Chapter 1: Kidnapping and Torn Apart
“Do you have the money?”
“I—I don’t have it yet...” the middle-aged woman named Isabella said, her lips trembling.
She crouched on the floor with her two children behind her. One of the children was a young girl named Lillie who turned five several months ago. She had curly locks that were an electrifying gold, and eyes that reflected the deep blue of a sapphire. The other child was a seven-year-old boy named Andrew. He had chocolate brown hair styled in a pompadour that matched his eyes.
They were surrounded by at least a dozen men in tuxedos, and dark shades like the dark abyss of the midnight sky. They pointed guns at the shaky trio while the lurid, white ceiling light burned down on their faces.
“I said do you have the money?!” The man that towered over them raised his voice.
“I don’t have it yet, but if you would just give me a few more weeks I can...”
“Shut up!” He bellowed out which caused goosebumps to rise in fear on Lillie and Andrew’s skin.
“We’ve given you plenty of time to pay off the remaining money so, where is it?!” His words thundered out of him, which shook the children in trepidation.
“I know, but it’s been so hard and I-” Her words painfully croaked out the words through the lump in her throat. Ever since her husband, Robert passed away, she and the two children had been struggling emotionally, mentally, and financially.
Her heart shattered like broken glass the moment she watched the love of her life go deep into the grave. She was grief-stricken, but most of the pain that she felt was for her children, who no longer had a father to look after them, to give them joy in ways that she could not.
However, she had no time to rest since there was leftover money that needed to be paid off. She tried her best but the heavy pieces of her heart became too much, and she knew one was going to give way.
Unfortunately, it was the money.
Before she could say anything, the men grabbed her and the kids and dragged them outside. She tried to fight them off but it was unsuccessful as they were dragged across the wooden floor outside. They got thrown into the back of the truck as if they were nothing but a sack of potatoes.
Unbeknownst to the Mafia members, one of the family members was left behind.
On the second floor, in her bedroom, was a girl in her early twenties. Her hair which was the color of cinnamon and styled in loose curls, covered her face as she hid under a blanket. The sounds from downstairs had woken her up. She was not able to decipher the words that were being exchanged, though she knew from hearing her mother’s pleas and her younger siblings’ cries and screams that they were in trouble.
She heard a series of thumps, then the slam of a car door from outside the house. Although she did not look outside her window, she had a feeling that the sound of the thumps was from her family members being thrown into a vehicle.
Her breathing was shallow as she struggled to slow down the beating pace of her heart. Beads of sweat dripped from her cheeks and onto the pillow. She, of course, was also aware of her father’s debt to the Mafia. The family had been given several warnings now, and Isabella had promised to eliminate the debts. It was a promise that she’d intended to keep, only if she was given more time.
However, the Mafia had little to no patience. After all, these were hardened, sleazy criminals, who engaged regularly in illegal practices and probably had little to no conscience. They had taken numerous lives of people, even those who had not done them harm.
Robert had requested several Mafia members to serve him as guards. He had been terminally ill for quite some time and therefore was not strong enough to deal with the criminals who made attempts to ruin his business.
The name of the girl hiding in her bedroom while her family was being taken, was Mariana Jones. As the eldest child in the family, she was more mature and experienced than her younger siblings. One trait of hers that she did not inherit from either of her parents was her ability to remain cool and dry under pressure. She seldom felt anxious even during very stressful circumstances, most of which she was dragged into and did not bring upon herself.
However, the current situation that she was dealing with was an exception. It was a situation that threatened her family’s safety as well as her own. Despite her attempt to calm down, her heart was still beating against her chest like a jackhammer, her mind teeming with questions, the next question always more worrying than the previous one.
What am I going to do?
Mariana’s family was going to be taken, no doubt, to a place that was packed with Mafia members. They would, no doubt, receive a cruel punishment—long years of imprisonment, forced labor, or perhaps even death.
The thought of her family dying, especially at the hands of the Mafia, actually made Mariana shiver in fear. She did not need to watch dozens of documentaries or read non-fictional books about the Mafia to know that they were brutal. She did not question her gut feeling that if her family was going to be murdered by the Mafia, the criminals would make sure that they suffered a long, torturous death.
Mariana was starting to ask herself how she would live on her own when a deep, commanding voice jolted her back to reality.
“Search everywhere, make sure nobody is still in the house.”
Footsteps were heard throughout the house. Initially, fear crept into her heart, but this feeling was replaced by one of determination. If she was going to make an escape attempt, she had to move quickly.
Mariana tried not to make any sound as she stood up to pull a large backpack from under her bed. She rushed over to the cupboards across her bed and took out several supplies.
Blood was pounding in her ears as the sound of the footsteps grew louder. She zipped on her favorite maroon puffer coat before opening her window. Peering down, she gulped. Her bedroom was on the second floor.
Fortunately, however, if she jumped out of the window, she would land in a soft patch of grass, in the backyard, where she could not spot any sign of life. Better grass than cement. Landing on the hard ground would create a louder noise and more likely attract attention.
She turned around slightly to take one meaningful look at her bedroom. Something told her that tonight would be her last night in this house.
“Let’s search this one!”
Mariana felt surprised at the tears stinging in the corner of her eyes. She bit her lip and shook her head, telling herself: ‘No, now’s not the time to cry. You have something more important to focus on right now.’
Footsteps were now approaching the door to her bedroom. Mariana did not want to waste any more time. She jumped out the window, just a couple of seconds before she heard her door being bashed open.
She bent her knees as she hit the ground. Injury was the last thing she wanted at the moment, given what she was dealing with. Her eyes swept over the vicinity for a moment, to make sure that no one was around before she jumped over the fence and took off running.
The only things giving light in the area were the streetlights situated several feet away from each other, as well as the moon that shone in the pitch-black sky. Tears were streaming down her face as the strong winds blew against her hair, seeming to possess a desire to stop her from taking any more steps.
Though she continued to run for several miles until she thought that she was far away and safe from any of the Mafia members who had come to take her family.
Then she bumped into a wall—slightly soft, but also chiseled. The impact of her coming into contact with the wall caused her to stagger backward until she landed on the ground, painfully on her butt. When she looked up, her breath hitched.
What she bumped into was no wall, but a person—a man, she could tell from the figure, the attire, the way he was standing.
The mysterious man wheeled around in her direction, and both gasped upon seeing each other’s faces, though for different reasons. One, out of surprise. The other, out of fear.
He raised a two-way radio to his lips, which had formed into a smirk. “I found the girl.”
A shiver ran down Mariana’s spine. Her mind told her to get up and start running for it. But she felt as if she had just lost her ability to move.
“You’re coming with me.” He bent down to grab her.
Without thinking, Mariana bit down on his hand.
The man let out a small yelp. Then his eyes darkened, and his nostrils flared.
“Oh, you’re gonna pay for that!” He raised a hand and before Mariana could make another move, she felt a stinging sensation on her cheek. She winced. Tears stung at the corner of her eyes, though she held them back as she looked up at the man.
Grunting, he grabbed Mariana’s legs and started dragging her across the road back to the van. Mariana thrashed around in hopes of escaping from his grip, but to no avail.
The back door of the van was opened once more, and Mariana felt herself being thrown inside. It was so dark that she could barely see anything in front of her. Was her mother even here? Her younger siblings? She started to worry that she had been thrown into a different van when arms encircled her figure. Immediately, she knew who hugged her.
“Oh, Mariana...” her mother said in her ear.
Lillie and Andrew quickly joined in the hug. They all began to weep, with the exception of Mariana, who fought the tears back.
“What’s going to happen to us, Mom?” Andrew asked.
“I don’t know,” Isabella replied, her voice barely audible.
“Don’t worry, Mom,” Mariana said, squeezing her hand. “We’ll get through it.” She tried to sound as convincing as possible because she wanted to believe that her words were true.
“Thanks, honey.” Isabella gave her a smile that did not reach her eyes.
The van zoomed out of the neighborhood. Mariana stared out the window, watching as the strong wind caused leaves to fall from trees. A surge of envy rose in her. The leaves were free, unlike Mariana and her family, who were on their way to impending doom.
During the long and tiresome ride, Andrew laid his head on the mother’s lap. Mariana sat beside Lillie on the opposite side. Lillie leaned against Mariana, who was absent-mindedly twirling her younger sister’s hair, knowing that this was something that Robert often did whenever Lillie had a panic attack.
A tear slipped from Mariana’s eye as she began contemplating the situation that they were in. She didn’t want to lose her mother or her siblings. Her father had already passed away. Mariana was a strong girl, she had often been told by more than one person. Though she did not think that she could bear the pain of losing any more of her loved ones.
She could still remember her father coming home in the wee hours of the day. His eyes were always bloodshot red, a sign of excessive labor all night. It crushed her heart to see him deteriorating slowly but steadily from cancer; how his movements became slower, his breathing more shallow, and lumps on various parts of his body. He endured so much pain while trying to protect his organization from criminals, who knew and saw an opportunity in his illness.
But the day she would never forget, was the one that changed her entire life.
When Mariana heard her father come in through the door, she rushed downstairs to greet him. For hours, she had been pacing, worrying that something had happened to him since it was pouring heavy rain and she saw flashes of thunder.
“Hi, Dad!” She called out once she reached the bottom step of the staircase.
Robert was at the door, hanging up his drenched coat as he approached her slowly. “Hello, my beautiful treasure.” His breathing was heavier than usual. He broke into a coughing fit. When he stopped, he put his hand on his chest, and his eyes widened slightly.
Mariana rushed to his side. Without saying anything, she guided him to the living room.
“Are you alright, Dad?” she asked, trying to hide the fear in her voice.
“Yes, I’m fine.” He spoke as if he were trying to convince himself that he was fine when he knew that he wasn’t. Mariana knew that he just did not want her to worry about him.
Slowly, Robert sat down on the couch, leaning his back against the soft cushion in hopes of easing the pain. He felt as if someone was bringing down a hammer to his head. He looked at Mariana, who was seated across him. But he could not see her clearly, because his vision was growing blurry.
Mariana stared at her father. There was no emotion on her face, though her heart was swelling up in anguish. His face appeared cadaverous, and his red eyes indicated his struggle to stay awake. Mariana was afraid that if he fell asleep, he would not wake up anymore.
Suddenly, an idea popped into her head.
“Should I play you a song?”
His face lit up at that suggestion. “Yes my darling, please.” He always enjoyed hearing her play the piano. It was one of the few things that made him feel safe, albeit for a brief period of time.
Mariana sat down on the bench and started singing “A Thousand Years” while her fingers glid effortlessly across the keys. The words flowed out of her like honey. She managed to keep her voice from trembling in spite of the emotions flaring up inside her.
Her father’s coughs grew hoarser. Mariana continued to play when all she wanted to do was run over to him and pull him into a hug. Though she did not think that she would be able to handle seeing the look on his face before he died.
Suddenly, her father collapsed to the floor. Mariana rushed to his side and tried to pull him up to a sitting position. Though he was heavy, much heavier than before. It was as if he had gained fifty pounds within a short period of time.
“Dad?” Her voice came out in a croak.
He pulled out an envelope from his pocket while looking up into her eyes, which were laced with worry.
“Here, give this to Xavier.” He placed the thin, flat material in her hands.
“Why are you giving this to me?” She barely gave it a glance before returning her gaze to her father, who could barely keep his eyes open. Mariana felt as if she were in a nightmare that she could not wake up from.
He made an attempt to answer her question before letting out several heavy coughs, his eyes widening as if he had just been electrocuted. Then he exhaled deeply before his eyes closed.
More tears swelled up in Mariana’s eyes as she searched her younger siblings’ faces. She wished that their father had never gotten ill. She wished that cancer or any other disease never existed. Though she knew that life in this world is not fair, that tragedies can strike, whether predictably or unexpectedly, no matter how much one does their best to avoid problems.
Twenty minutes later, the van arrived at their destination. Mariana looked out the window and saw that they were entering what appeared to be a warehouse.
Lillie held on more tightly to Mariana, who gave her a glance before wrapping an arm around her shoulder. Then Mariana looked at her mother; she was holding tightly Andrew, who had now pulled himself up into a sitting position on her lap.
When the doors finally opened, they were pulled out by several men and thrown onto the ground. Guns were pointed at them as they faced the Don himself.
Smiling viciously, he was sitting on a plastic folding chair. From the way he was slouching, he appeared to be small and non-intimidating. Though when he stood up, he revealed his six-foot frame. As he approached the Jones family, he resembled a hawk swooping down on its prey.
“Why hello, Isabella. What a pleasure it is to see you again.” He reached down to caress the woman’s cheek.
She scowled and spat on his hand. Xavier growled in disgust before slapping her face. Marianna tensed up at the sight of the man hitting her mother. She resisted the urge to land a punch on his large, pointed nose.
“How dare you disrespect me!” His voice echoed throughout the building as he shook the saliva off his hand.
With fury in her eyes, Isabella stared at him.
“I would never respect you, Xavier! Not after everything you’ve done!”
“Now, now. That’s no way to speak to your big brother, is it?”
“I disowned you as a brother years ago!”
Xavier merely chuckled as he circled the group whom he once considered his family.
“It’s been a while since I’ve last seen my nieces and nephew.”
Then he stopped in his tracks upon seeing Mariana. A lecherous smile appeared on his face.
“This must be Mariana; she’s a real beauty.”
“Don’t you dare touch her!” Isabella screeched.
Mariana glanced worriedly at Isabella. She understood her mother’s anger at her brother, though screaming at the leader of a Mafia gang was not going to make things any better for them.
“She may be of good use to me,” Xavier mused, ignoring his sister.
Although Mariana was shaking on the inside, she tried her best to appear brave as she stared at Xavier, who was taken aback by the look of defiance in her eyes.
She then looked over at her younger siblings. It was the look on Andrew’s face that caught her attention. Mariana knew what he was thinking. Xavier was like the stereotypical villain in cartoons, with his maniacal laughter.
“Take her away,” Xavier said to the men, not taking his eyes off Mariana.
“No!” Isabella protested.
Two men grabbed Mariana and started dragging her away. Mariana wanted to fight back, though, after her numerous attempts earlier to defend herself, she now felt that doing so would be pointless.
“Xavier, you’re sick! You’re truly sick!” Isabella spat in her brother’s face and reached forward to hit him, though two other men pulled her back.
Xavier gestured to Isabella and the two young children.
“Keep them in the cellar until I figure out what to do with them.”
Three men grabbed each of the three while Mariana was being dragged away to the opposite side of the building. Lillie and Andrew were now sobbing while calling for Mariana, who made eye contact with their mother. Worry was written all over Isabella’s face.
Neither of them knew that was the last time they will ever see each other.