Once we’re down, my captors force me onto a chair and unlock my wrists to re-bind them to the chair itself. They do the same with my ankles, spreading my legs and cuffing each to a chair-leg. And I wonder if I’m just destined to die in a rank, old basement. I may have escaped fate before, but now it’s finally caught me.
Footsteps clomp heavily up and away, and it’s quiet. That’s when I hear it.Tick. Tick. Tick.A clock.
My breathing becomes ragged as an image flashes across my eyelids. Another clock. Another basement. The cold steel of handcuffs. The weight of chains.
I hated that clock. I fucking hated it.
A touch at the back of my head draws me out of my head, and I gasp.
I’m not alone.
I feel a tug, and the blindfold slips away. I blink, opening my eyes wide as they adjust. But it’s so dark here, pitch black, they may as well be closed.
The man at my back moves, and I turn my head to follow the sound. He’s like a shadow and when I look up at his face, I glimpse a skull and almost cry out.
It’s a mask. Just a mask.
“Where am I?” I ask as he walks confidently in this pitch-black. He knows his way around. That ticking of the clock continues. “Where the fuck am I?” I demand as he ascends the stairs.
The door opens. Light shines down momentarily, and I see the white face of the clock set in front of me. There are things stuck to the wall just beneath the clock. But I can’t make them out. The door closes too quickly, plunging me into darkness again, that clock my only companion. For a moment, as my heart pounds against my chest and I look around at all the blackness and feel the cold of the basement penetrate my bones as that clock ticks with hateful efficiency, I think this can’t get worse.
But it does.
And darkness isn’t the worst thing at all.
The lights blink on and off, and on and off, bright fluorescent unnatural light, and I wish he’d left the blindfold on as, during those bursts of light, I see what’s on that wall beneath that goddamned clock. Fucking plastered across the length of the room. And those lights. Fuck. The lights won’t stop blinking. I twist and turn in my chair and try to free myself, but I can’t get out. I can’t get away. I couldn’t then. And I can’t now.
Bastian will take Mom and Emma to Palermo. I won’t join them. I have something I need to take care of. Something I should have taken care of long ago. Because what happened lies squarely on my shoulders.
I sit in the back seat with two soldiers in the front as we drive to my uncle’s Naples apartment, a luxury unit in a renovated old building in the heart of town. The video footage of what took place in the hours before our landing replays in my mind. A chopper landing. Soldiers unloading. A truckload of them arriving at the same time at the front gates as the first chopper took off, and a second landed, unloading more men.
The house was secured. We had plenty of soldiers. But they had more, and they took us by surprise. They came ready to kill.
Our men killed three of theirs, but the tally of dead on our side is much higher.
The hardest part to bear, though, is the footage at the end. After the truck full of soldiers drove back down the hill. It’s the image of Vittoria half dragged out of the house by two men easily twice her size. That image of Vittoria disappearing into the chopper.
I blink, then look at the man in the passenger seat who is turned halfway around to talk to me.
“We’re a block out,” he says.
I look out at the neighborhood and nod. “Go to the building.”
He raises his eyebrows, surprised.