean?"
"Not exactly, but didn't we agree to make him suffer?"
"And you don't think he is already?"
But Livia was on a roll, she would push her luck once more.
"Hates his guts eh? Or is she telling you how she hates his guts? Sometimes you know, women work in devious ways..."
"...and there speaks one who should know!" Marcia parried, then laughed out loud, adding. "What are you up to you little minx, stirring up a family civil war?"
Marcia's reaction was not quite what Livia had planned, so she backed off.
"Ah... you've rumbled me Marcia. I'm just winding you up. I don't get a lot of fun these days. Gossiping that's all I do!"