M A R C E L L A
Mari had cleaned herself up, rinsing the thin layer of dirt that had settled over her like second skin. She was relieved to say the least at the feeling of being clean again, but she was more relieved that she was able to take a break. She needed to breathe. A lot had gone down in the past couple of days that made her stomach flip continuously. And there had been no time to get it under control.
Mari couldn’t lose her head. She couldn’t let her plans be derailed just because she had left earlier than she intended. She knew anything could happen in the mafia world and this was just one of them. But she had to plot her next moves rather carefully. Any slip up and Alessandro would find her and force her into a loveless, potentially cruel marriage for the rest of her life.
“Mari, I have to go to work. You know you can stay as long as you want. You can use my laptop and landline too if you need to,” Lucia explained with a small smile before heading out. She had been incredibly welcoming despite meeting Mari two years ago once. She had heard of the great Alessandro, and how powerful and dangerous he was. And yet she still agreed to house Mari for the time being.
Lucia had given her five hundred bucks for the future, something Mari was grateful for. She’d use it sparingly and potentially for the rest of her life. She didn’t know if she would ever be able to stop running, and although it wasn’t true freedom, this was better than the life that awaited her back home.
She was trolling the internet, searching for a complex travel route that would be able to deviate any tracker from her trail. She had watched plenty of movies that made it seem easy, but that wasn’t the case. Everything left a trace. She just had to hide the traces well enough for them to never be found.
She had heard of plenty of men who had escaped her father initially but none of them had managed to get away. It wasn’t just running, she had to constantly run for the rest of her life. She hoped it would become second nature eventually. It was a sad thought to have, but it was worth it for her freedom and she was the daughter of a mafia man. From the minute she was born, there was no such thing as a normal life for her.
When the phone rang alarmingly, Mari clutched her chest, trying to control herself from the startling she had received. And she was still in panic. She knew it could be anyone, and expecting Lucia to pick up, but that didn’t ease her worries. What if they found out about this place? What if someone was coming to take her right now?
She stalked towards the phone, her hand trembling from uncertainty as she read the caller ID. To her relief, it was Lucia’s mobile. The relief was short lived as she was unsure as to why Lucia was calling her own home. Either she needed to talk to Mari for some reason that couldn’t wait, or they had found out about Lucia and took her phone. They wanted her to take the bait. And she decided she would. She weighed her options and knew it was probably Lucia. She hated that the paranoia was starting to get the best of her, overcoming her rational thoughts.
She gripped the phone tightly as she answered, praying she was right. On the other hand, if it was someone working for her father, they couldn’t grab her through the phone line. And what Mari knew that gave her the advantage was that Alessandro wanted her back alive so he could still sell her off. It wasn’t like they could shoot her to get her back, so she held that card at least, to the many disadvantages she had.
One, she was young. Two, she was more inexperienced than they were in the criminal world. Three, she wasn’t prepared to kill anyone for her freedom. That was a step too far. And perhaps that would be what costs her her freedom.
“Hello?” she answered hesitantly.
“Mari, are you okay?” The voice of her friend instantly comforted her as she let out the breath that she had sucked in.
“Yes, I’m okay. Are you?”
“Some guy called me on my cell. His name was Milo Caldwell. Do you know him?” Milo had called her. Something must be wrong. Or someone was on her trail and they had gone to see him. But Milo was too loyal to Mari to expose their secrets for anything.
“Yes. What did he say? He can be trusted.”
“He said that some guy came to his apartment. He didn’t get a name or anything, but the guy wasn’t one of your father’s men. He must have hired someone. The guy tried to spin some lies but then head-butted him. Milo doesn’t know what he was looking for. It looked like nothing had been touched in his apartment, but his laptop alerted him that he was hacked. There was nothing on it that could tie to you, everything was wiped. He just needed to warn you.”
“Okay, thank you. I’m sorry he bothered you whilst you’re working.”
“It’s no problem. I’ll see you later,” Lucia declared before hanging up.
The guy after her didn’t know her. She couldn’t decide whether that was an advantage or a disadvantage to her. If she knew them, she could play off their emotions. She had gathered an unreasonable amount of information about each of his men’s lives. She had dedicated a lot of time for this exact moment, but it hadn’t paid off.
However, since it wasn’t Alessandro’s men, it was someone who had no idea who she was or what she was capable of, not that she was capable of much. This man could only get information on her and her whereabouts from others, and secondhand information was always less detailed. Particularly if it came from her father.
Alternatively, she didn’t know this man either. She didn’t know what he was capable of. Alessandro would have hired someone more equipped for this task better than any of his men. And this guy knew at least her name. He was just ‘this guy’ to her. And hopefully always would be. She didn’t want to meet him. That might mean game over.
She contemplated what he could have wanted to find on Milo’s computer. She wondered if he had actually found anything. The guy had seen right through their fake fight and knew that Milo was helping her. Or had been helping her. He was of no use in finding her now. Or was he?
Maybe this was what he wanted. To see her squirm. To make her anxious and paranoid. So that she would start making mistakes based on their paranoia. This was a game of chess. She had to think five steps ahead. Even more, particularly because she didn’t know the man chasing her.
She felt the need to take flight right in the moment. She would already have a bag packed and a single note left for Lucia on the counter, but she feared that he would be waiting on the other side. This was what he wanted. For her to panic. For her to think rashly. She needed to stay calculated. He didn’t know anything, and she needed to prepare her next journey before leaving here.
She required a myriad of things. Milo had got a friend from a garage to leave a car just outside Philly. She just needed to get there and there would be a go-bag waiting for her inside. It was packed with a small amount of cash, some clothes and essentials, a new license with a false identity and a gun. She had originally decided against the weapon, but it was in the direst situations if she needed a fast escape. But she had to get there first.
Mari wanted to get a new passport, but Milo had convinced her that turning up at any airport would be too risky, no matter where in the country she was. There were a series of things that could go wrong with getting on a flight, especially since Alessandro was friends with a few government officials that could easily blacklist her.
The car was her best bet. The license plate was clean, even though the car was stolen. Her license was well-forged and wouldn’t get her into any trouble if she kept her nose clean. The gun had its serial number sanded down. Her new identity was completely illegal, and the irony wasn’t lost on her. She wanted to escape the criminal life after all.
She finally packed a bag. She had a route to the car, carefully plotted and hidden to prying eyes. She tied her hair back into a ponytail and covered it with Lucia’s baseball cap. She knew the guy chasing her would have seen a photo of her and her face needed to be hidden from security cameras around the areas. She layered up her clothes just in case she had to spend the night out in the freezing cold and to hide her body too. She wanted no identifying features, so her skin was completely clad in material.
She scribbled out a short thank you note to leave for Lucia and slung her bag over her shoulder. Before she could make it any further, she heard rustling outside the apartment’s door but no knock or rustling of keys. It couldn’t be a neighbor; they were too close to the door. It couldn’t be Lucia because she would have opened the door with her keys already. And it couldn’t be a visitor. They would have had to buzz to come up and they would have knocked by now.
That could only mean one thing: he was here.
He had found her.