Life and death are absolutes. You get born, live and then you die. The end. Period. That is, if you live anywhere else in the world except Port Nocturne. You see, in Port Nocturne there are no absolutes. There is only hell and it just goes on.
Not so long ago, when things were a little quieter, there were two major crime bosses in the city. Big Swede Jorgenson controlled everything from the 8th Street Bridge down to the docks of Old Town.
The other half of the city, from midtown to the ritzy northern boroughs of Marlowe Heights, was under the thumb of Don Gino DeMilo. DeMilo was a man of reckless appetites. And as much as he loved women, food and the life, he loved power even more and saw himself as some sort of Old World Caesar.
He detested the delicate balance of authority that existed in the underworld between himself and his hated rival, Big Swede. It bothered him daily, no matter what he was about. Whether it was doing business or entertaining the high mucky-mucks of Port Nocturne’s social elite with a lavish dinner. The fact that he only controlled one half of Port Nocturne wore away at DiMilo like an itch he could never scratch.
This arrangement had lasted for ten years, much to everyone’s acceptance and no one really believed Don DiMilo would have the balls to upset the apple cart. Thing is, no one knew just how crazy he really was.
The fact that he employed the Brothers Grim should have been a serious clue. But then again, this is the underworld we are discussing and not high society.
Guido and Tony were identical twins born seconds apart to a hooker on Locust Ave. Guido was the older by three seconds. Story had it he was born with Tony holding onto his heels. Their mother sold them when they were a year old and the rest of their legend is lost on the streets of the past. All you need to know is that by the time the boys were in their teens, they were two of most sadistic, vicious souls ever dumped on the mean streets. Somehow, the Grimaldi brothers survived. No one ever knew who sired them, as if it mattered. Lots of folks think it was the devil himself and they could have been right considering the carnage the boys caused.
Dark-haired, with piercing black eyes, the boys were sinisterly handsome. Exact copies of each other. This was the cause of the constant sibling rivalry that prompted them at age 13 to have tattoos etched on the backs of their right hands. Guido had a Black Ace and Tony’s was of a red skull. Instinctively the boys knew their future careers would be mapped with blood and guts.
Bottom line is, they liked causing pain. They were tough and they were brutal. It was the law of the streets and both brothers took to it with a savage relish. Depending solely on themselves, they grew and prospered as petty thugs until the day they were summoned to the presence of Don DiMilo. The crimeboss had heard stories about the brothers and their exploits and he saw in them tremendous potential.
He offered them wealth, luxury and more mayhem than they could ever imagine. The brothers accepted immediately and under the tutelage of DiMilo’s top lieutenant, Simeon Link, they were soon transformed from hot-blooded thugs into stone-cold killers.
Of course, there were several other soldiers in the gang who had held the boss' favor prior to the brothers' arrival. Once Guido and Tony came aboard, some of them mysteriously disappeared. Both Link and DiMilo approved. It was enough of an object lesson that word spread throughout Port Nocturne like a wildfire.
You did not mess with the Brothers Grim.
So, let's get back to Don DiMilo’s annoyance at only controlling one half of the city. For ten years, he contained his lust for power with Herculean resolve. But it was only a matter of time. Obsessions have a way of swelling in the soul until nothing else remains but a single desire that has to be met. Thus Don DiMilo, after months of careful planning, set forth a wild and daring scheme that would ultimately lead to his total dominance of Port Nocturne.
The first step in this devious strategy was to make Big Swede look like the instigator.
On the lower east side of the once-fashionable Whittington Park, DiMilo owned a popular and highly profitable bordello operated by one Sadie Levine. It was said that half of her clientele were made up of members of the City Council and the Police Department. DiMilo ordered the Brothers Grim to fall upon the establishment like a Biblical plague, and exterminate everyone within the house, leaving no living witness behind. Then they were to leave clues behind that would point a finger at Big Swede. After all, who would believe that DiMilo would destroy one of his own places?
Once people thought Big Swede had broken the truce, the uproar would be great on both sides of the political track. It would then be simple for DiMilo to fuel his spark and from it build a fire that would devour his nemesis.
Naturally Guido and Tony were only too eager to carry out their contract. Arming themselves with half a dozen pistols and wielding two Thompson machine-guns, the brothers descended upon the old, sleepy brownstone in the dead of night, long after midnight when things were quiet as a tomb. Most of the house’s inhabitants having long succumbed to slumber from either too much booze or sex.
Having themselves been customers on several occasions, they were familiar with the building’s layout. They entered via a kitchen door facing the back alley. Using silencers, they took out the kitchen staff and then, like ghosts, made their way into the parlor.
Henry, the piano player, and several of the girls, who were not asleep, were lounging about, smoking dope and drinking cheap bourbon. Only a single table lamp lit the huge, overly-furnished, main room. When the brothers emerged from the back door, the girls and the black musician were hardly aware of their presence until Guido raised the machine gun and opened fire.
The bullets cut across the room like lead encased bees and tore their victims apart. Blood and flesh spewed up everywhere and what screams arose were easily drowned away by the gunfire.
"Let’s go!" Guido snapped, rushing towards the stairs. Now that they had virtually wakened the dead, they had to work fast to make sure no one got away.
At the top of the stairs, they ran into the Madame of house, Sadie Levine. She was coming out of her private room fumbling with a handgun. At the sight of the brothers she gasped and dropped her pistol. Laughing, Tony grabbed her by the neck, pulled her to the railing and threw her over. Sadie screamed once and then her body crashed into the hardwood floor below, snapping her neck.
"Nice move," Guido said.
"Mmm," Tony replied. "Guess pigs can’t fly."
It was the end of their witty repartee, as by then scores of doors were popping open as dozens of whores and their customers rushed out to see what had shattered their dreams.
For the next twenty minutes the brothers were busy dispensing their lead greetings to one and all in that ill fated house of pleasure. Twenty short minutes to snuff out the lives of twenty men and women, not counting the six in the parlor and the three in the kitchen. Twenty-nine dead. It was a new record for the brothers and clearly one they were quite happy with.
As they were walking down the circular staircase, having made sure no one was left breathing behind them, the brothers laughed and joked. As they were crossing the parlor, they heard a soft groan and both of them reacted like skittish cats, instantly alert, guns ready.
Tony was closest to the sound and looking down beside an overturned chair, found the source. A young, painted girl, her face half hidden in the shadows, was staring up at him from a pool of her own blood. That she had survived after taking so many hits was nothing short of miraculous. Tony was impressed and he leaned over to see if the bitch would say anything.
She did. She gasped and said, "Thank you."
Tony Grimaldi blinked. "Huh?"
But the skinny girl was dead and there was no taking back the gesture.
"What did she say?" Guido asked.
Tony looked at his brother, his suit smeared with dozens of brown blood splotches, and then back to the dead girl at his feet. Something cold snaked into the pit of his stomach and he shivered.
"She said, ‘Thank you’."
"Yeah, I know."
"Well, forget it. Come on. We still got work to do."
They then proceeded to drop betting slips on the floor from one of Big Swede’s racing joints. It would be just enough evidence to point the finger at Jorgensen. In all, the Brothers Grim had taken all of thirty-five minutes to do their dirty work. Walking away through the smelly back alley, Guido slapped his twin on the back and chuckled.
"Man, I’m starved. Let’s find us a diner and get some chow."
"Okay, Guido. Sounds good to me." What Tony didn’t tell his brother was that he wasn’t hungry at all. Rather he was ill at ease. The dead girl’s parting words bothered the hell out of him. Why did she thank him for doing her? Was her life that goddamn bad that she was grateful to him for ending it? Now how screwy was that?
Screwy. Still, he heard the words in his head and they simply would not go away.