Chapter 41

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"Sorry ..." Lizzie looks at me with guilty eyes. "That probably wasn't what you were expecting to hear."

I laugh nervously, thankful that the tears I thought were forming have disappeared. I pray that my sudden change in mood is written off as sympathy and not a complete panic attack at the game-changing news Lizzie has just given me.

"Look, I'm really sorry about your mom. It's never easy to watch someone you love become consumed by an illness." Suddenly I'm thinking about the friends I've had in the past and their addictions. At least they have a cure they can find for themselves, unlike cancer. "And ... it might seem like your dad doesn't care or he's being overprotective but ... I bet you he's hurting inside just as much as you are."

Lizzie nods and bites her lip and I start to wonder if Garcia actually is bleeding inside his miniscule, black heart. At least it seems to help Lizzie.

"Will you still go to the beach house this weekend?"

"I dunno. I want to get away from it all and spend time with Jake, but I don't ... I don't know how long Mom has and ..."

Lizzie is about to choke up. I don't really want to push her, but this weekend might be my only opportunity to go ahead with the mission and if Lizzie is home when I ... when it happens, I won't be able to do it. She has to be at that beach house.

"Liz, if you want my advice – and I know we just met, but I can see how hard this situation is for you – I think you deserve the break. You need time out for yourself. Have some fun with friends in a place where you're not worried about people trashing your house. Nothing will happen this weekend."

"I can't be sure of it."

"No," I say. "But you can hope for it. You need this more than ever. Just take the weekend off."

Lizzie's bottom lip quivers and I can't get into this anymore. I have to hit something.

"Come on." I get to my feet and pick up my foil. "We came here to fence, now we'd better do some fencing."

Lizzie jumps up with surprising enthusiasm. "Good, great. I think I need it."

We spend the next half an hour thrusting and parrying and commenting on each other's style. I'll admit, Lizzie is very good with her technique. She even gives me a few tips. Of course, I'm used to the more brutal side of swordplay, but I can't tell her that. And she's surprised at how fit I am, which flatters me.

We're in the middle of a long duel and I'm really getting into the zone when, out of the corner of my eye, I see a figure standing in the doorway of the gym and lose focus. Lizzie sees her window of opportunity and starts to attack in one direction, then quickly cuts back and moves the point in another. Before I can block it, she makes the touch, steps back and throws her arms in the air.

"I win again!" she shouts through her mask.

I clap dejectedly, all the while watching the figure in the doorway. Lizzie sees where my gaze is focused and when she spins, her whole body slumps.

"Hey Dad. What are you doing here?"

Garcia doesn't move from the doorway. He's wearing a business suit, black and plain, but the very air about him is so demeaning, I am already cringing. I'm suddenly very aware of the foil in my hand.

I could do it now. I could get it over with, end my mission, leave Lizzie and her domesticated family behind and go back to how things were, back to Nick and the streets where I am my own boss and not some Mafia mistress with a guilty conscience.

But I could never do it in front of Lizzie.

"I'm taking you out, sweetie," says Garcia. "But I only have an hour, so get changed now please."

Lizzie's head turns back to me. I can't see her face but I have a feeling she's worried.

"Uh ... okay. Could you give me a minute?"

"I'll be in the car. Don't be long."

Garcia turns to leave but it's then that he looks directly at me and pauses. I remember that the only reason the Mafia assigned me this mission and didn't take him down themselves is because I need to get close to the family. I have to meet Garcia in order for him to trust me and let me into his house.

"Hi!" I call. "I'm Jess."

Garcia looks almost shocked that I spoke to him. Maybe he's forgotten not everyone knows of his reputation, even though I do.

Lizzie shoots me a warning glance but I want to show her that she doesn't need to fear her father.

"Hello Jess," he replies. "I don't believe I've met you before. How do you know Liz?"

"She ... she swims at the pool, Dad." Lizzie shoves her mask in her gym bag and unstraps her jacket. "I found out she fences too and invited her here."

"Yeah," I say with a nervous smile. "We have heaps in common."

Garcia nods very slowly and I don't move, caught in the headlights of his eyes, eyes that have witnessed horrors even I can't imagine. Eyes I will soon see darken and close forever.

"Sorry Jess, I have to go," she says to me as Garcia disappears, probably back to his car.

"It's okay," I shrug. "We did pretty well today."

"He just gets really angry when I mess around with his schedule."

"It's fine. I uh ... I gotta go meet with someone."

She flips her hair up in a messy bun and smiles at me. "Thanks for today. I'm really glad we did this."

"No problem," I say and return the grin. "We'll do it again soon."

"I hope so."

I nod, knowing the next time Lizzie sees me will either be through the bars of a prison cell or ... never again. It's okay though – she doesn't need poison like me in her already complicated life.

"Havefun at your beach house this weekend," I call out as I walk to the door. Thelast thing I see is joy on her face as she waves to me. I can't get that faceout of my mind as I walk through the deserted school grounds after packing mygym bag. I am so distracted that I forget about Garcia waiting in the car andwhen I look left to cross the road, my eyes sweep over the black Mercedesparked on the curb. I see his face through the glass, his eyes meeting mine. Irun the other way and I don't look back.

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