Month: September 2014

Bonus Interlude (Mickey Donahue)

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It’s often said of men that they look peaceful only in their sleep; when they dream of things yet to come. A man who dreams of nightmares is a man tormented by demons, and haunted by his past. If you meet a man like this, then run, for he is a monster burdened by the weight of his own sins which pains him even in his sleep.

If this old wive’s tale is to be taken as an empirical fact, then Mickey Donahue was the most innocent, blameless, and pure-hearted man that had ever lived.

Sleeping soundly while surrounded by bottle after bottle with his fly wide open, Mickey had hardly moved a muscle or even so much as twitched in the last eight hours. His face was unblemished and content, and he even had a big ol’ grin on his face, one wider than the Brooklyn Bridge. God only knew what he was dreaming about (or perhaps the devil), but he’d showed no sign of stirring or doing fuck-all of anything since he’d collapsed into a heap following his drunken, poppy-induced rage. Many considered this to be a good thing, and many had also considered the ramifications of what were to happen to them were they still around when he woke up. As a result, the temporary hideout they’d been using (a shitty back-alley bar with no booze and a broken dart board) was empty save for Mickey and one dusty old telephone. All was quiet, leaving his sleep undisturbed.

Then the phone rang.

Mickey fell off his barstool and onto his ass. He rubbed the back of his head where he’d hit a table leg.

“Sonuva…”

He got up, still pretty hung-over, and stormed over to the phone with half a mind to rip it out of the goddamn wall. Instead, he settled for “angrily picking up the receiver”, which somehow wasn’t as cathartic.

“What the fuck do you want?!” he yelled into the mouthpiece.

Mickey was surprised to hear the voice of his second-in-command on the line. A gruff voice, belonging to one of the Bronco’s oldest and loyalest. Bit on the dull side, but sometimes that could be a desirable quality in henchmen. Just not this time.

“Boss, it’s Lubbo. The bombs are all set and ready to go. I was wondering what you wanted us to do with ‘em next.”

“Lubbo, you… dumbass!” Mickey yelled. “How many times do I have to fucking tell you?! Scry me for important business! Scry! Don’t use the fucking telephone! The cops can fucking trace this shit!”

“Relax Mickey, our boys are handling it,” he said dismissively. “Besides, this is easier. We don’t need as much goat blood.”

“For the love of…” Mickey pinched his brow. “I keep telling you, you don’t have to use goat blood! Any blood will do! Crack open a fucking pigeon for all I care! Do I have to tell you goons how to do fucking everything?”

“Yeah yeah, whatever. Don’t sweat it so much, it’s not that big a deal.” Mickey made a mental note to kill Lubbo later. “Listen, it’s all green on our end. We’re ready to set these things to blow whenever you are, we’re just waiting for your go-to.”

“Well whoop-dee fucking doo, good for you,” Mickey said sarcastically. “Every breath you’ve taken since leaving your mother’s dry, spit-encrusted vagina has now been justified. I’ll be there soon. Try not to fall and kill yourself on a pile of dicks until then, you fucking idiot.”

Mickey slammed the receiver back onto the rack, still pissed off.

“I am surrounded by morons…”

Briefly he wondered where the homunculus went. He’d been looking around for her and couldn’t find her, and was beginning to wonder if she’d gone on another one of the midnight smoke breaks he so generously allowed her. Fucking bitch… give them an inch and they take a mile.

“Hey! Where the hell did you go?!” he said, willing her to come to him. The homunculus, who’d been sleeping in the other room, awoke with a gasp, tripping and crawling on her hands and knees to get to him as quickly as possible. He scowled. “The fuck do you think you’re doing?! You’re supposed to be protecting me, you worthless waste of space! Or is that too fucking complicated for you to understand?”

He landed a kick in her stomach which sent her sprawling, and then he kicked her some more while she was prone, lying on the ground and coughing up small flecks of blood with each kick. She never fucking learned.

Finally, he got tired of her.

“Get up,” he ordered. “We got business to take care of. You finish with those clowns in the back yet?”

Still coughing, she hesitated, looked away, and then shook her head. Mickey growled.

You want something done right, you do it your fucking self…

Angrily, Mickey stormed into the back room of the bar. Well, this was as good a way as any to release some of that pent up aggression his therapist always said was so bad for him. Then again, what did he know? That bozo couldn’t tell a priest from a pedophile. As far as Mickey was concerned, that was all he needed to know about the late Dr. Fitzgerald.

The door slammed open, and immediately everyone tied up in the dimly-lit back room started making noise; crying, yelling, protesting and whining. Mickey smiled calmly like a proper showman should.

My dear captive audience, I know we’re all tired here, but I would appreciate it ever so much if you could all be so kind as to please shut the fuck up?!”

Everybody quickly became very quiet. Mickey stepped forward.

“Much better. Now then,” he said, surveying his hostages. “Ladies, germs. Thank you for your time. My name is Mickey Donahue, and I will be your host for the evening. Now, before we begin, would any of you like to know why it is you’re here?”

Before anyone could offer a response, Mickey replied. “It’s because this city is a diseased shithole. Rotten to the core. Wanna know why? I know why. It’s because of you!” Mickey pointed at a woman holding on to a picture of her husband. “Your friends and your families! Your husbands, your wives, and your children! All of them work for New York’s Faggoty Fucking Five. They’re all a part of the problem! Which means… you are a part of the problem.”

A seven year old child tied up with his mother began to cry, wailing uncontrollably. Mickey smiled. Now they were listening. He reached down and ruffled the little boy’s hair, quieting his incessant bawling.

“But don’t worry. It’s gonna be okay. You can still be part of the solution. What’s your name, kid?”

The boy sniffled. “F-Franz.”

“Franz, huh? Right now, as we speak, your pappy is doing me a little favor. I expect it’s going to be a while before you get to see each other again, but worry not. I promise you’ll be reunited soon. In the meantime, what you can do for me is this. You can sit here. You can wait. You can all be good little fucking hostages and do what I say, and it’ll all be over before you know it. As a matter of fact, you’ve already helped me so much just by being here that there’s there’s only one more thing you need to do for me before you’re free to go.”

He picked up a canister of gasoline, and immediately the more perceptive captives began screaming. Mickey sighed, humming along with the tune as he tossed the canister to the homunculus to douse the hostages with. Now these were the kind of screams he liked. These were screams with true passion behind them, the kind you could only muster when you were fighting for your life. It was like listening to music played by an artist. A performer just plays music for the money, but an artist… an artist plays music because it’s what he loves to do. Because he’d die without it. Screams with real life put into it, real soul… those screams were sweet harmony. It made him giggle in delight.

Finally he finished, shaking the gasoline vigorously so everyone got a nice, even coating. You couldn’t call it a barbecue if you didn’t get that nice, even golden-brown coating. He lit a match. Immediately the wives and a few of the men started blubbering, unable to articulate to him just how much they didn’t want to die. He sneered, half-laughing and half-disgusted.

“Don’t be so fucking pathetic. This is absolution for your sins, you fucking worthless cowards who were too afraid to face the truth! With your sacrifice, you’ll be helping make a better New York. Run by me. And not by those snide fucking aristocrats. It’s not gonna be like it was, with people left and right always telling you what to do like they think they fucking own you. You and me? We’re gonna bring the land of the free back to New York. Viva la America, baby!”

Like a conductor waving his baton, Mickey dropped the lit match in ceremonial procession, immediately setting the entire group ablaze, men, women, and children alike. Their screams as they vainly fought to preserve what was left of their quickly dwindling lives… the music they made was fantastic. Full of passion, comedy, and pathos. In death, they were all his artists. Crispy, barbecue-scented artists.

Mickey laughed uncontrollably. The homunculus just looked away.

“Hey, Mickey!” Lubbo said in greeting. “See, it’s just like I said. We got it all ready to go.”

“You brought our dead men too?”

Lubbo nodded, and directed Mickey to the ten men who were being forced to stand in front of the abandoned warehouse’s garage door. All of them were men of the five families turned turncoat for Mickey. They were each holding a piece of cardboard with their names on them, lined up side-to-side like like a police lineup, and had been standing like that for a good four hours without moving. Every time they’d tried, they’d been kicked and beaten back into a perfect procession. Many of them were back-pain sufferers, and looked ready to give in to cramps or just plain exhaustion. Mickey nodded in approval.

“Alright Lubbo, you’re good to go.” He patted his erstwhile subordinate on the back. “Oh, and one more thing.”

Quickly reaching for Lubbo’s gun, Mickey yanked it out of his belt loop and shot Lubbo in the face, splattering the lineup with pieces of his cerebellum and medulla oblongata.

“Fucking prick…” Mickey murmured. “When I say ‘scry’, you scry.” He turned to the ten dead men and his remaining underlings, who were understandably terrified by this sudden outburst of meaningless violence (meaningless to them anyway). “The fuck are you looking at? Did anyone tell you you could fucking stop?”

The men had long ago learned their supposed leader was a violent sociopath to top all other violent sociopaths, but one becomes willing to tolerate certain character flaws if it’s for a greater good. Now, however, was one of the moments where they began to wonder if they’d live to see that greater good serving under Mickey. Revenge was great and all, but so was breathing.

Mickey noticed their resistance, and willed the homunculus into action. The men slowly started to back off and resume their duties posthaste as the homunculus walked towards them, emotionless and with trench-knives bared. None of them wanted to serve under Mickey anymore, but none of them had a choice anymore either. As long as he had that thing working for him, there was no way they could win. It was better to suffer the abuse as it came than it was to give him a reason to inflict it.

Satisfied that his lackeys had been reminded of the proper pecking order, Mickey called off the homunculus and turned his attention to their ten little moles. Three Pescis, two Sartinis, one Allesandri, two Vitalis, and two Capellos, all lined up in neat order. He smiled. They didn’t.

“Relax, boys. I’m not gonna hurt ya.”

He didn’t expect them to speak. That wasn’t their place here. They’d shut up, listen, and entertain him, because that was-

“I’m sure that’s what you told Lubbo, too.” An unexpected chill froze the air as everyone, even Mickey (especially Mickey), stopped to process the idea that someone had just interrupted Mickey.

Mickey searched for the offender, his gaze petrifying like an old gorgon’s. He needed to know who this message was to go out too, specifically. Surprise surprise when he found out it was a Pesci.

“You…” he uttered coldly. “You’re that limp-dick fart’s son, aren’t you?”

“Son- in-law,” the thirty year old half-Italian spat. “Byron Marcucci is my wife’s father.”

“That so?”

“Yeah. Just thought you should know who you’re fucking with-”

Mickey kicked him in the groin with the toe of his steel- tipped boots, savoring the satisfying crunch as he mercilessly broke the Pesci’s balls. The man doubled over in pain, breathless and grasping at his swollen testicles. Mickey picked him up by his hair, and kneed him in the gut a few more times. Just to make sure he was listening.

“Woops. Guess your old man isn’t gonna get to be a grandpa.”

The Pesci smiled weakly. “Joke’s on you, asshole. He hates my guts. You’re doing him a fucking favor.”

Still defiant, he spat blood on Mickey’s shoes. Mickey scowled. Spreading his index finger and his middle finger apart, he jammed both digits into the Pesci’s eye sockets, digging around in the fat and the gristle while Eyeless Pete screamed. He tried shoving them in all the way. He wanted to touch his brain. Disheartened when he couldn’t get quite that deep, he pulled out, leaving his victim panting and moaning on the floor. Screaming could take a lot out of a guy.

He dry-heaved, panting. “Do what you want to me… I’m not gonna be your bitch, Mickey.”

But apparently not enough. Now, this was the point where most men would just give up, and call it a lost cause. Getting in the final word wasn’t worth this much effort. But Mickey wasn’t most men. And he was not going to let this asshole have the last laugh. Not on his big day.

“No, you’re not gonna be my bitch,” he said, stomping on the balls he’d already crushed once. “Your wife is. And believe me, I am definitely going to do what I want to her, unless you do exactly what I fucking say, you piece of shit. I own you, just like I own her. Now you’re gonna do what I fucking tell you to, or I’m gonna make sure an open casket funeral is the last thing they’ll be giving you. Both of you.”

One of Mickey’s subordinates came around with a bag of black pills. The lanky, mouselike man handed one to each mole before disinterestedly moving on to the next, never once making eye contact. The lackey looked to Mickey for approval once it was done. Mickey nodded. He looked to the other turncoats.

“That goes for all of you! I have your loved ones! They’re hidden safely away in one of our temp hideouts right now, but on my command they all go up in smoke! So you do what I fucking say, eat those fucking pills, and climb into those fucking tanks, and maybe, maybe I’ll let them go. But if you make a move, make a mistake, waste one more minute of my goddamn time, I will shove you so far up another man’s ass that you can get reacquainted with the Sunday special. Capisce, you dago fucks? Now, get the fuck in there!”

Hurriedly, each of the men did as they were told, abandoning their signs and scrambling into their tanks to be sealed in. The one without eyes or testicles had to try a few times because he kept bumping into things, but even he found his way in soon enough. Mickey passed by each one, watching as they got sealed in behind a plate of sheet metal. The last one, a fat Sartini, asked him a simple question.

“If I do this, my son Franz… he will be safe, ja? Even if I do not live to see it, at least let my son have a bright future, I beg of you!”

Mickey smiled. “Sure thing.”

The door to the empty tank was sealed shut, blocking out and protecting him from the outside world, and along with it, everything the man did not know.

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Snatch 2.8

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The pitch had gone just about as well as expected. When even Marq didn’t have confidence in a plan, you knew it was stupid from start to finish. However, the relative merits of a stupid plan become readily apparent when the alternative is so much shit hitting the fan it could splatter-paint an entire barn.

I sighed. “Listen, sirs, I know what this sounds like-”

“Do you? Do you fucking really, you piece of shit?” Georgie spat at me (or would have, if he could spit through that gas mask). “I don’t think you have any idea what this sounds like, because if you did, you’d go jump off a bridge and save me the fucking trouble!”

“Please, sir, I’m not trying to waste your time, I honestly think-”

“No, you don’t think. You don’t get to think. You’re not paid to think. If you were, you’d be me, and you’d realize how much more valuable my time is out there compared to how it’s being spent in fucking here. But you’re a soldato, a nobody who’s barely graduated from licking the mildew off his landlady’s crystallized vagina to make rent, and you’re trying to tell me what’s best for my fucking business?”

I finally lost my patience. “No, I’m trying to tell you what’s best for the city your business depends on, you arrogant dick. And pardon me for saying this, but do you mean the business that got us into this mess to begin with?”

Stunned silence. Georgie stood.

“What the fuck did you just say to me?” Georgie’s arm made a whirring noise and a tiny silver derringer appeared in his hand, attached to a retractable mechanism in the sleeve of his coat. A sleeve gun. He pointed it at me. “Say that again, you cocksucking little fungus. Say that again so I can blow your fucking brains out!”

“Mind the laws of the Council, Georgie,” Marq reminded him. “This is neutral ground. Open threats of violence are tantamount to declarations of war here, you know that.”

“You don’t get to tell me what to fucking do either, you snot-nosed brat! I should just shoot both of you, and save us all the fucking trouble!”

Georgie stared at me through his mask, making some kind of noise I interpreted as a growl. I had no doubt in my mind that were we not sitting around this table, he would’ve killed me. Right then and there, in front of everybody and anybody who cared to watch. So you can imagine I was mighty fucking relieved (but mostly just surprised) when the Capello brothers of all people came to my aide.

“Now now, Georgie.” “The poor boy was merely trying to make a point.” “It’d be beneath you to execute him just for constructive criticism.” “That’s the behavior of an ill-tempered soldato, not a don.” “He could learn some respect, but…” “Are you sure you really want to do this?” “We won’t stop you if you do, of course.” “We will say we expected better of you, though.” The two brothers exchanged glances. “Okay, that was a lie.” “We really don’t expect anything of you, Georgie.” “Because really-” “-who would?”

The two Capello brothers snickered. I don’t know why they came to my defense. To this day, I still don’t think they actually did. They just wanted to fuck with Georgie. Georgie twitched. I could almost see him pull the trigger before the gun rolled back up into his sleeve and he sat down.

“I want to see that kid punished for his disrespect, Marquis. By you.”

“Sure,” Marq responded. “Right after you explain to us why you thought it was a good idea to let your people sell to Mickey Donahue of all people.”

“Does it matter if it was a good idea? If he’s got money, he’s got drugs. That’s the family motto. Don’t see nothing wrong with it, seeing how it’s worked out pretty fucking well for me so far.”

“Does that include nepenthe?” I asked accusingly.

“Not to mention berserkergang, if these toxicology reports are anything to go by,” Marq added, flipping through a folder of autopsy records for the men killed in yesterday’s skirmish. “Quite a lot of it too. It’s probably how he’s been so successful in dealing with our men, that homunculus notwithstanding of course.”

Paulie choked. “Berserkergang? You sold the Broncos berserkergang?”

Georgie scowled. “Hey, don’t look at me like I just waltzed up to the guy and handed him needles of hulk juice. I had no fucking part in this. Do you know what your pushers are doing out there on the streets?”

“No we don’t, because not all of us have pushers,” Romeo quipped. “The drug trade is distasteful Georgie, and I hope you see why now.”

Paulie snarled, obviously annoyed with Romeo’s holier-than-thou attitude. “Look pretty boy, they sell the drugs, they make the money. No one asks questions as long as the quota is met. They could be selling it to sweet Polly fucking Oliver for all I care.”

I couldn’t believe this guy. First nepenthe and now berserkergang? Just what kind of hard drugs were the Sartinis dealing in? I mean what was next? Discount aphrodisiacs? Buy one date rape get another one free?

I sighed internally. Why couldn’t they just hook junkies on coke and opium like normal people?

Still, unless we wanted to sit around and accuse Georgie of aiding and abetting Mickey until the city exploded into clouds of poisonous gas, this meeting was going nowhere fast. Figuring I’d already shaved years off my life mouthing off to the don of another family, I decided I’d just take matters into my own hands and play my trump card.

I took the stand, interrupting their conversation as I got up out of my chair, the squeaking of polished wood against cement rumbling in my ears. I immediately got everyone’s attention, which was not a good thing in this kind of environment. This was bona fide insanity. What I was about to do would get me killed for sure. My career as a mafioso would be short-lived, and absolutely pointless with how much fucking good it would have done my sister and me.

I didn’t even know why I felt so strongly about this. Theo’s life wasn’t my concern. It was tragic, desperate, and even maddening in the tortuous cruelty of it all. But so was everyone’s. No one shuffles off this meat grinder they call the mortal coil without some kind of damage. If I’d never gotten involved, never met her, I would’ve gladly been able to carry on with my life. So was it because I’d gotten involved in the first place that I was doing all of this for someone I’d only just met?

Or was it because there are some things you just have to do if you want to call yourself human?

“This is getting us nowhere,” I said, going all in. “None of you take me seriously me anyway, and that’s fine with me, because that means I can just dispense with the niceties and just say it like it is. Look, this dame has been raped, drugged, and beaten for months in your turf, right underneath your noses. If none of you have an ounce of fucking sympathy for her, that’s fine. We all sold our piece-of-crap souls years ago, for whatever the hell they were worth. But at least consider what this means for your communities first before you just write her off as just another victim.

“If Mickey Donahue can get away with doing this kind of shit to a woman in damn near broad daylight for this long, what does that say about our protection rackets? What does that say about us, as an institution? That we’re willing to just let this kind of shit fly? The community relies on us to protect them from these kinds of soulless rat bastards. If something bad happens in New York, we’re supposed to be the ones responsible. We gotta hit Mickey hard for this. Give to the community and the community gives back. You let people know that the five families are just gonna let common breeds of criminal like Mickey get away with stuff like this, and they’re gonna lose what little faith and respect they ever had for you. And what do you think that’s gonna do for your ‘business’, Georgie?”

Everyone was in shock after I said that. The last thing anyone in this room was expecting was for me to say these kinds of things to men who’d had fellas killed for lesser crimes than what I’d just said, like botching an apache job or getting too much blood on their favorite suit. I’d pushed it too far. No… I hadn’t pushed it far enough.

“And if that isn’t enough for you, then how about this? Theo spends every day with Mickey, which means she knows the locations of each and every bomb in this city, and how to disarm them. She can save the people in your Wards. Hundreds of lives. More than that, she knows the names and faces of the men who have betrayed your organizations, the moles digging holes in your garden. You take her in alive, and she can give you all of that.

Confident I’d pushed it just far enough to light a fire under their asses, I mixed it up, toning it down and appearing to be reasonable. This was the killing blow.

“Look, I know the plan is crazy. I know it’s stupid. I heard it from the horse’s mouth. But unless you want Harlem to become hell on earth, it’s the only plan you’ve got. And it’s damn well worth the risk. You can shoot me if you want this time… but I got a good feeling you know I’m right.”

There was silence. Sigurd growled in the corner. No one made a move, but I could feel what they were thinking through the way it radiated through the air. Anger. Hesitation. Doubt. Indecision. Mostly anger, except from Romeo Vitali. This was gonna make or break whether or not they decided to kill me or listen to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did both.

Georgie made the first move. “You think you’re so fucking clever…”

I heard the whirring of his sleeve gun underneath the table, and started to sweat. I did just invite them to shoot me if they wanted. Knowing what little I did about Georgie Sartini, he’d make good on that offer immediately.

To my surprise, it was Paulie Pescatorre of all people who stopped him, firmly holding his gun hand at his side.

“You’re willing to put your own life at risk just to get this girl of yours some help. That’s either really brave, or really, really stupid. I admire that kind of dedication.” He looked me straight in the eye. “… Alright, boy. We’ll go along with your plan. But when this fails, and those bombs go off, it’s on you,” Paulie said, making no idle threat. “After what you said here today, no one’s going to come to your rescue. Success will only mean you get to live another day. Understand?”

I nodded. Fail and I die. Succeed, and I get to apologize by licking the dirt off of Paulie’s boots.

Paulie sighed, likely fully aware how bad of an idea this was. “Alright, so tell us. What will you need?”

“At minimum? A strike team of about seven to ten men just to retrieve Theo.”

“Who?”

“The homunculus,” I said.

“Ahhhhh…” Paulie said. He’d probably already forgotten she even had a name. “And?”

“Bomb squads, preferably some of our pocketed police but I’ll take whatever you can spare. Mickey’s probably building 4000 lb. bombs for maximum effect, so if we take his claim of twenty tons of gas at face value, we’re gonna need at least ten teams. Also, if we’re dealing with Willie Pete, we’ll need a few hazmat suits in case those bombs do go off. Also, I’m gonna need three dozen pounds of belladonna.”

Paulie raised an eyebrow.

“He means deadly nightshade,” George cut in, surprising me for the first time that day. “It’s a plant that produces atropine, a tropane alkaloid that neutralizes the effects of sarin gas. They used it in these little pills they gave to G.I.s during the war. You know, in case of a gas attack. The little shit’s got brains, I’ll give him that.”

“Why thank you, Georgie.”

“He’s lucky I don’t splatter them all over that wall.”

I wasn’t sure what to say to that, to be honest.

Paulie sighed. “Alright. And?”

“And I’ll need twenty four hours to get in touch with Theo and work out our rendezvous point, as well as our time of arrival and egress routes.”

Paulie nodded. “And I’m assuming you’ll want to make use of my atelier?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well I want a parade held in my honor and a handjob from the mayor’s wife, but you don’t see me loitering around Gracie Mansion with my fly open like some greaseball doucher. Just cause you want it doesn’t mean you should get it, kid.” Paulie pinched his nose. “I’ll spare you one of my panic rooms. They’re basement-level, twelve locks, steel doors three-and-a-half feet thick with reinforced walls. Better than a bank, and that’s the best you’re getting.”

But Paulie, sir-

“To ask a wizard to enter his atelier is to ask a man to enter his home,” Paulie said solemnly. “You would ask me to open my doors to a stranger, to feed them, clothe them, give them a place to rest and endanger my entire family? My livelihood? The answer’s no, and if you ask again you won’t be getting the panic room either.”

Well, it was a long shot to begin with. An atelier is the greatest security a man can afford, a magical safe haven of his own design. And as a man with a lot of money-no, the most money, Paulie’s atelier was the safest place to be in the entire city. But it was also his biggest investment. Magical research, ingredients for spells, expensive artifacts and charms, money and jewels… If you’ve got something worth keeping, you keep it in an atelier.

Still though, I couldn’t guarantee Theo wouldn’t break out. I know it sounds stupid to you, don’t think I don’t. A homunculus is only an artificial human, nothing more than that. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many humans who can break down bank vault doors with their bare hands, so it stood to reason there was no chance of her escaping either way. But something about not having that extra layer of protection scared me anyway. No matter how tough something is, if you hit it hard enough or long enough, it’ll break. That’s just a basic law of the universe. Magic’s different. Magic is like space, or time. It’s an abstract concept, and you can’t break those.

Call it paranoia, but I’d rather have that atelier and not need it rather than the other way around.

I sighed. “Thank you, sir.”

“You have your twenty-four hours to get everything you need ready. We’ll help if we can, but I expect you to handle this shitstorm yourself. I don’t know you personally-”

“I wouldn’t expect you to, sir,” I replied sarcastically, somewhat pushing my luck again.

-and even if I did, I wouldn’t stick my neck out for you just because you’re dizzy with some dame. This plan is fucking stupid.”

“With all due respect sir, that remains to be seen… but I know my odds, yes.”

“… Well, that being said, I wish you luck. For all our sakes.” Well that was surprising. He paused. “And don’t even think about asking for a promotion once this is done! You’ve caused enough trouble around here.”

Not so surprising.

I didn’t have to go looking very far for Theo. She’d be right where she was last time, standing atop the Empire State Building’s 102nd floor, just like she’d been expecting me. I can’t tell you how I knew that, but it just felt right that she’d be there.

I stepped off the steel beam onto the skeletal frame of the 102nd, and looked around for Theo. It occurred to me just then just how small everything was as I looked out over the city, the New York skyline stretching out like a carpet over the Eastern Seaboard, building after building pointing straight up at the sky like a challenge to the gods.

Last time we tried pulling this kind of shit, we built Babel thirty feet high out of brick, mortar and clay. Look at how far we’ve come since then. How long would it be before the heavenly asshole brigade decided to remind us where we stand in the grand scheme of things?

It was strangely comforting to think about it like that. Divine intervention. Cities laid to waste, maps redrawn, entire civilizations disappearing overnight. That’s what we really had to worry about. Compared to that, this charade with Mickey didn’t seem like such a big deal. A proper sense of scale really helped keep me from worrying too much about what would happen if we failed. If I failed. That kind of thinking was what got goodfellas shot.

Finally, I saw her. She didn’t wave to me, so I decided to take the initiative and greet her, waving my arms back and forth in the air like a fool. She apparently didn’t find that funny. Or just didn’t know what to make of it.

“Have you acquired the help we need?”

I nodded. “Yeah, and it wasn’t any skin off my bones either, thanks for asking. If we mess this up, I’m getting the kibosh.”

“I am sorry to hear that.”

“Really?”

“No, not really. I just felt like it was the appropriate thing to say. I suppose you’ll be wanting your payment now?”

“Payment?”

“Yes. Payment. Compensation for services rendered.” That was when Theo started doing the last thing I expected. Up on top of the Empire State Building, in the middle of the coldest night of the month, she started undressing. Right in front of me. And while I can’t say I didn’t appreciate the view, let’s just say doing the deed was the last thing on my mind right now.

“Whoawhoawhoa!” I said, trying to cover my eyes to preserve her modesty. “What the hell are you doing?!”

She slipped out of the straps of her red dress, her shoulders bare and her breasts covered only by the flimsiest pretenses of modesty. “I don’t have any money, and I can’t offer you my contract either, not so long as Mickey has it. My body is the only thing of value I can offer you. Please accept it.”

She wrapped her arms around me, pushing her mostly naked body up against mine. I really wanted to. I mean I really did. But not here. Not like this. And definitely not for these reasons. After what she’d been through… it didn’t feel right. Wouldn’t I just be taking advantage of her? How would that make me any better than Mickey?

So, I did what felt right. I wrapped my arms around her, drawing her into a hug. A real nice one. Nothing sexual, just physical intimacy for the sake of physical intimacy.

“I’m sorry.”

“What are you doing?” she asked, squirming. “Is the payment not enough? What more do you want me to do?”

“Nothing. I’m sorry for everything he’s done to you. And I promise I’m going to start making it up to you, any way I can. But not like this.”

“What are you talking about? I’m trying to make it up to you.”

“Then come work for me. No contract, or at least nothing permanent. You can live with me and my sister in my apartment. Maybe work as a maid or something. You can pay me back that way.”

“I can’t accept that. How can I expect you to trust me if you won’t hold me accountable? You have no guarantee I won’t go back on this deal.”

“Because I’m not like Mickey or Erik. I’m not just thinking about what I can get you to do for me. Most people aren’t like that. I’d like to show you that, if I can. Show you that the world isn’t as cruel as the people you’ve been with up until now.”

She huddled in closer, burying herself in my shoulder.

“How would you do that?”

“I don’t know. Maybe we can go to Coney Island sometime. Ride the rides. See a show. Have some fun. Maybe I’ll treat you and Annie to a nice steak dinner sometime, or take you for a ride on that new transcontinental train. We can take one of those three day trips, just the three of us. Y’know, like a family.”

“Family…”

“Yeah, family. And family doesn’t leave family behind.” I hugged her tightly. “I promise, no one’s going to hurt you ever again. I’ll make sure of it.”

The knowledge of her addiction to nepenthe lingered in the back of my mind, a reminder of the twisted shit Mickey did to her, and how long it would take to heal those wounds. The things he did could never be undone. Not ever. They’d always be with her, reminding her of the past. She’d always be damaged goods. But that didn’t matter to me. I’d cross that bridge when I came to it. Right now, there was only one thing that mattered.

There’s no question. Now I have to save her…

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Snatch 2.7

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The looks I got when I stepped back into the office were nothing short of priceless. I could almost imagine what I must have looked like to them. Getting off that building… I’d done some things. Things I’m not proud of. Things that made me make a silent promise to never set foot in another construction site ever again. Not without a full-body glove.

Marq grimaced as he saw just how fucked up and covered in filth I was. “What the hell happened to you?”

“Oh, nothing much. Just had a little talk with Theo.”

“Theo?”

“Yeah, the homunculus. Philippa Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim.”

Marq laughed sarcastically. “Cute. Someone must’ve had a sense of humor.”

“‘Had’ being the operative word there. He’s dead. Some genius wet sock named Erik. Mickey ventilated him and stole Theo from the poor bastard before he was even cold.”

“Ouch…” Sostene remarked, cringing.

“It gets worse.”

Marq raised an eyebrow. “Worse?”

“A lot worse. For one, Theo’s tweaking. And I think I know on what.”

“Pardon me if I don’t see why I should fucking care,” Nayeli said in her typical blunt manner. “What does this have to do with Mickey? And stop talking about that thing like it has a name. It’s a homunculus. Someone made it, it wasn’t born.”

I glared at her. “The whole time we were talking, I saw Theo do a bunch of weird shit. Scratching her arms, pacing, grinding her teeth together. That kind of stuff. It looked like something was seriously eating at her. That, and I smelled something sweet on her. Almost like honey. Her gloves were sticky too.”

“Please don’t tell me this is what I think it is,” Marq said, catching on to what I meant almost immediately.

I nodded. “Nepenthe.”

Marq groaned, prompting a glance of concern from Nayeli. “So our only in on Mickey is a homunculus hopped up on pixie sticks. That’s… that’s great.”

The reaction was justified. Nepenthe was some nasty shit, even though it started out like this cute little antidepressant. Taking it prompts your body to release a shitload of dopamine and serotonin, totally relaxing you. When you’re on nepenthe, you just don’t care. Not about anything. A bomb could go off in the Chinese laundry shop down the street and you wouldn’t miss a beat. But that’s not what makes nepenthe special. You can get that kind of high with marijuana or the hop.

No, what makes nepenthe a bitch of a drug is what it does that pot doesn’t.

Funny thing is, both marijuana and nepenthe inhibit short-term memory, making them great “forget my life” kinda drugs. But nepenthe takes it a step farther than just wiping the slate clean on a bad day. Nepenthe actually inhibits short-term memory while boosting long-term memory recall. It’s a drug that blankets you in rose-colored nostalgia. You stop thinking about tomorrow, and you forget all about today. Nepenthe takes you to the happiest parts of your life, the memories you cherish the most. A more perfect escape drug has never existed.

Unfortunately, if that was all nepenthe did, everyone would be using it. Doctors would be handing that shit out like candy. But it’s not quite that kosher. Long term nepenthe use actually burns out your body’s ability to produce dopamine, and can seriously fuck with the systems that regulate serotonin levels in the brain. Long story short? When it stops working, and it will, it takes your ability to feel pleasure with it. Recovery takes a long time, and depending on how long you’ve been taking the stuff, you might even be looking at years of learning how to cope with serious brain damage once you kick the habit.

Now me, I knew why Theo was on that kind of shit. I wish I didn’t, but I knew. And it wasn’t something I was going to tell them anything about. I wouldn’t be doing them any favors by sharing that burden with them. Not when we still had Mickey to worry about. But…

“I don’t think an unreliable contact is the biggest of our worries right now, Marq.”

I didn’t need to tell him what I meant. He’d figure it out himself quick enough. Marq considered the implications for a second, and I saw that look of dawning comprehension. “Oh.”

I nodded. “The Sartinis run the biggest drug-smuggling ring this side of Chicago. Nepenthe is their baby. They sell more of it than any other poison on the street.”

“So?” Nayeli interrupted. “Maybe he didn’t get it from the Sartinis. Plenty of rock-peddlers this side of town.”

“I hate to say this, but Nayeli has a point,” Sostene said. “Georgie Sartini doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’d deal to Mickey. Not on account of him having any kind of human decency or compassion, but because Mickey’s the kinda guy that’s just begging to be shot.”

“That’s not the point,” I replied. “What I’m saying is-”

“What he’s saying is,” Marq cut in, ignoring my irritated sideways glance, “the Sartinis make most of their drug money off of nepenthe. It would be bad for business if anyone else tried edging in on their profit margin, so of course they keep things slick with anyone in the five families that tries to push the idea that maybe they should start selling the stuff. No one in this city distributes nepenthe <em>but</em> them. You can only buy nepenthe through an associate of the Sartinis because everyone else who’s tried has been snuffed out. You can’t steal it either, because Georgie’s drug operations finance most of the Sartini’s annual paychecks, which means they keep the sweet stuff locked up tight. Mickey might be able to steal from Paulie, but he couldn’t steal from Georgie. Not in a million years.”

“Now do you see the fucking problem, Nayeli? If the Sartinis are the only ones with nepenthe, then where has Mickey been getting it?”

That got them worried.

“That doesn’t make any sense though,” Sostene said. “Georgie’s ass is just as much on the line as ours is here. Why would he purposely enable this clown?”

“He probably isn’t. My guess is, Mickey’s got plants in the Sartini family. No made guys, but probably at least a few former ‘friends’ of the family who decided Mickey was the wiser of two evils, god rest their dumb fucking souls.”

“Which means all of our organizations might be compromised,” Marq said, cutting to the point. “The Sartinis, the Allesandris, the Pescatorres, the Capellos and the Vitalis. If he’s got guys working for him inside all of the families, we are done.”

“I’d like to say that’s the bad news, buuuuuut…” I hissed, trying to think of a way to word this delicately. “It gets worse. Again. That hole in Nayeli’s head? It’s the result of high S-class thaumaturgy. Sympathetic magic that, if I’m gonna skip the shit, should not exist in this time.”

“High S-class?” Marq said. “Mickey has access to high S-class magic?”

“Yeah. It’s Theo. She has a mythic weapon inside of her. One going by the name of Fragarach. And since it kicked Nayeli’s ass, I think I don’t need to tell you just how much we shouldn’t fuck with it,” I said, trying to ignore how Nayeli was flipping me the bird out of the corner of my eye. “As it turns out, Erik was looking for a little more than a woman’s touch in his life. He also happened to have a serious complex. And it looks like he decided to compensate for it by building himself a superweapon.”

“Of course.”

“Of fucking course, exactly. To make a long story short, he somehow got his hands on a fragment of an Irish holy sword and decided to make a human weapon with it. Anyone who attacks Theo by any means, physical or conceptual, will have the same damage dealt back to them ten times over. Theo on the other hand will never sustain any permanent injury on account of being suspended in time, just like Sostene here. She just takes the hits over and over again until you’ve beaten yourself to death.”

“Well that could be a problem,” Marq said, showing his mastery of the understatement. “What about remote attacks? Could we drop a bomb on her, maybe disable her for a while without damaging our guys?”

I shook my head. “It doesn’t matter if the means are direct or indirect. The catalyst that triggers Fragarach isn’t the attack itself, but the intent to harm. Every kind of sympathetic magic needs some kind of medium to connect party A to party B, and that’s it for this little number. That shit’s all it takes.”

“Talk about a loaded deck,” Sostene remarked.

Nayeli snorted. “It’s a weapon forged by gods. They don’t exactly have a hard-on for fair play.”

“So?” Marq asked. “How do we deal with her then?”

I’ll admit, I fumbled on this. There wasn’t any easy way to say this, because the plan Theo proposed was both fucking stupid as hell and unsavory for everyone involved. It also had the added benefit of being our only option.

“Y’see the thing is, the rules of the geas say Theo’s gonna start attacking us the moment we try to fill Mickey with more daylight than a Florida summer, and playing the game that way isn’t going to work. So we need to contain her safely so she won’t hurt herself or anyone else. That’s gonna be difficult unless we can separate her from Mickey first, which means we need to intercept her when she’s alone, and-”

“You want us to kidnap her in broad daylight, don’t you?”

“I…” I paused, then sighed. There was no way to make this sound better than it was. “Yeah, basically. Look, I know it’s not gonna be the classiest thing we’ve ever done, but it’s hardly kidnapping. She wants to be taken away from Mickey, this was her plan. And we don’t have-”

“Any other choices, I know,” Marq finished. “Doesn’t matter. The family’s rep can afford to take a few hits. Tell me what we’re gonna need. I’m interested to know how we’re gonna keep this doll of yours contained. Seeing how she handed you all your own asses in the park,” he said as Nayeli pouted, “I’m having a hard time believing this is really gonna be that easy.”

“It’s not. We have her cooperation right up until Mickey catches on to what we’re doing. After that, she’s gonna be a hell of a lot harder to keep under control, which is why we need an armored car, like from a bank, and Nayeli doing ride-along so we can keep her wrapped up as tight as fucking possible. That and a crew of about fifteen guys for the pickup and delivery alone.”

“Oh, is that it?” Marq asked sarcastically.

”But,” I said desperately, “if we can do that, we should be golden. Theo says Mickey doesn’t know what she can really do, so once we get her into that armored car, she isn’t going to be any more of a threat to us than a normal plain Jane. After that, we just gotta deal with Mickey and his goons, which we did a pretty good job of last time.”

Marq put on his “I’m considering it” face. “Let me talk this over with the Council. Don’t go making any promises to this dame before you hear back from me, got it? I don’t know how they’re gonna handle this kinda news. If they wanna bring the hammer down instead of playing along with this homunculus’ hairbrained scheme, I don’t want any of us caught up in the middle of it. Understand me?”

I frowned. That phrase again. Bring the hammer down.

Then it hit me. “… Marq, what’s ‘the hammer’? What are they going to do when they ‘bring the hammer down’?”

Marq scowled, and looked away. Marq never looks away when you’re talking to him. Marq doesn’t get uncomfortable around people like that. The moment he broke eye contact, I knew this was gonna be bad.

“They’re gonna purge. Pack up their shit and leave, then make it all disappear in one bright blue flash. It’s the safest thing for them to do. Mickey’s officially become too troublesome to deal with, but too dangerous to leave alone. So they’re just gonna call do-over and wipe him out, along with everything else in a five mile vicinity. They’re willing to let this entire neighborhood go if they have to.”

“Why the fuck would they do that?!”

“To send a message, maybe? I don’t know, why do they do anything?”

“Marq, you can’t just let them-”

“What do you expect me to do, Al?!” Marq yelled, losing his cool. “I said I’d talk to them! That’s all I can promise you right now. Now do I have your word you won’t do anything stupid to fuck this up for us? I don’t want you anywhere near her until we get our game plan sorted out. Otherwise you’re gonna run in there and die, and then one of us is gonna have to go in after you, and then we’re gonna die, and we’re all just gonna die and I ain’t having that on my shoulders! I ain’t having that period. I’m not going to lose any of you. Not here, not like this.”

It’d been a long time since I’d seen Marq this angry. I watched him fumble with his lighter and cigarette case, trying to get it open. He was so on edge he could barely keep his fingers from shaking. Was it stress? Or just rage? It was scary seeing him like this either way. Then again, it was a scary situation.

Finally he got so tired of it he just banged the case against his desk, spilling cigarettes everywhere. He grabbed one. Marq bit down on the cigarette hard, clamping down on it until I thought he was gonna chew the the fucking thing in half. He tried to light it, but he couldn’t get a flame no matter how many times he tried flicking that little golden spark wheel.

“Dammit…” he said, pulling the wet stick out of his mouth.

Concerned, Nayeli helpfully offered him another one from the pile of pick-up sticks on his desk. He snatched it from her, mumbling a barely audible ‘thanks’. He flicked the wheel one more time before finally running out of patience with it and jamming it in his pocket. He called out for Sigurd, whistling his name. The dragon came bumbling through the door, dragging things and knocking stuff down on its way to get to Marq. Clumsy goddamn animal.

Without a word, Marq held the cigarette out in front of the dragon. Sigurd sniffed it.

“Not right now, Siggy. Treat later.”

Sigurd huffed, and the heat of his breath lit the tip of the cigarette to the tune of a smoldering orange glow. Marq inhaled deeply into the smoky cigarette, almost like the funhouse mirror reflection of an asthmatic, and then exhaled, letting smoke simply fall and curl out of his open mouth. He needed a minute to think.

“… hey, Al. How much confidence do you have in this homunculus?”

“Uh… a bit? I don’t really know what you want from me here, Marq. She’s traumatized and high as a kite half the time.”

“If this were a clip joint, would it be enough for you to bet on her?”

I considered it briefly. I’d never put much thought into how much I trusted Theo, or how much her word was worth to me. As much as I hated to admit it, she was still Mickey’s familiar, which meant there was a very good chance she could fuck this whole thing up for us if we weren’t careful. Not to mention her drug habit would make her unreliable at best; uncooperative at worst. When it came down to it, I wanted to save her sure, but the ugly fact was I didn’t trust her. Not for a minute.

But if even a word of what she’d told me on that rooftop was true, it was reason enough for me to fucking kill Mickey. There are some things in life you just gotta do if you wanna live with yourself for another day, and saving Theo was one of them. Her plan was our best and only shot.

Besides, no one gets away with setting off chemical weapons in the city my sister lives in. Not Marq, not Georgie Sartini, not the fucking Pope.

I made my decision. “I trust her.”

Having regained his cool composure, Marq blew more smoke, and then turned to me and said, “Good. Then you won’t mind if I bring you along to talk to the Council.”

“… zeggen wat?”

“You know the situation better than anyone here. If anyone knows what to say to convince them to give this a chance, it’s you.”

“Waitasecond, waitasecond. Wait just a second here, Marq. I thought you said they don’t have any respect for you in the Council.”

“They don’t. They’ll probably have even less for you.”

“Then what the fuck do you expect me to do?”

“What we always do. We’re gonna talk as much as we can, and we’re gonna throw our best bullshit at this until something sticks. And maybe, if we’re lucky and they let us talk long enough, we’ll get them to give this plan of yours the benefit of the doubt. I don’t trust this dame of yours as far as I can throw her, but if anyone knows what to say to get the Council to listen, it’s you.”

“… Fuck me.”

“And that’s the gist of it… sirs.”

I sat back down next to Marq. My words were met with deafening silence. The whole time I’d been there, I was uncomfortably aware of just how much the center of attention I was here. No one wanted me here (least of all Georgie). Even Byron, fresh from his hospital bed, stared me down with eyes like death. I didn’t have to be that kind of medium to know what he was thinking, because I saw it in everyone else too.

What kind of fucking right does this kid have to be sitting here, breathing my air? He should be on the ground, spit-shining the shit off of my fucking shoes.

But instead, I was up here. Sitting at the table. In front of five of the most powerful men on the Eastern seaboard and their consiglieres. And no one was more upset about that than me.

Finally, Paulie sighed, pinching the bridge between his eyes. “So let me get this straight, Alfredo-”

“It’s Alfonso… sir.”

“I don’t care what it is, and next time you interrupt me I’m going to stuff you into a sandbag.” I decided I’d get real quiet real fast. “You want us to take a drugged up homunculus, Mickey’s homunculus, at its word?”

“Yes.”

“Despite there being no good reason to do so?”

“Yes… sir.”

“And then you want to send a bunch of our best guys to ‘rescue’ this broad from inside the enemy’s atelier?” Georgie added.

“To be fair, I highly doubt Mickey has an atelier.”

“What happened to the ‘sir’?” Georgie complained angrily. “Why don’t I get a ‘sir’?”

“Sorry sir.”

“And then you want us to shelter this abomination and welcome it into our homes while its master is still <em>very</em> much alive?” Romeo Vitali interrupted. “You would put us all in danger to keep this doll of yours safe?”

“It’s more keeping us safe from her, but…” I tried to think of something more comforting to say. “… yes, sirs, that about covers it.”

Paulie sighed. “Alright then. One last question. Ivo? Jesse?”

“Are you-”

“-fucking high?”

… This was not going well.

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