Chapter 1

Proof Reading by Sagacious

"You moron! You left him alone! If anything happens to him, you'll wish for death. My God!"

Mike had six cars of guys out combing the small area for his son, Paul. In one way he was proud of the boy wanting to 'be a man', but the paternal instinct in him, let alone the tirade the boy's mother raised when she found out made him wonder if that was best. No, he did not want to face her if, God forbid, something happened to her 'Baby'.

Paul had been 'suckered in'. Mike's soon to be former driver/bodyguard told Mike of the earlier altercation and the challenge for Paul to meet his nemesis after school. What a dope, Mike thought, then remembered all those same reactions he'd had when he was sixteen.

Mike and the boys kept driving and looking.

SSgt (Staff Sergeant) James T. Baker was one of the few, one of the proud, and one of the forgotten. When he came home, everything was ... different. It was no longer what he'd thought it would be. He no longer had a job. The company he had worked for was gone. His girlfriend was history, and most of his friends were dead or gone. He no longer even had a home. Life had played several tricks on him. He was not alone. The life of a soldier, especially one who had opted to do what he did, was not a commodity that was greatly in demand in the civilized world.

"Find him! Ask everyone, offer ten grand to anyone who brings him to me, no, make it fifty grand; just have them find him!" Mike Manza was a man used to being obeyed. He had 'spoiled' Paul, maybe. Maybe he should have 'toughened' him up right from the start, but his Mother wanted him kept out of the 'business'. Paul idolized his father and wanted to be just like him. Paul's older sister Gina, however, was that 'tough' protégé Papa always wanted. She had already tried to become involved in the 'business, ' much to her mom's dismay and her fathers admiration.

For an eighteen year-old girl, having a Mafia Don for a father presented both good and bad aspects. If she wanted, which she did not, anything and everything was hers. She had only to look at her mother, to see what that had done and she wanted no part of that existence. The other thing, even more a negative, was that no one dared 'treat her' as a young girl. She was destined; it seemed, to become a perpetual virgin if her father had his way. The two boys that had shown any interest in her at school were soon avoiding her like the plague. The bodyguards had been certain to make them understand a few things, it seemed. Although she did like the 'protection', she sometimes wished she was more 'normal. Whenever the 'business' came up, all she could think about was being a part of it with her Father, and of getting ready to work in it one day. Mike was thinking of that too.

Paul Manza was not afraid exactly, but when he went to 'settle' a score he was so mad that common sense went out the window. Now he was starting to feel sorry he was alone. As he turned the corner in the alley and saw the group of men there, he knew he was in trouble, big trouble!

Paul never considered himself anyone special. That he was being set up for kidnap and ransom was never even a consideration. To him, 'the business' was a thing unknown, and never spoken of. His mother had planned his future in other directions. That these eight men thought he was of value, was very much a surprise to him. They drew closer, surrounding him, and backing him against a wall.

'Damn, ' he thought.

SSgt. James T. Baker, Jim, was looking for a warm place to sleep that night when he spotted the large group of men around the young man. Something triggered in him, something that was as much of his nature as eating and sleeping. He never considered the odds as being bad. He had no doubts as to his abilities, and gave no thought to himself as he readied for action. He just saw a 'teammate' in need, in danger. He acted the way he had done for so many years, 'over there.'

About the same time, the eyes of Mike Manza spotted Jim heading into the alley, and had his driver follow. He wanted 'feet on the street' to locate his boy, and the man looked like he could use a few bucks. When he pulled in the alley he could only stare, frozen, at the scene in front of him.

It was like watching a ballet. Only this was 'The Dance of Death'. Mike had somewhere heard of something like this. It was an old Brazilian form, and quite rarely seen now...

For Jim, there was no script, no thought of mercy given nor any quarter asked. These armed men had declared war and were fair game, now. With no hesitation Jim moved and the two men closest to the young man were down. Dead; their necks broken with one twist. Two others felt kicks to their heads and went to the ground. One shot at Jim, the other at Paul. Both shots failed to kill, but Paul slumped down, now. Jim was flying through the air, seemingly un-aware of his wound. A slash to first one man, then one to the other collapsed the windpipes of both. In eight seconds he had eliminated six of the men. He turned to face the other two stunned attackers. His hands reached out, smashed into blank faces forcing the bone and sinew from their noses to slide into their brains, killing them. In nine seconds, eight men lay dead on the alley's pavement.

Jim went to Paul and helped him up, attempting to take him away from the scene. It was then that he saw the car with more men getting out. He placed himself in front of Paul, and took a deep breath before attacking these new targets.

"Wait, it's OK! It's Pop!" the young man shouted.

Father and son ran to each other. Mike Manza was never more happy about anything as he was to once again see his son, relatively unharmed. He also now did something that he was not accustomed to doing.

He extended his hand to the man to shake it and said, "Thank you. Thank you for saving my son."

Father and son held each other. Jim looked then started to slip away.

"Hey, where do you think your going, Buddy? You're bleeding all over. Vic, Tony, get him into the car, stop the bleeding and let's get out of here."

Jim was starting to feel the shot now, the adrenalin of the fight was wearing off and he just wanted to have this dream end.

Now, Mike was not an easy or gentle man. In his business there was no room for a kind heart. He was 'old school, ' though. You owed the man who helped you. In this case, the man who gave him back his son, in more ways than one. Mike brought Jim home, had the Docs come to him and Mike hired 24/7 care for him. On the third day Jim woke up with tubes in his body and in strange surroundings.

"He's up, Mr. Manza!" A nurse said into a phone.

Mike, Paul, and two other men who were in white coats, came into the room.

"So, he lives and doth grace us mere mortals with his presence," Mike said in his best 'Medieval Lord' impression.

"Am I dead, finally? This must be heaven, but why do I hurt so much?"

"Well, Buddy, I think after your little ballet show, things caught up with you. The Docs here say a few inches, either way, and we might be having a funeral for you! Rest up; you're safe in my house, now. When you're better we can talk, more."

It was almost a week later when Paul started yelling at the nurse for his clothes and 'to get these damn tubes' out of him. She ran out. A few minutes later, a little pixie walked into the room with a scowl on her face.

"You just lie back and keep quiet. When you're ready, the Docs will take them out, and we'll get you some new clothes."

Jim could only stare at the girl. Her eyes seemed to look right through him and he fell back onto the bed. At the same time the girl saw the scars and holes in his body. She went to him, reached out and started to touch and feel the old wounds. She started to cry. Jim took her hand, held it and looked at her, wishing her to stop her tears. Their eyes met and things between them would never be the same again.

Mike stood in the doorway. He watched the man who had saved his son's life holding his daughters hand, both of them gazing at each other as viewing each others very soul. He walked away, thinking.

Gina was a constant visitor to Jim's room. In fact, you might say she was now in charge of his care. She fed him, washed him, and read to him. When he was asleep, she often went to him and stroked his face and hair. He was hers, now. He was who she wanted and needed.

Mike was not blind to what was happening. When Jim was strong enough to shower, Gina was right there with him. She held him up, washed his hair and body and every few minutes tears formed as her fingers ran over a scar or bullet hole in his body. All she could see was a man who would risk everything to save her brother. Now it was her turn to take care of him, as she continued to rub and wash his body, often holding her own nude parts against his.

One sunny day, they had a special party. Paul and Jim were brought out into the garden where guests, well wishers, and 'family' were gathered. As all the women except Gina eventually left, Mike stepped up and began his speech.

"I just wanted to express my deepest appreciation to a few people. To my daughter Gina, for opening my eyes and joining our 'family'; a rare thing for a female. She has spoken with her actions not her words. She has recognized what was done for Paul and that with this way of life comes responsibility, and that she took on. To my Son, Paul, he is like a new part of me. Too long have I listened to those who wanted other things for him. In almost losing him I began to listen to him, and what he wanted. I now have a son again, even if he does not ever become part of our 'business.' Finally, my deepest appreciation to a stranger to us all. A stranger who would risk everything to save my son. Can I do any less than offer anything and everything I have, to him? Although, I think I have been replaced in that chore by someone else, here? Since he has been with us, he has asked for nothing. He wants nothing, but I think there is something that will be keeping him with us, and that is everything to me. I'm not sure if I want to shake his hand, or kill him, though."

Gina and Jim turned bright red at those words. Both looked down, then at each other, no words were needed to see the love between them.

Jim said, "I never thought much good would ever come into my life, again. I only did what I was trained to do, that is help my 'team' survive. Paul became my 'team' when he was attacked. I helped him. One does not expect anything for doing their job. While I was regaining my health I had this dream of a pixie coming into my room and yelling at me. I woke up a few times, later on, and that pixie was usually still there. I found out her name was Gina. Like Mike said, her kindness, care and dedication are the only reasons I am here, today. She took over paying me back for saving Paul, by saving me. For that, we're even, Mike. An 'eye for an eye, a life for a life.' I will hate leaving here."

Gina looked down, her tears freely rolling down. Mike looked at her, then at Jim who had already moved to go inside the house.

Mike turned and called to Jim, "You say you will hate leaving here? Why? Not why you might hate leaving, but why do you feel you ever have to leave?"

"Why? Why indeed! I can't stay here. I just can't do anything to lose your trust and friendship. I did not ask for this to happen but for many reasons, I just can't stay."

"Even if it breaks my daughter's heart?"

Jim looked at him and said, "That's mainly it. I don't want to break your daughter's heart. I can't promise to just stand by, and see her everyday, and ignore her. It's too hard. She has been everything to me, is everything to me. I have nothing, am nothing, a no one. I need to move on while things are still as friends."

"What does she say?"

"What? We have never so much as kissed, let alone spoken about a future together. I will leave today before it ever comes to that. Please understand."

"That's the problem, I do understand, far more than you realize. I see Gina and how she looks at you and you at her. She would follow you to the ends of the earth, rich or poor, if only she thought she had a chance with you. I saw my little girl grow up, when I brought you here and she took charge. Let me ask you one question? What would you do to save Gina, if her life was in danger?"

"What! Save her? Why ... anything, everything! I would give my life for her! You know that, don't you?"

"Yes, then why would you leave her? You leave and she will always wonder what she did wrong, how she hurt you, or if I had driven you away from her."

Jim walked away, back to his room and threw himself onto the bed. He awoke to see Gina, her hand on his.

"Hi," he said.

"Hi, yourself. What's wrong? Did my Father say something to you? About me? About us, maybe?"

"Us? That's the 64 thousand dollar question. What is there with an 'US'? What can I offer you? I can't ask you to give up all this to live in the street or sleep on a park bench. I am a nothing, Gina."

There is a thing girls do, that Gina did, then. Her eyes watered, her face looked down, and in a 'puppy dog' voice, she said, "Unless I wanted to."

Both now hugged each other with tears, and they kissed, kissed for what might be the first and last time.

"What now?" came from both at the same time.

As do most eighteen year-old girls, Gina has another passion, besides Jim, and that was Shopping! Jim had made the easy choice: for now, he stayed. He needed clothes, and Gina volunteered to go with him. It was now funny to see the Princess and the Pauper being driven to Rodeo Drive for a day of shopping. When the car stopped in front of the first store, Gina almost got out when the door was opened for her, then had a thought.

She asked the driver, "Vito, is there a place we can get Jim some regular stuff, maybe even get really good second-hand things that might fit?

The looks on every face turned somber. The door closed and Vito, who had been with Mike for many years, was tearing up a bit. He had seen Gina grow up since she was born. This was the first time the Mafia Princess had acted as her father would. She had finally grown up, and her new attitude was most welcome.

They spent all morning getting things for Jim. At noon, they decided to treat everyone to a good meal. They went to Gandalph's on the Beach for seafood. The crowd on a Saturday would make it almost impossible to get in, but with this being a Thursday, getting in was easy. They sat at a table while Vito stayed with the car. Tony sat at a nearby table, ordering a take-out for himself and his partner.

Their meals arrived at the same time as Jim felt two hams grip his shoulders. Gina stared up, and looked in shock at the giant standing behind Jim.

"You are in our seats," the man said in mixed English. "The pretty one can stay, but you are too ugly for us to look at! Your mother must have been a cow!"

Jim started to relax, now. He knew those words well.

As he stood up he replied, "No, no, the cow was your mother, my father was a bull." They both laughed, each grabbed and hugged the other like brothers. "How are you Vassily? You're a little far from the 'Sandbox'!"

"Da, Da, I got roped by a little 'cowgirl' in Russia. She drags me all over, now. Let me introduce her, Mar..."

There were two shill shrieks, and now Gina and the other girl were crying. They were holding each other's shoulders, and dancing around the table.

"I think they know each other, Vassily. We might as well sit, as this could take a while."

And take a while it did. The girl was Marcia and she and Gina were BFF's (Best Friends, Forever). Marcia was in a band, and had been on a world tour. That's how she met and bagged Vassily. Jim had met Vassily in Afghanistan. Each, it seemed, felt their lives had been saved by the other. They had parted as friends, never expecting to meet again.

Gina was asked how she had tamed 'wild man' Jim.

Without a moment's hesitation she replied, "He followed me home, and I asked Daddy if I could keep him."

She took Jim's hand in hers and smiled. Nearby, Tony shook his head while Marcia and Vassily merely nodded.

Marcia spoke, "So you have met her father, and are still alive. That is really impressive. I think my father started taking lessons from Mike, and almost was not going to let me tour. I think he feared I would find a man and just drag him with me. How silly! How could little old me drag a big, strong man all over the world?"

Gina and Jim both looked at a crimson Vassily, with Marcia beaming a smile at him.

"I think she be just like my 'red beret, '" he said.

They made quite a sight, both men were almost a foot taller than the girls and double their weight. No one there even dared to approach them, although the girls were getting some looks from the men at the bar.

"Gina, come with us! Daddy has missed me, and I need to introduce my 'big Russian bear' to him. We have just arrived today from London. If you tell him about Jim following you home, maybe he'll let me keep my big guy, too." She took Vassily's hand in hers as she added, "Come, follow us!"

Marcia's dad was an importer of oil, diamonds, gold, and almost anything he could buy in one country and ship to another. His little girl was growing up. He knew that so it was not a surprise when she dragged in a man twice her size by the hand. What was a surprise was to see her best friend Gina holding hands with another captive. He held out his arms to both girls.

After Karl gave his daughter and her friend a long series of hugs, both men went up to Karl shouting, "Papa!" and then laughing.

That got them pokes from both girls and the ice that might have been from Karl never happened.

Marcia told about her tour, each gesture brought her hand, held tightly by Vassily into view. It was not difficult to see she and he were a couple. Karl also noticed that Gina was holding ever so tightly onto her man, Jim. Karl remembered when both girls still played with dolls.

He asked a question, to no one in-particular. "So, are you planning for a double wedding?"

Four people sat staring with their mouths opened.

"I'd better call Mike and see what he has planned.

"Hello, Mike? Karl, here. Gina and Marcia are here with their men and I think we need to decide some things. Are you coming here, or should we go there to talk?" Karl listened a moment, and then hung up. "He's on his way. Now, have you two girls decided on a date yet?"

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Story tagged with:
Fiction / Horror / Slow / Violent / Military / Cannibalism /