Gabi pulled the car over sharply, got out and waited for her companion to leave before hitting the button on the keys for the central locking and alarm, and following Max.
"So, what did you want to talk with me about then?"
She had to ask, even though she knew.
"Well Gabriella, I'm gonna be straight with you now, 'cause I figure, if nothin' else, you have a right to know..."
Max turned the corner and started walking toward the diner, "A few weeks ago, a friend of mine was attacked by your husband and a few of his pals. She managed to get away from him, but we did a little diggin' around, and as it turns out, it's lookin' more and more like this isn't the first time it's happened - not by a long shot."
Gabriella looked sharply at Max, before responding more smoothly than the gesture gave her leave to.
"I am aware that there was an altercation, commend your friend on her knife throwing skills...and warn her to get out of the city. I try to stop it as often as I can, but on that occasion I was in no shape to intervene."
Max studied the mobsters wife, her eyes showing sympathy.
"He beat up on you, girl?" Her voice was gentle, but she didn't look away when she asked the intrusive question.
Gabi swallowed, but kept talking, her voice soft, "While he's hitting me he can't hit them... and worse..."
She tore her gaze from Max's and stared at her pale hands
"You're just as trapped as they are," Max said with simple understanding.
She pulled open the door to the diner and led the way to a booth in the back corner, near the back exit and slid into the side which gave her the best vantage point to the room.
"What'll it be tonight, girls?" The matronly waitress eyed them curiously, their elegant evening wear conspicuous in the simple setting of the diner.
"Just black coffee for me, please," Max smiled at her politely.
Nodding, the waitress looked at Gabriella enquiringly.
Gabi nodded "Coffee for me too please, white...and I'd love some apple pie if you have it?" She asked about the pie almost timidly. The waitress noted both down and left.
"It's a long time since I came to a place like this...or had pie, for that matter!" She visibly relaxed, like a spring uncoiling
"It's a whole 'nother world, huh?" Max smiled sadly at the other woman, studying her for a long moment, "...You could get your life back, you know - make it yours again."
Gabriella looked straight at Max
"And who else suffers if I do, and how, how do you get away, when he holds so much to ransom?" She shook her head sadly, this was a question she'd asked herself so often. "I wish I could help you, really I do, but, he wouldn't just kill me if he found out. I advise you to stop whatever it is you're doing, he's quite not as stupid as he seems."
She smiled wryly.
"I underestimated him, look what happened!"
"Trust me, I'm not underestimating him," Max said quietly, "But he's not as invincible as he'd like to think, either. There are ways of stopping people like him."
Max fell silent as the waitress approached, "Here you go, girls."
"Thanks," Max smiled at the woman as she set down their orders on the Formica table, who bustled off back to the kitchen.
Gabi also smiled her thanks but it was wan and a little forced. As she took a forkful of pie she tried and failed to stop her hand from shaking.
"How then? Take him out of the picture another swarms up from the underclass, one hat I might not prove able to distract."
"Sure, but it isn't your job to be the whipping boy," Sympathy in her eyes, Max reached out, lightly touching Gabriella's shaking hand, "And the fact is, you rolling over to play willing victim is not stopping him from hurting other women, Gabi."
Taking a sip of her coffee, Max settled back in her booth, mentally willing Gabriella to see reason.
"I know, but I try to leave, he'll hurt the people I care about." Her voice shook, but the pain was so deep she was no longer sure if she was capable of crying about it. "Are you trying to stop him? Is that what you were doing in the office?"
Max eyed Gabriella for a long moment trying to decide how much was safe to tell her. She didn't think the woman would be repeating any of this to Luca willingly, but he'd think nothing of beating information out of his wife.
Finally she nodded, "I was trying to find out more about his operation. He's not the only one involved in this human trafficking ring. They all need to be stopped."
"And you really think you can stop him? Make it so that he can't hurt anyone any more?"
There was a glimmer of hope in Gabriella's voice.