Month: August 2016

Bonus Interlude (Nayeli Knossos, pt.1)

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Nayeli left as soon as she was able to, before Marquis could find the note. In those few brief seconds, she walked out into the street and quietly selected a darkened alleyway to disappear into. Then, when no one was looking, she leapt.

For the first few seconds air resistance fought her, but as she neared the apex of her jump she began to float gracefully like a butterfly or a bumblebee in flight, flying over Manhattan high above its towering buildings as she scraped the clouds. She heard his voice crying out for her with the phrases she’d taught him as a child as the cityscape slowly began to disappear underneath the layers of overcast weather, and she screwed her eyes shut, biting her lip so as not to cry.

“πρώτa αγάπη,” she repeated. “πρώτa αγάπη, πρώτa αγάπη…”

Tears fell like rain amidst the dark clouds, and finally, mercifully, her jump ended as she made landfall outside the city limits. She wiped her eyes clean so she could check the road signs.

“New Jersey, seventy miles. Rhode Island, a hundred and sixty-eight miles,” she read aloud. Two options. Go further inland where the feds might be waiting, or head for the Atlantic.

“Guess we’re going home,” Nayeli muttered.

Her destination decided, she set out for New Jersey, headed to the west.

She traveled for a few days after that, slowly making her way to the edge of the continent, giving Arizona a wide berth and stopping only occasionally to see the sights. Or perhaps “visit old haunts” was the better way to phrase it.

Her last major stop was in California, near Lake Tahoe. It was when she saw the trail marker that said “Mt. Reba Scenic Tour”, and wondered why it felt oddly familiar. Her bracelet swung heavily in the breeze.

Ah, that’s right. She remembered now. She didn’t actually fall in New York. It was here, just a few miles out from the city of angels. It was easy to forget that sometimes, with how much of her life she’d spent in New York with Marquis since then. But this is where it happened. Where she was abandoned by her father. Where she’d first discovered her curses.

Life in Olympus was good, while it lasted. Twelve or thirteen years by all accounts, but it felt so much longer. Concepts like age and time meant different things for gods, so she could spend as much time as she wanted there without ever getting the sense that she was growing older, always make-believing that she was daddy’s little girl. But eventually she had to grow up. Everyone does. And one way or another, her time in Olympus had to come to an end.

“But father, why do have to be your champion? I don’t wanna go to Earth!” she pleaded. “I wanna stay here with you!”

Immediately her father’s stern gaze penetrated her defenses. She couldn’t see him, but then again she never could. The presence of the gods was something you felt, not something you saw. Without the use of avatars, a god could not appear before mortals because their minds could not comprehend the enormity of their true being. Even now she doubted if this room was real or simply something created for her convenience. It had never bothered her before, but now that she risked losing it she wondered if she’d ever belonged here to begin with.

If her father’s reply was anything to go by, the answer to that question was probably “never”.

He grunted. “Why?”

“Auntie Athena says the people there are cruel and disrespectful!” she protested. “It’s cold and dark and filthy… She says Earth is at war!”

“Earth is always at war,” her father said dismissively. “It’s our job to keep it that way.”

“But why?”

“Why not? It’s good for them. Stimulates the economy.” Her father placed a firm hand on her shoulder, a buzzing sensation like static. “Listen to me, Nayeli. There is nothing more glorious than war. Heroes are born there. Civilizations are built, rise, and then fall. All in the course of war. If you want to become great, there is no surer way to do it than in battle. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

“But you’re great, aren’t you father?”

“Of course,” her father grunted. What a silly question. As if it was worth asking.

“Then why can’t I live here with you? If you can be up here and still be great, why do I have to go down to Earth?”

“Because you’re not me,” he said, his voice losing what little patience it had. “I had to prove myself in order to be as great as I am. That is the way of a true man, a warrior. And this? This is no place for a warrior. There’s no hunger or strife, everything is warm and safe, and worst of all you’re waited on hand and foot all the time. It dulls you. Paradise is for the weak. You are strong. I made you that way. Now you’re going to prove it. To your grandfather and to everyone else.”

“But-”

“Nayeli!” he said, raising his voice. “I will hear no more of this! You’re going to Earth, to live amongst the mortals, and become the warrior I meant you to be. This isn’t for you to decide. Do you understand?”

Nayeli lowered her head. “Yes, father.”

With that she felt her father disappear, his presence leaving the room. She sighed.

“Hey. What’s the matter, kiddo? Something got you down?”

She turned around. A cripple in a wheelchair was suddenly behind her, paddling the floor like river water with his walking stick while two metal hounds flanked him on either side. One of his legs was shriveled to the point of hideousness, but his upper body was muscular and well built with strong arms. He had youthful, springy, finely-cared for facial hair (such was the pride of many of the gods), with color that was red and wild like fire, and half his face seemed to sag on the side opposite his crippled leg. The bright blue eye on that side rolled lazily around in its socket while the other one focused mindfully on Nayeli. His overall appearance gave the impression of an outcast or a hermit, a man of knowledge shunned for his physical deformity.

“Uncle Hephaestus,” Nayeli said as he approached in one of his many mortal bodies. “What are you doing here?”

“Just checking up on my favorite niece,” he said affectionately, ruffling her hair. “Word on the grape vine is you’re nervous about making the trip to live on Earth.”

“Mmhmm,” she nodded. “It seems scary.”

Hephaestus chuckled. “Earth isn’t scary! I mean it’s no Mt. Olympus, but that still doesn’t mean you should have to worry. You’re strong, right? I bet you could beat me in an arm-wrestling competition!”

“That’s not true, uncle. You work the forges all day long!”

Nayeli still blushed at her uncle’s praise. He smiled. Uncle Hephaestus had always been like that. Not everyone Olympian was happy about her presence here, but Uncle Hephaestus had always treated her kindly, and maybe even perhaps spoiled her if you asked her father or her father’s father. Her father wasn’t the most well-liked Olympian, but he hadn’t let that stand in the way of being a loving uncle to his niece.

“Well, if you’re still nervous, you wanna see the weapon I’m making you? Your dad had me make it extra special, just for you!”

“Really?” she asked, smiling.

“Yeah, sure,” he replied nonchalantly. “Just don’t tell him, okay? He wanted it to be a surprise.”

“Okay!”

The room shifted in dimensions, and a pathway materialized that spiraled downwards into a chthonic forge, its twenty bellows belching with the fires of Tartarus. Nayeli took careful steps down the spiraling staircase while her uncle was carried by the dogs, the metallic beasts never once voicing a single complaint. Metal in motion. That was her uncle’s specialty.

Once his dogs set him down, he rolled himself over to the forge and picked up the crude beginnings of what looked like an axe.

“See this? This used to be a mountain, Nayeli,” he said, lifting it as though it were just any other weapon. “I still have to finish plating it in gold, but this is your weapon now. Think of it as a gift.”

“Really?!” Nayeli asked happily.

“Mmhmm,” Hephaestus said, nodding. “Your father said he wanted something simple and elegant. Of course he understands very little about what actually goes into all those weapons he uses, but I thought this might be a good opportunity to experiment. So I took a mountain, and tried to wring it into the shape of an axe. It has lots of mass, so just swinging it normally can be deadly, but the catch is because it’s so heavy, it can only be wielded by someone with extraordinary strength.”

He offered it to her. “Wanna try?”

Nayeli nodded. Gingerly, she picked up the axe. Almost immediately she felt the handle tingling in her palm, like her hand had gone numb. She quickly let go.

“Uncle, this axe feels… weird,” she said, confused.

“What’s wrong? Don’t tell me our little princess can’t lift it,” Hephaestus said, smiling glibly. “Now that’d make daddy really upset.”

Nayeli pouted, rising to the provocation. She stubbornly grabbed hold of the axe. All she had to do was just power through it, whatever that strange sensation was. She wouldn’t let her father or Uncle Hephaestus down.

The numb feeling quickly spread from her palms up through her arms. In a matter of seconds it felt like her whole body was being pricked with ice-cold needles. The axe had barely budged. So she tried harder, used even more of her colossal strength, until her muscles felt burnt by cold fire.

Hephaestus smiled. Nayeli just took it as a challenge.

“You don’t have to try so hard if you can’t do it, y’know,” Hephaestus said. “I can always make it lighter if you think it’s too heavy for you.”

“I can do it, uncle!” she protested. But she wasn’t sure. It didn’t feel like she had any strength left, and the mountain wasn’t yielding.

Nayeli grit her teeth. If she didn’t have any strength left, she’d just have to find more. For the first time in her life, she gave it everything she had, summoning every last bit of strength she had and exerting herself until she could practically hear her muscles starting to snap like rubber bands. And just like that, the axe-head began to rise.

Hephaestus’ eyes widened. Nayeli grunted with pain, but it didn’t seem to be slowing her down. Finally, she managed to hoist the axe over her head for a proper swing.

“Nayeli!” Hephaestus shouted. “Nayeli stop!”

But she didn’t. She wouldn’t. He thought she couldn’t lift it, that it was too heavy for her. But she wouldn’t disappoint her father, and she wouldn’t let her uncle have the last laugh! The strange tingling feeling was gone. The axe’s weight meant nothing.

The bellows belched fire and flame like volcanoes erupting over the plains of the underworld, and Nayeli brought the axe down in an overhead swing that cut right through the furnace, spilling coals and white-hot metal all over the floor. Warm air blasted through the room like a tempest. Hephaestus sighed.

“Well, I guess you proved me wrong. And destroyed one of my forges…”

“Wha-?” Nayeli looked down at the axe she was holding. “Oh no! Oh no I’m so sorry, uncle!”

He chuckled. “It’s fine. Look, see? I’ve already repaired it.”

She looked at the forge again and lo was it so. The power of the gods knew no limits, it seemed.

Nayeli tried lifting the axe again, and found it strangely lighter this time, which is to say it still felt like swinging a sack of bricks. But that was still preferable to what it felt like swinging the first time, which is to say a humpback whale.

“Uncle, why did it feel so weird the first time I picked up the axe?” she asked curiously. “Now it feels so much lighter.”

“Oh, that’s just because you’re not used to it yet, sweetie,” Hephaestus said quickly. “But hey, you proved me wrong. You can swing it, can’t you? That’s a lot better than I was expecting for your first time.”

Nayeli beamed. Hephaestus smiled back.

“Hephy? Are you still down there in that sweatshop you call a forge?” a thick, syrupy voice cooed.

Hephaestus groaned.

“Yes, dearest wife! I am! I’m a little busy right now!”

“Oh come on! Why don’t you come up here and pay more attention to me for once? Grab a couple of those golems you made – you know, the ones with the really nice asses – and maybe a few of the dogs too, and we’ll have some fun! It’s the least I deserve for being forced to marry a cripple who can’t even make a woman c-”

“You should watch what you say, Aphrodite dear,” Hephaestus said, clearly not sympathetic to her plight. “Nayeli is here with me.”

“Oh,” the voice said, deflating. “Her.”

“Hi, aunt Aphrodite,” Nayeli said timidly. Aphrodite ignored her.

“Heph, whenever you’re done entertaining our brother’s little mistake, come see me up in the bedroom.”

Normally the prospect of being invited to the bedroom of the goddess of love would send heart palpitations through any man. But Hephaestus was not man, nor was he unwise to the games his sister played. Frankly, he’d stopped wanting any part of it centuries ago. The pleasure wasn’t worth the premium.

“I’ll be there once I’m done working on Nayeli’s axe,” he said, lying through his teeth. “Her father wants it done ASAP.”

“Really? That’s your excuse? What a load. And trust me, I know loads,” Aphrodite said scornfully, before her tone took on a cajoling air. “Honestly, it’s been so long since I’ve had any proper fun that I might just go and ask Ares to keep me company.”

“You wouldn’t dare,” Hephaestus growled. “I know you wouldn’t. Not after the last time.”

The air became frigid with the chill of spousal neglect and cold bedsheets. Sensing her chance, Nayeli pitched in.

“I could keep you company if you wanted, aunt Aphrodite.”

The colors of the room suddenly became vibrantly energetic, like a buzzing bee.

“Oooooooohhh-?”

“She doesn’t mean it like that, Nayeli dear,” Hephaestus said, covering her mouth before she could say anything else. “And you’d better not be getting any ideas, Aphrodite. I know lying with children isn’t anything new to the kind of courtships you’ve approved in the last four thousand years, but I’m not having it, understand?”

He turned to face Nayeli, whose face was beet red. Looks like she’d gotten it.

“Tell you what, kiddo. While your aunt and I talk this out, how about you take that axe and practice swinging some more out in the courtyard? I’ll come get it later.”

“You sure, uncle?” Nayeli asked.

“Yeah, it’s fine. Now go out and practice,” he said, giving her a light shove until the entrance to the forge closed behind her.

“That was a good joke, coming from you. Acting all protective like that when you know what’s coming,” Aphrodite said.

“Yeah…” Hephaestus said, watching the spot where Nayeli left. “I guess you’re right.”

He turned back to his forge as Aphrodite’s thoughts and presence drifted away and he himself reverted back to his immaterial form, the forges losing all substance until they smelted nothing but pure thought.

Sorry, kiddo, he thought. This isn’t about you, it’s about your dad. Wish I could tell you that…

Nayeli kept walking. What point was there in remembering that anymore? Except to make her mad, of course. No, she still had much farther to go. And her path would take her right through that place. Through the city of angels, where she first met Marquis.

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Street Lawyer 5.6

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We watched them wheel Frankie out of the house on a stretcher. Sometime in the past seven minutes, he’d lost consciousness. I’d done all I could in the meantime, but was hard to know if he’d ever wake up again.

Milo lifted Frankie into the ambulance himself, then marched on over to us.

“How does he look?” Marq asked. “Is his heart rate stabilizing-”

He barely got to finish that sentence as Milo decked him in the face, knocking him to the floor.

What did you do to him, Marquis?!”

“Whoa whoa whoa, easy,” I said, stepping in front of him with my knife out. To my relief, Theo backed me up. Milo glared at me with every ounce of hate he could squeeze out of that sour lemon smile of his.

“Out of my way, soldato trash,” he growled. “Know your place or I’ll put you in it.”

“My place is with my boss,” I said firmly. “You’re not my boss. Now take a step back.”

He smiled. No, it was more like an imitation of a smile, wrought from anger and forced through clenched teeth like toothpaste in a tube.

“You have a lot of nerve talking to capo like that. I could have you stripped of your rank if I wanted.”

“Really? Is that what you are?” I replied. “I guess we’ll have to see how long that lasts after Boss Frankie wakes up. If he wakes up. I get the feeling he won’t take too kindly to you almost killing him today.”

That wasn’t me!” Milo roared. “It was Marquis! He… he did something… to the stone!

“Like what?” Marq said, wiping blood off his lip. “I don’t know the first damn thing about how that stone works. Kichirō doesn’t either, so I have a hard time believing you do. Admit it, Milo. You went in half-cocked not knowing what you were doing, and it almost got dad killed.”

“Stop trying to pass the buck!” Milo shouted. “You did something to the stone, admit it!”

“When exactly would I have had a chance to do that?” Marq asked. “You watched us cut it out of a live unicorn and then you took it for yourself. I haven’t seen it since. You just fucked up trying to make daddy love you.”

Milo bit his lip, a thin rivulet of blood forming as his teeth squeaked across the delicate flesh, ripping it open. A drop hit the floor, then two drops. On three, Milo went for his gun.

“Shut up shut up shut up!” Milo screamed, pointing his revolver at Marq and through me. “This is your fault! I didn’t… I couldn’t…

Marq stared at him coldly.

“And you think I would? What reason would I have for killing dad? Me, the supposed ‘favorite’? Why would I go out of my way to shake this family up even more than it already has been with this stupid blood feud? Take some responsibility for yourself, Milo. Whatever happens to dad from hereon out is on you. You made a mistake. Now you have to live with it.”

He brushed the dirt off his coat, ignoring Milo completely.

“Come on Al, let’s go.”

With that, Marq turned his back on Milo even while he still had his gun out, and I guess I followed suit. Wasn’t really sure what else to do.

Milo’s gun hand shook, and he almost pulled the trigger, but Theo knocked it out of his hands before he could, the tip of her throwing knife wedged into the steel of the barrel. Then she waggled her finger at him like a disapproving nanny, a move I found surprisingly sassy for Theo. I liked it. I liked the expression on Milo’s face even more.

We all piled into Marq’s car before things could get any worse, and I turned my head to look out the window at Milo as we pulled out into the street. Even without my powers, I don’t think I would’ve forgotten that face. It looked something like a kneecapped lion or a cornered wolf. Desperate, broken, unrestrained anger with a little fear mixed in, a highly unstable mixture that almost always blew up in your face.

I looked away, trying not to let it worry me. If it really was supposed to be my job to protect my boss, I would’ve told Marq right then. I should’ve told him. We’d just made a very big mistake.

“Al,” Marq said, catching me by surprise.

A moment of quiet passed.

“… Yeah?” I asked, taking his silence as an invitation.

“Does this seem a little convenient to you?”

I thought about how I wanted to respond to that very carefully. “Convenient how?”

Marq sighed. “I mean, Milo won. He had the stone, there was nothing we could do to keep him from using it on our dad and curing his disease. Then dad nearly dies when the stone conveniently starts acting up. Doesn’t that seem a little suspicious to you?”

“What, you think Milo used the stone to try and kill Frankie on purpose?” I asked, confused.

“No, no,” Marq said, waving his hands. “Not like that. You’re approaching this all wrong. Even if it was just a freak accident or a mistake Milo made going in all half-cocked, the most likely outcome of someone mishandling the stone should’ve just been nothing happening at all, not a blood vessel popping in my dad’s brain. And besides that, I can’t see Milo ever trying to kill him to begin with. It’s like I said, what do we have to gain? For someone in Milo’s position it’d be a risky move at best, and career suicide at worse. And Milo’s too much of a daddy’s boy anyway.”

“So what are you suggesting?” I asked. “That he was framed or something?”

“It’s possible, though I don’t see why anyone would do it. Everyone knows Frankie never really liked Milo, so what point would there be in trying to knock him out of the race when he’s already not a threat? You’d have to be pretty low on the waiting list to be less popular with dad than Milo, and frankly we’re running out of brothers and sisters,” Marq said as if it were just simple mathematics. “Besides, why not just kill him if that’s what you want to do? Anyone who can sabotage the stone or Frankie’s medical equipment should already have the resources to do that.”

“Maybe they were worried it wouldn’t work?” I suggested. “It’s not a guarantee that a demon would take a deal to have him assassinated, and hitmen can make mistakes.”

“And this roundabout method is somehow more foolproof?” Marq asked me sarcastically. He sighed. “Look, right now I’m not suggesting anything. All I’m saying is this smells way too much like fish for us to ignore it.”

We parked outside Marq’s office a half an hour later. I looked at Theo as we all piled out, and she cocked her head at me questioningly.

“You should head back home, Theo,” I said. “… Make sure Annie’s doing okay.”

“And you, Master-”

I put my finger on her lips.

“Don’t. Say it. I’ll be home soon. Just gotta take care of some things here at the office.”

She closed her eyes and tipped her head forward in a bow. “Understood.”

“Don’t do that!” I hissed, whipping around to make sure no one was looking. “It’s really embarrassing! Besides, you don’t want to get caught, do you? If anyone finds out you’re a homunculus we could both go to prison!”

“I’m sorry, Master. My apologies,” she said, and bowed again.

God-!” I started, then took a deep breath. “Look, just go. I’ll see you at home.”

Theo nodded. “Please call me immediately if you think you may be in danger.”

“What do you mean? Why would I be-”

But she was already gone. I hadn’t even seen her leave. Damn she’s fast, I thought to myself.

I sighed.

“You know, you really don’t have to be so hard on her,” Marq said. “She’s just trying to do a good job.”

“A little too good if you ask me,” I said. “Makes me feel uncomfortable. I don’t want her to feel like she’s still a slave. Makes me feel shitty.”

“Maybe this her way of trying to thank you,” Marq suggested. “You saved her life, so now she figures being the best familiar she can be is the least she can do.”

“Speaking of that,” I said. “What did she mean by ‘call’ her? This telepathy thing, how do I use it? I haven’t had much practice.”

“Oh, that?” Marq said. “That’s easy. Just think about your familiar really hard, then tell them what you want them to do or whatever kind of message you’re trying to send.”

“That? That’s it?” I asked. “Sounds a bit too easy, don’t you think? I mean, a guy has to worry about his privacy now and again. What if I’m uhhh… thinking about Theo but I don’t want to call her? That seems like it could get embarrassing.”

Marq snorted. That got a chuckle out of him.

“Don’t worry. The geas we use for familiars was designed to prevent that from happening. You have to be very deliberate in what you’re doing, otherwise your message won’t go through,” he explained. “It takes a little practice though. Try to train your mind to associate calling her with a very specific set of stimuli. A strong mental image, like a phone ringing. Maybe snapping your fingers to a certain beat or clicking your heels together three times and saying ‘There’s no place like home!’ You’ve gotta make a ritual out of it. That way it doesn’t happen by accident, and you can trigger it whenever you want.”

I tried to think of something that’d make a good trigger. Mental images were out. I didn’t trust my brain enough for that. After all, your brain can be tricked. Doesn’t even take magic to do it. So it had to be something I did physically, or with my voice. Wouldn’t that be inconvenient if I wanted to make a call in secret though? It’d have to be something inconspicuous then.

I frowned, deep in concentration. Damn this was hard!

Master Alfonso?

“Huh?” I said aloud. Was that Theo’s voice? Had I accidentally called her?

What is it that you need?! Theo asked urgently. Are you in danger? I shall head there right away-

No no, Theo, I tried thinking back to her. I’m just trying to get this telepathy thing down. I didn’t mean to call you.

Oh, she said, her voice sounding much calmer. Well that is certainly a relief. Should I…

Yes, go check on Annie. I’ll see you at home.

I paused.

How… do I disconnect?

I could feel Theo’s sigh of exasperation on the other end of the line, then I felt nothing at all. The connection had been cut, presumably on Theo’s end. Well that was embarrassing.

“So what are we here for again?” I asked Marq as he opened the door, trying not to think about my ineptitude as a mage.

“Just wanted to go through our stories and all our information together,” Marq said. “Make sure everything matches up. You will be testifying, right?”

“Hmmm…. I dunno,”’I said, faking uncertainty. “I mean technically I was inebriated, so I don’t know how much of that fight I really witnessed  per se. And when you take the curvature of the Earth and the early morning light into account, I can’t really be sure what I saw…”

Marq raised his eyebrow at me.

“… Of course I’m going to testify, you idiot. Nayeli’s family, no matter what your dad says. She’s loud, annoying, obnoxious family, but she’s still family. And besides, what kind of mafioso would I be if I didn’t look out for my boss or my blood brother?” I said, ribbing him with my elbow. He smiled as he pushed open the doors and nearly bumped smack dab into the lady of the hour herself.

“Nayeli,” he said, surprised. “You’re up… and out of the house. What are you doing here?”

“Oh, ummm… just picking up the apron I left here,” she said sheepishly. “I thought I’d head down to the soup kitchen to help out one last time. You said we still had a few days before the news got out, so, y’know… I figured I’d make the most of them. Do something good.”

“Really?” Marq asked, still bewildered. “You’ve been cooped up for the last couple days. Are you sure you’re ready?”

Nayeli giggled. “Come on boss, I’ll be fine. Really, I will.”

“Ookayyyy…” Marq said, still somewhat disbelieving. “Well, do you want me to drive you there?”

“No, I’ll walk,” she said, heading for the door. “What are you so worried about?”

“Nothing, it’s just…” Marq faltered. “I love you… you know that, right?”

Nayeli smiled warmly, one of the few times I’ve seen her do that.

“Yeah. ‘Course I know that.”

“Well… see you later then, I guess.”

“Yeah. See you later, boss. Take care.”

Marq watched her go. She sounded so sad when she said that. I didn’t think about it too much though. I had problems of my own I needed to talk to Marq about.

“Marq. Hey Marq,” I said, snapping my fingers in front of his face. “We were gonna do our stories or whatever?”

“Right, right,” he said, the trance broken. “Here, let’s just head into my office quick.”

He turned the doorknob. The room was absolutely cluttered with stacks of paper, mostly legal documents. Court transcripts, letters, laws, bills, dossiers, the works.

“Johnny Numani v. the State of Florida, Adler v. the Black Cove Coven, ‘On Demihumans and How to Judge Them’, ‘A Short History of Post-War Law’, ‘Our New Reality’…” I read aloud. “Marq, what is all this shit? I’m feeling a bit behind the grind, here.”

“It’s demihuman defense law, Al,” Marq said. “I’ve been studying it, trying to find something that’ll keep Nayeli out of the hoosegow.”

Marq scowled once he saw his desk.

“Oh what the hell is this? Who moved my papers?! I had these all nice and arranged in a specific order! Now I’m gonna have to redo this whole thing…”

He sat down and started sifting through the mess, shuffling folders and packets of paper around in ways that only made sense to him, I’m sure.

“Hmmm… looks like there’s a letter here,” he said, picking up a folded envelope at the bottom of the pile. “Did I leave this here?”

He pushed a bottle of brandy to the side and cut the letter open with the knife he kept next to his pens. Now seemed like as good a time as any.

I took a deep breath. “Listen, Marq, about we talked about on the train. I was thinking I should-”

But he wasn’t listening. He was just staring, at the piece of old paper he held in his hands. Staring at it like a cyclops. Worst of all, his hands were shaking.

“… Marq?” I asked, hoping he wouldn’t say anything. That everything was still going according to plan, like they always did. “What’s wrong?”

He looked up at me, slowly, like someone was cranking a car jack attached to his neck. I’d never seen that look in his eyes before. I’d seen him mad, sad, frightened, worried, anxious, happy. Afraid. But never this. This was true fear. We stared at each other wordlessly, then he bolted for the closet.

“Marq!” I yelled after him.

Nayeli!” he shouted, dropping the piece of paper at the door as he hurried to the stairs. Not thinking twice, I grabbed the paper and followed him through the trapdoor.

“Marq, what’s going on?” I asked him, extremely worried, but he wouldn’t respond. Instead he just skidded out the door on the bottom floor, making a mad dash for the exit. He flung open the front doors wildly and yelled out into the streets at the top of his lungs.

Nayeli! πρώτa αγάπη!” He yelled in Greek. “Isn’t that what you said?! πρώτa αγάπη?”

I held the piece of paper up to see what was written on it. My eyes scanned the chicken-scratch Greek lettering, and suddenly I understood.

“υγεία χαρά…” I read aloud. That meant goodbye.

“προτιμώ εσένα!” Marq trumpeted into the streets, desperate for his pleas to be heard. “προτιμώ εσένα! προτιμώ εσένα…”

He dropped down on his knees, sobbing.

“προτιμώ εσένα…” he croaked. “Please… Nayeli…”

I walked over and put a hand on his shoulder, concerned. He looked up at me, crying.

“She’s gone, Al,” he said, choking through tears. “Nayeli’s gone.”

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Street Lawyer 5.5

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A chill ran up my spine. No, actually it was more like being spooned by Jack Frost. I swallowed a hard lump and took a step forward to cover Theo. Frankie grinned upon seeing me.

“Alfonso Anastasio, associate no more,” he said, addressing me in an almost fatherly way. “Come on over here, let me get a look at you.”

I did as he asked, getting close enough that I could stand over his bedside. He looked me over.

“God you seem different. How many years has it been?”

“Ten, sir,” I said. “At least I think.”

“Shhhshhshh,” he lisped. “I don’t care what you think. I’m just happy to see one of my son’s oldest friends finally joining the family. We never talked much, but the way you two looked out for each other, I’ve always regarded you as one of my sons. You’ve been a good brother to my boy, Alfonso. Now you’re brothers by blood. How does that make you feel?”

I looked at Milo out of the corner of my eye. His sights were set squarely on me. That wasn’t good.

“… Honored, sir.”

“Then tell me,” Frankie asked. “Why did you disrespect me?”

My heart skipped a beat when he said that. I could feel it coming as I broke out into a cold sweat and my mouth dried up like a turd in a litter box.

“I-I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t really understand-”

“You stole from me, Alfonso,” he said, his voice hard like a rock. “You took what wasn’t yours without permission. The homunculus. That’s her right there, right?”

His wandering eyes passed over Theo, and I could see her stiffen up as she tried her hardest not to show what she was feeling. She was shaking, but I felt paralyzed.

“Well? Tell me, boy,” Frankie commanded. “Is it?”

Slowly, I nodded. “Yessir. Her name is Philippa Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von-”

“Homunculi don’t have names,” he said dismissively, waving his hand.

“Well… this one does,” I said.

Frankie grunted. “And? What made you think it was okay to steal her from me, when she wasn’t yours to take? I punish thieves very harshly, Alfonso, and traitors even harsher. Why shouldn’t I just kill you, and be done with it?”

Finally Theo couldn’t take it anymore. She flashed her knives which she’d hidden in her dress, and pointed them at Frankie. Milo immediately reached for his gun.

“You may try,” Theo said through grit teeth. That just made Frankie laugh.

“I like her! She has spunk. She would’ve made an excellent little dollie for me to play with,” he said, licking his lips. He turned his attention back to me. “I think I’m beginning to see the full picture here now. Alfonso, you did not enter into a contract with her of your own volition, did you?”

“… No.” Not necessarily, anyway…

“And you didn’t do it to steal from me?”

“No,” I said. “I was… incapacitated. About to be killed. She came to my rescue. Without that contract, I don’t think I would have survived.”

“And if you could go back in time and do it again, this time under different circumstances, would you still have done it?”

Theo looked at me. Did I defend her and say what was really on my mind, or did I say what he wanted to hear so we could all still leave this place in one piece? It felt like no matter what I picked, I would be burning a bridge and betraying my family. Except one of those bridges was built over a deadly fall.

“Well?” Frankie asked, urging me to get on with it.

I gulped. I had to answer honestly. I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t. The Allesandris always came first, but the people I shared that tiny tenement with came even before that. As long as I didn’t give him the contract, he could never have Theo, even if I died. Annie would have the life insurance, and Theo to look after her. Everything would be fine if I just died here. That’s what I had to tell myself.

“… Yes,” I said. Frankie’s gaze hardened, while Theo’s looked relieved. “I would have done it exactly the same way. She deserves to be free, sir. She’s earned that.”

“And yet all I see is her calling someone else her master. Someone who isn’t me,” he intoned threateningly.

“With all due respect, sir,” I said. “She chose to be with me. That’s… as close to freedom as she’s ever going to get.”

And it was still wrong. But it was better than whatever Frankie had planned for her.

It was in thinking about that that I made my mistake. Frankie reached into his pillow case and pulled out a revolver, pressing it square against my chest. Theo gasped and drew her knives, panicking, but I held out a hand to tell her to stand down. If she attacked now she might very well kill me herself.

“I’m gonna give you one last chance, Alfonso,” Frankie said with his finger on the trigger. “One last chance to rethink what you just said, and hand her over.”

I gulped. What were my options here? Was Theo fast enough to go for the save? Would I survive a shot to the heart? Unlikely, to both of them.

Did that change what I had to say? Ditto.

“Sorry sir, but my answer’s the same,” I said. “Theo isn’t property we can just pass along, and I’m never going to let her be property ever again.

Frankie and I locked eyes. There was no give and no take between us. Either this ended when he put the gun down, or when I bled out on his lavender fucking carpet.

Frankie’s face twitch. Mine loosened for a second, betraying my surprise. He made a noise like snorting, then after a few agonizing moments of him making confusing noises, broke out into raucous laughter. He lowered the gun.

“That’s great! That’s really great! The balls on you kid; I just cannot believe it!” he said, guffawing. “When they told me you’d been mouthing off to Paulie and Georgie, I thought he was telling me tall tales, but you really do have some, don’t you?”

I laughed nervously.

“Eheh… heh… Ummm… I’m confused,” I said. “Does this mean you’re not going to shoot me?”

“Alfonso, I would’ve shot you if you had given her to me,” Frankie said. “It’s clear to me now how strongly you feel about this, and I have no place in this organization for men with weak convictions. If you couldn’t defend your girl there, how could I ever expect you to defend our family? You gotta have resolve, kid. If I really want a doll like her, I can just find one somewhere else. But I can’t just replace good men that easily.”

My chest lightened, and filled with air. “So does that mean-”

“Yes. In exchange for a forty, fifty… ehhhh… seventy percent increase in your tribute, I will ignore this transgression. Just this once,” Frankie said. “In the name of good faith and family bonds. You have potential, Alfonso. I expect a lot from you. But the next time this happens, you know what I’ll have to do.”

“Yessir,” I said, a growing relief rising in me.

“Good,” he said, waving his hand. “Now go.”

Relief washed over me. Marq and I nodded to each other. It was time to go, before things had a chance to turn pear-shaped. But just as we had turned to leave…

“One moment, father. Aren’t you forgetting about that other thing we discussed?”

“Huh?” Frankie said. “Oh, right right. The cinnamon stone.”

Cintamani stone,” Milo reminded him.

Frankie scowled. “I don’t give a damn what it’s called, just bring it here if you’re so worked up about it.”

Milo beamed and approached him.

“I know it’s not exactly what I promised, but it can do everything the philosopher’s stone can and more,” he said.

“Hmph,” Frankie snorted. “I find that hard to believe. Well, let’s see what you’ve brought me this time, Milo. Maybe this one will actually work.”

Marq and I stood rooted in place, waiting to see what would happen. There was nothing else we could do. Events had long since conspired to take matters out of our own hands, a state of affairs that had for the longest time been known by its proper name “being Fate’s bitch”.

Milo unwrapped the stone after pulling it from an antique wooden box, making an elaborate show out of the whole thing. Frankie looked like he was getting impatient.

Then the stone appeared, the veil concealing it lifted. Its humble, unpolished appearance belied its power, but to someone who didn’t know what that power was, looks could be deceiving indeed.

Frankie huffed. “What’s this?”

Milo looked at him, confused. “It’s the cintamani stone.”

That?” Frankie asked incredulously. “I wouldn’t give a stone like that to a whore! You expect me to believe that’s some kind of great and powerful artifact?”

He narrowed his eyes.

“Milo… you better not be wasting my time again…”

“Of course not, sir!” Milo said, practically pleading. “Here, watch!”

He tapped the stone, causing a tiny light to flare up inside it. It looked like he was about to use it.

“I just have to find the right spell…” Milo said, his eyes glazed over. A few silent minutes passed. Frankie harumphed.

“I knew it. You have no idea what you’re doing.”

“Please, father! Just give me one more moment!” Milo begged. His eyes twitched frantically like he was reading an invisible book.

“There! I found it!” he said. Looking back, I’m pretty sure he was lying. The only question was to who.

The stone started to glow faintly, like there was a candle inside it. Milo pressed the stone to Frankie’s chest. The Allesandri patriarch jumped.

“What the hell do you think you’re-”

The effect was immediate. With a sound like wrapping paper crinkling in reverse, Frankie’s chest started to expand, taking deeper and deeper breaths. Color flushed back into his face, and his weakness went away. Whatever Milo was doing, it was working. I heard Marq click his tongue.

“What… what is this?” Frankie asked, then demanded. “What’s going on?!?”

“I’m using one of the enchantments inside the stone to heal your sickness, father,” Milo said, concentrating. “Please, hold still.”

Frankie took a couple of experimental deep breaths. After he realized he could breathe clearly again, he laughed heartily. It sounded… normal. “Haha… well, Milo, this… this really is something.”

Milo smiled. Miraculously, Frankie rose from his iron tomb and pushed aside the door, setting his feet on solid ground again for the first time in years. He balled his hand up in a fist, testing his grip. It was strong again. New, like a young man’s.

Slowly, he stood, his squat frame juxtaposed against Milo’s tall, lanky body. He looked up at his boy, and smiled.

“Not bad… Not a bad job at all, son! This is wonderful! I feel ten years younger!”

Milo’s eyes brightened. “Th-Th-Thank you very much, sir!”

Frankie put a hand on Milo’s shoulder. “You know, son, I… I have a confession to make. I never thought you’d amount to much. You lacked the imagination to really succeed like your half-brother. Didn’t have an independent thought in your head, is what I thought. But… I misjudged you. And I’m sorry. When I learned what the stone really was, I thought it wasn’t worth pursuing. But you looked at what it could be, saw something I didn’t. And now… now I’m healed! Thanks to you!”

He smiled wryly. It was barely a nudge at the corners of his lips, but it was the most genuine emotion I’d ever seen from him.

“Son, I’m prow of you.”

The mismatch didn’t register at first. We all just thought it was a slip of the tongue. Milo’s smile broke for just a millisecond.

“What did you say, father?”

“I said I’m prow fuf you.”

There it was again. Milo stopped smiling, concerned.

“Father, are you okay? You don’t sound quite right.”

“Wuhya mean? I feelfin… feel fin… feel… fine…

Frankie started to mumble.

“F-Fine. F-F-F-Fuh-Fine. Fiiiiine. Fiiiiaaaace. Face. Face. Face. Face. Face! Muh face!”

The Allesandri capofamiglia, the boss of bosses, started twitching spasmodically, fingers clawing at the left side of his face. He just repeated that same word over and over again, spittle dribbling out of his mouth.

“Fuh-fuh-facee… Fuuuuuh-fuf-faaaaaace… C-can’t…”

He slumped down, back against the iron lung, still twitching. His arms fell uselessly to his side.

“Father, what’s wrong?!” Milo said, shaking him by his shoulders. “What are you trying to say, father? What are you trying to say?!”

I knew.

“Call 911!” I shouted, shoving Milo out of the way. I grabbed Frankie’s twitching shoulders and held him down, doing my best to keep him lying on his side. I loosened his tie. “He’s having a stroke!”

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Street Lawyer 5.4

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You ever remember the feeling you get just before you fall and hit your head or break your arm? The one that normally lasts for just a millisecond before you hit the ground but it feels like an eternity of falling? The lightning flash of fear and uncertainty, not knowing what’s going to happen to you when you finally stop falling or even if you’ll get back up? As it turns out, there are ways you can feel that without the risk of accidentally turning your skull into brain pate, though I wouldn’t recommend it.

I swallowed a hard lump, adjusting my tie for the fifth time since we’d all piled into the car. I’d left my scarf at home that day. Thought maybe it was a bit too ostentatious. Then again, coughing in the presence of Frankie Allesandri could make you feel ostentatious. The man had a way of commanding respect, even from a hospital bed with a tube sticking out of his dickhole. He wouldn’t have climbed his way to the top of the New York scene if he hadn’t.

The three of us, me, Marq and Theo (whose presence Frankie had specifically requested, much to my dismay), had all piled in Marq’s new Rolls-Royce that morning to go see him. The car’s radio was on, but the atmosphere was dead quiet. Stifling really, like someone had just dropped a really eggy fart. Wasn’t me though. I hadn’t passed a solid shit in a week since the train.

“… How’s Nayeli doing?” I asked, staring absentmindedly out the window.

“Fine, given the situation we’re in,” Marq said unhappily. “She’s refused to leave her apartment for the last couple of days, so I’ve had to come by and make sure she eats. Apparently she still feels guilty about all this. She thinks that all she does is cause problems for me and that I’d be better off abandoning her. I tried to tell her I’d never do that, but she wasn’t in much of a mood to listen.”

I nodded, watching the other cars fly by us. “Have they set a court date?”

Marq shook his head. “No. I think the investigation is still ongoing. Otherwise we would’ve gotten a notice or some kind of warrant for arrest. Which is good, since it gives us more time to prepare.”

“Yeah…” I turned to look at Marq. “So, uhhh… we there yet?”

Marq sighed. “No, Al. And would you quit asking? This is the fifth time you’ve asked me that. Don’t you know the way to our house? Look out the damn window.”

I did what he said and stared nervously out the window. It wasn’t the same. Nothing looked the same when you were on death row. You look outside and it’s like seeing everything for the first time. I couldn’t tell if we were sitting on the corner of Park Avenue or at the intersection of Broadway in Little Italy.

I started out just wanting to get this meeting over with so they could decide our fate, but the longer the trip took the more I felt like I didn’t want to arrive. Just like that the ride started to feel like it took seconds, and we’d arrived at the Allesandri family manor faster than you can say “arrivederci”.

We got out. The place was modest, for a mansion at least. Which is to say it was only a home the size of a federal office building rather than an entire city block. The Allesandris preferred their territory historic, which is why they bought the house on Fifth from the Vanderbilts some time in 1926 before the BRC could get their grubby little paws on it. I remember coming here once when I was a teenager. I wasn’t allowed inside of course, but you didn’t have to see what’s in it for it to be impressive. And that’s all that mattered to Frankie Allesandri. That it was big, imposing, and could let people know “I wipe my ass with the kind of money you make” with a single glance.

Before long we found ourselves standing at the entrance, a grand ornate doorway not unlike the one Marq displayed proudly at his office. Guess taste in tacky decor is genetic.

The door knocker stared at us, challenging us to open it. Marq stepped forward, ignoring it entirely, and turned the doorknob slowly and quietly. And you know, I’ve noticed a funny thing about doors over the years, especially doors to places you shouldn’t be. They can smell fear, and they tend to open like the legs of a dame. If it’s a door you’ve been in before and you know you’re supposed to be there, if you’re confident and calm, they open without a single complaint. If it’s a door to a place you’re not supposed to be in, if you’re afraid and you try to force it, then they’re going to make noise like you wouldn’t believe.

The doors squealed and moaned, creaking open with the agonizing slowness of a snail hitting the grass, and we all winced as we heard the sound echo throughout the empty halls. I shivered.

“Are you nervous, Master Alfonso?” Theo asked from over my shoulder.

“S-Stop calling me that,” I reminded her again. “Can’t you feel it? This place is goddamn freezing!”

Theo thought about it. “No, I suppose I can’t. My body temperature is self-regulating.”

“Great,” I said. “Good for you.”

Jesus, I could actually see my breath a little if I squinted.

“I thought it was supposed to be summer, why is it so goddamn cold in here?!” I asked Marq. “I did not dress for this!”

“Al, shut up,” Marq said, his words icy as the air. “We came here for a reason. Don’t forget that.”

“O-Oh. Right…” I said. In the heat of the moment (or lack thereof, rather), I’d almost forgotten about that sinking feeling I’d had all morning. Well here we were. Rock fucking bottom. The end of the line.

I worked the last of the shivers out of my system and stood up straight. I was confident. I was calm. I was cool, and I was collected.

Yeah right.

We made it up the stairs without issue. Milo was waiting for us at the top.

“Oh, so nice of you to join us, Marquis,” he said sardonically as he held the fruits of our labor in his grubby little hands. “Fashionably late as always.”

“How’s father?” Marq asked, cutting straight to business.

“He’s…”

SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU CUNT!”

There was a crashing and a clattering noise down the hall where Frankie’s bedroom was. Someone yelped with a voice like a bleating goat.

“… not in a good mood today,” Milo finished.

Marq snorted. “Is he ever?”

Milo frowned. “No, but I get the feeling he will be, once I show him this.”

The door opened at the end of the hall and a confused-looking cynocephaly in a servant’s uniform stumbled out. Marq stepped forward as the goat-headed man tried to pick himself up.

“Everything okay in there, Zeb?” he asked, holding out his hand. Did… did he know this guy?

“He… he let me go,” the man bleated. “Just like that! He let me go! After I’ve been working at his side for the last thirty-two years!”

“Well, you do kinda have this whole thing going on now,” Marq said, pointing to his face. The cynocephaly clung desperately to Marq’s lapels.

“What am I going to do, Marchese?! This… this is all I’ve got left! I don’t think I can…”

Marq sighed. “Look, Zeb. He’s just having one of his moods. You know how he’s been ever since he became sick. Let me talk to him, I’m sure I can convince him to give you your job back.”

The man’s square little goat eyes shimmered. “R-Really? You’d do that for me?”

Marq smiled. “Of course. You were the family consigliere, remember? You think I’d let him just fire you?”

“Oh! Ohhhhh!!” Zebediah sobbed, hugging Marq’s waist. “Grazie, il mio piccolo Marchese! Grazie! I raised you well! Bless your kind heart!”

“Alright, alright, that’s enough!” Marq said as he smiled awkwardly, trying to force Zebediah off of him. “You’re getting snot all over my new suit, Zeb!”

“O-Oh! That I am… I’m so, so sorry Marchese- I mean Marquis!”

The goatman let go, scuttling back a few feet. He was still on his hands and knees, like he was expecting to be beaten. Marq sighed in pity.

“It’s okay if you call me that, Zeb. I’m not gonna get mad because of some stupid little kid name you used to call me. That gypsy really did a number on you, didn’t she?”

The former consigliere bleated pathetically. “She took it all away from me, Marchese. My wife, my job, the rogue-ish good looks of an elderly Sicilian gentleman… Now what do I have? A goat for a head, and a registry card in my wallet!”

He started crying again. Marq knelt down and put a hand on his shoulder.

“I don’t mean like that, Zeb. She didn’t take anything away from you. Nothing except what you let her have.” He sighed. “I’m not gonna lie, what she did to you… it’s not pretty. But the things that make you Zeb, that Sicilian gentleman who raised me and helped keep this family afloat for thirty-two years… those aren’t things that she can take away just by changing your face. You earned those things, and you can take ‘em back, so long as you don’t let this change the way you live your life.”

The goatman sniffled. “I wish it was so easy Marchese, I really do. But the world isn’t kind to demihumans like it is to you. I see that now…”

“Well, I’m working on a fix for that,” Marq said reassuringly as he patted him on the shoulder. “Now go home and get some rest. Think about things a bit. It won’t change anything, but neither will sitting here feeling sorry for yourself, and I know which one I’d rather be doing. You just let me take care of the old man, okay?”

Zeb nodded, then slowly started walking down the steps. I watched him as he went. The drooped shoulders, the slink in his steps… now that was a special kind of sad.

Marq got up, dusting the goat hair off his lapels. Milo sneered at him.

“You always have to play the saint, don’t you brother?”

Marquis glared at him. “I don’t remember asking for your input, Milo.”

“I just thought you’d want to be a little more careful about how you associate yourself with these demihuman types,” he said, looking directly at me and Theo. “You know, after everything that’s happened.”

Milo smiled. Or rather, he found a way to express every synonym for the words “smug” and “asshole” in visual shorthand, and was showing us that. Made me want to punch him. There wasn’t much about Milo that didn’t once you got to know him, and by that I mean spend more than five minutes with the guy.

What’s happened is none of your business.”

“Oh, I think you’ll find that it’s quite my business. And after today, Father will realize-”

There was a sharp crack of a wheezing cough in the room just down the hall, where Frankie was supposed to be.

“Is that you, Marquis?”

Milo frowned at that, I noticed. “Yes, father, he is here. Shall I send him in alone, or do you wish to speak with us both?”

“… Enter,” he wheezed, more of a command than a welcome. I guess that meant all of us.

I followed behind Marq. It had been years since I’d last met the old man. Though I guess now he was the boss of my boss. The one and only Allesandri capofamiglia. The first time we met I was in awe of him. This time, I was scared shitless of him.

He’s just an old man, I reminded myself. A sick, dying old man. You could take him out if you really wanted. What’s there to be so scared of?

But those were empty assurances. I didn’t fear the man. I feared what he represented. What he stood for. This was the guy who built the Allesandris from the ground up. A criminal empire that stretched across the sea and into twelve states and more than fifty major cities. He had more money and connections than even big-shot politicians and Wall Street bankers, and he could have just about whatever he wanted. Drugs, dames, magic spells and artifacts, you name it. Excepting just two, there wasn’t a man in the world he couldn’t buy out or buy from, and the ones he couldn’t were even scarier than he was.

They say that in this world, money is power. If that was the case, Frankie Allesandri may very well have been one of the most powerful men in it, hospital bed or not.

“Remember, Theo,” I whispered. “Head down, hands where he can see them, and don’t say a word.

Milo opened the door, and that’s when we all saw him. He looked worse than I’d thought. His giant antique bed of which he used to brag was no more. Instead, he lay under its canopy inside an iron lung, hooked up to an IV with an oxygen mask wrapped around his face. He was wearing his formal clothes, and it made the iron lung look like his coffin, and him a walking, talking corpse.

Marq took a step forward. “Hello… father.”

Frankie chuckled. Or maybe he was just quietly coughing up a lung. He tried reaching out of the metal tube with both arms to offer a hug, but could only make it part way. Marq walked over to him instead, and they embraced, just like any other father and son.

“Marquis, my boy! How long has it been since you’ve paid your dear papà a visit? I’ve missed you so much. To come see your only father for a few minutes every couple of days just to deliver medicine… it’s too cruel.”

“No, what’s too cruel is kicking poor Zeb out on the streets again,” Marq said, taking a step back. “Besides, I’ve been busy with work.”

“So I hear. From the sound of things, your brother has been having you do his dirty work,” Frankie said, glancing at Milo. “And Zeb can take care of his own damn self. What happens to him is not my problem, capisce?

Marq sighed. “You already demoted him from consigliere to a lowly manservant, do you really have to fire him? It’s not his fault he got cursed by a gypsy.”

“Yes it is!” Frankie retorted. “Why do you think the gypsy cursed him?”

Marq sighed. “Father, just give him back his job. You know you can’t run this family all by yourself.”

Frankie was quiet.

“… Feh. Enough about Zeb,” he said, changing the subject. “He’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. I wish our meeting today could be under happier circumstances Marquis, but… you know what has to be done.”

Marq’s expression flipped upside down. This wasn’t a happy family visit anymore. Now we were gonna start our march down the green mile.

Frankie continued. “You made a mistake out there, and it’s going to cost us dearly. This will bring undue attention to us, and to our… operations. Now that we’re in the spotlight, the police won’t be so willing to look the other way, and we’ll have lost the support of many of our most loyal allies and friends, the Four Beasts included.”

Frankie sighed. “No… I made a mistake. I should have never let you bring that demigoddess into our house. I knew she would bring nothing but trouble.”

“Father,” Marq tried to argue. “That may be so, but you can’t deny she’s helped bring in a lot of money for the family-”

“Which was almost immediately spent covering for her in court every time she destroyed something. Or someone.” Frankie sighed. “Listen, my child. You know I cannot ignore this. If it was anyone else, you know I would have already cut out their eyes and tongues and laid them to rest at the bottom of the river. Do you know how lucky you are, Marquis? That I am your father and you are my son?

“… The punishment is this. Whatever happens as a result of her actions, you will have to deal with it by yourself. The family isn’t going to waste its resources backing you on this one, Marquis. We will have no part of it. As of this moment, she is no longer an associate of the Allesandris. If I see her in this house again, I’ll turn her in to the authorities myself.”

Marq knew better than to argue. Once Frankie Allesandri said something, it was final. Milo didn’t seem to agree.

“Father, what are you doing?! You’re being too easy on him! This punishment is far too lenient, even for family! He should be stripped of his position and rank, at least!”

“Quiet!” Frankie hissed at Milo. “If I’m going to punish him as a capo and not as my son, then the blame should be shared equally with the one who sent him on that suicide mission, and practically declared war with the yakuza when I told you to settle it cleanly! None of this would have happened if you’d just done it your damn self, so shut your mouth! You’re just lucky the yakuza disowned them.”

Milo backed off immediately, looking a lot like a kicked puppy. So his relationship with daddy was his weakness, huh? Isn’t that a cruel twist of fate. The eldest son, tossed aside for the bastard. No wonder he had a complex.

“Speaking of the Yamadas…” Marq started.

“We won’t be offering them shelter, but we also won’t be handing them over to their friends. You chose to spare them, I presume because they now owe us a debt. As before, the responsibility lies with you. I expect better of you in the future, Marquis. Now then. On to our next order of business,” he said, turning his gaze towards Theo. “Is this her?”

He licked his lips.

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