Fifteen hours later, Milo arrived back in New York. After freshening up, he made plans to visit a certain restaurant again. Alone this time.
Milo pushed open the front doors, disturbing with the toll of the bell a silence so poetic one couldn’t help but feel disdain. In the wake of the recent national tragedy, the Le cinq á sept was understandably empty. Except for one person, that is.
“Revisiting the scene of a crime? How unlike you, Milo.”
His sister’s voice rang sweetly in his ears from across the sous-chef sepulchre. Following it across the creaking floor of the dark restaurant, he found her sitting alone at a table for two, a solitary candle amidst an ocean of empty seats. Smiling, he unfolded the cloth covering the red-gold stone and held it aloft.
“Ohhhhhh…” Priscilla almost squealed. “And there it is! The famous cintamani stone. Said to be one of the most powerful magical artifacts in existence! May I see it?”
She held out her delicate hand. Milo frowned. Reluctantly, he handed her the stone.
“Be careful with it,” he reminded her. “This stone is my last chance to impress father. If I can cure whatever ails him…”
“Mhmmm,” Priscilla replied, her eyes fixed on the stone, which shimmered in a multitude of colors when held up to the light. “Look at that. It’s beautiful. You can practically see the magic etched into its facets. The cleavage is sublime.”
Milo nodded absentmindedly as he looked down, admiring the sublime cleavage.
“Can I have it back now?” he said impatiently.
“Just one more second,” Priscilla said dismissively. She stared deep into the stone’s rough surface, its uncarved angles. Never once had this stone been touched since it was pried from the meteorite shell it had arrived in, for fear of tainting or lessening its power. Those ancient fools. How much of the true stone had they left clinging to the insides of that meteor, like placenta from a babe? Every reflection of this divine geode was an enchantment, every cut a mark of magic left by the stone’s last owner. Every one was precious. And now she would add her own.
With a brief and tiny spark, the stone lit up, a bolt of lightning arcing from the surface straight down to the heart of the stone, where it terminated in a bright spark lasting only a second. Milo never even noticed a thing.
She handed the stone back to him. “Alright, go. Heal father.”
Milo frowned. “Don’t you think we should study it first? Get a better idea of how it works so nothing goes wrong when we do decide to use it?”
Priscilla just chuckled. Milo raised an eyebrow.
Priscilla wiped a tiny tear from her eye. “Oh Milo. Do you really think father will want to wait once he knows what you have? You see, this is what sets you and Marquis apart. You deliberate while Marquis does. He doesn’t question his decisions like you do. It’s why father loves him more.”
Priscilla knew she’d said the right words when she watched Milo’s face warp into something ugly.
Now before Milo’s anger could erupt, she needed to apply some balm to it, to soothe his bruised ego.
“I’m only telling you the truth because I want to help you, Milo,” she said gently. “Do you think I enjoy seeing Marquis wrap our father around his pinky while your valuable contributions to this family go completely unrecognized? What I’m trying to do is give you a chance to succeed in front of father.”
“Then what would you propose I do, sorellona?” Milo said, the anger in his eyes not diminishing but, at the very least, no longer growing.
“Show him how much he means to you,” she said. “Show him your resolve. Use the stone.”
Milo’s anger grew. “Are you mad?! I just told you sorellona, we don’t know how it works-”
“Do you think those ancient fools who pried it out of a rock that fell from the sky knew how to use it either?” Priscilla responded. “When I touched just now I felt it, Milo. The stone wants to be used. By you. If you just have a little faith in yourself it’ll show you what needs to be done.”
Milo looked down at the stone he held with his handkerchief. Gingerly, he touched it with his bare skin, and he immediately knew Priscilla was right. He could feel the magic inside it working, just like a normal enchantment only far, far greater. A whole index of spells was thrown into the forefront of his mind for him to pick from. Hundreds. Thousands. Each with a name and a designation hinting at their function. And he was willing to bet all he needed to do was run his mana through it and they would run, just like any other enchantment. It felt… right.
He looked at Priscilla, his rage evaporated. She smiled.
“Do you really want to let Marquis steal the spotlight forever? It’s time for you to shine, Milo.”
Milo looked down at his hand, at the little miracle he held in his palms. He gripped the stone, his mind made up.
As Milo turned to leave, Priscilla smiled at his back, waving him goodbye and good luck. But with each empowered step he took, Priscilla’s smile curled, morphing into something completely unlike a smile at all. She covered her twisted grin with a gloved hand.
All lies, of course. The stone was nothing more than a stone. It didn’t want anything. But Milo did. He wanted to hear a fairy tale about how he could cure father and finally earn the stony old man’s affection, what little of it could possibly be pried from his crusted charcoal heart, anyway. And that’s what Priscilla had told him. She had fed him a few little white lies, given him an encouraging slap on the rear, and he’d filled in the rest himself and been on his way. And when the stone did fail him, he would have no one but himself to blame.
Poor little Milo. Oh my dear, sweet little Milo. You only want what’s best for this family, but you have no idea what that is, she thought as she watched her brother climb into his car. But I do. The old man can’t die fast enough, and this illness of his, whatever it may be, has nothing but my thanks for speeding up that process. I’m not about to let you stand in the way of it.
She watched as the car sped off, leading Milo inexorably towards the predetermined conclusion of today’s meeting, the outcome that had been decided by her. Knowing what was to come, she felt a small little flower of guilt bud in her chest, like a scilla after the first spring rain. She felt bad for her brother, for lying to him. She had nothing but love for Milo, but… there were some things in this life much more important than love.
I’m sorry Milo, but this is for the best. Just this once, allow me to break your heart.
Just like that she grabbed that little scilla and crushed it, stomping it beneath her heels. The future was supposed to be a wild forest, not a delicate little flowerbed. It could not be allowed to be shaped by the perennial cuttings of the last generation. Too long had the shadow of Frankie and men like him hung over this city. Now, it was time for a woman’s touch~
Dark. Cloudy. High chance of rain. It was days like these that made you look up and feel like you should start taking stock of your life. And mine… well, mine was coming up depressingly short these past couple of days. Annie still wasn’t speaking to me, Sostene had been even more withdrawn than usual, my insurance premiums were going to absolutely skyrocket after this court case came to light, and I hadn’t even been able to turn to work to take my mind off it. Marq had been busy the past couple days just comforting Nayeli and planning for the trial. I guess the only positive thing I could take away from this whole experience was that my leg was healed now.
I sighed. You know it’s bad when you have to count not being sent to the hospital as a plus. Sometimes it just feels like the whole world is out to get a man. Sometimes, a man just needs a drink. And I’m not talking about hitting the bottle like some pathetic boozer schlob, I’m talking about a New York classic. Sometimes, the best way for a man to calm his nerves is a fresh pot of joe.
I hummed along with myself, nodding. A cup of joe, with cream and sugar, and maybe a bit of hooch to spice things up or to give yourself some of that much needed hair-of-the-dog. Now that was a New York breakfast. Nothing else required. Just a man, a pot, and some beans.
And so to that end, I invited Sostene to come have a drink with me that morning. And, well, when he suggested we score a free pot from his good friend Officer Thompson down at the station, who was I to say no?
See, contrary to popular belief, it isn’t just fear and a few corrupt cops that keep the police in the mafia’s back pocket. We both want the same thing. For crime in this city to be controlled. Anyone who’s spent time in either profession can tell you crime isn’t something you can just get rid of, so better for someone to control it than let it run wild, right? We do that. We provide a service to this city, cleaning up the lesser villains like Mickey so only the five families can claim absolute power in the criminal underworld. The cops in this city are smart enough and have seen enough to know that this is a mutually beneficial relationship. You may call it “a corruption of justice” or “encouraging the expansion of a vast criminal empire”, we call it “efficiency”.
I was looking forward to it. It had been a while since I’d had good bean juice. It was a luxury we couldn’t exactly afford. But Sostene seemed to be in considerably lesser spirits.
I looked up. He just stared ahead blindly, looking as out of it as a guy who’d just been knocked around-side the head with a baseball bat. Was this an aftereffect of his little rampage on the train?
I coughed, but he didn’t say anything. I coughed again, louder this time. Still nothing. I frowned. You were really gonna make me say it, weren’t you Sostene?
“… hey,” I said, and his eyes flashed open. It seemed like that finally got his attention. He turned to the right and looked down. Dammit, why did he always have to remind me how much taller he was?
“You… feeling okay, man?” I asked. “You’ve been out of it all morning.”
He sighed, and groaned a little. “Yeah, sorry. Things… haven’t really been the same since the train.”
I thought so.
“You… wanna talk about it?” I approach carefully, not wanting to push any of his buttons.
Now I started overstepping my boundaries a bit. “Come on man, I can guarantee it’ll make you feel better-”
“I said I don’t wanna talk about it, Al!” Sostene yelled at me. But he didn’t watch his step, and as soon as he stomped down on a passing manhole cover, his strength made the sewer lid flip like a giant penny and it smacked him under the chin. I winced.
“You’re sure you don’t want to talk about it?”
“Yes, Al.” Sostene said, rubbing his chin.
“You’re absolutely, positively-”
“Oh my god, for the last time, yes!” he barked as we made the turn onto 67th St. “What part of ‘I don’t wanna talk about it’ don’t you understand?”
“Well, can I guess then?”
“Sure,” he said wildly, throwing his hands up in the air. “Whatever makes you fucking happy!”
“Hmmm…” I thought. “Is it about Nayeli?”
“Pffft. What? Now I know you’re just goofing off,” Sostene said. “Why would I care what happens to her?”
“Maybe because you work together and she’s Marq’s favorite? You know this is hitting him harder than any of us.”
“Their private lives ain’t none of my business,” Sostene said coldly. “As long as the boss lets me keep doing my job, I don’t really give a shit.”
There was a pause.
“… I mean I do feel kinda bad for her, I guess. But what she did is what she did. A lotta people died at the bottom of that hole, Al. People aren’t just gonna forget it, and she’s gonna have to live with it, whether it was her fault or not.”
Sostene’s eyes took on a dull quality, the thousand yard stare.
“Trust me, I know.”
I thought about that.
“You’re on the run from a handsome spanish baron! You seduced his daughter-in-law and killed his son in a duel, becoming El Sostene Magnifico!”
I shrugged. “Well then I’m all out of ideas.”
“… You really think the charges are gonna stick?”
Sostene shrugged. “Hard to say. We don’t even know what they’re charging her with yet. No formal arrest has been issued.”
“Yeah, but, we’ve made some pretty big stuff disappear under the rug before, haven’t we? All it takes is a few strategically placed dollar bills…”
“What, you talking about Central Park?” Sostene asked. “I don’t think this and that are really the same thing, Al. That was the local boys vs the away-team. This is a whole new ball game. A whole new goddamn ball game…”
We walked the rest of the way in silence. Officer Thompson was waiting for us at the precinct when we got there. He seemed like a scruffy kinda guy, the type with permanent 5 o’ clock shadow and rough, scratchy whiskers, which was actually pretty funny when you thought about it. A pair of fluffy little tiger ears poked out of the top of his head, and he was chewing on a bagel and lox while he waited for us.
“Hey Sostene,” he said with his mouth half-full. Then, almost as an afterthought, he added “Hey pipsqueak.” He must’ve meant me.
He stuck his fingers in his mouth and licked the cream cheese off of them, then wiped them off on his uniform. My skin crawled.
Please don’t shake with that hand, please don’t shake with that hand…
He stuck his hand out. It was the cream cheese hand.
Sostene sighed. “Bobby, that’s disgusting. At least use the other hand.”
“Oh give it a rest, will ya?” Thompson groaned, pulling his hand back. “You sound just like my new ‘partner’.”
Sostene raised an eyebrow. “They gave you a partner?”
“Pffft,” Officer Thompson spat dismissively. “More like another boss, if you ask me. All he does is order me around like I’m some new recruit. Little shit’s barely any older than the pipsqueak here-”
“-and he thinks he can order me around just ‘cause he’s some sort of fancy ‘special detective’? Give me a break…”
Thompson sighed, running his hand down his face melodramatically. I had half a mind to punch him if he didn’t stop calling me “pipsqueak”. Thankfully, Sostene covered for me (sometimes I wonder who really has the anger issues here).
“What’s his name?” Sostene asked.
“Dante,” Thompson said. My blood froze. I recognized the name. Knew it all too well, in fact. But no. Couldn’t be. Not after so long.
“You mean like the poet?” Sostene asked.
“Nah nah, more like the actor,” Thompson said. “Takes himself way too seriously. Thinks he’s some sort of knight.”
My heart leaped in its cage. That definitely sounded like him.
“Bobby!” a voice yelled from the next floor up. “Do you have that bag from the evidence locker?”
I didn’t quite recognize the voice. Maybe it wasn’t him then. But voices could change a lot in 14 years…
Officer Thompson winced, growling. “No! I told you, Arn is taking care of it! You don’t need to yell either, I can hear you.”
“That him?” Sostene asked.
“Yeah, that’s him,” Thompson said, rubbing his ears. I heard the clattering of footsteps marching down the station stairs. “Sostene, pipsqueak? I’d like you to meet…”
The doors to the station flung open. I took a step back as he walked out.
“Special Detective Dante Salvo.”
I couldn’t believe it. The guy standing in front of me was taller than I remembered, a bit lankier too, and it looked like he’d been run over by a truck since the last time I saw him but it was definitely the same kid. The black hair and blue eyes. The way he kept his clothes immaculate and perfectly cared for. And that pin he kept stuck on his chest. Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum.
“Cavvy?” I asked cautiously.
The reaction was immediate. The way his muscles tensed like a rubber band snapping back you’d think he’d been shot, but he and I both knew that name. It was a shared memory, for both of us. A way to say goodbye… and now a greeting.
He turned to look at me. Fourteen years of misplaced emotion raced between us like a current.