Cristofano has created a modern-day fairy tale, a doomed Romeo and Juliet separated by family and situation. When Arthur, Lydia and six-year-old Melody Grace McCartney accidentally intrude on a sanctioned killing in a NY restaurant by the Bovaro crime family when attempting to enter the venue, their flight from the bloody scene is witnessed by ten-year-old John Bovaro, who dutifully reports a partial license plate to the officers arriving at the scene, much to the chagrin of his family. Young John has been struck by the beauty of a little girl on a Sunday morning outing with her parents, the three potential witnesses to a murder by a notable crime figure whisked into the federal witness protection program to later testify in court about what they have seen.
Over the next few years, John matures into a young man and begins to appreciate the damage wrought on this family through an innocent mistake, his talent for accurate recollection. The McCartneys endure years of uncertainty, moved from one residence to another, the Bovaros undeterred in their determination to kill them to “tie up loose ends.” Charged with carrying out the assassination of the McCartney family, John’s first attempt fails. He is simply unable to pull the trigger. Unfortunately, his cousin, assigned the role of chaperone should John balk, has no such reservations, leaving the two at a standoff as Melody flees. This is where the author goes off the rails: John decides in that moment always to protect Melody from harm. As the hit man responsible for sanctioning the girl, John spends the following years tracking her every movement, the Bovaro family able to ascertain her every location through their connections. As federal prosecutors prepare another legal assault on the Bovaros, John’s father informs him that it is time to finish the job.
By now, John is hopelessly in love with a girl he has never really met and worshipped from afar, hatching in his panic an outrageous plot to win her over and take her to safety. Cristofano employs considerable sleight of hand to make John’s infatuation more feasible, but the reader must consciously break with logic to follow the rest of this tragic romance to its conclusion. While John’s plan is somewhat successful in its bumbling beginning, the idea seems absurd: a mob son with a heart of gold who manages to block his family’s efforts in the face of their ruthlessness and the US Marshal’s Service that provides protection to Melody.
More disturbing—and unlikely—than the details of John’s long-distance love affair are the years of surveillance when John fantasizes about his love, his relationship with his family (whom he loves), and the possibility of a future together. A boy this sensitive would never be privy to family business to the extent that John has inside knowledge of the Bovaros’ activities and future plans. There is no ground in between a world devoted to criminal enterprise and the acceptance of a witness slated for death. Cristofano does an adequate job dancing around the moral issues John faces—he is so earnest—but little Johnny is too noble, too tender for his familial origins, too smart when pitted against the professionals whose only job is to protect the witness, and too readily able to seduce the girl of his dreams. Do Romeo and Juliet live happily ever after? Is there a Santa Claus?