When I came to, all of Mickey’s goons had fled, and I was being seen to by Theo, who was no more worse for wear than when we’d started, minus some ruffles and cuts on her dress and leggings. Her gloved hands worked quickly, threading fibers from her dress through a needle as she closed up a bleeding gash just under my left eye with a pattern of red stitches. So she knew how to apply first-aid too.
I looked up at her, my head cradled in her lap.
“You are awake.”
“Yeah, I figured,” I said. “What happened? Last thing I remember is Mickey trying to-”
“Mickey is no longer a problem,” she said. I turned to look in the direction she was pointing to. Mickey was rolling around on the floor, gagged and stuffed into a barrel. I couldn’t help it. I laughed.
“And who do we have to thank for that?” I asked. “Papa Noel? Or was it l’Agnello?”
Now there was a voice I recognized.
“Well whaddya know,” I said, turning my head to look at him. “It’s our own resident miracle-worker. Guess I was at least half-right. What took you so long? I thought you weren’t coming to save me.”
“And you really believed that?”
I grinned. “Not for a second. Thanks for hauling my ass out of the fire.”
“Eh,” he said shrugging. “Looks like you had things under control. Right up until that ‘choking you with your own gun’ bit. That got a little messy.”
“I would hardly say he had things ‘under control’,” Theo said. “What he did today was incredibly foolish, not to mention dangerous. His reckless endangerment of his own life is hardly worth admiring-”
Marq laughed. “Looks like you’ve got a real spitfire of your own, Al. Why didn’t you introduce us sooner?”
I winced. This was embarrassing.
“I still saved you, didn’t I?” I shot back, trying to save face. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s quid pro quo.”
She nodded. “Indeed. I am forever in your debt.”
“More like in my debt…” Marq muttered.
“I will have to repay you as well then I suppose, Mr. Allesandri.”
“Let’s try to avoid paying him the same way you tried to pay me,” I responded sarcastically. “He’s kind of spoken for.”
Marq laughed. “Twice over, actually. A girlfriend and a fiancee. Don’t worry, we can negotiate the exact terms and conditions later.”
I looked at Marq. “So? How’d you know where to find me?”
He laughed. “Really, Al? You think you ever left my sight for a second? You don’t take your eyes off your best pieces in chess, do you?”
I laughed back. “You sneaky bastard. Don’t tell me this was all part of some plan you cooked up. Man, that is fucked up, you know that, right?”
“Language,” he said, reprimanding me. “We are in the presence of a lady.”
I paused and took a moment to consider this new information. “… What about Nayeli?”
“Nayeli doesn’t care if I swear.”
“No, I mean what about Nayeli? Where does she factor into this? I can’t imagine what happened to her in Central Park was all part of the plan.” I paused, unsure if I wanted the answer. “Was it?”
Marq sighed. “Admittedly that was the result of poor foresight on my part. You two were never supposed to be in any real danger. I never thought he’d go that far, but I had rooftop snipers watching your little meeting just in case. And if I ever get my hands on the genius who thought it was a good idea to wait until Nayeli was in that kind of danger to pull the trigger, I swear to god, heads will roll.”
Knowing Marq, that probably wasn’t a metaphor.
Moving on, I asked, “So what was the endgame here?”
“Originally? Her,” Marq said as he pointed to Theo. “I was interested in acquiring whatever kind of new weapon Mickey was using to make a fool out of Paulie, so I decided to roll the dice on this little gambit just to see how things went. That was, of course, before this little hooligan…”
Marq stomped on the barrel Mickey was rolling around in.
“… decided he’d try and get frisky with my girlfriend. Then this fun little distraction from my real work became personal. The win condition changed from getting Theo to join our side to getting Mickey alone, here, so I could kill him myself. I didn’t want anyone else taking credit for the capture so I had you go in alone. Couldn’t have you letting on that you had backup though, otherwise the surprise would’ve been ruined.”
“So you pointed me in the right direction, then sat back and watched while everyone else turned on me,” I said coldly. “First the sympathy play with Theo, then the book. You even tipped me off about the blood. You manipulated me.”
“Only as much as I had to,” he said begrudgingly. “But yes, I did. I’m not going to say I’m sorry, either.”
We locked eyes, and it was on. The air turned cold as we stared each other down.
“… pfffft.” I broke out laughing. “You look like you’re about to pass a kidney stone. Relax, I’m pulling your fucking leg. It worked, didn’t it? What do I got to be mad about? We got the girl, got our man, and we even saved the city from Mickey and the Council.”
“Yeah, about that…” Marq said.
“About what?”” I asked.
A loud squealing noise signaled the presence of company as the massive loading bay doors were slowly forced open. Standing out front in the light of the open doors were the blackened silhouettes of the Council. They’d come to see Mickey, and hopefully revoke my death sentence.
Their shadows walking five feet ahead of them at all times, the consiglieres and capofamiglias of New York’s five largest families (save the Allesandris) stepped out of the darkness of the warehouse and into the light of the docks, with us. Paulie stared at me disapprovingly.
“Went and got yourself poisoned, shot up, beat up and almost killed just to prove your point…” he exhaled a cloud of thick smoke from his cigar. “Guess I can’t exactly have you executed now, can I?”
I grinned. “No sir, I suppose you can’t.”
“Hey, I said ‘exactly’. Just because you didn’t fuck up this time doesn’t mean you didn’t already fail me once. There’s still gonna be hell to pay for this, understand?” he said, agitated. “Those buildings Mickey destroyed weren’t cheap, and guess who everyone in the senate goes to when they need a loan to pay back the damages? I’m gonna save you the trouble and just tell you. It’s me. So the next time I have a favor that needs doing you’re gonna be the one to do it, or I might just start thinking about reconsidering the value of your life, understand?”
“… understood, sir.”
“Blows my fucking mind that you’d do all this just to keep us from raising a little hell…” Paulie mumbled.
I raised an eyebrow. “A little hell? With all due respect sir, you were going to bring a war to Harlem.”
“What?” Paulie exclaimed in confusion. “Who told you that, boy? I’ve seen my fair share of power struggles go bad over gang busts, but never anything like that.”
I paused. “… Come again?”
“A power struggle. That is what you’re talking about, right?” Paulie took a deep breath from his cigar, exhaling. “You gotta remember kid, this is the Broncos we’re talking about. They’re not exactly a well-oiled machine. We could’ve assassinated Mickey no problem and the whole operation would’ve fallen apart in a day without their leader. No muss, no fuss.”
I looked to Georgie, hoping he could explain what was going on.
“Assassination,” Georgie said, sighing. “Calling in a hit. Rubbing him out. That thing we do when we don’t like a specific person very much. Ringing any fucking bells?”
“It would’ve been easy, too,” Paulie said, sounding disappointed. “We had a bunch of easy scapegoats we could’ve handed off to one of our friends in low places, and boom! Mickey dies from a deal gone wrong. Or right, depending on how you want to look at it, I guess.”
“Although I would prefer not to consort with demons, I must admit it would’ve been easier than… this,” Romeo said, gesturing to the carnage I’d left in my wake. It still didn’t seem real, honestly.
“So you mean,” I said, talking slowly and carefully, “that all this time you were just going to have Mickey knocked off by a demon? That we could’ve avoided all of this just by strongarming some poor sonuvabitch into making a deal with the devil and calling it a fucking day?”
“Of course,” Paulie said. “What did you think we were gonna do?”
I glared at Marq, who just shrugged sheepishly. That lying little son of a bitch…
Sighing, I said, “Well, on the bright side, we’ve still got Mickey all to ourselves. That’s gotta count for something.”
“Indeed it does,” Marq said, taking over. “And to the victor goes the spoils. He’s all yours, Al.”
Marq handed me a gun. Not mine, though. I tried to stand up, but I couldn’t. My body wasn’t in any kind of fucking condition for it, especially now that the blood’s effects had cleared up and I could start looking forward to all of the nasty side effects Marq had been hinting at. I just hoped Nayeli didn’t have any weird diseases.
Marq smirked. He’d gotten what he wanted.
“Well if you can’t, I suppose it’s only right that I should be the one to do the honors. And I have the perfect punishment in mind.”
Mickey’s eyes widened, and he squealed and squirmed in a panic inside his barrel.
“Whoawhoawhoa,” George interrupted. “You? Are you fucking kidding me, you little bastard? We got a whole graveyard fulla bones to pick with Mickey, starting first and foremost with Paulie. If your golden boy can’t step up to the plate, then the right falls to us. So step the fuck off, Marquis.” His sleeve-gun rolled out into his hand. “Before I make you.”
“Us?” Paulie questioned accusingly. “Last I checked Georgie, the only one who lost anything in this whole charade was me. Those runts set my profit margin back by months with their little warehouse raid.”
“What, and you think my business ain’t gonna suffer because of these bozos?”
Paulie snorted derisively. “At least they purchased your shit.”
“Yeah, through an off-the-books dealer who turned out to be a mole, and who has probably hidden ‘my shit’ and my money all the fuck over New York fucking City!” Georgie screamed, looking like he was having an aneurysm. “That’s a few thousand dollars I’m never seeing again! So don’t you dare try to fucking gyp me on this, Paulie! I’m gonna take every cent out of this upstart fuck’s hide! Only question is are we gonna do it together, or are you gonna be a fucking prick and try to steal from me again?”
“If we may interrupt.” “We have an idea.”
Everyone turned to look at the Capello twins. Elizabeth, their stoney-faced consigliere and eye-candy secretary, properly judged the tension in the room and appropriately took one step back, distancing herself from the brothers.
“You ain’t got nothing to say about this, Straightjacket,” Georgie intoned threateningly. “He didn’t take nothing from you.”
“Which is what makes us perfect for settling this little impasse. Don’t you think so, brother?” “Of course, brother.” “I knew you’d agree with me, Jesse.” “I always do, Ivo.”
Paulie sighed. “Alright, so? What’s your brilliant idea?”
“It’s quite simple, really.” “We let the boy decide.”
I repressed the urge to blow them a raspberry. How come even they got to call me “boy”? They weren’t even in their thirties, for chrissakes! Get off your high horse…
“That’s fucking ridiculous,” Georgie said dismissively. “He’s just a soldato.”
“A soldato who took down Mickey-” “-and his entire gang of armed thugs-” “-pretty much singlehandedly,” the brothers said, coming to my defence. “Calling him ‘just a soldato’ is hardly fair.” “Don’t you think so, Paulie?”
“A boss is a boss and a soldato is a soldato,” Georgie growled. “Accomplishment is fucking irrelevant to rank. You salute the rank, not the man.”
“Then I guess-” “-you’ll just have to promote him.”
“Not. On your. Fucking. Lives.”
Georgie looked at Marq, who just shrugged.
“There aren’t any openings in the caporegime right now. I’m afraid that even if I wanted to, I couldn’t promote him. Not unless you wanna try telling one of my brother’s he gonna have to be demoted to make room for a week-old recruit. Which uh, good luck with that,” he said, chuckling and rubbing his nose.
“See?” Georgie said. “He has no fucking authority to throw around here.”
“… On the contrary,” Paulie said. “He has all the authority.”
“Wha-” Georgie heard that and was, for a moment, at a loss for words. “I can’t believe I’m hearing this. Is Paulie Pescatore- nonono, Paulie “The Rock” Pescatorre- crying for this kid? Are you saying that you think he’s fucking better than you?”
“Hardly,” Paulie said. “However, I respect his resolve. He put his own life on the line just for the chance to end someone else’s. When you pull that off and live, that person’s life becomes yours to do with as you please. You’ve earned that right. Taking that away from him after all he’s done to earn it… well it just doesn’t seem right, now does it Georgie?”
“And if you disagree I’ll sue your rubber-covered ass into oblivion,” Paulie said. “You were the one who just said I’m the one who deserves the kill the most, so let me decide what to do with it and hand it off to the boy.”
That shut Georgie up quickly. Nothing like the threat of a long, protracted, and expensive legal battle to silence a lesser mob boss.
“Well then kid,” Paulie said, looking to me, “it’s all yours.”
I had to make my decision carefully, with respect to everyone involved. Save for the Capellos, everyone here had a stake in this. So who deserved it most?
I turned to Theo. Understanding what I meant, she replied, “To me, Mickey was never anything more than an obstacle. Something for me to overcome. Now that I am free, for however long that may be, I have no more interest in him. In fact, I’d rather not touch him ever again. Please choose someone else.”
I looked at Marq. “Alright, I guess that means it’s back to you, Marq.”
“Why thank you, Al,” he said cheekily. “I’ll be sure not to waste this extraordinary opportunity you’ve given me. And as it just so happens, I’ve got everything I need to finish this right here with me.”
“Where would you…”
There was a sudden gust of wind as something appeared in the door behind Marq. Something big. The dark shadow flapped its wings and blocked out all the light shining in from the dock, snorting rancid fumes as it settled in for a landing. Mickey screamed, the sound audible through his gag. I could hardly believe it. Was that Sigurd?
“Gentlemen, I believe you’ve all met my pet dragon.”
“Oh great,” Georgie said, paling. “This fucking thing again.”
I balked when I saw just how much Sigurd had grown. The last time I saw him he was about six feet long including his tail. Now? He was a fifteen-foot long monstrosity who looked like he was ready to devour cars. And this was how much a juvenile dragon like him could be expected to grow in a week?
“You do realize what this looks like, right Marquis?” Paulie said, feeling threatened.
“No need to fret, gentlemen. I’ve taught Siggy to play nice with strangers, and I have no intentions of siccing him on anyone here,” Marq said, playing innocent and acting like he didn’t know what this was (a blatant power play, for those not paying attention).
“Then what the fuck did you bring him here for?” Georgie asked. “You trying to scare Mickey to death? Because you and your pet lizard just about gave me a goddamn heart attack!”
“Excellent question, Georgie,” Marq said. “It has to do with the matter of Mickey’s execution. Now gentlemen, allow me to ask you what, historically, is considered the most painful method of executing someone? Is it crucifixion? Drawing-and-quartering? Mazzatello? I’ve been thinking a lot about this the past few days, as we all have I’m sure, and I’ve come to the conclusion that we can never really know. Death has a way of hindering the communication process with the afflicted.”
“Where is this going, Marquis?” Paulie said impatiently.
“Please bear with me, Paulie, I promise all will be revealed soon,” Marq said, flourishing like a proper showman. “So this got me thinking? What about the most prolonged methods of execution? Surely that would be just as miserable and easier to quantify. But then I realized that sadly, we often don’t have the time for that. So I settled instead on making the best of both worlds. What death could we possibly give Mickey that is both excruciatingly painful and as prolonged as possible? For inspiration, I turned to the history of this great nation, and a little bit of our own history, believe it or not.
“The Salem Witch Trials. Many of the women accused of witchcraft were burned alive at the stake like poor Giovanna of the arc, and those that weren’t were tied to heavy stones and drowned. It is from this last practice that we derive our infamous ‘cement shoes’ technique. However, for Mickey, I think we can all agree that just one of these horrific tortures will not suffice to atone for all of his sins. So here’s what I propose.”
Mickey futilely tried rolling away in his barrel, but Marq planted one foot on top of the barrel, resting his arm on his knee to keep him from running away. On Marq’s command, Sigurd opened his mouth in a gaping yawn, and for the first time I got a good look at his tongue. In exchange, his tongue got a good look at me.
Funny thing about dragons is, not all of them breathe fire. Only Europeans like Sigurd do, and there’s a reason for that. They’ve got some nasty parasites. Within days of a newborn dragon being welcomed into the world, the hatchling will ingest a salamander tadpole and form a symbiotic relationship with it. The tadpole takes up residence in the dragon’s mouth, latching onto its tongue and drinking the dragon’s blood, causing the tongue to slowly atrophy and fall off. Then -get this- the tadpole actually attaches itself to the dragon’s tongue stump and replaces it, connecting to the nerves in the dragon’s mouth and acting like its replacement tongue for the rest of its life. This lets it take advantage of the salamander’s natural fire attribute, and also gives it the most terrifying smile in the animal kingdom. Now isn’t that just the most fucked up thing you’ve ever heard?
Sigurd reared his head back, and his tiny little tongue-buddy swelled up like a balloon before the two of them let loose a giant blue gout of ultra-hot plasma that superheated the water, boiling the pier and every fish in it until steam started rising off it like a cloud.
“An old favorite meets a new classic.” Marq’s face took on that dangerous look again. “We’re gonna boil him alive, just like a lobster. Then we feed him to my pet.”
Mickey screamed in protest, trying to chew through his wet gag which was becoming harder and harder to breathe with. Finally he managed to use his tongue to loosen the gag.
“Are you out of your fuckin’ mind?! What the fuck is wrong with you?!”
Marq flipped out and shoved a balisong knife in Mickey’s mouth, gentle pressing the flat against his cheeks.
“You’re what’s wrong with me, Mickey. Now shut up, or they’re gonna find our initials carved onto your bones.”
The other bosses looked on, not sure what to make of all this.
“Marquis… doesn’t this seem a bit… excessive?”
“Yeah, uh… this is kinda fucked up if you know what I’m saying.”
“I would have to agree.” “Same.”
Romeo stayed quiet.
“Well then gentlemen,” Marq said. “If that’s really what you think, then I have to ask. Do you have any problems with that?”
They all looked at each other, and responded in unison.
Yeah, it was pretty much one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. Says a lot about my sense of humor, doesn’t it?
Mickey whimpered. “Y-You… you can’t do this to me!… It isn’t right! It isn’t right, goddammit! I don’t wanna die like this! I don’t wanna diiie!”
“You should’ve thought about that then when you tried to rape my girlfriend.” Marq looked Mickey right in the eyes. “You remember that, right? What were your words, again? ‘I’m gonna fuck that pretty face of yours raw’?”
“P-Please, I didn’t-”
“Doesn’t matter what you did and what you didn’t. That doesn’t forgive you, and it sure as hell doesn’t earn you any sympathy. Nayeli is more precious to me than anything in this world. I would do anything to keep her safe. When you crossed that line, when you put your filthy hands on her, I promised myself that I was going to kill you. And I always keep my promises.”
“I-I’m s-sor-rry,” he blubbered, breaking down.
“It’s too late for that now,” Marq said mercilessly. “Hopefully next time you’ll remember. This is what happens to dogs when they shit where they eat, Mickey.”
Without another word, he kicked the barrel into the pier, and Mickey fell into the boiling hot water, screaming. There was a moment of silence where nobody talked before Mickey rose to the top gasping for breath, somehow breaking free of the cement shoes. His skin was bright red like raw steak and blistered, popping and stretching as the heat cooked him alive, bits of flesh rising to the surface as his body began to fall apart as he flailed. Almost like pulled pork.
“HELP MEEEEEE!” he wailed, blood pooling in his mouth as his tongue started to fall off. “HELPH MEEEEEEEHHH! AHM SORREHHHH! AHM SORREH! MOOOOMEEHHHHHHHHH!”
Sigurd shoved one clawed hand into the water, dunking Mickey back into the boiling soup that was turning brown and bright red with bits and pieces of him falling off the bone, his organs popping inside him. It took nearly six minutes to drown. Burning to death much less. I was surprised and horrified he was still clinging on to life at this point.
Finally Mickey stopped moving. He had either died, or lost consciousness. Sigurd pulled his mushy, wet body out of the water, and snapped it up like a moist treat, chewing up his bones and eating him alive, finally putting an end to Mickey Donahue. Marq looked on impassionately.
“Well I suppose that’s that, then.”
Like nothing had happened, he went about collecting what remaining tools he’d brought with him. I knew this was personal for him, but… damn. No one would say Mickey didn’t deserve it, but when the revenge was… that, I couldn’t understand how anyone could keep a straight face.
I felt a pit grow in my stomach. Is that what I was going to become? Or was that what I was already? A monster whose lack of humanity scared away the ones closest to him? Theo helped me up, and I decided to shelve the philosophy for the hospital.
I froze. A bone-white dagger slid out of Romeo Vitali’s sleeve. No, when I think about it, it was more like a lance. He pointed it at me and Theo.
“Romeo…” Paulie said, unnerved.
“We talked about this, didn’t we Paulie? I told you before, I’m not letting that thing live. It’s a danger to us all.”
“Romeo, for God’s sake-”
For God’s sake is exactly why I’m doing this!” Romeo yelled. “That creature is a monster, and it can’t be allowed to live. What if it hurts someone else? Someone in our families? How will I be able to live with myself knowing I didn’t take the chance and put it down here and now?”
“You fuck…” I choked out.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “But she can’t be allowed to live.”
Someone drew their gun. It was Paulie, and he pointed it at the back of Romeo’s head.
“I know you don’t know any vampires, Romeo, so there’s no way you’ll survive if I pull the trigger, and that’ll be the end of the Vitalis. Just like that.” Paulie frowned. “Put away the spear, Romeo. I don’t want to hurt you.”
Romeo didn’t do anything for the longest time. Finally, he let go of the spear, glaring at Paulie. Without even bothering to pick it up, he and his consigliere left without paying their respects.
Paulie sighed, putting away the gun and picking up the spear. “Sorry about that. The boy’s still technically my responsibility, so allow me to apologize on his behalf.”
“Somehow I don’t think he’d like that,” Marq said.
“That may be true… Well, as always it’s been a pleasure working with you, Marquis,” Paulie said sarcastically. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find a place to lose my lunch.”
“Ditto,” Georgie said. Without much more ceremony, they walked off, trailing their consiglieres behind them. Only Byron stopped to talk.
“I heard you found my no-good rat of a son-in-law.”
“Yes, we did,” Marq said.
“And?” Byron asked, agitated. “Do you intend to return him to me so he can face justice for his crimes against our family? Or will you let the man who so irresponsibly threw his wife, my daughter, into the den of a narcissistic psychopath for money go free?”
Marq smirked. “We’ll see about that, old-timer. Maybe someday. For now, we’ll take care of him for you, how does that sound?”
Byron sneered, and left. Like that, Marq helped Theo carry me onto Sigurd, and they sent me on ahead to the hospital. Trusting what Marq had said about Sigurd playing nice with others, I tried to ignore the rumbling sounds I could hear coming from his belly, and slowly fell asleep.
I swore to myself that day that I’d never become that thing ever again, but more for formality’s sake than anything. I knew better than to expect anything different. You know Murphy’s law? Well here’s Alfonso’s law: anything that happens once can and will probably happen again. It was only a matter of time, a matter of someone pushing the right buttons until I became Mr. Hyde again, Jekyll drinking the potion of madness out of his own volition. I could only wonder if… no, scratch that, when I’d lose my ability to control it, just like he did. How long did I have in this world I lived in before I became a monster full-time?
– from the memoirs of Alfonso Anastasio, written 1974