I glanced out of the kitchen window at the horizon which was dawning dark and foreboding. There was an eerie silence that hung heavy in the air yet, the atmosphere felt charged with danger. I felt an unusual sense of panic rise slowly within my chest and thought…what does trouble smell like? Does it even have a smell? Perhaps a certain chilliness in the breeze or the dampness of the heavens like when rain is about to fall, after all, trouble is a form of rain. Does it smell like an uprooting of all you know the way rain smells like the ground after a storm? Or, perhaps, it does not have a smell at all. Maybe, I was just foolish and imperceptible to it? Because if trouble really had a smell, maybe I'd have caught a whiff of it approaching and would have been able to detect it getting ever closer and gotten myself prepared. But no, I had no prior warning and my life, at that exact moment in time, was still like the most glamorous reality TV show everyone was envious of. Until it all came crashing down.
How does your life go from worrying over which luxury car you should be seen in and what the hot new restaurant in town is, to which friend I could trust to hole up with until it's time to deliver your first baby, your joy suddenly turning into sourness in your mouth? I know I didn't transition into these new troubles well... I'd burst into wild tears and had threatened to kill myself, screaming about how I couldn't live like this and how this wasn’t the life I envisioned. I hadn't done anything wrong, why had life turned on me so? I remember now, with a rueful smile, how I couldn't believe my ears or contain my shock. It was the day I was to go to my best friend’s for my baby shower and I'd planned everything from my outfit to my hair to the perfect hostess gift, because other society women were to be present and I had to keep up appearances as word around town was I was the perfect society wife and I knew other wives would have their eyes on me. It was a sugar-coated venom filled life and my primary concern was to be the queen of it all.
That morning, I'd flitted up the stairs to my husband's den to ask what car he advised I go in and had been taken aback by the sight of my husband, Michael shoulders slumped and crying over the phone, earnestly begging whoever was on the other side in rapid Italian so, unfortunately, I had no idea what he was saying. In all my twenty-six years, I'd never seen a man cry, all the men in my life had been nothing short of stoic and dignified. Well at least to my knowledge. So, I'd stood, petrified in the doorway, not knowing what to do, and slightly disgusted at the thought of having to comfort my husband. Luckily, I'd listened to the little voice in my head that told me to swallow my pride and fear, go nearer to him and try to comfort him. I walked over to the desk and placed my hand on his back and asked “Michael, darling, what is it? What’s wrong?
He looked at me with scared desperate eyes and replied “I can’t hide this anymore. It’s gotten completely out of control. It’s about a client but, not the type you’re thinking of.” I stared at him processing what he was trying to tell me. “It’s complicated” he continued. Motioning me to the chair opposite his desk he instructed “I think you better sit down.” My husband who was a hedge fund manager, which to my then myopic understanding was some highly lucrative but complicated business was, it turns out, not just that. “I’ve been doing some business on the side with some very wealthy but extremely dangerous people” he said. It turns out, his firm doubled as a front for the New York mafia. At this point I'd actually laughed mirthlessly, “wasn't the mafia dead?” I'd asked. Michael gazed at me with concern and shook his head “No, they are just a smaller and more discreet operation. They use legitimate businesses as a cover for their illegal dealings. They infiltrate all the way to the core and once you’re in…there is no getting out.” I sat there in stunned silence as he told me that he helped them with their bankroll by laundering money through his hedge fund business, his father had been their accountant before him and this was their department in a large family business. He explained to me that over time, he tended to get carried away, occasionally spending part of the cartel's money, confident his business would cover the deficit and, over the years, it had.
However, he had not been as lucky in recent times. He had been less thrifty with the finances, lending his friends thousands of dollars and to top it off, he had also developed a gambling habit, which though I’d known of, I'd dismissed it as a necessary vice for wealthy people such as ourselves. What I didn't know, and only just found out as I sat there stupefied in the office chair, was that we were now not only broke, but also in debt to the mafia and they were about to take my husband's business and properties from him and also cut him off from the cartel which provided protection as well as clout. In other words, we were doomed. He racked a hand though his grey hair, “Viv, they are angry. They are going to collect everything and, frankly, I haven’t got enough to pay. If I can’t pay up…they’re going to kill me.”
I'd asked who and why he was begging and if there was any hope of redemption and he'd burst into fresh tears, blubbering about how they found out he was trying to cut a deal with the FBI and they had called to let him know they were on his tail and he shouldn't even dare. I'd felt a chill crawl down my spine at this point and something in me had snapped and that was when I'd burst into tears, screaming bloody murder, threats to end my life, how could I possibly live in fear like this? Or have a baby in this type of condition? I went mad with delirium, rage and confusion. How my husband who'd been in tears himself managed to calm me is a mystery in itself, but he somehow did and from then we started planning.
Michael had calmly instructed me to get a good hold of myself because we needed each other and advised me to go ahead to the baby shower as if nothing was up, then ask my best friend to allow us the use of the most remote home they had, with the excuse that we wanted to have a very low-key off grid holiday for some weeks. In truth, they'd frozen our accounts and had a file on all our properties. This revelation had almost done me in again until he squarely grabbed my shoulders and gently shook me, telling me now wasn't the time for tears adding that his FBI contact had advised him to go into hiding, as several of the agents were on the cartel's payroll and would rat us out in a minute. Michael held me firmly, his strong hands the only thing keeping me grounded in reality and asked “can you trust her? Is your friend reliable?” I nodded slowly, not sure ours was that sort of relationship that dealt with trust. With a firm nod Michael instructed “okay, now get to the party.”
Though I was feeling shaky about the ability of my friend to keep a secret, I convinced myself she was trustworthy and dependable. Once at the baby shower, I took her aside into a small room to have our chat, explaining as much as safety would allow, but careful not to give away too many details. I made certain I pressed upon her the importance of our location remaining a secret, adding the need for her to let us know if she heard of any strange men asking anything about us.
But, I should have known that Joan wouldn't have been able to contain her need for gossip. How could she? The fact that a 'for sale' sign soon appeared in front of our mansion must have loosened her tongue. Unfortunately, I found out our location was compromised much too late. That day I'd just gotten back from the grocery store and was pulling into the driveway when I'd noticed a black jeep was parked haphazardly on the lawn and that the two agents that were posted as guards were lying dead on the ground, I was about to speed away as fast as I could, but I heard hurried footsteps, so with a swiftness I didn't know I had, I'd dived under the seat and prayed to a God I wasn’t sure even existed. They'd shot at the car as they sped away but all they got were the grocery bags. With my heart slamming away in my chest so hard, I thought I was going to have a heart attack, I climbed down from the car, ascertained that all the guards were dead and ran upstairs to check on my husband, heart in mouth, hoping his body had at least not been mutilated. Hoping maybe even for a miracle.
God must have heard my prayers because I really have no other explanation as to why my husband would have chosen that day of all days to wear his bulletproof vest while even the FBI agents, who were armed with handguns, had been without protection. He had been riddled with bullets and one had gone through the side of his stomach though most of the impact was taken by the vest and his right arm had gotten badly hit. Typical me would have burst into tears, but something about seeing my husband bleeding so badly and the nearest hospital being nowhere near, had gotten to me in a way nothing had for the past years since I'd been married and killed my old identity. I used to be a nurse you see, a very adept one too, working emergency cases in the trauma unit. Instantly, I'd snapped back into my nurse persona and left to procure all the necessary tools to treat my husband, what I couldn't find, I'd improvised and prayed some more. I successfully staunched the blood flow from his belly and quickly attended to his arm, all the while using liquor as a sterilizer and anesthetic though it hardly had any effect.
It took Michael three days to fully regain consciousness, but by then we were safely in my aunt's house. She'd raised me as a child but I'd cut ties with her after getting married because I hadn't wanted to be reminded of my sad and troubled past. I had to tell her the difficult truth of how her husband used to molest me as a kid and she broke down in tears, heart full of apologies, because she'd suspected but hadn't done anything. I also apologized for cutting her off and let her know these recent experiences had shown me there was more to life than living fancy and large and that your past is part of what molds you. I'd truly realized my folly and I was glad for a second chance at life, even giving my husband strength and courage while he served his short sentence after the FBI had prosecuted the cartel and its members. Afterwards, we and our newborn baby girl moved to a farm and have since been low-key but ironically, we're much happier and in love than we ever were.