Catch Me, If You Can
Catch Me, If You Can
Meet Angelo Maretti, the conscience of the Maretti-Rizzulo crime families. He was your typical straight-laced college student, until a rival family killed his sister. Now, the name of the game is getting revenge without starting a war. The only way to do that? Make every death of the guilty Ortegas look like natural causes.... In the footsteps of the original Grimms tale, "The Hare and The Hedgehog," it all comes back to one fact, Angelena was a dead ringer (pardon the pun) for her twin brother.
by Brenna Lyons
Loosely based on "The Hare and The Hedgehog" by The Brothers Grimm
"Lena?" Angelo sauntered through the door to his sister's apartment at the edges of campus, wondering at her absence from their morning computer class. "Lena? You sick? You never miss class."
At what point he knew something was seriously wrong, he couldn't say. At once, the apartment seemed too still. Little things were out of place. The space felt stale, unused, though they'd laughed over cappuccino only the evening before.
His heart pounded, and his throat felt too tight. He reached for the doorknob to her bedroom with a shaking hand, hearing the individual clicks of the tumblers like gunshots on Cousin Gabriel's range.
The door swung open, and the room came into view in patches.
Dust motes danced in the sunlight streaming through the unshaded window. Angelo watched them for a long moment before he acknowledged that he was afraid to look anywhere else.
Her vanity was in disarray. Bottles were swept to one side, their contents spilled and mixed, powders dusting the mirror and rug, the overpowering scent of perfumes cloying. His eyes watered in response. Or, maybe it was the beginnings of tears.
He saw the crimson streaks and splatters in the hazy mirror and denied them. It was the roses on the bed linens, he rationalized. There must be a ribbon design that he'd never noticed before. That was all it was. Maybe some abstract design between the roses...
Lena was his sister, his twin, older by less than an hour. She was sweet, refined, loving, innocent...even of the harsher realities of what their family was. She wasn't allowed to bleed, to hurt...to die.
Angelo was in motion that simply. There was no question what had happened. She'd been beaten and cut with some sort of sharp blades, tied down to her bed, sexually abused. A length of silk and lace, likely a pair of her underwear, was stuffed in her mouth to mute her screams.
He touched her cheek, praying for warmth at the same time he hoped she'd died quickly. The cold seemed to steal his own warmth, and eyes he'd pinned his faith on being wide in shock stared at the ceiling, dead. Dead... He tried to find a prettier word, but there wasn't one, and this wasn't pretty.
Angelo couldn't feel, couldn't reason, could barely see.
The rush of sights and smells left him nerveless and weaving in dizziness. The scent of blood and urine mixed with the perfumes and powders. How had he missed that earlier? Was it new? No, that was unlikely.
Other odors, unmentionable ones that should never have been associated with Lena, assaulted him, and he gagged, staggering a step away from the bed.
The stench of stomach acid and bile hit him next. He was kneeling now...with no memory of leaving his feet, the sheet fisted in his hand and his arm muscles tight, as if he'd fallen and tried to catch himself.
The hot liquid soaking through the knees of his jeans drew his gaze down to the puddle that encompassed the sum total of his stomach contents. His throat burned, shouting the story of lost moments.
Angelo looked back to his sister, reaching for the silk in her mouth, his boneless fingers plucking at and missing it again and again. His breathing was harsh in his own ears.
His cell phone was in his hand, though he had no memory of retrieving it from his pocket. Angelo spoke, though he had no idea who he called, or what he said to them.
Uncle Vince and a uniformed officer he didn't recognize came through the door together. Angelo realized that the phone was still pressed to his ear, as silent as the apartment had been when he'd entered, shut off when it timed out.
Vince removed it gently, closing the flap. "Come with me, Angelo." His voice was low, calming, urging without the force he usually exerted with his tone alone.
Angelo didn't move his gaze away from Lena. He couldn't. He wasn't certain he was blinking. His eyes burned and ached, but still he stared, watching for signs of breathing that didn't exist.
He snapped his head around, staring at Vince in confusion. What was his uncle doing here? Was that the call he made? What was going on around him? There were more people, people he didn't remember arriving. Nothing made sense.
"Come with me," Vince repeated.
Angelo nodded, vaguely noting the fact that Vince was dragging him to his feet. Her bedroom passed behind him in a dizzying rush, and they were soon enveloped in the safety of Lena's living room.
The officer he'd seen first spoke in low tones, most likely into a radio or cell phone, since no one else was near him.
Something pressed to Angelo's hand, and he looked down, numb in body and soul, save the aching in his knees. It was a flask, the engraved silver one Vince carried. It had belonged to Vince's father...and likely his grandfather, as well.
"I don't understand," he managed.
"Drink it. Mother of God, don't fight me on this; drink it."
Angelo didn't argue, though Vince's request made no more sense than anything else he was seeing and hearing did. The amber liquid burned a painful trail down his throat, and Angelo coughed in response, his eyes watering. He managed two more swallows before Vince took the flask away and drained it.
Angelo couldn't look at him. He trailed his gaze around aimlessly, finally settling on a half-written note on the coffee table.
The greeting caught his eyes, the simple "Hi, Lo" she'd used in response to his "Hi, Lena" since they were children. A lump in his throat made breathing difficult.
"Hi, Lena," he croaked.
Then he was crying, great wracking sobs, on his knees on the floor, the note fisted in his hands. Angelo screamed incoherently, venting his anguish to the heavens...and Vince let him.
"Angelo." Marissa shook his shoulder gently. "Angelo, wake up. It's a dream. God, please wake up."
He wrapped her in his arms, holding on tight, trembling, needing the human contact she offered. He needed Marissa...just Marissa.
She didn't ask what he'd dreamed. Marissa rarely did, when he dreamed of finding Angelena. He didn't ask how she knew. It was probably fear that he'd screamed out his loss that stopped him from voicing the question; if he was screaming, he didn't want to know it.
"We should move tomorrow," she suggested.
"Yes." His voice was hoarse. Had he screamed again? Was that why Marissa said they should move on? Or was it simply that they'd been here three days, and Ortega would find them soon?
"Do you need something?" she asked.
"You," he replied. "Just you." Please, don't leave me. And, that was why he was weak enough to let her play this game with him. Losing her meant losing what little of his sanity remained, he was sure.
"You'll always have me," Marissa vowed.
But, would God approve of his plan? Though every priest he'd asked had assured Angelo that his plan could only succeed if God were willing, he still had his doubts.
The commotion brought Angelo's head around. At first, he couldn't make sense of what he was seeing.
The female aunts and cousins were gathered around Mama, shouting in a mixture of English and Italian, poking and pushing at a dark-haired man in an expensive blue suit. A curse from their target, in an accent that spoke of Hispanic heritage, sent Angelo that direction, most of the Maretti and Rizzulo men just behind him.
"You, leave," Auntie Therese ordered the interloper. "You are not welcome here."
"Mrs. Maretti," he began, ignoring Mama's Rizzulo aunt.
He made it no further. Angelo grabbed him by the collar of his suit and half-threw him toward the open grave. He stepped between the Ortega and Mama, providing a physical obstacle to his foe.
"How dare you intrude on a mother's grief," Angelo exploded, dimly noting Ortega's scum striding from one side and family closing ranks from the other.
Ortega righted himself, opening his mouth to offer some retort. The sound never issued forth; his mouth gaped open, his wide eyes locked on Angelo, his skin going unnaturally pale.
Angelo took advantage of the break to examine the South American. He'd expected tattoos and piercings, but the man was as well-appointed as one of Vince's sons would be when attending a business meeting or a press function. He was also younger than Angelo expected, not much older than Angelo was himself. Were it not for his Latin looks and accent, he might have been mistaken for one of the family on bereavement from his college studies as Angelo and several cousins were.
Whispers passed between Ortega's men. Though they used their bastard Spanish, it was a romance language like Italian was and not an entirely dissimilar tongue to his own second language.
Realization came within a few beats of Angelo's heart. They'd noted how closely Angelo and Angelena resembled each other. They had the same rounded face, lush lips, slightly-widened nose, the same narrow, dimpled chin and dark eyes, thick lashes, fine brow and black curls. If Angelo's hair were longer and he possessed a woman's curves...or Lena wore baggy clothes, they could be mistaken, even to their height.
One called him a phantom, another a demon. There was only one possible reason for that; they were the ones.
A nod from Uncle Vince confirmed that it wouldn't end here.
The funeral would end in peace, mainly thanks to Father Andretti reminding both groups that they were on consecrated ground, though the family wouldn't have drawn first blood with women and children there. No, the Marettis and Rizzulos would only have drawn blood that day, if Ortega had struck first.
Mama slapped Uncle Vince across the cheek in a rare show of temper, and Angelo winced.
Vince didn't. "They are your daughter's killers, Francesca," he replied patiently, as if her slap spoke her rebuke aloud. "The police will do nothing. I think that bastard McMasters is enjoying yanking my chain."
"Yes, my daughter is dead, and now they want to kill my son."
"Angelo did nothing. He was in class when--"
"My Angelena did nothing," she shouted. "What good did it do her?"
"No one killed him," Vince offered. "Jorge Ortega had an allergy that--"
"That someone conveniently managed to set off by accident." Mama placed her hands on her hips, tapping her foot in exasperation.
"Such a sad mishap," Vince offered innocently.
It shouldn't have surprised Angelo how well Vince played innocent, after all the years of watching him do so when he knew well the old man was lying through his teeth, but it did, for reasons he couldn't begin to comprehend. As a man who'd run a major crime syndicate for more than two decades, Vince was a consummate liar. Then again, short their interactions with the Ortegas and a few 'discussions' with reluctant business associates, the family was into more questionable business practices than strong-arm tactics, these days.
Unlike the Ortegas, they rarely used the guns they carried and never with innocents in the line of fire. The family didn't traffic in drugs; they invariably ended up in the hands of children, and they destroyed families.
And the Ortegas think they are better than us? Angelo ground his teeth at the thought of it.
"A twist of fate?" Mama challenged, at last, in a voice that said she knew better.
"An act of God," Vince agreed, feigning relief at her capitulation, though Mama hadn't backed down an inch.
"You dare lie in the Lord's name? There is no hope for you, Vincent Maretti."
Vince smiled. "God made him allergic," he reasoned. "A Maretti didn't do that."
Angelo hid a smile behind his hand. Vince could make nearly anything sound reasonable.
"Just you make certain God has no more hand in this," Mama warned.
Vince headed toward the door, a swaggering gait in teasing. "Who am I to order God, Francesca? I am just a simple man."
|Reviewed by Jaded for Bitten by Books 3.5 Tombstones!||"This action-packed short was the perfect �waiting room� escape. As an Italian, I found myself laughing out loud at Mama. She was so convincing, I could almost smell the lasagna." LINK: Bitten By Books|
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