I don't have a title for this chapter yet and this is just the first draft but here it is.
A Phoenix Born a Man: Act 2 Chapter 1
Lethe had died for Niall’s sins on stage before an audience of millions and amongst them I’d bought it all while he bowed behind the curtain. He’d taken me backstage only to gloat about his victorious debut and to brand me a traitor.
Niall probably should have died that day but instead he claimed another victory over humanity and death. My life continued to spiral downwards from there. Marie had packed her things and left me, the house sat empty, gathering dust. I sold the house and rented a flat nearer my practice that cost as much as the mortgage for half the space. I hated my home as I hated my life, my son and self.
I’d been beaten by him, hopelessly outplayed but he’d let me live, why not unless I was meant to find him? America had been quiet since his death, his mafia family were probably turning a higher profit on their drugs harvested and sold wholesale in one smooth operation. I couldn’t even tell the police I knew that nor why.
Niall wasn’t in America anymore, I was sure of it. Where would he go? Italy seemed the most obvious place to look for the reincarnated recidivist. Lucia’s family still had links with the original mafia in the old country. All of the signs were there when I started looking. Increased hostilities between gangs across one particular region of Italy narrowed my search for his location.
Another story puzzled me, a series of murders which had baffled every force in Europe for almost a year had ended with endless civilians killing themselves in the same way on the same day having signed a confession to one of the murders. It seemed at first that those new dead were victims of the same vast conspiracy but the truth as always was odder still.
My life without Marie was a hollow monotonous cycle. I worked with dull, pathetic criminals who pretended to have debilitative psychological ailments to avoid the rare justice the world had brought to them. I ate my lunch in the safe café as always but the beautiful girl I’d always enjoyed talking to had found better paid work elsewhere. Without her to impress the food the chef made declined in quality very sharply and it only seemed fitting to eat my dull food and stare through the window at my world of unguided dullards. At times like that I sometimes saw the crowds outside as Niall saw them, as a flock of sheep without a guide what hope did they have against a wolf like him?
I was jolted from the monotony in the usual fashion as the rug was torn from beneath my feet. I was walking to work as usual when I realised that I was being watched. They tried to hide it, pretending to talk to others on their cell phones or turn round and mumble to their blue-tooth headsets but not all of them were wearing headsets. I slowed my pace taking in the scale of the surveillance, I’d counted five men watching me in seconds and decided to take the next left away from my work. It wasn’t Niall, he knew the meaning of covert, one of my masks had slipped. In my peripheral vision I saw two of the men changing course to follow me as I walked a different path.
I heard to screech of a skidding car behind me and mentally prepared myself for arrest but then there were screams and I turned to see a giant truck had mounted the pavement, crushing to men against a paper stand. Men swore and women screamed and I watched as the driver of the truck jumped from the cab and ran through the crowds. In all of the confusion I hadn’t heard the other car pull up next to me. I heard to click of the boot opening and a man with an Italian accent told me if I wanted to leave I’d have to get in the boot straight away. Like a sheep I followed the instruction, climbing into the boot of the car as the rest of the street watched truck crash distraction.
I rolled around in there for several minutes before the engine slowed and stopped. I emerged in the gloom of a garage next to a hearse, when I asked what was going on a brawny suited man stuck a needle in my arm. I felt nothing but the small sting at first but then the drowsiness descended as I was lifted into an open casket. I was awake long enough to hear the lid of the coffin close over me before I passed out.
Dark dreams awaited me during the slumber. I dreamt that Niall had given me the same hydraulic battering rams he’d used to escape the grave but when I pierced the wood of my coffin I found not bare earth but solid concrete above. I shook in terror, stuck in the earth of my grave, not living or dying, just in limbo forever.
I awoke in bright sunlight, thirsty and famished staring out over the white sand of a beach I’d never seen before. On a table next to me were all of my favourite foods and a large glass of ice water. I ate my fill of the food and emptied the glass immediately. When the hunger dimmed slightly I began to notice more of my beautiful surroundings. The sea was as blue as sapphire, like I’d never seen it before. I wasn’t even I the states, I knew that, not even in the Americas.
I couldn’t stand, my skin was pale, like Niall after pulling himself from the grave. I was protected from the blinding sun by a parasol.
“Where are you? Why did you bring me here? I know this is you Niall, can we talk?”
“He’s out, business.” Lucia’s voice calmer than the last time we’d met. “Can I get you anything?”
“More water please. Where are we?” She had her hair down and was smiling softly. She brought a jug of water which I worked my way through quickly. “Which way to the bathroom?”
“Through on the left.” I had to run to vomit into the toilet. It was hard to run when I could barely walk. I held vomit in my hand as I passed the wood panelled wall with three throwing knives in it.
With a bit more dignity I returned to the living room and sat on a stool opposite the wall with a target painted on it. The whole room was decked out in muddy colours. I was dressed in a brand new shirt and shorts with childish looking sandals to top off the look.
“This was the same stuff he used the first time wasn’t it?”
“Yes, when he rose from the grave. He proposed to me that day. I nursed him back to health.”
“How romantic.” I sneered drinking more water.
“It was actually, we’d been seeing each other for three months. He turned up at my apartment looking like a zombie and told me his story and that I was all that he’d thought about while he was fighting his way out of the coffin. He’d taken the ring with him.” She held up her ring, a band of rich violet amethyst and in the centre a series of huge diamonds all set in a platinum band. It was probably worth a hundred times what I’d paid for my ring for Marie. “When I’d cleaned him up and fed him some more he got down on one knee and told me he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.”
“Ever think that he was just doing it to be closer to your family?” I asked, she scowled at me for ruining the tone of her proposal story.
“Of course, there a dozen reasons for everything he does but he didn’t need me to get in with my family. He saved my life, that’s how we first met.”
“Using a grenade, I remember he told me when we, when Marie and I first met you.”
“The grenade story was a crock, Niall was the only one who could find me when some dumb thugs thought they’d go big time by kidnapping me. Niall heard the recordings and came running to get me.”
“How did he know where you were?”
“I’m getting to that. Shut up and listen, eat some food…” She drew breath and continued. “He heard a factory closing time bell in the background of one of the calls. Only three of the factories on the city limits shut at that time. From the endless noise of traffic in the background he knew it was the one near the freeway.”
“How much were they asking for?”
“Five million, stop interrupting.”
“Five million!” I gasped, astounded. She scowled and fetched a drink from the kitchenette. A knife flew past me from Lucia’s hand and hit the wall, quivering. I let her continue the conversation, not voicing that I’d assumed the throwing knives belonged to Niall.
“He found me because they kept guards outside, the whole gang of them were there, just two dozen. He couldn’t fight them on his own and if he’d started a fight between them and my family they might have killed me. Niall bought some pizzas and a delivery uniform. He pretended one of them had ordered pizza.”
“Hang on.” I interrupted again, “Sorry, part of his big plan was ordering pizza?”
“Just said so didn’t I. Shut up and eat Aaron. He’d laced all of the pizzas with the same stuff that helped bring you here and something else that dulls the senses. They started fighting amongst each other, wondering who’d been dumb enough to order pizza. Next thing I know he’s tied up next to me, not that I knew who it was with the hood over my head. When they started passing out he cut his bonds with a scalpel blade he’d hidden in his shoe. I’d never been so happy to see anyone. He knocked out the last few and piled them in the room. He took me home, from then on he was one of us.”
“What did your family do with those men?” I asked as she spun another blade on her palm.
“My father just told me he took care of them personally. I didn’t want to ask anything else.” Her phone buzzed on the countertop. “Niall’s on his way. He should be here in about ten minutes.”
“How long have you been throwing knives?” I asked starting to feel more normal.
“Since I was eighteen, I’d bugged my dad to show me how he does it for years.” She threw the last knife which hit the wall a little lower, her aim deteriorating. I stood and pulled one of the knives from the wall. It was beautifully crafted with rosewood handles and minutely detailed phoenixes on each blade.
“Want me to show you how to throw one?” She asked pouring herself another glass of wine.
“I don’t think I’ll never need to know how to throw knives as a psychiatrist.” I turned the blade over in my hand, more interested in the craftsmanship than the purpose of it.
“Not really a psychiatrist anymore though are you? That’s why he brought you here.” It was then that my mind turned back to the men who’d been following me in New York. Did they know I’m Niall’s father or that I’m not really a qualified psychiatrist. She set out two more glasses and rubbed her eyes.
The door of the small apartment opened to Niall who, like me, wore a shirt, shorts and sandals. He smiled when he saw me and wider when he saw the throwing blade in my hand.
“Admiring one of my wedding gifts? Has she shown you how to throw one?”
“Slightly and no. Did you tell the FBI about me?” He raised his eyebrows.
“No, I stopped paying them not to notice that your paperwork was appallingly forged. Then I organised a distraction and smuggled you out of the country in a coffin. Still ungrateful?” He sat next to Lucia and kissed her on the cheek.
“I wouldn’t have been working for the FBI if it wasn’t for you.” He shrugged, indifferent.
“This isn’t the worst retirement plan is it?” He threw me keys. “Those are for this place and the car outside. There’s some cash under the mattress in your room. He pulled the knives from the wall and took the last from my hand. Lucia held a knife belt out to him which he strapped on under his shirt and sheathed each of the blades. Lucia grabbed the bottle of whine and stood to leave. Niall turned abruptly in the doorway and clicked his fingers. “I almost forgot,” he pulled a small book from his back pocket. “You’ll probably need this.” It was an Italian phrasebook.
I stared at the small book in silence as Niall and Lucia left me in my new home. I realised that neither of them had even told me where in Italy I was. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with myself when I did find out. I looked out over the balcony at the bright sky and beautiful waters that at the lapped the beach of the town the locals told me is Tropea. I found out a lot from the barman of a small tavern where the alcohol was very cheap. That night I learnt a little Italian and drank a lot.