The lights of Verona, Italy filled the streets with a honey tinted glow. Venezio Paccani strolled down the road with ease, hands in his suit pockets, fiddling with the money he promised. This was how his Friday nights always began, but they never ended as peaceful as they began. They usually ended with either a gun to his head or a bullet in the other guy’s. He wasn’t proud of the life he chose, but there was no time to feel sorry for himself. This was his father’s position that he inherited without a second thought. Venezio lived in the business and knew he’d die in it. He checked his watch, 22:57. Picking up his pace, he knew he had little time to get to “La Stanza Della Vita” where he’d be meeting his boss.
The bar reeked of cigars and alcohol, and the smoke covered the room like the fog in London. Venezio scanned the room for Il Capo, hand still fondling his money. He needed to assure it gets in the boss’s hands or he’d have a bigger issue to handle. Finally, sitting in the rogue and gold booth in the back corner of the room was Il Capo, a large man in an exquisite navy suit. His slicked back hair made him look like the greasy pig he was. The rings on his fingers sat like huge, golden trophies on his hands and made one think how many people did he have to kill to afford those. Venezio approached the table with false confidence. Even though he was a mafia man, he was still a very naturally anxious man.
“Salve, Occhio,” Il Capo beckoned to Venezio, “Siediti!” He called him by his codename to sit next to him. His words, although they were simple, seemed to drip with the blood of those he has “taken care of” and struck fear into every bone in Venezio. Let it be known that Venezio did not choose his codename. Il Capo observed his piercing blue eyes and ability to go unnoticed by all and made his decision. “Occhio” translates to “eye/eyes” and fit Venezio perfectly as he was the best spy in Il Capo’s mafia. The word did not feel like the badge of honor his boss made it out to be. It felt like a brand that burned into him like one on a farm animal, and that’s exactly what Venezio felt like- an animal.
Venezio slipped the money to his boss in the most discrete way possible. Il Capo counted each euro and shook Venezio’s hand once he was finished.
“Any new development that I need to keep an eye out for?”, asked Venezio, secretly hoping there wasn’t. Although his job made him a pretty penny, he desperately wanted at least one day off.
“That’s why you are one of my favorites, Occhio. You always want to get out there and get the job done.” Il Capo patted Venezio roughly on the shoulder. He told him how he already had a team working on his next client, a businessman that never gave the boss his share in the deal. Venezio knew he couldn’t show his relief, but it washed over him like a storm. For once, he doesn’t have to worry about watching and waiting until the target was alone and forcing them to give up their side of the offer. This was the closest to freedom he had ever gotten since joining the mafia.
Out of the corner of his eye, Venezio witnessed a beautiful girl make her way to the bar’s performance area. Her brunette hair glimmered in the warm stage lights and made it look almost copper. Her enchanting hazel eyes met his cold blue eyes for a moment, and suddenly, he forgot how to breathe. When she looked away, her cheeks ran red. She leaned into the microphone and introduced herself.
“Hello. I am Bella Ricci, and I am here to entertain you tonight. Requests are welcome as long as they are accompanied by tips, which are welcome as well.” Her accent wasn’t exactly Italian. It sounded more foreign, but, like the other men in the bar, Venezio didn’t give it a second thought and was focused on her beauty. As the band played, Venezio couldn’t help but fall more in love with the performer. Her voice ran though his ears like silk and mesmerized him. He almost forgot why he was there in the first place until a fist came down on the table with a loud bang.
“OCCHIO!” Venezio came to his senses and faced the man he was meeting. “Did you hear me, perditempo?” The insult rang with some truth. By watching the gorgeous woman on the stage, he was wasting Il Capo’s time. Venezio apologized as Il Capo handed him his share on the deal, but the amount wasn’t what he expected.
“This is half!”, Venezio said in disbelief. Il Capo grabbed his wrist hard.
“Yeah and I outta give you nothin’ for wasting my time and ogling at some puttana!” Venezio ripped his hand away from his boss. Il Capo was every particular with his time and how it is used, so Venezio just shut up and decided to not fight back. As he rubbed his red wrist, Venezio offered his angry boss a drink to ease the tension. He exited the booth and made his way to the bar.
He passed the stage and placed a tip into Bella’s tip basket when she finished her ballad. She crouched down to his level at the edge of the stage and thanked him. Her perfume filled Venezio’s nostrils with the soothing scent of lavender and chamomile and transported him into his version of heaven.
“Any requests?” Bella’s voice dripped like a sweet nectar into Venezio’s ears. He could barely hold himself back from leaning in and kissing her where he stood but managed to mutter out a few words.
“Do you have any originals?”, he asked. Bella’s eyes grew wide. No one had ever asked her to sing an original song. She shook off her surprise and insisted that he didn’t want to hear any song she has written as blush painted her soft, freckled cheeks. He leaned in closer and smiled as he slipped an extra euro in her basket.
Bella’s heart soared as she looked to the band and asked for a guitar. It wasn’t every night that a devilishly handsome man would ask her to sing a song of her own creativity. The band gave her a stool and set up a mic to pick up the guitar. Venezio had gone to the bar to get the drinks but could feel Bella look at him every now and then. As he returned to the booth, he saw that two other men had filled the booth. Il Capo’s henchmen. He slid the whiskey to his ungrateful boss and was told to beat it. They were discussing matters that meant nothing to Venezio, and he, frankly, did not care.
He took a seat at a table in the middle of the bar, in direct eye view to Bella. She gave him a soft smile as she began to play.
Emilie, can’t you see
the hold you have on me?
Emilie, can’t you see
how you’ve captured me?
through the streets of Italy
while the lights are blinding?
taking every breath, I breathe
and pulling on my heartstrings?
With every strum of the guitar, Venezio fell in love with Bella Ricci. He felt like each lyric catered to him and the exact emotion he felt sitting in that smoke ridden bar in the middle of Verona, Italy. Bella stared at Venezio throughout the rest of her set, and her heart ached when she had to leave the stage. The bar had a strict policy about their acts communing with the bar goers, so she could not meet Venezio in the crowd when she was finished. She gave him an apologetic look, and he returned a look of confusion. This could not be the last time he saw her. He practically leapt from his seat and ran to the back of the bar. He paused and glanced around the corner when he heard a conversation playing out from the stage exit.
“What was that stunt you pulled tonight, Ricci? You think anyone really wants to hear your music?” A man’s voice boasted through the night. It must have been her manager.
“But, sir, he asked for an original-,” before she could finish her statement, a loud clap and shriek rang through the alley. Bella held her cheek briefly before he forcefully grabbed her face.
“I OWN YOU SO YOU DO AS I SAY! YOU WILL NEVER SING YOUR STUPID LITTLE SONGS IN MY BAR, YOU HEAR ME?”, the man exclaimed. Venezio quickly rounded the corner and made his presence known.
“I think that’s enough, sir. Let her go.” Venezio had never had such confidence. It was as if this singer had given him powers he never knew he could possess. He did not feel like the shy man he usually was around Il Capo when it came to Bella.
“And what are you gonna do about it, string bean?”
Venezio pulled out his switch blade with vigor.
“You don’t want to know.”