‘Just not with your family?’ Jack replied, distrust starting to seep into his voice. His gun was still half-raised. I scanned my father. His hair was scruffy, his clothes a bit too big for him. He had a gun, too. ‘You know we have the resources to hide you, Mickey. You should have come here first.’
‘I’m coming to you now,’ my father said evenly.
There was something between them – something cold and dark. It wasn’t camaraderie.
‘Good,’ Jack grunted. ‘It’s about time.’ He lowered his gun.
My father raised his, just a fraction. ‘Were you about to shoot my daughter?’
‘No!’ Jack spluttered. ‘She was about to shoot me! I was just going to immobilize her.’
‘And what about my wife, Jack?’ My father’s words were acid on his tongue. I could feel his anger in my bloodstream. ‘What about Celine?’
Understanding dawned across Jack’s face. ‘An accident,’ he said quickly. But my father was already pointing the gun at him.
‘What are you doing?’ Jack said, his voice frantic. ‘Mickey, what the hell are you doing?’
My father took one final step towards his brother. ‘Killing you.’
He shot him, right there on the Marino lawn, in the house they both grew up in another lifetime ago. Jack careened backwards, falling heavily, like a beached starfish, his face turned towards the afternoon sky. And my father, who I had once thought kind and gentle and good, didn’t even flinch. He looked at the body of his dead brother for no more than three seconds, then he turned around to me.
His shoulders slumped, the gun dangling uselessly at his side.
I just stood there, a mixture of horror and relief, a half-painted grimace plastered across my face. ‘Dad.’
He kept the distance. Perhaps he thought I was scared. Perhaps I was scared. ‘It had to be me, Sophie. Do you understand?’ he said. ‘I had to do it.’
‘That’s why you came out,’ I realized. ‘To get to him.’
My father nodded. ‘And now it’s done.’
‘I was going to do it.’
‘Better me than you,’ he said.
‘He’s gone.’ I looked at Jack’s lifeless body, half-sunk in the snow, and tried to process what that really meant. ‘He’s finally gone.’
My father was still looking at me, his eyes glassy now. ‘And I’m sorry, Sophie. For not being there when you needed me. For not protecting you.’
I looked up at him. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I was still struggling to understand it all, to resist the sadness filling me up.
‘I’m so sorry,’ he said again. ‘For everything.’
The air exploded and he fell to his knees. He grasped at the space between us as another gunshot slammed into his side.
I whipped my head around. Nic was running and shooting.
‘Nic!’ I screamed. ‘Nic, don’t!’
Another gunshot. My father’s face pressed towards the earth. I went to him, lifting his head in my hands, so I could look into his eyes as the life was leaving him.
‘I’m sorry, too,’ I said quickly. ‘Dad, I’m sorry, too.’
His lids fluttered. He opened his mouth but no words came out, only blood.
‘I love you,’ I said, my voice growing shriller, the fear vibrating in it. ‘I love you, Dad.’
A whisper of a smile, his lips wobbling as the blood painted them red, and then he closed his eyes and slumped forward, and I caught him, pressing my head against his and letting my tears soak into his hair.
I pulled myself out from underneath him, laying his body across the grass just a couple of yards away from his brother. Half red, half white. Bullet-riddled and pale as the snow around him. I got to my feet. Nic was standing there, his gun holstered, his expression unreadable.
I turned my face to his, all the things I wanted to say suddenly evaporating into nothingness. My legs were shaking. Luca was racing back up the garden towards us.
Nic held my gaze. ‘He had to go, Sophie. I’m sorry, but he had to go.’
Luca was beside us. He slammed his fist into his brother’s face, screaming at him as he went down. ‘You fucking idiot! You fucking idiot!’
I stumbled backwards, across the bloodstained snow and into the kitchen. I couldn’t see properly any more. My vision was blurring, my head was swimming. Everyone sounded impossibly far away. It had been less than ten minutes, surely, since we had arrived, but it felt like hours. Painful, slow hours. I must have dropped my gun somewhere. I was all wet now too, and my hands were dark red. I was freezing. My teeth were chattering and my legs were shaking so violently I could barely stand.
I reached the sink and anchored myself to it, my stained fingernails clawing at the metal. I bent over it and vomited until I couldn’t stand any longer. Then I sank to my knees and waited for the shaking to stop.
Paulie lifted me to my feet. I grabbed his arm and pulled myself up. My face was prickling uncomfortably, and my mouth had run so dry my lips felt like they might crack open. My mind was a tornado of thoughts – too quick to grasp, too loud to shut off.
‘We’re going,’ he said quietly. ‘Donata and Romano got away. All the others are dead.’
I nodded at the ground, my fingers still clutching at his sleeve. All the others were dead. Now there was only Donata. Only Donata. I tried to focus on that one thought, but the others were roaring inside my head. My father’s eyes, his last attempt to smile. Nic, standing there with gun in hand. Felice crumpling to the ground, that knife in Luca’s arm. Jack, staring, unseeing, at the sky.