I tried to disengage my thoughts, to use my mouth to talk, to box up my feelings and squish them down, down, down. ‘I’m fine,’ I said, licking my dry lips. ‘Let’s do this.’
He squeezed my hand, and I squeezed back, before slipping it back into my lap, away from the intentions written so clearly on his face.
‘Yeah!’ whooped Dom. ‘Let’s do this!’
He cranked the radio up until the car was vibrating, and then he crushed his foot on the gas and we sped out of Cedar Hill, both boys singing and laughing at the tops of their lungs, while I cowered in the back seat trying to fight the urge to be sick out the window.
It was past sundown by the time we arrived in the city. We pulled into a run-down parking lot three buildings away from The Sicilian Kiss, a dive bar often frequented by members of the Marino family. It looked deserted as we drove past it – boarded-up windows, flaking black paint on the door, and a sign that read: Entrance By Private Admission Only.
When we reached the car lot, Dom cut the engine, rolled his seat back and propped his feet on the dashboard. I sat forward and stuck my head between the brothers. ‘Now what?’
Nic turned around so suddenly, I didn’t have time to back up. Our noses were inches from each other as he said, ‘We wait for Paulie’s signal. He’s got someone on the inside. When Libero comes to make the deal, we’ll move in.’
‘We’ll disarm him and shoot his legs out,’ added Dom airily. ‘Then you can finish him off.’
I massaged my temples, trying not to imagine the scene before it happened. It all seemed way too straightforward. Violent, but simple. Too simple. ‘And we’re really going to get away with this?’
‘Easily,’ said Nic, confidence trilling in his voice.
Dom glanced at me over his shoulder. ‘Relax,’ he said. ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’
Nic smirked at Dom. ‘She’ll be making a ghost tonight.’
I just stared between them, screwing my face up. ‘I don’t know how you guys can be so … jokey about all of this!’
‘Lighten up, Sophie,’ said Dom. ‘You’re supposed to kill Libero, not the mood.’
Nic snorted, then caught sight of my scowl and glanced at me apologetically. ‘It’s just first-time jitters,’ he said, gently. ‘Don’t try and talk yourself out of it. Don’t psyche yourself out. Libero Marino is a slimeball. I told you that, remember? He oversees the sex trade in the east of the city, he beats his girlfriends – he put one of them in a coma two years ago. He split Luca’s lip open and tried to kill him when they were still teenagers. He’s not a good guy, OK? He deserves this.’
I swirled the facts around in my head. It’s not like I thought he was a good guy already, but I hadn’t expected him to be so hateable. It was almost too easy, that he would be the perfect villain. It was easy to hate him. I tried to harness that feeling. I would need it. I would need nothing but that burning, festering hatred. A shred of empathy and it would all go to hell.
‘This is for your mother, remember?’ Nic added, his gaze boring into mine. ‘This is for what they took from you.’
Yes. He was right. That was why I was here. I remembered the diner, the fire, the heat … the smoke. This was for her.
Nic turned on some music on his phone, and closed his eyes, humming under his breath. I looked through the windscreen, at messy graffiti and overflowing dumpsters. Somewhere close by, The Sicilian Kiss was awaiting our arrival, and Libero Marino was walking to his demise. I tried to concentrate on the music, letting the melody sweep me into a different place.
And then …
Dom swiped his finger across his phone screen, read a text, smirked at Nic, and, as simply as if he was putting on his favourite movie, said, ‘Show time.’
Seven minutes later, I had scaled a three-storey fire escape and was standing on the roof of The Sicilian Kiss, my gun clenched inside my coat pocket, and my teeth chattering so hard I could barely hear myself think. According to Paulie, there were only five people inside the bar: Libero Marino, Eric Cain, the owner (a Falcone snitch who was holing himself away on the ground floor), and two of Libero’s buyers, who had just shown up for the drug deal.
We went in via the fire escape on the roof, while Paulie made his way through the front entrance at the same time. Nic and Dom formed a barrier in front of me, shoulder to shoulder and dressed entirely in black, their coats zipped up past their chins. We descended the stairs quietly and quickly, leaving the cold behind us. My face was hot and my breathing was coming quick and sharp. It felt like every part of my skin was tingling. I could feel the adrenalin, like a shot of hot metal coursing through my bloodstream.
We stalled in a narrow corridor at the bottom of the fire escape. The place was dank and musty. There was a door right in front of us, with a circle of glass set in the centre. Voices wafted from a lowly-lit room with black walls and rickety old tables. Someone laughed behind the door – it was loud and sharp, and I cringed at the familiarity. That was Eric Cain, Jack’s best friend. Could Jack be nearby, too? What about my father?
No. Paulie would have warned us. This was his job, and Nic said they didn’t call him ‘The Ghost’ for nothing. He was always nearby, always watching. He moved unseen inside the shadows. Even if the time had changed at the last minute, his sources wouldn’t have. I told myself that over and over, Nic’s warning flashing inside my head. Don’t psyche yourself out.