J O H N
“Hello?” John answered his phone. After miraculously escaping by the skin of his teeth, he was still being pressured by Alessandro to get the job done. Didn’t he know by now that John always finished the job, no matter how long it took?
John wasn’t in this for the money. He had been at first, when he had nothing, but now, after so many jobs, he could retire in comfort if he chose to. Of course, he had a lot left in him. But the fact was, he didn’t need Alessandro’s money. Out of their mutual respect for one another, he took the job, plus more money was always welcomed. He supposed that was why Alessandro kept hounding him. Money wasn’t incentive enough to bring back his daughter.
John was trying his best. But with the problem of the feds and his injuries and the fact that Mari was one slippery bounty to keep in his grasp, he could only do his best.
“Giuseppe Mancini was found dead,” Alessandro stated like that was supposed to mean something to John. John waited for his next words patiently, although his body hurt like someone had dumped a pile of bricks onto him and still forgot to remove them. “Giuseppe was a man who worked for me years ago. I believed he was dead. But his body turned up with a fake ID and an address. Marcella was quite close with the man when she was younger.” And finally, he understood. And he knew that was smart of Mari to go to this Giuseppe, considering everyone believed he was dead. But now he really was dead. “His fake name is Frederico Ricci. I’ll send you the address.”
“The man’s dead though. What happened to him?”
“Well, he’s dead now, but he could have been protecting her. My daughter couldn’t kill a fly, let alone a man.” John wasn’t implying that Mari had done anything. He knew she didn’t have the stomach for something like that, but she certainly wasn’t harmless and she could kill a fly if she wanted to.
Alessandro hung up and an address popped up on his phone screen a minute later with another ‘find her fast’ command. He was getting sick and tired of Alessandro breathing down his neck, but he would get the job done. This was finally the lead he had been looking for.
He had to get his life sorted first. He had no car, he had no bounty, and he had no plan. This time, Mari was ahead of him. He’d never run into so much trouble before; this was all thanks to Mari. From the moment he saw her, he knew she was trouble. And yet it didn’t stop him. And perhaps that was his mistake.
He visited a friend in the area. One of the advantages of being a bounty hunter was that he made allies everywhere he went, thus, he had allies in this part of the country too. This man was a car dealer, and willing to sell a secondhand car for next to nothing on a promise of money when John had enough time to pay the man.
Then he headed towards the address he was given. He didn’t know what he would find there. They had found Mancini’s body outside the state, with the wallet carelessly kept there. Sure, whoever killed him didn’t care whether they found identification for him, which meant they didn’t know his true identity. He must have pissed someone off. Or perhaps, he pissed off a certain girl John knew who could be impulsively violent when opportunity arose.
He didn’t know if it were sane to suggest Mari could do such a thing, but if Mancini had tried something with her, John could imagine she was capable of doing what she had to for her safety.
He knocked on the apartment door, awaiting the sound of any rustling or panic from inside. Maybe she was alone in there. Maybe she was resting up before moving again. Maybe she was even planning on staying, considering it had served her friend very well in his escape.
But who opened it wasn’t what he expected. He was greeted with a somewhat friendly man, with a welcoming smile, a plaid shirt and black square glasses. He looked like an ordinary civilian, although John knew full well that looks could be deceiving. Nevertheless, John would have easily mistaken him for someone who wasn’t in the game at all.
“Can I help you?” the man asked pleasantly.
“Yes, I believe you might be able to help me. I’m looking for Frederico Ricci. He lives here, doesn’t he?”
“Oh, Fred hasn’t been here in weeks. Do you want me to pass on a message, um…?” He searched for a name, but John did not give him one.
“My niece was staying with him.”
“You’re another one of Ella’s uncles. Fred must be from the other side of the family. We haven’t seen Ella in weeks too. They must have gone away for a while,” the man said. “I’m Garrett, by the way.” He was still fishing for a name.
“How many people do you live with? Does anyone know where Ella and Fred went? It’s only, she has her mother really worried. She was badly hurt, but you already know that I’m assuming. She was hurt by our sister and Ella ran away, as best she could, and to Fred. But that sister is gone, and we have been trying to find Ella for weeks now,” John explained shamelessly. He had no qualms about making up such a story, nor would he ever. Pulling on the man’s heartstrings was the surest way to get information freely from him. He would have used ‘her mother’s boyfriend’ in the anecdote but he could tell Garrett might suspect him to be any man he used in the story.
“Oh, that’s awful. She said she fell down the stairs, but we were all quite skeptical. I could ask David if he’s heard from Fred and Ella, but I doubt he knows anything. I haven’t seen Manuel, our other roommate, in weeks either,” Garrett replied.
Manuel, huh? He knew this area. He knew a Manuel. And he had an inkling it was the same one. Why? Because he knew Mari. And trouble seemed to follow her.
“Thanks for your help anyway. Look, if they come back or David or Manuel has heard from either of them, you can reach me on this number,” John declared, passing over a card with a fake number written on the back.
If his instincts were right, he wouldn’t need any more help from this roommate. He would find Mari, and he would bring her back to New York this time. She was not escaping him.
But now, the problem wasn’t finding her. No, he had already located her. This issue now was getting past Manuel. He had no doubt Manuel had killed Mancini. He was very much capable of that. He most likely didn’t have Mari by her own will.
It was time for a visit to his… gang.
He practically barged his way into his base, the bar off 50th. There was a man who asked for his business and he replied, ‘to see your leader’. He only gave him one name, John, before he forced him to hurry away back to Manuel.
And the next thing he knew, he was sat down in a private room with Manuel, the very man he had been looking for. The man carried himself like he held the greatest power in the world, his confidence somewhat undeserved. He was a disturbed man, that was for sure. John had met him years ago, acquiring information on the whereabouts of another bounty. And John had come to learn of Manuel’s ways.
“What do you want, human hound? I thought our business was concluded,” Manuel began, narrowing his eyes.
John held back a chuckle as he studied the man in front of him. Manuel was clearly irritated by something, and John had a sure guess of what it was. He knew firsthand how irksome she could be to her enemies. Yet, John couldn’t hurt her, and Manuel could whilst he didn’t know who she was.
“I’m here on another matter. There’s a girl, my new bounty. And you have her,” John stated bluntly, which made Manuel scoff.
“Who’s the client?” Manuel asked.
“None of your concern. But you’ll be in deep shit if you don’t hand her over to me.”
“You’re threatening me?” Manuel hissed.
“No,” John replied calmly, easing the tension. “It’s not me who’ll be after you, necessarily. One, my client wants her back and he’d have no remorse for ploughing through every man in this fucking place to get to her. And two, the girl may be small, but she’s a fucking minx. She’s slippery and will do anything for her freedom. Letting her leave with me is the best thing for all of us.”
“You work for that bitch Frederico? You know I killed him.”
“I do know that. And I don’t work for him. I work for someone a lot more dangerous than that. Hand her over,” John announced, rising from his seat and preparing to leave. He wasn’t sure what Manuel would decide to do, so John had his hand ready on his gun.
“She’s mine. I claimed her. Tell your employer that,” Manuel seethed before showing John the door.
“Did she agree to that?” John asked despite knowing the answer.
“She will,” Manuel stated.
John heard faint yelling from across the hall as he exited the room with Manuel behind him.
“You underestimate her as I once did. She’s stubborn. You think you want her, but she’s fucking trouble. You don’t want or need that.”
“John!” he heard her scream, and it peaked both men’s interest.
Mari was calling out for her bounty hunter to save her. He supposed he had saved her once already, in that alleyway. And now, in a way, he was saving her from Manuel. She didn’t want to be here. If she didn’t want that now, she wouldn’t want it ever. She was the most stubborn girl John had ever met.
“She’s calling for you?” Manuel said, raising his eyebrows towards John accusingly.
Indeed, she was.