tagNovels and NovellasThe Twelve Tables Ch. 24

The Twelve Tables Ch. 24

byxelliebabex©

Authors Note: My apologies for the delay in this chapter. My muse went walkabout and left me with no words to string into the web of this story. I hope you enjoy this chapter. Thank you to everyone left comments or sent me feedback about previous chapters of this story. Thank you also to Margaret who proofread for me. ~ellie

Peri returned home with her family two days later. They left at the end of a long day where she and Rosanna had worked together to get as much information as they could about the closest members of the family into the online database. Rosanna seemed to understand the system Peri was attempting to set up and while it wasn't perfect yet she could see the tweaks CJ was making in the new versions he uploaded.

Peri left Rosanna with the task of slowly adding to the database and communicating with both herself and CJ through emails mostly about any updates. It wasn't a hard task just very time consuming, and Antonia did not wish anyone but the three women who had started the project together handling her precious journals that held all the current family information.

She'd spoken to Josh and Dante about her problem with Carmen. She listened to what Ang had told them and welcomed Rosanna warmly when she had approached her the following day. She didn't talk to her about Carmen though, not wanting her to feel like she was in the middle of a power struggle. Instead, she had accepted the vague apology Rosanna offered without any further questions and welcomed her to help with the first of her big projects.

It was during the quiet times that she thought about the problem and how she could diffuse the situation without having to exclude Carmen from any of the projects she was working on with the rest of the ladies. Peri had called Margarite, and she had been thrilled about the idea of a big family christening with them. Realising that Emily had not given them an answer before she left the farm, Lucia called her and explained that both of the other women had been enthusiastic, about the shared event. She had emphasised that it would be a shame if Timo were the only one not being christened on the day, especially as Bianca and Jules would be flying back for it. Emily had reluctantly agreed to be part of the event.

Peri knew the key to having this day be drama free and have everyone enjoy it fully was to deal with her issue with Carmen. She needed to know what promises she had made and to whom. She reasoned that there were two ways she could find out. She could ask Carmen directly, but she wasn't sure her sister-in-law would tell her the truth, even when confronted with the knowledge that Peri knew there was more to her antagonism. Or she could go through the table to Vincenzo, who would know or be able to find out if he didn't already know.

Neither alternative was fuss free and she wasn't sure how much authority she had with the current table to ask for a meeting with Vincenzo about this subject. She had his contact details, and she could call him herself rather than having Josh organise it for her, but she worried about navigating the family rules around this. In the end, she had decided that the worst that could happen if she called Vincenzo is that he would tell her that he couldn't help her, and she decided to call him once they were home and gotten settled again.

Having flown home late in the evening, she had gone to the nursery with the nannies to help the babies settle while Josh and Dante spoke to the household staff about going to the city apartment on the thirty-first to stay for a week until the epiphany meeting of the table. Peri was exhausted and went to shower after ensuring the triplets were fast asleep in their beds. She was glad to be home and in her own bed even if it was only for two days before they left again to go into the city.

She stood under the hot water considering how she could approach Vincenzo when she finally realised she had a third option. She could approach Zita, Vincenzo's wife. Surely she had access to all sorts of information. She knew now that the men of the Donati family relied on their wives far more than anyone ever realised. She would feel more comfortable having the conversation about Carmen with Zita and not getting the men involved at all if she could help it. She felt better about what she had to do by the time she turned off the steaming water.

She got out of the shower and put on a robe wrapping it tightly around her body. She looked longingly at the bed but decided to go and find Josh and Dante before finally crawling into it. She found them sitting in the living room talking quietly with the television on at a low volume. It was rare to see them with the television on unless it was sports related, so she stopped a few feet behind them and watched for a few minutes.

Her mild curiosity turned to horror as she watched the news report and she made a strangled sound as her chest and throat tightened in fear. Both men turned simultaneously to look at her, but she couldn't take her eyes from the screen or drown out the voice of the reporter:

"A dormitory fire claimed the lives of three prisoners early this evening. Two of the women killed' Celia Castillo, and Hannah McMillian were partners and criminal associates of known drug smugglers David and Michael Kirkman. Two other prisoners were injured in the fire. A senior police officer said that the fire had been set as a reaction to the escape of four other prisoners earlier today. That escape occurred at ten this morning when four women forced open a laundry door and scaled two fences. Two of the women were quickly apprehended by police officers near the prison grounds while two prisoners continue to evade capture and remain at large. It has been suggested that the third deceased woman, Veronica Maris, lit the fire in reaction to being left behind by those who had escaped. It is thought that she had been removed from laundry duty due to an altercation during breakfast. It is believed that all three died from asphyxiation."

"She's dead?" Peri asked unable to process the information on the television that showed emergency services still surrounding the prison.

"The commander called to let us know that he had confirmed that it was her," Josh said woodenly holding her in his arms.

"I never wanted her dead, Josh," she whispered feeling numb.

"I know," he said.

"I'm so sorry," she whispered and held him close.

*****

In the following two days, Lucia had stepped up and had taken over for Peri and her mother in working with her Aunts on a memorial service for Nik. The autopsy and inquest meant that there would be no physical body to bury for weeks yet, but it was agreed by Joseph and Antonia that it would be better for the family to put her to rest before the new year began.

Peri drove to the city on the morning of the thirty-first with mixed emotions. She was devastated for Josh at the loss of his twin, but her relief that she no longer felt so scared of Nik's return couldn't be denied. Josh had not taken the news well on that first night and had stayed up until dawn drinking with Dante and talking. He'd uncharacteristically slept half of the next day, and when he reappeared, he seemed to have compartmentalised his grief and continued with life as normal which worried Peri.

His phone rang constantly, and he spoke in sombre tones as people sympathised while giving him their condolences on the tragic death of his sister. As far as most people knew she died in an accident. Only the closest of relatives knew the truth about her crimes and subsequent death in the prison. Dante seemed unconcerned with the way Josh was handling his grief and Peri tried not to worry, but she knew he must be dying inside. No matter what Nik had become she was his twin, and they had lived a lifetime together.

She followed Josh's car into the parking lot and pulled up beside him in a reserved car space. The nannies and babies following them in the van pulled up moments later. It had seemed silly to take so many cars, but she had wanted her car for the week they would be in the city, so she could go and visit her friends and mother. They would all be busy with their plans now, and it seemed silly for one of the men to be constantly having to change their plans for her, or for her to have a driver when she just wanted to go home to see her mother sometimes. She'd argued about needing independence, and they had finally relented.

They went upstairs together opening up the children's apartment before going up to their own. Peri loved the city apartment. It was very different to the house that Josh had built for her, but Dante had hired Grant who had worked closely with her on the interior of the country house, and he had also created the interiors here with her style in mind but with Dante's influences rather than Josh's. The effect was amazing in its contrasts and similarities. She didn't have a great deal of time to settle into her home for the week. They had about an hour before they had to leave for the memorial and once again Peri silently thanked Lucia that she hadn't had to be involved in the organisation of it.

Peri made sure the babies were settled though and that the nannies were happy and had everything they needed. Then she went upstairs to change into the outfit she had chosen for the memorial. She chose a deep purple dress rather than black. She was sad for Josh and his family, but she felt no sadness that her family were now safe from Nik's insanity.

To Peri, it seemed as though Dante was more upset about Nik's death than Josh. She wondered if in the days before Nik had been sent to the Battaglia and again when she had tried to kill her had altered Josh's perception of Nik in ways that Dante couldn't understand. If Josh had been at the courthouse and seen how she had been during the trial Peri imagined, he would know that this was the best outcome for her and his children. He had told her, at the time, he couldn't be there, none of his family could be seen to be supporting Nik. Still, the bond he had shared with Nik should have made him more responsive to her death, Peri thought. She gave a half smile as she came out of the bedroom dressed for the memorial. Dante returned her half smile, but Josh seemed not to notice and moved to embrace her as if going through the motions.

"You look beautiful," he said woodenly. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm okay Josh. I'm more worried about you than anything else," she said quietly as his arms remained tight around her.

"She's at peace now," he murmured. "Everyone can move on now from what she had become, and we can feel safer." She'd heard him say those words several times in the last two days as if justifying his lack of emotion over his sister's death.

A driver waited for them outside the building to take them to Saint Stephen's Cathedral. As with Lio's funeral people filled every pew and Peri wondered if some of them had arrived just to make sure Nik was gone. The memorial itself and those who spoke at it centred their words on her younger years when she dreamed of fashion design and the catwalks of Europe. Peri had been surprised to discover this other side of Nik, the dreams she had and the charity work she did. It made her wish she had have known Nik before her madness took control.

When Josh addressed the gathered mourners, he spoke with affection for his twin and recounted several funny anecdotes from their childhood all of which seemed, to begin with, Nik leading him on a harebrained adventure that went horribly wrong by the end of the story. He didn't say she would be missed or what a terrible waste of life it was that she had been taken so young as the other speakers did. He ended his words by thanking everyone for coming and asking them to remember the good times.

Peri looked at the empty coffin and wondered if all of the mourners realised there was nobody there. It didn't seem real to her yet despite the relief she felt. She neither cried nor smiled and it occurred to her that this sense of unrealness she felt might be the reason Josh seemed completely unaffected by the death of his twin.

The wake which followed the memorial was held in the gallery at the House of Lorraine where Lucia had placed pictures of Nik from various stages of her life along one wall. Peri couldn't deny how beautiful she was and viewed them in an abstract way, as separate from the personality of the woman she had become in her final years of life. She socialised with the mourners accepting and giving sympathy until she finally found Zita sitting closely with her children.

"Zita, I'd been planning to call you before all this happened," Peri said after going through all the obligatory condolences with the family members. "Do you think we could meet for lunch and have a chat next week?"

"Of course Dear," Zita had smiled. "However, there's no time like the present. How about we take a walk, and you can tell me what's on your mind," she said surprising Peri.

"It doesn't have to be right now," Peri looked around wondering what Josh would think of her selfishly going on with her plans during his sister's memorial.

"Nonsense, life goes on my dear, and honestly I'd love to find a window in some quiet corner where I could have a quick cigarette without a lecture from my sisters-in-law," she laughed quietly. "You'd be doing me a favour, honestly. It's difficult to say goodbye to one of the younger generation like this."

"I doubt any of the windows here open because of the air conditioning, but I am sure we could step outside for a few minutes," Peri said. The two women excused themselves and walked toward the front of the building.

"How can I help dear?" Zita asked as she fished in her handbag for her cigarettes and a lighter.

"I'm not sure you can, but I'm having one issue that's a bit more challenging than anything else since the new table was named," Peri began to explain. "I need some information and I am not sure that approaching the person involved will get me an honest answer."

"I don't have all the resources that my husband does, but I can usually discover little bits of information when we women need them," she laughed lightly and winked at Peri. "Tell me what you need."

"I guess it's no secret that Carmen thought either she or Emily would become the next Mother," Peri said hesitantly not wanting to sound petulant about the situation. "She's been fairly aggressive in her," Peri paused trying to find the right words. "In her offer to take over and do everything that would be expected of me now."

"I got that feeling when we all met on Christmas morning," Zita nodded. Peri felt better knowing the woman had noticed the tension between herself and Carmen.

"There were two other incidents that Carmen had made sure were kept private," Peri explained without going into details.

"I see," Zita said clearly unimpressed as she pursed her lips and blew out a cloud of smoke.

"The thing is, I believe there is more to the issue than just sour grapes. I think Carmen may have made some promises to people or organisations she deals with that she may have trouble making good on without the authority of being the mother," Peri got to the heart of the matter. "If I knew what these were, maybe I could help her with them and smooth out the rift between us, but I am not sure that confronting her is the best way to find out that information. I am not sure she would trust me enough, to confide in me that she had made plans or promises before the announcement."

"You could be right. It would certainly explain her reaction to the announcement," Zita nodded. "Give me a few days I'll call you Monday and if we need to talk further we can have lunch," she said decisively. "Until then just be your usual friendly self, she may just come around with a little time."

"I don't want the men involved if possible. However, if it's something bigger than I can handle alone it would be nice to know before they have their meeting on Wednesday," Peri said softly admitting that she was worried that it was something more than just building a new wing of a hospital or a university scholarship. Either of those she would happily help with and give Carmen the funds and the glory.

"I understand," Zita said quietly thoughtful. "We'll keep this just between us for now," she agreed. "If we discover something that might be harmful to the family name the men will have to be told, I agree."

"Let's hope it doesn't come to that," Peri said sadly.

*****

"Are you sure it wasn't us?" Dante demanded yet again.

"You're the one who told me that we're not killers," Josh said unemotionally. "The Papillo's plan had been set for the fourth. The fire was beyond our control." He walked toward the Athenaeum talking quietly with his brother. It was mid-afternoon, and the women of the family had been sent home to their families as the men gathered to discuss the tragedy that had unfolded for Nik.

"Greetings Gentlemen," Marcus said easily as they entered the room. "Congratulations are in order I believe." He slapped Josh on the shoulder, "My condolences as well," he said sombrely.

"What brings you here on this of all days?" Josh asked.

"We found the two women who were still on the run, and they had an interesting story to tell," Marcus said conversationally. "The commander thought it best if you and I knew each other better and he sent me up this morning rather than disturb the memorial you had planned."

"It's a long way to come on New Year's Eve," Dante said, "It must be of some importance."

"True but it's always good to catch up with my brother and sister-in-law," Marcus said easily. "The trip up is no hardship I assure you. I hope to see Peri and your little trio as well while I'm here. We're sure she's blooming with motherhood."

"She is indeed," Josh said proudly. "She's an amazing woman."

"Let's sit shall we I expect everyone else will be along shortly," Marcus said in his formal but cheery tone.

They chatted amiably as the others came into the room and took their seats at the large table. Marcus greeted Dino with a genuine show of affection embracing him and clapping his back loudly.

"You would have been my first choice too had I been a Donati, well-done brother," he congratulated Dino on being part of the table here.

"So tell us all what you're doing here then, there is no need to schmooze this table," Dino laughed.

"I'll start," Joseph said. "The table is new, and they do not all know the whole story as yet." He had debated briefly with Andreas about what he would tell the twelve younger men. It was not their table yet nor their war to fight, but they needed to know that life as they knew it was about to change forever. In a perfect world, they would have eased them into their positions and the knowledge that came with it. Unfortunately, it was not a perfect world, and Nik had created a situation that had brought the need to pass on this knowledge sooner, rather than later.

Joseph and Andreas took over an hour between them to lay out the depths of Nik's betrayal and her involvement in many underworld dealings, including the deaths of her brother, Lio and his lover, at the hands of the Suebi. They stressed the need for unity and strength among those who battled in the shadowy world of political intrigue and influence.

Marcus took up the story of Nik's demise and the new information they had been able to find from the two women they had picked up after a raid on a known Suebi safe house they had been watching.

"The news reported that the women lit the fire as a result of being left behind when the four women escaped," he explained. "What we have learned was that the fire had always been part of the plan, as Nik had never been allowed to do laundry duty, despite media reports. The idea had been that while the prison was in lockdown after the escape, they would light a fire in the shared cell and a guard that had Suebi sympathies would help them escape once the alarm had been raised and the prisoners evacuated."

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