Month: June 2014

Snatch 2.1

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There

“Sign here, please.”

The Marquis reached into his coat pocket for a pen. The mediating consigliere just sighed, already tired of having to explain things to the boy.

“Not like that, sir Allesandri. We use a different kind of ink here.” The bookish, scrawny old man removed a pocket knife and unhesitatingly jabbed it into the thick of his right thumb, digging it in and letting it bleed. Once removed, the consigliere pressed the blood-red tip of the knife against the paper like he was using an old-fashioned quill and ink well and drew a line in it with his blood. He looked to the Marquis. “Like this.”

The Marquis laughed a small measure. “Blood pacts, huh? Those must make for a mighty fine geas. I can see the Council takes its security very seriously.”

“Yeah, unlike our standards, which seem to have been lowered considerably since we last met,” the Sartini family head intoned mockingly. “If I’d known it was ‘Bring your kids to work’ day, I would’ve made a stop on the way over to pick up lil’ Georgie. Seriously Paulie, the fuck is this? What kinda chumps does that Allesandri asshole take us for, sending his fucking bastard kid to negotiate with us instead of squeezing his own fat fucking ass through that door?”

“Like you’re one to talk, Georgie,” said a deeply muscular man whose bright red hair made him look more Irish than Italian. “You’ve put on quite a bit of weight since the last time we met. What is it now, two-fifty? Two-eighty? No? Three hundred? I have to admit, that’s impressive. Perhaps you should continue feeding yourself into gross obesity. Who knows, you might be able to make some money at the carnival freakshow on the side.”

“Why you-“

“That’s enough cajoling, Paulie.” “Yes, leave that to the professionals, like us.” “We know how to make people laugh.” “And others cry.” The Capello twins, Ivo “Straightjacket” Capello and his brother Jesse “The Coyote” Capello, spoke in turn, their exchanges matching each other precisely as they exchanged indeterminable gestures behind their porcelain masks.

Paulie “The Rock” Pescatorre frowned. “I don’t know, I thought it was rather funny.”

“No, it was not.” “Not compared to what we were about to do to the federales.” “An impressive trick and treat which this meeting has so rudely interrupted.” “So please.” “Get to the point.”

Paulie sighed. “Fine then. I suppose we should get down to business. Although I’m curious too. What exactly is going through the head of that man you call ‘father’, Marquis, sending his illegitimate son to a Council meeting in his place? Frankly it’s unheard of. I don’t want to assume, but does he mean to insult us?

“No, nothing of the sort,” the Marquis assured them. “You’ll have to forgive him, it’s been a while since the last Council meeting. What has it been now, a year?”

“One year, two months, and three days.” “Quite a number to be sure.”

The Allesandri representative nodded. “Indeed. And in that span of time, I’m sorry to report that my father has fallen ill, perhaps irreparably so. As a matter of fact, he’s been bedridden for the past few months. You can understand what a perilous position this puts our family in, and why we’d wished to keep it a secret. Nothing worse than a leader who’s not quite dead, but not quite alive at the same time.”

“That man is your father, you little shit. I may hate him with every pound of my flesh-“

“And that’s a lot of pounds.”

-but he is your father and your patriarch, and you will show him some goddamn respect!” Georgie “Big Daddy” Sartini slammed his fat fist into the oaken table. “Kids these days! They’ve got no fucking principles!”

“Believe me Mr. Sartini, I mean him no disrespect. I’m simply stating facts. Our family is in a vulnerable position, and we’re all just a little bit on edge. Which leads us back to the very reason I called this meeting.” Eyebrows were raised. “With the approval of our family patriarch, of course.”

“Alright, so spit it out, boy,” Paulie said boldly, losing his playful demeanor. “What’s so important that you felt you had to convene the Council to deal with it?”

“I’m glad you asked, Paulie. I’m afraid,” the Marquis said, pausing to remove his bright pink hat, “that it’s you.”

“Wha… me?!” Paulie asked in shock. “But I’ve done nothing to you or your-“

“Save it, Paulie. You’re a dry throat crying out to a deaf man for water. Don’t worry though, I got you this instead.”

The Marquis removed something, a burnt patch of fabric, from his coat pocket and pushed it across the table so it settled in front of Paulie. It was the remains of a welcome mat, like the kind you’d find in bars and restaurants. It had been nearly charred beyond recognition, but some of the lettering was still visible. Just three letters, ‘CAS’, no doubt part of a larger word. The look on Paulie’s face lost its song and took on a much darker tune.

“That’s from the Castaway Club downtown. Or, you know, what’s left of it. Sad story is, we had to burn the place down for the insurance after we found it was being haunted by a poltergeist. We only just pulled off an exorcism by fire, and a number of our employees died before we managed that much. All in all, it’s been somewhat of a loss for us, considering the Castaway is, or rather was the primary moneymaker for the Allesandri family in the downtown scene.”

“That’s terrible,” Paulie said. “I do hope the Madam is alright. I know she’s been a close friend of your family for years.”

“You see, that’s the thing, Paulie. The Madam is dead. You killed her.”

The frown on Paulie’s face grew deeper. “Pardon? I’m deeply sorry for your loss, but how could I have had anything to do with the Madam’s death? I wasn’t even aware she had died until just moments ago. How can you expect to pin the blame for this on me?”

“You specifically? No. The Pescatorres and their organization, which by definition includes you, is another story I’m afraid. You see, we have it on good word from a Mr. Gresham Walsh that you and the Madam have been arranging some under-the-table dealings beneath our noses for quite some time now. Sabotage from within our own ranks.”

A folder of greasy, thinly worn documents was passed along the table, disseminated between the individual members of the Council.

“These are the records we acquired from Gresham Walsh detailing in more or less approximate measure the dealings he helped his ex-wife, the Madam, conduct with a group of Pescatorre soldatos for a large quantity of our imported goods. You’ll notice that over the period of a year or so more than three tons of our most expensive liquor changed hands between her and the Pescatorre family’s men, costing us thousands of dollars in the process. While we haven’t yet identified whether or not Paulie himself is implicated in this little tradeoff, I believe there’s more than enough evidence in this little folder to make my point clear. The Pescatorres have been trying to get an edge in on Allesandri turf. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but these kinds of infringements are exactly what this Council was founded to prevent. What use are these gatherings if they can’t keep the peace between New York’s five great crime families?”

“It’s true, this certainly is an issue.” “Very troubling indeed.” The twins exchanged glances behind their masks. “How do you propose we settle this, Marquis?”

“As the Council intended. Formal discourse, followed by negotiations for recompense of all damages done. But first, everyone here has to agree on the implicated party’s guilt before we can continue. Does anyone have any objections to the claims I’ve just made, given the evidence provided?”

“None here.” “Certainly not.” “While the businesses of the Allesandri and Pescatorre families are none of our concern-“ “-the laws of this Council must be upheld.” “Rules are meant to be broken-“ “-but some must be secured.” “For all of our mutual benefits, of course.” “Of course.”

The Sartini don let out a mighty harumph. “Feh. No complaints here.”

The Marquis nodded. Then, reluctantly, he turned to face the Vitali don. “What do you have to say, Romeo? Is Paulie guilty?”

The young man who represented the Vitalis had stayed silent during the course of the entire meeting. It was less than a year ago that he had assumed the position of family head. The youngest capofamiglia ever at twenty one years old. He was wet behind the ears with inexperience, and deeply out of his element in a meeting such as this. He had been relying on Paulie Pescatorre up until now, but being called upon to prosecute the man who had more or less sponsored his rise to power had noticeably shaken him. It wasn’t hard to see why he was having a difficult time responding.

“Go on, Romeo. Tell them what you really think,” Paulie intoned fatherly. “It doesn’t matter what you say, feel free to speak your mind.”

“Well…” the young man began, “Paulie has done many good things for me in this past year. I don’t know if I or the Vitalis would have gotten by without his help. It would go against my principles to betray such kindness by decrying his guilt when all I have to go on is your word, Marquis Allesandri.”

“There, you see-“

“That being said, I was told to speak my mind, and I can’t in good conscience say that Paulie isn’t guilty of these crimes against you, or that he shouldn’t serve out a punishment for his transgressions. That would be a lie, which is also a grievous offense to my principles.”

Paulie groaned. “Jesus kid, I just told you to speak your mind, not tell them the truth. Shame on me for thinking ‘don’t rat me out’ went without saying.”

“So you were involved in this,” Ivo said. “Shame on you,” added Jesse.

“… I was aware of it, yes.”

The four other representatives returned the folder of evidence to the Marquis, who shook it and patted off the dust before returning it to his own consigliere. “I believe that settles it then. Do you have anything to say, Paulie?”

“Yeah. So what if they have?”

“Excuse you?”

“What if my men have been stealing from you and your family, Marq? As you are right now, what would you do?” The Pescatorre don had lost every ounce of the cheer he’d entered the building with. “Your family is a powerful one, certainly. If it wasn’t there wouldn’t be any room for it on this Council. But my Pescatorres control the majority share of this island and the surrounding cities. By sheer volume, my territory dwarfs that of everyone else here combined.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“I’m not trying to say anything. I’m simply stating facts. Isn’t that right, Marq?” His tone was mocking, provocative. Nothing would have suited him better than for the Marquis to make a move right here, right now. “I am the head of the largest crime syndicate in the state, in the country, and what are you? A bastard child filling in for daddy in pants too saggy and shoes too big for you to fill. What would you do to stop me from taking whatever the hell I wanted from you?”

“There are laws in place, Paulie-“

“Laws? What use do gangsters have for laws? It’s a farce.”

“It’s our way.”

“Fuck the way.”

“You…” The Marquis’ eyes narrowed, emphasizing his snake-like slits. “Are you looking to start a war, Paulie? Is more money on the pile really worth that much to you?”

“Who knows…”

The two maintained unblinking eye contact for almost a full minute before Paulie burst out into a fit of his usual jovial laughter. Everyone seemed to noticeably de-stress. “Relax, you curmudgeon. A bastard isn’t supposed to be concerned with the affairs of his father.” He addressed the Council as a whole, but his message was directed at the Marquis in particular. “I have no particular desire to start a war today. Not here. Not now. I just wanted to see how you’d react to the idea. You, in particular Marq. I liked the look you had in your eyes just now. You weren’t backing down.”

The Marquis let out a deep, exasperated sigh, and fell back on his chair. “Jesus, Paulie…”

The Pescatorre don just kept on laughing. “Yes yes, I know. It was a cruel trick. But it was certainly a funny one, wasn’t it?”

“Not at all.” “Your sense of humor needs work, Paulie.” “I felt more like vomiting than laughing.”

“Speak for yourself, you mad bastard,” the Marquis added to the twins’ commentary. “What if we’d taken you seriously? You could’ve actually started a war just now.”

“Yes, that was in very poor taste, Paulie,” Romeo Vitali chipped in. “You shouldn’t kid about those kinds of things. Do you have any idea how much risk you just put each of us in there with your loudmouthed boasting?”

“What’s life without risk, my boy? Isn’t that why we’re in this business? You and I, the Sartinis, the Capellos, and the Allesandris. We’re all men who could never be content with anything we owned if we hadn’t stolen it. We willingly put ourselves at risk, knowing we could be caught at any time if we aren’t careful, all for the sake of making a profit. A game of tag played with bills and bars of gold. Wouldn’t you call that the game of kings?”

The Marquis raised an eyebrow. “Then the booze you stole from us-“

“Will be repaid in full. Don’t go getting your panties in a twist.”

“And the Castaway?”

“I will personally loan you the funds to rebuild it. Does this sound like fair recompense to you?”

“More than enough. Thank you, Paulie.”

“Well then.” “It seems this meeting is adjourned.” “As always-“ “-it has been a pleasure doing business with you all.”

Georgie just put out his cigar, more than ready to leave. “Never fucking again…”

“We can all hope,” Romeo added. “Though knowing the criminal element in this city, we’ll all probably be back here very soon.”

“Huh?” Paulie said, wiggling the cigar he held in his mouth. “Who said the meeting was over? I still got something I want to discuss.”

Every eye in the room was on Paulie once again. Scrutinizing. Accusing. Planning.

“And what would that be, Paulie?” the Marquis asked. “You never submitted a formal request for a meeting.”

“I was going to,” the Pescatorre family leader replied, “but once you called this one to order, I figured it’d be better to just mention it here in this meeting than waste everyone’s time scheduling another one.”

“You know that’s not how things are done.”

The large redheaded man just waved the Marquis’ words away dismissively. Everyone in the room let out a collective sigh. They each had already had enough of Paulie’s disdainful nonchalance.

“Alright Paulie, let’s hear it. What do you want to talk to us about that’s so important?”

Paulie grinned, nearly crushing the cigar in his teeth. “Have you ever heard the name ‘Donahue’ before?”

Here

I knew I was in the shit house the moment Annie ordered her lunch. A pound of sirloin steak, seasoned potatoes, side soup and side salad, spaghetti and meatballs with toasted bread, and lasagna, just like mom used to make. Way more food than a sick little girl could ever hope to eat (even if she was a teenager). Which could only mean one thing.

She was doing this to punish me.

“Come on, Annie, forgive your big brother already!” I practically begged her. It sounded just as pathetic in person as it does in print.

“Order me another five lunches, and maybe I’ll consider forgiving you,” she said, her mouth full of steak. You know Annie’s mad when she doesn’t bother with her table manners.

“You know I can’t do that. We need that money to pay the doctors. Come on Annie, what can I do to make it up to you?”

“You left me alone by myself for twelve hours without food or anything to drink if it wasn’t for the doctors. I don’t know if there is anything you can do to make it up to me.”

“Then are you just gonna be mad at me forever?”

She chewed her steak, then swallowed. “Yup.”

“Come on Annie, you know I would’ve come back home if they hadn’t offered me extra hours. I’m trying to make as much money as I can so we can make you better! Doesn’t that redeem me just a little?”

She gave me the stink eye before finally giving up, like she was saying “fine, you win”. She set her silverware back on the table.

“I guess I can’t actually be mad at you forever. As useless as you are, you do bring home money and food for us, so I guess I owe you for that too.” I thought she’d calmed down, but as soon as she’d finished making her concessions, she started raising her voice again. “But if you ever leave me alone again like that I’m calling the cops! And you’re still taking me out to lunch for the rest of this week!”

I suppose it was the best deal I was going to get. “Deal.”

“Alright, then you’re forgiven. But you better watch yourself, mister! I do your taxes!”

I couldn’t help but laugh at that. “I know, I know. Your brother’s a klutz, so he’ll be careful from now on.”

Still pouting a little, she pushed the rest of the enormous lunch towards me. “You can have it, I’m not hungry anymore…”

That’s how I knew we’d made up. I reached over and ruffled her hair. “Thanks, Annie.”

“Oi! There you are!”

And that’s how I knew my peaceful lunch with my little sister had come to an end. I turned around in my seat, hoping not to see who I knew would be there. Sure enough, it was Sostene with his bright yellow umbrella, standing just outside the restaurant’s fenced-in outdoor patio. He waved at me like he was trying to catch my attention. As if he didn’t already have it. That, and the attention of literally everyone else.

Annie gave me a weird look. “Big brother, who’s that? And why is he carrying that umbrella? It’s not supposed to rain today, is it?”

Sostene vaulted over the fence with his umbrella in hand, and my mind raced to think of an excuse. Jumping to the nearest half-truth available, I blurted out without even thinking, “Oh, him? He’s just a coworker! I work with him at the hospital! Because he’s my coworker!”

Smooth. Before I could think of anything else stupid to say, Sostene walked right over to our table.

“Alfonso, they’ve got a job for you-“

“Back at the hospital!” I interrupted before Sostene can finish his incriminating sentence. “Dammit. I just knew they’d be calling me back in as soon as they could! I even after I told them I was taking an extended lunch break. Sorry, Annie.”

Sostene at me, then back at Annie, and it looked like he’d finally pieced it together.

“Ohhhhhh, so this is the little sister you’ve been telling me about!” He smiled cordially and offered his hand. “A pleasure to meet you, madam. My name is Sostene Caputo. I work with your brother at the clinic as a nurse’s assistant.”

Anastasia shook his hand gingerly. I think she was starting to catch on to what Sostene was.

“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Caputo.”

“Likewise. Alfonso is always talking about you.”

“Really? What does he say?”

“Well-“

I cut him off before hijinks could ensue. The longer this went on, the higher the chances of us messing up each other’s cover stories became.

“I’m sorry to be so blunt with you Sostene, but give it to me straight. Is this an emergency, or may I please finish the lunch I planned for my little sister?”

The cheerful look on Sostene’s face instantly dropped. “Not an emergency, no. But I’m afraid it’s still urgent.”

Well that didn’t tell me much. “Urgent how?”

“We’ve got a patient in critical condition back at the clinic. Big fish. From what we can tell, it looks like he was attacked in broad daylight. Gang violence. He’s not dead yet, but he’s pretty angry.”

He was speaking in thinly-veiled code. “Patient back at the clinic” obviously meant someone in the five families had been attacked. “Big fish” meant it was likely that it was the Pescatorres, although the choice of words in “gang violence” suggested it wasn’t done by anyone within the families. I frowned.

“What kind of gang violence?”

Sostene grinned a little. The expression was grim, mocking, and devoid of any of the usual happiness a grin would suggest. “Have you ever heard the name ‘Donahue’ before?”

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Interlude 1

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Yesterday

Marquis Allesandri sat alone in the restaurant booth sipping wine and chewing the steak he never gotten the chance to eat, the rest of the party long since gone, their pomp and circumstance nothing but jolly echoes. The manager, a friend of the family, had trusted him to lock the place up for the night. Even he had flown the coop. So it was solitude that night, if not for his two most trusted employees. No, his two most trusted friends.

“I don’t get it boss,” the girl with the thistle hair complained. “What’s so special about him? Why the big secret?”

Her comment, although predictable, made the Marquis smile.

“Nothing’s special about him. He’s just a joe-schmoe.”

“Then you don’t mind if I kick the crap out of him, right?”

“A joe-schmoe who happens to be an old friend of mine.”

“How old?”

The Allesandri capo raised an eyebrow. “Pardon?”

“How old of a friend? Older than me?”

“Of course not. Don’t be a mook, Nayeli.”

“Then I have seniority, right? I can do whatever I want with the goon.”

The Marquis sighed and set down his steak knife. Being the eldest son of a crime family was more like being in a real family than people thought. It meant a lot of responsibility hanging on his shoulders. First and foremost being keeping the little ones from fighting too much. He focused on his right hand woman. The steak could wait.

“What’s this all about, Nayeli? Why do you wanna bust his balls so bad?”

“He disrespected you.”

“He disrespected me how?

“He didn’t call you ‘boss’. That little punk actually called you by your first name. Your first name,for crissakes! How can you let him get away with that?! It makes me so mad I can’t stand it!”

Sostene groaned. “And here she goes again…”

The Marquis paid him no mind. “Is that really what all this fuss is about?”

“Yes! I mean what else would it be about?!”

“Maybe that I kept his induction into the family a secret from you?”

That made the thistle-haired girl, or rather Nayeli, falter. Flustered, she backed off a step.

“O-of course not, boss. Why would that ever be a problem? You know I trust you!”

“With your life?”

“With my life!” she affirmed vigorously.

He smiled. “Of course you do. But I still shouldn’t have kept it a secret from you. It was a rotten thing for me to do.”

“Then why’d you do it?” the vampire spoke up before Nayeli could get another word in. “Don’t get me wrong, I got nothing against the kid. I’m sure he’s good blood…” A pause. “No pun intended.”

The Marquis waved his hand dismissively, allowing Sostene to continue.

“Anyway, it’s like you said. He’s a nobody. A joe-schmoe. John Q. Public. Why all the secrecy? If anyone, you could’ve at least told us. You’ve known the guy for ten years and I’ve never even so much as heard you speak his name. I just assumed he was your errand boy or something.”

“An excellent question, my fanged friend. Why do you think that is?” Before his other midnight companion could interrupt again, he turned to face her as well. “This one’s for you too, my dear Nayeli. Why do you think I never talked about him ‘till today?”

“Well, I-uhhhh…” the two responded almost in unison.

The Marquis laughed. “Information control, guys. The name of the game here is information control. He may not look like it, but Al’s got something this family needs. Something we need, specifically.”

He pushed a photo of a young girl across the table. Black hair, bright blue eyes. She was only a teenager, the same age as the Marquis’ little sister. But she looked older than that, somehow. So much older.

“This is Alfonso’s sister, Anastasia. We don’t know what it is yet, but something about her is different. We’ve got it on good word that she’s special somehow. Or she’s going to be, at least.”

“Special in a good way, or a bad way?”

The capo sighed. “Who knows. You know how hard it is getting the right kind of information from the powers that be. Whatever they tell you, it’s gonna be impossible to tell the head from the ass-end of it.”

Nayeli nodded grimly. She’d played ball with those same powers before. She had a strong desire to never do so again.

The Marquis continued. “All they gave me was this. She’s important. Which, by extension, makes Al important. It doesn’t matter how or why, but if we want the best possible chance to succeed, we’re gonna need ‘em both under lock and key.”

“Why both? If it’s just the girl who’s got the big red ‘DESTINY’ stamp on her forehead, what do we need her brother for?”

“You don’t seem to understand the relationship between an older brother and his younger sister.” Sostene raised an eyebrow. “A proper older brother and his younger sister. The two of them are attached at the hip. He’s practically her keeper, you can’t have one without the other. If we make both of them dependent on us, it guarantees we’ll have all the pieces of the puzzle when the time comes to put them together. Not to mention we get to make the best use out of both while we can.”

“So that’s it,” Sostene finally realized.

“What’s what?” Nayeli asked.

“You don’t get it yet, Nayeli? I know your parents dropped you off a mountain when you were a kid, but you can’t be that brain-damaged.”

Sostene chuckled a bit at his own joke. Nayeli, on the other hand, was not amused. A golden labrys slid out of her sleeve.

“You wanna say that again, you fanged fuck? Watch your tongue or I might just rip it out of you and make you taste your own asshole.”

That made Sostene think seriously about his next words. Instead of risking being cut up into little pieces and crucified in Nayeli’s garage, he decided the best course of action was to just be quiet.

“Easy, Nayeli. Settle. You know he’s just busting your balls, so don’t go breaking his,” the Marquis insisted lazily. “Go on, Sostene. I wanna hear it from you. Why did I not tell anyone about this before I went ahead with it?”

Still somewhat taken aback, Sostene coughed, cleared his throat, and began anew.

“You wanted to keep it from the rest of the five families. You didn’t want it getting out that an Allesandri capo had been taking a special interest in some street rat nobody, and oh by the way, said street rat totally happens to have a cute little sister an opportunistic wiseguy could totally use as leverage to steal the two of them away from you.”

The Marquis clapped. “Give this man a prize!”

“If that’s the case then, why even make him a made guy? Won’t that just draw attention to him? Sure he’s got the family’s official protection now, but the same can’t be said for his sister, and she’s the one who’s really important here, right?”

“Yeah,” Nayeli interjected, “why not just lock ‘em up and throw away the key? You don’t need to make the goon step up to bat for our team if this is all you’re trying to do.”

“Well unlike you Nayeli, I actually like the guy.” The Marquis returned to chewing his steak. Speaking with half his mouth full, he said, “You might too if you gave him a chance.”

“Don’t hold your breath,” Sostene mumbled.

“Besides, think of this as a reward. All these years we’ve been hands off with these two, he’s been taking care of destiny’s child all by himself, doing our job for us. He’s capable, and he’s even done good work for the family on the side. After all the years I’ve known the guy, I’ve come to appreciate his unique skillset. That’s why I’m making him a part of our little gang.”

“Tch. Fine, you win boss,” the thistle-haired girl conceded, pouting.

“I always do.”

“Heh. Would you like at that, she’s just upset because she has to share you now. How sad. Worried that you’re not the boss’s favorite anymore?” Sostene said mockingly.

“Didn’t I tell you to shut up, you fucking hemo-freak?!”

“Now Nayeli, I think you should listen to Sostene for once. It’s not the end of the world just because I got a new toy to play with. You’ll make do without me, I’m sure of it,” the Allesandri capo said teasingly. For some reason, he felt like joining in on the joke tonight. It seemed high spirits were contagious.

“W-wha?” Nayeli, looking absolutely heartbroken, forgot Sostene completely and turned to blubber at the Marquis. The capo just laughed.

“I’m pulling your leg, Nayeli. You know you’ll always be my favorite.” The Marquis, no, Marq Allesandri leaned in to give his subordinate a gentle and delicate kiss on her forehead. Nayeli accepted it eyes pinched shut, clearly embarrassed by the public display of affection.

“Ah come on, Nayeli. You can’t be this bashful forever, it’s not attractive. Although it is cute,” he said, gently ribbing her once more. “Well, what do you two say to kicking this place to the curb? This is our last bit of business for today, and the night’s still young. Let’s have a party of our own, how about it?”

Sostene shrugged. “I got nothing better to do.”

“Nayeli?”

She just nodded, a token gesture meant to say she was still too embarrassed to speak without sounding stupid. The Marquis smiled, and raised his wineglass.

“Alright then, it’s a date!” He tipped back the glass. The wine was sweet, too sweet for most palates. Almost like juice. For the Marquis, it was this sweetness that made this particular type of wine refreshing. If the flavor wasn’t so pungent, it almost felt like he wouldn’t even be able to taste it.

Rising from his seat, he followed his subordinates to the door of the restaurant, lighting a cigarette now that his hands and mouth were free. He stopped just outside the door.

“Hold up guys. You might wanna take a step back from the door. ‘Specially you, Sostene.”

The vampire obliged.

Blowing a ring of smoke from his freshly lit cigarette, the Marquis pinched the death stick from his lips. Waving it almost like a wand, he drew in the air with fire, forming a sigil for a particular spell with the embers of his cigarette. The owner of the restaurant had told him to “lock up” when he was done. What he hadn’t told him about was the restaurant’s decreasing returns and how they related to his recent divorce. This was his way of asking for some assistance.

The Marquis flicked the cigarette through the circular diagram he’d drawn, setting ablaze as it sailed through the door and into the failing restaurant, bursting into flames in a bright explosion as colorful as any molotov cocktail.

The place had needed remodeling anyway.

“Alright guys, let’s hit the bricks. Best get out of here before the pigs get wind. You got the car, Sostene?”

“Already on it, boss man.”

The Marquis of the Allesandri domain looked to the skies, wondering what would become of his friend now that he’d truly entered their world. It was underhanded of him to call him a true friend of Al’s, knowing that their relationship had been one of convenience for him, but he felt like in all those years he’d done something to earn the right. Maybe he was wrong.

It’s all starting to come together now, Al. You’ve finally got a place in our world. Don’t you or your sister make me regret it.

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Please excuse my absence.

Recently a new set of life problems have reared their ugly heads at me (the first and foremost being my summer spanish class, which has just started), so I will be taking a week-long hiatus to sort out what I want to do with future installments, what direction I want to take with them, and how I will handle my new schedule. I’m deeply sorry for the suddenness of this delay, and I hope you’ll be patient and bear with it. I promise to have an exciting interlude and a new chapter next week.

Poltergeists and Prohibition 1.8

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We arrived at the scene to a Castaway in flames, the fire department already responding in full force against burning walls of pure color. The flames were technicolor right down to the embers; brilliant shades of blue, green, purple, red and yellow pouring out of the windows to consume whatever they could get their greedy little tendrils on. The flames could have been a result of the building’s wiring going up in flames or the imminent immolation of any number of valuables with the right chemical properties, but the simplest answer was that the fire had been set by Madeline.

The first poltergeist had been faked by the Madam. Now we had a real one to deal with.

It was a bitter pill to swallow, but occam’s razor never lied. If Madeline was haunting the Castaway, there was no question it would be destroyed. The fire wouldn’t stop until her remains were immolated along with the rest of the building. She would bring the whole damn thing down on her own head if it meant taking the Madam with her.

“Sostene,” I said, trying to think of the best way to enter the building, “you think you can bust one of these walls down?”

He grunted. “Should be easy enough.”

“Alright. This is what we’re gonna do then…”

We circled around to the back to keep the firefighters off of our tails. What we were about to do wasn’t exactly encouraged by the department, but I felt like they’d thank us after we’d gotten those girls out of there alive.

Sostene forced his hands through the wall, grabbing hold of the metal doorframe, the pipes, and every other bit of leverage he could get his hands on from his limited range of movement on the other side of the wall. Once he felt like he had enough, he started to peel.

Sostene wouldn’t be able to enter the building now that it had gone up in smoke like this, not unless he could run, fight, or do much of anything while he was burning to death over and over again. His curse of restoration healed his injuries by rewinding time in a fashion, so once he was on fire, he’d burn anew each time his body tried to heal itself until he either reached a safe point in his own timeline or found a body of water large enough to immerse himself in. He’d be useless to me once I went inside, so I had to make the best possible use of him out here. Maximizing my escape route was one way of doing that.

Sostene yanked in the direction opposite the first floor wall, ripping it off the face of the building like a giant brick band-aid. It smacked into the building behind the Castaway, breaking down a three meter by three meter section of their wall and filling it with, ironically, more wall.

I wouldn’t say I grinned, but the sight of it did give me some measure of satisfaction. This would work. I had a sizeable point of egress to evacuate the girls, and a quick escape for myself. Now the only problem was how I’d deal with the fire.

I pulled out the container of burn cream I’d used earlier in the day, applying it vigorously to my face, neck, arms, and legs. My gloves and shoes were both leather, so I let them be. I’d need a strong grip anyway.

I turned to Sostene one last time before I went in. “Alright big man, I’m pretty sure we can both agree what I’m about to do is pretty crazy. So if I don’t make it out of here, make sure you tell Marq this was my idea. I don’t want you taking the fall for this. You did your best to look out for me, but in the end I was just too stupid to listen. Okay?”

He nodded.

“Good. One last thing. I want you to keep lookout while I’m in there. If you see the Madam trying to leave the building, do whatever you have to keep her from escaping. She’s not gonna get to just gonna walk away from us after all this.”

“You gonna make the call on whether I should bring her in dead or alive?”

I hesitated. “… dead or alive, then.”

He nodded again. With that final assurance, I walk towards the inferno.

When I stepped inside, I immediately felt the burn cream start to simmer and bubble, although the heat didn’t affect the skin beneath it. It was working, but not for too long. Conservative estimates gave me ten minutes before I started developing worse than first degree burns, fifteen minutes before I started cooking to a crisp. I had to hurry.

Tying my handkerchief around my face like a bandito, I waded through the halls filled dancing rainbow lights, trying to keep my balance and sense of direction amidst the strobelights of flashing colors. Working quickly, I stumbled and bumped my way into the main hall. The stage was on fire, an absolutely horrid smell spilling out from behind the curtains that smelled nothing like burning pork butts. It still kinda bothered me that I never knew what had actually happened back there. I mean, what the hell had the Madam done to that place to make it smell that bad?

The girls that hadn’t already made it out were running around like chickens with their heads cut off, some of them huddling behind the bar, others smashing chairs against doors in a bid to flee through whatever exit wasn’t already on fire.

Lifting my handkerchief, I whistled to catch their attention. Without wasting any more precious oxygen, I wave my hands in the direction I’d come, signaling the exit. The next five minutes were spent trying to get each of them out safely, doubling back and turning around each time a hallway that led to the hole collapsed or was consumed in the blaze. The whole time, I didn’t catch one glimpse of the Madam. Had she already escaped?

As I helped the last girl out of the hole, I heaved and just about coughed up half a lung, spitting a gray wad of phlegm at the dumpster next to me. I went to find Sostene. From what I could tell, he didn’t have the Madam with him.

“Any sign of her?” I asked him, hoping he’d tell me she’d already been taken care of. At that moment, I don’t think I would’ve minded if it was the police that got to her first, just as long as someone did. Taking care of her in prison would’ve been less trouble. But considering my run of luck in today’s events, I sincerely doubted that was going to happen.

He shook his head. “Nothing.”

Fuck…

I sighed, dipping back into my pocket to spread on another layer of burn cream. “Sostene, I’m going back in to find her. We can’t leave this one hanging.”

He didn’t try to stop me. I don’t think he would’ve if he could’ve, anyway. We both knew it had to be done. Family business was family business, and we couldn’t allow this to go unpunished in the same way we couldn’t hand her over to the police. This had to be dealt with in our own private circle, or else word would get out the Allesandris couldn’t clean up their own messes.

The gun I kept in my pocket felt especially hot and heavy as I headed back inside the burning building. Sizzled or shot, I wasn’t leaving here without a body, it seemed.

The interior had decayed to the point where it was unrecognizable. I could no longer navigate properly, or even be sure of where I was in relation to the hole. Everything seemed to be made of fire and stark, harsh outlines. Part of me recognized this meant the building was about to collapse on my head, but I kept working, kept moving forward through the thick maze.

One of a poltergeist’s most potent abilities is to manipulate regions of space and time at the site of a haunting. They can stretch out hallways, open doors that don’t exist, suspend or reverse the orientation of gravity, and even loop or slow down time, extending a short misery into a painful, unending torture. They used these abilities instinctively, with no thought to rhyme or reason. Not in any way the living would understand. A poltergeist isn’t a being of thought, but rather one of action. And right now, it was hard to tell if I was being acted with or against.

I said I had no perception of orientation in the blaze. I could only rely on my memory to show me what should have been the way, and intuition when I had to improvise. Minutes felt like hours, and the heat and the smoke added an air of delirium to the proceedings, never fully robbing me of my wits but sneaking up on me just often enough to make me question where I was or what I’d seen. Lost and confused, but still moving. Still continuing.

I lost track of time, even began to suspect it no longer mattered, but I found the Madam. I found her clutching the walls as the building warped and stressed, trying her damndest to make it to the safe. She didn’t notice me in the slightest.

I drew my gun. The click of the hammer finally caught her attention, and she turned around to look at me. I saw the moment she realized there was nowhere else to go, no refuge anywhere in the world. I saw the defeat, the spite, the bitterness, the disappointment, and the unending sadness all pass us by in those moments, without either of us saying a word.

“Awfully convenient for a fire to start right as you make your big exit. Must be nice having an accomplice willing to work with you even in death.”

“I suppose it would be. Who knows?”

“Yeah. Who knows…

“… Open it,” I commanded her.

She did nothing. Her defiance was impressive, if problematic. I reached for my knife. I didn’t waste my breath saying it, but the gesture was a reminder. No matter how this ends, this safe is ours. Once this place is burned down to the foundations, we’ll just come back and open it up again anyway.

The scare tactic had no logical relevance, but it seemed to weaken whatever psychological barrier still kept her standing, and she gave in, and started working the combination lock. I approached her slowly, stopping at a distance of a mere one meter. This would be called point-blank range by anyone’s definition. I kept the gun pointed at her head the entire time she worked the safe, enduring the scalding hot metal with handwraps and gloves. She had planned to do this anyway. I was the only wrench in the works.

Finally, the door clicked. I gave her a curt nod, and she pushed the door open. It took longer than it would have if I’d helped, or just done it myself, but I wasn’t going to give her another opportunity to worm her way out of this. I would bring shame to the entire family if I let her get away, and my life as a gangster would end before it even began.

I walk her into the safe, the door left open. With a gentle but firm push, I remind her to get on her knees while I confirm what we both already know.

Reaching out, I pull open one of the many drawers within the safe room. Empty. I suspected others would be too. Nothing too important missing, nothing that would be noticed. She would skim money off the top, just enough to go unnoticed, or pass it off as weak sales. Part of me wondered for how long. Lately though, she’d gotten greedy. She’d taken too much. I didn’t know if it was in preparation for her flight from the Castaway, or the reason for it. But the money wasn’t the issue here.

I was aware I didn’t have all the breath in the world to spare, but I felt like I had to say something.

“We never noticed. Not once. The money was always there. Except it wasn’t really, was it? That money was coming from the Pescatorres. You and them, you had an arrangement. You sold to them on the side, and used the money from the sales to cover what you’d already skimmed off the top from the club’s annual revenue, then kept the rest for yourself. You made a net profit selling around us, going behind our backs, letting the Pescatorres get an edge in on our business. Why?”

If she said anything, it was quiet enough to be concealed by the fire. I wanted to hear her say it.

“You stole from us. You tried to fool us with your rigged-up poltergeist. You even had your own employee, your accomplice, axed to keep her quiet and confuse us, then you tried to pass the buck off to your husband. Hoped we would kill him and not ask questions. Then you went and drove the final nail in the coffin. You went and made a real poltergeist. And for what? To cover your tracks? Why? Where were you going to go? What did you think you were gonna do? Cheat the family and get away with it?”

She still said nothing in return. “Answer me.

“Because I wanted to be free. Free from this rotten family. Free from this business.”

“Freedom? That’s what this was about?”

“Of course that’s what this was about. What else could it possibly be?” She paused. “You may think the Allesandris are saints, that they’re the lesser of two evils, but you’re wrong. They’ll destroy the person you were before, turn you into something you don’t recognize. And I’d hate to see you where I’m going in twenty years.”

“I hate to break it to you lady, but there ain’t gonna be no afterlife for us. Just a bullet and cold dirt. The good you did, the bad… it isn’t going to matter. Those things are for the living.”

“Isn’t that just what you believe?”

Somewhere in the distance, a section of the building collapsed into a pile of burning wreckage. There wasn’t much time left. I couldn’t afford to put off doing this any longer.

I raised my gun arm again, pointing it right at the back of the Madam’s head. I thought back to what I’d said earlier. About what kind of thug I was. It’s true that I wasn’t that kind of guy. I’d always been a tough, but not a killer. Even when I was initiated into the family, all I’d done was drive the getaway car. I hadn’t actually fired a single shot. That had been enough for Marq back then. Not this time.

I had a debt to pay for kindness shown. This is who I had to be now. For her. For me. For us to have that perfect life, blood had to be shed. I knew that. I’d always known I’d been surrounded by death the day I entered into the service of the Allesandris as an acquaintance to the family. In a way, I already had one man’s death on my hands. Two, maybe even three if you count the events of today. It helps if you don’t think about it too much.

But now here I was. I’d been called on to kill a helpless woman. Shoot her right in the back of the head. And you know what? Now that the time had come for it, I found myself hesitating. Despite everything she’d done to wrong us, all the people she hurt, I hesitated.

“Hey killer,” she said. “Before you… finish this, I want to ask you something. What you said earlier, about splitting the insurance money up between the girls… did you mean it?”

“… Yes.”

She smiled. In the middle of the inferno, it looked warm, and unbearably sad. “That’s good then. I guess I’m ready now. Do it.”

I didn’t wait any longer than that. I pulled the trigger, and put an end to this “simple job”.

– from the memoirs of Alfonso Anastasio, written 1973

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Poltergeists and Prohibition 1.7

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“Who sent you? Was it my ex-wife? I thought I told you Pescatorre boys to never come back here! I don’t have your goddamn money, and I never will! So scram! Get the hell out!”

Well this was a shitty situation. Not because of the shotgun, because that posed absolutely no threat whatsoever. I had a vampire, and he had a gun. The odds weren’t so much stacked against him as they were piled in a titanic polished gold monument dedicated to his impending and absolute failure. No, this situation sucked because we knew right from the start he was going to make this difficult for us, whether we decided to follow through with the Madam’s wishes and whack him or not.

Still though, my mind was racing. The Pescatorres? What kind of business did this sorry sonuvabitch have with the largest crime family in New York? Besides getting dead, that is. Gears turned and pieces started clicking into place. The biggest pieces of the puzzle were starting to come together from the corners on out, the Madam, the ex, the poltergeist, and now the Pescatorres. I could see a picture forming in my head, something I really didn’t want to see, but it was missing something. Each corner was trying to connect, but they were missing something in the middle. Something to fill in the gaps, and I couldn’t be sure of anything until I had that something.

I turned around slowly, signaling to Sostene. “Sostene, stand down. Don’t shoot him. Listen pal, this isn’t what you think it is. I think we can help each other out.”

“Oh yeah? That’s what the last ones told me. Then they shot my dog, kicked me in the balls, took all my silverware, kicked me in the balls, stripped me down to my underwear and then kicked me in the balls. In that order.

I winced. Ouch.

“So what do you want? I’m not gonna ask twice.” He poked me in the stomach with the barrel.

I decided I should be straight-forward. “It’s about your ex-wife-”

“I knew it. I goddamn knew it. That bitch was the one who told you to come bust my balls, wasn’t she? Ever since I told her I wanted out, I’ve been getting so many visits from you Pescatorre fucks it feels like I signed up for the Jelly of the Month Club. Well guess what? I ain’t having it no more!”

There it was again, the Pescatorres and the Madam. Twice in less than five minutes he’s mentioned both of them in the same breath. What was the connection?

Hoping to probe a bit deeper, I ask, “You mean ever since you told her you wanted out of the marriage?”

He looked surprised when I said that. Then he got angry again. “Don’t be coy with me, you know damn well what I mean. But this isn’t about me, this is about you and what the hell I’m supposed to do with you know that you’re trespassing in my apartment.”

“Technically the apartment belongs to the manager…”

He growled at us and raised the shotgun to his shoulder.

“Get out before I ship you out in a body bag.”

“Mr. Walsh, if I maybe frank. The Pescatorres wronged you. Your wife wronged you. We get that. But we are neither of those things, so if we could please just settle this in a calm and civilized-”

Catching him off-guard, I aimed a solid kick straight up at the shotgun that knocked it barrel up into the air, harmlessly pointed at the ceiling. Taking advantage of his momentary confusion, I closed the distance and landed a punch right in the centre of his gut, before wrenching his arm in just the right way to make him drop the gun, disarming him.

I shoulder-checked him. That made him stumble back a bit away from the gun, which I thought would give him second ideas about attacking us now that he didn’t have any way to fight back. Turns out I forgot to take into account some unknown variables. Like the backup gun he had stashed in his pocket.

“You fucking pricks! Die!” His aim was sloppy, but at this range it was good enough. If he pulled the trigger, he wouldn’t miss his target.

Neither would Sostene.

There was a click, then a shot, then a wet, meaty thud. Sostene flickered into existence in front of me.

The damage was minimal. It barely penetrated half an inch into Sostene’s arm as he caught it, doing far less damage than the glass explosion at the Castaway had. He grunted, and the bullet started sliding out of his wound, as Mr. Walsh looked at him with horrified eyes.

I can’t help but chuckle. “You see, this is why you don’t bring a gun to a vampire fight. You’re always gonna-”

I heard a thick crunch come from Mr. Walsh’s gun arm as Sostene broke it in the middle like a pretzel. Walsh screamed, of course, obviously freaked out by the knowledge that the man he had just tried to shoot was a vampire. And by the fact that his humerus, radius and ulna were now sticking out of the crook of his elbow. Me, I was more alarmed by our dwindling chances of getting any useful information out of all this.

“Jesus, Sostene, you can’t just break his arm like that!”

“You told me I couldn’t shoot him.”

“I meant ‘don’t kill him’! He’s still useful!”

“He shot me.”

“Like that woulda killed ya, you freak,” Gresham spat before Sostene cracked another one of his bones like twigs.

“Fair point,” I ceded, although I’m not sure to who, “but if he dies before we can get any answers out of him, then what was the point of all this? If he is guilty, we might need him to undo the binding spell, right?”

Sostene grunted. “Alright, slow then.”

True to his word, he applied torsion very slowly and carefully this time, prolonging the break.

“Thank you. That’s much better.” Walsh just squealed like a little girl. “Alright, Mr. Walsh, I think I’m going to have you tell us a bit more about how your problems with the Pescatorres started…”

He told us everything. Sold out and owned up to every dirty secret he’d been told, ordered not to tell under threat of death. Suddenly everything made sense. Madeline’s death, the untouched safe, the ex’s Pescatorre problems. They all fit together around the Madam like a harness. Which could only mean the Madam was-

“Lying to us. Lying to the family. She was stealing from the family. You know what that means, right?”

I did know. It meant this had to end bloody. Every family had their own way of dealing with these little “internal disputes”, but they generally involved finding the guilty party floating in a barrel or sunk to the bottom of the ocean floor. I can’t remember a time were double-crossin’ one of the families ended with anything less than prolonged and gruesome torture (or as most like to call it “discipline”) followed by the crippling of every remaining party still alive, or something equally permanent and nasty.

Point is, don’t fuck with the five families. They will fuck you back.

Sostene sighed. “Shit. Now we’re gonna hafta get rid of a body. This day just keeps getting better and better…”

“It keeps getting shorter too,” I said, watching the setting sun. “Move your ass, Sostene. We don’t know how much time we have until the Madam catches on that we know. That, or…”

Sostene made a sour-looking face. “Yeah. That.”

Madeline had been involved in the Madam’s illicit activities. Madeline had been killed as a direct consequence of said involvement. Madeline had unfinished business. Madeline’s body hadn’t been burned yet.

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Poltergeists and Prohibition 1.6

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She was still breathing when I made it on-stage. Still trying to bring in air to lungs that would no longer expand, crushed beneath a sandbag that must have weighed at least three hundred pounds if she was lucky.

The bag was a depression in her chest cavity, her ribs bent and broken completely inward to accommodate the superior mass. If the lungs and heart had been pierced, then her death was going to be quick. If they weren’t, she’d more than likely suffocate or bleed out over a matter of minutes. I watched small dark patches pool at the sides of her dress, and hoped fervently that wasn’t the case.

Madeline!” Desperate fever and a deep terror carried her voice across the room as one of the girls stumbled and climbed up on stage. Presumably a friend of Madeline’s. She was a cute little thing. Delicate, but sharp. You could see it in her eyes as she begged for her friend to stay awake. She refused to let her go down without a fight.

It was touching, somewhat private sentiment, one I nearly felt ashamed for just making her share it. But sometimes sentiment can be far crueler than we realize.

The girl’s friend began convulsing violently, gasping like a fucking fish out of water. She rushed over to Madeline’s side, desperate and sobbing. I deigned to just watching her. This whole situation was way out of my depth. I’d always been terrible at bedside manner.

The thought kept occurring to me over those precious few moments that I could’ve done something, should’ve done something different, even if I didn’t bloody know what to do. But I couldn’t. Couldn’t have if I wanted to, and I did. Believe me I did.

The noises the friend was making as she struggled were some of the most horrible I’d heard in a while. The sputtering, the choking, the scuttling and the clawing. The sounds she made as the sandbag timidly but powerfully bounced around in her open chest cavity with each new heave were particularly unnerving.

When most people say they’ll never forget something, most of them are just practicing hyperbole. I’m not. I wasn’t ever going to forget this, and before it was even finished I knew I wanted to. I wanted to so badly I was willing to pay someone to crawl around in my headmeat and scrub those memories out. Never trusted someone to use that kind of magic on me before. Now I prayed it would work if I could only find someone willing to do it.

I waited for it to stop, only allowing myself to watch because I thought it was almost over, but it never was. The more time passed, the more drawn out and fierce her flailing became.

Finally, finally, whatever strength she’d had left in her was gone. As she slowed down, she lost feeling in her extremities. I could tell from the way the muscles just seemed to relax and give up, even though the person controlling them still wanted very much to fight. Eventually she lost feeling altogether, and her angry rasping and rejections turned to quiet sobbing.

The Madam clumsily ran over to the stage in her high heels, almost tripping. Rosalina helped turn the girl’s head to face her, in case she had anything to say to her.

Madam,” she whispered, so wanting for breath it barely came out at all. “This hurts… it hurts, Madam. It hurts so much…”

She coughed up little teardrops of blood, losing just a little more of what precious air she had left. The Madam looked away. She couldn’t take it, I think.

“Why did you choose the goldfish over me, Madam? Why did you do it? Was it their scales?” I didn’t understand what she was saying anymore. Was she delirious? “Was it their scales, Madam? Was it their scales, those beautiful scales?”

“Madeline…” It was then the Madam chose the humane thing to do. She gently laid her gloved hand over Madeline’s mouth, speeding the process along until finally she couldn’t breathe.

That was it. There was no more air left to give. A few short sentences, and that was it. She finally gave up the ghost, as inappropriate as that sounds. Her eyes still moved, and the Madam gently shhhhed her to sleep. The big sleep.

Gently closing her eyelids, the Madam stood over her for a moment, silently paying her respects.

“… Everyone… I want you to see to Madeline. See that she gets cleaned up and ready in whatever way she needs to. I’m trusting you ladies to take care of her.” She turned to face me, and Sostene who’d hurried her back down to the stage to witness Madeline’s final moments. “You two. I want this thing gone, understand me? Burn it down to the ground, down to the last cinder if you have to, but get rid of it.” Breathing deeply, she regained some of her lost composure.“Earlier you asked me if there was anyone I might have suspected, that might have a reason to want to hurt me or my club. My ex-husband and I…”

“Say no more, Madam. We’ll get it done,” Sostene assured her.

I didn’t say anything. The last moments of Madeline’s life kept replaying themselves in my head. What she said… it didn’t make any sense. Was the poltergeist speaking through her? If it was, why would it be addressing the Madam?

Sostene bumped me with his elbow, breaking me out of it. “Definitely,” I replied quickly, realizing where I was and who I was talking to. “Definitely, Madam. We’ll see to it.”

“Good. Go.”

“Hey Sostene.”

“Yeah?”

“I forgot to say this before, but… thanks.”

“For what?”

“Y’know, for the help. I’ve never really thought of us wiseguys as the type of fellas to take a bullet for someone, so it means a lot for you to have my back on this. I would’ve been screwed so many times if you hadn’t been there.”

“Well, Marq did tell me to look out for you if I had to. He seemed to think you’d have some trouble handling a real job. Y’know, as opposed to the whole freelance thing you were doing.”

Not gonna lie, that irritated me. Disappointed me a little, but mostly irritated me. “He said that, huh?”

Sostene laughed like he could read my mind. “Don’t let it eat at ya. This isn’t exactly a standard job. To be honest, I’m a bit out of my depth too. Don’t know what Marq was thinking when he put the two of us on this case.”

“You make it sound like we’re detectives and not vicious mobsters,” I said, laughing at the thought. “I dunno how long you’ve known him, but I have some experience with Marq and his crazy schemes. He’s sly like a fox and shifty like a snake, but he’s always got his reasons. It’s always part of some bigger plan.”

Sostene snorted. “You talk about him like he’s God.”

“I dunno about that,” I said, adjusting my hat. “But he did save me from a tight spot once. I don’t think my sister or I would be here without him, although she don’t know that.”

“That makes two of us…” Sostene mumbled. His eyes looked lost in thought for a second before he snapped back to attention. I think he’d only just processed the other thing I’d said. “Hang on. You never said anything about a sister.”

“Guess I didn’t, did I? Yeah, my kid sister, Anastasia. She’s the reason I’m with the family. Gotta pay the bills somehow now that my deadbeat folks aren’t around.”

“Think I could come visit her sometime?”

I raise an eyebrow, wary. “Why?”

“Hey, don’t look at me like that. It’s nothing creepy. I’m more than fifty years old, for crissakes. I just…” He paused. I swear to God if he was capable of blushing he probably would have. “… I just like kids, that’s all.”

“Wow, you really are a softie, aren’t you?”

“Shut it.”

“She’s a teenager anyway. Not exactly a kid anymore. If she was, maybe she wouldn’t be such a handful…”

The conversation trailed off as we made our way through Central Park down to Chinatown. It was an overcast day, and it had only gotten darker since that morning, so Sostene had thankfully abandoned the fuck-it-all conspicuous yellow umbrella. Looking up at the sky and sticking your tongue out, you could taste the coming rain on the wind. Big stormclouds. Lotsa coverage. Great vampire weather. Not so much for werewolves and some other species. Or hell, just people who like sunlight and/or being dry.

Come to think of, the ex probably wouldn’t like it much either.

Apparently, according to the Madam at least, her husband used to be a wealthy man, but he blew it all on gambling and the drink after they’d split. Now he owed various parties several dozen different debts of considerable size and was bumming off of the manager of a Chinese restaurant who’d given him a room four stories above the shop. Rather ironic that this kind of shit always happens to the kind of guys who leave their wives on moral crusades against the evils of things like prostitution and women’s rights.

For a moment I let myself ignore the job and immersed myself in the smells of Chinatown. Fried rice, chicken dumplings, duck, stir fry, and a bunch of other ethnic dishes I’d probably mangle if I tried to pronounce. Good stuff. Shame that it didn’t seem to be catching on much though. A world where you could buy fried rice and wontons in every neighborhood would be a world worth living in.

Finally we found the right shop. Just walked right in the front door, too. No one seemed to question us, or why we were here. I think Sostene was just glad people had finally stopped giving him funny looks.

“Excuse me,” I said, sauntering up to the counter. “We’re here to talk to Gresham Walsh.”

The aging man across the counter stared at us, as silent as his little statue of Buddha by the register. For a second I wondered if he knew any English. I tried again.

“He’s late on one of his payments again. We’ve come by to check up on him, see how things are going. Do you mind giving us the key to his apartment? We’ll only be a few minutes.”

Silent again. Just when I thought I’d have to look around for someone to translate, the fifty-year old stuck a hand in the pocket of his apron, and pulled it out balled in a fist with a key inside. As he slowly uncurled his arthritic bones, he nodded curtly, acknowledging our cover story without any questions. Was this guy really so deep in debt his landlord cooperated with the legbreakers?

“Much appreciated,” I said, gently taking the key from him.

We exited out the kitchen backdoor, ascending the fire escape to the fifth floor. The plan was to sneak in through the window, rough ‘em up a bit, and then lock the door from the inside to make it look like nothing happened. Wouldn’tve been that easy if it hadn’t been for the manager, but that’s what happens when all your money goes to paying off your debts and not your rent.

The windows were slow going. They obviously hadn’t been oiled in a while, so they creak like motherfuckers. Finally we managed to open them wide enough to slip through, Sostene a little more gracefully. Dusting myself off, I looked around the dingy-looking apartment. There was expired food and bags of take out everywhere. Nothing of value, it’d all been hocked to pay the loansharks.

“Doesn’t look like he’s home,” I said to no one in particular. “Well, we got nothing better to do until he gets back. Wanna find out where he keeps his porno?”

That’s when something poked me right in the back, just a few inches higher than the base of my spine. Metallic, roughly circular, and about as wide around as a wine cork. Gonna go out on a limb and guess it was a shotgun.

“Get. lost.”

I held my hands up, and tried not to provoke him. “Mr. Walsh, I presume?”

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Poltergeists and Prohibition 1.5

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I spread a thick poultice over the cut on my hand. I’ve taken to carrying some of these and a few different kind of salves wherever I go. Kinda like a handerkerchief, except I had to get rid of that to make room. Kinda wish I had it now though. Would be more comfortable than wrapping this in a booze-soaked bar towel.

“You know, when I asked you if you knew anything that might help us figure out what the stiff wanted, it would have been very helpful to mention the fact that it graffiti’d its demands all over the joint in fucking blood.

I enunciated with a fair bit of piss and vinegar. Why shouldn’t I? I mean, I could have died back there. Sostene did die! For christ’s sake, that’s not the kind of information you keep to yourself during a haunting!

The Madam gave me the doe-eyes. “I’m sorry. I just didn’t want you to see that and write the Castaway Club off as a lost cause. Truth be told, we did our own investigation, and we couldn’t find any trace of what was used to bind the ghost here, or who might be trying to sabotage our business. I made the decision to cover up the graffiti so you wouldn’t be driven away.”

I sighed. “Come on, give me a break, lady. Don’t you know that’s dangerous to not tell us stuff like that? You and the girls could really get hurt doing that kind of shit. I mean, you got Sostene killed, and I’m pretty sure he don’t appreciate that.”

I noticed some of the girls take a step back. They seemed afraid. Had they misheard something I said?

The Madam took a step towards me, her eyes as hard as plate-steel. She slapped me open-hand.

“I will take full responsibility for myself and my actions, but leave my girls out of it. I will not tolerate threats to my employees.”

“… Yes’m.

Dazed and confused, I just apologized without even knowing what I’d done wrong.

Was it something I said?

“So, do you have any ideas about what we do next?”

I sighed, still rubbing my cheek. “Honestly? Not a one. We have no idea who’s spirit this even is, so we have no idea how to go about burning their remains, and we can’t give in to its demands without abandoning the place entirely, which would be…”

“Counterproductive.”

“Yeah.”

“I suppose it’s inevitable then, isn’t it?” The Madam allowed herself a moment to look downcast, then returned to her previous composed demeanor. “Very well then. If you are to burn the Castaway to the ground, will you at least grant me, grant us one final request? I want to be there when it happens. The Castaway holds fond memories for us all, and while I know it would be impossible for all of us to share in its passing, I would like to at least be able to shoulder the burden in everyone else’s place. Anything else would be an insult to its memory.”

Hearing somebody talk that way about a bar… it wasn’t something that you heard someone say every other day.

“The Castaway really means that much to you girls, huh?”

The Madam shook her head. “Not just us. We’ve been a cornerstone of the night life in this district for years. Looking back and remembering all the lonely, the sad, and the broken we’ve taken in and sheltered from the cold, and the smiles we’ve all shared between passes of the glass… I’d be shocked if even half of them said they wouldn’t miss the Castaway.”

I resisted the temptation to snort. “What about the hobos, the drunkards, the politicians and the slime?”

She shrugged. “Every family has its black sheep, Mr. Alfonso. Despite their defects or their deviances, they’re still your blood. Even when my ex-husband and I split on less than friendly terms, I never regretted the time I spent with him. Not once.”

“That right?”

I won’t deny it. It made me stop and think a bit. About me and Annie. Was I her black sheep? Would she forgive me like the Madam would if she ever found out what I was doing to support her, keep her healthy? Or would she despise me for paying for her bills with blood money?

As a brother who loved his sister, it was a question worth asking. But the answer I kept coming back to was that this wasn’t about me or my feelings. This was about Annie. I decided a long time ago that if it ever came to that, she could hate me all she wanted. I’d still do whatever I could to get her the money.

Did that make me a horrible person? Maybe. I’d kill anyone for her, do anything to save her. But wouldn’t any older brother?

“She gave you her blessing to burn the place down, huh?” Marq raised an eyebrow at me.

“Yep,” I sighed. “She seemed really torn up about it though. Can’t imagine what the poor lady’s going through.”

“And you’re sure there’s nothing we can do to save it?”

“Am I sure? No, probably not. In fact, I’d say it’s probably still possible. But we’d need more time, more men… and a lot more money for fixing the place up when we’re done. I know I’m not really used to being your employee yet, so try to understand I’m being as respectful about this as I can be. Leave it. It isn’t worth the shit, Marq. Not unless you wanna ask for a favor from the Vitalis-”

“Don’t even start with me.” Marq leaned back in his chair and sighed, looking for all the world like a guy who’d just gotten the worst news of his life. “Dammit… you said it hasn’t gotten to the safe, right?”

“Yeah. Which really don’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I mean, even if it is a poltergeist proof safe, why not just destroy the wall around it and drag it off? Is it just not interested? It’s been making off with booze and the rest of the money in the register…”

I watched Marq’s expression change. Darken.

“Why?”

Why?

“Why hasn’t it?”

“You sure that’s the question you want to be asking right now, Marq?”

“Just answer the goddamn question, Al. Why hasn’t it attacked the safe?” Marq’s silhouette had gone dark. Obscured entirely in his own shadow, the only light he was reflecting was coming off of his yellow, snake-like eyes. I’m not too proud to say it. In this moment, he intimidated me more than the poltergeist had.

“Well…” The more I thought about it, the less it made sense. The ghost was willing to wreck, destroy, and steal everything that wasn’t nailed down, but it hadn’t taken the safe. It hadn’t even tried. If it wanted to, really wanted to, it could have ripped the entire thing out of the wall and dragged it halfway across the city in one night. But it didn’t, even when we’d clearly seen evidence of a manifestation immediately surrounding the safe.

So if it was having fun smashing booze and making money from the register mysteriously disappear, why was it leaving the safe alone?

“… You think we’re being played, don’t you?”

“Like a fiddle.”

I groaned. Unbelievable. “At least tell me the damn thing’s actually real.

“Who knows. Someone capable of binding a ghost like this could easily control it. That is, of course, assuming the ritual itself wasn’t a fake.”

Sostene finally spoke up. “So you’re telling me I got sliced up because some asshole thought faking a haunting would be funny?”

“‘Fraid so, Sostene.”

“Goddammit!” Sostene lost control of himself again and punched a hole clean through the wall. Marq just sighed.

“You do know it’s stuff like that that gets you funny looks from the pigs, right?”

“Uh…” Sostene said lamely, just now realizing he’d stuck his hand so far through the wall he could open the door on the other side. “Sorry…”

“If you were really sorry, you’d learn to control yourself a bit better.”

“… you know it’s not that easy…” Sostene mumbled.

“Look. Just get back to the Castaway. This isn’t done yet, and I don’t want you back here until it is. Find out who’s playing us, and take him out like he’s yesterday’s trash. Got it? If you still can’t get rid of his ghost friend once that’s done, bring everything in the safe back to me and torch the place.”

We both nodded.

“Oh, and Al. Before you go, I got these for you. Forgot to give ‘em to you at the ceremony.” He pushed a revolver and a classic Italian switchblade towards me from across the desk. The knife in particular caught my eye due to its quality. Polished royal oak with gold-embossed pearl and a decorated obsidian blade sharpened to the width of only a few molecules. It was a high-roller kind of knife. “Our standard benefits package. The gun’s loaded in .357 magnum and the knife is enchanted. Self-sharpening. They’ve both been engraved in your name.”

I looked, and sure enough, they were. It was carved into the barrel of the gun and the heel of the knife in loopy, italicized calligraphy. Alfonso Anastasio.

“You didn’t need to do this, Marq.”

“Do what? Like I said, we do this kind of stuff for every made guy,” he said, even though he was obviously lying. “Let me know if the gun feels weird or anything in your hands. I can have someone fix it up for you. Longer barrel, tighter grip, the works. It’s on me.”

I smiled at my new boss in spite of myself. “Thanks, Marq.”

“Thanks for what?” He returned the smile knowingly. “Now get out of here. I said I had a job for you two and I want you to finish it. We can go out for a nice steak dinner once it’s done.”

“Whatever you say, boss.”

Whatever her feelings were, the Madam sure as hell looked confused when we showed up back at her door that afternoon. She mustn’t have had the foggiest why we were back after we’d told her the place was getting torched this very night. After a while she just greeted us with a shocked “You’re back,” then let us into the club. Some of the girls gave us dirty looks, but most of ‘em just didn’t know what to think either.

“Not the warmest of welcomes,” I mumbled to Sostene.

“Really? This is pretty tame by my standards.”

I cleared my throat. “Relax ladies. I come bearing good news.”

“And that would be?” the Madam questioned, still somewhat suspicious of our motives.

I grinned. “We have determined with the help of our employer, the Marquis, that the Castaway Club may yet be saved. Please, hold your applause until the announcement is over.”

“And how did you come to this conclusion?” the Madam said coldly, eyeing us with steel and venom. “Hopefully you put more thought into it than your first deduction, because clearly it wasn’t as sound as you first thought.”

I backed up a bit. “Whoa whoa whoa, easy Madam. What’s gotten into you? I thought you woulda been the happiest to hear this.”

“Normally yes, but given how quickly you’ve changed your minds, I’m beginning to doubt the worth of your ‘professional opinion’.”

“Are you saying you doubt the Marquis?”

“No. Far from it, I trust him implicitly. But that same trust doesn’t extend to you just because of mere association. I’ve known you for less than a day, and already you’ve told me the club I’ve suffered and bled for has to be burned down for insurance money, only to turn around and tell me it can still be saved less than twelve hours later? I don’t know what brought on this sudden revelation of yours, but you’ll excuse me if it feels opportunistic.”

“Please, Madam. We don’t intend anything of the sort.”

“Good. Because I won’t allow you to raise my hopes only to mercilessly crush them. Only a thug treats a woman like that, and I would expect better from the Marquis’ men. Are we understood?”

First the slap, now this? This was just getting humiliating. “Come on lady, you can’t just go around talking to made guys like that. It really pisses all over our image-”

Are we understood?

I sighed. “Yes’m.”

What can I say? I know when I’m defeated. And like many healthy young men, that’s when I’m faced with a good-looking doll in a one-piece dress.

“Good. You may continue your investigation as needed. I won’t stop you, and neither will the girls. But if any more damage befalls my property under your watch, I will consider you implicated. Understood?”

Sostene and I both replied in turn this time. “Yes’m.”

Such a great knife, and this is the first thing I’m using it for.

Working carefully, I carve out the sigil out from under the wooden bar until it fell into my hand, a neat little circle of wood. The sigil was thankfully spared from the glass assault of the previous night.

“Remind me why we’re vandalizing the Madam’s bar again?” Sostene asked me. “That woman scares the piss out of me. She’s like a momma bear…”

“Because we still need this,” I said, clutching the wood circle tightly. “If we can’t get our hands on any of the remains, we might need to try spell deconstruction, assuming this thing exists. I doubt we’d be able to get our hands on the specific ingredients we’d need to break apart this little number, but it’s worth safeguarding just in case. Plus, if someone were to damage the sigil itself, it might fuck with the spellwork, which would be… bad.”

“How bad?”

“Out-of-control-ghost bad.”

“That’s… pretty bad.”

“No shit, sherlock. Anyway, I need you to take this to the Madam. Have her throw it in back in the safe, at least until we’ve figured all this out.”

I tossed the sigil to Sostene. He caught it, nodding.

“Where do we go from there?”

“Standard operating procedure. We check out anyone who might have a connection to this place and a motive for wanting it gone, and we work from there. The ex-husband she mentioned this morning sounds like a good place to start. Gotta be a lot of happy memories there.”

Funny how things work out sometimes. My first job as a member of the family and I feel more like a detective than a mobster. Go figure.

Sostene left, and for the next few minutes, everything was quiet. The girls who were still with us went about their business with cleaning and maintenance, and some of them even sang onstage. But it was all background noise. No one listening, and nothing to hear.

After I’d gotten up to go to the bathroom in the back, the oppressive silence was finally broken. I just wish it could’ve been a more pleasant sound.

A sharp scream tore through the club. I could tell immediately from the club’s acoustics that it was coming from the stage. Concluding my business, I made myself presentable before wrenching the door open so hard I felt some of the hinges squeak. The poltergeist manifests in the middle of the investigation and I’m caught with my pants down. Inconvenient.

I rush out to the club atrium in front of the stage, and immediately the worst case scenario is confirmed. We’ve just found someone’s body on-stage.

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