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The Kill

The Kill


Jonas Saul The Kill

Prologue

    Vincenzo Fuccini reached inside his Armani jacket and gripped the butt of his weapon, which hung suspended in his shoulder holster. No one would die tonight. Not if he had anything to do with it.
    Vincenzo turned in his seat and looked back at Ronnie and Frankie. Both men sat ramrod straight in the backseat, staring out at the passing countryside as the sun dropped below the warm July sky.
    “Ronnie, Frankie, you both know what you’re supposed to do?”
    Ronnie turned to face Vincenzo. “Yeah, Boss. We got it. Anybody who is not supposed to be there, we take them out. Any sign of trouble toward you, we take them out.”
    Frankie nodded his understanding and then said, “We got this, Boss.”
    “Good. Don’t let it get fucked up, because if it does, we won’t be going home, even if we walk away tonight. There are powerful men at this meeting.”
    “Ahh, Boss,” the driver said. “Don’t talk like that. Your dad would kill us in the worst way possible if anything happened to you.”
    Vincenzo turned back around in his seat, let go of the weapon he’d been gripping, and placed his hand on the armrest of the door. He could never remember the driver’s name. They changed so often that he stopped caring who they were.
    “Nothing is going to happen tonight,” Vincenzo said. “Believe that. We make our deal and we leave.”
    They continued on in silence, racing along the back-country road, heading to an abandoned airplane hangar in their brand new black Cadillac, each man lost in his thoughts.
    Lights in the distance alerted Vincenzo that they were close.
    “Slow down,” he said, “and cut the headlights. Here is good.”
    The driver slowed the Cadillac and pulled over to the side. He flipped off the lights.
    “Okay, Ronnie, do this and do it right. When the deal is over, we can’t pick you up. It’ll be too obvious. Just do what you gotta do and when everyone leaves, fall back and wait. We’ll come for both of you an hour later. Got it?”
    Ronnie nodded and looked at Frankie. He nodded too.
    “I want to hear it. Got it?”
    “Yeah, Boss. Got it.”
    “Frankie?”
    “Got it.”
    “Wait for my okay, and then go,” Vincenzo ordered.
    Vincenzo opened his door and slowly stepped from the car. He stood by his door, placed both hands near his crotch and pretended to take a piss as he scanned the woods on each side.
    After a moment, he tapped the roof of the vehicle and whispered, “ Go.”
    The back door on the passenger side opened, and Ronnie jumped out, followed by Frankie, who shut the door softly enough that Vincenzo heard the click as the lock snapped in place. Then both men, staying low, hustled off into the woods.
    Perfect.
    Vincenzo shook his hands near his dick for effect in case someone was watching. Then he leaned back in, sat on the front seat, and closed the door hard.
    “Go.”
    The driver pulled away and flipped the headlights back on. In moments, they covered the last mile and pulled up to a makeshift checkpoint.
    Two men holding machine guns stood on either side of the road.
    They had been hard to see as they were standing behind a pair of black vans parked on either side of the gravel road.
    The one on the driver’s side motioned with the tip of his gun — what looked like an M16 — for the driver to slow up and open his window. Vincenzo’s driver came to a stop and rolled his window down two inches. “What’s this?”
    “Open the trunk,” the guard said.
    The driver flipped a button and the trunk popped open. The guard on the passenger side scanned the backseat with a flashlight. After a minute, the man at the back of the Cadillac slammed the trunk shut and walked back to the window.
    “Names.”
    It wasn’t a question as much as an order.
    The driver looked at Vincenzo. “Is that okay, Boss?”
    Vincenzo nodded.
    “This is Vincenzo Fuccini,” the driver told the guard. “I’m Alex.”
    The guard leaned down and looked in at Vincenzo. “I’m sorry, sir. Precautionary measures. Pull in and stay to the right.”
    The guard stepped back. Vincenzo’s driver eased the car down the lane and pulled in behind a line of three other Cadillacs. He cut the engine.
    Vincenzo collected himself and stepped from the car. The driver would wait in the vehicle, the windows rolled up. The guards would allow all the drivers to lower their windows an inch for air in rotating shifts after the meeting started. Vincenzo wasn’t comfortable with all the details, but he was here and he had two men hiding, watching his back. If anything went down, he would walk away and the bosses of the other families wouldn’t.
    A part of him wanted shit to go down. What a power play that would be. Three Eastern Canadian crime bosses in one building at one time, plus him. Wicked shit could happen.
    Vincenzo stepped around the Caddy and stopped as two guards walked up close to him.
    “What’s going on?” he asked.
    “Everyone gets patted down before entering the building.”
    “You’re fucking kidding, right? I’m Vincenzo Fuccini.”
    Neither guard said a word as one stepped back to give room for the other to do the pat down.
    “Get on with it then,” Vincenzo said.
    He raised his arms straight out. The guard started at his shoulders and worked his way down, pausing when his hand touched the gun in Vincenzo’s holster.
    The guard eased it out by the butt end and handed it to his colleague who emptied the ammunition and dropped the weapon in a leather satchel.
    When the frisk was completed, the guard said, “You’ll get your gun back when the meeting is complete.”
    Vincenzo grunted and started for the open door. He knew the pat down was more about hidden wires than weapons. In this business, there wasn’t any trust. He smiled to himself, knowing they had allowed him to keep his keychain. On it was a Kubaton with a nice hidden surprise if he needed it.
    Having three Canadian crime bosses in one building was exactly the reason his father said he wouldn’t attend. Too much power in one room. If any one of them lost his temper, or one of their guards got trigger happy, a major war would be on everyone’s hands, and no one wanted that.
    Vincenzo had argued that he shouldn’t go either. But his father said this was a peace deal. It was a long time coming and, since Vincenzo would be taking over as Captain in the coming year, he needed to be there. The other bosses had reluctantly agreed that Vincenzo could stand in for his father.
    He reached the door and stepped into the bright interior of a remodeled airplane hangar. Guards were interspersed around the perimeter, standing by every door, each with an M16 in his hands. They were armed for war, with thick Kevlar vests, spare bullet belts, and radios, along with other junk strapped to their belts. A large rifle-like gun leaned against the wall beside each guard. The huge weapon reminded Vincenzo of the elephant gun he’d fired a year ago at an African Safari. It had enough stopping power to kill a charging pachyderm.
    What the fuck is all this for? I thought this was a peaceful meeting.
    “Vinny, come join us,” Phil, the Boss for the Montreal area called out.
    The three family leaders sat in leather armchairs situated around a circular coffee table in the middle of the hangar. One chair remained empty. A bottle of booze sat on the little table, an empty glass placed in front of the unoccupied chair.
    Vincenzo walked over, leaned down to the table and grabbed the bottle of Johnny Walker to pour himself a shot. In all his years of running errands for his father, he had only met two of the men sitting at the table. The third man was hardly seen by anybody.
    The last thing he wanted was for them to see his hands shaking. He poured fast, set the bottle down, and with the ease borne among men of stature, he sat down, arms stretched out, and legs open.
    “It’s Vincenzo, not Vinny. Don’t ever call me Vinny again. Only my mother got to call me that, God rest her soul.”
    The three men exchanged glances as Vincenzo took a large swig of the whiskey.
    “Now that we’re all here, let’s get started-”
    A gunshot in the distance cut him off.
    Vincenzo jumped a little and leaned forward. “What the fuck?”
    All three men turned to him. Another gunshot rang out through the night.
    He studied their faces, one by one.
    What the hell is going on?
    Phil, the man who called him Vinny, spoke first. “Does your father know about the two men you brought with you?”
    “What men?” Vincenzo asked.
    Phil looked at his colleagues and then back at Vincenzo. “Is this how we’re to conduct a meeting? One that is supposed to be based on trust? Your family was asked to be here out of respect. Your family has ties to the old country. The Fuccini’s are one of the strongest families in Sicily today. But you come here and lie to us. How do you expect us to respond?”
    Vincenzo felt stumped. He held the lowest rank. He knew it and they knew it. It should be his father sitting here. Was this an ambush? Would they try to take out a boss’s son? Was that the purpose from the beginning?
    Whether it was or not, he couldn’t come to them from a place of weakness. He had to show strength. One day, he would run the Fuccini family and these men would have to respect that.
    “I brought my own security. That is how a Fuccini family member handles things. If you have a problem with that, talk to my father.”
    There was a moment of silence before Phil responded. Vincenzo lifted his glass and sipped the whiskey. As soon as he did it, he judged the sip to be weak, feminine. He needed to hold their stare, not back down, and especially not sip his beverage as it smacked of nervousness, which meant weakness to these men.
    Shit, I wish I could walk in the fucking door again and do this all over.
    “We have no issue with security. Look around you.” Phil gestured with a wave of his arm. “I have security everywhere. What we have an issue with is you have defied the terms of our meeting. We made sure every family knew the terms. This meeting was to broker peace among us. We hire a joint security force, unbiased to any family. Our drivers wait in their cars. The location was only announced hours ago and was distributed through your store in Mississauga. That’s it. Any other guns or security detail would be considered hostile and the family member who brought them would be expelled from the meeting.”
    Okay, now you’re talking to me like I’m a baby.
    “Look, Phil, my men were here to watch my back, that’s it. They weren’t hostile.” Vincenzo pointed his finger at Phil. “Killing them was a mistake. That was hostile. You will have to make good to my father.”
    Phil laughed.
    “What the fuck is so funny?”
    “We won’t have to make good to anyone. Your father knew the terms and he agreed to them. It is you who will have to make good, and you’ll have to do it to everyone in this room.”
    Vincenzo had no idea what to say. Losing his temper right now would go a long way to kill any sort of deal for the Fuccini family, and that would go against his father’s wishes.
    “We watched,” Phil continued, “as you slowed your car and pretended to piss on the road, your headlights turned off so that your two guys could run and hide. What do you take us for, amateurs? We have men posted ten kilometers in every direction. A fucking Cessna couldn’t get within a hundred meters of this building without being blown back into the last century. Maybe you’re not ready for this. Is it possible your daddy sent the wrong man?”
    Vincenzo had heard enough. Two good men were dead. He needed this deal because if peace could be brokered, the families were supposed to work together in a more financially connected way. Within a year, his father had told him, they would be three times richer than they already were. But he wouldn’t sit there and be talked down to by some asshole who just had two of his men clipped for the crime of protecting him.
    He stood up, swallowed the last of his whiskey and slammed the glass down hard.
    “We’re done here.”
    “I don’t think so,” Phil said. “The meeting hasn’t even started. But it won’t start until you tell us how you will make good on your disrespect.”
    Vincenzo scanned the faces of the other men present. He looked up and examined the faces of the security detail closest to the foursome. What were they thinking, challenging him like this? He had done nothing wrong, yet he wouldn’t bow down to these men like he was a pussy. No way. They would always remember this night. If he caved, years from now the word on the street would affirm that anyone could push the Fuccini family around.
    But he couldn’t leave without the peace deal in hand.
    There had to be another way.
    He reached in his jacket and pulled out his pack of cigarettes, flipped one out, placed it on his lips and started patting himself down for a lighter. He came up empty. The nearest guard watched him. Vincenzo stepped around his chair and walked up to the guard.
    “Got a light?” he asked.
    The guard shook his head in the negative.
    Vincenzo turned back to the three men watching him. He reached in to his pocket and touched his keychain. “Ahh, here it is.”
    He yanked the keychain out and grabbed the guard’s hand at the same time. The Kubaton was about the size of a regular Bic pen, but it was made of steel and twice as thick. Vincenzo slapped the Kubaton on top of the guard’s wrist and twisted up with force, snapping the wrist bone.
    The guard screamed and dropped to one knee in front of Vincenzo. In that moment, he flipped the catch on the Kubaton and slid the hidden knife out. Knowing another guard might attack him at any second, he spun on his heel, and in the same motion, sliced the knife along the exposed neck of the guard, deep enough for a killing blow.
    He was still turning back to the men in the leather chairs as the guard gagged on his own blood and fell to the floor of the hangar.
    Vincenzo grabbed the huge elephant gun off the wall and aimed it at the nearest guard.
    “Everyone, be cool. Stay cool or more people die.” He had to aim it at someone, lest a guard use his M16 to redecorate his face. “There will be no making good from me. It is you three who will make good to me and my family.”
    All the men standing along the perimeter of the building edged closer. Phil raised a hand and the men stopped.
    “Enlighten us. Why do we have to make good to you?”
    They seemed all too calm. “For killing the men I brought with me.”
    Phil smiled and looked around at the other two bosses, who smiled along with him.
    In that moment, Vincenzo wanted to use the first bullet to erase that fucking cocky smile off the man’s ass of a face.
    “Put that weapon away and sit down before you get yourself killed,” Phil said.
    “Are you threatening me?”
    Cars pulled up out front. For the briefest moment, Vincenzo looked at the open door and saw headlights pass across it.
    Who else was invited?
    He looked back at the three bosses in the middle of the room. Phil’s face had turned to stone.
    “Put that fucking gun down now,” Phil said. “Or you bear the consequences.”
    “You motherfucker. How dare you-”
    Rapid-fire gunshots from outside cut him off. Vincenzo dove to the floor as more shots rang out around him. He raised his gun and searched frantically for who was shooting. The portable lights flickered and went out, plunging the windowless hangar into pitch black.
    He covered his head with his hands. Gunshots popped off like firecrackers at a Canada Day celebration. Flashes of light interspersed with gunfire as the guards stood in their fortified positions and shot at whoever was attacking them.
    Things quieted for a few seconds. Vincenzo patted himself down to look for wounds but found none. Moving blind in the total darkness, he flipped onto his back and listened. He detected movement to his left, about where that cocky bastard Phil had been. He closed his eyes and lifted his weapon. Listening as best he could, he moved his weapon toward the movement and fired.
    A grunt told him he hit his mark. The thump of dead weight confirmed it.
    He thrust himself forward with his feet, sliding along the hangar floor on his back, trying to get some room between him and the four chairs that circled the coffee table.
    After another bout of heavy machine-gun fire from outside, Vincenzo made it to the outer wall, unscathed.
    “You in there,” someone shouted on a bullhorn. “We have the hangar surrounded. Come out or we’ll storm the building. I repeat, you are surrounded. You have one minute to come out.”
    Shit, shit, shit.
    Someone grabbed him from behind. He couldn’t help himself as he shouted out.
    “Shhh. Take this.”
    A cold metal object landed in his palm.
    “Put them on. You’ll see better.”
    Vincenzo felt around the surface of the object in his hands and found the cloth backing strip. Goggles of some kind. He pulled the elastic-like cloth out and placed it on his head, the goggles over his eyes. Instantly, the blackened hangar came to light in a green haze.
    “There’s a lot of men out there and we need everyone here to do their part,” the guard said.
    “Their part?”
    The guard with the M16 looked down at him. “Our orders were, if the meeting is interrupted for any reason, all enemies die. That includes the Gambino family members who are out there right now. The police had guaranteed we wouldn’t be interrupted.”
    Gambino family?
    “Why is the Gambino family attacking us? On second thought, why weren’t they invited?”
    “Those are questions I can’t answer. I have no idea.”
    Through the green lens, Vincenzo watched as the guard stood, aimed through a small hole in the corrugated metal wall and carefully aimed his weapon. Vincenzo searched the wall and found a similar hole. He stared out at the men lined up in pairs behind the cars and vans.
    The guard beside him began firing. Boom, boom, boom. Just like that, men dropped one by one. A few lucky assholes ducked in time, but then the guard switched guns. Vincenzo saw that it was another elephant gun. As the guard fired, each round was like a cannon, and the vehicles were taking most of the hits.
    A van exploded.
    Vincenzo, blinded by the fireball, dropped to the floor and ripped off his goggles. After his eyes cleared, he placed the goggles back on and surveyed the hangar. Two other guards pumped bullet after bullet out of their respective holes in the walls. Three bodies were sprawled out on the floor by the coffee table.
    The bosses of the other families are all dead. Holy shit!
    The Fuccini family was the only surviving member of the peace accord, with the Gambino family making a major power play outside.
    What the hell had happened? How did it get so bad, so fast? Now the four top crime families would be at war after all, and it was the Gambino’s who had started it.
    He stopped the pity party, turned around and began firing his gun out through the hole in the wall. What a waste of bullets. He hit nothing and saw no one outside anymore.
    He pulled his weapon back in. The guard three feet to his left was reloading.
    Vincenzo aimed his weapon at the open area on the guard’s neck. He closed his eyes to avoid the blinding flash as he pulled the trigger. He opened his eyes again as the guard fell to his knees and then the ground, dark liquid shooting from his neck.
    Vincenzo looked back at the two remaining guards. They still stared through their holes.
    Good, fuck ’em.
    He crawled over and unstrapped the hand cannon from the fallen guard and then chambered a round. With the resolve of a Fuccini family man, he stood, wiped the sweat off his forehead and aimed at the guard on his right, at least twenty feet away.
    Vincenzo fired and then fired again, the recoil knocking him back a step each time.
    The second shot wasn’t necessary. The first knocked into the man high in the chest area, throwing him at least five feet in the air before he fell, a clump of human waste.
    Damn that recoil. Didn’t expect that.
    He turned to the other guard who watched him now, his weapon leveled at Vincenzo.
    “Don’t make me fire, Vinny,” the guard pleaded. “I have orders to keep you four safe. You are not the enemy. They are.” He pointed to the outside wall. “I will fire to save my life, but I don’t want to. Let’s walk out of here together.”
    He needed to wipe sweat from his forehead again, but resisted, letting it slide down, tickling him as it went.
    “Okay, you’re right. Let’s leave. Can you drive?” Vincenzo dropped his aim.
    The guard lowered his weapon. “Yeah. I’ll drive.”
    In that second, Vincenzo lifted his gun back in place and fired round after round into the guard. The man had no chance.
    Alone inside the hangar, Vincenzo walked over to the guard and looked down at him as he gasped for breath. Blood pooled around the man’s mouth.
    “Next time, don’t call me Vinny.”
    He chambered a round, aimed at the guard’s face, and fired from one foot away. The man’s head exploded and disappeared in a wet mush of human skin and bone. Vincenzo looked back down at the body and the dent in the hangar floor where the head had been.
    A shame. A fucking shame.
    He headed for the only open door in the hangar. No one remained alive in the building and it didn’t sound like anyone was alive outside either. Not a single bullet had been fired outside or inside since he’d killed the guard who had given him the goggles. Nothing else came from the bullhorn. Only the crackling fire from the fully engulfed van.
    As he neared the door, he removed the goggles and stepped up to the edge of the door frame. He dropped the guard’s gun. In all his thirty-eight years, he had never seen this many dead men. A major battle had taken place and he was the only man left standing. His father would be so proud. Not a scratch on him. That was what family bosses were made of.
    The peace accord had been handed to him on a platter, he realized. Now, with all three crime bosses dead, and many Gambino family member’s bodies strewn about, their seconds would be named. Vincenzo’s father, and by extension, himself, would garner the respect due to an original family. The fact that Vincenzo would walk away from this carnage was enough to make him a hero. His name would go down in the mafia history books for years come.
    Yeah, as long as there’s no asshole only half-dead, a gun in his hand, waiting for me to walk by.
    He looked out and scanned the territory surrounding the hangar. Nothing moved.
    “Okay, I surrender,” he shouted, in case anyone was alive to hear him. “I’m coming out.”
    Vincenzo stepped into the open, his hands raised.
    Two feet from the door and no one had taken a shot at him. No one popped a head up or said anything. He took a few more steps. Still nothing.
    His stomach couldn’t handle the tension. At any moment, he was convinced that someone was going to sit up, like a fucking Jack-in-the-box, and fire a round into his eye.
    But no one did.
    The moon sat high, the fire crackled to his left, the insects of the night remained quiet, and no one shot at him.
    Amazing. Fucking amazing.
    He walked farther, feeling more secure. His Cadillac was shot up pretty bad. It was also boxed in by two of Gambino’s vehicles, one of which was the van on fire.
    A police siren wailed in the distance.
    Gotta get the fuck out.
    Not a single vehicle was available to use. They were either on fire or shot to shit. He knew he had to hustle. In minutes, the area would be littered with cops, and dogs would search every square inch. At least a ten-mile radius would be shut down.
    He looked up at the sound of a car approaching. Not a cop car. No flashing lights. He walked up to the shoulder of the road. The car was coming fast, but slowed as it approached the flames. A Ford Mustang with the interior light on.
    That’s weird. Why’s the interior light on?
    When the Mustang was fifty paces out, Vincenzo stepped from hiding and, with his legs spread, aimed the gun two-handed at the driver of the vehicle.
    It didn’t slow. In fact, in the last few seconds before the vehicle was upon Vincenzo, it sped up.
    Vincenzo fired a bullet into the windshield as a warning.
    “Pull over,” he shouted. “I need your car.”
    Vincenzo didn’t have time to jump. He’d waited too long. He’d just walked out of a hangar full of dead men, surrounded by dead men, the only survivor. Surely a car would stop for him, or at least veer away from an invincible mafia leader. When he shot a warning at the vehicle, he thought for sure the driver would lose control. All it caused the driver to do was hit the gas pedal.
    The Mustang hit Vincenzo at the knees, knocking him onto the hood of the car at forty-five miles per hour. Vincenzo rolled up and smashed into the windshield, and then tumbled over the car, clearing the trunk on his way to the ground.
    The driver slammed on his brakes and pulled to a stop on the side of the road.
    The pain was intense and all-encompassing. He lay at an odd angle. His hips weren’t meant to twist that way. Only his right eye still worked. In his peripheral vision, the back of his left foot rested near his shoulder.
    He couldn’t move. He couldn’t speak. He lay there, breathing slower and slower.
    A young man ran up and stood over him.
    “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you. I was watching the fire over there. Then something hit my windshield. I panicked and then you jumped in front of my… Oh, man, I’m in so much trouble. I’m sorry, mister. I’ll call an ambulance.”
    The young man moved away from Vincenzo’s vision, crying, whispering crazy things. Then he was talking on his phone to someone.
    “Rosina, it’s Darwin. I’m sorry. I couldn’t see him in the dark, honey” he paused, then, “I don’t have to call the cops… I see a ton of them coming now. I’m sorry, Rosina. I’ll call you when this is over.”
    The man didn’t hang up. He sounded angry and distraught. The guy asked whoever he was talking to how things could get messed up so bad, and what would her parents think of him since they’re engaged.
    Hey kid, I’m dying here. Can you worry about your fiancee and her parents later? Call a fucking ambulance.
    Vincenzo closed his one good eye. He was tired. Breathing became a serious chore. He fell asleep. The blood oozing out of all his open wounds stopped flowing.
    His heart had stopped.

Chapter 1

    Darwin handed the key to the man at the desk. He took a good look around the room for anyone watching them in any way beyond normal suspicion, but the small lobby was deserted. It was only his new wife, Rosina, himself, and the clerk, who didn’t look suspect.
    “How was your stay?” the clerk asked in his accented English.
    “Great,” Rosina answered him. “We had a fabulous time in Rome. Loved the Coliseum. Thanks.”
    Darwin grabbed his backpack, slipped both arms through the straps, and grabbed their one suitcase.
    “Let’s go, hun. We don’t want to miss the bus to the airport.”
    She shot him a glance that said don’t rush me. He raised his eyebrows and smiled.
    No problem, I won’t rush you, just hurry up.
    They said goodbye and promised to return, then made their way down the stairs and out of Hotel Luigi. It was a block to where the bus was to take them to Fiumicino Airport where they were flying to Athens, Greece, to continue their honeymoon.
    Darwin surveyed the area, scanning the faces of everyone who was too close for comfort. They were too exposed. Darwin hated having his wife this exposed. He watched his back, paid attention to the street ahead and waited for the sky to fall. At any moment they could be attacked.
    He knew it. His wife didn’t.
    He thought about telling her, but hadn’t been able to bring himself to quite yet. It was their honeymoon after all. He didn’t want to ruin it for her. He would come clean on the plane ride back to Toronto. That would give him a chance to give her all the details about the death threats, the two attempts on his life, and the new way they were going to have to live. She wouldn’t be able to run away from him when he explained everything, as they’d be stuck on a plane together. She wouldn’t be able to yell at him or hit him on a plane either. He’d remind her about air rage laws.
    It wasn’t really his fault, though. Fate did this. But now he had to live with it. Or die for it.
    They made it to the bus stop unscathed. The bus pulled up moments later. Darwin placed their luggage piece in the compartment under the bus and handed their tickets to the driver. Other people were dumping their luggage in too and scampering onto the bus. After a long line, Rosina walked on.
    Darwin waited until it looked like no one else was coming, then took one more look around. As he started to step on, something stopped him. Two well-dressed men had just exited Rome’s Termini train station. Both of them talked on cell phones. One pointed at Darwin.
    Darwin leapt up the bus stairs. The driver shut the door behind him.
    “How long before we go?” Darwin asked.
    “Right now,” the driver answered. “You were the last passenger.”
    He turned and started down the aisle, looking for Rosina. He saw her halfway down, near the middle exit door. The bus pulled away from the curb. Just as he went to sit down, one of the two men had made it to the side of the bus.
    The man jumped up and banged on the window beside Rosina, who leaned away from the glass.
    “Wow, crazy people. They really should try to get here on time.”
    “Yeah,” Darwin agreed. “Insane.”
    His stomach clenched. That was too close. One minute either way, and they would’ve been kidnapped or dead. He had to do something more proactive. He had to fix the situation.
    That’s what going to the airport is. I’m being proactive. I’m taking my wife on another plane ride so it’ll take them that much longer to find us again.
    He slowly shook his head. They’d never go away. That was just it. This kind of men was too powerful. When they put you in their sights, there really was no negotiating with them. It was over and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
    “You okay?” Rosina asked. “You look white.”
    “Yeah, I’m okay,” he said. “Continental breakfast didn’t really sit well with me.”
    “ I’m feeling fine, so I doubt it was the food. Could it be your fear of flying?”
    Darwin looked at her, his head still bowed. “No. Really, I’m fine. Don’t worry about it.”
    She leaned closer and snuck an arm inside his. “But you’re my husband now and I love you. Tell me what’s bothering you so I can take it all away.”
    I wish it were that simple.
    “It’s nothing, really. I’ll be fine once we’re on that plane to Athens. This is going to be awesome. I cannot wait to see the Acropolis.”
    “Me too,” Rosina said as she looked out the window and took in Rome’s downtown.
    On a couple of wide turns, Darwin looked over his shoulder to see if he could spot anyone following them. As far as he could tell, no two cars behind the bus stayed there too long.
    Within twenty minutes, the bus went up a ramp and merged onto a highway. They said the ride from Termini Station was an hour to Fiumicino airport. Darwin settled back, closed his eyes and prayed. All they had to do was get to the airport, check in and get past security. Once that was accomplished, they would be in the clear. The men hunting him wouldn’t get through security with a gun. They’d also have to buy airline tickets and try to get through security in time to find them before they boarded their flight. Tall order, even for those assholes.
    Bumps in the highway woke him. He’d almost fallen asleep, the stress of the last few days piling up.
    That was why he chose Hotel Luigi. They accepted cash. Sure the hotel staff took their passports and wrote information down, but that information wasn’t readily handed in to the Italian officials in a timely fashion. That meant Darwin and his wife would have a few days in Rome before they were detected.
    The same for Athens. He had a nice hotel picked out that offered the same kind of anonymity.
    As long as they were still alive to board the plane.
    Rosina had nodded off beside him. At the front of the bus, a red digital clock told him they were fifteen minutes away.
    He looked out the window as a late model Crown Vic raced by the bus on his side. A moment later, another one did. He watched as both vehicles lined up in front of the bus. Then they started to slow down, slowing the bus too.
    No, no, no. They can’t do this. Not in public. Not like this.
    He’d almost got his wife to safety. He’d almost done it.
    Instead of feeling defeated, he had to think. What could he do? He had no weapon. He had no way to escape. Open fields were on both sides of the bus, which had slowed down to half its speed. The bus driver hit his horn and shouted something in Italian. The two Crown Victorias drove side by side, blocking all exits for the bus and the traffic piling up behind them.
    The speed couldn’t be any more than twenty miles per hour now. The bus jerked with the brake pedal, turning left and right, in a futile attempt to get around the two vehicles. Passengers were getting anxious. They had planes to catch. One man stood up in the aisle and shouted in Italian.
    Rosina woke and lifted her head. “What’s going on?” she asked.
    It startled Darwin. He turned to her. “Looks like a couple of idiots playing a game on the highway. They’re blocking the bus, not leaving us a chance to get around them.”
    Rosina leaned forward. “Assholes. That’s ridiculous. Look at them, acting like children. People have planes to catch.”
    “Exactly.”
    The bus came to a complete stop. The driver spoke on his phone.
    Then a siren in the distance.
    Awesome!
    A moment later, a police cruiser raced by their window just as both Crown Victoria’s driver’s-side doors opened. Darwin stood and looked out the front window at four men as they stood on the highway beside their car, all dressed in suits, staring at the bus, two of them with their hands up to ward off the glare from the sun.
    Two police officers jumped from their cars and yelled something. Horns blared behind the bus, and yet none of the four men moved. They just stood there, staring.
    One of the men lifted his hand and made the symbol of a gun. He dropped his thumb and lifted his finger as if it recoiled. The man opened his mouth to make a swoosh sound.
    “That’s fucking rude,” Rosina said. “They stop us and then get mad at the bus driver. Unbelievable.”
    If she only knew. That parody of a gun going off wasn’t for the bus driver, it was for me.
    “I know, eh…” was all Darwin could say.
    The police convinced one of the men to move his vehicle. After a few minutes delay, the bus got underway again. The passengers all cheered in unison.
    I can’t keep getting that lucky. I have to do something. It’s too risky traveling with Rosina. Either I tell her what’s going on, or she goes on alone.
    He made his decision. He also figured out how to do it.
    Ten minutes later, the bus entered the terminal and stopped alongside a row of travel and tour buses.
    Darwin and his new bride got off by way of the middle door, collected their luggage, and headed into the airport.
    He kept his eyes peeled for anything, but every second that passed, he felt safer and safer. No one would try anything with all the airport security. Policemen and security guards roamed the corridors of the check-in side.
    “Are you sure you’re okay?” Rosina asked. “You look even whiter.”
    “Really, I’m fine. I’m just not feeling so hot, but don’t worry about me. We’ll have a blast when we land in Athens.”
    They lined up to walk through security. A smattering of people had lined up ahead of them, but the line moved well. Instantly, people converged behind them too. In a matter of minutes, a sea of people swallowed up Rosina and Darwin, all heading to different destinations, all leading different lives, not knowing that a man in line with them was one of the most wanted men in recent history.
    Wanted by criminals, not by the police. How does life get so fucked up? How is it even fair that this is happening?
    Darwin and his wife were about to begin their life together. What a wedding present this shit was. When Rosina found everything out, she would probably ask for a divorce. They’d only been married four days and she’d want out. He was sure of it.
    As they stood in line, he thought about what his father would say when he told him about the marriage. Her parents were going to freak out. Both their parents had objected to them being together in the first place. Rosina’s parents were from the old country in Italy. Darwin’s mother had died when he was born and his father was from Athens. They had chosen Rome as the city to elope to, in honor of her parents, and Athens as the city to finish their honeymoon in as a respectful gesture to his dad.
    When they were done touring, they’d go home and announce to everyone that they’d gotten engaged. Set some ridiculous date two years away and let their respective families work it all out. In the end, if the parents were to absolutely refuse to sign off on the wedding and let them be happy, Rosina and Darwin would drop the bomb that they were already married and had been for a long time.
    Take that.
    The line moved. People ahead removed their shoes, pulled off belts, and took laptops out of their carry-ons. It would be their turn soon.
    Darwin took a final look over his shoulder and studied the faces of everyone he could see. Nonchalant, bored, tired and impatient faces looked back. No one stared in anger. No one aimed ill intent at him. At least not as far as he could see.
    Bringing Rosina to the airport was the smartest thing he could’ve done. Sure, they’d know where he was. But it’d be difficult for them to find him. It’d take time. If his plan worked out, at least Rosina would be safe.
    After what happened on the highway and the attempts on his life in Rome, he had to make her safety a priority, and he was going to do just that.
    It was their turn now. Darwin watched as the woman ahead of him took off at least ten pieces of jewelry. Then she undid her earrings, took off her boots and started working on her pockets.
    He couldn’t believe it. If you knew you were coming to the airport and you knew security would require you remove all that junk, why would you cover yourself in jewelry and fill your pockets before coming?
    After a moment, she turned back and whispered an apology to Rosina. The woman didn’t look at Darwin. The scowl on his face would have unnecessarily upset her. He was tired of people at that moment. People walking all over others, doing things their way, imposing.
    Those men on the highway, and the organization they belonged to, were trying to kill him. They would kill more than just him if they achieved their goal. They’d kill a lovely marriage and break the heart of a wonderful woman.
    It was time to get angry. It was time to deal with the issue at hand. In fact, it was past due. He’d let things go on too long.
    “Are you sure we should be doing this?” Rosina asked.
    Darwin snapped out of his reverie. “What? Doing what?”
    “This. Flying to Greece. Maybe we should just go home to Toronto.”
    “What? Why?”
    She took off her shoes. Then she set them on the conveyer belt. “You haven’t been yourself lately. Even now, you’re pale, and at the same time, you look angry. I just don’t know that side of you.”
    Darwin undid his belt and then set his backpack on the belt.
    “I’m sorry. I’ve got a lot on my mind.”
    “Is it the accident that has you rattled?”
    The accident. That was no accident. They drove down that street and tried to hit us on purpose.
    “Yeah, maybe that’s it. You almost got hit. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you.”
    A security guard gestured at Darwin. “Step forward.”
    He didn’t like leaving Rosina with so many strangers so close to her, but he took a chance that no one would try anything in a crowded terminal with this much security.
    He walked through the metal detector without incident. Rosina followed.
    In silence, they got dressed and stepped away from the area.
    “I guess, since you’re unclear on what’s bothering you, I’m starting to feel that it’s the marriage. Are you sure you didn’t rush this?”
    Darwin stopped, grabbed both her shoulders and turned her to face him. “Don’t ever think that. This was my idea. I bought the tickets to Rome and drove to your job at Yonge and Bloor to pick you up. It was my idea to do it before anyone could stop us. I love you and will always love you. It’s an honor to be your husband. I can’t pinpoint anything in particular that’s bothering me, but maybe it’s just me formulating a new story idea. I have to always be thinking, formulating, ruminating. You know I write five to six novels a year and that’s been my secret to my success. This week off, to come here, doesn’t stop my brain. Okay?”
    Oh, baby, I’m so sorry. I hate myself for lying to you, but I have no choice. Your life hangs with this decision.
    Rosina looked down and twiddled with her fingers. “I’m sorry, I just haven’t connected with you ever since the accident.” She looked back up at him and stared into his eyes.
    The accident. The one where I ran a man down in the street and the police ruled it an accident. That one. The one which resulted in us running for our lives.
    “I think that accident has affected you more than you know,” Rosina continued. “I think it’s killing you on the inside and you aren’t talking to me about it. I just want you to include me. I’m your wife now, that’s all. Don’t deny me.”
    It’s not just killing me on the inside. Those men are trying to kill me on the outside too.
    Darwin released her shoulders. “I’m sorry. You’re right.”
    Together they turned and started toward their gate.
    “I’m right about what?”
    Rosina looked so beautiful in that moment. With all that had been happening, he’d had a hard time enjoying himself. The whole time they walked the Coliseum, he’d been watching over his shoulder, wondering when a bullet would enter his head. They were almost run over by a car two streets from their hotel. A gun went off somewhere in the street and took a chunk of cement out of the wall by them as they left a pizzeria the night before. Two attempts on their life since they’d been in Rome wasn’t coincidence.
    It was his idea to leave the hotel two days early. He had to get her out of there. His assailants had found them.
    “You’re right. The accident has affected me.”
    They reached their gate as the attendants prepared for boarding.
    Rosina chose a seat in the lounge by the large windows so she could look at the planes. After Darwin sat, she said, “You have to remember it was deemed an accident after the re-constructionists did their magic. Besides, that guy was a criminal. You did the world a favor by running into him. Not just that, he fired a bullet at you. He could’ve killed you.”
    Her voice had raised a little. Two women across the row of seats looked up at them.
    “Keep your voice down,” Darwin said.
    “Okay, I know, I’m sorry.”
    “Sure, it was ruled an accident, but do you ever wonder, even if I’d aimed at that guy with the intent to kill him that it would’ve been classified an accident anyway?”
    She frowned. “Why would you say something like that?”
    “That man at the airport hangar in Toronto killed a lot of people. There were bodies littered all over that hangar. He was part of a group that did a lot of killing. When the cops saw that I’d mangled the guy with my Ford, they patted me on the shoulder, said I did a good thing and that’d I’d be taken care of. Well, I got taken care of all right. I got notoriety. My name was printed in the papers all over the world.” He lifted his hands to portray a marquee. “Darwin Athios Kostas, average Canadian guy, writer of novels, mafia killer.”
    “Well, the notoriety sure helped sales of your books, didn’t it? The guy’s dead. He can’t come after you.”
    But the family he was connected to can, he almost said out loud.
    Instead he nodded. “I know, you’re right. Also, I got those bikers to deal with.”
    “Has anything new happened with them?”
    “Ever since I did that part in my novel, The Biker, about their Port Dover adventures and Ride For Sight, and how bad I portrayed them, they’ve been out for blood. Richard H., at least what they call him, has contacted me three different times. You remember when we were having dinner at Red Lobster?”
    Rosina nodded her head.
    “He told me to take that stuff out of the book, or else. I said that I couldn’t because it was already selling on Amazon. It was too late. It was out there. And you remember what he said next.”
    Rosina patted his leg. “I know, but they aren’t going to hurt you. If they were, they’d have done it already.”
    “He said that I had to make good. This guy is scary. I mean, that’s fucked up.”
    “I know.” Rosina started as the attendant announced the flight to Athens would commence boarding people with disabilities and children first.
    “No one is celebrating a man’s death,” she said. “Just don’t let it kill you.”
    I’m trying. Oh, how I’m trying. If you only knew.
    “Look honey, I have to go to the bathroom. Will you wait here?”
    “But, Darwin, they’re already boarding. Can’t it wait? Use the one on the plane.”
    Darwin shook his head. “No, I hate how small and confined those toilets are. If I wait much longer I’ll piss in my shorts anyway. Boarding takes time too. I’ll be back in less than five.”
    “Okay, but hurry,” she said.
    Darwin got up and turned away, walked three steps, stopped and turned back. “I almost forgot. I’ve got something for you.”
    “Can’t it wait? Go to the bathroom.”
    “In light of what we just talked about, I’d like to give it to you now.”
    The attendant announced the boarding of the back half of the plane.
    “You’re running out of time.”
    “I have at least ten minutes and I only need three,” he said as he pulled a white envelope out of his backpack.
    “What’s this?” Rosina asked, a smile playing across her lips.
    “It’s a surprise. Inside this envelope is everything you’ve been waiting for. But there’s a condition.”
    Darwin started hopping from one foot to the other, implying his desire for a bathroom. What he was really doing was building the courage to do what had to be done.
    “What’s the condition?”
    “You cannot open it without me present.”
    “That’s fine. Now hurry along. Go to the bathroom and come back. We’ll board the plane and I’ll open the envelope. Deal?”
    “Sure,” Darwin said as he back stepped away. At ten paces, before he turned around and lost eye contact with her, he said, “Get on without me. I’ve got my boarding pass right here.” He slapped his back pocket. “Save me a seat. Keep it warm. I’ll be with you sooner than you think.”
    Rosina stood up and grabbed his backpack. “Okay, but hurry. You have me seriously curious now.”
    Darwin turned before he had a chance to cry and hurried away, wondering if he’d ever see his wife again.

    Rosina lined up and edged closer to the attendants, one person at a time.
    Why did he have to piss now? I hate boarding alone.
    She got to the attendant and presented her passport and boarding pass. The attendant scanned her boarding pass and told her to have a nice flight.
    “My husband is coming. He’s been delayed a few minutes, but he’s already through security. He still has time, right?”
    The attendant looked at her watch. “Oh, yes. We start boarding early enough so that people like your husband can make it. He still has at least fifteen minutes.”
    What a relief.
    “ Okay, thank you. His name is Darwin Kostas.”
    The attendant nodded and reached for the documents of the traveler standing behind Rosina.
    She moved along the boarding ramp until she slowed behind people gathering near the plane. After a small wait at the plane’s door, two more attendants stood there to greet people. She showed her ticket and was told to go to her seat nine rows up. The aisle was jammed with people putting luggage above their seats. She politely waited and then squeezed by to take her seat.
    Darwin would be coming at any moment. She couldn’t wait to see what was in the envelope. It was just like him. He’d been surprising her during their whole relationship, and this was just another surprise in a long line of them.
    She sat there and tried, but couldn’t for the life of her, figure out what was in the envelope.
    Rosina glanced around at all the people seated close by. Then she looked up the aisle. Darwin still hadn’t boarded. She lifted the envelope and tried to peek through it.
    Damn!
    It was one of those security types with the crisscrosses on the inside, obscuring anything legible on the paper inside.
    Oh, Darwin, what have you gone and done?
    She thought maybe it could be tickets for a cruise. Or perhaps tickets to the theatre or an opera. Maybe he was going to fly her to New York next so they could tour Broadway, or possibly Las Vegas for a little gambling.
    The suspense was driving her nuts. But then, that was why Darwin did his surprises.
    She flipped the envelope over and noticed that it actually wasn’t sealed. The lip was pushed in the back, like a birthday card.
    That’s right. Darwin doesn’t lick envelopes.
    Over the course of their relationship, Darwin had opened up to her about his phobias, of which he had a few. He was afraid of the dark, which many people are, but his was an actual phobia. He had an irrational fear of it, like the dark was a living thing. They always slept with lights on. He also had a fear of sharp or pointy things. He couldn’t get a needle at the doctor. He would get too angry. They had to put him out to administer a needle. It was that bad. At a restaurant, he’d only use spoons or plastic utensils to eat with. No fork, no knife. And he didn’t lick envelopes because the paper could cut him.
    He thought his stepmom had caused his phobias, he’d told her. He talked briefly about how she always had needles in the house and as punishment, she would leave him in a dark basement room for hours on end, waking him with a jab of a fork in his side when dinner was ready. He’d end up being awake most of the night, languishing in the dark as the house slept, crying, waiting to be poked. By the time he was twelve, his fear of sharp and pointy things had grown to where he wouldn’t enter the kitchen anymore.
    His stepmother had died a horrible death. It was a freak accident, he’d told her, impaled on a pitchfork in a farmer’s barn. No one knew what she’d been doing there. No one was charged with any crime related to her death.
    The flight attendants announced that the plane would be getting underway shortly. Rosina snapped up and sat rigid in her seat.
    Darwin hadn’t returned yet.
    She looked down at the envelope. A flight attendant walked by, counting the heads of the passengers, no doubt looking for the missing person.
    Against better judgment, Rosina slipped her thumb under the lip of the envelope and flipped it open. She looked one more time to make sure Darwin wasn’t walking up right then, catching her in the act of sneaking a peek.
    She pulled the paper out and opened it. A note. After scanning the beginning, her eyes raced to the bottom.
    It said he was sorry, and that this was for the better. Stay on the plane. Do not get off. He would handle this on his own.
    Baby, I love you, but those men aim to kill me and I can’t lead them to you anymore. Go to Athens. I’ll meet you there in a few days.
    Run.
    If you don’t, you could be hurt, or worse, killed.
    Run.
    DO NOT get off the plane!
    Rosina looked up, her eyes watering. The attendants were shutting the plane’s doors.
    “Wait!”
    Everyone looked in her direction.
    She got up, opened the overhead compartment, grabbed her backpack, and ran for the exit door.
    “Wait. Let me off.”
    “But ma’am, they’re getting ready to taxi out.”
    “My husband is supposed to join me. He’s not here. I’m not leaving without him.”
    She pushed past the woman to the door as the entry ramp was pulling away. Rosina looked down at the ground and saw how far it was. She looked back at the attendants and then the gaping passengers. She turned as if she would retake her seat, then quickly spun and ran and leapt over the open space, landing solidly on the ramp.
    Rosina ran after her husband, having no idea where he was or where to start looking.

    Darwin had stood off in the distance, watching the attendants board the plane. He’d seen his wife walk up, be processed and board just like everyone else.
    And yet he waited. The final boarding call had been announced. Then he heard his name over the loudspeakers, asking him to come to gate C36 for immediate boarding. They did it a few times and then the attendants dispersed, assuming whatever it was they assumed when a checked-in passenger failed to show up for a flight.
    He saw the ramp start to slide away from the plane and the plane’s door being shut.
    Then he turned around and walked away, happy that Rosina was finally out of danger. She was safe. She would be in Athens soon. She had her purse, a credit card and a debit card attached to his bank account where over fifty-thousand dollars sat. Each and every month, Amazon deposited his royalties into his account. She would never want for money again. They were married. What was his was hers now.
    If he made it out of this alive, they would reunite and share the rest of their lives together. But right now, he needed to remove the threat from their heads.
    He walked back to security, told a guard he had only aided in the boarding of his four-year-old with his wife and that he needed to be let out now. The guard showed him to an exit and Darwin stepped through, walking back into the main part of the airport.
    Travelers ran this way and that way without a single care in the world. At least not the kind he had. They moved to and fro, without fear of death, except for the people who feared flying, which he was glad wasn’t one of his phobias.
    He had no idea what his next move was. All he knew, at that moment, was he needed to get Rosina away from the shit that he’d started. Now, with her safe and on her way to Greece, it was time to confront the men who were trying to kill him.
    Calling the police was out of the question. What could they do? Protection? Some of the police were on the Fuccini payroll. That’s probably how they knew about the meeting in the hangar. The same hangar Darwin happened upon late that night while looking for a group therapy session.
    No, the police wouldn’t do. He had to solve this on his own. Maybe an apology would suffice? Or maybe doing something for the family? Would that make things right?
    He’d be willing to steal from someone, maybe pick a few pockets. Anything would be better than being hunted and tracked, or even killed.
    Dejected about his options, Darwin made his way through the throng of travelers feeling a certain sadness. He already missed his wife and it had only been twenty minutes. And the idea that he’d been deceitful to her so early in their marriage made him feel about one inch tall. He loved Rosina with everything he had, but he just couldn’t bring himself to include her in his problem. More specifically, this problem. He started it and he would finish it.
    Darwin hit the doors that led outside and decided to take the bus back to Termini Station and hang around there until they caught up with him. They had located the hotel, so they’ll not have a lot of trouble finding him at the station.
    He didn’t get ten paces before two men walked up and grabbed both his arms.
    “Don’t protest. Don’t say a word. Come with us or you die here.”
    The man on his right opened his jacket a little and showed him the butt of a gun.
    “No problem,” Darwin said. “I was hoping to find you guys. I want you to take me to your boss. We need to talk.”
    They hustled him to a waiting van. The side door sat open.
    “Oh, don’t worry. We’ll take you to our boss, but I don’t think he’ll be talking much.”
    In unison, both brutes shoved Darwin inside the van so hard that he slid along the floor and slammed into the wall on the other side.

    Rosina had made it through security and was searching everyone’s face. Darwin was nowhere in sight.
    Could he have left the airport? If so, where would he have gone?
    She started for the doors that would take her to the bus she and Darwin had taken to the airport not an hour before.
    That was when she saw him through the airport’s glass windows. Two men, one on either side of Darwin, appeared to force him along.
    She ran for the large revolving doors, but was too late. The men threw her husband inside a van, slammed the side door shut and hopped in.
    By the time she got outside, the van raced away, oblivious to her screams.
    Rosina stood there in the departures section where families hugged and cried as they said goodbye to their loved ones.
    She cried for another reason altogether. She should call the police, but what would she tell them? Her husband had deserted her. He left the airport with two other men in a van. Of course it was forceful, but she didn’t have a plate number. He wouldn’t be a missing person yet. There was nothing they would do. She was on her own.
    After a few minutes, she collected herself, righted the backpack on her shoulders and walked toward the bus back to the Hotel Luigi by Termini Station. Darwin would know where to find her. She would never leave her husband. She wouldn’t abandon him in his time of need.
    She didn’t recognize the men and she didn’t know what they wanted. She had nowhere to turn and nowhere to start.
    All she could think of was the police. It was time to bring them in. She would show them the note and get them involved.
    She had to do something.

Chapter 2

    “Hey, there’s no reason to be so rough,” Darwin said, his hands bound with tight-fitting metal cuffs.
    One of the men had jumped in the driver’s seat and now the van barreled out of the airport. The biggest one of the two made Darwin think of a man he’d seen on TV years ago, Andre the Giant. His hands looked like meat hooks. He’d flipped Darwin around and slapped handcuffs on him. Then he’d righted Darwin and shoved him back down.
    “Shut up,” the giant grunted.
    “Whatever you say, Andre,” Darwin said, his temper flaring.
    He came to them. He could’ve gotten on that plane. He could’ve been miles away by now, but he came to clear things up and they were acting like he was a common thug.
    The giant didn’t respond to the reference to the old wrestler’s name. All he did was look forward and stare out the windshield as they entered the highway, heading back into Rome.
    “You know Andre the Giant?” Darwin asked.
    The large man turned around. “Hey, kid, you got some balls. Shut your fucking mouth. This ride ain’t a social one.”
    “Take it easy. Just take it easy. I came to you guys, remember. Show some respect. I could’ve stayed on that flight.”
    Now I have regrets. I should’ve gone to Greece. Now Rosina is pissed and I’m going who-knows-where.
    Andre kept staring forward, not baited into conversation.
    The van was a normal utility unit with metal walls, two doors at the back and two seats in the front. Large pieces of plywood had been laid down on the bed of the van.
    There were broken, splintered parts. Dark stains circled those areas. He leaned in closer. The wood smelled horrible.
    “What the hell is that smell?” he muttered.
    Andre spun around fast, dropped to one knee and brought his meat-hook hand across Darwin’s face.
    The smack was so fast, he only had time to shut his eyes. He fell to the plywood and rolled to the back door, banging into it with his knees.
    Instantly his face lit up. The pins and needles, flaring pain and heat, all worked to remind him what the consequences were for speaking when he wasn’t supposed to.
    It also pissed him off.
    Ever since he was a kid, something else he blamed on his stepmother, he hated pain. He would react in anger. Nothing fired him up more than pain.
    A thought flashed through his mind while he lay at the back of the van, scrunched up against the pain: Will Andre attack again?
    He was in this now, to the end. They aimed to kill him. It was the mafia, after all, and he had killed one of their men. Accident or not, a ‘made’ man was dead because Darwin was behind the wheel that night.
    He knew this on some level last week, but he wasn’t ready to acknowledge it. Not with Rosina around, anyway.
    But now it was him and them. Fitting how twenty-five hundred years ago, prisoners fought to the death in Rome, and now he got to experience the same pleasures, first hand.
    With nothing left to lose, Darwin said, “It was an accident.”
    He rolled over and looked up at Andre.
    “What? What did you say? You’re joking right? This is a fucking joke? After a bitch slap like that and you want to risk talking?”
    “I’m just saying, it was an accident. I didn’t try to kill anybody.”
    Darwin braced himself. At any second Andre would come. Darwin felt real fear and he had no idea what he would do. All he knew was that he had to do something. He wasn’t cattle. He wasn’t going to sit idle while they delivered him to slaughter.
    No fucking way. What kind of man would I be for Rosina if I willingly walked into my execution?
    “Tell your theories about it being an accident to the boss,” the driver said.
    Andre laughed. “Yeah, see what the boss says about you killing his only son and successor. It’ll go over just fine, I’m sure.”
    His son? His successor? Oh shit, oh shit, oh fuck. This is worse than I thought. I’m in over my head. I need out. I need help.
    “Is he a reasonable man?” Darwin asked, his voice cracking.
    “Oh sure,” Andre said. “He’ll make sure you’re reasonably dead.” Andre turned around and looked back at Darwin. “Seriously man, what did you think? That he’d just walk away? Let it go? Man, do you believe in Santa Claus too?”
    Okay, I need out of here. I need my temper. I need anger. It’s the only way. If I can get out from under my stepmother, I can deal with these common hoods.
    “Tell me Andre, do you have a knife on you?”
    Andre looked over at the driver and then back to Darwin.
    “What’s it to you?”
    “I need to see one. Anything pointy. That kind of thing really pisses me off.”
    Andre laughed, a deep, guttural laugh. He held his stomach and leaned into the back of the passenger seat. After he finished, he wiped his eyes and looked back at the driver.
    “Hey, Joe, we got a knife so we can piss our guest off? Do we have anything on us that’ll make him angry?”
    The driver laughed too, but not as long or hard.
    “You are a piece of work.” Andre’s face hardened again. “You want a knife? You wanna be pissed off, is that it? Then what you gonna do? Hurt us? Steal the van, huh? Take us out? Fuck you and your little fantasy world. I’ll show you a knife.”
    Here we go.
    Andre leaned over and lifted his pant leg up, revealing a brown sheath with a hilt sticking out. Andre wrapped his finger around the hilt and slid out a four inch knife.
    “Here, here’s your knife. Nice, huh?”
    Andre edged closer on his knees, staying low, the knife extended.
    Darwin felt something akin to a chemical change take place. A dark shade of red blurred his vision. Nothing mattered in that moment. Death became an answer, not a question. Choices left him, options died. Nothing remained but anger so vile that an absolute rage coursed through him. Fear became him. Darwin was rage, and rage was Darwin.
    He spun in place, landed on his knees, placed a foot on the plywood floor and lunged with every ounce of his one hundred and eighty pound frame. His shoulder hit Andre in the stomach and propelled him forward.
    Odds couldn’t have played a better role in that second. As he connected with Andre, the driver who’d been watching in the rear view mirror, applied the brakes at the same exact second, propelling them toward the backs of the front seats.
    Andre had been in the center. He continued forward, between the seats, his back smashing into the dashboard.
    By this time, Darwin was a mask of rage so intense that his actions didn’t register on a conscious level. He turned with his mouth open and clamped down on the driver’s right ear. He bit so hard and so fast that his teeth severed the floppy top, cartilage and all, blood splattering his face.
    He screamed like stuck dog as he dove for the driver’s cheek next.
    His teeth missed their mark. The driver shouted in pain and, as the loss of a chunk of his ear registered, he lost control of the van.
    The vehicle veered to the right with such force that Darwin shot forward across the driver’s lap.
    In the next second, the van swerved sideways then lifted into the air and began to spin, flipping three times before it crashed down to the unforgiving cement highway.
    Darwin’s back was braced against the steering wheel, his stomach across the driver’s stomach. When the van landed, he was thrust sideways, out of the front seat and toward the back, away from the breaking windshield. The driver moved along in front of him. When they hit the back door, the driver’s body connected first, snapping his back in two, his body broken in the middle like a twig.
    The driver’s body cushioned Darwin, but almost dislocated his shoulder. The van’s impact with the road crushed the back doors as the roof caved in at least a foot.
    The van slid along the highway for what seemed forever. Finally, it came to a stop on the shoulder of the road. Darwin heard dirt and rocks slide under the van’s side wall.
    With his hands still cuffed behind him, and his shoulder on fire, Darwin got up and crab-walked along the side of the van, which was now the floor.
    Andre was dead. No doubt. The windshield had broken, cutting Andre. The oozing blood formed one big splotch of red across most of his body. Andre stared with open eyes, his jaw slack, and his neck broken so violently even the skin had snapped open, like a large, human Pez dispenser.
    Darwin spotted the keys in the ignition, the engine still running. A small handcuff key dangled from the keyring.
    With his hands cuffed behind him, he backed up and felt his way to the keys. His hands found the steering column. He felt his way up until his wrist bumped into the ring. He latched on and twisted, but they didn’t budge. He twisted the other way, and the keys turned. The engine shut off with a little protest. He leaned forward and yanked the keys from their slot.
    He had to get out of the van. People would be coming. Cops would show up. He’d have too much explaining to do. Two men lay dead. It was his fault. The police would want to know how he came to be their prisoner. Too many questions, no good answers.
    But what if people witnessed him running from the scene of an accident in handcuffs?
    That was a risk he would have to take. It would be better for people to speculate about his intentions than for him to be in custody and know what he’d wanted to do.
    Using caution, his anger dispelled like a dam broken open, Darwin stepped through the broken windshield and onto the hot pavement of the highway.
    Cars raced by on the other side of the median. Some slowed to look at the accident. He glanced around the back of the van. A long line of cars were now parked, glinting in the noon-hour sun. Limousines, buses, trucks, Smart cars and bikes, all waiting to get around the accident.
    He walked down the shoulder and into the ditch. After he’d gone twenty meters, a hole in the fence led to a large parking lot and what looked like a shopping center.
    He still had his wallet and passport. He would go into the mall, buy new clothes and use their bathroom to get fixed up. Then he’d rent a car, or take a taxi, and head back into Rome.
    It was time to call Special Agent Greg Stinsen, the lead FBI investigator tasked on the Fuccini family meeting back in the abandoned hangar.
    The one who said to call if Darwin ever needed anything.
    They had tried to kill him. They had attempted to hurt his wife.
    They’d gone too far.
    He needed something now.
    He needed the Fuccini family boss on a spit.

Chapter 3

    Rosina couldn’t help herself. The tears wouldn’t stop. Her hands shook and she felt like she was falling apart.
    On the way to the airport, they had ridden the Terra Vision bus, but when she ran back to the bus area, it was gone. She found a different one idling at the airport that said one of their stops was Termini Station. She had gotten on and taken a seat.
    Now they sat on the highway, not moving. An accident on the road ahead had temporarily blocked all the lanes heading into Rome, the driver had told them. It wouldn’t be long now.
    She leaned out into the aisle and stared ahead at the top of a vehicle that had flipped onto its side. At least twenty cars separated her bus from the accident.
    Wow, that was close. It would seriously suck if she got hurt in a random accident when she had stayed behind to help her man.
    Her man. Her new husband. She couldn’t let him face this alone. Not after all they’d been through together. Years of fighting with their parents and their stupid, old-world customs. Her mother saying she should marry an Italian boy. His father saying he needed a nice Greek woman. Neither side not backing down. Her mother’s reaction had especially disappointed her. Rosina had expected better.
    So Darwin had proposed the idea to elope to Rome. Get married in Rome as a show of respect to her family and honeymoon in Greece as a show of respect to his father. Deal with the repercussions later.
    But now look at them. On the run, with someone trying to kill them, according to Darwin. Ridiculous. Everyone died that fateful night at the hangar. No one was alive to see Darwin hit that man. Besides, the guy was insane. How did he think he could kill that many people and expect to live?
    What did her husband ever do? Accident, by definition, meant not intentional. He didn’t mean it. Darwin didn’t aim his Ford at the guy.
    Rosina shook her head and looked out her window at the traffic rushing by the other way. She wiped at her eyes and took in a deep breath.
    She would need to talk to somebody. The cops? The bad guys?
    Who were they anyway? How could she find them?
    She had no idea how things worked, nor did she want to know. She just wanted her husband back and she would do anything for him. Even risk staying in Rome and not running to Greece.
    She’d waited too long to find the man of her dreams. She’d lost control, running around, laughing and screaming, when he came up with the idea to run to Rome. His book sales had shot through the stratosphere in the last two months after the news had labeled him the Hero of the Hangar. His picture ran in every newspaper across North America, detailing how he accidentally killed a mafia killer, with an American Ford Mustang. One sleazy paper even asked, was there any other way to deal with vermin?
    The bus’s engine revved and the driver angled the bus closer to the railing at the median.
    It took him a few minutes, but then the bus passed the accident. Rosina stretched in order to see out the window and tried to catch a look at the vehicle, but from her side, she only saw the top of the vehicle, which lay on its side door.
    She eased back down and wondered what had happened to Darwin. Why couldn’t he be honest with her? Was it because he knew this is how she would respond? Did he know her that well already?
    If so, she didn’t know him well enough. She should’ve figured out what was bothering him lately. She had noticed that he was out of sorts, but she didn’t push harder to find out why. Also, she couldn’t figure it out on her own when she should have.
    Whatever happened in the next few days, Rosina would stand by her man. She would be there for him at all costs whether he liked it or not. It was the Italian way. It was her way.
    Then, maybe, her parents would accept their relationship.
    She’d show them. No one would push her around. People weren’t really out there killing each other. Life wasn’t an 1800s western with everyone and their neighbor toting guns and shooting each other.
    Sure, there was crime. But there were laws and people couldn’t kill with impunity. She was in a civilized country, her ancestor’s country, and she would see any perpetrators of illegal activities put behind bars.
    Worst case, she’d walk into the Canadian Embassy and demand her rights as a citizen of one of the best countries in the world. That would be better than calling local authorities. Who knew how many were paid off.
    Maybe that’s what she should do in the first place. Just go to the embassy and explain to them what was happening. Show them Darwin’s note. See what they could do.
    No, first, she’d head back to the Hotel Luigi and get a room. She couldn’t make a wrong move. If she contacted the wrong people, Darwin could be in worse trouble. The decision on what to do grew increasingly stressful.
    The bus entered the downtown area. She stared out the window at all the buildings as they passed the bus’s windows and yearned for Darwin to be sitting beside her. She didn’t think she could possibly miss him as much as she did at that moment.
    It’s all their fault. Those fucking assholes will pay for screwing around my husband. Nobody does this to my family. Nobody.
    The bus driver hit the horn as he angled into his spot and stopped.
    The familiar Termini Station bustled around her as people milled about. She got off in turn and started across the street toward her hotel. Her stomach growled, reminding her of how hungry she was. The worst feeling was flying on a full stomach, so she had eaten a small portion of the continental breakfast that morning, which was hours ago. After she checked in, she would stop and get something to eat. Or was that a diversion from doing what she knew she had to do, like contacting someone to tell them her husband had been kidnapped.
    It struck her that she wasn’t being too cautious. What if Darwin’s pursuers were following her right now? What if they’d already killed her husband?
    She stopped walking and turned around fast. People walked left, right and all around, but as far as she could tell, no one was paying any special attention to her.
    She turned back around and stepped into the lobby of the Hotel Luigi. After running up the front stairs, the clerk informed her that they had a room available.
    She walked up to the second floor and entered room twenty-seven. She parted the tall, white curtains, opened the long, slender doors and stepped out onto the balcony. To her surprise, it was the only room with a balcony. Rome bustled one floor below her. To the right sat the wall of Termini Station, to her left, open street.
    She had to go to the police. Either that or the embassy. She saw Darwin get put into a van. There was no question he was in danger.
    She took in a deep breath and turned back into the room. She closed and locked the balcony doors, grabbed her room key, fifty euros and locked the room behind her.
    Standing in the hallway, it hit her. Could the men who had blocked traffic in the two Crown Victorias that morning, be connected to all this? Were they trying to get Darwin, even then, on the open, public highway? If they were, then these men, this organization, was fearless.
    She descended the stairs to the lobby and then more stairs to the door that led outside.
    A long, sleek limousine sat parked across from the open door.
    The back door opened. A very large man in a suit two sizes too small stepped out and started toward the sidewalk. She watched him closely.
    The man hit the sidewalk and turned her way.
    Rosina looked away out of embarrassment. She didn’t normally stare at people. Today was different. She had to watch people. See who they were, what they were up to.
    She had to consider, that after Darwin was done with the two men in that van at the airport, he would try to contact her. But now she felt she’d waited too long. She had to call the police as soon as possible.
    She looked back. The man from the limousine stood behind her, glaring.
    “Come with me.”
    She looked him up and down. “I am not a call girl. You may have money, but it’s fuckin’ rude to assume.”
    He grabbed her arm.
    “Hey! Let go of me,” she said as she struggled.
    He leaned in close. “Don’t resist if you ever want to see Darwin again.”
    She went limp. This man was one of them. It was that easy. Check into the hotel and there they were.
    Fine. She wanted to meet with them anyway. Give them a piece of her mind.
    She allowed herself to be led to the limo. A door opened as they approached and the man with the small suit shoved her inside.
    “Hey!” she yelled again. “There’s no need.”
    The man jumped in behind her and even before his door was shut, the vehicle got underway.
    Rosina righted herself, adjusted her blouse and sat back in the leather seat. The man who grabbed her sat to her right. Another man sat facing her in a backward-facing seat aimed at hers. Both men were grinning. She had no idea why, but they were.
    “You two wanna tell me what the joke is?”
    They looked at each other and then both turned their attention on her. The man who threw her in the limo said, “It’s over. That’s why we’re happy. We get to go home.”
    “What’s over?”
    “We have that rat bastard of a husband of yours and now we have you.”
    “You have Darwin? Where?”
    “We’re taking you to see him right now. Don’t worry, it won’t be long now.”
    She looked out the window. If they already had Darwin, and they were taking her to where he was, what did that mean? When he said it was over, what could he mean? Home now? Where was home for these men?
    Then she decided on another question.
    “Was it your people who shot at us the other night?”
    The man sitting across from her raised a hand to his companion. “I’ll handle her questions. This is the fun part. I like toying with my prey.”
    “Prey? I’m nobody’s prey.” These disgusting brutes talked like animals.
    “Whatever you think, missus. Yes, it was us.”
    “Why would you shoot at us? If one of your bullets had hit me or my husband, you could’ve killed us.”
    “We’re sorry. We weren’t trying to hit you. Believe me, if we were, we wouldn’t have missed.”
    Confused, she asked, “Why were you trying to miss us? That doesn’t make sense, if you’re after my husband for accidentally killing that man.”
    A smile played across his mouth. “We wouldn’t want either one of you to die so easily. We don’t believe in that. What kind of men would we be known as? Hit men? Hired guns? No, we like to hurt and kill people in unique ways.”
    Even though she hadn’t eaten much, her stomach lurched and what little she had eaten threatened to come up. There was no way the man sitting across from her was telling the truth.
    He continued. “If you’re still wondering why we would shoot at you, it was because we were hoping you’d call the police. They’d file a report and then we’d know where you were staying. All the time you’ve been in Rome, we’ve been trying to find where you two were staying. We hadn’t got permission yet from the ruling families here to do our business, so we had to wait, collect information. We knew we were running out of time, so we thought we’d try to run you over, shoot at you, get you to call the police. But that didn’t work. Then we found out you were headed for the airport, and we just got granted our permission. So we made our move, and here we are, nice and cozy.”
    He was lying. He had to be. “How would having us call the police help you?” she asked.
    He laughed and shook his head a little. He had bad teeth and five-day old beard. The guy looked unkempt, and yet he acted cocky and cool like he was in disguise.
    “You really don’t know who we are, do you? You aren’t aware of our world? How men like us have police on the payroll? How politicians, back home in Canada, do what we want? You live in your ivory towers and look down at us, not having any idea that we’re the ones who make the world go ‘round. You fucking whore,” his voice rose in volume. “You fucking slut. You have no idea what you’re in for.”
    Rosina didn’t think of herself as stupid or naive. She knew there were people like the man in front of her in the same world as her. But why would they hurt innocent, regular folk like Darwin and her. She was barely twenty-five years old. She’d never even been in a fight except for a little hair-pulling in grade school. As far as dealing with difficult people, Darwin had only ever dealt with his stepmother. But now these people were on their case. Apparently, they had Darwin. Now they had her. What was next? They would kill Darwin and her? No, she wouldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe it.
    No way. I will deal with this and I will walk away. Darwin and I will live a long life together and men like this will be the ones who die young.
    She watched Rome flash by.
    “My name is the Harvester of Sorrow,” the unkempt man said. “I’m the distributor of pain. Do you like that?”
    Her disgust rose. They wouldn’t intimidate her that easily. She committed to herself that she wouldn’t show fear. She learned years ago in an after-school rape class that these kind of people relish the control they have over you. They yearn for the fear in your eyes. Don’t fight to get away. Don’t give them the pleasure. It may save your life.
    “No, can’t say I like that.”
    “Well, the shortest straw has been pulled for you.”
    “What are you talking about?” she asked.
    “Those are lyrics from the best Metallica album ever, And Justice For All. Harvester of Sorrow is a wicked tune. I took my name from that because I’m the guy that gets to hurt you.”
    “Calm down,” the man in the suit beside her said. “We don’t touch her until the boss says we can.”
    The two men looked at each other. “I know that. What the fuck you think I’m doing here? You best watch yourself, Gabe. Your time’ll come, and when it does, I’ll do you something special.”
    “Fuck you. I’ll be here long after you’ve rotted in an unmarked grave. Watch what the fuck you be saying to me. You’re not bulletproof.”
    The Harvester sat back and smiled like he owned the world. Rosina could barely control the fear inside her. But as long as they had her husband and they were taking her to see him, she was sure they’d work things out together.
    I feel stupid thinking this way, but these men are completely putting on a show. They don’t torture people and kill them anymore. Only in random cases.
    It took ten more minutes of negotiating Rome’s traffic before they pulled into an underground garage. The driver wound down and into an open, empty parking area except for three black vans.
    The limousine came to a stop beside the vans. Men approached the vehicle and opened all the doors in the back.
    “Get out,” one of the men ordered.
    Rosina decided to stay silent and do her best to show zero fear.
    She followed the line of six men as they walked her to an elevator. She almost felt like she was in a Quentin Tarantino movie with six mafia men standing around in expensive suits, in Rome, the home of the Italian mafia, escorting a helpless young woman to her final meeting. Then she banished the thought as soon as it entered her head. Quentin’s movies got a little bloody at times and there would be nothing final about her meeting upstairs. Nothing at all.
    Ding.
    The elevator doors opened. Three men filed in and turned around. Rosina entered and then the other three followed, with the Harvester standing closest to her.
    The ride was quick, a relief as the thick air in the confined elevator was beginning to get to her.
    The doors opened onto a gorgeous floor. The walls were marble, the carpets plush. Before they got too far, the Harvester stuck a key into the elevator panel and twisted it, locking the elevator out of service.
    I guess we aren’t to be interrupted.
    The men escorted her through a pair of glass double doors and into an office that would resemble any high-paid lawyer’s domain back in Canada.
    They continued down a hallway and walked, one by one, through a smaller door.
    The door was small, but the room was large. It would easily seat fifteen men. Couches lined the walls, armchairs and tables sat at random places. It looked like a luncheon room for the rich.
    In the far corner sat a large banker’s desk and, behind it, a man who appeared from a distance to be at least seventy-five years old.
    “Come, sit,” he said, with a flourish of his hand.
    Rosina was directed to a solitary chair positioned in front of the big desk. She walked up and stood in front of it. All the men fell back, some took positions near the door and others sat on the plush couches.
    “So good to finally meet you,” the old man said. “Please, have a seat.”
    “I’ll stand, thank you. But I think you have it wrong here. I’m the one who is happy to finally meet you.”
    He cocked his head a little. Someone behind her laughed under his breath. The old man raised his hand and the laughter ceased instantly.
    “Why would that be?” he asked, his voice firm.
    “You, or at least I’m assuming it’s you, have been terrorizing my husband and making his life a living hell for too long. It has to stop and that’s why I’m here. To make some kind of deal, some kind of arrangement so this petty bullying will come to an end. Then we can all move on.”
    This time it was the old man who chuckled.
    “Where do you people come from?” he asked.
    “I’m sorry?”
    He stood up, reached for a cane beside the desk and limped around it. He stepped closer to her, studying her face. He bent a little to the left, then the right, and gawked at her as if he was attempting to figure something out.
    “Do I have something on my face?” Rosina asked.
    He stood to his full height, which was still an inch shorter than Rosina’s five-nine, and shook his head.
    “Not yet.” He lifted his cane, put it in both hands, like he was about to bunt a ball with a baseball bat, and shoved forward with the strength of a boxer in the ring. The cane smacked into her chest so hard, she had no time to recover. Her balance lost, she fell backwards, into the chair.
    “I told you to sit down when you first entered my office. The next time you disobey me, the consequences will prove to be more severe.”
    The old man turned away and walked away on both legs, without a limp, and without the use of the cane.
    Rosina sat there, breathing rapidly as her heart rate shot up.
    Concentrate, breathe, no fear. Concentrate, breathe, no fear.
    “You and I have a unique problem,” he said. “You, personally, have done me no harm.” He reached his desk and sat down again. He picked up what looked like a gold-colored letter opener and started tapping it on the desk. “But I have to do you harm.”
    “Why?” It was out before she could stop it. Her voice was weak, frightened and limp.
    No, be honest with yourself. That’s fear.
    “Because Darwin Athios Kostas does not have any children for me to kill.”
    What the fuck?
    “I can see by the expression on your face you either don’t understand the gravity of the situation, because you don’t understand what’s happening here, or you think I’m a sick and twisted individual.” He stopped talking and ceased movement of his letter opener. He looked down at it and then, after a moment he looked back up at her. “Or maybe you think I am all of the above. Either way, it doesn’t matter. The world is one big machine, living off the foundation of cause and effect. More specifically, I’m talking about consequences.” He started tapping his letter opener again. “You do something, you have to answer for it. There are consequences and there are debts to be paid.”
    “What has that got anything to do with my husband and me? We don’t owe you any money.”
    “That’s not the kind of currency that’ll pay this debt. The currency I want is blood.”
    “What? You’re insane,” Rosina said.
    Blood? Get real. This is crazy. Oh Darwin, where are you?
    The old man dropped the letter opener and stood up, placing both hands evenly on either side of his desk.
    “Get me the water cure.”
    Men scurried away behind her. She had no idea what a water cure was. Maybe the guy had some disease and he needed his medicine.
    “Look, what has my husband-”
    “Silence!” he shouted.
    Two men ran up beside her and grabbed both her arms.
    “Hey!” she protested.
    A man came from behind and wrapped a hand over her mouth. His hand was so large, it completely covered her mouth and nose. Instantly, she couldn’t breathe.
    Real panic set in. She tried to struggle but couldn’t move. All three men had vise grip claws.
    The one behind her inched closer and whispered in her ear, “The boss said to be quiet. I’d advise you listen to him.”
    He eased up on her nose in that second. Air rushed into her starved lungs. She gasped and breathed as fast and hard as she could. Lightheadedness came over her.
    They placed her on the floor on her back. The man who had been behind her let go of her face. She breathed through her open mouth, trying not to make any noise. This would all be over soon. They’d let her go. Cops would come. This didn’t happen in her world. This couldn’t happen.
    One of the men stood over her with a funnel.
    What the hell is that for?
    At a squeaking noise behind her, she leaned her head back and saw the Harvester of Sorrow from the limousine wheeling something that looked like a keg into the room.
    Is this his water cure?
    The rest of the men surrounded her. In that moment, she realized it was for her. She tried to get up, but only made it a few inches before they shoved her back down. Hands grappled all over body, holding her immobile.
    “Hold her tight,” Harvester said.
    A hand clamped over her mouth again. She couldn’t scream. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t do anything but watch Harvester bend over with the funnel and a plastic tube that came from the keg.
    Fingers parted over her mouth. They were going to make her drink whatever was in the keg. She redoubled her efforts to get away, but to no avail.
    The funnel entered her mouth. At the same moment water flowed through the funnel, the hand on her mouth clamped her nose shut. In order to breathe, she had to use her mouth. In order to do that, she had to swallow.
    Rosina tried to hold out, but lasted all of three seconds. She took swallow after swallow, as fast as she could, in the useless attempt to rid the water from her mouth in order to breathe. She also drank as fast as she could to avoid drowning. If one breath was forced into her lungs, it would be filled with water.
    As fast as it started, it stopped. Both the hand on her face and the funnel were removed.
    Rosina sucked air in. She couldn’t believe how tasty it was. She blinked away tears and then the hand returned. The funnel jammed into her mouth so hard, she thought one of her teeth chipped.
    Water coursed past her lips. She couldn’t take anymore. Her stomach was filling up. Her lungs were starving. She was going to pass out. Consciousness wavered, and yet she swallowed. They held her longer this time, and still she swallowed.
    Her eyes rolled back. At the last second, when she was about to breathe and drown on the floor of the expensive office, the funnel was removed and she was bodily lifted into the air. Water sloshed out of her mouth and hit the carpet. Her stomach felt bloated to the point of bursting. Blackness hovered around her peripheral vision. She saw stars and coughed a few times.
    The men carried her to the side of the room where a large bucket had been placed. No one talked. She heard nothing but the rustling of their clothes.
    They stood her up. She remained conscious but groggy.
    Harvester stepped in front of her and smiled.
    Smug bastard. Wait until you’re in jail for this. We’ll see how much you’re smiling with some big guy calling you his bitch.
    Without warning, he drove his fist into her bloated stomach.
    She couldn’t believe it. Why would he do that? She doubled over and coughed, on the edge of throwing up. Her eyes watered and she fought to keep everything down. Breathing became an even greater task.
    The men on either side righted her and Harvester whispered, “Harvester of Sorrow,” as he rammed his fist into her gut even harder.
    She couldn’t hold it back. Everything she just swallowed rushed out of her mouth and into the large bucket in a torrent. She gagged and threw up again. When she thought it was almost over, the men raised her one more time and Harvester kicked her in the stomach.
    She doubled over and threw up for the fourth time, wondering if someone could die from a kick to the stomach.
    She gagged so much, she couldn’t catch a breath. So this is what getting the wind knocked out of you means.
    She couldn’t breathe. It felt like her stomach had closed up shop. Her diaphragm wouldn’t cooperate.
    Without warning, men jumped on her again, tossed her to the floor, and held down every movable part. Even if she wanted to struggle, she had lost any resolve to give a good fight. She could barely breathe, her world going black.
    Then the funnel was jammed into her mouth. She tried to shout the word ‘ No’ but the water flowed and she couldn’t swallow anymore. She couldn’t breathe, and consciousness was coming to a close.
    She felt the curtain dropping, the show over. Could this really be it? Were these men going to kill her? Would her stomach explode from the force of the water shoved into her body?
    “Stop!” someone yelled off in the distance.
    The funnel yanked away. She was manhandled to her feet but couldn’t hold herself up anymore. They let her fall to the carpeted floor, where she curled into a ball and tried to get her breathing back to a steady rhythm.
    The wheels of the water keg squeaked away, much to her relief. She thought for a moment she was dying. Whatever the reason for the reprieve, she was thankful.
    The chore of regular breathing took some effort, but once she felt better, Rosina opened her eyes and looked at the old man behind his desk.
    “You come into my office, disrespect me by not sitting when I ask you to. You argue with me and call me insane. You’re Italian by descent. Have you no manners? Do it again, disobey me again, and you won’t walk right for many years to come, even if you live through your torture.”
    Real fear, the kind you eat and digest, consumed her. She wasn’t in the company of men. She was listening to, and being dictated to, by a man Lucifer would consider a friend.
    “Now, let’s see if you have learned your lesson. Sit up in the chair that was provided for you. Do it now.”
    It’s interesting how fear could also be a motivator. She had no strength to move, no will to get up, but knowing what would happen if she didn’t listen to him, somehow she found the strength. Rosina turned and crawled to the chair. She used its legs to pull herself onto the seat, and then she pushed off the carpet with her legs, dropping her butt onto the seat, without falling down once.
    The effort expended further exhausted her. She panted like she’d been jogging. Her stomach felt foreign and bile lined her mouth. She tried to swallow, but the desire had left her. Spittle slowly dripped from her lips, dangling in long beads, collecting on the carpet by her feet.
    “Someone, get her a Kleenex. Now.”
    People shuffled behind her. A moment later a handkerchief was shoved into her hand. She wiped at her mouth and brought her eyes to the old man.
    “Good,” he said. “Now I have your attention. I prefer you this way. No spunk. I believe a woman should be more docile than the demanding wench you were when you entered my office. Have I got your full attention? I really need to be clear on this. So tell me, are you listening?”
    She tried to nod.
    “I won’t ask again,” his face hardened, his eyes rigid.
    “Yeah, yes, yes, you have my…attention,” she muttered.
    “Good. Your husband has killed one of my family members. Your husband murdered my son, Vincenzo. Now, my son was no ordinary man.” The old man began tapping his letter opener again. The tension in the room was calming, her breathing getting easier.
    “He was ruthless, and sometimes stupid,” the old man continued. “He walked into an ambush, as far as I can tell from the aftermath. Four different families and an army of mercenaries acting as security. All hell breaks loose and yet, my boy, my son, was the only man who walked out alive, not a scratch on him. I have detailed police reports telling me that my boy killed two security guards. With no one to back him up, he walks away unscathed. It’s pretty incredible, really.”
    The old man stopped tapping the letter opener. He turned to face her full on. His eyes were rimmed red, his face flush. It looked to Rosina like he was about to throw up.
    “My boy walks out of a bloodbath a hero and your husband runs him down in the road like he was a rodent. How does that happen, one might ask themselves? I know, because I’ve asked it many times. How does that happen?”
    The old man got up and walked to one of the large windows facing out to the lovely architecture of Rome. Beautiful Rome, where Darwin and she had walked around and enjoyed themselves twenty-four hours before.
    Wait, did he ask me a question I’m supposed to answer. Shit. Focus. The last thing in the world I need is water.
    “And I think I’ve got the answer. I think I’ve figured out how that was possible.”
    Good, he wasn’t waiting for me.
    “Because Darwin was working for one of the other families. That has to be it. There can be no other reason. And I think it is the Gambino family.”
    No, not that. Not Darwin.
    The old man turned away from the window and looked at her. “I need you to tell me who hired him to be out there at that exact time. I need to know who set this up. If you give me concrete details and you make me believe you, I will collect my blood debt from them. You will be free to walk out of here and go on to live your life. So tell me, convince me, who sent your husband to execute my son?”
    She tried to speak, but at first, nothing came. She tried again. “No… one… did.”
    “Okay, well that’s not good for two reasons. One, you will have to pay the debt and two, I don’t believe you. When I feel someone is lying to me, your pain upon death is amplified.” He paused and sauntered over to her. “Do you really understand what you’re in for? Do you realize how dire your circumstances are?”
    She nodded.
    “I asked you a question,” he shouted.
    “Yes,” she said as fast as she could.
    “Wow, that’s great. Okay, that’s good.” He walked away and sat behind his desk again. Then he picked up that damned letter opener and started his insane tapping. She felt she was losing her mind in that moment.
    “I will keep you alive as long as I can. I at least want to talk to your husband before I start really having fun with you. Your husband, by the way, was picked up at the airport. He’s on his way here now with two of my finest men. After he confesses, you will die first. I want him to watch as all of my men get a taste of you. How would you like that? I’m offering you the pleasure of having sex, multiple times with each and every man here, as long as they like. Isn’t that what women want, multiple partners and the sex lasting longer than a quicky?”
    She didn’t respond as she didn’t think he was looking for a response. She wasn’t sure she could respond, as her stomach rebelled at what he was saying.
    “After you’ve been used in front of your husband, I will get my Harvester of Sorrow over there to start cutting things and taking pieces off you.” He was smiling wide now. “We will be aiming for as much blood as possible, as that is the debt, after all. Darwin will watch everything. Then he will die even slower. I don’t have any women on the payroll, and no men who are gay, so Darwin will be spared a royal fucking. Although I do have a few brooms sitting around somewhere.” He set the letter opener down. “Okay men, get her up, take her clothes off. You can all start raping her whenever you please. We’ll do it all again when Darwin gets here.”
    Her heart caught in her chest. She looked around as everyone advanced on her. She had nowhere to run, no one to help, and she was too weak to run anyway. The elevator was out and not a single human being knew where she was.
    In that moment she knew she needed to die before she could let them touch her repeatedly in that way. She got up from the chair and bolted for the office window, intent on throwing herself into it. In her weakened state, she didn’t get three steps before they were on her.
    A telephone rang. Hands pawed her stomach, her legs. Someone yelled. Her shirt was torn off, buttons flying. Someone yelled again. Hands ran between her legs. She was ready to throw up. Hands pawed her breasts, her panties about to give.
    The phone rang again.
    Then everyone let go. The man yelling was the boss.
    “Leave her for a second. Let me get this. It’s downtown.” He looked down at her. “Make a peep and I will personally pull out your right eye and stick my cock in the hole to fuck your brains out. Do not betray me.” He emphasized his point by raises his index finger like a father disciplining a child.
    “Hello,” he said. “Yes, I understand.”
    She looked around at the hired muscle, her heart racing so fast she thought it would explode. One of the men smiled, winked and blew a kiss at her. She almost lost consciousness. She considered screaming. At least her death would be quick.
    “Okay. I will handle it.”
    The old man hung up. He looked around the room as if taking in everything for the first time. Then he picked up his letter opener, skirted his desk and ambled over to the men huddled around her.
    He placed an arm around the man who had winked and blew a kiss at her. “She is something, eh boys? Twenty-five. Those were the days. Perk tits, tight pussy. Irresistible, eh?”
    The men nodded and mumbled their agreement.
    With a violence that belied his age, the old man plunged the letter opener into the neck of the man he leaned on. Blood shot out in torrents. The man reached for his neck, his eyes wide.
    Acting on instinct, the other men reached in and restrained their colleague in the event he would try to attack the old man.
    The old man gouged the letter opener back and forth and up and down as if digging in tough soil, looking for a buried coin.
    Rosina watched in horror. She had never seen a man killed before. She’d never seen anyone killed before. The man fell to his knees, the color draining from his face.
    In under a minute, it was all over. A man lay dead five feet from her. The old man wiped his letter opener on the dead man’s shirt.
    “It appears that your Darwin is more able than I previously thought. I will not underestimate him again. I assure you of that.”
    The old man walked behind his desk. “When I said stop, I meant it. Little Mickey didn’t stop. He winked at her. He blew her a kiss. That isn’t stopping. Defy me at your own peril. Now, we have other business to handle. Give her back her shirt. Get her looking reasonably good again. No one touches her until we have Darwin. We may need her intact.”
    The old man looked directly at her. “I thought your husband would be here at any moment, but sadly he won’t be joining us quite yet. It seems he has killed two of my best men and escaped on foot.”
    “What happened, boss?” The man in the suit stepped forward.
    “I don’t know exactly. All I do know is that our men are dead in the van that was sent to get Darwin. They were killed in an accident on the highway.”
    That was Darwin? My husband caused the accident that held up my bus? And now because he escaped, I’m getting a reprieve?
    She wished they were together again so she could hug him and cry in his arms.
    “But be careful. Do not underestimate this man Darwin. Apparently he was seen running away handcuffed. Most of the driver’s right ear is missing and my informant said it wasn’t because of the accident. They clearly saw teeth marks gouged in his head. Big John is dead too. Nothing could kill Big John, but he is gone.”
    The old man addressed his crew. “Gentlemen, be on your guard. We may not have seen the likes of a man like Darwin Kostas who can be handcuffed, kill Big John, chew off the driver’s ear and then walk away from a van that apparently flipped numerous times. This man must be caught. He must be stopped. But until that time, no one touches her. We may need her for proof of life. Now, leave me. Find Darwin at all cost. But whatever you do, bring him to me with his heart still beating. I, and only I, will be the one who rips it out of his chest.”
    Rosina found the resolve to smile.

Chapter 4

    Darwin walked through the shopping mall, feeling like a new man. He had on new jeans, a new, slim-fit collared shirt, and a black jacket. Rosina wouldn’t recognize him. When he finished this business and got to Greece, she would be so happy that he did what he was doing.
    He still couldn’t get over what just happened. Flesh from the guy’s ear was still stuck between his teeth when he’d gotten to the mall’s bathroom.
    After washing up, he’d gone on a spree, buying up everything he needed to look good. It was time to do a deal. It was time to settle this. He had to do it from a position of power and status, and for that he had to look the part.
    He strode out the mall doors and looked toward the highway, where a tow truck was trying to right the van.
    A police car entered the mall’s parking lot to his right.
    Could they be coming for me? Was I seen?
    He headed back into the mall. He had taken the cuffs off right away, but there was a little bruising where they had cut into his wrists. If the cops stopped him, looked at his wrists and started asking questions, it could be a problem.
    He hustled to the other end of the mall and saw, through the double doors, a taxi sitting idling.
    He ran out and hopped into the backseat.
    “Termini Station, please,” he said.
    The cab driver was writing in a pad of some kind. He looked up and said, “My time off.”
    Darwin reached into his pocket and pulled out a fifty euro bill.
    “Take me to Termini. Then have your time off.”
    The driver shook his head. “You want to go to Termini, one hundred euro.”
    Fucking crook.
    Darwin looked out the back window to make sure the cop wasn’t right behind them and then grabbed another fifty, thought again, and reached in for a twenty. He handed the driver the whole one hundred and twenty euros.
    “Termini Station. And do it fast.”
    The driver turned in his seat and said, “You got it.”
    It took thirty-five minutes to get to Termini, making it almost three in the afternoon when he got there. He jumped from the cab and walked into the station, having no idea what he was looking for or how he would find it.
    They would find him. That he was sure of, but he needed something to negotiate with before that happened. Or, he needed a weapon. Something to defend himself with, because he was prepared to deal, but they weren’t. He would need to take care of himself.
    I’m convinced I can talk to them. Without that, there’s no hope. I can’t live on the run, so I have to try.
    People rushed past him pulling luggage, yanking on their kids’ hands. Beggars asked for money. Uniformed policemen stood at the entrance to the station in pairs. A normal day at Termini.
    He entered a McDonald’s where he ordered two cheeseburgers for a euro each. After getting his food, he headed for the downstairs. He needed a pay phone with relative privacy.
    The call he was about to make was the first move in solving the Fuccini family problem.
    Knowing Rosina was in Greece was such a relief that he felt he could do this. He was so happy she hadn’t run off that plane. Sure, she’d be pissed, but after he told her what had happened and filled her in on what he was about to do, she’d understand, forgive him, and they could really start to live.
    He made it to a bank of phone booths, picked one at the end of the row and slipped his credit card into the slot.
    He dialed Special Agent Greg Stinsen’s number and waited. On the third ring, the time zone thing hit him. Three thirty in the afternoon would be nine-thirty in the morning in Toronto. Would Agent Greg even be at the office yet?
    On the fifth ring, Agent Greg picked up.
    “Yeah?”
    “Hi, Greg Stinsen?”
    “You got him. Who’s this?”
    “Darwin.”
    “What? The Darwin? Our resident hero? How the hell are you? How’s life treating you?”
    “Not good. I’m lucky to be alive.”
    “What? What’s happening? Talk to me.”
    “You know the man I killed with my Mustang?”
    “Of course I know him. Go on.”
    “His family is hunting me. They have tried to kill me twice in the last four days and stopped the highway traffic this morning to try to get to me. They actually kidnapped me hours ago, but there was a car accident and I was the only one to walk away. Two men are dead. I need your help.”
    “How come this is the first I’ve heard of this? No one has told me about any renewed activity-”
    “That’s because it isn’t happening in your jurisdiction. I’m in Rome.”
    “You mean Rome, as in Italy?”
    “The very one.”
    Darwin looked around. No one paid any special attention to him.
    “What the fuck are you doing in Rome?”
    “Rosina and I came here to get married-”
    “You have Rosina with you? And they still tried to take you out? Are they going after her too?”
    Greg sounded incredulous.
    “I don’t think they’re too worried about her. I need your help.”
    “Tell me everything. Wait, you’re on a pay phone right?”
    “Yes.”
    Darwin started with the attempts on their life and finished with sending Rosina off to Greece and the accident in the van in more detail, leaving nothing out.
    “You bit the fucker’s ear off? You are one crazy bastard. But you are one alive crazy bastard. I always knew I loved you, Darwin.”
    “I got lucky, Agent Greg. I could’ve been killed.”
    “I know. Listen. Call me Greg. No more Agent Greg, okay? Now, I’ll catch the next plane out. Don’t do anything without me. Stay low. Do not go anywhere more than once. Check into a ritzy hotel. They won’t expect that. Stay away from the cops. They could be on the payroll. Stay low until I get there, okay? Don’t do anything without me.”
    “Got it. How do we get in touch again?”
    “You have my cell number, don’t you?”
    Darwin looked at Greg’s business card.
    Fucking dummy.
    “Yeah, it’s here on your card.”
    “Good. Call me this time tomorrow. I should be on Italian soil. But be prepared for resistance.”
    “Resistance? What are you talking about?”
    “I’m FBI, Darwin. I work for the American government. I had special clearance in Toronto to work the Fuccini case. The FBI isn’t a global police force. When I get to Rome, I’m going to have to ask for clearance. It is a professional courtesy. If they deny me, I’ll be just like you, a tourist. I’d have to have some serious shit on the Fuccini family to be able to pursue them in Rome. Serious shit does not include your word that they’re trying to kill you. Get it?”
    “Got it.”
    Everything sounded good until that. Things seemed to be going downhill fast. Did the Fuccini family have to kill him to get on the police radar?
    “Okay, stay low and stay alive. I can’t have my resident hero dead because I couldn’t get there fast enough. We cool?”
    “We’re cool.”
    Darwin hung up, discouraged. Sure Greg was coming to Rome and it only took a phone call to get him there. But the chance that he had no power over here, and Rosina was alone in Greece, made him feel like he had failed. Things were all wrong. He didn’t have a plan. He had no idea what the next step was and yet his life hung in the balance.
    Sorry, Rosina. Some man I turned out to be.

Chapter 5

    Rosina rolled, tossed, and turned to a splitting headache. She lay on a small mattress on the floor of an adjoining office. Two men were posted outside her door. The room had no window, or at least it was boarded up. The only light came from a small lamp beside her mattress.
    They’d left a couple bottles of water for her, but so far, she had difficulty even looking at them.
    It had dawned on her how close she had come to being tortured and killed. What kind of men were these people? How could they all look at her as they had? She was a real person and yet, some kind of mob mentality had set in. They didn’t see her as someone’s daughter, as someone’s friend. They’d seen her as a piece of meat. Was that really the way human beings were? Had they’d shown her a level of debased humanity?
    What was going to happen to her? Would someone come for her?
    She dabbed the tears off her cheeks as she wept, her thoughts caused her to feel even more paranoid. How could she have been so stupid? She knowingly walked into their grasp. She could’ve been in Athens. She could’ve been far from these people. But she walked off the plane and right into their hands.
    She did it for her husband. She had to remember that reason and stay as strong as she could, because there was a very real chance that these men would capture Darwin and bring him there.
    She would need to be strong for him. She only hoped she’d get to see her husband one more time before she died.
    She rolled into a ball on the mattress, wrapped her arms around her legs and cried.
    What a fucking honeymoon this turned out to be.
    If she ever got the chance, she’d take down as many as she could before she died. Even if that meant throwing herself out the window. She’d grab a few of them as she went.
    A knock on the door startled her.
    Before she acknowledged the man at the door, he was already opening it. Light spilled in from the hallway. The door shut behind him and the light got cut off.
    What now? Personal interrogations?
    “Dinner,” he said.
    The man walked over and set a large plate of steaming lasagna down beside the lamp.
    “I’m,” she paused to clear her throat, “I’m not hungry.”
    “Doesn’t matter. Eat. You do not want to piss off the boss. If he says eat, then you fucking well eat.”
    The man walked over to the wall and leaned against it. As far as she could tell in the dim light, he stared at her.
    “What?” she asked. “Are you supposed to stand there and watch me eat? How do I know it isn’t poisoned?”
    The man pulled something out of his pocket and started twiddling it in his hands. She waited. He didn’t respond right away.
    He pushed off the wall and walked back to her mattress. She unrolled her body and edged away.
    He squatted, clutching a rosary.
    Religious bumfucks. Who knew?
    “There isn’t any poison in your food. Didn’t anything that happened to you today give you any insight?”
    “What are you talking about, insight? The only reason they stopped was to keep me in good condition in case my husband proved difficult. So I’m still meat, just a different kind. Bait.”
    The man shook his head back and forth and flipped his rosary in a circle around his palm.
    “No, there is a blood debt that has to be collected. Poisoning you means you don’t bleed.” He stopped, contemplated something, and then said, “Well, I guess there’d be bleeding on the inside, but that wouldn’t do. The boss wouldn’t be able to see it.”
    “Hmmph,” she mumbled.
    “Anyway, whatever. I’m here to take you to the bathroom too. Can’t have you soiling your pretty panties. Not with what’s coming. Get it, coming?” He laughed.
    What a horrible sound.
    “I don’t have to go.”
    “Oh yes, you do. Man, aren't you defiant? I’m here to take you to the bathroom. That’s it. I have a job to do. I do it. No questions asked. You’re supposed to go to the bathroom, so you go. Whether you shit or piss makes no difference to me. But you’re going. Got it?”
    His face had changed. His eyes seemed wider, his teeth closer together when he talked. She could tell she was trying his patience.
    Well, fuck him. To make a point, I should defy him. Get him killed for not taking me to the bathroom.
    She rolled off the mattress and got to her knees. She used the wall to help her stand on wobbly legs.
    “Good girl. Follow me. Do not deviate. As you’ve already seen, penalties are severe.”
    She nodded, most of the fight beaten out of her. The only thing she could count on was her internal voice. The voice of reason, understanding and coping. She could call them all the names she wanted in her head and they couldn’t touch her.
    The man led her out of the room, down the hall a few doors and then opened the ladies bathroom door. He stepped into the sink area and waited.
    “What?” he asked. “I am not letting you out of my sight. I won’t watch you piss or shit, but I’m staying right outside the stall door. Now, do this thing.”
    She stepped into the stall and tried to deal with the humiliation of having to go with a man just outside the door. When finished, she washed her hands and followed him back to her jail. The two men on either side of her door were new, spelling the others. They parted and let the two of them inside.
    The man shut the door behind them.
    “Aren’t we done here?” she asked.
    “I want to make sure, before I go, that you start eating. I can’t leave without knowing I did my job.”
    Rosina knelt down, eased her sore frame onto the mattress, and picked up the lasagna. It smelled amazing. She couldn’t believe she was so hungry after all she’d been through.
    The first bite woke up her stomach. Then, before she realized what was happening, the man hustled over and dropped down beside her.
    “Here, take this,” he whispered.
    He held out the rosary for her. She looked up into his eyes.
    “I’ve only got a second and then I have to go. I’m here undercover. Say nothing to no one. I won’t let them kill you. I can’t say if I can stop more torture, but I’ll do my best. Do you understand?”
    She nodded and reached out to take the rosary.
    “Good. Listen closely. The Fuccini family showed up here four days ago, looking for you and your husband. They don’t have the muscle in Italy like they have in Canada. They had to reach out, ask for help from their family ties in Sicily and ask permission to conduct business here in Rome. It was granted last night. I am one of a dozen men sent over to handle the Kostas situation. I’ve been undercover for three years now and my real bosses are about to pull me. I’ll be taking you with me. Got it?”
    Rosina felt shock, salvation and hope course through her. It was like she was on a failing plane when all of a sudden everything righted, and the pilot came on and said he got the engine restarted. They were going to be okay. She nodded at him.
    “Good, play it cool. Do what they say. This’ll be over soon.”
    He stood up and stepped away. “Good,” he said, his voice louder. “Eat all your fucking food or I’ll come back and force feed you.”
    As he exited between the two men in the hall, he muttered, “Stupid bitch.”
    One of the guards slammed the door shut, casting Rosina back in the dark.
    But it wasn’t as dark anymore.

Chapter 6

    Darwin wondered what he would do for the next twenty-four hours. Where would he stay, what would he eat? Greg told him to check in at a ritzy hotel, but which one?
    He walked along the crowded train station in a daze, unfocused, rudderless.
    The first step would be a weapon. But what kind? Knives were out of the question, of course. Along that line of thought, he hated the dark too. Absolute darkness caused him to have panic attacks. He found he just couldn’t cope well after living with his stepmom. All those years of being tossed in the room in the basement that had no window. The things she would prick his skin with for hours. He remembered if he cried once, or even mumbled a single peep of protest, she would start again, poking and pricking him with sharp needles, in the pitch-black room.
    He always said one day he would do it to her, and when he got the chance in that barn, he used a pitchfork. No one ever found out it was him and he was okay with that. One less fucked up human for the rest of humanity to deal with.
    One day he would tell Rosina all about it. How his stepmother was always pricking him and his father had no idea as he was away from home a lot. Darwin was bleeding in a dozen spots that day. His stepmother was about to lock him up in the dark room again, but Darwin escaped and ran at least a kilometer away. He hid in a barn that didn’t look used for anything other than hay storage. When his stepmother found him three hours later, she was furious. She saw a pitchfork against the wall of the barn and came at him. He recalled her saying something about pricking him real good this time. He dodged left, he dodged right, and kept himself off the long tongs of the pitchfork, but he knew it wouldn’t be long before she got lucky.
    The sun was setting that afternoon, casting the barn into darkness. His ability to control his temper became too difficult. When she lunged again, he dropped to the hay-covered floor, reached up and grabbed the handle of the pitchfork. After twisting it from her grasp, he moved at her with a quick jab. It entered her chest, and she died in less than two minutes.
    Darwin ran from the area and never looked back. He knew no one saw him because it never came up. His morose attitude was attributed to the loss and funeral of his stepmother.
    He wasn’t a murderer. He wasn’t a repeat offender. It was a one-time deal of getting back at the source of years of pain and anguish. Years of torment and torture at the hands of a psycho.
    His father had been absent all those years, working late hours. When he finally broke down and told his dad what his stepmother had been doing, his father wouldn’t believe it.
    Darwin was left emotionally damaged and scarred. He developed a violent reaction, an outright insane anger, to anything sharp being pointed at him. Although, he couldn’t hold a knife. No way. He’d end up getting angry at himself, piss himself off. He couldn’t have that.
    So what kind of weapon would work? A taser? A stun-gun. A pellet gun? But he had no idea where he would get those things in Rome.
    Darwin took the escalator back up to the main floor and started walking along the line of train tracks, some occupied, others not.
    He passed by a stationery store on the right and came up with a great idea for a weapon.
    He bought exactly what he needed and stepped out with the weapon carefully hidden in his new jacket’s pocket.
    Wait, when Rosina and I were here earlier, two men chased the bus and banged on the window. Maybe they’re still here?
    He spun on his heels, a full circle, looking in every direction. He didn’t see anything untoward. No one watched him longer than normal. No one appeared to be stalking him.
    How stupid, how stupid, he chastised himself. I walked out in the open. I could’ve been grabbed at any time.
    He moved to the wall and stayed close to it as he continued along, watching the faces of all the travelers. He looked for anyone without luggage.
    People from every culture ran by, heading in a myriad of directions, intent on making it back to their loved ones.
    If only I could make it back to Rosina.
    In thirty minutes, he had traversed the entire bottom floor of Termini Station without seeing anyone who resembled a mobster.
    What the hell does a mobster look like anyway?
    Toward the front, people stood in long lines buying train tickets. The roof was made of some kind of glass. Clouds rolled in, some gray, some darker.
    Then he spotted one of the men from earlier, the slimmer of the two men who had chased the bus Rosina and he had taken to the airport. The man sat on the second floor at some kind of coffee shop, a cappuccino in his hand. Right above the ticket area was a railing and behind that were cafes and restaurants. The man sat all the way down at the end, at the last table.
    Darwin immediately ducked his head, tightened his grip on his weapon and started for the side. He walked with purpose, but without making his hurried step too obvious. Within twenty seconds, he made it under the railing of the second floor and as far as he could tell, the mobster guy hadn’t seen him.
    He skirted around and took the escalator to the second floor.
    What am I doing? Greg told me to be cool. I’m supposed to be playing it safe.
    Too late. He almost died on that highway and he wanted to send a message to the boss man that he wouldn’t be intimidated.
    The motherfucking FBI is on my side and one phone call brought them running.
    The Fuccini family will always remember Darwin Athios Kostas.
    He slowed as he neared the corner of the cafeteria-style cafe. The man still sat there, looking down over the railing, his attention on the lines at the ticket booths.
    Darwin edged out and walked briskly up to his table. He made to walk past in case the man looked up, but he didn’t, so Darwin turned and stood for a second directly behind him.
    He waited. His hand shook the weapon as he gripped it in a sweaty palm.
    What am I doing? This is stupid. These guys are trained killers. How am I going to intimidate him?
    This was the only way. Act insane and be insane. Insanity meant unpredictability.
    He lunged forward, placed his weapon against the man’s throat and leaned down next to his ear.
    “Move a fucking inch, and the next time you move any muscle will be convulsions from the lead poisoning in your neck.”
    He surprised himself. His own voice scared him. He had no idea where it came from. On the word fucking, spittle flew from his mouth. It felt good, liberating. That kind of madness and control at the same time gave him something of a rush.
    To his credit, the man didn’t budge. Darwin felt the guy shudder a little.
    “Now, I’m going to sit down behind you and we’re going to talk. You will not turn around. You will not look at me or I will kill you and shove your corpse over the railing. Then I will nonchalantly walk downstairs and catch a train to wherever. Are we clear?”
    The man nodded in a rapid flourish, like he was in a mad hurry.
    Darwin eased back, pulled his weapon away from the man’s neck, and sat on the chair behind the mobster. The man didn’t budge. He just kept staring straight ahead.
    Darwin glanced down at the weapon in his hand and almost laughed. A thick pencil, unsharpened. He couldn’t carry a sharp one. Never could in school, couldn’t now.
    Lead poisoning. That’s rich.
    A chuckle slipped out after all.
    Shit.
    He looked up. The man hadn’t moved.
    Darwin set his teeth together and spoke through them. “Put your arms up on the railing. Your hands must stay in my view at all times or I will cut them off.”
    The man lifted both arms up.
    “Good. Now tell your boss that we have to make an arrangement. He cannot hunt me down forever and I will not be hunted like an animal. This has to stop.”
    “Can I speak?” the man asked.
    “Yes, but first, tell me your name.”
    “Paul, my name’s Paul.”
    “Okay, Paul…” he almost said nice to meet you.
    Shit. Stupid Canadian kindness. I’m talking to a guy who wants me dead. It’d do me well to remember that.
    “Go ahead. Fucking talk.”
    “I don’t think the boss will walk away from this.”
    “Why’s that?” Darwin asked, his teeth still clenched tight.
    “Two of his best men are dead. They’ve got tags on their toes after what you did to them out on the highway.”
    Darwin was shocked. They already know about that?
    “Go on,” he said, mostly because he had no idea what else to say.
    “My partner and I were leaving after we missed you on the bus.”
    Darwin leaned forward and smacked the back of the guy’s head. “That’s for scaring my wife.” He needed to stay in a position of power. These kind of men responded to that. Even though he was shitting on the inside.
    He snuck a glance left and right. No one walked toward them. Their little meeting hadn’t gotten anyone’s attention.
    “Sorry about that, man. I was just doing my job. Anyway, my partner and I were leaving. He got on a train and left, that’s why he’s not here. I take a bus, but thought I’d get something to eat and hang out. Well, I got the call to stay here and watch for you after what you did. I couldn’t believe it.”
    “What do you mean, I did?”
    “No one ever lays Big John down. Never. But I was told you chewed the driver’s ear off and snapped Big John’s neck, flipped the van and walked away. All that with handcuffs on? Man, you one crazy dude. Everybody’s fucked up about it. The word on the street is Big John is dead and some crazy Canadian white boy has gone insane.”
    Suddenly everything came clear. The men were brought back in to watch the train station in case he returned. They figured him for being a crazy rabid fuck, so Paul took a position upstairs to watch the ticket line in case he saw Darwin.
    They were afraid of him. Paul wasn’t challenging him at all. The shudder Darwin felt earlier was Paul quaking in fear.
    He had them. Now he had to keep them there. It was the only way.
    “That’s right, I am insane and I’m pissed off. Killing Vincenzo was an accident. Maybe Fuccini wanted me to apologize in person.” He leaned forward and made the rest of his words as intense as he could. “But then the asshole threw me down and put handcuffs on me. I couldn’t believe it. The van pulled onto the highway and Big John pulled a knife out of his ankle. That was it. I went mad. I chewed the driver’s ear off and started in on Big John’s neck. I broke his neck with my fucking teeth. Did you hear that part? Big John’s neck was so severely broken that the skin was split right up the side?”
    Paul nodded violently. Darwin could almost feel fear coming off the guy. At least he hoped he had him.
    “Now I’m coming for Fuccini and anyone else who gets in my way because I’m a man with nothing to lose. You take away everything from a man and what does he have left? Nothing, that’s right. Now I’ve got nothing. So, until Fuccini backs off, I’m unstoppable.”
    He stopped talking and reconsidered the last part.
    Shit, that sounded so amateur.
    “I’m sure if you go in and talk to him, he’ll consider letting Rosina go,” Paul said.
    Now it was his turn to be stunned. Rosina? They had his wife? No way. He couldn’t believe it. He left her on that plane. He waited and watched. She hadn’t come out. No way. Impossible.
    “Repeat what you just said, but don’t use her name.”
    “They have your wife. Maybe you can set up some kind of exchange, maybe a deal?”
    “I don’t believe you. I saw her get on that plane.”
    The guy shook his head. He still looked out across the open expanse above the heads of ticket purchasers.
    “No. They picked her up in a limousine and took her ten blocks from here to the boss’s office tower after she checked back into Hotel Luigi.”
    “So you know where they’re holding my wife?”
    Darwin thought he had this under control. Greg was coming tomorrow to help him sort it out. Rosina was supposed to be in Greece. He’d join her in a few days when everything was over. But now tomorrow would be too late. Greg wouldn’t make it in time.
    Rosina needs me. It’s time to step this up. Time to be a man.
    “Yes, I do, but I can’t take you to see her. They’ll kill me.”
    Darwin pulled the pencil out and leaned forward, placing the tip against the guy’s neck.
    “You’ll die right now if you don’t take me to her.”
    “Okay, okay, easy, easy. I’ll take you to the building. I’ll show it to you. You do the rest.”
    He eased the pencil away and placed it back in his pocket.
    “Reach in slowly and remove your cell phone. Give it to me. Then I want you to slowly remove your gun. Then hand that over. Any movement I don’t like, you’ll be dead before you hit the ground, one floor below.”
    Paul, with exaggerated slowness, reached into his breast pocket and produced a small cell phone. He reached behind him, palm up, arm twisted, and handed the phone to Darwin.
    “You really want me to give you my piece, out here in the open?”
    “Do that, or maybe I’ll chew on you too.”
    Damn, do I ever sound corny. I gotta get this tough-guy act under control.
    “Okay, okay, take it easy.”
    Paul reached inside his jacket.
    Darwin moved closer. He put a hand on Paul’s shoulder and squeezed the jacket’s material.
    “Easy does it,” Darwin whispered.
    Paul brought the weapon out with two fingers on the butt of the gun. Darwin knew nothing about guns. All he could tell was that the one being handed to him looked lethal.
    He took it with his free hand and dropped it in the jacket pocket that didn’t have the pencil.
    “Now, get up.”
    “We’re going to the office tower?” Paul asked.
    “Not right away. I need to find out if you lied to me first. You better hope you didn’t.”
    Darwin rose from his chair and stepped back. Paul got up and half turned toward him.
    Darwin locked his jaw and started letting one eye twitch. Then he tilted his head a little. He knew if he looked in the mirror at that moment he would appear to be quite fucked. He wanted to portray an insane man. Someone who had gone over the edge and wasn’t coming back. In a way, that was Darwin.
    They had Rosina. The line had been crossed. He didn’t have to act crazy. He was on his way there with a first class ticket, courtesy of the Fuccini family.
    “Move,” he instructed.
    Paul started away from him, Darwin close behind.
    “Do one stupid thing, it ends. You should know how this works.”
    Paul nodded.
    Darwin followed him to the escalator and stayed two steps away on the way down. At the bottom, he told Paul to go to the right.
    On the way out of Termini Station, a few people got close, but nothing happened. No one attacked them or tried to stop them.
    At the street, Darwin directed Paul down the side to where they would turn left.
    In less than two minutes, they stood in front of Hotel Luigi.
    “We are going to go upstairs to the lobby. I need to see if my wife checked in as you said she did. Are we clear?”
    Paul nodded and stepped into the building. He took the stairs with Darwin a few steps back. Then they entered the brightly lit lobby.
    “May I help you?” the clerk asked.
    Paul moved off to the side a little. Darwin stepped closer.
    “Do you remember me? I stayed here for four nights with my wife, Rosina?”
    “Ah, yes, of course. She already checked in. You’re in room twenty-seven. I don’t think she’s in her room right now. Would you like your key?”
    Shit. It was true.
    “No, it’s okay. We’ll come back later.”
    He turned away and motioned for Paul to join him, the whole time his hand in his jacket pocket, fingers wrapped around the butt of Paul’s gun.
    They got back outside without incident, and Darwin looked for a taxi. At first, he was surprised the guy hadn’t tried anything yet. But then he thought of Big John and how he’d looked after the car accident. This kind of man understood what it took to take down someone like Big John. For him to do it in handcuffs would intimidate them to no end.
    He hailed a cab with all the confidence of a man in complete control. He knew Paul wouldn’t run. Bullets were faster and, as far as Paul knew, Darwin had two guns on him.
    When the taxi pulled up, Darwin stood on one side and ordered Paul in first. Then he bent down to watch as Paul shut his door.
    “Lock it,” Darwin said.
    Paul did.
    Then Darwin slid in beside him.
    “Where to?” the cab driver asked.
    Out of the driver’s line of sight, Darwin withdrew Paul’s gun and rested it on his lap, pointed at Paul.
    “Tell him where to go.”
    Paul looked down at the gun and then up at the driver.
    “Take us to Via Roma in the Eur Zone.”
    The driver nodded and they started off.
    Rome’s allure tempted Darwin to look out the window and take it all in, but he couldn’t. The afternoon was waning, the sun dropping and his wife was a prisoner because of him. The man sitting next to him was supposed to deliver Darwin to the Fuccini boss, but Darwin was coming to surprise them instead.
    The man beside him was dangerous.
    But Paul thought Darwin was the dangerous one.
    I’d do good to remember that and act the part, he thought.
    He tilted his head a little and stared at Paul like he was angry again.
    This is crazy. I’m not a mobster. I can’t do this. How am I supposed to scare these guys?
    Paul stared out the window. He kept his hands on his lap and waited until the cab ride was over.
    The driver eased up a building at least five stories high. It appeared pretty modern for Rome, with glass windows and an art deco front.
    “That’s thirty-eight euros,” the driver said.
    Darwin pulled two twenty euro bills out of his inner jacket pocket and handed them forward.
    “Get out,” he told Paul.
    They exited in unison. The cab drove away from the curb and Darwin got off the street before he got hit. Cars raced up and down Via Roma without any regard for safety. A horn blared and then another. He almost turned to see what was happening, but refrained so he could keep his eyes on Paul.
    “Okay, we made it this far. Now, where is the boss?”
    Paul turned to the glass building. “Up there. Top floor.”
    “What office or room number will I find my wife?”
    “First off, I have no idea where, exactly, your wife is. I’ve been at Termini all day watching for you. Second, there is no room number. The Fuccini family own the building and the boss’s office takes up the whole floor. But it won’t be easy getting in.”
    Darwin cocked his head to the side. “Why’s that?”
    The sun had dropped behind the buildings in its final descent. Tension in Darwin’s stomach caused him to consider abandoning this until tomorrow. He couldn’t operate out at night, in the dark. Paul’s face was cast in the golden light, making him look like he was smiling.
    “Because, whenever the boss is up there, extra security detail is called in and the elevators are put on service. That means no one can get up there without using the stairs, which are guarded.”
    Darwin stood on the cement sidewalk and listened to Paul tell him that they’d come all this way for nothing. Paul had acted scared and compliant. Now he looked smug, and he talked with attitude. What had happened? How had his attitude shifted?
    “What do you propose I do?”
    Paul laughed. “You didn’t think I was going up with you, did you?”
    “Actually, you are.”
    “Yeah right. Fuccini would kill me if I went up there and let you walk right in.”
    “I’ll kill you if you don’t.”
    Darwin’s stomach dropped further as the sun did. It would be dark soon. He couldn’t be out in the dark. He knew his fear was irrational, but it wasn’t a choice. It was just that way.
    Paul wasn’t making sense either. Back at Termini Station, he’d been intimidated. Now he talked like he had it all going on.
    “So kill me,” Paul said. He opened his jacket at the chest area and said, “Shoot me right here. Come on.”
    The guy’s crazy. Darwin couldn’t shoot him. He didn’t even know how to use the gun.
    Before Darwin could react, Paul was on him. It was a mad rush, he was hit with a blind sucker punch. Then another.
    Darwin was falling, trying to keep his balance, his arms pinwheeling. He instinctively knew that if he fell, he wouldn’t be getting back up.
    Paul threw all his weight on him in that second.
    Darwin landed on his back, the wind rushing from his lungs, Paul tossing punch after punch, in the stomach, the side and a couple in the arms.
    Then it was over as fast as it started. Paul got up, breathing fast and hard.
    “You fucking idiot. You thought you had the jump on me?” he screamed.
    Darwin wiped blood from the edge of his mouth. He reached for the gun in his jacket, but it was gone.
    “That’s right. Got my gun back.” He turned the gun sideways. “See this here. That’s called a safety. You can’t fire the gun without the safety turned off.” He looked down at Darwin, who lay there collecting his breath, as the lights slowly dimmed on Rome. “The whole time you thought you had me. You couldn’t even fire a gun. Actually, have you ever fired a weapon?”
    Paul searched Darwin’s face for an answer. Then he laughed and slapped a knee. “You haven’t, have you? Holy shit, are you ever a fucking amateur. And the boss has everyone afraid of you. Damn, is he going to be happy when I deliver you.”
    Paul leaned down and grabbed Darwin’s jacket pocket where he’d stashed the pencil. He ripped it out and looked at it dumbfounded.
    “A pencil. A fucking pencil. Lead poisoning? Are you fucking kidding me? This is royal. This, I gotta tell the boys.” He looked down at Darwin. “Get up. Get on your feet.”
    Darwin had no idea what to do. The sun continued its descent. A mafia hit man stood in front of him. A hit man with a gun and not afraid to use it.
    And the sun is going down, Darwin reminded himself.
    His reality shifted for real. Maybe he was going crazy after all. If they had Rosina and they were going to kill him, then what was the point of living? What was it all for?
    “I said, get up.” Paul stepped closer and kicked Darwin in the stomach.
    The blow knocked the wind out of him. He curled around and got on his hands and knees. He thought about his stepmother. He thought about all the times he sat in that dark room and got poked. He thought about blood, and Big John’s face came to him, neck split open, blood on his face, his shoulder, his arm.
    Darwin got up slowly. Paul was talking about how he could never have taken Darwin prisoner and got him to the Fuccini building so easily. It was much better to go as a willing captor. He thanked Darwin for the pleasure of delivering himself.
    Then a streetlight turned on overhead. The day had fallen victim to night and its ever present darkness. Darwin shook as the darkness gripped him. He felt blind, he felt lost, but most of all he felt anger that he could be in this position. That he was the weak one again.
    “Move,” Paul ordered with a flourish of the gun.
    Darwin wiped the rest of the blood from the edge of his mouth, used both hands to straighten out his jacket, took a deep breath, and said, “No. Fuck you.” Then he spat out a red gob that landed on Paul’s lapel.
    “Ohhh, you are so dead for that,” Paul seethed.
    “Uh, uh, uh,” Darwin said, wagging his finger back and forth. “Temper, temper.”
    Paul lunged, but this time Darwin was ready. He braced his legs and shoved with everything he had. The two men connected at the chest, arms grappling for a hold. Darwin lifted his leg up and kneed Paul between the legs.
    Paul yelped and instantly lost his footing. Darwin redoubled his efforts, pushing Paul as he shouted out in triumph. Off the curb and out into the street. A horn blared. A car swerved, and still Darwin pushed.
    Paul’s resistance gave out and he started to fall. Darwin shoved one last time and turned around to jump out of the way.
    Too many cars were coming. He made a choice and leap-frogged the trunk of a car. He cleared the road and hit the sidewalk, his breath coming in waves.
    He looked for Paul, expecting to see a raised weapon.
    Paul hadn’t been so lucky. He sat on the road, his legs useless and broken. A car screeched to a halt after it had run over his thighs. More cars were coming. They were going too fast.
    A BMW tried to slow, but waited too long. Paul screamed and then the bumper connected with his face, almost knocking his head clean off.
    What remained of Paul’s face was driven into the cement of the road. Blood squirted out like a stepped-on ketchup package.
    For the first time since he’d started this, he wondered if he’d throw up.
    Everyone’s attention was on the accident. Darwin had to get out of there. He had to become unseen. There could be no witnesses connecting him to this. How the Fuccini family knew that Darwin had run away from Big John’s van earlier, he had no idea. That meant all the cops on Fuccini’s payroll would be looking for him. Adding Paul’s death to the list meant Darwin would never be able to leave Italy again. They’d have him tied up in court for years, and his Canadian Embassy had no teeth.
    Fuck, the Canadian government has no teeth. They’re all asshole wimps, except for Rob Ford, but he only runs Toronto.
    Darwin limped away, trying to act as normal as he could, considering the injuries Paul had just bestowed on him.
    He chastised himself for not grabbing Paul’s gun. Now what was he going to do? He had no weapon. No way to get into a heavily guarded building and a dead man outside the front of that building.
    Wait, maybe that could play into things a bit.
    He walked around the edge of the Fuccini office tower and looked back to the road. The traffic had all but stopped. People milled around and others ran out of the front of the building where they held Rosina.
    Perfect. Just as I thought. Members of the Fuccini security detail are investigating what happened.
    The dark closed in. Another man was dead. The stakes had risen. There was no going back now. It was Fuccini or him.
    Fuccini won’t even see me coming.

Chapter 7

    Rosina jumped as her door was smashed open.
    “Get up. Now!”
    She had just been trying to relax, staying calm, thinking about how Darwin was probably on his way and how an undercover cop was in the building already. She told herself over and over, Everything’s going to be all right, everything’s going to be all right. But no matter how much faith and hope she had, nor how much willpower, when that door banged open, her heart rate spiked along with her breathing.
    It was all starting up again.
    “Let’s go,” the man said.
    He was one of the guards from earlier. She stepped into the hallway and followed him on legs that didn’t wobble as much as before. She’d eaten the entire meal they’d offered her, and it had buoyed her system, offering electrolytes to her blood to replace those lost from her terrifying water experience.
    The man led her past the office where she had met the boss and into an adjoining room.
    As soon as she entered it, she gasped and brought her hands up to her mouth, stifling a scream. Everything in her soul shouted at her to run.
    The room was some kind of torture chamber. A medieval stockade sat in one corner. A table with at least fifty metal tools and gadgets ran along one wall. This room didn’t have a dropped ceiling. Chains hung from the metal rafters above.
    On her right was a square unit on wheels that appeared to be an electrical generator of some kind. She started to step backwards. She could feel it in the air. A kind of tension, thickened by the pain these instruments caused.
    Someone bumped into her from behind.
    “Leaving so fast?”
    She turned to look into the empty eyes of the Harvester of Sorrow.
    “Stay, join us, watch the show.”
    She tried to speak, then waited, swallowed once and tried to find her voice. “What… show?”
    “You’ll see. There is one thing I can tell you. We haven’t located your husband, so this isn’t about your pain yet. Yours is coming. Of that, I am sure.” His smile reminded her of an open coffin smile on a dead man.
    Someone yelled in pain from down the hallway.
    She reached into her pocket and pulled out the rosary her new friend had given her. Rolling it through her fingers, Rosina eased away from the door and stepped toward the wall that was farthest from the torture equipment.
    The squabbling in the hallway grew louder.
    Sorrow flipped a switch and turned on a machine. She had no idea what its purpose could be.
    Then the door filled with men. For a brief second, she thought she’d seen Darwin among them. She almost yelled out in protest.
    Four men walked in, escorting the undercover cop.
    No, not my friend, my savior.
    His hands were behind his back. Blood smeared his face and fear clouded his eyes.
    “Tie him to those chains,” Sorrow ordered.
    Rosina watched in horror. Sure, she’d seen horror movies before. Hostel, Saw, and other gore-fest flicks. But that was acting, and it was scripted. This was real. She had no idea people would do this kind of thing to others.
    They turned the cop around to tie him up to the chains, his hands cuffed behind his back.
    She wanted to scream at the top of her lungs at the injustice. She wanted every law official in Italy to watch so they would enact stronger laws against organized crime.
    A nice man, a cop, was about to be tortured, or worse, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
    The burning rage inside fired her up. In that moment, if she could have killed the men around her, she would have. Even though that would bring her to their level, it would be a pleasure. Then she and the cop could walk from the building, their heads held high because they did a good deed.
    She was curious how the desire to murder in cold blood could so easily come to her. She wondered how, in the face of violence, she could accept that notion as her own.
    Maybe that’s the human condition. Could be we’re all doomed.
    The boss entered the room. He smiled at her.
    “So glad you could join us. I wanted you present. There’s a reason and I think you’ll play a vital role in what is about to take place.”
    What the hell is he talking about?
    He stepped over to the cop. The men had hooked him up to the chains that hung suspended from the ceiling in a way that his arms were rigid and his mid-section couldn’t move. It looked painful because his shoulders seemed to be taking most of the weight, his feet barely able to touch the ground.
    “So, tell us your secret,” the boss said.
    The cop looked away, as if he knew what was coming and nothing would stop them.
    The boss turned to Rosina. “I was talking to you. Tell all of us your secret.”
    “What… what secret?” she stammered.
    “That rosary. Where did you get it?”
    “I, ahh.” Rosina looked down at it in her hands. She looked back up at the boss. “I found it in my room.”
    He narrowed his eyes. “Did you now?”
    The room was silent. The only sounds were the clinking and rattling of the chains as the cop tried to hold himself steady.
    “Let me ask you again. I will give you a second chance. I don’t believe in lying, but second chances are okay under certain circumstances, and this is a certain one. Where did you get that rosary?”
    Rosina looked at the cop’s bruised face. Blood dripped from his right eye, his mouth, and a cut on his left eyebrow. His body language spoke of defeat. When he looked up at her, she almost cried. He nodded with his eyes and tried to smile.
    It’s okay, he said. Go ahead. Tell the truth.
    “I got the rosary from…” She couldn’t condemn him. She couldn’t say it. Then she thought of Darwin, dabbed at the tears that started to fall off her cheeks and selfishly said, “I got the rosary from him.”
    “From who?” the boss asked.
    Rosina pointed at the man in chains.
    “And why would he give you such a thing?”
    “Maybe,” she cried fully now, her body wracked with sobs. She couldn’t hold it back. In a room full of men as mean as these men were, she just couldn’t hold it back. “Maybe because he wanted me to have a little faith before I died here.”
    The old man raised his index finger. “Or maybe he is working against us. Tell me, what did he say to you when he handed you your little present?”
    “I don’t remember,” Rosina answered defiantly.
    “Maybe I could jog your memory.”
    The old man motioned for his men to move to her.
    “No, no,” she screamed through the tears.
    “Oh don’t be such a crybaby. We’re not going to hurt you. Yet.”
    Two men stood on either side of her, their arms crossed. She knew what that meant. Don’t move. No matter what you’re about to see, don’t move.
    She was pretty sure whatever they were going to do, she couldn’t watch anyway. She dropped her face into her hands and closed her eyes.
    Someone grabbed her hair and yanked her head back. She screamed at the pain.
    “You will watch everything,” the old man said. “When I have finished here, you will get another chance to answer my question.”
    Each man on either side held an arm and the side of her head so tightly that even the slightest movement caused major pain, trumping any migraine she may have ever had.
    Oh, yes, I could kill every one of these pathetic human beings. Just give me the gun and line them up. I’d sleep better at night knowing they’re dead.
    “Sorrow, I want you to perform a hamstringing on our fine gentleman here.”
    Sorrow really is his name? So fucked.
    The Harvester grabbed a long blade, a sword of some kind, and a roll of white cloth and made his way over to the cop.
    The old man turned to Rosina. “We’re just going to make a little cut and then bandage it up. Don’t worry, there won’t be too much blood. It’ll be over in a second and then we can get on with our little chat.”
    Harvester got set up pretty quick. He unrolled two long strips of the cloth and then got down on his knees. The other two men in the room walked over and got down on one knee in front of the cop and each man grabbed a leg.
    “If you close your eyes, I will rip off your eyelids with a pair of pliers and force you to watch the next session as your eyes dry themselves out of your head,” the boss warned her.
    Rosina watched as the Harvester of Sorrow applied his blade to the jeans above the knee and walked around each leg. The bottom half of the cop’s pants fell to the floor. The men who hunkered below him grabbed his legs again and held on tight.
    He slid the long blade into the back of one of the cop’s knees and sliced back and forth, almost severing his lower leg. Then he worked on the back of the other knee. The cop screamed an unholy wail for ten seconds before his head dropped and he passed out.
    Please Lord, have mercy on him.
    Rosina cried hard. The men holding her let go and she fell to the floor.
    The old man was talking again. “That’s called hamstringing. My colleague here has cut the two large tendons at the back of the knees, thereby crippling this man for the rest of his life. We’re bandaging him up because we wouldn’t want him to bleed to death, now would we?”
    She couldn’t believe it. Where was she? Who was she? This was her honeymoon. They were in Rome getting married because their parents wouldn’t see eye to eye. And now she had witnessed something called hamstringing, an image she knew she would never be able to put out of her mind.
    She felt a section of her emotional well-being leave. A deep part of her, and it would never come back.
    Innocence.
    She would never be the same. Whatever had hardened these men to make them who they are today, they were passing it along to her, but she didn’t want it. But it was too late. She opened her eyes. The room was still there. Everything remained real. It wasn’t a nightmare.
    “I will start asking you questions again,” the old man said as he stepped closer to her. He seemed to be enjoying this. Maybe in the end it was all an act for the men under his command. He needed to show this kind of absolute strength so no one would get out of line. She certainly hoped that was the reason, because if they were enjoying this, then there really was no hope for humanity.
    “Do not waste my time and don’t lie to me,” he continued. “Why did that man give you the rosary? What did he say to you after delivering your dinner?”
    Rosina made up her mind in under a second. She couldn’t play here. The rules were too foreign. This was the definition of serious. Life and death choices, and answers, seemed to be the currency.
    “He said he would help me escape.”
    The words carried a betrayal she’d never before imagined could come from her. How could she do that after the man had bestowed hope in her again? What kind of person was she?
    “Anything else?”
    “What do you mean?”
    “Did he tell you anything else? Does he have a secret? Don’t make me draw it out of you.”
    They know. Somehow they already know. This is a game. The old man is drawing it out to show me and the men what he’s made of.
    “He said he was working undercover. But you already know that,” Rosina said.
    The old man half-smiled and turned away.
    “I want this cop to leave here with a Glasgow smile so all his other cop friends can know what happens when you attempt to betray me or my family.”
    She shuddered to think what a Glasgow smile was, but felt relief at the words leave here. That told her the cop could go eventually. He would be free. Who knows, with medicine today, maybe they could fix his legs and he could walk normally again.
    The Harvester of Sorrow walked around to the front of the unconscious cop and surveyed his face. The thick bandages had staunched the blood flow.
    The Harvester nodded at his two helpers and they stepped closer. Then Harvester pulled out a small utility knife and stuck it just inside the corner of the cop’s lips.
    With a flourish of the wrist, he sliced the cop’s cheek all the way to the ear on each side. The cop awoke from his blackout and screamed.
    She watched in horror as the Harvester jabbed the utility knife in and out of the cop’s stomach, and his scream continued, louder, animal-like.
    The grotesque mask of open flesh was too much to bear. Rosina looked down at the floor, afraid to close or avert her eyes entirely.
    After a moment the cop fell silent.
    “What did you do?” the old man asked.
    “Nothing, sir. We always stab them a few times to make them scream. It opens up the wound quite nicely.”
    “I realize that, but he looks dead.”
    The Harvester stepped forward and touched the cop’s neck under the jaw. Then he turned back to the boss.
    “I’m sorry. His heart must’ve stopped.”
    The boss’s cell phone rang.
    “Excuse me,” he said, and turned from the Harvester.
    “Speak,” the boss commanded into the phone. After a moment he said, “I understand. Thank you.”
    “It appears we’re going to have company. Assemble all your men and head downstairs.”
    “What’s happening, boss?” the man to Rosina’s right asked.
    He looked at her and pointed. “Her husband is here and he brought Paul with him, all the way from Termini Station. Now Paul is lying dead in the road like a fucking dog, his head crushed. Paul still had his weapon on him. That means that Darwin has his own, or he doesn’t use one. Killing Big John was just the beginning. Now he’s found us, and he sent us a signal.” The old man looked around the room. “Be aware. Killing Paul like that in front of our building is a warning. Shoot on sight. We can play with this one later.” He gestured to Rosina. “I want Darwin Athios Kostas dead within the hour!”

Chapter 8

    Darwin stood at the back of the building. He had to get inside. There was no other option left. The sun had dropped past where he normally allowed himself to be outside. He knew, rationally, there was nothing to fear just because it was dark. But that was the thing about a phobia-there was nothing rational about it.
    His therapist called it achluophobia. He also diagnosed Darwin with aichmophobia — a fear of sharp or pointed objects, such as needles and knives. Darwin had looked them up and felt he really had angrophobia — a fear of becoming angry. He did horrible, unspeakable things when he got angry. It became a fury without limit. The only things that caused that fury were being in darkness or having something poking and prodding him like a needle or a knife.
    Thanks, Stepmom. You’re a real sport. Rot in hell.
    The heavy darkness pressed down on Darwin. It closed in tighter. He felt marked distress. His ability to function and think properly grew more difficult by the second. If he didn’t find a door that opened to a lighted area within minutes, he would have no choice but to break the nearest window.
    The front of the building was the wrong way to go. Too many people would be near the road. He even saw men running from the Fuccini building’s front doors earlier. If only he could walk through them, step up to Mr. Fuccini and discuss terms.
    Yeah, right. Maybe in the Wizard Of Oz, but not here, not now.
    After killing another of the Fuccini men, he was sure that Mr. Fuccini would mark him for death, if he hadn’t already.
    Darwin ran to the two large, green garbage bins at the back of the building, under a bright streetlight that shined onto them. He looked at the sky, a dark black-blue color, the sun’s presence all but gone.
    Rosina, I’m coming for you, baby.
    Standing under the light, he scanned the building for a way in. There was one door with a Keep Out sign and a large hole in the wall about seven feet up. The garbage chute, he assumed.
    No way am I climbing up through there.
    He had to find another way in. Time was running out. The police would be scouring the area looking for the guy who threw Paul into the traffic.
    He ran over to the Keep Out door and tried the knob. Locked.
    Shit. Think, dammit, think.
    A pile of broken skids were piled haphazardly about eight feet high, and he leaned under the chute to look up. It reeked of garbage and looked very black up in there. He knew, even if it had a velvet ladder leading up with a neon Welcome sign beside the hole, there would be no way he would climb into it. Not with how dark it was.
    Voices. Men talking. He cocked his ear and listened. They were on the other side of the Keep Out door.
    Darwin ran back around the skids, careful to watch for the exposed nails, to the other side of the garbage bin and dropped below sight. The bins were on wheels. At least there was that.
    The door opened from the inside. He peeked around the edge of the bin. Bright light poured from the building. A man stood there, a gun in his hand.
    He turned back to someone and shouted, “I know, I know, I’m going. You just watch your ass.”
    The man kicked something on the door near its bottom and then walked away from it. The door stayed propped open. Darwin got down on his hands and knees and looked under the bin to watch the man’s feet.
    He walked to the other bin first with slow, cautious steps. Then, at the last second, the man leapt forward and stared into the bin. “Shit.”
    He’s checking the bins. He thinks I’m hiding in the garbage bins.
    Darwin watched the man’s feet as they drew nearer the bin he hid behind, and planned his next move.
    The man was slow, using extra caution.
    Damn it, hurry up. I don’t want to lose my nerve.
    The feet paused. Darwin braced himself. The man leapt up and looked inside the bin. As soon as he said Shit, Darwin shoved the bin hard.
    It rolled forward faster than he thought it would, and he almost lost his balance. It was only six feet to the brick wall of the building and, to the man’s credit, he stayed on his feet all the way.
    The bin stopped, almost as fast as it had started, with a crunch and a shout.
    Keeping low to avoid any wayward bullets, Darwin raised his fists and approached the man. The man’s gun lay on the ground two feet from him. Darwin picked it up, checked the safety and flicked it off right away. Thanks, Paul.
    He pointed the weapon at the man. The time for niceties had ended.
    But the man was already dead.
    Darwin couldn’t believe it. How did he die? Wait, how many men am I going to kill in one day?
    He eased the garbage bin off the wall. When the bin had pushed the man into the pile of wooden skids, at least six or seven rusty nails had made their home in the back of the man’s head. but that didn’t seem to be the killing blow.
    A large, sharp piece of wood had sliced the man’s neck sideways as he fell across it, digging a few inches deep. Blood covered the man’s shoulder and dripped all the way down to the cement. He died quickly. The nails embedded into his skull had kept him quiet.
    Darwin couldn’t believe his luck. Without wasting a moment, he turned and entered the building, the gun in his hand held high. He kicked the stopper on the door and shut it quietly behind him.
    He was in. And there was light.
    Rosina was here somewhere and he wouldn’t hesitate again. He wouldn’t try to intimidate these men again. They were hardened beyond that. He had been brought here like cattle to the abattoir and he didn’t even know it. The joke was on him, but now that he had the upper hand of surprise, nothing would stop him from getting his bride back.
    He ran for the middle of the building where he supposed the elevators were. He knew what Paul said about the elevators being locked out of service was probably true, but no one ever thought of the service elevator. The one contractors used for equipment and supplies was almost never locked unless men were working on the building. But it was after nine in the evening. He doubted anyone was still working.
    He rounded each corner with caution, his new weapon at the ready. He’d encountered no one by the time he found the elevators. Just to fuck around, he hit the buttons and ran away, looking for the freight one.
    Two doors away from the elevators, someone stepped out behind him. Darwin spun around and squeezed the trigger to the point where the weapon almost fired. He held off and watched as the man tiptoed down the corridor, oblivious to Darwin in the middle of the hallway.
    The man turned a corner without looking back. Darwin started breathing again. He may want to approach the bad guys without caution and show them who’s boss, but he didn’t want to start that by shooting one of them in the back.
    He turned around and hustled down another corridor, his running shoes almost soundless on the tiled floor.
    To his relief, the freight elevator was right where he thought it would be. He recognized the larger door right away.
    He pushed the button and the cables and pulleys whirred into gear. As it came down, he kept his back to it and watched the hallway.
    The amateur in the building with hired hit men was not the role he envisioned on his honeymoon, but nor did he think his new bride would be kidnapped. He had to do whatever he could. There was no turning back. He only wished he had Greg with him. Someone trained in this kind of thing.
    The elevator motors slowed. He turned, prepared for anyone coming out.
    The doors slid open to reveal an empty lift. He jumped in and pushed the top button, and then hit the close door button.
    Immediately, the door began closing. He watched the hallway until the last second, but no one appeared.
    He knew a certain number of the Fuccini men would file out of the building to look into the accident out front. He had a feeling that resistance would be at a minimum and for the ones inside still, they would fear him more than Paul did. They would think of Big John, then they would see Paul and think this was just the beginning.
    What if a small army guarded the top floor? They would have heard the freight elevator and now, as he rode toward them, they would be flipping off their safeties.
    At two floors away, as fast as he could, he jammed his thumb into the button below the top one. The freight elevator instantly slowed.
    Darwin let out a sigh of relief and stood off to the side to see if anyone waited for him.
    His heart in his throat, stomach in knots, the door slid open slowly. The room was cavernous. Dark too. That sealed his decision. He would have to go one more level and take his chances.
    But he couldn’t. Going to the next floor could mean walking into an ambush. Getting off the elevator now only meant he needed to deal with the dark. As much as it terrified him, the dark wouldn’t kill him like bullets could.
    The door began to shut. He hit the door open button and waited. He knew the right thing to do would be to walk out now and find a way to get up one more floor, but he didn’t know how. It was dark.
    He broke out in a clammy sweat. Adrenaline spread through his stomach. Fight or flight set in. He had to fight. For Rosina. This was the way.
    The door started shutting. He hit the button. It stopped and slowly opened again.
    “Shit.”
    Darwin stepped off the freight elevator and into the darkness of a floor under construction and almost fainted.
    The door slowly closed behind him. He felt the door was closing on his salvation. All chance of survival was dying with that door.
    It took everything in his soul to take one step. At every second, he waited for a knife to prick him, a needle to jab him. He wanted to scream, to shout, to run, but all he could do was take one more step.
    Paralysis threatened him. The only cure was chanting the word, Rosina.
    Under his breath, he whispered her name and took a step. He whispered it again and took another step. Only the dim red exit signs provided any lights to the whole area.
    He wanted to run to an exit and scream until his voice gave out, but he used every ounce of self-control to continue walking, one step at a time.
    Three minutes later he made it to the door that led into a corridor. An exit sign illuminated the stairwell in red.
    He stepped out, and touched the door handle, ready to twist it and leave the dark floor from hell.
    He had no idea how he was still standing. The last time, many years ago, when he had been in a room this dark, he had killed his stepmother. That was so long ago, a distant memory. No one knew he did it, but one day he would tell his wife.
    He heard a noise behind him. Darwin spun around and saw the light from the freight elevator as its door opened. Three men exited it, guns drawn, flashlights in their hands.
    Shit.
    He opened the door to the stairwell and closed it behind him as fast as he could. They were bound to have seen the light from the stairwell. That meant they were on their way toward him now. He couldn’t just run aimlessly through a building he knew nothing about, chased by numerous men with guns. He would never have the time to find Rosina and get her out safely. Even if he ran right into her, the last thing he wanted was to be running from bullets with her at his side.
    He had to take a stand.
    He hustled up the stairwell to the half-level landing where the stairs turned. Eight more steps up was the door to the floor where they supposedly held his wife. He leaned into the corner so only his eyes could look down and see the top of the door to the dark floor.
    He waited, breathing in and out in a controlled manner. He needed to focus, stay lucid.
    The gun was heavy in his hand. He had no idea how many bullets it contained or how to fire it exactly. But its weight and knowing to just point and shoot provided Darwin some comfort.
    This was it. Do or die. He had an accident and killed a man with his Ford Mustang. That’s something he would have to live with for the rest of his life. But now people were trying to kill him and his bride. And that he could not live with.
    It was time to lower himself to their level. It was time to kill or be killed.
    He raised his gun when feet scuffled on the other side of the door. Someone spoke muffled words into a radio.
    He leaned forward until he could see the door handle. It slowly turned. Then the door moved an inch inwards.
    He fell back against the wall to the point where he couldn’t see the door at all, and if they looked up, they’d not see him.
    He waited. He breathed, softly, slowly. He waited.
    At least two men stepped into the stairwell. He waited.
    Then he pushed off the wall, stuck the gun through the metal bars of the railing and squeezed the trigger as hard and as fast as he could. The stairwell lit up with flashes and the sounds of cannon fire. He had never heard such ear-splitting sounds so close before. He tried to keep his weapon trained in the general direction of the three men standing at the open door, but the recoil thwarted him.
    Something punched him in the left shoulder. Darwin twisted away from the railing and fell on the landing on his back. He shut his eyes, breathing in rapidly. The guns ceased firing. He heard moans from below. He knew he must have hit some of them. He tried to smile, but pain in his shoulder made him clench his face. He almost moaned himself, but then one of the men below spoke.
    “We’re in the south stairwell. I think we hit him. Two men down. I’m not hit. And where the fuck did he get a gun?”
    He listened for a reply. After a few seconds, one came, muffled a little through static.
    “Approach with caution. He is extremely dangerous. But I warn you, do not come back into my presence if you don’t kill him. Go now and finish the job.”
    “On my way.”
    Shit.
    Darwin kept his eyes closed. He focused on being as still as possible. The man was still at the level below him, so he took one large breath and held it. Then he waited.
    Waiting with bated breath, he thought and had to suppress a giggle. Really, in this moment I’m about to laugh. Have I lost my mind?
    He knew it had more to do with a coping mechanism. This was like a big game. The smarter one would win. The one who stayed calm, thought things through and looked for a hole, a way in. He was that guy. Being irrational and crazy could work too, but this moment didn’t call for it.
    He stayed completely immobile, his weapon in his right hand, his left shoulder screaming in pain now, and focused on the sounds the man’s shoes made as he neared.
    As far as he could tell, the man was at or near the top stair. He waited for one more sound. It came, but it almost made him jump and scream.
    It was the clicking of metal. The guy had readied his gun.
    One, two, three.
    Darwin opened his eyes, lifted his gun, screamed and squeezed the trigger, aimed directly at the man’s face.
    But his gun didn’t fire. It was empty.
    He looked at it, eyes wild. The man smiled and lowered his weapon until he aimed at Darwin’s chest.
    As fast as he could move, Darwin lifted up off his back, supported by his elbows and kicked at the gun hand. It made direct contact as the weapon fired. He felt, as much as heard, the bullet race by his right ear. A solid thunk told him the bullet made a home in the wall behind his head.
    The guy didn’t lose his grip on the gun.
    When Darwin lifted his leg to kick again, it wasn’t aimed at the gun. He twisted his waist and kicked at the man’s chest. He made solid contact as the guy’s gun was coming around for him again.
    The guy fell backwards, rolling down the stairs, at a weird, inverted angle.
    Darwin used the railing to get to his feet, wailing at the pain in his shoulder. He had no time to inspect the injury. However bad it was, it was exactly that-bad. But it was something to deal with after he stayed alive.
    He ran down the stairs, two at a time and jumped in the air, knees extended, toward the man struggling to get to his feet.
    Darwin’s knees connected high in the man’s chest, part of his left knee jamming into the man’s throat. Darwin continued forward and bumped the wall with his good shoulder like he’d body checked another hockey player. He stayed upright, all his weight on the man below him.
    The guy’s eyes widened. His hands came up and tried to push Darwin off. He couldn’t breathe. His hands flailed, his eyes wide, like a fish flapping on a dock after being pulled from water, mouth agape.
    His face turned red and then a darker red, blood vessels in his eyes bursting.
    Two weeks ago, Darwin would have been appalled at the violence. But today, something inside him felt good as the man under him succumbed.
    “One less piece of shit,” Darwin whispered. He leaned closer and said, “I just made the world a better place and I’m going to keep doing it, one of you at a time.”
    He turned and ripped the radio off the guy’s belt and grabbed his gun. He slipped it into the back of his pants and grabbed another gun off the floor.
    He looked up the stairs to make sure there were no other surprises and then took a close look at his shoulder. The wound was exterior only. As far as he could tell, the bullet hadn’t entered his body.
    He moved his jacket up off the wound and saw a gouge in his skin about the thickness of his finger. It was already clotting, but blood still seeped from the center of the wound. It was big enough to hurt like a bitch, but not big enough to stop him or kill him. Not by a long shot.
    “Missed,” he said.
    He slipped his jacket gently over his shoulder again and started up the stairs, the gun in his right hand aimed in front of him. At the top of the stairs, he put his ear to the door.
    Nothing.
    He clicked the radio and couple of times to see if he’d get a response.
    Nothing.
    Shit, open the door and have a group of men offering me a welcome under a hail of bullets, or do I find another way in?
    There was no other way in. He was out of time. They knew he was here. He had no element of surprise. All he had were two guns, one of their radios and a love for Rosina that gave him more willpower than any man loyal to Fuccini.
    Sure, they’d use deadly force, but so would he. The nice Canadian image was over. No more mister nice Canadian.
    He twisted the knob, ripped open the door and dropped back down two steps to avoid being hit by anything coming through at him.
    The door opened to its farthest point, and then slowly came back to shut.
    No bullets hailed down on him. No men standing, waiting. Just dead silence, and Darwin in a stairwell opening doors.
    He opened it a crack and peeked in at the corridor. Lights filled the hall. Darwin smiled at life’s little pleasures.
    He opened the door even more. The hall was empty all the way to the end.
    His gun was ready, the safety off. As carefully as he could, he edged around and looked down the hallway the other way.
    No one.
    Weren’t they expecting me?
    He stepped into the hall, having no idea which way to go.
    “In here,” someone said.
    He jumped and fired his weapon, the bullet shot through a ceiling tile, bits of dust falling.
    “Shit. My fucking nerves.”
    “There’s no need for that. I’m unarmed,” the voice said.
    “Where, dammit?”
    “In here.”
    He tracked the voice to the open door about five feet from him.
    With every bit of caution he could muster, Darwin started for the door. He pressed himself along the wall, slowly peeked around the corner, using one eye to look in the room.
    An old man stood with his hands in front of him, clasped together.
    Darwin turned into the room a little farther. Another man, unshaven and disheveled looking, stood off to the side by some kind of electrical generator. He was smiling.
    “Come on in,” the disheveled man said. He smiled so wide, Darwin thought he looked mad. It was the smile of a lunatic. “Nothing in here to hurt you. Look, we have no weapons.”
    Disheveled man lifted his hands in the air. The old man unclasped his and lifted them up too.
    “No weapons,” the old man said.
    Darwin looked up and down the hallway to make sure he wasn’t about to be ambushed, and then stepped into the room.
    That’s when he saw Rosina.
    The urge to shoot and kill had never felt so good.
    Darwin lifted his weapon and aimed it at the old man.
    “Get her down or you die.”
    He felt no pain at that moment. He felt steady, calm and ready to murder ten men. Everything in his mind was clear. Rosina hung suspended on chains, and these men had done that to his wife. Her face pale, eyes closed. Remnants of vomit stuck to her blouse.
    What have these people done to you, baby?
    “There’s no need for further violence,” the old man said.
    He turned to the disheveled man and motioned with his finger. A moment later, Rosina was lowered until her feet rested on the ground.
    The old man brought his attention back to Darwin. “She is merely unconscious. As you can see, she is unharmed. I can’t say the same for my son.”
    A glint in the old man’s eye told Darwin everything he ever needed to know about how the old man, Vincenzo’a father, felt for him. He could see the old man hated him on every level. Deeper than Darwin hated his stepmother and she was already dead.
    His arm grew heavy. It wavered a little and then he lowered the weapon.
    “Let her go. My wife and I will walk away. This is over. You’re finished. There is nothing left between you and me.”
    The old man stared at him and waited.
    “What are you waiting for? Let her down or you’ll have another body murdered here. I’ll start with the asshole with the sick grin over there. What’s your answer?”
    The disheveled man laughed, a violent, deep chuckle that spoke volumes of the deeply disturbed.
    “We are not finished yet,” the old man said.
    “What are you talking about?”
    “You and me have business. There is a certain debt that is owed to me. I always collect a debt. It has been the way of my family since the beginning of time. I’m not about to make an exception with you.”
    “What debt? What are you talking about?”
    Darwin stepped closer to Rosina. If and when she woke from her drugged sleep, or whatever it was these men had done to her, he wanted to be near.
    “A blood debt.”
    “Blood debt? Are you fucked?”
    “Actually no, I can’t say I’m fucked. I’d say you are.”
    Darwin raised the gun again, aiming it at the old man in the center of the room. “And how’s that?”
    “If you shoot me, it won’t end there. If you shoot my Harvester, it still won’t end there.”
    Harvester? What the fuck?
    “You’re talking in circles, old man. Start making sense.”
    The old man nodded to the one he called the Harvester. “Show him.”
    The Harvester raised his right hand and displayed a little box with a button on it. “If I push this button, your wife will be jolted with enough electrical volts to not just kill her instantly, but literally burn her on those chains. Her scorched skin will fall off in pieces, like the burned bark of a tree, seared forever.” He smiled that sick grin again. “Are you aware how horrible that would feel?” He said horrible like a child would ask for cotton candy at the fair: a certain childish glee. It almost made him hop on the spot.
    “You’re sick. The both of you are fucking gone. But,” Darwin raised his hand to make a point, “if you did push that button, I would execute the both of you. So who walks out of here? Huh? Ask yourself the real question: do you want to die today?”
    The old man shrugged. “I’m old. I’m already dying and since you killed my only boy, I’m dead on the inside. You have killed me, Darwin Athios Kostas.”
    “Don’t!” Darwin snapped. “Don’t you ever say my name like that again. Do you hear me? Never, or this ends for all of us.”
    His eyes were wild, he breathed in and out between his teeth, every fibre in his body begged him to shoot the old man in the eye. He said Rosina’s name and held the animal urges at bay.
    “Fair enough. I will not use your name for the duration of this meeting.”
    How the hell does the old man stay so fucking calm. It’s like he knows something. He’s got the look of someone who has already won. That’s it. He thinks he’s won. This is his end game.
    “But I want something from you.”
    “What?” Darwin asked, his teeth still tight together. He had to think. He had to keep them talking. Rosina’s safety was first. He had to end this on his terms and he had to do it fast.
    “I want you to set your weapons down and kick them over to me. I am an honorable man. Do this and I will have your wife released from that machine’s chains. Do we have a deal?”
    “Are you fucked?”
    “No, I am not. Do we have a deal?”
    Darwin tried to clear his head. Could he see any other way out of this? A button push could take place in under a second. If that happened, he couldn’t even touch his wife or he’d be electrocuted with her.
    So what then? Shoot both men and hopefully have a perfect shot, each time?
    They had him and they knew it.
    “You will unhook her? You’ll keep your word?”
    “It is all I have. My word.”
    Darwin felt he was out of options. He leaned down, set one gun on the floor and then kicked it away.
    “The other one too.”
    How did he know about the gun in the back of my pants? Cameras in the stairwell?
    “No. There’s two chains holding Rosina. Unhook one for one.”
    The old man considered this and then turned and nodded to Harvester.
    Harvester? What kind of name was that? What an asshole.
    Darwin watched as he pushed a switch on a small control panel. Rosina was lowered to the ground. When she was spread out on her back, the Harvester pulled one chain off her arm. He stood, leaving the other connected, the little button held up with his thumb on it.
    “If we stop here, you’ll have done worse damage to your wife,” Harvester said. “With only one connection, she’ll still die by electrocution, but it’ll take longer.” He grinned. “There’ll be more agony, more screaming and the smell of melting flesh will be…” he stopped when he looked at the old man.
    “Enough. Now, the other weapon.”
    Darwin saw the Harvester raise the button to give him a better view of it.
    Then did what he hoped he wouldn’t live to regret. He reached into the back of his jeans and produced the weapon. He set it on the floor and then kicked it over to the old man.
    He waited for the Harvester to push the button. But he didn’t. He took the mechanism out of his hand, set it down and walked over to Rosina, where he knelt down and unhooked her from the last chain.
    “I keep my word, Darwin. Now, we can talk with less tension.”
    He was stalling. More men were coming. Somehow, this is a trap.
    Darwin started to feel locked in. He needed to get out, run. He needed to take Rosina and run away as far as he could.
    For the first time since he was a kid, he wanted to run out into the dark night.
    “What could we possibly have to talk about?”
    “The debt,” the old man said.
    “The debt? What debt?”
    “Your blood debt you owe me.”
    The old man nodded at Harvester and then Harvester reached behind a small counter that was littered with metal tools of some kind and brought out a machete covered in what looked like blood.
    Oh, great, they don’t even clean their tools, was all that went through Darwin’s mind. The familiar stirrings of violence that accompanied the sight of a blade built inside him.
    He backed up.
    “You will bleed from as many places on your body as we can open. Then I will have you chained up, upside down, your legs spread wide. Two of my men will use a saw to cut you open from the groin down, until the blade hits your heart. In that position, blood rushes to the brain, keeping you alive through most of the cutting. Quite the experience, really.”
    From the corner of his eye, he saw the old man picking the guns up. He was defenseless. This mobster had disarmed him, and now they were the ones in power.
    All he had was his wits.
    At least he did his best for Rosina.
    Harvester was really grinning now. He stepped closer, swinging the blade in his hand.
    “I love sawing men in half. Only got to do it a couple of times. You’re going to be so much fun.”
    To defend himself the best way he knew, with no weapon of any sort, Darwin reached down and slipped out of his brand new jacket and held it to the side. It wasn’t too thick, but it was better than nothing.
    “What’s this?” Harvester asked.
    “You wanna cut me? Here I am.”
    The old man stepped toward the door. “Cut him up, cut him bad. But Harvester, don’t kill him.” And then he stepped out of the room.
    Darwin wrapped the jacket around his left forearm. Harvester was four feet away and stepping closer.
    “You really are a piece of work. Rarely do I get to meet someone so interesting,” Harvester said.
    Darwin didn’t respond.
    This was it. He’d held himself together as long as he could. He’d thought of his best response to dealing with the situation at hand, and now, with nothing to lose, Darwin could allow everything to flood through.
    All the fury and anger from his childhood, everything he ever hated about his stepmother and all the people who had hurt his wife today, boiled to the surface, hit the top and overflowed into a madness so blinding and all-encompassing, a small part of him worried if he could ever regain normalcy again.
    He screamed, grabbed his wounded, bleeding shoulder, and covered his hand in blood. He then wiped it on each cheek as if it were war paint, and said, “Let’s fuck around a little, you piece of fucking rat shit.”
    The Harvester hesitated and looked into Darwin’s face. The moment of indecision was over as fast as it showed itself.
    Harvester lunged forward, the blade held high.
    Darwin threw his covered left arm at the blade and ducked under it, his right hand going for Harvester’s throat.
    He clamped on, oblivious of where the blade was now, and squeezed with inhuman strength on Harvester’s windpipe.
    In that moment, raw strength pulsed through him, the kind that mothers use to pick cars up off their babies. He tightened his grip so hard and so fast that he dislodged Harvester’s Adam’s apple. He pushed forward and tightened his grip again, screaming in the madness of the moment.
    Harvester flailed his arms and lost his balance as he was thrust backwards, dropping the blade and trying to dislodge Darwin’s hand. At that point, nothing but the claw end of a hammer would release the grip.
    Even though his eyes bulged from the pressure, the Harvester smiled. Harvester’s sickness fueled Darwin’s rage.
    Their forward momentum tossed them to the floor, Darwin landing on top of the Harvester. As he rolled to the side his hand dislodged from the man’s throat. The Harvester was up on his knees in a flash, trying to learn how to breathe again.
    Darwin rolled away and bumped into the tool tray. A metal grip lay beside his head. On the other end of the grip was a bar, similar to a police baton, but with long metal spikes. He almost didn’t touch it when he saw the spikes, but knew he needed to be rash here. He needed to use a sharp implement of some kind to end this.
    Darwin grabbed the smooth handle and spun around, but he was too late.
    Harvester brought his fist down onto Darwin’s wounded shoulder. He screamed and gagged on the phlegm that had collected in his throat.
    The Harvester raised his fist again when Darwin, in awe that he held something sharp in his hand, swung it in a clean arc.
    The four-inch spikes embedded in the side of the Harvester’s skull, one punching through his left eye, deep inside his head.
    Harvester moaned, mumbled something, and sat down. With his good right eye, he found Darwin lying on his back in front of him. It almost looked like he couldn’t figure out who Darwin was.
    Then he lost his balance and lay out on the floor, his right eye staring up at the ceiling.
    Darwin got to his feet, his shoulder screaming, and looked over at Rosina. She was awake, watching in frightened silence.
    Darwin stepped over to the Harvester. The eye met his. Blood dripped out of the four holes in his skull. The Harvester grinned. “That hurts a little,” he said.
    “Goodbye,” Darwin said and lifted his foot. He brought it down hard and almost crushed the weakened side of the Harvester’s skull, blood and bits of brain leaking out onto the floor.
    Darwin unwrapped the jacket from his forearm and discovered the cut the machete had made. Harvester had gotten in one good hit.
    Damn, that’s going to need stitches.
    He used his right hand to rewrap his arm and stepped over to his bride.
    “How about it?” he asked, trying to put on a cool face, his hand extended to help her up. “You ready to finish our honeymoon?”
    She got to her feet and leaned into him, crying.
    “Let’s get out of here,” Darwin said and then stopped. “Did you hear that?”
    She shook her head.
    “Sounds like police.” He eased her off his chest and looked in her eyes. “There was an accident downstairs. A man was killed in the street.”
    She nodded. “I know. A man named Paul. I heard them talking about it.”
    “I’ve done some bad things today. But it was all in my defense. I didn’t hurt anybody that didn’t have it coming. And I’m sorry for trying to send you away. You have to know I was trying to protect you.”
    “I know,” Rosina said. “They all had it coming. But why are you telling me this?”
    “Because there’s cops out front and if more cops are on their way, that means they’re coming for me. I could be in trouble. Once everything is ironed out, I’ll come out looking clean, but understand, that may take time and until then, unless that old man is out of the picture, our lives won’t be worth much.”
    She nodded. “I understand. Let’s find him before we leave.”
    With Darwin in the lead, they cautiously stepped into the room where the old man had gone before Darwin and Harvester fought.
    The room was empty. Following Darwin’s lead, they both walked the hallway and looked in every room they could. Sirens ceased in front of the building as officers arrived. They were running out of time.
    The elevator kicked into gear.
    “I’m sorry, Rosina.”
    “You have nothing to be sorry for. You did everything right. You saved me, didn’t you?”
    He nodded and held her close, keeping an eye on the hallway.
    “Did they hurt you?”
    “Not really. I was scared, but they were instructed to leave me alone until they had you. I did see them hurt a man really bad. They ended up killing him.” She looked into Darwin’s eyes. “I’m so glad you killed the Harvester of Sorrow. That man shouldn’t be allowed to live.”
    “How does someone get the name Harvester of Sorrow? That’s so fucked.”
    The elevator door opened and six Italian police officers stepped out, guns raised at them.
    They were ordered to the ground and handcuffed. Then they were led downstairs to the main lobby where the officer in charge, who spoke fluent English, would come any moment.
    During their wait, Darwin saw a couple of the Fuccini family men sitting in police cruisers in the front of the building.
    A man in a suit and a tie came up to them. The man’s face changed to anger when he saw the handcuffs.
    “Officers,” he called out and then shouted something in rapid Italian.
    Two cops ran over and undid their cuffs. Darwin checked his forearm cut. Still bleeding.
    “I’m so sorry for treating you like this. They don’t know who you are. My name is Marco. I’ll have an ambulance take you to the hospital where we’ll get you stitched up and then I’ll take your statement. How does that sound?”
    Darwin nodded at him.
    “I got a call from a colleague of mine, Greg Stinsen with the FBI. He told me what was happening and that he’d be here in the morning. He said to offer you all the support I could. These men can piece together what happened here and we’ll leave now. That work?”
    The trio walked out to his car, Darwin holding Rosina’s hand tight as the darkness surrounded him.
    As the cop pulled away from the curb, Darwin said, “Can you turn on the interior light?”
    “Yeah, sure,” the cop said and flicked it on.
    Darwin took a deep breath and stared down at his hand, clasped in his wife’s. He didn’t want to look at the windows. All he’d see was blackness and that didn’t help anything.
    It was over for now. A lot of men had died, but they were safe for now. They were in police custody and the FBI would arrive soon. Together they’d launch an attack on the Fuccini family to end the vendetta, the blood debt.
    “You still need the light on?” the cop asked.
    “Yes.” Darwin looked up at the cop in the mirror. The cop smiled, nodded his head, and looked away to focus on the road.
    I definitely need to see the light.

    He woke in the hospital the next morning, sun streaming through the window’s drapes.
    “Rosina?” he called, panicked.
    “I’m right here,” she said.
    She rose from the chair she’d been in, stretched her arms out as far as they could go, and moaned.
    “Sometimes, when I think about what happened yesterday, it almost feels like it was a dream. Then I see your injuries and I know we lived it. But that’s the important part: we lived it. We made it.”
    Darwin rested his head back and nodded slowly. “The cop, Marco, is he gone?”
    “Yeah. He left after he took out statements, about four in the morning. I just heard from a nurse that Greg called. He’s about five minutes away. Maybe that was what woke you, when the nurse left.”
    “What’s next? What are we going to do?”
    “You’re going to go home, is what you’re going to do,” Greg said as he stepped into the room.
    “Greg!” Rosina shouted and ran to hug him.
    “How’s my favorite couple?”
    “Great now,” Rosina said. “It’s so good to see a familiar face.”
    Rosina stepped away and Greg walked up to Darwin. “What am I gonna do with you?” He smiled, his face beaming. “First you kill Vincenzo, by accident, and then come to Rome to wipe out the rest of his family. Wow, if I hadda known you were like that, we could’ve used you on the force.”
    “Greg, it wasn’t like that,” Darwin said. “They keep coming after us. If they had accepted it was an accident in the first place, they wouldn’t have hunted us to Rome. I flew my wife here to get married. I felt they were getting too close to us in Toronto. Death threats, people following me. So here we are, and they try to kill us twice in four days. So I decided to send Rosina to Greece and I’d stay behind to deal with it. But they grabbed her and…”
    “I heard from Marco. He told me everything.”
    “Doesn’t that guy sleep?” Rosina asked.
    “I think he does, but that’s not my concern. What is my concern is getting you home.”
    “Home?”
    “Yes. I have you two booked on a flight tonight from Rome to Toronto. I can’t protect you here.”
    “Didn’t you get clearance or something?” Darwin asked.
    “Not really. As a favor, Marco let me see the reports, but the diplomatic channels will take too long for me to do any good here. This is the mafia’s home. I’m only one man, and I don’t speak Italian either. If you’re in Toronto, I have backup and I have a sort of quasi-jurisdiction.”
    “Rosina,” Darwin looked over at her. “You’re okay with all this?”
    “Of course. I’ve had enough of Rome’s charms. After what happened yesterday, I want to get as far away from here as I can, as soon as we can.”
    Darwin looked back at Greg. “Thanks for coming so fast and, yeah, let’s do this.”
    “I’ll talk to the doctor and get you checked out, but first, I have to ask you a question.”
    “Go ahead.”
    “Did your father ever tell you why he called you Darwin?”
    “Yeah, he said he wanted to always remind me to stay motivated and get out of life whatever I wanted. He put two words together to make Darwin. Dare and win. He said, just saying my name was my dare to win.”
    “That’s pretty good.” Greg walked over to the hospital room door. “I thought there was another reason. Something to do with survival of the fittest. You know, Charles Darwin and natural selection.”
    Darwin smiled. Greg was always high on the compliments.
    “There’s one other thing. I hate when I told you to lay low and stay out of sight and then you didn’t. But I’m glad you didn’t. Good work, Darwin. Good work.”
    Greg opened the door and made to step out, but his cell phone rang. He hopped back into Darwin’s room and pulled his phone out.
    “Not allowed to have these things in the hospital but I gotta take this.”
    “Go ahead,” Darwin said.
    “Hello, Stinsen here.”
    Greg listened, his phone pressed to his ear. His face grew darker, his eyebrows got closer until they connected in a look of consternation.
    “Okay, I understand. Send units over to their house ASAP.”
    He flipped his phone shut and looked between the two of them.
    “I’m sorry. Very bad news.”
    “What? Tell us.”
    “It’s not over.”
    “I didn’t think it would be,” Darwin said as he sat up in bed. His head felt woozy and he leaned back on his good arm. “What is it?”
    “Your father,” he said to Darwin. “Adrian has been kidnapped. He was taken from his home an hour ago, according to witnesses. That puts it around six in the morning, Toronto time.” Greg looked over at Rosina. “Whoever’s behind this may be headed to your parents’ house in Brampton too. I have units en route there now. I’m sorry.”

Chapter 9

    They landed under clear skies at Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport.
    Darwin had rested most of the flight, sleeping uncomfortably in the airplane seats with a bandaged left shoulder and left forearm.
    Before they had flown out of Rome, Greg had confirmed that Rosina’s parents were safe. The police had secured their home before anyone from the Fuccini family could get to them.
    Rosina had been quiet on the way to the airport, during their boarding procedure, and the subsequent flight. So quiet that Darwin caught up on some much needed sleep.
    He looked over at Greg. “What’s next? Do they offer demands or something, or do they just kill my father?”
    Greg looked up from the Lufthansa in-flight magazine he’d been reading and said, “So far, there have been no demands. These people don’t call the police and ask for things.”
    “I know, I know. They kidnap people and then kill them. It’s a revenge thing, isn’t it?”
    Greg set the magazine in the pouch at the back of the seat in front of him. “Look, Darwin, this situation is as bad as it gets. There are many levels of problems with it.”
    The airplane was taxiing in and about to stop to prepare for deplaning.
    “What kind of problems?”
    “A crime family as big as the Fuccinis runs deep. They have contacts all over the world. They have people on the take. I’m sure they even have police officers giving them updates on what’s happening, but I’d never admit that publicly or to any other officer.”
    The plane stopped with a small thud. People undid their belts and started to grab items from above.
    “The problem is,” Greg whispered. “There are officers working undercover. Deep cover. They report back at alternating times. In those reports, without breaking cover, I’ll be told how your father is doing and what has happened to him. I won’t find out from a phone call with a list of demands. The other thing you have to face is that this won’t be a repeat of Rome. There’ll not be any running in and rescuing him by shooting and killing people.”
    Darwin leaned away. “Are you saying what I did was brash or wrong? I had to get Rosina. There was no time to wait and nothing else I could think to do.”
    Greg put up his hands in defense. “I completely understand. I’m sorry if my choice of words offended you. You did do the right thing. But now-” he stopped as someone walking by bumped him with their bag. He looked up, nodded when the passenger apologized and turned back to Darwin. “But now we’re on Canadian soil. We have a lot of cops at our disposal and they’re all working overtime to find your father. They’re also rounding up known Fuccini family members and their employees, and try to get answers. We’ll work this out. All we’ll need from you two is consulting. During this time of crisis, you two stay where it’s safe.”
    Darwin shook his head. “Nowhere is safe from them. When you have people that powerful after you, nothing will stop them. I’ll always be looking over my shoulder until Vincenzo’s father is dead. There is no other way.”
    Greg looked defeated, as if he knew what Darwin said was true and he couldn’t refute it.
    The plane had emptied. Greg collected his things and grabbed their backpack. Their luggage was still in Athens, with arrangements to have it flown to Toronto.
    Because of Darwin’s injuries, Greg handed the backpack to Rosina and they started out of the plane.
    Greg thanked the flight attendants as they departed. It was a long, quiet walk to customs. After they were through customs, Darwin told them he had to stop for a coffee. He couldn’t leave the airport without a large double-double from Tim Horton’s. It was a ritual and he wasn’t about to stop now.
    Outside, a cruiser waited for them. Six cars back, an unmarked vehicle with two men in suits and sunglasses watched them.
    “They FBI too?” Darwin nodded in their direction.
    Greg looked over and nodded. “Good eye, Darwin.”
    They got in and were whisked away. Ten minutes later, the driver pulled into the Quality Suites hotel.
    “What’s this?” Darwin asked. He looked at Rosina, who still hadn’t said much. He was starting to get a little worried about her. She hadn’t said anything since he woke in the airplane.
    “We’ve reserved six rooms at the end of the fifth floor. They’re all adjoining rooms. You two will be in the middle. In each room surrounding yours will be two FBI agents. No one will be able to get to you two unless they bring a small army.”
    The car pulled up to the front doors.
    “You mean we can’t go home?”
    “Darwin, I told you in the airplane. Things are different. This won’t be a repeat of Rome. You aren’t free to drive a car, hang out with your friends, or go home and talk on your phone. You will remain in police protection at this hotel until we’ve located your father and found the Fuccini family members responsible for it.”
    “That means my wife and I will be living at the Quality Suites for a few years then.”
    “What does that mean?” Greg asked, offended.
    “Unless you’re planning on killing the Fuccini family boss, we will never be free,” Darwin said and stepped from the car.
    “Wait!” Greg shouted.
    The men from the car that had tailed them ran up.
    “Don’t get out of a vehicle without an escort,” one of the men said.
    Darwin ignored him and looked at Rosina. “Come along, darling. Let’s check in and go have a nice dinner.”
    They didn’t have to check in as the rooms were all ready. Darwin couldn’t believe how nice the rooms were. It was like a small apartment. The bedroom was separated by French doors. The room had a small fridge and a mini kitchen area with a coffee maker.
    “Looks like we’ll be here for some time,” Darwin said. He looked at Rosina. “You okay?”
    She glanced at him and offered a thin smile.
    “Rosina, I need to hear it. What happened in Rome was tragic, but we survived. That part is over. We’re alive and healthy. I need to know you’re still with me.”
    She walked over to the small couch and sat down. “I’m still with you Darwin. I’m sorry. What you did in Rome…” she hesitated and looked out the window. “What you did in Rome was so romantic. I love you for everything you are and everything you became. I just thought it was over. I saw what those men did to that cop who tried to comfort me. Thinking about your poor father and what he’s going through and that my parents are facing the same treatment if they get taken, it just really shakes me up. This isn’t over. You’re right. It’ll never be over until either we’re dead or the Fuccini family is dead.”
    Darwin sat beside her, wrapping his good arm around her shoulder. “I know, and I’m sorry, baby. I brought this all on us. It’s all my fault.”
    She grabbed his lapels and yanked him around to face her. “Don’t you ever say that. Don’t you ever. You did nothing wrong. Actually, you’re the only one doing anything right. If you had waited until the police negotiated a release for me, I’d be dead. They weren’t going to release me.”
    She started to cry again. A shudder went through her shoulders.
    “What were they going to do?” Darwin asked.
    “Horrible, unspeakable things. What stopped them was the call that you had escaped from a guy named Big John. They said that no one could touch me until you were caught. It was so scary. I saw these people for what they are and I think Greg is wrong here. The police aren’t prepared to execute them. So it’ll never be over. I’m just really scared.”
    “I know, baby, I know,” Darwin said as he pulled her closer. “All I can tell you is I will hunt them down and kill them. I will kill them all, and no amount of police will stop me.”
    #
    Dinner was brought up to the room. They ate in silence, each lost in their own thoughts.
    The whole time they hung around the hotel room and ate their food, Darwin planned. He needed to have something to do, so he planned. This had to end. If not for his own sanity, for his wife’s. Whenever she was in a mood, it affected him. Her current mood was bringing him down. He needed to end this and get her out from under the threat of murder. Staying in police protection like this wasn’t going to cut it.
    He put his plate on the edge of the little sink and threw away the plastic utensils. They’d brought real cutlery, but he made them go back down for plastic. He used the bathroom, then walked over and opened the main door.
    “Darwin, what are you doing?” Rosina asked.
    “I don’t know. Something, anything. We can’t stay here, cooped up in a hotel room, brooding. This has to end.”
    An FBI agent stepped up behind him. “Do you need anything?”
    “Yes, to leave.”
    “I’m afraid that’s not possible.”
    “So we’re, like, prisoners now?”
    “Not exactly. You are not a prisoner. We’re here to protect you. This is for your own safety.”
    “No, we’re prisoners by every definition.”
    The FBI man stared without speaking.
    Darwin shut the door. “What are we going to do? We’ve been in Toronto all of six hours and we’re already going stir crazy.”
    The phone rang.
    They looked at each other.
    “No one knows we’re here but the police,” Darwin said before he answered.
    “Darwin?”
    “Yeah,” Darwin said as recognized Greg’s voice.
    “Good. I was hoping it was you who picked it up. I couldn’t tell Rosina what I have to say.”
    “Go ahead.” His stomach dropped. What now?
    “It’s Rosina’s parents. We had them protected. Six officers on the detail. Four of them are dead and two are missing. There is no sign of her parents. I’m sorry, Darwin, we did everything we could. We lost good men today. I’m sorry.”
    Darwin hung up the phone and turned to look at his wife.

Chapter 10

    No one had visited them since dinner, the phone hadn’t rung again, and now it was midnight. Rosina had fallen asleep on the bed, after crying for two solid hours. He’d waited until she’d fallen asleep. He was wide awake from his long rest on the plane, and he was bent and bound to do something about the threat that had befallen his family, his wife.
    He got up, put on his shoes, and walked to the door. When he opened it, a new FBI man stood there.
    “Do you need anything?”
    Darwin stepped out into the hallway. “Actually, yes,” he said, and closed his door behind him.
    “Sir, don’t do that. You’re not supposed to be in the hallway. Can I have your room key please?”
    “Oh, damn, I left it inside.”
    “Okay, stay here. Don’t move. I’ll radio down and have another one brought up. In the meantime, I’ll keep you behind me while I watch the hall.”
    “That won’t be necessary.”
    “Sir?”
    “I’m leaving.”
    “I’m afraid I can’t allow that.”
    “Well, you don’t really have a choice, do you? I’m not a prisoner. I’ve broken no laws. Well, at least none that I’ve been charged with. So that means I’m free to go. Now, please step aside.”
    The FBI man crossed his arms. “Sir, I have orders to keep you in your room with your wife.”
    “What’s your name?”
    “Special Agent Trent McMahon.”
    “Listen, Trent. How did they get to Rosina’s parents? They were under police protection too. Six officers, as far as I understand it. How many do we have here? Now, of course, I appreciate the thought, but there’s been enough bloodshed. It’s time I meet with these people and end this. I won’t stay in the same room with my wife, endangering her further, while these people are free, running around, conspiring to kill me and everyone I know. Are we clear?”
    Trent stood back. As Darwin delivered his speech, his voice had grown more and more intense. The Rome side of Darwin was coming out. He didn’t mean it, but what had happened in Rome had changed him, and he could never go back to the way he was pre-Rome.
    “I understand what you’re saying, and I sympathize. But I have orders. I intend to follow them.”
    Darwin had been prepared for that, but he also knew the FBI man wasn’t going to shoot him.
    He looked past the cop’s shoulder, widened his eyes, and pretended to see something horrible. He ducked and yelled, “Look out!”
    It was beyond the oldest trick in the book, but Trent ducked anyway and spun on his heels, reaching for his weapon. By the time he turned back around, Darwin was running down the hall, halfway between Trent and the door to the stairwell.
    When he hit the stairs, he looked back and saw Trent speaking into his wrist.
    Darwin ran down the stairs two at a time. Fourth floor, third, second and finally the ground floor, his shoulder wound aching a little at the raised heart rate and extra movement.
    Instead of running outside through the exit door, he headed into the lobby. He walked past the front desk to a sliding door on the left. It opened as he neared it.
    As soon as he walked outside and into the dark night, it seized him. He hadn’t thought enough about it. It was just after midnight. It was dark. What was he going to do? Run around Toronto in the dark? How effective was he going to be for anybody?
    The familiar stirrings of anger began to surface. An image of his stepmother’s face flashed in his mind.
    A car raced up and squealed to a stop in front of him. Two men in suits ran toward him, before he even realized what was happening. They flipped open badges and grabbed his arms.
    He winced and pulled his left arm away.
    “Shit, that fucking hurts,” he grunted, his teeth clamped together.
    “Sorry,” the agent on the left said.
    They guided him to the car and put him in the center of the backseat. Both men got in on either side and shut the doors. A second later, the vehicle was under way.
    “Turn on the interior light,” Darwin said.
    “What?” the driver asked.
    “I said, turn on the interior light. Now.”
    “Sir?” the driver said, looked in his mirror for approval.
    The agent beside Darwin nodded and the light flicked on.
    No one said anything as the driver pulled out and turned right. He went through the green light and turned into a Park-N-Fly lot, grabbed a ticket and then raced to the back where it was relatively empty.
    When the vehicle was parked, the agent next to Darwin said, “We need your help.”
    Darwin nodded. Anything to being cooped up in a hotel room for months or years. “Shoot.” That’s funny. Oops.
    “We feel the kidnapping of Rosina’s parents had inside help.”
    Shit.
    “I’m not surprised,” Darwin said. “Without knowing more, I’d say I believe you.”
    “You already know the man.”
    Darwin frowned. “What?”
    “Greg Stinsen.”
    “No way. You’re joking.”
    “Wish I was. We followed him when he left the Quality Suites before dinner was sent up to you. He drove to an adult store on Dundas and Dixie. He came out with a black bag. Now, normally those kinds of stores have black bags to protect what the purchaser just bought from the public’s eye. But the Fuccini family owns and operates a lot of these adult stores. They do a number of payouts through them. Men can walk right out in public with large sums of cash and no cop could ever see the drop-off taking place. The windows of these stores are covered up, so unless I got a cop on the inside, for all we know, Greg rented a few movies.”
    “Let me guess,” Darwin interrupted. “You think he dropped the dime on Rosina’s parents and collected his payout?” Cool, I even talk the talk now.
    “Exactly.”
    “Assuming that’s the case, then I’m like a farm animal being led to the slaughter. He flew to Rome to oversee my delivery to Toronto so Fuccini could have me on his home turf.”
    The agent nodded. “We believe that to be the case.”
    “Fuck. What about my wife? She’s up there in her room alone. Greg knows where we are.”
    “She’s being moved to a secure location as we speak.”
    “Where?”
    “The less people know, the better.”
    “No, you’re going to tell me where my wife is. There’s no other option here for you.”
    “Calm down. If I do and Fuccini gets his hands on you, you’ll be able to tell him.”
    Darwin sat back. The logic worked, but how could he trust the man? How could he trust anybody?
    “What we want you to do shouldn’t be too dangerous. But we have to ask you if you’re willing first.”
    “What is it?”
    Car headlights on the 427 Highway raced by behind them. The lights caught his eye as he tried to focus on what the agent was saying.
    “We’re going to explain to Greg that we’re moving you and your wife to a new location. That we feel there has been a leak. Your wife will be safe the whole time. She won’t be anywhere near the area we tell him. We’re going to ask Greg to deliver you to this location. He’s the natural pick as he was the one who brought you from Rome. We will stay close the whole time. If he veers from the route, we’ll know. If someone tails you, we’ll know. At any time, if he contacts a third party, we’ll intercept and take him out.”
    “For this risk I take, what’s the payoff?”
    “When he makes contact with anybody, we’ll be able to trace it. His cell phone is tapped now. Everything he does is being watched, but he won’t do anything stupid. Without this, if he’s already told them about Quality Suites, he won’t make contact again. We have to force his hand. We need to get him to make contact again. He won’t risk his career, or his life, to do anything to you personally. He will have to make contact and we’ll be there to handle it.”
    Darwin looked out at the lights of the cars going by in the night. If he was going to stare out at darkness, he had to set his eyes on lights.
    What they were saying was too much to handle. Could Greg, his pal, a man he considered a friend, be selling him out? Something was off. Yet, what these guys were selling seemed to make sense.
    The agent thought his zoning out might mean he was ready to say he wouldn’t help as he started in on his spiel with renewed vigor.
    “Darwin, listen. I know how tough this is. I heard what went down in Rome and, believe me, not many agents could’ve pulled off what you did. The Harvester of Sorrow has an international reputation. Word on the street, and when I say on the street, I mean every street hoodlum from New York, Montreal and Toronto all the way to Via Roma, have heard that a Canadian white boy, under the nickname, Natural Selection, crushed Harvester’s skull. You are one serious fucker out there. I know what Rosina went through. You should be at home having a beer and watching a ball game. I get it.” He patted Darwin on the shoulder. “But I need you here. Four of my men, guys I went to the academy with, were slaughtered tonight and two of my men are missing. They took Rosina’s parents. Someone blabbed the location to the Fuccini family. We are pretty fucking sure it was Greg. We need you, man. Anything, at this late hour, that we do out of routine, Greg will suspect. The only thing he won’t suspect is moving you and your wife, in separate cars, to a new, secret location as soon as possible, after what happened at Rosina’s parents’ place. This he would consider normal, routine. So, that’s why you’re here. We’re begging you to help. We need you. You’re our only guy. What do you say?”
    “Consider me in. When do we do this?”
    “Right now. Greg is meeting us here in,” the agent looked at his watch. “Less than five minutes.”

Chapter 11

    Right on time.
    Darwin got out of the FBI vehicle and into the next one. He wasn’t wired and they hadn’t given him a gun. He had no means of protection except for the agents following them.
    Darwin had posed a great question. Since Greg was a seasoned agent, wouldn’t he suspect a tail?
    They had explained that they too were seasoned agents, and that the tail would be a rotating one, where an agent followed for two to three blocks and turned off as another agent fell in behind the suspect vehicle, which was seriously hard to spot by even the best agents.
    Darwin sat in the backseat of Greg’s cruiser. Greg had already turned on the interior light for him.
    “How are you feeling?” Greg asked.
    “I’m worried about Rosina. When she heard her parents had been taken, it was seriously hard on her.”
    “I can imagine. I’m sorry Darwin, I really am.”
    Yeah, right.
    “But how could they have found out?” Darwin asked.
    The agents had warned him about asking leading questions. Ones where he let the cat out of the bag. Greg was a pro. He would catch on. But Darwin sat behind him and it took everything he had in him not to reach up and strangle the man as he drove.
    “We’re still trying to piece it together. We have no idea.”
    Greg looked at him in the rearview mirror.
    “With those two agents that are missing, could it be possible that one or both of them could be rogue?” Darwin asked.
    “You watch too much TV. They’re missing because the kidnappers needed hostages they could hurt or kill. If the kidnappers get boxed in, they wouldn’t want to hurt the parents because they need them for whatever negotiation they’re planning to get to you. Taking two agents gives them an expendable body count. When they get where they’re going, the two agents will be disposed of. That’s the nature of this business.”
    “Sounds dangerous. Why would anyone sign up for this?”
    “I know. I keep asking myself that question every day. For the pay we get, it really is too dangerous.”
    So you work for the other side and get paid a hell of a lot more? Is that it, you motherfucker?
    “Where are we headed?” Darwin asked.
    “Can’t tell you.”
    “What? They didn’t say anything about me not knowing.”
    Greg looked at him in the mirror again. “Sure. What if I told you right now the exact location? Then, in three minutes, I’m T-boned in this car and killed on the spot. They grab you, pull you out and force you to tell them where Rosina is. That wouldn’t work. In this situation, need to know basis is followed to the letter.”
    Darwin was done meeting Greg’s eyes in the mirror. If he looked at him one more time, he was liable to attack and deal with the questions later.
    “I think they think someone’s on the take,” Greg said.
    Darwin looked up. Is he baiting me?
    “And you think they’d tell me something like that?” Darwin asked. “Come on, they won’t even tell me where I’m going or where my wife is.”
    “True. But I still feel they have a few suspects in their sights.”
    Greg looked in his mirror again.
    Is he looking at me or watching the road behind us? Could a Fuccini clan member be coming or is it a tail he suspects? Shit, what the fuck is going on?
    “I’m sure they do suspect someone.” It was out before he could bottle it. The anger inside rose too fast. After all he had been through. All that Greg had done for him. To be betrayed like this. His own father and his mother- and father-in-law, kidnapped because of him. It was Darwin’s family. Not the FBI’s. Not the Fuccini family. Darwin’s. He wasn’t about to take that lying down.
    “Did they say something while you waited for me?”
    “Who is following us?” Darwin asked, avoiding Greg’s question.
    No more games, asshole. Lay your cards on the table. The wheels on the bus go round and round.
    “I have no idea, Darwin. I’m only checking my mirror out of habit. Why, do you feel someone is following us?”
    Darwin stared straight ahead. It had been years since he’d spent this much time outside at night. Months ago, if he knew that he’d be out in the dark this much, it would’ve caused him to go back into therapy. He would have asked to be committed for a few days to avoid the dark at all costs.
    But something about it was getting easier. The sun had gone down in Rome on him and he survived. It was the middle of the night in Toronto and he was surviving. He could look out the window at the passing lights and know it was other cars out there and no real danger. He could look. A week ago, he wouldn’t have been able to.
    But today, he could. The therapist had used the term flooding. Maybe that’s what he had meant by it. Or maybe flooding referred to the anger he felt. Even though he could look out a car window into the dark night now as that part of the phobia seemed to be healing, the anger remained. It seemed, the more he looked right into the dark, the more his ire urged him on, roiling like a hot stew over an open fire. The flames grew higher until the contents were consumed.
    The man in the front seat no longer resembled a friend. He wasn’t even an enemy. All he represented to Darwin in that moment, as his anger rose to intense fury, was a man who was part of the organization that wanted Darwin and his family killed and he mocked Darwin by simply breathing.
    He lowered his face, but kept his eyes on the back of Greg’s head, his pulse increasing. Triggers were set off, and he was powerless to stop them. The darkness closed in. His heart rate spiked, his breathing rapid.
    “Darwin, you okay?” Greg asked.
    Greg’s cell phone rang.
    The moment he reached for it, a car rammed them from behind.
    Darwin had lifted his hands as they were about to clamp around Greg’s neck, but they’d only got to the headrest of Greg’s seat when the car hit them from behind.
    His head snapped back, and then he was thrust forward.
    Greg screamed as he tried to regain control of the vehicle. Darwin spun around in his seat, his rage not yet dissipated. The act of looking directly into the dark, a pair of high beams aimed at him, only added to the rage he felt in his soul.
    “Get the fuck off the highway!” Darwin shouted.
    “I’m trying, I’m trying.”
    Their car had swerved two times and then Greg got it back under control. He hit the gas and launched them forward and to the right, his eyes trying to focus on their tail.
    “Who is it?” Darwin asked. “Your friends?”
    “ My friends? What the fuck does that mean?” Greg asked.
    Darwin spun around in his seat to face forward. All the anger showed on his face. “I know you. I know what you’ve done-”
    Red lights flashed in the front window. Darwin snapped his head up and saw, what he thought was the end, in that second.
    A large eighteen wheeler had slowed nearly to a stop in front of them.
    “Look out!” Darwin screamed.
    His warning came too late. Greg hit the brakes hard and then cranked the wheel to the left, exposing the passenger side to the impact. They almost skirted past the back of the truck, but the undercover cruiser hit the rig still doing thirty kilometers an hour. The passenger side doors crumpled like accordions, shoving the seat, glass and metal at the car’s two occupants.
    Both men yelled as the contorted car buckled and bounced off the back of the rig, rolled off the highway and down the grassy median.
    Darwin jostled around, his head cushioned between the backseat and the headrest on the front passenger seat. Side airbags deployed, completely protecting him from anything sharp and from taking most of the violence out of being thrown about.
    When the car came to a rest, Darwin shook his head to shake the broken bits of glass from his hair. Instantly, a light flared up just outside the car. He shook his head again.
    Fire.
    The car’s on fire. I have to get out. I have to…
    He reached for the door but it was locked. Heat blasted against his face like opening an oven door.
    An explosion rocked the car from behind. Then another explosion knocked out the back window, the glass flying over his shoulder.
    The interior light had gone out.
    He pushed on the passenger side door, but it wouldn’t budge.
    The flames were so high now that the inside of the car lit up. He saw everything clearly.
    He was alone, the front seat empty.
    Wasn’t there a driver?
    Greg. Right. I gotta get out of here.
    Heat covered him, flames licking closer. The door still wouldn’t budge. The metal frame sat at an angle, twisted in the wreckage.
    No wonder. The door won’t work like that.
    He looked around.
    Why am I feeling so dazed?
    He heard Rosina’s voice in his head. He saw the Harvester of Sorrow and his torture implements. Darwin had to save Rosina. He had to save his wife.
    Her voice again. Darwin, I love you.
    He rubbed his eyes. The passenger door on the right sat beside him, even though he’d been sitting behind the driver. Not one minute ago he was in a backseat large enough to fit three average men, and now it look like the backseat of an Austin Mini.
    The window was missing. He shoved his head through first and then crawled out, landing on the moist grass of the median.
    He glanced back at the car as flames consumed the front.
    Greg.
    Darwin pulled himself up and peered inside the front seat to make sure. It was empty. The car, or what looked like the car that had been following them, sat halfway under the back of the rig, completely aflame.
    The explosion I felt.
    The driver’s burned arm dangled out the crushed window.
    Cars on either side of the 401 highway were slowing and stopping. He didn’t hear any sirens yet, but he didn’t want to be around when they got there.
    He tried to crawl away, but his left arm protested too much. The bandage over the machete wound, courtesy of the Harvester, was soaking through in blood again.
    Shit.
    Favoring his arm, he struggled to his feet on wobbly legs and started off into night.

    Rosina had just ordered a Quarter Pounder with cheese and a large Coke when Alfred’s phone rang. He stepped away to take the call.
    After paying the clerk, she gathered napkins and found a table in the corner.
    Alfred watched her the whole time. He snapped his phone shut but then didn’t move.
    She took a bite of her burger and, after a second, slowed her chewing. Finally, she swallowed and set her burger down.
    “What?” she asked. “What is it? My parents?”
    “Prepare yourself.”
    Rosina leaned forward. “After what happened in Rome, I’m prepared. Just tell me.”
    “We have a safe house in Barrie. We’re heading there in different vehicles.”
    Rosina rolled her hand around in a circle. “Go on, go on. I already know this. And…”
    “The vehicle your husband was in has had an accident.”
    She was astounded. “An accident?” she asked, her voice too loud.
    “Please ma’am. Keep your voice down.”
    “Is. Darwin. Okay?” she asked, clipping each word with her voice controlled.
    “We don’t know.”
    “Tell me what you do know. Now.”
    “All I got was the vehicle hit the back of rig.”
    “How come there’s no word on Darwin?”
    The agent looked down at his shoes, his eyes wary. “The car was fully engulfed in flames before the fire engines got there.”
    “Oh, no, oh, no… noooo,” Rosina moaned.
    “There was another car that hit the rig. It too burst into flames. Multiple vehicles were involved.”
    She looked up at him, her food forgotten. “Isolated incident, as in mob hit? Is that what you mean?”
    He nodded. “From first accounts, it looks like an accident like any other on the 401.”
    She stopped and widened her eyes in surprise. “What did you say?”
    “What? About the accident?”
    “No. You said, an accident like any other on the 401? Didn’t you?”
    “Yeah. Why, is that important?”
    She smacked the table. “What was his car doing on the 401?”
    “I have no idea. I’m not given details about other people’s transport.”
    “You don’t take the 401 to get to Barrie. When you guys knocked on my hotel room door, you said Darwin was already en route to Barrie and that I was to come with you to relocate to a safe house in Barrie. I repeat, you do not take the 401 to go to Barrie from where we were. So what’s going on?”
    “I have no idea ma’am, but I think it’s time we leave. We’re attracting attention.”
    “No. I want to know why Darwin was on the 401. You go north on the 427 and then across the 407 to the 400. The 400 goes north directly into Barrie. So you tell me, a woman who has lived her whole life in Toronto, to the point where I could be a cab driver without a map, why my husband was on the fucking 401?” She was near screaming now.
    Alfred stood up. “Ma’am, please, come with me-”
    “Don’t ma’am me! My Darwin did not fight the Fuccini family in Rome to come home to die in a car accident. Don’t you dare tell…” she choked, caught her breath. “Oh my baby, my precious Darwin.”
    She tried to get up and slipped to the floor. She whispered his name over and over as Alfred lifted her with ease.
    Supporting her, he hustled for the exit, passing the restaurant’s night manager on the way. Alfred flipped his ID out and the manager stepped back.
    Alfred set her in the backseat, locked both doors and stepped away from the vehicle.
    She saw he was on the phone, but didn’t register much else. Thoughts of Darwin rolled through her brain as she tried to comprehend a life without him. Could it be over? Could he be dead?
    She punched the seat beside her and decided to firm up her resolve. Until they had a positive ID, she would not believe he was dead. No way, no how. Not her Darwin. If he could walk away from Fuccini’s trap, he could walk away from scrap metal.
    The driver’s side door opened and Alfred sat down in the driver’s seat. He turned around before starting the car.
    “They checked the car your husband was in. The driver and your husband weren’t there. No one was in the car. They’re still on the scene, but at this point there are no bodies in the FBI vehicle.”
    “I knew it. Darwin is alive. I feel it. He won’t die. You’ll see. He’ll come back around and kill everyone who fucks with him. You watch. He’s my husband.”

Chapter 12

    He walked for hours, staying under street lamps as often as he could. The accident happened just before the exit for Keele Street, which he walked up and then went north on Keele until around five in the morning. He fell asleep for two hours behind a building on Ashwarren Road.
    Once up, he continued along Keele until he saw a drive-thru Tim Horton’s.
    The line inside was short, but the place was hopping as cars lined up over twenty deep at this early hour.
    He got his large double-double and went looking for a pay phone. He found one, pulled out his wallet and used his Visa for the charges.
    Sure, they can check my records to see where I am, but I’m pretty sure it’s not instant and by the time they figure out what pay phone and race over here, I’ll be long gone.
    He sipped his coffee while he dialed his father’s home phone number. After three rings, he was about to hang up, when someone answered.
    “Hello?”
    FBI.
    “Hello?” the man said again. “Can I help you?”
    Darwin hung up. They were probably tapping the line, waiting to see if there was a list of demands.
    Oh, Dad. I’m sorry you got mixed up in this. I’m so sorry.
    He leaned against the pay phone’s Plexiglass shelter and wondered who he could call for help. His friend Bill would already be gone to work, and he couldn’t remember that number by heart. He knew Bill would extend a hand, but did he really want to involve someone else he cared about?
    Finally, he decided to call Rosina’s parents’ number to see if the FBI would answer that one too.
    He dialed and drank more coffee while he waited.
    The phone was answered after three rings.
    “Hello?”
    Rosina’s mother? No fucking way. Impossible.
    “Isabella?”
    “Yes, who is this?”
    “Isabella Capote? Is that you?”
    “Who’s calling please?”
    “Darwin.”
    “You. What have you got my daughter mixed up in? FBI agents came by. They wanted to set up stuff in my house. I told them to get out. This was between you and someone else. Ohhh, Darwin, I’m so frustrated right now. Where is Rosina?”
    It was so good to hear her voice, such a relief, that he wasn’t formulating a proper response.
    The FBI said they had kidnapped you. What the fuck?
    “It’s so good to hear your voice.”
    “What? Darwin, are you on drugs?”
    “I was told you were kidnapped-”
    “Kidnapped? How absurd.”
    “Tell me about it.”
    His thoughts were coming together. They were lying to him. Everyone was lying to him. The FBI had set him up, and Greg was involved at some level. Greg had called the hotel room and told him that Rosina’s parents had been taken. The men in the car at the Park ’N Fly had told him that four agents were dead and two were missing and that they needed his help to bring Greg down, yet it was Greg who called him in the hotel. No one told Rosina that her parents were kidnap victims except Darwin. In that moment, he realized he was their fall guy.
    “Darwin, are you still there?”
    “Yeah, sorry. I need your help.”
    “My help?”
    “Something big is happening and you’re the only one I can turn to. I need to see you. Can we meet?”
    “What’s this all about? Is it Rosina?”
    “I will tell you everything. But you can’t say anything to anyone about where you’re going. Come alone and I will explain it all.”
    “Um, okay. Where do you want to meet?”
    “How about the food court at Square One Shopping Center? I’ll be sitting in front of the Tim Horton’s.”
    “Oh, Darwin. I hate Tim Horton’s.”
    “Well, you don’t have to order anything,” he said, completely offended.
    “Meet me at the Starbucks in Chapters across the street from the Square One. Do you know where that is?”
    “Yes,” Darwin said. “When?”
    “In an hour?”
    “Good. But come alone. I need to talk to you and only you. Isabella, I’m sorry, but if I see FBI or any of your friends, I’ll have to leave because what I need to tell you is secret, okay?”
    “My husband is out at the shop and I’m alone at the house. Why would I bring anyone? I’ll just see you there in an hour.”
    “Bye,” Darwin said and hung up.
    He walked away from the pay phone and looked for a cab.
    Why would they lie to him? What were they up to? Was Greg on their side or working for Fuccini?
    Rosina would be so glad to find out her parents were alive.
    Was that some sort of plan? Why did they have Darwin tell her about her parents?
    He swung back to the pay phone. After inserting his card, he dialed information.
    “Quality Suites Airport, please.”
    When the front desk answered, Darwin asked to speak to Rosina Kostas and told the desk clerk their room number on the fifth floor. After three rings, it was picked up.
    At first he heard nothing.
    “Hello?” Darwin said.
    “Darwin?”
    “Yeah, who’s this? Put Rosina on.”
    “Where are you?”
    “Fuck you. Put Rosina on.”
    “Not until you come in.”
    “What’s your name? Who are you?”
    “Not important. Where are you?”
    “Not important, eh? How can I trust you? After what happened on the highway, eh? How can I trust you? Now, put my fucking wife on the phone.”
    There was a moment of silence. Darwin figured the guy was thinking about it.
    “Rosina’s not here.”
    “Yeah, right. Stop fucking around and put her on, or I’m hanging up.”
    “I’m serious. She’s not here. She was moved to a safe house.”
    “A safe house? Where?”
    “You know I can’t tell you that or it wouldn’t be safe now, would it?”
    “I’m her husband, asshole. You can tell me where she is. In fact, you can tell me where she is right the fuck now, or I will assume you dickheads are the enemy because taking a woman away from her husband and not telling the husband where she is really is kidnapping now, isn’t it?”
    “Darwin, tell us about your connection to the Gambino family. Tell us everything and we’ll put you both in the program somewhere in the states. Help us out here and we can help you.”
    “The program? Gambino family? What the fuck are you talking about?”
    “The witness protection program. We can keep you safe. Protect you and your wife. You can live a long life together. Safe. What do you say? Come on in.”
    “Are you mad? Have all of you gone mad? I don’t even know the name Gambino? And talking about safety, I sure was safe last night in a car with a Federal Bureau man. Sure, I was real safe. You guys have a knack with keeping folks safe.”
    “That was an accident. We can fix this. Just tell us about your connection-”
    “Fuck you!” Darwin screamed into the phone and slammed it down.
    He hustled away from the pay phone before he tried to tear it off its mount. He had to get to the Chapters in Mississauga.
    “Fucking credit card.”
    He’d left it in the phone slot. He ran back, grabbed it and then used the phone to call a cab.
    Ten minutes later he was in the backseat of a cab, heading to Mississauga to meet with Rosina’s mother.
    On the way there, he had the driver stop and wait at an Army surplus store. He needed a weapon. One that wasn’t sharp or had pointy edges. One that wouldn’t be lethal, but one that would still be effective enough to repel attackers.
    He found exactly what he needed and ran back to the waiting cab.

Chapter 13

    Rosina woke with a splitting headache. She rolled off the bed and got up slowly. The bed had been comfortable, the pillow amazing, but it was the first night since she got married in Rome that she’d slept alone.
    That’s enough to give any woman a headache, she thought.
    She spied the bathroom door. The house was gorgeous. She remembered not being able to appreciate it as she entered through the front door earlier that morning, Alfred holding her up, as exhaustion had finally won her over.
    He’d explained how the house was on a normal city street, surrounded by normal neighbors. She remembered asking him to define normal. He’d ignored her and went on to explain how there were hidden cameras everywhere. There was even one hidden in the clock on the wall.
    “Where?” she had asked.
    “At the bottom of every number, there’s a little black dot. On the six, that dot is a camera. We’re surrounded by them outside too. In the back, the house is on environmentally protected land. It’s a ravine. If the worst happens, and we’re under attack, we leave through the back and there’s always a car parked for us in a driveway two streets over. We have everything covered.”
    “Are we going to be attacked?” Rosina asked. Then she held her hand up. “Wait. Don’t answer that. You said you have everything covered. Did you guys have my husband covered?”
    Alfred hadn’t answered her. His phone had rung and he moved away to answer it. She had wandered through the house and fell asleep in the room on the top floor that had an en suite.
    Inside the bathroom, she couldn’t find any Advil.
    She used the toilet and went downstairs to find Alfred.
    He sat in a lounge chair, staring out the front window. He got up when he heard her coming.
    “Ahh, you’re up. How did you sleep?”
    “Not good. I need Advil and coffee.”
    “On it,” he said, and slipped past her.
    “Some of my colleagues are coming by soon. They have news and they want to talk to you about stuff.”
    “What kind of stuff?” she mumbled, afraid to raise her voice for fear of the throbbing in her head.
    “What’s that?” Alfred asked.
    She waved him off.
    A minute later, the coffee machine in the kitchen sputtered along. He brought her three Advils, and after taking all three, she told Alfred she’d have a shower, and then be down for coffee.
    Fifteen minutes after that, she came down the stairs, headache almost gone, ready for a couple cups of coffee when she heard voices. Three men stood in a semi-circle around Alfred.
    “Rosina, these are the men I was telling you about. Get a coffee and come join us.”
    She tried to determine if they were the kind of men who come to tell you personally that your spouse had been killed.
    She took her time preparing her coffee, dreading to hear the news if it was bad.
    Finally, she dragged herself to the living room and took a seat, looking for any sign that this would be bad. One man sported a stupid bushy mustache. The other didn’t know how to tie his necktie. It hung too low with the knot askew. The third man seemed nervous, his leg bouncing up and down.
    She decided she didn’t want to know their names. She would call them, Tie, Leg, and Stache.
    “Rosina, the information we are about…”
    Rosina held her hand up for him to stop. “First, is Darwin dead? That’s all I want to know. We can talk for hours if you want, but first, tell me about my husband.”
    Stache looked at Leg and Tie in turn. Then he looked back at her. “No, Darwin is not dead. We have confirmation he’s alive. He talked to one of our agents about an hour ago.”
    “Ohhh, what a relief,” she said as she set her coffee down on the table by her knee. She bent at the waist and leaned over, holding her stomach.
    No one spoke, giving her a moment to digest the news.
    When she sat up, she collected herself, adjusted her blouse and took a sip of her coffee. Everyone in the room remained quiet, respecting the moment she needed.
    “How did you receive confirmation?” Rosina asked.
    “He called your hotel room at the Quality Suites,” Leg answered.
    She raised an eyebrow. “My room at the hotel? Why would he do that? He knew I wouldn’t be there. We were supposed to be transported in separate vehicles to this safe house.” She eyed them all and then asked. “What’s really going on?”
    “Well, Mrs. Kostas, that’s what we’re here to talk to you about.”
    She set here coffee down. “Go ahead,” she said. “I’m listening.”
    “Rosina, have you-”
    “Mrs. Kostas, please. That’s my name now.”
    The men all looked at each other. Tie pulled a folder out of a briefcase beside him and turned to her.
    “Mrs. Kostas, do you and your husband ever watch adult movies?”
    “Excuse me? What the hell kinda question is that? How dare you?”
    “Ma’am, calm down, please. We have our reasons. We will explain. Bear with us. We have to get through our questions first.”
    She pulled her legs up under her and sat with her arms crossed.
    Can this circus get any worse?
    “Have you ever heard of a man named Frankie Gambino?”
    “No. Should I have?”
    Tie disregarded her question and asked another one of his. “Have you ever shopped at the,” he stopped to refer to his notes. “Adult Emporium and Toys on the corner of Dundas and Dixie in Mississauga?”
    “What the hell is this? Why did you come all this way to ask if I use adult toys? Are you insane? My husband is in trouble and you’re asking how kinky we are as a couple? I’m appalled.”
    “Ma’am, please take a look at this photo and tell me if you recognize anyone in it.”
    Stache leaned forward and handed her an eight by ten. She took it and gasped.
    The photo showed the door to what looked like an adult store. It had a red stop sign on it and the number eighteen. The door was open and a man stood there. That man was her husband, Darwin Kostas.
    “What is this? My husband doesn’t shop at these kinds of places.”
    She didn’t know what to think. She thought she knew him. A million questions raced through her mind. She’d been with him for years and never seen any behavior that would make her think he would shop at a place like that. She would know. Darwin didn’t even look at other women longer than anything cursory. He loved her and only her. He’d asked her to marry him. He stole her away, and her heart. Seeing him in that picture wasn’t what made her cry. It was the embarrassment of not knowing what he was doing in an adult store with four FBI men looking for answers.
    Leg stood up. “I’ll get you a Kleenex.” He stepped away.
    When he came back, he handed it to her and sat down. “There are other pictures.”
    “Wait,” Alfred said. He turned to her. “Are you okay? Do you want to continue?”
    Rosina nodded and wiped her eyes. “I’m ready.”
    Stache reached into a folder and produced another eight by ten. He handed it to her.
    It was the same store, but this time she recognized Vincenzo Fuccini from all the media coverage of his death and her husband’s heroic, as they had put it, timing with his Ford Mustang.
    She handed the photo back. “We all know who that man is.”
    Stache handed her another. Again, the same store front, but a man she didn’t recognize. This continued for six more photos, all of them men she didn’t recognize.
    Stache put all the photos back in his folder and gently placed them into his briefcase.
    “Is anyone going to explain to me what this is all about? I think I’ve been patient enough.”
    The men looked at each other again with subtle nods.
    “We feel you’ve been telling us the truth.”
    “Good. I should hope so. How about a little truth from you guys?”
    Tie nodded at her. “We agree. It is time we brought you in on this because we may need your help.”
    “I get it. You give me something if I agree to do something for you? Is that it? You’re no better than the mafia. Do me a favor and I’ll do you a favor. Look, I’m sorry, but I just want my life back. I want my husband back.”
    She started crying again. Leg offered her more Kleenex. She took them, mumbled a thank you and settled back in her chair to listen.
    “That adult store has been under surveillance for some time now,” Stache started. “We suspect the Fuccini family use some of their stores as drop points.”
    “What’s a drop point?” Rosina asked.
    “It’s where payoffs are made. Drugs are distributed too. In an adult store, there are never any kids and the windows are all painted up. No one from the outside can see in. The person making the drop can browse the walls of merchandise and wait until the store is empty. Then he can walk to the counter, drop the message, money, or whatever his purpose is, get paid and leave with a bag full of money. Their bags are always black. You can’t see through them. It’s perfect for what the mob do. That’s why they’re so tied up in the adult business.”
    “How does this have anything to do with my husband?”
    “It had been rumored for months that the four leading families in Eastern Canada were preparing a meet. Our job was to attempt to find out that location. We have men working undercover but no one knew the exact location. The families all agreed that an outside contractor would be brought in for security during this meeting.”
    “I’ll ask again,” Rosina interrupted. “What does Darwin have to do with mobsters and adult stores?”
    “That store was the location where the men going to the meet would get their final directions and destination. It happened hours before the meet was to take place. All the men you saw in those photos were representatives of each crime family getting the hangar’s address. You know what happened at that hangar as your husband was also there that night.”
    She pulled her face back a bit. “I resent that comment. He wasn’t there as you put it. He was out driving around and saw the fire in the distance. He said it got dark too fast and he ended up taking a wrong turn.” She stopped talking. Faced with the picture she’d seen moments before, it almost felt like she was defending him.
    I don’t know what to think.
    “That day, we took pictures of everybody leaving that store. We ran all their faces through our system and came up with hits on the crime family pics. Darwin’s face got no hits, so his picture was filed away. When all that happened in Rome, the case of the Hangar Peace Accord, as we call it, was reopened and we started going through everything. Darwin being at that particular adult store on the exact day that directions were handed out, within an hour of the other crime family members, became suspect after knowing he turned up at the hangar.”
    “So what are you saying? Darwin, my husband, the man I’ve known for going on seven years now, the man I know better than his own father, is a mobster? Are you saying he’s one of their hit men? I mean, come on…”
    Control. Control. Stay in control.
    “Bear with us, please. Let us get through this and we’ll make conclusions together.”
    She nodded, afraid to say anything.
    “When you were landing in Toronto with Greg, we received credible evidence that Darwin was paid off by the Gambino family for the hit on Vincenzo Fuccini.”
    “That’s preposterous,” she almost screamed. Control.
    “This came to us from an inside source. Deep inside. It’s sound.”
    “So you’re saying you believe this source? You gotta be kidding me. My husband is innocent in all this!” She was near hysterical now.
    Alfred laid a hand on her arm. She jerked it away.
    “Let them finish,” he said. “Hear them out. When they’re done, judge them then.”
    Tie waited, adjusted his stupid tie and then said, “We do not believe the evidence after all. We feel it was compromised.”
    “What? So why tell it to me the way you did?”
    “We wanted you to see what we were seeing so you’d better understand what we did. You have to try to stay calm to be able to understand everything.”
    “I am calm,” she snapped. “Now, tell me, what did you do?”
    “We acted on the information like we normally would. We separated you two last night and told Darwin that we felt Greg was working for the Fuccinis. If your husband was, in fact, working for the Gambinos, he would have to make contact. Greg is one of the best agents we have. He has done this longer than any of us and he had Darwin’s confidence.
    “What made you act on the evidence so fast? Yet, now, you don’t think it’s credible?” She mocked their use of the word. “Look, I’m sorry, but you have to understand my side of this. I just got married five days ago. I’m supposed to be on my honeymoon. We were almost killed, more than once, by mobsters and hit men and now the FBI thinks my husband is one of them. The FBI sets us up and then he almost dies in an accident, and no one knows where he is. How do you think I’m supposed to feel?”
    “We understand. We really do. But listening to us and getting through this is the way we can get working on bringing your husband home. Okay?”
    She nodded, lost for words.
    “We thought it was credible given the evidence. If Darwin was sent to kill Vincenzo and then go after the Fuccini family, it isn’t odd that he would show up in Rome and start hunting them down. Again, if that was what he was hired to do, then he did a great job. Better than expected.”
    “We went to Rome to get married,” she said, her voice low, her tone non-threatening. “It was in respect to my parents as they are Italian. We were going to honeymoon in Greece as Darwin’s father is Greek. It was planned as respectful.”
    “Okay, but he shows up and takes out Big John. A hundred men have tried that and died. Then he walks a man into traffic and kills him. Greg tells him on the phone to stay calm, be cool. Don’t do anything until Greg gets there. We thought Darwin was calling Greg as a way to show that when he finished with the Fuccini family, he could get his life back and still play the role of easygoing, calm Canadian boy.
    “Instead, Darwin heads to the Fuccini building on Via Roma, a known mafia haven, and succeeds in entering the building, getting to the top floor, after killing even more hired professionals, only to meet the Harvester of Sorrow unarmed.”
    She shuddered at the mention of the name.
    “You okay?” Alfred asked.
    She nodded. “I saw firsthand what evil that man was. I am so happy he is dead.”
    “We are too. The only men to compare him to were the Nazi butchers. So how did Darwin do all that, with barely a scratch, if he’s just a writer from Canada? We asked ourselves that question over and over.”
    “I’m his wife. I was their prisoner. You do not want to piss Darwin off. Turn out the lights, show him a knife or ask about his stepmother and you will have asked to talk to Lucifer. Trust me.”
    They looked at each other. Stache turned to her, a frown twisting his mustache almost sideways. “What was that? Lights, a knife?”
    “Nothing. Just go on.”
    Leg stopped bouncing his leg and said, “So, since Darwin didn’t fit the profile, we looked at his past and reopened the Hangar Peace Accord file and started looking at everything again. We saw his picture at the adult store and then got a tip that he worked for the Gambino family. See how it all came together.”
    “But you don’t believe that anymore?” she asked.
    They all shook their heads. “He never made contact that we could tell. Then we contacted a known family member of the Gambinos and they told us, on no uncertain terms, that they want to distance themselves from anyone like Darwin Kostas. He’s too public, too dangerous, they said.”
    “My husband. How sweet,” she said.
    “We found out the leak came from the Fuccini family. They were trying to get us to move him. We did and they attacked. That’s how the accident happened. There was another car that hit the back of that rig. In it were the two corpses of Fuccini family members. Greg was located in the dark an hour after the accident. He’d crawled away from the burning car and he was worried other attackers could come. He’s in ICU over at St. Michael’s hospital. He woke up long enough to tell us about the car that rammed them.”
    “Oh man.” She felt tears coming again. The thought that the FBI sent her husband out into a trap after what happened in Rome, and now he’s missing, really upset her and pissed her off too.
    “There’s one more thing we have to tell you about Darwin’s father. We thought his kidnapping was directly related. Maybe he knew about Darwin’s past or something and Darwin had to remove him. What a great time to do it when he’s still in Rome so he could never be blamed.”
    “Okay, I get it. That it?”
    “No. Please stay calm for this part. This is good news, but you may get angry.”
    “Go ahead. Try me.”
    “Your parents were never kidnapped. They’re fine and still being watched. That was information control. We wanted to watch his reaction to things happening that weren’t part of his orchestration. We needed to see who he would call. We also wanted to see if he would tell you or hide it from you. We’re sorry. Your parents are at home, healthy and alive.”
    The fury Darwin always described to her when he saw a knife was what she felt rising as the FBI told her she’d been lied to about her parents. She wasn’t a pawn to be played with. Her parents weren’t bait. Her husband wasn’t a sheep. They had played them all without regard for their safety.
    “Get out! All of you!”
    “Mrs. Kostas, we need to discuss-”
    “Get out!” she shouted and stood up, running from the living room.
    Her headache was back in all its glory.

Chapter 14

    Darwin used his Visa to pay the cab driver. He got dropped off on the other side of Square One shopping mall. Walking cautiously, taking his time, going the roundabout way, would tell him if the place was being staked out.
    He still had ten minutes until he was supposed to meet Rosina’s mother, Isabella. That didn’t leave him enough time to get a full disguise together, but he thought maybe a baseball hat would help.
    The mall looked quite busy for a middle of the week noon hour crowd. On his way to the other side of the mall, he passed a store that sold hats, grabbed one and bought it.
    He also bought a new sports jacket. Better to change his whole outer appearance to avoid immediate detection. A lot of people wanted him dead and he couldn’t trust the FBI now either.
    The weapon he picked up at the army surplus store earlier fit in his jacket pocket, easy to grab.
    He used the doors by The Bay department store to exit the mall as they were usually the less busy ones.
    All the way across the parking lot, he saw no one watching him or acting like they weren’t supposed to be there.
    He crossed the street and walked toward Chapters bookstore like a normal customer.
    At the main doors, he slowed, and took one last look around. Clouds were rolling in, the sun hidden behind them. The air was warm, a slight breeze cooling his damp forehead. As far as he could tell, no one was observing him.
    He entered through the double doors of the bookstore and headed for the Starbucks on the left side.
    Isabella was already there, drinking from a tall or a grande shit cup.
    Sure their coffee was okay, but what about a large, medium or small? What the fuck was a short?
    “Mrs. Capote. Thank you for coming.”
    “Darwin? What’s going on? I’ve missed Rosina. Where is she?”
    “Everything is fine, Mrs. Capote. Your daughter is safe.”
    “Where have you two been for the last week? Wait,” she paused and tapped his wrist. “Go get a coffee. I’ll wait.”
    “No, thanks. I don’t drink at this place.”
    “Oh, okay. So why are we here? What was this help you were asking for?”
    She wasn’t acting normal. No way was this Mrs. Capote. She was putting on an act for sure.

FBI

    He should’ve known. They were waiting for him to say his piece and then they would pounce. He needed her car. He needed wheels and he thought he could’ve driven her home, borrowed the car and then decided what to do next, but now, he wasn’t so sure.
    Then he had an idea. A plan hit him.
    Perfect.
    “Rosina and I went to Rome to get married,” he said.
    “Oh, my,” she said. “I knew you two would tie the knot one day.”
    So unlike her. She was one of the most adamant against it.
    “We had a little trouble in Rome.”
    “What kind of trouble?” she asked, and then held up her tall coffee.
    “People tried to hurt us, but we escaped and everything is okay now.”
    “Well, that’s good. When do I get to see Rosina?”
    They’re listening. I say trouble, and she doesn’t even blink. She’s good. She’s sending me a very clear message that she already knows everything I’m telling her. Tell her something she doesn’t know.
    He looked around in a conspiratorially way and whispered, “I need your car. I have to drive somewhere. I can fix things.”
    Mrs. Capote reached in her purse and produced her car keys. A white piece of paper was attached to the key ring. She slid them across the table and tapped it twice with her finger.
    Darwin waited a breath and then looked down. Written in pencil, he read the words: FBI listening.
    He looked up and nodded so subtly that only she could tell.
    “Go, Darwin. The car is two rows up. Push the lock button, the horn will honk to help you find it,” she whispered. Then she grabbed his hand and squeezed it. “Save my daughter again. Get the bastards who have done this to you two. I heard what you did in Rome for Rosina. I’m proud to call you my son-in-law, even if the men running to this table right now don’t think so. You’re a real man, Darwin. Now, get out of here.”
    Darwin squeezed her hand back and jumped up from his chair so fast he knocked it over. He ran for the Starbucks door, spilling empty chairs behind him to block his pursuers’ path.
    He hit the door in full sprint and bolted for the second row of cars. He recognized the two-door BMW convertible right away.
    One look over his shoulder, and he saw two men coming out of the Starbucks behind him.
    He made the car, dropped into the front seat, cranked the engine with the stick already in first, and popped the clutch. Spinning out of the parking spot, his door slammed shut with the forward motion.
    He saw the two men coming to a stop in the rear view mirror.
    There was only one place to go. He had no leads on any mafia family members. He knew nothing about them, where they hunkered down, or where they did business.
    But there was one place he knew where this had all started. One particular store where he tried to do the right thing and now he was paying for it.
    The store where he had to shop, even though he hated going in there, for the mint tree lotion that Rosina had grown to love so much. He’d read about it online and looked everywhere for it, until one day someone said you don’t go to the Body Shop in the mall for that. You go to an adult store.
    The same adult store in Mississauga where he bought his wife her lotion. The same adult store where a man had carelessly dropped a piece of paper that had the address to Buttonville’s old airport location and the time for that night’s meeting. The note had said group therapy for phobia sufferers.
    When Darwin picked up the paper, he read the heading quickly to see if it was worthless, and then tapped the man on the shoulder to hand it back to him. The two words phobia sufferers had caught his eye.
    He’d gotten a cold stare, handed the man the note, looked away and went to buy his wife her mint tree.
    It was the same man he killed later that night when he’d ventured out there, in the dark, which he would never normally do, to see if he could join or sign up for the group therapy on phobias in his yearning to heal even more so Rosina didn’t have to live with his worst moments. He had wondered why it wasn’t being held in a doctor’s office or a counseling office. The fact that he had decided to go in the dark would be a step in the right direction and maybe he would have triggers to deal with that could be talked about during the session if he could stay.
    It was all for his wife.
    But that man, Vincenzo, had stumbled in front of his Ford and with the interior light on, Darwin hadn’t seen him until it was too late.
    It all started at the adult store.
    It would all end there too.

Chapter 15

    Alfred came up and knocked on her door an hour later. She lay spread-eagle on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
    “They’re gone,” he said through the door.
    She didn’t answer him. She lay there, happy as hell that her parents were okay, but missing Darwin so much it hurt.
    “Rosina, can we talk?”
    “What do you want?”
    “Can I open the door?”
    “No.”
    “I’m sorry. I agree, the FBI looks like a bunch of bumbling fools here. Remember, though, it’s not me. I just came on duty. I, personally, didn’t do this stupid stuff. So if you need someone to talk to… I’m here.”
    She waited a moment. “You can open the door.”
    The knob turned and he opened the door. “You doing okay?”
    “Yeah.”
    “I have news. It’s not good, but it’s not bad either.”
    “What is it? Just tell me.”
    “We have visual confirmation that Darwin is alive and well.”
    She turned her head and looked at him sideways. “Where is he? Are you bringing him here?”
    “Not exactly. He met with your mother at a Starbucks in Mississauga.”
    “Darwin went to a Starbucks? He must be on the run for sure,” she said and smiled, attempting humor.
    Alfred frowned.
    “Never mind. Go on.”
    “He met with your mother, and she gave him the keys to her car. He left in her BMW when my colleagues tried to talk to him.”
    “So now he’s running from the FBI. You guys must be really scary. Or do you think it’s because he’s figured it all out and doesn’t trust the very people we’re supposed to trust?”
    Alfred dropped his head a little and looked at the carpet. “I guess we deserve that.”
    “Damn right. Now, tell your colleagues to get the real bad guys and stop worrying about my husband.”
    Alfred stepped out and clicked her door shut.
    Rosina rolled into a ball and prayed it would all end soon.
    #
    When Greg interviewed him over and over and took his statement the night Vincenzo was run down, Darwin never revealed the adult store connection. He couldn’t allow Rosina to know he would ever visit a place like that.
    It wasn’t a bad thing. Many good people shopped in stores like that. He was sure of it. He was a good person. He shopped there.
    It was more about her preconceived notions of what an adult store represented. Pornography, smut, low-lifes, and sexual deviants. Sure, in some of the trashier places, there could be an element of that. But in the nicer ones, it was a real store with real products for men and women and loving couples.
    Darwin believed it was something Rosina would accept better in years to come, but so far, in their relationship, anything too deviant had been taboo. He was fine with that. Their sex life was great. He just couldn’t bring himself to tell her where he bought the mint tree bottle yet.
    But after this mess was cleared up and behind them, he’d have to tell her. She was his wife now and that meant honesty. Full disclosure. There could be no other way to live.
    He pulled into the store’s access ramp and parked in the middle of the lot, leaving the car idling, checking in all four directions to see if anyone watched.
    Five minutes later, satisfied he hadn’t been followed and no one spied on him, Darwin turned the car off and got out.
    He locked the door and leaned against the side of the car, taking in the area. He couldn’t make any mistakes. If this was a mobster hangout, he could very easily walk in and be killed. He had to be sure. He had to careful.
    This was end-game stuff.
    He was tired of running. He couldn’t live like this all his life. There was no way. Rosina needed a calmer existence. He needed a calmer existence. He couldn’t produce another novel if the stress level remained this high. These people and their sick, pathetic code of ethics weren’t just fucking with his life and his wife, they were fucking with his livelihood too.
    That meant if he was on the run for the next few years under the threat of death, he wouldn’t be able to write well, thereby not able to provide for his wife.
    Then he thought of Salman Rushdie and his book, The Satanic Verses.
    “Oh shit, he did it, didn’t he,” Darwin said to himself. If Salman could run from the Ayatollah in Iran, with millions in bounty for his head, and live to publish again, then Darwin could run from a few mafia boys.
    But still, this had to end. No justifications, no figuring things out and making deals. Nothing but a complete cease of all pursuit. The only way Darwin would achieve that was to kill the man who sent out the order.
    The adult store was the only contact Darwin had.
    He pushed off from the car and crossed the parking lot. The clouds had come in completely now, blocking out the early afternoon sun, a dim grayness cast on everything.
    Darwin was only walking, but his breath increased as his blood pressure spiked. It was time again. He could feel the violence in the air.
    He rolled his shoulders and bent a little to loosen up his muscles. After the accident last night, even though he didn’t feel like he got banged up too bad, his muscles cramped in strange spots.
    A quick check in his jacket pocket told him his weapon was still there and at the ready.
    The store’s door opened. A man walked out, a black bag in his hand. He looked at Darwin and sheepishly looked away.
    What do you have there? A toy for the wife? Embarrassed much?
    Ready to finish this, Darwin hit the door and entered the adult store.
    It looked just as he remembered it. Movies on all the walls by the door. Further in, the adult toys and then the lubrications and massage oils. Near the counter sat the Kama Sutra section with bottles of mint tree.
    The clerk was on the phone, whispering away and smiling like he was talking to his girlfriend. One customer stood in the far corner, surveying movie box covers. He nodded at the scruffy looking clerk and tried to control his stomach. He hadn’t eaten all day, only a couple Tim Horton’s coffees.
    They had more mint tree than the last time he’d been here, but that wasn’t what he was here for this time.
    What do I do with myself in a store like this while I wait for the customer to leave? Shit.
    He turned around and looked at the toy section. Some of the items were so big, they looked humanly impossible to enter into someone.
    “You need any help?”
    Suddenly the clerk stood beside him. Darwin jumped a little.
    “No, just looking.”
    The clerk nodded and turned away.
    “Wait. I gotta question. Do people actually use that thing there?”
    “What, the Rambone?” the clerk asked, and looked back at Darwin. “Oh yeah. It’s one of our better sellers.”
    “Wow. I’d assume after using it, the user would have to go in for surgery.”
    “Not really,” the clerk replied, smiling.
    The door chimed as the customer left the store. Darwin was alone with the clerk.
    “There’s one more thing.”
    “What’s that?” the clerk asked.
    Darwin looked him up and down. He wore beige khakis and a brown T-shirt. His hair was unkempt and he smelled like he hadn’t showered in a few days.
    The guy didn’t look like a fighter. Darwin would ask his questions, get the answers he needed and leave.
    “I want to speak to the Fuccini boss.”
    The clerk frowned. “Fuccini who? I don’t think anyone named Fuccini works here.”
    “No, not someone who works here. The Fuccini family boss. I know this store is used as a contact point. Get him on the phone or send out a note. Do whatever it is you guys do, but get me in touch with him. Now.”
    The clerk put his hands in the air and stepped back. “Okay weirdo, that’s enough. You can leave now. I don’t know anyone named Fuccini and I have no idea what you’re talking about when you say contact point.”
    Darwin grabbed him with his right arm and tried to pull him back. The guy spun with lightning speed, both hands wrapped onto Darwin’s forearm. He lifted up, spun again in a circle, throwing his hands above his head without letting go of Darwin.
    With his arm twisted like a windmill, Darwin had to bend and roll with it. Before he registered what was happening, Darwin was off his feet and flipping in the air. He landed hard on his back, the clerk still holding his arm.
    The clerk’s foot came down onto Darwin’s chest and applied pressure.
    “Are you that fucking stupid? Holy shit. You really are just some silly kid who got mixed in over your head. Boy, do I feel sorry for you.”
    Darwin tried to twist away, but the clerk spun his arm to point where he thought it would break.
    “Don’t try me. I’ll break your fucking arm.”
    “What are you talking about?” Darwin asked. “You know me? You were expecting me?”
    “After what you did at the hangar and then how crazy you were in Rome, everyone has heard of you. They hired me to sit here and see if you’d pop up. I had to serve all these asshole customers while I waited for you. I couldn’t believe my luck when you walked in.”
    Darwin grunted from the pain. “You knew it was me?”
    “I already called them. They’re on their way. A whole team of them. You actually got them scared. I looked at you and thought, this dude. No way. But they see you as some kind of killing machine. Cool, huh?”
    “Yeah, real cool. Listen, ahh, could you lighten up on the arm a bit. It may break.”
    “What, like this?”
    The clerk released his arm, but both hands hovered an inch from Darwin’s arm. It was evident the guy wanted a fight. He wanted a challenge. He thought Darwin would try to yank his arm away, so it surprised the clerk when Darwin spun on the tiled floor and kicked the clerk’s feet out from under him in a classic foot-sweep move.
    The guy was a serious pro. Even on the way down to the floor, he already had his arm coming out to attack Darwin when he landed.
    As Darwin had thrown his foot out, he had reached into his pocket.
    He aimed it just as the clerk hit the ground and attempted to elbow Darwin for his efforts.
    Darwin shot a stream of bear spray, quite potent in the space of one foot from the container. The vile liquid entered the clerk’s mouth, nostrils and eyes as Darwin moved it around.
    Darwin kept his eyes open only to a thin slit and held his breath while he sprayed.
    The clerk tried to bring up his hands to ward off the attack, but ended up only swiping at his face and trying to roll away.
    Finally, he stopped and rolled away himself.
    He walked behind the counter, grabbed the phone and hit redial while the clerk still writhed on the floor, screaming about how it hurt so bad.
    “Get me some water! Help me! Get it out!”
    Darwin pressed the phone to his ear.
    “Hello?” someone said.
    “Fuccini?”
    “Yeah, who’s this?”
    “Darwin Kostas.”
    He heard the gasp even over the clerk’s wailing.
    “I’m coming for you. However many men you’ve sent to this beautiful emporium won’t be enough. Double it. Unless you want to make a trade.”
    “I’m listening.”
    “Me for my father.”
    “I figured you’d understand my needs one day. My men will be there in five minutes. Go with them and we’ll release your father.”
    “No. It’ll be done on my terms.” Darwin pulled the phone away from his ear and checked the number. It was local. He committed it to memory, recited it twice and put the phone back to his ear. “I will call you at this number in two hours. Answer the phone, and I will tell you what to do. Then I will surrender myself to you. Do we have a deal?”
    The clerk wailed on. He’d made it to his feet, eyes rushing water, his face, beet red. He used the wall to find his way to the back of the store where Darwin figured there was a washroom.
    “I don’t have much choice if you won’t go with my men. It is obvious that getting you to do anything will be a chore, so we have a deal. But if you don’t call me, I will rip apart your father with my saw, and I will do it personally, and then I’ll come-”
    “There’s no need for your petty threats, you pissant. I know what you’ll do. Just answer the fucking phone when I call. Don’t disappoint me, Fuccini, or I might start to get really angry.”
    Darwin hung up, walked past the crying clerk near the back of the store, and then out. He turned the car on, flicked on the satellite radio until he found Iron Maiden. As Bruce Dickinson sang about how many minutes they had until midnight, Darwin waited. He saw Fuccini’s men pull up and run into the adult store, then he pulled away.
    He had the perfect spot to do the exchange. Fuccini would be pissed.
    He also had a surprise for him.
    No one would see it coming.

Chapter 16

    Darwin drove to the abandoned hangar, parked a kilometer away and sat in the BMW as the sun began its drop behind the horizon. He had his bear spray, a new flashlight and a new portable cell phone. As soon he had picked the phone up at the Rogers store, he programmed Fuccini’s number in it and then Isabella’s phone number.
    Those would be the only two numbers he’d need.
    He laid his head back on the seat while he waited. Ten minutes remained before he would call Fuccini.
    On the heavy metal satellite radio station, Stone Sour’s lead singer, Corey Taylor, screamed about being reborn.
    How appropriate, he thought.
    Deep breathing, controlled thoughts and a prayer were all he had. Rosina was out there somewhere with the FBI, men he couldn’t trust anymore. His father was in peril and many people would probably die in the next few hours.
    All because of Vincenzo. All because of vendettas, revenge and a mistakenly placed example of honor. How did doing the right thing get so fucked up? Why did humans have to kill each other in order to survive?
    He steeled himself to get ready, make the call. It had to be done.
    His father was old, frail. Darwin knew his dad would die for his son. But it wouldn’t end there. Eventually Fuccini would catch up with him and Rosina. A month from then, a year, five years. Fuccini wouldn’t stop. This was the only way. And if Darwin died, it was better than living with that threat over his head for another day.
    Tonight, either Fuccini or Darwin would die.
    He flipped off the radio and dialed Fuccini.
    “Where?”
    “The old abandoned airplane hangar in Buttonville. Bring my father. Don’t be too long, and you, personally, had better be here. I will not be giving myself up to a bunch of amateurs. I’m not a fan of the dark and the sun is setting, so hurry.”
    Before Darwin hung up he could tell how much coming to the hangar upset Fuccini by his tell-tale gasp. The death of his son took place on the hangar’s soil. It would prove to be quite unsettling for Fuccini to visit the area.
    But it was appropriate for two reasons. The shit all started here and it was the site of the Hangar Peace Accord. After tonight, there would be peace.
    Darwin grabbed everything he needed, got out of the car, shut the door quietly and stepped away, but not before turning on the flashlight. He dropped the cell phone in his back pocket and the bear spray in the other pocket.
    The walk to the hangar would take no time at all, but he wanted to walk the perimeter, walk down the road on the other side a little ways and see what was around in case he needed to escape fast.
    He heard motorcycles in the distance.
    Good. Right on time.
    He smiled to himself as everything seemed to be coming together.

    “How come it took me two hours of losing control, running through the neighborhood and knocking on people’s doors to get you to listen to me?”
    “Rosina, you have done great harm here. That was a good safe house. We’ll have to sell it now. People will talk. You’ve cost the bureau a great deal of money.”
    She looked out the car window as the exit for Newmarket raced by. They were on their way to Brampton so she could be with her parents.
    Alfred had gotten a call with news, but said he had to wait exactly two hours before he’d hear more. Then, almost on the dot, his phone rang when they were already on the highway.
    Apparently, the agents had felt that putting them together and pooling their resources on trying to track Darwin would be better than having Rosina an hour away in Barrie.
    “Alfred, I appreciate how kind you’ve been. Trust me when I say that. But understand something else. I could fucking care less how much money I cost the bureau. The Federal Bureau of Investigation professionals have cost me a husband, a life. I’ve had my honeymoon ruined by the Fuccini family and now Darwin is out there, alone, because of the FBI fuck-up, and now the sun is setting. So let’s agree to disagree and just get me to my parents house.”
    “Fine,” Alfred said, staring straight ahead.
    She couldn’t wait to talk to her mother since she had actually seen Darwin. He’d been hard to pick out, she’d said, with what he’d worn.
    My Darwin, she thought. Always fucking around.
    An amateur at disguises, a man who just wants to read books, watch movies and eat nice dinners at fine restaurants. A writer. A Canadian white boy who loves Bob amp; Doug McKenzie and hockey, touts back bacon and cannot get enough of saying ‘eh’. Her husband. Her man. Lost out there, alone, trying to stay alive.
    She would do anything for him as he had demonstrated the same to her. But she couldn’t help if she sat around a fancy house in Barrie, cut off from what was happening in Toronto.
    She had to get back and she made a point of explaining that, albeit in a rash way, but effective nonetheless.
    When she looked up and saw the sign for the 407 west, which would take them to Brampton, she was surprised to see Alfred merge, heading for the 407 east.
    “Alfred, you’re going the wrong way.”
    He ignored her. He didn’t say anything or even look at her in the mirror.
    “Alfred, turn onto the west, not east. Brampton’s the other way. Alfred!”
    The car missed the exit. They were now turning along the ramp that would take them east toward Scarborough and Pickering.
    “Alfred!”
    A Plexiglass window started to rise between the front and back seats. She reached out and grabbed the top of it, but no amount of force would stop its ascent.
    “Alfred!” she screamed.
    Rosina pulled her fingers out in time just as the dividing window hit the ceiling.
    Both back doors audibly snapped into the locked position. She watched as Alfred reached forward and turned on the radio. Through the Plexiglass divider, she could barely hear Berlioz performing his Symphonie Fantastique.
    “Alfred!” she shouted, banging on the Plexiglass. “Where are you taking me?”
    He didn’t respond. She knew, wherever it was, it wouldn’t be good.
    The hope she felt on the altar, days ago, for a life with Darwin, had many holes in it.
    Her hope disintegrated and fell apart as the man in the front seat drove her to a meeting with fate that she’d rather take a pass on.

Chapter 17

    Darwin had scoured the entire property as much as he could. More Harleys had arrived, but Richard H had all of them park well off the property and had everyone ferried in.
    It had taken too long, but the job was done, according to Richard.
    “We’re ready. My men know what to do. You better come through on your end.”
    Darwin knew a threat when he heard one. He seemed to be getting so many lately that even thinly veiled ones were easy to detect. They didn’t have the effect on him they once had.
    “Richard. I will write the book. I will promote it. I will make sure people know what I wrote about your bike club in my previous novel was fictitious and that this novel is the real thing, the real deal. We’re cool.”
    Darwin held the flashlight at his face, aimed off a little so it didn’t bother his eyes.
    “Biker gangs aren’t all about violence, extortion and drugs like the media portray us,” Richard said.
    He stood there swinging a chain in his hand. He had a metal baseball bat leaning against the hangar wall behind him.
    Yeah, right. Nothing violent about you.
    “What you wrote in that other book caused a couple of our guys to leave the club. We got a reputation to keep.”
    “I know,” Darwin said. “And I’m going to fix the damage I did. That’s why I called you. I just need you, as an extension of good faith, to help me with my problem here.”
    “The only reason I agreed to do this was so that you could see, firsthand, how we handle problems like that Fucconi fellow.”
    “Fuccini.”
    “Whatever. Listen, is it true what happened in Rome?”
    Darwin turned to him and lifted one eyebrow. “You know about Rome?”
    “It was in the Toronto papers. Is that how you got that bandage on your arm?”
    Darwin turned the flashlight on his arm. “Yeah.”
    “Bastards. They actually took your woman and were going to torture her? Animals. You got a problem with a guy, you take him and make him eat dirt. You don’t fuck with the guy’s woman. Well, unless she’s hot. Then you fuck her, not fuck her up.”
    Twisted logic, asshole.
    He swung the chain around and wrapped it over his knuckles.
    “You ready for what’s going to happen?” Darwin asked.
    “Yeah, a couple guys in suits kidnapped your dad. We’re gonna get you and your dad to safety and then hurt them real bad. That’s it, right?”
    “Sort of.”
    “What do you mean, sort of?”
    Richard tilted his head back, his beard riding high on his thick chest.
    “These guys in suits may have guns. They may shoot to kill.”
    Richard nodded. “We got this. We’ve all been shot at before. But I gotta warn you, they start shooting to kill, my boys won’t leave them alive when this is done. You okay with that?”
    “You have no idea.”
    “No, what I mean is, are you gonna publish that? ‘Cause, you can’t really put murder in that book. It would fuck with our reputation again.”
    “I know, I know. I got it. Everything in the book will go past you first. I won’t publish a thing without you approving it.”
    “And my picture still goes on the cover?”
    “Yes, Richard, your picture.”
    “H. Call me H and consider your debt to my biker club paid when you write that book.”
    “Get me out of here alive tonight so I can write it and I’m indebted to you, H.”
    “ In debted? What’s that?”
    One of the bikers shouted from off in the woods to their left.
    “This is it. You know what to do.”
    “We got this,” H said. He grabbed his bat and hustled off, disappearing in the darkness behind a line of trees.
    Darwin adjusted the flashlight and headed for the hangar. As soon as he entered, a pair of headlights came up the road slowly. Darwin watched and waited.
    As it drew closer, he tried to see make and model. It looked like an FBI car. One of the same kind of Crown Victorias Greg drove.
    It slowed and stopped on the road near the entrance.
    The driver honked his horn.
    Is this a trap?
    Darwin stared at the vehicle. No one moved to get out. It was so dark already, he could barely tell if anyone sat in the backseat.
    Dad?
    He leaned out the door a little, his stomach a ball of nerves again as the end of the whole Fuccini ordeal was coming to a close.
    The driver rolled down his window a little and shouted something.
    Darwin couldn’t hear him too well.
    “What’s that?” Darwin yelled back.
    “Get in the car.”
    He heard him perfectly this time. But that was insane. He wasn’t about to get in the car.
    “Are you alone?” the driver yelled.
    Of course, they want to know if I’m alone. This is a trick. I get in, the car explodes. Easy fix. Done deal. Well, no fucking way.
    “Get in the car or I drive away and you’ll never see her again.”
    Her?
    Darwin stepped closer. There just wasn’t enough light to see inside the back of the vehicle.
    The driver must’ve seen him bending over and glaring at the back window. He turned on the interior light.
    Rosina sat in the rear of the vehicle, abject fear on her face, shaking her head back and forth.
    “You have thirty-seconds to decide if you ever want to see your wife again.”
    He had no choice. He could play hard ball with Fuccini, but not when his wife was involved.
    Is this a test? Are they seeing if I’ll come out into the open so a sniper can pick me off?
    No, impossible. H’s men would have warned him if a sniper was close enough to take a shot.
    He stepped closer.
    “Ten-seconds to decide. If you do not get in the vehicle, I will explain to Fuccini that you weren’t interested in meeting him. Your father and your wife will be murdered in the most brutal way possible. Then Fuccini told me to tell you that he’ll mail you their body parts for months to come. So, save us all a lot of trouble and get in the backseat beside your wife. I’ll drive you to where we’re meeting Mr. Fuccini.”
    That’s it. Everything he had planned, gone in a moment’s decision. How could he think that he could deal with a man like Fuccini? Why did he ever feel that he could match the man with wits and acumen regarding the dealing of human lives? Fuccini would always be more ruthless, more vile.
    Darwin, against everything he had set out to do at the hangar, stepped forward, one foot in front of the other.
    He was in a daze. He was walking to his certain death. He had condemned his wife and he was going to die for it. His father would be collateral.
    It was over and he was powerless to stop it.
    As he reached for the back door’s handle, it clicked to unlock. He opened the door and got into the seat beside his wife. He barely had the door closed when Rosina fell into his arms, crying and asking him through her tears why, why did he get in the car.
    The driver locked the doors and skidded the tires in the dirt as he performed a U-turn and raced away from the hangar.
    “Rosina, I had to. I couldn’t leave you to die alone. I started this. I have to pay for it. It’s all my fault.”
    She put her head on his stomach and let the sobs shake her apart as she gripped him.
    Darwin turned his flashlight on his face as he listened to the driver on the phone. He needed to see if the driver would reveal a location. Maybe Darwin could use his disposable phone to call the police before they got there.
    “Yes, I know. No, no,” the driver said. “I got him. Yes.” A pause, then, “No, he came willingly. There was no one here but him. I know because I drove right up to the hangar. I flashed my headlights into the main door. He’s alone. I’d know. I would’ve been told if the FBI were supposed to be here. I got him and I’ll be there soon.”
    The driver looked in the rear view mirror at Darwin and then said, “I know, the guy’s crazy. He was actually gonna trade himself in. Brave, if you ask me. Okay, okay.” Then the driver closed his phone and tossed it on the seat beside him.
    He looked back at Darwin and said, “You are one crazy dude. I gotta say, I’ve never met anyone like you. Wish you were on our side-”
    Something hit the side of the car. It swerved so violently Darwin felt they were going to flip. The driver screamed like a girl as he tried to correct the spin.
    Another bang vibrated the car, which spun even faster. The force of the spin caused Darwin to lean hard into the side door, Rosina up against him.
    After what felt like five minutes, even though it all happened in ten seconds, the car came to a stop by the tree line. At the moment it stopped, the driver’s side window busted, tiny diamond-sized pieces of glass cascading everywhere. Rough arms yanked the driver out.
    It all happened so fast, Darwin could only stare dumbfounded as their would-be kidnapper was lifted out of the car, protesting all the way.
    Something clicked beside him. The door he was leaning on opened, and Darwin fell out backwards.
    “I gotcha,” H said, his hands wrapped in Darwin’s underarms. H helped him out and Rosina followed.
    “What happened? What’s going on here? Who are these men?”
    Darwin couldn’t believe it. The driver moaned on the other side of the vehicle.
    “This is H. H, this is my wife, Rosina.”
    “H?” she asked. “What’s an H?”
    “His name is Richard H, but we call him H.”
    “Yeah.” H stepped in and extended his hand. Rosina took it.
    “We heard about what happened in Rome and it pissed us off. We’re here to help and Darwin said he’d write a documentary about us.”
    Rosina looked at Darwin. “You did?”
    He nodded.
    She shook herself, let out a long breath and stepped up to H. Then, with both arms wide, she hugged him and whispered a thank you in his ear. She stepped back and said, “You saved our lives today.”
    H didn’t appear comfortable with compliments.
    Darwin calculated everything. He had Rosina back. They could leave. But he couldn’t abandon his father. He could still meet with Fuccini. The driver had reported back that Darwin was alone. Fuccini wouldn’t have a problem coming to the hangar now.
    “H, I’m going to walk back to the hangar. The meeting is still on. Can I trust you to take Rosina out of here?”
    “I’m not going anywhere without you Darwin,” Rosina said.
    “I understand, baby, but Fuccini is coming. H and his men and I need to deal with that. They have my father. If we don’t end this tonight, it never will. Just go with H to where they’ve parked their bikes. It’ll be far enough away that you can’t get hurt and we can deal with this guy.”
    Rosina hugged Darwin. “You had better walk away from this or I will fucking well punch your corpse. Stay alive or you’ll feel it.”
    “You got it baby.”
    “She’s a fierce one,” H said. “Wouldn’t want to piss her off.”
    “I wouldn’t advise it,” Darwin whispered.
    H gestured for Rosina to get moving. Before they were lost to sight in the darkness, H turned and said, “Hey big D, you like how we stopped the car by shooting out the tires?”
    “Yeah, H, brilliant.”
    H smiled, as far as Darwin could tell in the dim light, and strode off with Rosina in tow.
    Darwin realized that the dark wasn’t affecting him as much.
    Maybe spending all this time in the dark is fixing the phobia.
    He walked around the wrecked Crown Vic. As far as Darwin could tell, the driver wasn’t breathing.
    “What happened?” Darwin asked the men gathered around.
    “He wouldn’t talk. We asked him where they had your father. We asked him where that Fucconi guy was. He wouldn’t talk. We took it a little too far. Sorry.”
    “Fuccini.”
    “What?”
    “Never mind. Have an eye. The Fuccini people will be here as soon as their boy doesn’t show. I’m going to call them, so I’m sure they’ll be along soon.”
    “Got it.”
    Darwin pulled out the cell phone and dialed the Fuccini number he’d committed to memory.
    “Yeah?”
    “You made a mistake.”
    “Darwin. How nice.”
    “You took my wife again. That was a mistake. You were supposed to trade me for my father. Because you didn’t show and you sent that FBI man as your messenger, he’s dead.”
    “I had to make sure it was safe. You could’ve had the place crawling with FBI.”
    “And that driver would’ve known if that were the case? He works for them.”
    “Not if they were onto him. They would’ve kept it from him.”
    “Enough chit chat. I’m at the hangar. I’m alone. I’ve got Rosina in a safe place. It’s all over. There’s just you and me.”
    “I’ll be there shortly.”
    Darwin hung up and dialed Rosina’s mother. She answered on the third ring again.
    No doubt, the FBI are taping this call.
    “Isabella, I need to talk to the FBI guy in charge.”
    “Darwin there’s no…”
    He knew she was told to deny that they were there. He waited.
    “I’ll put him on.”
    After a murmur, a man got on the phone.
    “Darwin, where are you?”
    “About to meet Fuccini himself. He’s got my father. We’re doing a trade.”
    “What kind of trade? You can’t handle this alone.”
    “Sure I can. Look, I’m at the abandoned hangar where it all started. Come as soon as you want. Oh, and that guy you had taking care of my wife is dead.”
    “Alfred is dead? What are you talking about? Where’s Rosina?”
    “She’s here now. Alfred brought her here to kidnap me too. I took Rosina back and now Alfred is dead. Come and collect the asshole’s body.”
    “Okay, wait there for us.”
    “I’m not going anywhere.”
    “Okay, bye.”
    “Wait!” Darwin screamed into the phone. “Bring a couple coroners. You’re going to need them.”
    He hung up and tossed the phone into the bush.

Chapter 18

    Darwin flicked on a switch to the lights in the hangar, but the building remained dark. He remembered lights were on during the night of the accident.
    Must’ve been floodlights they had set up for the meeting.
    The only lights that worked were the red ones behind the exit signs. Otherwise, the interior was black, and that was too dark for Darwin.
    But he needed to be inside, so he steeled himself and turned on his flashlight. He walked to the back and stood behind a metal partition. No one would be able to readily see his flashlight, and if they came in shooting, he’d have some form of protection.
    A car pulled up out front.
    That’s fast.
    Thinking about cars, he wasn’t sure when he’d want to be in one again anytime soon. In Rome, he was in the van that flipped on the highway. Then Greg’s car on the 401 last night. The FBI car fifteen minutes ago. They come in threes. Maybe that was his last car accident for a while.
    A man in a long trench coat stepped into the front door of the hangar and moved a flashlight around.
    “You in here?”
    “Yeah,” Darwin called out. The flashlight moved to find him, but where he stood was too far back.
    “I can’t see you.”
    “Show me my father. Make sure it’s Fuccini who does it.”
    “No way. He ain’t coming in here in the dark. You crazy? How do we know you don’t have a gun?”
    “Okay, at least get my father out of the car and I will come out of the hangar.”
    The man stepped away. A car door opened and closed. Then another.
    Good. Richard’s men were told to make their move whenever they wanted. As soon as my father was seen, take everyone out with surgical precision. Beat them. Hurt them. But wait for my father to be seen.
    Nothing happened.
    Darwin waited. Still nothing.
    “You coming?” he heard the man shout. “We aren’t waiting all night.”
    Darwin stepped out from behind the metal partition. He walked along the inner wall of the hangar, ready to bolt at the sign of a weapon coming through the door.
    The trunk opened and closed. He paused, then after a moment, continued on in the darkness.
    This is fucking crazy. Something tells me there’s a problem.
    He got to the open door of the hangar and peeked around.
    In that one vision, Darwin knew the game was up.
    It was over. There was no way to come back from this.
    Fuccini stood in front of his car, the headlights basking him in an eerie glow. He had his arms crossed and he was smiling.
    Four of his men stood with large weapons that looked like machine guns on steroids strapped over their shoulders. They too were smiling.
    At their feet were seven members of the biker gang. Four were dead for sure. Darwin could see parts of their anatomy missing. One had half his face dangling off his jaw. The other three were bound and gagged, on their knees. Darwin held his stomach, hoping he’d be able to hold its contents.
    “We thought we’d wait to execute these other three until you joined the party. So glad you could make it, Darwin. Oh, and your father. He’s over there,” Fuccini said, and pointed.
    Adrian Kostas, Darwin’s father, crawled on the ground, blood coming from his midsection.
    “What did you do to him?” Darwin asked.
    “I assumed you wanted him back alive. He’s alive. It’s only one stab wound to the stomach. If you staunch the bleeding, he could live out here in the bushes for a couple of days. The only way to completely walk away, get it, walk away, from an injury like that is to go to the hospital. They could fix him up good. But that won’t happen because no one knows we’re out here and all of your faggotty heroes in leather and chaps are dead, or will be shortly.”
    “You bastard.”
    “I know. I’ve been told. But it is only fair as you took out my Harvester of Sorrow and my Big John, not to mention many other men. You’ve hurt my organization and cost me a lot of money. The only way to hurt someone like you is take out their family. And I mean everyone.” He turned to his men and pointed at two of them. “Go find that bitch wife of his and kill her. I don’t even want to see her face again. Don’t bring her back to me. No mistakes. Shoot on sight. I don’t have time to play Darwin’s games anymore.”
    Two men ran off, one behind the hangar and the other entered a door on the side.
    “That wasn’t the deal.”
    “No!” Fuccini shouted as he raised a finger high in the air. “A trade. You, for your father. There’s your father. He’s alive. I get you. I already had your wife in my possession, but you took her back. By the way, how did you handle that little feat? The driver told me personally that he had you with him.”
    Darwin didn’t answer. His mind raced, but with each scenario he came up with, he couldn’t figure a way out of this.
    “Wait, don’t tell me. You had help from these goofs.” Fuccini looked down at the three bikers on the dirt. “That’s what they call you in prison, right? The name that’s disrespectful? A goof? Well, if you aren’t goofs, then you’re fucking stupid to get mixed up with the likes of Darwin Kostas. Deal with him, and a lot of people die.”
    Fuccini turned to his man closest to the bikers and said something Darwin couldn’t hear.
    The man lowered his weapon, chambered a round, and fired.
    The head of the first biker came clean off, the sound of the weapon coming across the fifteen-foot distance like an explosion.
    The biker’s headless body stayed upright for a moment, and then slowly teetered forward, finally falling on its chest.
    The last two bikers screamed behind their gags. It sounded like a barrage of threats.
    Darwin broke out in a sweat. His body shook all over. He’d seen a lot of shit in the past few days, but watching a man’s head disappear in a vapor of blood and brain made him want to throw up.
    He leaned forward and held his stomach with both hands. He couldn’t have anyone else die because of this mess. Too many had. His conscience couldn’t handle it. He thought it would be simple. He thought he’d walk away the victor. But all along, he had been lucky while he underestimated the man who did this for a living. A man who made this a way of life. He could never be better at out-thinking someone like Fuccini. That was why he was the boss.
    Another shot rang out. But this time it came from the back of the building.
    “Good. There goes Rosina. Oh, I’m sorry Darwin. Is the loss of someone you love hurting you? How about the loss of my only son? Do you know what I do to people who even raise their hands to me? Do you even know the kind of man I am?”
    He walked over to Darwin and patted him on the back. “Darwin, my worthy opponent. I’ll give you that. Not many men get me. You got me. You hurt my organization. Actually, you’re either really good or really lucky. You even gave me pause. I said to myself, maybe this is a trap. It couldn’t be that easy. I’ll force your hand. I’ll get you to come with Rosina. But you didn’t. You had bikers help you. How the hell you orchestrated that, I’ll never know.”
    “A book.”
    Fuccini leaned closer and patted him down, feeling for a wire or a weapon.
    “A book? Oh, that’s fantastic. That is amazing. You’re going to write a book for them. I saw your profile. Smart thinking on your part. Tell them to rough us up and you’ll do some sort of glamorous part for them in your next best-selling thriller. Smart, I like that.”
    They stood and faced each other.
    “You know, Darwin, you had me so worried that you’d walk away tonight, that I sent out the order to kill you on sight in the event that I died here. Do you know what that means? Even if I’m killed, you still die. I have hundreds of hit men. I have staff on fourteen different police forces, including the FBI. I have friends in Italy. Until you die, this will never end. That’s how serious I am.”
    Darwin nodded. He suspected as much.
    “You became, all on your own, Fuccini family enemy number one.”
    “That sounds like an honor.” Darwin looked around at the dark night, but it wasn’t working like it used to. He couldn’t locate the violent anger triggers inside. “Pull a knife on me.” That’ll work. It has to.
    “Pull a knife? No, I don’t think so. You’re going to be shot in each foot with that gun so there’ll be no more running. Then I’ll toss you in the trunk until we get back to my place where I will treat you to days upon days of a certain kind of painful pleasure-”
    The sound of another boom came from behind the hangar.
    Fuccini looked over at the corner where his two men had disappeared minutes ago.
    “Why would there be two shots if there’s only one girl? Johnny, go find out what’s happening.”
    One of the two men covering the bikers ran off.
    “Now, where were we?” Fuccini asked.
    He walked over to Darwin’s dad, leaned down and checked his pulse.
    “Yes, still breathing and bleeding. Not long now though. Another day of this agony and he’ll be dead.”
    He whispered to Adrian, loud enough for Darwin to hear, “We’ll be leaving in five minutes. So sorry you can’t join us.”
    Darwin ducked as another crack from the huge weapon resounded. The remaining guard raised his and aimed it at the corner of the building where his colleague had just gone.
    “Do you know something I should know, Darwin?” Fuccini asked, and then turned to his guard. “Let’s get ready to clear out. Kill these two fucking bikers and then we’re gone. Bring Darwin to the car. Put him in the trunk.”
    Fuccini stepped away and then ducked so hard he almost fell over when someone shuffled up close to him.
    Darwin’s dad had gotten to his feet and had hobbled to Fuccini with a large stone in his hand.
    “Dad, no!”
    The guard turned toward him. A shot rang out.
    Darwin closed his eyes and fell to his knees. He thought he heard a siren in the distance, but soon realized it wasn’t a siren. His ears were ringing.
    When he opened his eyes, his father lay on the ground holding his wounded stomach.
    To the right, the guard still stood, but he now had a large hole in his abdomen. He looked down at his wound, then at Fuccini, and then dropped to his knees. He face planted and didn’t move.
    “Sorry I’m late for the party,” Richard H said, his weapon trained on Fuccini. “Darwin! Snap out of it. Untie my men. Now!”
    Darwin got to his feet and had both of them untied in thirty seconds. They ran for Fuccini, but H kept them back.
    “Darwin, you have a beef with this man? If you do, speak now before we tear him apart.”
    Darwin thought about it. They had both lost everything. Even when Fuccini was gone and buried, the hit on Darwin’s head was still out there. Nothing would return to normal. It was over and yet, just beginning.
    “Fuccini and I are done. Do with him what you will.”
    Fuccini, for all his mutterings about torture, looked pretty scared with H holding onto the collar of his shirt, the large weapon’s business end pushed up under his chin.
    “Say goodbye,” H said.
    Fuccini looked at Darwin and said, “I’ll see you in hell.”
    H lowered the weapon and placed it against Fuccini’s left arm at the elbow. He pulled the trigger and the bottom half of Fuccini’s arm flew off.
    Darwin tried to look away but his brain registered the flying arm.
    He ran for his father and knelt beside him.
    “Dad, help’s coming. We’ll get you to a hospital.”
    The gun fired again behind him. Fuccini’s other arm was missing now. Fuccini screamed so loud, they all missed the police sirens, but everyone turned at the red flashing lights.
    H brought the weapon down to Fuccini’s crotch and lowered the butt of the gun to the dirt.
    “Sorry I don’t get more time dismembering you for what you did to my club members and our friend Darwin. You got lucky, asshole. When we’re done here, we’re going after anything with the name Fucconi.”
    H fired, and Fuccini was virtually split in half by the explosion.
    The bikers wiped splattered blood from their faces.
    H tossed the gun off to the side.
    A line of cruisers pulled into the parking lot and quickly surrounded them.
    Men in uniform and men in suits, weapons out, screamed for everyone to get down.
    #
    The statements read that Fuccini came to kill everyone and, in their defense, Richard H and his two surviving club members were lucky enough to get the upper hand at the end. Darwin’s father was stabbed, and Richard grabbed a gun, shot the last guard, then slid in like he was stealing home plate, shooting straight up into Fuccini himself. When asked why the man’s arms were missing, H explained how his first shots had missed and gone wild. At least that was what he thought happened. He said he had no idea he’d made contact with Fuccini’s arms.
    Darwin concurred on everything. That’s how it happened.
    Officers escorted Darwin and Rosina to the hospital to be with Darwin’s father. Rosina’s parents showed up to watch over him in his room too. They agreed that it was overdue for all of them to meet and start getting along.
    The whole time, Darwin kept his eye on everyone. He watched all the cops, the doctors and the nurses, every minute, looking for someone to pull out a knife, a gun, or some other kind of weapon, looking to slice into him.
    He didn’t take what Fuccini said lightly. He knew they were coming, he just couldn’t tell when or how.
    But he knew they were coming.

Chapter 19

    Two months later…
    Darwin opened the curtains in the kitchen and looked out at the morning sunshine. He loved turning off the night lights in the morning and letting in the bright sunshine.
    It had been a long, hard road since the night at the hangar. He was writing again and loving it, even though he wrote under a pseudonym.
    Rosina really enjoyed her new home in sunny Florida.
    The FBI had thrown them into the witness protection program within two weeks of Fuccini’s death.
    The two bikers that had been tied up and gagged were gunned down within days of each other, and Darwin’s name was scrawled across their chests in blood.
    Richard H went into hiding, but they found him a week later. He fought hard and killed four men with his bare hands, even after they shot him three times. Darwin visited him in the hospital. H would live and walk again. The FBI were putting him into the program too.
    When Darwin went to visit H in the hospital, they tried to kill Darwin again. But they’d made a mistake. A man posing as a doctor turned on Darwin with a long needle and charged at him.
    At the sight of the needle, all Darwin saw was blind rage. He lunged at the doctor. That lunge saved him as the needle had been thrust forward and when Darwin dove, it passed his arm by an inch.
    The fake doctor’s neck had broken when he was thrown out the fourth story hospital window. How he was already missing fingers and one eye, Darwin claimed he had no idea. He couldn’t remember much after seeing the needle.
    The FBI, for the public’s safety, and Darwin’s, had elected that he and his wife, Rosina, would have to go into hiding for good.
    They allowed Darwin and H to email each other as H was detailing his life story so Darwin could write the promised book, which Darwin was writing with vigor.
    “Another beautiful day,” Rosina said as she entered the kitchen. “What’s for breakfast?”
    “I thought you said you were making breakfast this morning?” Darwin pleaded.
    “I am, I am. I’m just joking. We’re married now, Mr Kostas. I get to joke around with you.”
    He rushed her, wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her off the ground. “Yes, we are married. I’m your husband. Doesn’t that have a nice ring to it?”
    “It sure does.”
    “Let’s have French toast and drown it in Canadian maple syrup… and coffee. How does that sound?”
    “Perfect.”
    They kissed long and hard.
    “Maybe we should go and have some sticky first? Then have the pancakes?”
    “Sticky? You want sex now? Or pancakes?” he asked. “I said French toast, woman,” he said, in his deepest voice.
    She laughed and pulled away. “Okay, breakfast and then sticky.”
    He smiled.
    I forgot how good life could be without the threat of death over my head.
    Rosina had taken the mint tree and adult store rationale well. She’d playfully slapped him when he told her. She understood how innocent it was and didn’t care if he was in an adult store.
    Mint tree was delivered with their groceries each week.
    Which reminds me. Today is delivery day.
    “Rosina, honey. I’m going to head down to the main gate and unlock it for Bruce to bring up our grocery order.”
    “You got it. I’ll have breakfast ready when you return.”
    He put on his slippers and stepped outside into the already warm sun. He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath.
    Amazing.
    At the end of the path, he flicked the small button that allowed entry/exit and stepped out onto the driveway. He walked down it and swung his arms in a carefree attitude. Life was great. They were in hiding. He could relax. Let things go. He could write. He could love his wife.
    They both missed their parents, but that was the way of things. Stay alive and miss them or visit them once or twice before being murdered.
    They chose life.
    At the end of the driveway, a tall wrought iron gate stopped anyone from coming in unless it was open or they owned a tank.
    The usual guard wasn’t there.
    “Hey Mike, you around?”
    No one answered.
    That’s weird.
    Then Rosina screamed.
    He spun on his heels, chanting no over and over.
    A man stood behind him, a gun in his hand.
    “Don’t be stupid. There’s a guard patrolling the yard. When he is dead, we can leave. In the meantime, come with me.”
    Darwin couldn’t believe it. How could they be that good?
    They got to the house and entered through the front door. Darwin was led into the kitchen, the gun in the small of his back.
    A man stood next to Rosina, a gun trained on her, eating Darwin’s French toast.
    “This is good. You should try some,” he gestured at his partner.
    “Not now, asshole. We have to get that last guard.”
    “I’m eating. You go and get him. I’ll watch these two.”
    The guy closest to Darwin spun so fast Darwin didn’t see it coming. A large fist hit him in the face and knocked him clean off his feet. Rosina screamed.
    “This one is feisty, so I’ve been told. Make sure he stays on the floor until I come back.”
    “No problem,” the other guy said, his mouth full. “Just go and get back here.”
    The guy who brought Darwin into the kitchen walked out.
    Rosina stared at Darwin. The guy at the table was still eating, not taking his eyes off the two of them.
    Darwin knew that Rosina only did what she knew might work. He forgave her for her actions even before she did it.
    She reached behind her, grabbed the knife holder set and knocked it over. She raised her hands to show they were empty and yelled she was sorry.
    The guy didn’t shoot her. He didn’t know the knives slid along the counter. One of them, the long bread knife, fell off and hit Darwin in the leg.
    Nothing in a long time made him feel that violently angry. He launched off the floor and dove at the man so fast the guy didn’t even get a chance to flip off the safety on his weapon.
    Another man murdered.
    Darwin stepped outside and went hunting for the enemy.
    It would never stop.
    He would be ready.
    For Darwin and Rosina, a new life was unfolding.
    For them, killing was just the beginning.
    They could never go back to the way things were.
    Marriage was just the beginning.
    ’Til death…
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