Y’know, it’s not very often a guy like me gets to go buy some new clothes at a high-end joint like Spanky’s Dress Emporium. They have great stuff there, stuff that’ll bankrupt you if you’re not tight with your money, which means of course I never get to shop there. So, on another day, being told by my boss I can have anything I want from there on his dime would probably result in me whooping and hollering and dancing my fucking ass off. Instead, today I was just feeling sorry as shit.
“Explain this to me, big brother,” Annie asked. “Step by step. Why are we in Spanky’s picking out fancy dress clothes we can’t afford?”
I sighed as I fumbled with her dress in front of the changing room mirror. “Because Marq is paying for it. He gave us carte blanche to buy whatever we wanted.”
“And why did he do that?”
“Because has, so very graciously might I add,” I said as I helped her into her new clothes, “invited us to join him on a luxury trip in first-class aboard the state of New York’s newest cross-continental train, City of Cleveland.”
“And why is that?”
I sighed, grunting as I worked with a stuck zipper. “For the last time Annie, I told you already. It’s because Marq is my financial advisor. He has been for years.”
“And when did you decide to make him your financial advisor? Why did you never tell me about it after all these years?! And stop trying to help me with my dress, it’s weird…”
“When did you start using crutches instead of your wheelchair?” I said, ignoring her squirming as I stared the two sticks of armpit wood propped up by the door. “See? Doesn’t feel good to be questioned for you personal decisions, does it?”
“How could you expect me not to question it?! He’s a criminal, Al!”
“That’s not true,” I lied, trying and failing to sound convincing.
“His dad is a mob boss, Al. I know it, you know it, the whole state of New York knows it! How could he not be a criminal?”
“Maybe because he’s his adopted father?” I said defensively. “Just because Frankie Allesandri decides to take in some kid from off the streets doesn’t necessarily mean he’s gonna bring him into the family business. Maybe he just wanted to give him a fighting chance.”
“There’s a difference between ‘adopted’ and ‘illegitimate child’, Al. Just because the fruit grew on a different branch doesn’t mean it isn’t from the same tree,” she said, still squirming. “Example. How many times did Marquis Allesandri get you arrested?”
“Fifteen times.” Another lie. It was actually more in the ballpark of twenty-three.
“And how many times has he been arrested?” she asked accusingly.
“None, as far as I can recall,” I said as I finished, fluffing up her sleeves and pulling her hair out from the back of her dress. I turned her around to look at her new outfit in the mirror.
“That’s exactly my point! And how many of your arrests were because he roped you into some hare-brained scheme that you ended up taking the fall for?”
“Are you talking about that time we swindled Santa Claus out of his bag of toys during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade? ‘Cuz we were like, twelve.” Sixteen, actually.
“I’m talking about all of them, Al,” she said. “The Marquis is and always has been a delinquent, and he always will be too. I can’t believe you’ve been going behind my back and getting involved with this guy again after all this time! I thought we agreed ‘no more funny business’?”
I looked around nervously. “Well, we did, but…”
I sighed. “But he’s family, Annie! He’s been like a brother to me for as long as I’ve known him. And you know, maybe you’re right that he got me arrested more times than he did. But you know who always bailed me out? Marq did, and I mean literally. He paid the bail, he hired the lawyers, and he fought for me to keep me out of the hoosegow when I was doing all sorts of ‘funny business’ with some real funny people just so we could eat. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
Annie went quiet. I could tell without a doubt that I’d upset her. Stupid. Fucking stupid, Al.
Finally she said, “… If he’s your family, then what does that make me?”
I dropped down on my knees and hugged her. “It makes you my baby sister. Nothing’s ever gonna change that.”
“Then why don’t you care about what I have to say?”
“Al!” Marq yelled, poking his head in. “You done in there? I need to talk to you for a second.”
“We’ll finish talking about this later. You’ll see on this trip, Marq’s changed. He’s a different man now, emphasis on man. We’re not kids anymore. We’ve both grown up, and so have you.” I stepped out of the changing room, but stopped at the door. I turned back around to look at my sister. “I love you, Annie. You know that, right?”
“… mm.” She nodded her head. I wasn’t sure if that was a yes, a no, or a maybe-so, but I didn’t have time to sit around in that doorway forever. I wish I did.
I left the changing room area and caught up with Marq, who gave me a weird look.
“You help your sister put on her clothes?”
“… That’s pretty weird, ya sheik.”
“It is not weird!” I protested, embarrassed. “She can’t do it by herself, and I am not leaving her alone with some powdered wig weirdo!”
“I can too do it by myself!” I heard Annie yell back. “And I think he’s right, it’s so weird!”
Ouch. When Annie agreed with Marq, you knew Big Red just started feeling a draft down in Hell. I almost felt hurt. My own little sister…
Marq sighed. “Whatever. You’re the man of the house, it is whatever you say it is. Alright?”
“No it’s not!” Annie protested.
“Anyway, there’s something we need to discuss, and something I need to tell you. Little column A, little column B. You mind going for a walk?”
“Hey! Where are you two going? Get back here! I’m still mad at you big brother, and we’re not done talking! Heyyyy!”
We wrapped around to the men’s department of Spanky’s and, true to form, Marq started browsing the coat racks like a pile of old magazines (a habit which I never understood, given that he always wears the exact same outfit every day even on holidays). He handed me a brand-spanking new (hence the store’s name) white suit, and told me to hang on to it for him. I raised my eyebrow at him.
“Marq, I thought we were here to talk about something important, not to play dressup. I mean come on man, what are you? A peacock? Stop preening.”
“Looking good is important in our line of work. You gotta look respectable Al, and that suit of yours is a mess. It looks like an old bedsheet.”
“Hey, don’t diss the suit! I’ve had this thing for five years now.”
“My point exactly.”
He went back to hacking through the forest of monkey suits and I sighed.
“I’m just gonna go now.”
“Wait.” He signaled for me to stop without sticking his head up for air. “There’s a reason I’m bringing this up now. I haven’t told you this yet, but… “
This time it was Marq’s turn to sigh. I frowned.
“Okay, spill the beans. What’s this an apology for? Because I know you, and the only time you get me nice things is as an apology for some really sick shit you’re about to pull.”
“That is not true!” he protested, finally showing his face again. “I got you that knife and your gun!”
I snorted. “Yeah, immediately before I had to put them to use whacking some broad and her pet ghost.”
I immediately regretted reminding myself of that. Something about how I handled the Madam still wasn’t sitting right with me, in that “your little sister’s gonna find out you’re a murderer one day” kinda way. Killing Mickey’s goons was one thing, because they’d made it personal. Executing an unarmed woman in cold blood… I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. It’s not my greatest shame, because I have plenty of other candidates for that looking back on it all, but it’s not exactly my proudest moment either. And somehow it’s always the little things that stick with you the most even when you’re staring down the apocalyptic shit, like how you never said goodbye to your ex. Or in my case, how I murdered a woman because it put food on the table.
Marq sighed, running a hand through his hair like he was thinking.
“Okay, full disclosure. I got a call from my brother this morning. You remember Milo, right?”
Yeah. “Oh.” There’s a story to be told here, and I feel like I’d be doing you all a criminal injustice by not explaining it because, as the kids are saying these days, “spoiler warning”! It’s gonna get real important real soon. So on that note, allow me to regale to you the story of the Allesandri family feud.
Frankie Allesandri was… not a conservative man, let’s put it that way. At least not when it came to his women. Frankie had a wife, a mistress, a girlfriend, a call-girl, and every other kind of girl you can think of. Man was a horndog is what I’m saying. He didn’t know how to keep it in his pants, like his pecker was some sort of sentient sea beast he was physically incapable of controlling. So you might have guessed that this guy had a lot of kids. So many kids in fact that no one had any idea how they were going to nominate a successor once the approaching specter of Death made Frankie abdicate his throne one grubby little claw at a time. The answer they came up with is just about as simple as it is disturbing. After all, there can be no argument as to his successor if there’s only one person left to argue with.
Yes, it’s an unspoken truth that Frankie Allesandri’s kids are all at war with each other, trying to ice their own brothers and sisters for a shot at Frankie’s inheritance. That or discredit and publicly humiliate them before their inevitable incarceration, whichever comes first (or in the case of Louie Allesandri, the poor bastard, both). As you can imagine, this makes things unbearably awkward during the holidays. Nothing says family like a semi-incestuous blood feud of murder and fantasized hate-fucking.
Now me, I’ve always found the practice to be bloody disgusting. But Marq doesn’t exactly have that luxury. Even though he’s the exact opposite of Frankie in pretty much every way, that doesn’t stop him from having a giant target hung over his head. He’s got no choice but to cast his chips into the pot and stake his claim to the inheritance too. So for Milo to reach out to Marq when the Allesandri siblings work alone 99.99% of the time on account of trying to murder one another, something was definitely up. Either Milo intended to play him, or he was really in deep enough to need his help.
Then again, I thought, no reason it can’t be both.
Marq continued. “He says he wants to meet with me, to discuss… family business. It sounds like he’s asking for a favor. You know how big this is, right?”
I nodded. Bigger than any job I’d been involved in yet. The fiasco with Mickey didn’t count since I was more a representative of the community than the Allesandris when I helped put the bastard down. Besides, it wasn’t officially sanctioned work.
“So I’m guessing the reason you brought us out here to get all dolled up is…”
“I want you to accompany me during the meeting along with Nayeli and Sostene, and assist me in any way you can with his favor. In exchange I’m willing to offer you a complete change of wardrobe, the train tickets and a month off your rent to make up for the hospital time. How’s that sound?”
It sounded pretty damn good.
“Okay, so when’s the meeting?”
“You’re telling me. Now try this on, Snow White, and tell me how it fits.”