©Jessica Gadziala, 2020
I was not going to live through this war.
Call it superstitious, call it a woman’s intuition, call it what you want, but I knew.
It was an ever-present ache under my ribcage as I bathed my boys, as I read them books, as I snuggled them in bed, pretending my heart wasn’t pounding out of my chest, that my breath didn’t skip when the house creaked or a tree brushed up against the window outside.
I couldn’t claim that I didn’t know what I was getting into when I married Antony. You didn’t promise your future to a capo in the Cosa Nostra if you expected peace and safety, a life without worry about things like violent deaths.
But what could I do?
I loved him.
I loved him with a ferocity that scared me at times. It still did, if I were being honest. It was a love that came with a dependency that I never would have said I was capable of before he came into my life. But his highs were my highs, his lows my lows. His sleepless nights were mine as well, both of us sitting at the kitchen table in our robes, hands holding scalding coffee cups, talking through the most recent issues with the family.
Getting the docks bid had been the greatest—and worst—thing in our lives. Our income skyrocketed. There was nothing any of us desired that we couldn’t have. Antony had taken to hollowing out the walls in his study to line them with cash for a rainy day.
But owning and operating the biggest import port north of Georgia where criminals paid cash to be able to have their illegal goods snuck in meant that there were inherent dangers.
First, because of said criminals and their all-too-often ideas to try to sneak things by that were against Antony’s rules.
Second, because the docks were one of the most profitable gigs in the business. So everyone wanted to take out Antony, so that they could take it over.
The latter was the problem currently facing us, the one that had me jumping at creaky floorboards and the ticking of fans.
There was a threat out there, one without a name, so Antony was having trouble tracking it down, taking care of it.
I hadn’t been overly worried about it.
Until that fateful morning I walked out the front door to get the paper for Antony to read while he ate his breakfast, and found Tully—my sweet tabby I had put out the night before to go hunting for the mouse that had been making its way in and out of our basement—decapitated on the front stoop beside a picture of me with my little boys with an unmistakable message.
I remembered screaming and not much else. But when I was conscious again, I was on the couch in Antony’s study with its dark paneling that made the room dark on even the brightest of days, something I had been nagging him about for years already. He left me have free rein of every other room of the house, but he liked his dark, depressing study just as it was. I had nasty scrapes on my knees and arms and an egg on my head from where it smacked against the top step as I fainted.
“This is just like all the other times,” Antony assured me, eyes sad, knowing my soft spot for Tully. “We are going to be just fine,” he added, pressing a kiss to my forehead before moving off to get the supplies to clean me up.
I knew that moment that he was wrong.
This wasn’t like the other times.
We weren’t going to be just fine.
Or, at least, I wasn’t.
As it turned out, I was right.
But from that day on, with that realization fresh in my mind, I clung to my boys. Little three-year-old Matteo. Seven-year-old Luca.
At night, I climbed into Luca’s bed, sometimes when he was awake, often when he was asleep, whispering things to him I needed him to hear from me.
That I wanted him to grow up to be like his daddy, strong and fair and brave.
That I loved him more than he could ever know.
That I hoped he was happy even if I was gone.
It was a stormy Wednesday night.
Antony had been called to the docks for some security issue.
He left two of his men with me, younger guys who were trying to work their way up in the organization.
I could tell they were trying their best to be respectful, even though I caught one of them rolling their eyes at the other when I gasped at every thunderclap, my heart slamming in my chest.
Then there was a sound that was decidedly not related to the storm. A rapid bang-bang-bang.
“Go lock yourself upstairs,” one of the men demanded as they each reached into their pockets, pulled out guns, made their way toward the front and back doors.
I did go upstairs.
I took five precious moments to drag the wardrobe out of the master bedroom to barricade Matteo and Luca’s bedroom door.
But I didn’t stay up there.
I didn’t want anyone who might get inside to go up there looking for me, for us.
My boys had to live through this.
I made my way back downstairs.
An eerie calm overtook me as I walked down the center hallway, veering off into Antony’s study. Grabbing a piece of paper, I carefully wrote down a note, folding it, placing it inside an envelope along with my wedding ring, tucking the envelope between the pages of our wedding album on the wall.
I wasn’t going to live through the night.
I knew it like I knew Antony would track down my killers and string them up by their toes, would inflict all forms of torture on them. Would avenge my death.
I made my way out of the study, going back the kitchen, the place that was wholly mine alone in this house, where Antony spent next to no time. If I was going to die, I didn’t want it to be in a room that was his, that was our boys’.
I had no weapons.
I told Antony I hated them.
He could have them.
His men could have them.
But I didn’t want to be near one.
Not with the boys in the house, anyway.
Even if I had one, I wasn’t sure I would have been able to lift it, to put my finger on the trigger, to pull it, when I saw a figure step into the doorway of the kitchen, too short, too rounded to be one of the guards who had gone outside.
“I’m afraid I have to send your husband a message,” the voice said, making my stomach clench as he moved behind me, as the knife bit into the flesh of my neck.
My gaze slipped toward the hallway, thinking of the study, of the wedding album, of the message tucked inside.
I had a message I wanted to get to him too.
I just hoped he would someday find it.
©Jessica Gadziala, 2020