Victims of Rage

Chapter 1


I worry about her, my sister, little Bella. I called her BB growing up, even though she hated it. "Bella Bambina." Our nana would sing to her, making up songs to entertain us while she cooked the Sunday dinner. It was a tradition that would never die, I hoped. Whatever else might be said about- or against- my family, let it never be said that we lost the traditions. We took care of our family. We took care of our business, in all its varied forms. We kept up our customs. Ironic though, that the one most like the old generations would be the one to go against them.

Bellisima, as Papi would call her, belonged more to their generation than our own. She was everything he could have ever wanted in a daughter, or a sister. Demure, intelligent, beautiful, humble; they were all so proud. Everyone who met Bella fell in love with her, all through her life. But she never saw the power she had over them. It was in her shy smile, and her kind words. Bella had few harsh words for anyone, even when they were more than deserved. Several of those harsh words had been reserved for Edward and our father. She hated being protected, looked over. She wanted to be just like any of her friends at school. But the fact was that she wasn't. Bella was a mafia princess. And though we all tried to keep her insulated from any form of business, things got back to her anyway. She didn't have many true friends. There were always those who wanted their children to be our friends, hoping they could get something out of it. But those were pathetically easy to spot. After all, even a child can tell when someone is scared of you, or lying. It taints all their actions toward you.

Father and Mother tried to keep our upbringing as normal as possible. We didn't flaunt our wealth, though we lived comfortably. We attended private school, but so did everyone we knew. But it was kind of hard to hide the large men posted around us all the time. Most families I knew didn't have bodyguards that lived with them or dropped the kids off at school everyday. It took Bella a long time to understand that. Things didn't really click into place until the day she came home from school with a love note from a boy when she was 13. She was so excited, until she told Dad. The boy's family wasn't well off, wasn't what Charlie wanted for his little girl. Even worse, his father was a police detective. My father had gone nuts. He was convinced it was all part of a plot to get to him. He may have been right, but that's a little low, even for the cops in this town. Though Renee tried to reason with him that this was normal, the boy just liked Bella, it's all part of growing up; Charlie wasn't having it. He nearly had her transfer to an all-girls school. Renee was able to talk him out of that, but Bella was still forbidden to speak to him again. So much drama over an invitation to a dance. Of course, Edward hadn't been any better than Charlie. Bella was furious. Why would who her father is make any difference to Matt? After that, Bella started to pay more attention to what went on around her. Her own moral compass was strong enough that once she figured out where our money came from, she no longer wanted to be a part of it. She just wanted to be a normal teenage girl, and that was definitely not allowed.

I know it hurt Edward terribly when she rebelled against our life, and him. Being twelve years older than her, they weren't very close, at least not in Bella's mind. But I understood Edward better than she did. He adored her; from the time she was a baby. He would gladly have given his life several times over just for her to be happy and safe. But the other side of that love was that protective instinct, that one that told him no one was good enough for his little sister. To him, she would always be the little darling he had pushed on the swings when she was a toddler. He had a hard time letting his guard down though and showing her much emotion at all though. He was being groomed to take over the family when Charlie got too old and wanted to retire. Charlie didn't believe in showing weakness, to anyone. He balanced it though. His children never doubted his love. Edward just had a harder time adapting and learning to show his love too. Things got better when we met and fell for Alice. She made him smile in a way I hadn't seen since we were boys. He started to understand that he didn't have to hide all his emotions to be strong. Sometimes strength can come from letting people in and showing them that you care. Too bad by that point the damage with Bella had already been done. Perhaps if she knew how much he cared, they could have been closer.

I think the only reason Bella and I were as close as we were was my covert operations. I was in charge of appearing "above board." I had a law degree, and I used it. I actually did a lot of pro bono work. It kept me busy between cases that needed managing for our organization. On top of that, it kept me happy. I loved helping out people who were getting unfairly prosecuted for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or my personal favorite, DWNW, Driving While Not White.

There had been a huge upsurge in that since 9-11. Cops in this area pulled over anyone and used the PATRIOT Act as justification for loads of unlawful searches. A lot of people got pulled in on totally trumped up charges, just to fill a lazy officer's arrest quota. But these guys were bringing up kids for having les than and 1/8th oz . of pot no them. Now, I'm all for fighting terrorism, but really, intelligence is more than an IQ score. It also refers to reliable data used to apprehend true criminals and intercept covert operations. Of course, our local PD wasn't too good at that, otherwise we wouldn't still be in business. Most of the people I defended were truly innocent of any real wong-doing. I would have passed the case on otherwise. We don't always operate inside the law, but my family loves being Americans. We love our country and will die to defend it. We have, over the years. Hell, it's why I served 5 years as a Marine.

I always smile as I look back on my years in the Corps. Edward never understood my devotion to it. Truthfully, I don't think he could have. There's no way too comprehend the bonds formed in a war zone without having been there. No way to explain the absolute trust you had to have in your men, to do their jobs and get you out alive, whatever the mission. It had nothing to do with personal gain, or profit; just brotherhood. I knew that if I needed help, I could call any of the men from my unit and they would be there, just as I would for them. It was just the way of the Corp., too many years putting your very life in someone else's hands. Truthfully, I think Edward was a little jealous of my time there. Not only of the bonds I formed with my men, but the bond with Bella, which only strengthened while I was gone. Every mail day, I had a letter from her. They weren't too long, just filled with normalcy, with family, with home. Her letters were a welcome reprieve from the monotony of the desert and war. For just a little while, I wasn't Sgt. Masen, I was just Brother James, listening to my baby sister.

Bella's letters were often full of her frustration with all the restrictions she had at home. I knew she envied my freedom. I hoped that in being her sounding board, she was able to tell me the things she couldn't voice to the others. I even helped her arrange dates and talked Dad and Edward into allowing her first, and only, boyfriend. Riley was a good kid; sweet, kind, scared out of his wits. He would never have made an inappropriate move on Bella, half because of us, and half because 3 years after they stopped dating, he came out of the closet as gay. Bella never knew any of that though. All she knew was that she had a sweetheart in high school that was a year older, and that when he went to college (in San Francisco), things didn't work out. But the arrangement worked out for all involved. Bella got a "normal" teen romance, Riley got his parents off his back while he still lived with them, and we knew Bella was safe. Win, win for everyone involved.

I had shared Bella's letters with some of my men, a few close friends who I knew would benefit from just the little slice of home. I knew my corporal, a good friend, had a little sister and would love the escape of hearing the triumphs and tribulations of my little Bellina. I made sure to read her letters aloud every week, once he was there. It's hard to be in the desert, so removed from home, without even the simplest of reminders of what you're fighting for. Bella never let me forget. I doubt she had any idea how her words impacted the men I served with as well as me. I think she may have been embarrassed had she known. But the faith she had that we were doing the right thing, the absolute trust in each of us, combined with the details of everyday life at home; gave us all the strength to keep fighting. That's just the type of person she's always been, able to inspire an army with just a few words. Heaven help us if she ever decides she wants a career in politics. The worst part is, she would probably turn us all in for racketeering as soon as she got elected.

The thought of Bella as mayor made me smile. She was so resistant to any attention, we'd never have to worry about it. Fairly quickly though, my grin faded. I was on edge about Bella. Something just felt off. It was a little odd that Bella had missed her normal conference call with the family this week. She had never missed one before. I'd like to think she just was busy with a friend, but something hadn't sat well with me about it for a day or two now. It just wasn't like her. So I'd been on edge and would probably continue to be until I knew she was safe.

I was interrupted from thoughts of my little sister by the voice of my assistant on the phone.

"Mister Masen, you have a call on line 2. It's your mother. She says it's important."

"Very well, please put her through, Jessica."

I waited a moment before my mother's sobs rang through the line. "James, it's Bella. She's been kidnapped!"