A few days ago…
Milo Allesandri was a man of certain principles. He thought about that to himself after straightening his tie.
Responsibility, he thought, checking his dinner suit for folds and creases in the mirror. He always looked after himself, and cleaned up after his own messes, of which he created very few. He didn’t need anyone else to prop him up or make him look good. A properly maintained public appearance leads to a properly maintained life, and Milo had both.
Honesty. Milo prided himself on never telling a lie. Strictly speaking, there were always better ways to deceive your enemies.
Thriftiness, he thought. He ran a finely crafted comb through his slick blonde hair, one of five in a set amongst a collection of hundreds. Milo Alessandri was anything but wasteful. He found a use, and a place, for everything. There was nothing in the world that was truly useless. Except…
Which brought him to his fourth and final virtue. Family. Of which he had much, but sadly found so little of it reliable.
Of course, it was one thing to be unreliable. It was another thing to treacherous. That was what he saw when he looked into his half-brother’s eyes. The eyes of a bastard. Power hungry, and manipulative. He hated those eyes. Ever since he was a kid, he’d look back into Marquis’ expression of supreme confidence and feel like mouse cornered by a snake. But then the ground gave way as the mouse was picked up by a circling crow, who had been watching the snake for hours overhead as it hunted, and the mouse understood. There was more to Marquis than simple savagery and sociopathic contempt. There was cleverness. There was wit. The crow was just as bad as the snake, but it was smart. It had the mind to wield people like tools.
The first time he’d felt like that, Milo understood too. Marquis wasn’t family. In fact, he would destroy their family if allowed to be left unchecked. That’s why Milo had to do it. He had to be his brother’s keeper. Push him down, keep an eye on him, keep him safe. Just more for everyone else than for himself.
There was a knock on the door.
“Milo? Honey, are you in there?”
His wife, Marlene, called from the other side of the office door. He sighed in annoyance.
“I’m coming darling, just be patient!”
“Milo, our reservation is for six o’clock! That’s in five minutes!”
“I said I’m coming!…” Milo said, before swiftly ignoring her. Marlene didn’t understand the importance of dressing one’s self to be above the crowd. How he didn’t know, given her upbringing, but his responsibility was first and foremost to his image and to his family, not the restaurant staff. The Le cinq à sept could wait as long as he damn well said they could. After all, it was an Allesandri-owned business.
More than just a restaurant, it was a front for one of their many bootlegging operations. Milo had chosen it because he had been curious about trying French cuisine for a long time now, and because French was supposed to be the language of love. He had no idea what the name was supposed to mean, but he’d been told once by Marquis that the name roughly translated out to “happy hour”. A rather cheeky and oblique nod to the laws which had resulted in its creation and current state. Milo thought it quite appropriate.
Unlike what you did earlier… the little gremlin in his head chided him. Milo frowned. He wished he hadn’t remembered that. The things he’d done to Marquis’ pet bitch, that mad bulldog… why? What had come over him to make him act like that?
You did it because you knew it was the only way to get him to listen to you and take you seriously, he told himself. That’s it.
No. There was more to it than just that. Milo was admittedly a man of less-than-stellar morals (which is why he swore by his principles rather than those), but he liked to think he knew how to treat a lady. That was not how you treat a lady.
Please, he thought. That cow is barely a lady.
Still though. If that was what he wanted, there had to have been a better way to do it than that. It wasn’t that he regretted anything he’d said or done to his brother, of course. That’s not what Milo was concerned about.
He was concerned about standards. He was a liar, a murderer, a cheat (hard not to be in this business), but if there was one thing he was not, one thing he would never be, is a scumbag like Mickey Donahue. The kinda guy who’s so devoid of shame or self-respect that he’d rape and abuse women to get what he wanted. The boat had many different glass bottoms, but that one was the lowest, and breaking it could mean nothing but a slow, unpleasant death while you sleep with the fishes. People just didn’t tolerate that kind of thing, especially not his kinda people. It gave honest, hard-working criminals a bad name. He was supposed to be a professional, dammit.
So why? Why her? Why did she make him feel like he could cross that line? She was a mutt. A half-breed. A good-lookin’ piece of ass but not much else, and she was only good for fighting and fucking. That wasn’t Milo’s kind of woman. She wouldn’t be missed and nobody would complain if he killed her or worse, but had that really been why he’d done it? Because he could?
No, there was a better reason than that. There had to be. If there was one thing that he shared with his bastard half-brother, it was that they both knew how to hold their cards close to their chests and not let their emotions control them until it was safe to indulge in them. You walk up all smiles and you only let ’em know you’re pissed when you’ve stuck a knife through their throat. “Because you could” wasn’t professional. “Because you could” was something Mickey Donahue would say.
Milo held his head in his hands like he was trying to hide his face. Who did Marquis say her parents were again? He knew he’d told him once, way back when he first picked her up off the streets. It was a Sicilian woman and some… Olympian. Olympian, that was it. Demigods often reflected the worst in their parents, so it had to be a curse or some kind of magic. Was she the daughter of Eros? Aphrodite? But she was too much like a wild beast to be either of those things!
He sighed, looking at himself in the mirror. “Whatever it was, we did it so we wouldn’t have to deal with Marquis anymore. There. Problem solved. Now forget about it. You have a dinner to attend.”
Five minutes later, Milo stepped out of his wardrobe wearing a bright red pinstripe suit that made him look like a candy-cane. If it wasn’t for the color and shape of his eyes plus a few other minor details, he would’ve looked almost identical to his half-brother (a fact he thoroughly despised). He straightened his tie one last time and spun the hat rack on his way out of the office, selecting an equally tacky hat to go with his suit.
He greeted his blonde, curly-haired trophy wife with open arms.
“Well, baby-doll? How do I look?”
Marlene’s baby-blue eyes melted when she saw him and his atrocious suit, which she thought was positively stunning.
“Oh Milo, it’s perfect!” she said, her anger all but forgotten. She clasped his arm around hers. “Come on, let’s get going! We might still be able to make it if we hurry!”
“Relax, kitten,” Milo said, adjusting his hat. “They ain’t going nowhere.”
The family butlers, as Marlene had been told they were called, stood outside minding the car, their dark suits and sunglasses offset by the bright orange light of the city streets at night. The contrast in colors was almost a halloweeny look, perfect for the types of scary-looking men with guns his family tended to employ. By comparison, his candy-cane pinstripe suit fared considerably less well under the harsh glow, casting him a rather unappealing mix between puke and raw salmon.
It’ll look better once we’re inside the restaurant, he thought as he reminded himself to make a mental list of all the employees that looked at his suit funny. There were always some wiseguys like that, so he kept an eye out for them. Made sure the family looked good. That was all he ever did. Certainly more than his bastard half-brother and every other useless sibling he had.
Milo made his way to the front of the line outside, pushing aside anyone standing in front of him. Their turns could wait.
“Sir, I’m sorry but I’m going to have to ask you to wait at the back of the line like our other customers,” the man at the front door said over the boos and jeers of the onlookers, his voice not too terribly full of confidence. He reeked of fresh meat.
“Reservation for two, please,” he told the wiry doorman. “Compliments of the manager.”
He’d ignore the disrespect this time in the name of cutting the new guy some slack. Everyone starts out making mistakes somewhere. But…
“I’m sorry sir, but it doesn’t appear you’re on the list,” the doorman said. “And I’m going to have to ask again that you move to the back of the line. It’s disrespectful to the other customers.”
Somewhere in the world, perhaps amongst more well-informed company, a glass dropped as the music of the night came to a screeching halt. Milo laughed.
“Dannie? Elmer? Please take my lovely wife inside to freshen up. She can use the powder room or something while I have a word with our friend here to clear up this… misunderstanding.”
Marlene suddenly looked afraid. “Milo-!”
““You got it, boss.””
The two grunts shepherded Marlene past the doorman while Milo pecked her on the cheek.
“See you inside in a minute, kitten.”
The doors swung shut behind them. Milo turned his attention back to the tiny doorman, who, to his credit, was both brave enough and ignorant enough to stick to his guns. He had to give him props for that at least. Maybe with a bit more spine he’d do good for himself in politics, but Milo was fairly certain he was about to ruin any chances of that ever happening.
“Sir…” the doorman said, hesitating. The thin-framed man took a breath and appeared to steel himself. “I’ll have to ask you to stop, or I’ll call security on you. Your behavior is disrespectful to the other patrons of this restaurant, and, well… frankly it’s unacceptable!”
Milo laughed heartily. “No, my dear friend, what’s unacceptable-!”
Milo kneed the other man unexpectedly and violently in the stomach, causing him to double over. Onlookers gasped in the background as Milo kicked him repeatedly while he was down before he grabbed the man by the collar and pinned him, drawing a knife.
“-is that you still don’t know who I am. Check. The list. Again. This time under the name ‘Milo Allesandri’.”
The tiny man’s bulging eyes gave his panic away easier than a bum hand of cards. Still at knifepoint, the man hurriedly checked the list and gasped.
“You find it?” Milo asked. “Should be circled in red pen next to a note saying ‘don’t cause no fucking trouble’.”
The man nodded so hard Milo thought for sure his twiggy little neck would snap.
“It’s on there, it’s on there!”
“Are you sure?” Milo asked. “Because I’ve been itching to try out this new knife of mine. Just bought it yesterday. It’s an antique, see? They say it’s cursed.”
Milo pressed the edge of the blade to the man’s cheek like a razor, ever so gently applying just the tiniest bit of pressure. He squealed.
“You’re on the list, you’re on the list! Oh sweet Jesus just please let me live! I’ll let you and your wife in, you can do anything you want!”
Milo smiled. “That’s a good man.”
With a quick slice Milo ran the blade across the doorman’s cheek, drawing blood. The doorman screamed and dropped to the floor, clawing at his face.
“I’ll let you off easy this time because you’re the new help, but two words of advice,” Milo said. “Always believe everything I say. And two? Never believe anything that I say.”
After all, he never said they knew if it was cursed.
Milo smiled and walked past the thrashing doorman, tipping his hat as the tiny man realized with relief that he hadn’t been turned inside out yet.
The interior of the joint was top-class, as fancy and stuck-up as the french themselves. Soft lighting played across concave ceilings and arches set in finely cut and polished stone while classical music wafted through the air, mingling with the smell of roses and poorly concealed casks of wine. Milo liked it. It was an atmosphere befitting of class and romance. He knew he and Marlene had been going through a bit of a rough patch lately (not that their marriage had ever been perfect), so hopefully this could smooth things over for them. This was the kind of thing she liked, after all.
Employees scattered as he passed, giving him a wide berth. He felt like Moses parting a sea of people. It made him feel good. It made him feel respected. Powerful. Milo eventually found his wife being escorted around the establishment by his two helping hands, and rushed to her side before the mood of the evening was ruined.
“Marlene, you’ll never guess what,” he said, smiling as he approached her. “The doorman missed our reservation because it was smudged up by a coffee stain. He said he was so sorry he’s going to give us a private booth all to ourselves. Right?”
Milo turned to glare meaningfully at the wait staff, who’d already gotten the memo from the doorman . Not wanting to be the next one to incite the Allesandris’ wrath, they nodded gormlessly like plaster cats. In this mood, Milo thought, he could ask for anything and they’d give it to him. Perfect.
He turned back to his wife. “So what do you want to try first, baby doll? Shall we dine on some fresh sharkfin soup or cheese souffle? I hear escargot and the frenchman’s onion soup are to die for.”
His wife didn’t say anything.
“… Marlene, honey? What’s wrong? Is the restaurant not what you wanted? I can take you someplace else-”
She slapped him. Without another word, Marlene ran, with big fat shark tears in her eyes, pushing her way through the crowd and out the door. Milo felt the sting on his cheek, sighed, and slowly started slouching into his chair at a table meant for two.
“Yes, Elmer?” Milo said.
“Do you want us to uhhh…” The bodyguard stuttered. He twiddled his fingers together. Marriage counseling was not part of his repertoire.
Milo raised an eyebrow. “To what?”
Elmer started to sweat. “Y’know…”
“No, I don’t know,” Milo said, a frown forming on his face like the first splintering cracks of an earthquake. “What I do know is that I just spent a smooth fifty dollars on dinner and a bottle of champagne my wife no longer has any plans to share with me, and that my anniversary is ruined now. So tell me Elmer, what would you have me do? Tell you to bring her back here against her will? Maybe sit her down and force her to a have a drink and a good time whether she likes it or not? How about you just wave your magic wand and save us all a lot of trouble by just magicking her to love me while you’re at it?”
“Do you… are you joking, boss?” Elmer asked tentatively.
Milo sighed, cupping his hands around his face. “Just get out of here, Elmo.”
“Boss?” Dannie asked too.
“I said get out!” Milo yelled, terrifying the two grunts and the rest of the wait staff. He groaned.
“Having lady trouble?”
Milo heard whistling and the rising roar of the male crowd before he actually heard her voice reaching out to him.
“Think maybe I could help?”
He smiled as he turned to face her.
The woman that approached him was the most beautiful he’d ever seen. She had long coffee hair with eyes as blue as the squill she kept tucked behind her ear, and she was wearing a little black dress that showed off her legs. She was also his sister.
Milo greeted her. Heads turned where she walked like a fashion model walking down the runway, the directionless wave of people effortlessly brushed aside by her beauty. Made sense to Milo. Priscilla had always been the prettiest of daddy’s little angels. Wherever she went, eyes followed.
She sat down at the other end of the table and gave him a smile. She had teeth so white her lipstick looked like blood splashed against a wedding dress, and then there were her lips. Dear god her lips. Soft, full and perfect.
Her legs crossed, and every waiter in the vicinity felt the growth of something powerful between their thighs. The men all glared at him for sharing her company. The women glared at the men.
“As always, you could dress in a burlap sack and people would still be crawling all over each other to get you,” Milo said, staring himself. “You never cease to amaze, mia sorella. Even I cannot resist you.”
She chuckled in that special way she had, each giggle a dulcet tone like drizzled hot chocolate, ready to melt even the hardest of hearts. The prettiest of daddy’s angels, yes. With an innocent smile and laughter to match. Was it any wonder she charmed the hearts of men?
Nodding at the distracted waiter, then snapping his fingers when that failed to catch his attention, Milo allowed the dinner to go on unchanged, his romantic candlelit date now spent with his sister instead of his wife.
“So she walked out on you, huh?” Priscilla stated rather than asked as she delicately clasped some escargot in a pair of tongs and coaxed the simmered snail’s meat out of its shell, gingerly placing the marinated mollusk in her mouth. She chewed, first testing then savoring the taste before swallowing. “Hmm. Surprisingly not bad. Perhaps there is some merit to french cooking after all.”
Milo, ever the less adventurous and imaginative of the two, had simply ordered some steak frites he was now viciously taking his frustrations out on, all the while deluding himself into believing it was something far classier than it actually was (i.e. a a hamburger and a side of fries with no bun, like you could find on any street corner in New York).
“Yesh,” he said between bites. He swallowed. “She’s never had the stomach for our business and it seems like she never will. She’s too spoiled. Not willing to get her hands dirty or even tolerate the slightest amount of blood. Yet when I tell her all these convenient lies about what we really do, she’s all too eager to just lap them up like that yippy little Maltese she carries in her purse.”
Priscilla smiled. “Well, that’s what you get for marrying an heiress, brother. Perhaps you should be more like Marquis and find yourself a nice no-nonsense girl like that Felicity?”
“Please,” Milo said, continuing to stuff his face and eat inelegantly. “The day I’m more like Marquis, I want you to shoot me. Whoring around on his wife the way he does… if I ever become like that, you put one right in my head, then another between my eyes.”
“Why, I could never do that!” Priscilla exclaimed, faking shock and holding her hand up to her chest.
“Besides,” Milo continued. “Not that I approve of someone in our family cavorting around with some half-human bitch on the side, but there’s something I just don’t trust about Felicity. She seems… off, to me. Not real. Like she’s been practicing acting like a person, and she isn’t getting any better at it.”
Priscilla smiled devilishly. “But we’re all like that, my darling Milo. Do you think anyone in our family could’ve gotten to where they were if they didn’t pretend to be normal? It’s like that Partridge fellow talked about in his new paper. We’re not like other people, we just look it. What was the word he used again?”
Milo swallowed. “Sociopath. In fact, if I’m remembering his article correctly, he said ‘If we may use the term sociopathy to mean anything deviated or pathological in social relations, whether of individuals with one another, or within or towards groups, and also in the relations of groups to one another, we have a fairly communicable meaning, and a term which may apply descriptively to a great number of persons’. Not just us.”
Priscilla shrugged. “It’s a mad, mad world. So what are you going to do about it?”
“Do about what?” Milo said. At this point he’d finished nearly half of his dish without even thinking about it, the steak simply disappearing to fill the hole left by frustration and doubt.
“About Marlene,” she said. “About father as well, and Marquis too. You’re sure he’ll be able to get them to hand over the stone? This is your big chance.”
“My only chance, more like,” Milo said as he set down his fork and knife, his anger, vexation and mounting anxiety only increasing in a way you could hear in his very voice. “Marquis has always been the favorite child. Lord knows why. He’s hardly father’s own flesh and blood, only just barely.”
Milo sighed, then continued. “I mean I’ve been the most loyal, the most caring, the most concerned for father and this family, and yet what does he do? He ignores me and treats me like some stranger even though I’m his first and eldest son! Marquis doesn’t give a damn about father or anything except himself, but if you were to ask father it’s like he’s the sun, the moon and the stars! St. Marquis, the boy who can do no wrong! It doesn’t matter that I consistently pull in the most money for the family or that I’ve spent more time caring for father than anyone else because look everyone! Marquis made a glorified steam engine out of salamanders and undine spit!”
Priscilla sighed. “I wish I could help you Milo, I really do, but you know how daddy feels about one of his daughters taking over the family business. He doesn’t want us having any part of it.”
She leaned in close and whispered sweetly into his ear. “Which is why I need you, my darling little Milo.”
He smiled. “And I need you too, sorellona.”
“We’re the only ones we’ve got in this world,” she said, caressing his cheek. She got up out of her seat and circled around the table, wrapping her arms around Milo so she could rest her head on his shoulder. “If we let it keep us apart, we die. But if we’re together, we can change it. Rule it. Us together.”
They briefly shared a kiss, not caring who was watching. It was like this that the next hour passed by in a blur of forgettable scenes, people and places, lost and inconsequential compared to the moment where she finally straddled her little brother on top of a bed in the penthouse floor of the Plaza Hotel, reminding him of the real relationship they shared. One that went far deeper than just blood.
How long had it been going on like this? Longer than he could remember, surely. Though they’d been born to different mothers, Priscilla to Frankie’s first wife and Milo to his second, she and he had always still considered themselves to be brother and sister, which is what made it all the more thrilling. This was their way of showing their love as family to one another. One only they knew about, and only they shared. In many ways, Priscilla had been the only woman in Milo’s life longer than Marlene ever had.
And no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t quit her. Because quitting her meant turning his back on the one person he truly loved.
They kissed again, this time different from the restaurant. No longer was this a passing, probing greeting but a lasting, passionate embrace as she held him down by both of his wrists. At last when it seemed like they’d both suffocate, they came up for air, gasping for breath like drowning sailors.
Priscilla laughed, and began pulling her arms out of her little black dress. Now that Milo had a better look at it, he could see it was partially see-through. She’d been expecting this. She wore it to turn him on, on his anniversary of all days. It should’ve made him rock hard. But… something remained. He couldn’t quite get into it like he usually did. He couldn’t quite lose himself in his sorellona’s love, in her body that was soft and delicate like silk.
As much as he tried to hide it, Priscilla took notice.
“You shouldn’t worry so much, my darling little Milo. I’m having Marquis watched so we can keep an eye on him. Make sure he doesn’t try to pull anything… sneaky.”
She cupped his face in her hands.
“Just let me take care of everything, my darling little Milo,” she said sweetly. “Has your sorellona ever led you astray?”
Priscilla reached deep into her bosom and withdrew a small pill. Soma. One small dose could amplify the senses a thousandfold, blurring all the boundaries of perception until they became one. Touch became taste. Taste became sound. Sound became sight. And although the ecstasy of the drug, the divine exaltation of the high, lasted only for moments, even seconds under the drug would stretch into hours as all the senses joined together to become one, just as Milo and Priscilla were about to. It was the perfect way to bask in a moment, experiencing its maximum intensity.
She pushed the pill against his pursed lips like a button.
“You should hold on to this. I hear finishing with soma is… sublime. Now just relax. Let your sorellona take care of everything, just like I always do.”
The radio flipped to a soft, slow song, and their dance began. Milo surrendered, clenching the pill in his teeth as he waited for the right moment. He thrust himself inside his sister as she met him eagerly, and just when it felt like he couldn’t take it anymore, he bit down, and swallowed.