Saving Francesca

Once they were inside of the vehicle, Harm started the engine. "We need to get you to a doctor, Admiral."

"No," AJ said. "Take us into Naples. I need to get Francesca back to her mother."

Harm glanced into the mirror. "Sir -"

"Papa," Francesca insisted, "You are badly wounded and should see a doctor immediately." Her features set, she told Harm, "Take us to the hospital."

"Naples, Commander," AJ said with as much forcefulness as he could muster. "And that's an order."

"Aye aye, Admiral," Harm replied, backing the vehicle onto the road.

"You are the most stubborn man I have ever met, Papa!" Francesca declared. Leaning forward, she used the same tone that he had just used. "Take us to the hospital, Harm. Now."

"You can charge me with DDO, Admiral, but this once, I'm disobeying the order," Harm told him.

"This once?" AJ questioned, snorting in disbelief. "You make a habit of it, Rabb." Needing to take his mind off of the pain in his throbbing leg, he looked at Francesca, seeing the circles under her eyes. "Are you sure you're all right?"

"He did not hurt me, Papa," she assured him, allowing him to place a comforting arm around her shoulders and pull her to his side.

"I'm not talking about that." He felt the tension in her body but refused to release her. "Killing someone is never easy. Especially if it's someone that you once loved."

"I couldn't let him kill again," she said. "I wish you had known him before, Papa. He was - kind, and gentle. He had the soul of a poet - but - something changed him. He was no longer the same man."

"Just remember the good man, sweetheart," AJ told her. "He's not the one you killed. The man you killed was a killer himself. He murdered your uncle -"

"I know. That was the reason I refused to see him again. Until then, I had no idea that he was a part of that world with its vendettas and -"

AJ went suddenly cold as he listened to her words. "Stop the car, Harm."

"Sir?" Harm questioned, glancing in the mirror.

"I said stop the car." Once the vehicle was parked on the side of the road, Harm turned to look at him. "We need to get our story straight before answering questions."

"What story?" Francesca wanted to know. "You and Harm came in to rescue me, Luscino shot you and then I shot him."

"No, you didn't," AJ told her, looking at Harm. He saw the younger man's silent agreement with his idea as Francesca began to object.

"Papa, I shot him. I remember -"

"Then forget it," AJ insisted, putting his hands onto her shoulders. "After he shot me and you broke away from him, I used the gun your mother gave me to shoot him. That's what we tell the authorities. You had no part in his death, Francesca."

"But -"

"He knows what he's doing, Francesca," Harm said. "If Luscino Antinori's family thinks that you killed him, they'll come after you. You would have to leave Italy. Probably for good."

Francesca turned back to look at AJ. "But if they believe that you killed him, you will be safe, because you will be in America."

"Yes," AJ confirmed.

"Papa, Luscino's family would not kill me -"

"I won't take the chance, Francesca," AJ insisted firmly. "You're too important to me to let anything happen to you. Now, are we agreed?"

"Si," was her response.


"Yes, sir."

"Then let's go," he said.

"Where is Vittorio?" she asked. Seeing the look that passed between AJ and Harm, she frowned. "Is he with the police?" she wanted to know. "Did they arrest him as well? Poor Mama. She won't be pleased about his involvement in all of this."

"Why would the police arrest your step-father?" AJ asked her.

"This was entirely his fault to begin with - unless you consider that Luscino murdered his brother, Franco."

"Francesca -" AJ began, but she continued to talk.

"Don't try and protect me, Papa. That stupid oaf who stayed with me while Luscino was not at the cabin told me about how my step-father stole a truck filled with Afghani oranges and that my kidnapping was meant as a way to force him to return it."

"Francesca," AJ said, this time in a tone which got her attention. "Vittorio brought the truck to Luscino - believing that he would gain your release."

"He did?"

"Yes. But Luscino and his men killed him instead." He saw the blood drain from her face as he spoke.

"Vi - Vittorio is - dead?" she asked slowly.

AJ nodded, taking her into his arms as she began to cry. Glancing at Harm, he signaled for them to continue toward the villa. "He was trying to get you out of there, Francesca. I don't think he ever considered that Luscino would kidnap you and hold you for ransom against the truck."

"Luscino - killed him?"

"No. One of his men fired the shot - Luscino was with you at the cabin."

"He wasn't going to release me, was he?"

"Probably not."

"I know that it is wrong of me, but I am glad that Luscino is dead."

AJ retained his hold on her shoulders as the car continued down the road, silently agreeing with his daughter as he hoped that she would be able to handle what she had been forced to do today. Killing was never easy - and it took a strong person to deal with the guilt. AJ remembered only too well how difficult it had been for him after his first kill in Vietnam. He'd been haunted by the eyes of the man for years - sometimes he still saw them when he closed his own eyes.

With all of the deaths already attributed to AJ, one more wasn't going to hurt - if it meant that his daughter was safe.

And that was the most important thing of all.


The End

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