The Shadow Men

She had always known where her family’s money had come from. Even as a child, even when they thought she was too young to truly know what her father’s business was, she had known. She had seen it in the shadows in his eyes, in the way he always made sure to trundle the whole family off to church every Sunday, and in the way he never looked at graveyards. So when Isabella’s father was murdered when she was fifteen years old, she wasn’t too surprised. She missed him, of course, but she wasn’t surprised. When you lived outside the law, you died outside the law. But when her mother and older brother both followed shortly after and in the same gruesome ways, Isabella DiBenedetto began to worry.
With all the money from her accounts in a bag on the passenger’s seat, Bella split town alone. She had only gotten a few miles past the city limits when her phone rang. She hesitated for a moment, then answered.
“Gattina, I know why you’re leaving, but that won’t make it stop.”
Bella winced and pulled her car over to the side of the road. She wasn’t really surprised that her Great Aunt Maddalena knew she was gone. Everyone in the family knew that she was a Strega. More importantly, everyone knew that they should listen when Great Aunt Maddalena spoke.
“What do I need to do, Zia?”
Bella’s tone was full of respect and resignation, but her hands shook.
“You have to appease the spirits. Keep driving, go to the coast and buy a house. One that isn’t finished mind. Once you’ve done that, let me know.”
“Grazie, Zia. I will. I promise.”
“I know you will, Bella. It’s that, or wait for the Shadow Men to come for you too.”

Bold Birdy

They called her Birdy, but the cops on her trail sure weren’t cats. She grabbed the wheel, wrenching it to the side as she slammed the pedal into the floor so hard she was half convinced the damn thing was going to break. She could still hear the sirens somewhere behind her, but they didn’t matter. Just a little further and she’d hit the county line and the old bridge. And her boys were there, ready and waiting with their gats and a neat little kit to lift the bridge clear off its stands once she was past it. With a glance in the back, she smiled at the young woman huddled there holding her baby tight.
“We’re almost clear. That piece of trash ain’t gonna ever find either of you.”
The woman didn’t respond at first, then her eyes widened.
“Look out!”
Birdy’s eyes were back on the road and she swore. How had they managed to get the paddy wagon into the road ahead of her? She slammed on the breaks, turning the wheel hard and dropping gears all at once. The old Dodge was used to such maneuvers, especially since she’d souped-up the engine herself. They skidded right, into a cornfield.
“Keep your head down. We’re still alright. Promise.”
She could see the river. It was far, but she could cut it. The real question was how to get up the embankment on the side of the field. She looked at it and then back at the woman in the backseat. There was really only one thing she could choose to do, being completely honest with herself. Only one path forward. She pulled her trusty derringer out from between the front seats, just in case, and drove hard for the embankment.
“Run for the bridge. My boys know the drill and they’ll keep you safe. Got it?”
“What about you?”
Birdy took a breath, glad she’d long ago learned to control her emotions when she was on a job. It wouldn’t do for the nervous shakes to come on her while she was behind the wheel.
“I’ll be fine. You get yourself and that boy of yours clear and safe.”
She came to a hard stop as close to the embankment as she dare get. The woman hesitated for a moment.
“Go, dammit! You don’t got time.”
And the woman and her baby were gone, running hard for the bridge and the safety of Birdy’s boys. Birdy herself turned her Dodge back the way she’d come and started gaining speed. Hard and fast, she careened through the field and back onto the road. Finally upshifting to her top gear, she was nearly flying. She let the ecstasy of adrenaline claim her. Birdy could see the patrol cars ahead racing towards her. Would they turn? Would they stop? She heard the snap-bang and saw the spidering crack in her windshield. They were shooting at her. Of course, they were shooting at her. She couldn’t lean out to get a shot of her own in, she had to just drive. Another snap-bang and a searing pain shot through her left shoulder. She clung to the wheel for all she was worth, letting her derringer fall to the floor. At the last second, the patrol cars veered. She tore off down the road, scrambling for a rag to stop the bleeding. She knew she had to stop the bleeding.

Birdy rolled up to the old farmhouse, nearly falling over the steering wheel as she finally came to a stop. An older woman in a gingham dress came running, a dish towel still in hand.
Birdy smiled weakly, leaning on the side of the car for support as she got out.
“Got her safe, Mama…”
Blood blossomed across the front of her white shirt and covered her hands and the rag that she still clung to.
“Her and the baby both. Got her to the lads.”
Birdy took a shaky step towards her mother. The woman closed the distance quickly, holding the dish towel to her daughter’s wound without a thought.
“We have to call the doctor. Jacob!” She shouted for Birdy’s brother. “JACOB!”
“He ain’t here, Mama… He’s at the bridge helping that girl. I’ll-” She hissed in sudden pain. “Gonna be fine, Mama. Just need…to stop…bleeding…”
Catherine, known all around as Bold Birdy, slumped against her mother then. The woman fell slowly to her knees, unable to support the full weight of her daughter, or of her death.