Two weeks later and Tony Grimaldi woke up screaming in the night. Since the hit on the bordello, the nightmares had come on a regular basis. Every single night it was the same dead hooker, smiling at him, her face cold and hard in death. And the words sliding over her gray lips were always the same benediction of the damned.

Thank you.

Guido, who was aware of his brotherís strange mood swings, questioned him one morning while they were cleaning their guns in their bungalow located on Don DiMiloís fortress-like estate.

"I canít shake that girl thanking me for offing her," the younger of the twins confessed. "Every night she just comes out of the ground, her skin crawling with maggots and then she smiles and she thanks me."

Guido eyed his brother warily. He had never seen Tony this upset before. "Hey, you ainít getting a conscience or something, are you?"

"Huh?"

"A conscience. You know. Feeling sorry about what we do and all."

It was such an alien thought to Tony Grimaldi, that he was confused for a moment. In all their years of mayhem and savagery, he had never once felt anything but elation. Suckers deserved what they got. If you werenít strong enough to survive, you died. Simple as that. It was the law of the jungle and he and Guido were the lions of the Port Nocturne.

"Bullshit," he finally blurted. "The day I get a conscience is the day dogs will fly and cats will swim."

He took a sip of his coffee and grinned. Guido responded with a chuckle of his own and they dropped the subject. Yet, Tony felt the same ice in his stomach that told him something was not right. But he dared not share it with Guido. He was smart enough to know that would be dangerous.

Two nights later, the boys were called out to whack a crusading city councilman named Cramer. It seemed the man, a former cop, had started making investigations into the ties between the mayorís office and Don DiMilo. When the Mayor, who was on the payroll, informed the crimeboss, it was decided that the crusader should take a dirt nap.

The brothers shot him coming out of his garage and threw his body into the trunk of their black sedan. They drove up to Smoky Hollow, twenty acres of pines located along the coast west of the city. The boys had used it often as their personal graveyard and over the years had buried dozens of men and women among the silent firs. This night was just a routine job.

As Guido finished digging the four-foot hole, Tony paced around the body, chain smoking and staring into the inky darkness of the trees around them. On a boulder they had set an old lantern that gave off a weak, sick, yellow glow. In the distance an owl hooted and small animals skittered through the underbrush. Tonyís head snapped around trying to find their source.

"Jeezuz!" Guido said, seeing his nervousness. "Itís just a freaking owl, is all."

"Right." Tony tossed his butt and its burning tip made a tiny glowing arc as it died in the dew-covered grass. "Are you finished?"

"Yeah. I am. Letís have the councilman."

Tony grabbed the corpse by the ankles and dragged it to the edge of the hole where Guido took over. As the body dropped into the cavity, it made a soft, smacking sound. Guido handed Tony the shovel and climbed out. That was Tonyís cue to start filling in the hole.

As the clumps of dirt dropped over the body, Tony felt his heart starting to race. With each spade full, he could he feel his nerves tightening. Then, just as he was patting down the last chunk, he thought he heard a voice. Holding the shovel tightly, he leaned over the mound of dirt and he heard it again, a soft, eerie voice rising up out of the ground.

Thank you, it said. Thank you.

Tony froze. His heart started racing wildly in his chest. Then he heard it again.

Thank you. But this time it was coming from behind him. He slowly turned around and sure enough the voice was coming from nearby thicket. He remembered that was where they had buried old Judge Williams. Then he heard a womanís voice and it came from the rise where the woods sloped into a small valley beyond. Now there were lots of voices and they were speaking to him with soft, raspy words that were not of the living. Words spoken by long silenced voices. It was a cacophony of the dead.

"Make them stop!" Tony cried, throwing the shovel to the ground and covering his ears with his gloved hands.

"Make who stop? What?" Guido asked, looking at his brother oddly. "Whatís wrong, Tony? Whatís the matter?"

With eyes bulging wide, Tony looked at his kin with a wild desperate stare. "Canít you hear them, Guido?"

"Hear what?" Guido looked around the empty woods. "There ainít nothing out here but us and some critters."

"No," Tony yelled back. "The dead are here, Guido. Donít you remember? Theyíre all around us."

"Sure, they are, Tony. But Tony, the dead donít talk."

"Oh yes, they do. They talk to me!"

"Thatís bullshit, Tony! Knock it off! Youíre starting to spook me."

"But I canít shut them out, Guido! They keep speaking to me. Here, in my head. Thank you. Thatís what they all say. Thank you, thank you, thank youÖ"

Guido rushed up and with a balled right fist, knocked his brother to the ground with a sock to the chin. Standing over him, he breathed hard, his fist ready to inflict more damage if necessary.

"I told you to knock it off! Damn it, Tony, what the hell is wrong with you? Ever since we took out Sadieís place youíve been coming apart on me."

"Iím sorry," Tony managed, his voice a half-strangled sob. "It ainít my fault. I didnít ask for this. Itís just the voices. I hear them."

Guido reached down, took a hold of Tonyís arms and pulled him to his feet. He carefully brushed him off.

"Yeah, maybe so. But you got to stop hearing them, Tony. Do you understand? If either Don DiMilo or Link finds out you're hearing voices, it'll be bad for us."

Tony stopped his sniffling and wiped his nose with the back of his glove. "Right." Guidoís warning was sinking in and its effect was sobering.

"If they think youíve gone off the deep end like this, you know as well as I do, itíll be all over for you! Then youíll be hearing the dead for sure cause youíll be one of them!"

For a second, Tony Grimaldi kept his eyes averted from his brotherís face. He looked down at the new grave and then around at the trees with their mocking echoes. He shook himself and then raised his head.

"But what if they come back, Guido? What do I do then?"

"I donít know, Tony. Youíd just better figure something out and do it fast."

"Okay, Guido. I will. Iíll make them go away. I promise. Somehow, Iíll get it done."

For the next few days, the haunted killer kept to himself. He started taking long drives through the city. Aimlessly driving up and down streets with no idea where he was going or what he was looking for. Then, on the third day after the woods incident, Tony Grimaldi drove past St.Michaelís church. Seeing the giant bronze cross atop the high pitched roof, he instinctively realized the answers he was after might be found in a place such as this. He jerked the wheel hard and pulled into the narrow driveway alongside the old, weathered structure.

Pulling his fedora down over his black eyes and flipping his collar up, Tony rushed up the stairs and into the church. Through the shadowy interior, he proceeded down the main aisle, his passage noted only by one or two kneeling penitents. The interior was lit by candles decorating the side knaves and the main altar. It was there that Tony spotted the little, white-haired man in the black robes.

For his part, Father Dennis OíMalley, age 72, had met many a strange soul as a priest in Port Nocturne, but the one he now faced was by far the most intimidating of all. The man was a veritable giant and towered over the old cleric. The manís face was lost in the well of his jacket, and his hat brim covered all but the intense eyes that caught the sparkle of the altarís candles. Black eyes.

Father OíMalley was scared. He silently invoked a prayer to St. Michael, Godís warrior angel, and held his ground.

Suddenly, the fellow politely removed his hat and spoke in a voice sharp with agony and pain. "Padre. I need help."

The old pastor led Tony to his spare office behind the vestibule, offered him and chair and then poured them each a mug of bad coffee.

"Go on, my son. You have obviously come here, to Godís house, to unburden a heavy load. Tell me your story."

"Okay, Padre, but it ainít pretty."

An hour later, Father OíMalley considered that the greatest understatement he had ever heard. He had spent a lifetime learning how not to pass judgement on others. His calling was to provide moral aid to all, even the worse of sinners. Still, nothing in all his years as a priest had prepared him for this manís confession. Tony Grimaldi was an agent of the Devil and clearly represented all that was rotten and evil about mankind.

OíMalleyís initial fear had only heightened as he listened in horror and disgust as the murderer related his brutal history. When Tony finally shut up, a silence heavy with dread descended on the small, square room. The priestís thoughts were a jumble. There was the fear that he had become a liability to Grimaldi. It was clear the man was a deranged monster. How soon before he realized he had told the priest everything? Still, Grimaldi sat before him, head hung down, looking pitiful and alone. Something about the manís plight triggered sentiments of concern in OíMalley. After all, this was why he had become a priest in the first place: to help lost souls and, by God, was there anyone in the entire world more lost than this man?

"Hmmrr," the priest coughed at last to break the silence. "That is the most tragic story I have ever heard, son. Do understand why you are hearing the voices of the dead?"

Tony lifted his eyes. "They want to make me pay for what I did to them. I know that now."

"Then what you are doing is telling me is what you did was wrong and you are aware of that fact. Correct?"

"Yeah, I guess so, Padre."

"Are you sorry for what youíve done?"

"I donít know. Itís all too crazy in my head right now."

OíMalley nodded. "An honest answer. Good."

"Padre. If I have to stop killing to make the voices go away, I will! I canít go on like this. Itís making me nuts. Canít you help me stop them?"

"No. I donít think I canÖ"

"Then this was a mistakeÖ"

"But I think I know someone who can."

"You do? Who?"

"A very special man, Tony. But if you agree to what I am going to suggest, it will mean the end of this life of killing. The man you are will have to die."

Tony didnít hesitate. "If it will make the voices go away, Iíll do whatever you say, Padre. Just call it."

For the first time since their meeting, Father OíMalley smiled. The task before the young man would be a formidable one but result was nothing less than the salvation of his immortal soul. Could it be done? OíMalley had seen enough miracles in his days to believe anything was possible, if the angels were on your side. And besides, there was a real sweet pleasure in giving Satan a kick in the nuts.

"Fine. Then I will make the call to my friend. The rest is up to you and God."

The next day, Tony Grimaldi, killer and butcher of men, and one half of the infamous Brothers Grim, disappeared.

-----

Gone. Just like that. As if he had been wiped off the face of the Earth, leaving behind not a single trace or clue.

For the next few weeks, Guido Grimaldi went wild looking for his missing twin. Don DiMilo put his entire resources and considerable manpower to the hunt for the missing hitman but it was all to no avail. Tony had vanished without a trace and the general consensus among the gang was that he had been eliminated by some old adversary. The brothers did not lack in enemies. It was a hazard of the job.

Finally, after turning city upside-down, Simeon Link told Guido to give it up. Tony was gone. He even hinted at the possibility that Big Swede had somehow tumbled onto the bordello affair and was responsible for Tonyís fate. As unreasonable an assumption as that was, Guido was enraged enough to buy it, sales tag and all. Thus, he was more than eager and ready to continue Don DiMiloís campaign against Big Swede.

Thus began one of the bloodiest gang wars in Port Nocturneís less than illustrious history. For the most part, the police stayed clear of the conflict, no sane cop wanting to get caught in the crossfire between the two mobs. Raids started going down all over town and decent folks were keeping themselves locked in at night, when the bullets flew and the gutters were strewn with bodies.

For his part, Guido lost himself in his work and eventually came to accept the loss of his brother. He was not one to dwell on the past. Especially when there was a war to be waged.

What the older Grimaldi could never have guessed in his wildest dreams was that his brother had joined a monastery and become a monk, shaved head and all.

While Port Nocturne was being torn apart, Tony Grimaldi, now calling himself Brother Michael, was living a life of peace and serenity in the Spanish-style fort nestled in the hills overlooking the Blackwater Bay. In fact, the place was called Mt. Serenity and was very popular with the citizens of the neighboring town of Castle Harbor. The dozen monks at the abbey spent their days toiling the huge vegetable and flower gardens, the excess of which they sold to the markets of the small fishing port. The night hours were filled with prayer and silent meditation.

Late one hot, summer afternoon, Brother Jonas, the abbot of the community.html, was strolling past the pottery workshop, an open-air room located at the rear of the ground floor. Its back wall was made of louvered panels that slid open to reveal the gardens and allowed heat from the kiln ovens to escape.

Brother Anthony, a small black man from New Orleans, was carefully putting the finishing touches on a beautiful, bone-white enamel mask. Brother Michael, carrying a heavy bag of fertilizer on his broad shoulders, had stopped on his way from the main shed to watch the artisan complete his beautiful piece of art. Neither knew the abbot was watching them.

"Hello, Brother Michael," the potter greeted without taking his eyes from the mask on the table, his skilled hand adroitly dabbing the hardened porcelain with the ivory colored paint. "It is almost finished."

"What is it?"

Brother Anthony finished his last swipe and put the paintbrush down. He looked up at the big man and grinned. "It is an African spirit mask. When I was a boy, in Orleans, my mama, she would make them all the time for the Mardi Gras."

Slipping his fingers under the hard mask, the monk held it up so that the rays from the sun played over its pale, smooth surface.

"Do you like it?"

"It looks like a skull."

"Yes, I guess it does. My mama, she say, if you wear the spirit mask, it will protect you from the demons and ghouls."

"Ainít no such things."

"Do not be so sure, my friend."

Brother Michaelís face, brown with the sun, looked as if his mind were millions of miles away.

"No, Brother Anthony. You are wrong. There are no ghosts and such. Only death. Thatís all there is."

For a second, the man who was all too familiar with death remembered the red tattooed skull on his hand and he envied his friend. There were some things no man should have to know. He resumed his march to the fields leaving a perplexed Brother Anthony scratching his head.

Brother Jonas watched him walk off and wondered whether the man would ever find the peace he sought. Looking around the small courtyard to his right, he could see the front entrance and the dirt road that led to the world outside. It was a place Brother Michaels had escaped from. Now if he could only keep it away. Maybe he would have a chance. The old abbot prayed it would be so.

At the very same time, in a seedy, broken down Port Nocturne landmark known as Mickís Bar & Grill, Guido Grimaldi sat at his customary back corner booth nursing his third beer and doing to his best to get drunk. It was still too early for the place to fill up with its usual assortment of lowlifes and Mick Finn, the owner/barkeep, was busying himself getting supplies stacked away in the backroom freezer. The only other patron in the joint at this hour was a one-legged German sailor named Otto. He was sitting at the far end of the bar listening to a ball game on Finnís battered old radio.

But none of this penetrated the haze that enveloped Gino at the present. His mind was muddled with events of the past few months. All them bad. Very, very bad. And like some chain of bad luck, it had all started with Tonyís disappearance. After the loss of his sibling, Guido had turned to his mentor, Simeon Link, for guidance and support. For a while, both men were consumed with the business of warfare and things had gone along fine.

Then suddenly, in the middle of a planning session with Don DiMilo, Link had gone into convulsions and collapsed. When Guido and some of the other soldiers started to go to his assistance, the Don waved them off.

Instead, he walked around the long, rectangular conference table and stood over the fallen Link with a smirk on his fat, beefy face. Clutching his stomach and groaning loudly, Link continued to shake like some wind-up toy gone berserk.

"My, my, Simeon. Is there something wrong?"

But the man couldnít answer. He was twisting about in agony and by now it was obvious to all that he had been poisoned. Then, as if prearranged, an ambulance arrived at the estate bringing with it one of the strangest dudes Guido had ever seen. He called himself Dr. Boroff and it seemed that he and DiMilo were old acquaintances.

Upon entering the room, Boroff injected Link with some kind of serum, then his two white-jacketed assistants put the ailing man on a stretcher and removed him to the waiting ambulance. Dr. Boroff and DiMilo shook hands and then the creepy doc with the thick, gray hair and eyebrows left without uttering another word. As for Don DiMilo, he resumed his place at the head of the table, looked at Guido and said quite simply, "You are now in charge, Guido. Donít disappoint me."

Guido never found out exactly how his predecessor had messed up with the boss. There were whispers among the boys that Link had embezzled cash from the war chest. Guido doubted that seriously. Whereas others put forth the scenario that the dapper Link had been romancing the Donís teenage daughter, Vanessa. Now this was more likely the fact, Guido thought, having witnessed the raven-haired beauty around the mansion many times. She was real easy on the eyes that one, with the look that meant trouble to any man who crossed her path. So, yeah, maybe old Don DiMilo had caught Link sampling the forbidden fruit.

Hell, maybe it wasnít either the money or the girl. It really didnít make any difference in the end. Link was gone, just like Tony. Only this time, after seeing his final exit, his ultimate fate was a bit more determined. If that Boroff character was a real doctor, then Guido was a cabaret dancer with flying feet. No, poor old Simeonís lot was foregone the second he was wheeled away on that stretcher.

Which left Guido holding the bag. All of it. Sure, it was great to be the number one gun and Guido had the ambition to make it stick. Still, the added responsibility the position entailed was a full, twenty-four hour, seven days a week burden he had not been prepared for. The war with Big Swede had taken its toll and the current number of available men was at an all time low. Thus, as one of his first tasks as the new top lieutenant in the DiMilo family, Guido had begun recruiting new talent.

Much to his dismay, he soon learned what was left on the streets was not the cream of the lot. Drunks, ex-cons and two-time losers were pretty much the bulk of the pool from which he had to draw. Among these was his own right hand man, a thin, rat-faced knife lover named Vincent Detta. The guy was pretty much a talentless jerk, but he had the loyalty of a pit-bull. Unfortunately, Guido was barely able to put up with him.

As if thinking of the gaudily-dressed little crook was enough to summon him into being, the front door opened and Detta came rushing in. From his look, he was agitated and his small, mean eyes scanned the place. Tonyís booth left him comfortably in the shadows, which was he liked it. Still, Detta could make out a body and started coming closer. He had a handkerchief in his hand and was mopping his sweating face. Sure it was hot outside, but not that hot. Something was wrong.

"Guido! Iíve been looking for you all over!"

Grimaldi didnít reply. He didnít feel like wasting words. At his silence, Detta slipped into booth across the formica table from him and again ran the silk cloth over his rat-like face.

"I seen, him, Guido! I seen your brother!"

Guido was about to take another swig from his bottle. He put it down. "What?"

"Me and Louie had just come back from dropping off ourÖ ah, package. You know, for the fishes." Nervously, the hood looked around to make sure no one was there. Otto still had his attention focused on a ninth inning tie out at Maxwell Stadium and Finn was still busy in the backroom.

Detta went on, his words chasing each other as if his breath couldnít keep up with the images in his head. "We was coming back when Louie says he needs to gas up the tank. So we stop at this pumping station.."

"Where?" Grimaldiís voice had dropped. It was hard.

"Out in Castle Harbor. You know, the little burg on the other side of the bay."

"Go on."

"Right. Well, Louie pulls up to this here pumping garage and the kid comes out to take care of us. Turns out the place is also one of those roadside general stores, you know. They sell all kinds of things, mostly for the folks who live up in the hills.

"So I figure Iíll run in and grab some smokes and beer for the ride back into town. While Iím doing that, I notice this group of holy joes talking .."

"Holy what?"

"AhhÖ you know. Those guys who wear burlap and shave their heads."

"Monks?"

"Yeah, thatís it. Monks." Detta pulled a pack of cigarettes from his jacket and lit one fast, continuing his story without missing a beat. "They was monks. Three of them. Seems they have some kind of place up in the hills and they grow vegetables to sell to places like that.

"Anyhow, they were so weird looking, you know. What, with their cue-ball heads and all, I couldnít help taking a good look at Ďem when they passed me on the way out. Especially the last guy in line. Guido, he was a big mother andÖ" Detta gulped, realizing the importance of his next few words. "He was the spitting image of you."

Guido remained quiet.

"I swear it. It was you. Only you was bald and had this really good tan."

"Are you sure?"

Vinny blew out a puff of smoke and then his eyes widened. "Shit, I almost forgot the most important thing of all."

"What?"

"Well, you know, I ainít ever laid eyes on that brother of yours. I only come on after he vamoosed. Still the boys have told me enough about him. You know, like the two of you are the same in almost everything... but..."

"But what?"

"But that tattoo, Guido. This here monk. When I saw he was your fucking double, I looked at his hands. He had the goddamn tattoo there."

"What was it?"

"It was a red skull. Guido. I swear, on the back of his right hand."

Guido took his glass of beer and drained it. Suddenly the taste was bitter. He wiped his lips with the back of his hand, the black ace visible as he did so. Vinny took another puff on his fag and then ground it out in the glass ashtray.

"All right, Vin. Get Louie and Frank and tell them to meet us at the mansion in thirty minutes."

"You got it, Guido."

"Tell them to come loaded for bear. Tell them weíre going to a family reunion."

-----

As the days were longer during the summer season, the brothers of Mt. Serenity took to reading their vespers, evening prayers, in the courtyard just inside the main gates. Here had been planted a small orchard of apple trees and although too soon for their fruit to arrive, the branches were alive with the colorful buds. The sky was a soft rose color as the sun began its gradual descent into the western hills. A cool breeze wafted over the ground and the ten men who made up the community.html were relaxed and content in their prayers.

When they, as group, heard the approaching motor car, they looked at one another in mild puzzlement. It was unusual for the group to receive company after dinner hours. Brother Jonas closed his prayer book and clasping his hands behind his back, strolled through the trees towards the gate to greet their unexpected visitors. He was nearing the gravel drive when the car, a huge, black sedan rolled into view. Brother Michael, still with the others, saw the car and immediately realized his time had run out. Clasping his own prayer book, all but forgotten in his hand, he started after the abbot, calling out to him at the same.

"Brother Jonas! Wait!"

The driver of the sedan saw the monk and veered the car to come to a stop before him. Simultaneously the two back doors and the front passenger door sprung open and from them emerged gun-wielding monsters. The first, Vin Detta, coming out closest to the surprised cleric, whipped his machine gun and fired a burst a point blank range.

"NOOO!" cried the man who had once been Tony Grimaldi as he watched his benefactor being cut down.

Lost in the shock of what they had just witnessed, the other brothers came running, heedless of the apparent danger they were rushing towards.

Brother Michael fell to his knees beside the lifeless body of the abbot. His hands were clasp in prayer. Then Guido Grimaldi came up and stood before him, a .45 pistol in his hand.

"Hello, Tony. Long time no see."

As he stood in front of the sunís sinking rays, Guido was a wall of blackness to his kneeling brother.

"Guido," Tony said, finding his voice. "Donít do this. Itís wrong. They have nothing to do with this. Itís me you want."

"Oh, youíre right about that, little brother. I warned you what would happen if you ever tried to run out on me."

"I didnít have a choice, Guido. It was that or go nuts."

"Yeah, well, maybe thatís true but it still donít change anything. We just canít have no loose ends hanging around. You know that."

Guido raised the automatic and shot Tony in the head.

Brother Anthony gasped.

Like a sack of potatoes, Brother Michael fell over, his empty eyes turned skyward. The monks began to cross themselves, fully aware that they were next. To their honor, not one begged or pleaded as Guidoís gunmen cut them apart with several long bursts from their Tommy-guns.

Satisfied with his handiwork, Guido surveyed the dead and then pointing to them, ordered his men to drag the remains into the main building and torch it. The less evidence of a crime they left behind, the better. As Detta and the others set about obeying his commands, Guido stared down at the man who had shared half his life. If there was any regret in his heart, he could not summon it. There were theories that professed a special life-sustaining bond existed between identical twins. Guido had wondered about that and come to the conclusion that the only true bond he and Tony had ever shared was their homicidal natures. Having renounced that, Tony had severed the only true connection they had ever had.

Hell, it was only business, after all. And one corpse was just as dead as any other.

Guido fished into his coat, found a cigar, bit off the tip and spit it out. Sliding the two-dollar stogie into his mouth, he turned his back on the monastery and gazed out at the horizon beyond. The sky was now a brilliant orange crossed with purple and pink shafts. It was one of the most breathtaking sights he had ever seen. Too bad Tony hadnít lived long enough to appreciate it.

Guido chuckled at his own macabre humor and then, using a silver, monogrammed Zippo, lit his cigar. With the mystery of Tonyís disappearance now put to rest, maybe he could go home and finally get a good nightís sleep.

Now, that was something to look forward to.

All contents © 2001-2003 Christopher Mills/Big Bad Monkey Media, unless otherwise noted. All Rights Reserved.
Story © 2002 Ron Fortier.
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