J O H N
Three weeks ago…
“Any last words?” the man in front of John asked, pressing the barrel of the gun to his forehead.
In a way, he was ready. In other ways, he wasn’t. There were things keeping him here. Well, one person. But she was important to him. More important than, arguably, anyone had ever been. He was also drowning in grief. He felt as though the earth should just swallow him whole. And it would soon.
He wanted to keep fighting. But they hadn’t even moved her fucking body. He could see her from the corner of his eye, and it was ripping him apart from the inside. She was cold and lifeless. Her skin was already turning to a purple unhealthy color. Her lips were chapped, the dead skin peeling off. It felt like fucking eagles clawing at his heart with their talons.
The gunshot rang through the room, bouncing off every wall, drilling into every eardrum in the room, including the dead.
He didn’t think he would hear the gunshot that killed him. He didn’t ever imagine what the afterlife was like. He didn’t ever imagine what dying was like, no matter how many times he came so close to death.
This was it.
Though… he didn’t feel any different. Was this what the afterlife was like?
He peeled his eyes open to be met with the man on the floor, a dark red hole in the center of his forehead, blood pooled around his head, dispersing further out on the concrete. John whipped his head round to the other man in the room and eyed the gun the man had fired. Then he eyed the man himself.
“I’m Leo. I don’t work for De Lucas or the Marcianos,” Leo declared curtly before pressing his gun at John’s head and dragging him out.
Whilst he was thankful to be away from his sister’s corpse, he did feel like there was a sense of justice in dying beside her. He didn’t want to be stuffed into some trunk and dumped off a bridge.
If Leo didn’t work for Alessandro or Dante, who did he work for? Fucking hell. How long would this drag out for? His heartbeat was doing crazy rhythms, it was so confused.
Once John was thrown into a car, it took off immediately. John’s body was so numb it could barely feel the agony it had been in before. So many bones were broken. So many bruises and cuts. He was as damaged physically as he was emotionally.
When the car slowed, John sighed a deep sigh. He was aware of his impatience, for death of all things. But if it was going to happen, why prolong it? Was this all part of the torture? They were tempting him with the idea that he still had the slim possibility that he would survive this and make it back to Mari.
He was taken out again, but instead of taking him to some back alley to be shot or a cliff edge to throw him off of, not that there were any cliff edges in New York city, he was brought into a comfortable room with a couch that he was told to lie down on.
“This is the doctor,” Leo announced as woman entered the room with a heavy-looking bag. She got to work, much to John’s confusion.
His wounds were dressed. His chest, arm and leg were bandaged up. The doctor then cleared out.
Then another woman entered, joining Leo’s side.
“John Keller,” the woman stated as if he didn’t know his own name, or perhaps she believed it had been forced out of him by the torture.
“Who are you?”
“You don’t recognize me?” she questioned. Now John thought about it, she did look rather familiar. Perhaps from a while ago. Faces all blurred together in his mind, especially in the state he was in. “Theresa De Luca.”
John’s eye widened. And he gulped. And then recognition spread across his face.
“Yes, I know. I should be dead. You delivered me to my death. But I was saved. Now I’m saving my daughter,” she declared, and it all became so clear to him.
“I’m trying to save her too.”
“I know that now. I was planning to get her out of that house but then she ran away. And it took me forever to find her. By then, you already had. I knew that Alessandro would send you, someone he trusted could get the job done. I tried to get the bikers to kill you. I tipped them off about something,” she explained with a devious smile. “But then my daughter ended up taking the bullet for you, which confused me. Then I sent Leo and Jack to kidnap my daughter and bring her to me, but the idiots lost her. I tried to have you run off the road when I found out you were chasing her again. But none of it worked. Then it didn’t matter because you didn’t do what I thought you would, which was hand her over. I couldn’t find you both, for over a year.”
“You were the one who finished off the bikers?” John asked.
“With help. They shot my daughter,” Theresa answered. “I decided that you truly did care about Marcella, so I saved you from Alessandro. Now you’re going to help me find her again. Dante Marciano took her away. He’s more of an animal than my husband.”
“How are you alive?”
“Giuseppe Mancini. He helped me escape, along with Leo. Then Giuseppe went into hiding. Later killed by a man named Manuel Estrada. Know him?”
“Vaguely.” It was strange how he thought he actually knew most things before. Everything was becoming much clearer, the role that Mancini played, why Leo had helped him when previously he had tried to run him off the road.
“We don’t have time to waste. Marcella and Dante will marry next month, most likely less. With you alive, Dante won’t marry her just yet. He’ll want to find you and gut you first, giving us time. You’re the bounty hunter. You’re the best at finding people, especially her. Find her.” John nodded.
“Theresa, you should know that I love Mari. I would never do anything to hurt her,” John told her. She would be his mother-in-law after all.
She stared at him for the longest time, narrowing her eyes at him.
“You won’t be with her. I won’t allow it. You’re a crook, and she deserves more than you.”
“With all due respect, you don’t know your daughter,” he argued. “I proposed to her and she said yes. When I find her, and I will find her, with your help or not, we’re going to live our lives together and you can’t stop that.”
She scoffed in response. Before she could reply, John stood, despite the agonizing pain he was suffering.
“Let’s find her,” he declared.
Three weeks later…
Mari didn’t know how to act around her mother. She lost her mother years ago and she couldn’t wrap her head around the fact that she was alive again, or how she should be acting. They were strangers to one another. John wanted to help, but he knew this was just between them.
Their table was silent. They had put enough distance between them, and New York and Theresa wanted dinner with her daughter. Of course, Mari asked for John to come along too. She felt safe around him, and he was her safety net in the event dinner didn’t go too well, which it seemed it wasn’t.
“So…” Mari started but then trailed off like a ghost. John grabbed her hand under the table and squeezed tight. “I don’t think I can do this with you.”
“Do what?” Theresa asked.
“Have a relationship. You’re going into Witness Protection and we’re running away. And I don’t know you. I don’t want to waste my time trying to build something with you,” she said rather bluntly. But it had to be said.
“Why would it be a waste of time?” Theresa questioned, tears welling in her eyes. It must hurt to hear her daughter wanted nothing to do with her.
“You ran away without me, without your daughter, all those years ago. And you left my life. I don’t blame you, but I want to start fresh, with a new family, with John. We’re having a baby and I don’t want the baby to grow up around my past, or John’s. I hope you can understand that.” She stood confidently, and John stood with her. Mari shook her mother’s hand quite coldly, said a stunted goodbye and John and Mari left.
They weren’t sure whether they would resume their life in California. They weren’t sure whether they could go back there. Perhaps they would try start again somewhere else, somewhere more peaceful. But they knew that all they had were each other, and they would do anything to keep each other and keep their family intact.
John had been Mari’s captor. Mari had been John’s captive. But both held each other’s hearts captive until death would do them part.