A Tale of Two Murderers

Signing on again because…
I had potatoes. And pork chops.

Reasons!

I’ll put up a story, this time in English so my audience can actually read it (don’t actually know how many of my visitors are fluent in Russian or Russians, but I suspect they are few, out of some utterly irrational gut feeling.)

Oh, and this is a LOOOOONG one. I hope that’s alright.

Sincerest apologies for the dearth of incessantly upbeat humor, I’m full of pig and sleepiness.

This is a more or less complete story, open-ended enough that I can change the ending at will, set once upon a time in Sicily to the tune of Ennio Morricone’s “Rabbia e Tarantella,” from the film Allonsanfan and reused as the credits theme for Inglorious Basterds.

Read, enjoy, comment and critique below as you please, but most importantly, maintain regular bowel movements, its unhealthy to let sh*t ferment inside of you.


 

A Tale of Two Murderers

Dear Death,

When I was six, my brother Cain told me Father had brought home a snake with two-colored eyes, copper scales, and fangs that dripped with blood. Out of pity, apparently; Cain vowed he never would be so blind to bring home a creature so obviously evil. When he passed by my cradle (for our father was not a bright man), the sna`ke bit me. It gave me its green and red eyes, and the copper of its scales colored my hair.
When I asked him if I had its fangs, he told me, “Only the snake knows.”
My name is Serafina Maria Fiorenza, and I killed my family.
Half of it, anyway.

Yours Truly,
Serafina

June 22nd, 1894

June 15th, 1894 – We buried Father at noon. Should have done it earlier. Now they’re all drunk.
My father died in April, and we held his wake in June. We are not a well coordinated family. We’ve never particularly liked working together, and it didn’t help I was the only one who was living with him when he died. Everyone likes their adopted little sister, until they have to come home and bury the Dad that always played favorites with her.
Goddamnit Dad.
They drank. A lot. And ate. The usual feasting. Of course, I had to take care of the actual cooking. But Cain and his wife helped out, brought ingredients and helped out with the simpler dishes. A turkey seemed passe, so we made do with stewed chickens, lettuce, roast pigeons, rice and olives, sparingly in brined oil and bellpeppers. Don’t I feel proud of myself. Master chef right here, only 14 years old. I’ll be 15 in two days, but so what?
Not that they could taste any of it after all that wine. Isaac alone drained eight glasses.
Hopefully they’ll all (my brothers) just go to sleep, so I don’t have to—

Serafina shivered suddenly, jerking her pen across the page. That was not what widened her eyes and flared her nostrils, however. It was the middle of an Italian June, warm enough to sleep with the blankets off and the doors open. This was a shiver of knowledge, whispered over the muffled shouts of drunk brothers below.
Someone was coming. She didn’t know who, or how she knew. She simply knew.
She mopped up the wet ink with her blotter and put away her diary and pen. As she got ready for bed, she put her clothes iron on the stand next to her bed, never taking her eyes off the door.
At ten o’clock in the evening, she put out the lamps and laid down, with only the thinnest sheets and a long camisole to cover her. Sleep hounded her, but she kept her eyes open for an hour, then two, then three, until she could see her room as well in the dark as she could in the light.
And then, just when she was most prepared, her eyelids drooped once, and she was asleep, her eyes sore and dry.

He came in the night.
Fortunately, he was drunk, and ran into the wall several times before he made it into her room, rousing her half from her dreamless sleep.
She did not speak as Isaac stumbled into her closet and lost himself in her clothes, mumbling loudly and flailing against the cotton and lace. It was Isaac, after all; he loved nothing more than a laugh. He probably knew he was drunk, and was going to make a hilarious display of himself, just for her amusement.
“Hey!” he wheeled about and chucked a crumpled set of brassieres at her bed. “Put these on. I, I think you’ll look well-said fan, fantastic. An’ very pretty, that too.”
She said nothing. He knew she was sleeping. Had to, had no reason to think she was hungry for. . .
“Are you lis’ning to me? Get’em on. Or I’ll put my lance through your gate forthright, that I will. Come to think of it. . .”
She did not cry when Isaac climbed into her bed, staring into her two-color eyes, blind drunk. To cry would be to give in.
“Why don’t you put that lamp back on?” purred Isaac, stroking a guitar-plucking finger down the curve of her cheek. “Not everyone’s got snake eyes. . .”
“Isaac,” she croaked, snaking her right arm over to the clothes iron. “I’m your sister.”
She could see his bright white teeth, grinning back at her. “Means we’re intimate.”
As he pulled her head towards him, she seized the clothes iron and brought it down on the side of his head. It smashed into his skull and got wedged there, bone cracking and meat squelching as Serafina tried to yank it out for another strike.
When she saw his left eye squeezed half out of its socket and the left half of his face crumpled and deformed, she realized she had killed her brother, and let go of the clothes iron.
What she did next should have surprised her. The only surprise to her was how fluid it felt to cut the iron out of his skull with a knife, wrap him up in her bloodstained sheets, then bind up his wrappings with clothesline before she threw his body out of the window into the garden, and to bring oil and matches as she crept through the house, wearing only her camisole and a felt cloak.
He was heavy, to be sure. She was too small to lift him, and this did not feel like the appropriate time to ask Cain or Gideon to use their muscles. Progress was slow, but her heart remained steady, unfazed. She dragged him three miles into the hills and deposited him in a small depression, on top of a pile of deadwood and leaves. She doused him with oil, made sure to soak him and the bloody sheets all the way through, and set him alight. All of this came naturally, as if she had rehearsed this since she could talk.
She was thankful the murder took place in June. To have to do this in winter, in the dead of night, would have been deeply uncomfortable. As it was, her skin was clammy, and her felt cloak only itched without warming her much.
It was when she came back through the garden that her heart nearly tore itself in half. There was Zev, her brother the watchman, looking out his window, off into the night.
As she tried to slink back into the shadow, Zev’s eyes snapped to her instantly. For a man who could sink steamers and crush park benches, he was extraordinarily quick witted.
“Evening Fina.” His words were slow, in the methodical manner of the conscientious drunk. “Enjoying the night air?”
She nodded.
He nodded back, smiling. Only his eyes were as good as hers. “It is warm out. Balmy, even. I’d forgotten nights were warmer just a couple miles away from the ocean. Or perhaps its the lack of breeze.”
“Or maybe its the salt by the coast. It stings your skin, leaves it raw, tenderer to the stiff, cold wind.”
His lips moved without making an intelligible noise, and he punctuated the wordless sentence with a thumbs up. “I’m going to bed. Goodnight, Fina.”
“Goodnight, Zev.”
He didn’t know. Good old Zev. Sure, he ate like six pigs, but he was always the more trusting and gentle brother.
Serafina went back to bed, putting on fresh linens and slipping under clean covers at the neat hour of five o’clock.

—-

The next morning, when Asher realized Isaac had not woken them all up in the night carousing with some farmer’s daughter, he called the family together in a unique moment of proactiveness. It was truly inspiring; a man who had not held a job in six years nor even earned a single meal from begging, calling the alarm on a missing brother.
Gideon came first. The only thing quicker than his response time was his temper. Joseph, who treated commitments like money (to be made from a distance) came second. Zev would have been first, except eating breakfast took longer than draining a bilge. Cain and Serafina came last, together; him, because pleasing his wife was a higher priority than answering his bum brother, and Serafina for obvious reasons.
“Anyone see him go last night?” said Asher. One thing could be said about him, he was definitely immune to hangovers. It must have been a recessive gene, because his brothers most definitely were not.
“It’s Isaac,” said Gideon. “He’s probably sleeping in a barn with some ewe.”
“Sheep or woman?” said Zev.
“Good morning, Fina,” said Cain, eyeing his sister. “Sleep well?”
She let her baggy eyes do most of the talking. “You were loud.”
“Well, you’ll only have to deal with us for another three days.”
“I don’t see what you’re fussing about so much Asher,” said Joseph, crossing his arms. “If he leaves before the will arrives, we get his share. Of all of us, shouldn’t you be the most excited?”
“You think I’m that greedy?” Asher snorted.
“No, I think you’re a leech. Only Isaac would drink enough to find you remotely amusing, and only Isaac is dumb enough to keep buying you dinner.”
“And who are you to be talking, you bean counting monkey?” Gideon stepped forward, towering over Joseph with his thick, lumber cutting superstructure. “When’s the last time you stretched our your wallet to pay a man’s living?”
“When I paid your legal axe-penses last year.”
Before Gideon did something stupid like rip off Joseph’s head, Cain stepped in and clasped a hand each on their shoulders. “Before we start fighting over money like the bunch of stereotypical Jews that we are, how about we have breakfast? In Zev’s case, second breakfast.”
June 16th, 1894

After breakfast, we sent Asher into town to inform the police. At least, we’re hoping he did. He’s not the most reliable individual. Still, he seems genuinely concerned for once. But Joseph does have a point. He’s a bit of a leech.
Gideon went out to cut some wood. Not because he’s paid for it, no, and certainly not because we need it. I think he just hates trees. Joseph is looking over his ledgers again. I can tell they’re the ones from the mafia, because he looks like he wants to kill me everytime I get close.
Cain told me he’s secretly glad Isaac disappeared. He told me he wants to go to America, start a family in the land of opportunity. Not really a new dream, but a little closer with Isaac’s share of the inheritance. If only we didn’t have so many brothers.
It’s occurring to me that I will soon own this house. All three stories of it. And I’ll have no wages, less than fifty Swiss francs, and six brothers that all want a piece of it.
Sorry, make that five.
Oh, time to make dinner. At least Joseph is paying for the food. Or is he? I’m never certain with that stingy little anus.
At five o’clock, as Serafina was busy preparing dinner with Cain’s wife, Zev, Gideon, and Cain met at the sundial in the garden, leaving Jospeh alone in the library.
“Isaac may be lusty, but he’s not a fool,” said Cain, leaning over the sundial. “Even he knows a hundred Swiss francs is worth keeping his dick dry for a few days.”
“What are you getting at?” Gideon frowned, squinting hard at his oldest brother, and only one with both wife, business, and a child on the way.
Zev understood immediately. “You think there’s something nastier involved with this?”
“Why are both of you being so damn cryptic?”
“Because the murderer could be right with us.” Cain’s countenance was dark.
“What? Where? Murder?”
“This is why you are still cutting wood, Gideon,” Cain sighed.
Gideon got it at last. “Asher?”
“No you idiot,” said Cain, “Isaac’s the only one who will foot Asher’s bills.”
“Then who? It’s not me. I don’t think it’s you. You’d have to be several kinds of stupid to be telling me you think there’s a murderer and be him.”
“Or magnitudes cleverer than you,” said Cain, smiling grimly.
Gideon blinked. “You’re the murderer?”
Cain shook his head and rolled his eyes. “No. But I have my suspicions.”
“Zev?”
Zev took a step back, glaring at Gideon. “We are not the murderers! Use your brain, if you have one!”
He stared at his two brothers, jaw slightly ajar. “Serafina?”
“What– why– no! Why would you even think that? She’s fourteen, 110 pounds and 5’3”; Isaac is twice her weight and 5’10. Do the math,” said Zev.
“Don’t,” said Cain. “It’ll make your head hurt too much.”
“Then tell me who the fucking murderer is you bunch of jackasses!”
“Shut up!”
Cain leaned in closer, and whispered the name. “Joseph. We all know he doesn’t like Isaac. He doesn’t speak with us much. He generally despises people. And he’s greedy. Can we agree on that?”
They all nodded together.
“We confront him tonight, after dinner. Just to talk, question him. If he runs tonight, then we’ll know it’s him. Zev, can you take watch tonight?”
Zev nodded. “I can’t believe this. Our own brother.”
“When blood is spilled, there are no brothers.”
It was German turkey tonight, a fine red avian meat, garnished with green onions, salt, pepper and oil, alongside mixed salads, cabbage and tomato. Some disagreed with the cabbage, namely Joseph and Gideon. Under her breath, Serafina told them to go suck a dick. All was made better with the addition of an orange and lime pie, served with whipped cream (she made a note to bill Joseph for that expense).
At six o’clock, as Joseph was packing up his ledgers in the library, he realized that all three of his present brothers were watching from the three doors into the room. Slowly, he stood up, hugging the brass-bound book to his chest.
“Yes? Cain? Is there something you wanted to discuss?”
“Yes, actually. Though we should be fair and involve Gideon too. It will be mentally stimulating for him.”
“You can go eat a dick,” growled Gideon.
Zev stepped forward, arms resting over his protruding belly. “We know you didn’t drink nearly as much as the rest of us last night.”
“I value my health and sobriety. You know that.”
“After the funeral of our father?” said Cain. “Who fasts at a wake?”
“What are you trying to say here, b-brothers?”
“None of us remember seeing you go to bed after dinner. Only Isaac and Asher have an upstairs room. If Asher were here, would he say he saw you?”
“Are you–”
“No,” said Cain, ignoring Zev’s confused glance and maintaining eye contact with Joseph. “What you are thinking we are, we are not. But I tell you, someone among us is a killer. Or, someone who has just left.”
“But I thought–”
“Shut up Gideon,” hissed Zev.
Joseph licked his lips, slightly relaxing his arms. “Isaac came to me a few weeks ago about some debts he had accrued and men he had cuckolded– and about debts owed to him. Mainly by Asher.”
Cain nodded. “And so Asher killed him to escape his debts.”
“Possible,” said Joseph, settling back into his calculated banker’s voice. “Isaac was planning to move to Britain or America, and he didn’t want any debts dragging behind him. If debts are a ball and chain, Asher is like a pillory.”
“What about the house?” said Gideon. “I know I’m not the brightest, but isn’t the house worth more than the inheritance? Because the taxes are already paid on it?”
“And the house goes to Serafina. . .” Zev shook his head and swallowed.
“Gideon, Joseph, start towards town. Try to head off Asher, split up if you have to– but don’t kill him. Let the police hang him. Zev, you and I are taking first watch. Serafina will sleep with my wife.”
“Hot,” said Gideon.
“Shut the fuck up.”
Eight O’clock

Serafina watched from her window as Gideon and Joseph set out on the road, Gideon with his timber axe, and Joseph with a gun. She did not feel satisfied that she had escaped blame, or that this web of deception and murderous intent had so organically spun itself around her. Her feelings, if she had any, were quite mute.
Gideon’s ‘accident’ last year, involved him killing a man over a bad card game. Joseph and his friends helped him out of that mess. Asher had bummed and stolen everything from baby food to rosaries to feed his beer-baby. Zev took bribes, and was quite chummy with some of Joseph’s Sicilian friends.
She didn’t know what scared her about Cain. Nothing he had done nor said could explain her fear of her oldest brother. Only the slim reflection of pure blackness in his eyes at night, the calm pace of his breath under any circumstance.
Neither Zev nor Cain trusted the other enough to stop in her room. Once Cain’s wife fell asleep, around eleven o’clock, Serafina slipped out of bed and got into working clothes, denim trousers, cotton jacket, a canvas cowl and newsboy cap. She did not put her shoes on until she was out of the house and on soft ground. The moon was hidden by clouds tonight, and it was easy enough for her to sneak around back and retrieve a shovel, a hatchet, and a burlap sack.
As she left the garden, she realized Zev was in the back.
She couldn’t turn back now. She would go, complete her work, and think of an explanation along the way. Hopefully, Zev’s eyes were not as good as she thought they were.
Gideon and Joseph patrolled the six mile stretch between town and house for a solid three hours, axe and gun at the ready. They patrolled alone, both to cover more ground, as well as to resist the temptation to murder the other man (though that was more Gideon’s problem.)
After three hours, they met in the road, sleepy-eyed, their feet sore and muscles aching from the fear, and sweaty, itchy palms. The dejected look on their faces told the other that success was not to be found.
“Should we go back?” said Gideon.
“No. Asher would be waiting us out. It’s better we stay out, ready to catch him. Cain and Zev can handle the house.”
“Okay. . . but I’m about ready to pass the fuck out. Can we, y’know, go inside?”
“I think that’s a good idea. It’s only two miles to town from here.”
“We can make that in less than an hour.”
“I was thinking less about the time, and more about the beer at the pub. . .”
“And some pasta. Serafina never makes pasta.”
“Goddamn pasta.”
“I’ll race you to the pasta.”
Joseph broke off at a dead run and Gideon lurched after him, yelling bets on dinner and waving their weapons as they streaked off towards town.
She was positively sweating her way over the foothills when she shivered, a whole body shudder that nearly sent her tumbling to the ground. She had been discovered. Or someone had discovered something.
She moved on instinct. Changing course from Isaac’s corpse, she headed back towards the house until she could see it distinclty, about a quarter mile away, and hid in a clump of bushes, watching the broken terrain.
Half an hour later, she saw a figure running raggedly towards her, about four hundred yards out. He was out of breath, and had been for quite some time. She set down her shovel and hid the hatchet behind her back as she stepped out, lowering her hood. “Hello?” she called, raising a hand and waving.
“Serafina! Serafina!” Asher yelled, stumbling forward, wheezing the last hundred yards. “Serafina, I found– I found Isaac! Burned! I barely recognized his face. Oh, Serafina–”
“Sssh, calm down,” she whispered, patting him on the back as he panted, croaking. “What do you mean?”
“He was burned like one of those mafia victims, those poor boys that get into trouble with Joseph’s friends. Oh God, I knew Isaac had problems, nearly as bad with money as I was- Joseph had him killed over it!”
“Are you sure it was Joseph?” said Serafina.
“Yes! He was burned to a crisp and–”
“Did they hack his body apart?”
“Y- no. No, it was still– Fina?”
He let out a choked cough as she buried the hatchet in his throat. His eyes bulged and his whites shone bright in the shaded night as she pulled the axe out and shoved him to the ground, then hacked at his shoulders, his chest and arms, until the gurgling of his spilling blood was louder than his quieting, wheezing breaths.
But she made sure not to completely dismember him. She pulled the sack up, from foot to head, and cinched it tight. With this new strength she’d found of late, she began dragging him towards town, skirting around the house. About a mile and a half down the road, she dumped him into a clump of bushes, and dragged his limbs around until it looked like he’d been knocked down with one hit. Then she hacked his head from his shoulders, and left him there. The bag she disposed of in the bushes she’d hidden in, along with all the dirty tools and clothes she had on her, except for her camisole.
Isaac would have to wait. Hopefully, his barbequed flesh would smell a bit more appetizing for the wolves as it decayed, and he’d be gone by tomorrow, or the day after.
As she came back through the garden, Zev was still standing watch, his eyes poring over the lightless courtyard. No moon would aid him tonight. But even as she crept silently back into the house, her skin as cold as her heart, she couldn’t help but feel Zev’s eyes rotating in their sockets, following her, seeing her through all darkness.

Three O’Clock in the Morning

Cain had been going through coffee beans like a squirrel for the past three hours. Zev had been chewing on an old saddle belt to keep from falling asleep, and now his jaw ached, while his eyes were just as sore, half-blind in this shrouded night.
The two men met in front of Serafina’s room to report their findings.
“No sign of Asher,” said Cain.
Zev sighed. “Same. Gideon and Joseph have been gone a while. Seven hours.”
“Not good. Any sane man would be and in bed by this hour.”
“Hey, look at us.” Zev smiled, and clapped Cain on the shoulder. Cain looked him back in the eye, and returned the smile.
“Patrol the house. I’m going out to look for our other two brothers. If Joseph has pulled something. . .”
“Wait, what? I thought we were trusting him.”
“I’m not so certain about him. Think about it. Half our family owed money to him. IF you had several lifetimes worth of debt, and he offered to forgive that debt. . .”
“I might take several lives,” muttered Zev, swallowing.
“Keep your nightstick ready,” said Cain. “I’m taking Father’s sword.”
“Joseph has a gun.”
“I’m also a beast,” said Cain.
“That. . . is true,” Zev conceded. He didn’t know exactly what Cain meant, but he knew that 6’6” and 280 lbs was nothing to screw around with. And Joseph would only have one shot. Dad hadn’t left them a lot of modern heirlooms.
“Watch the garden. You’ll be able to hear the front door when it opens, but the back door is too well oiled.”
“Cain, you really should be a soldier or a watchman.”
“I already don’t sleep, Zev. But thank you.”
Cain took his father’s sword, a rapier of the old European style. Soldiers favored broadswords and bayonets, but the airy weight and firm steel of a duelist’s sword felt far more secure in his hands than some curvy bread slicer.
“Wish me luck,” said Cain.
“I’ll pray for you.”
Cain shivered as he stepped out the door, and not from the cool night air. “Please don’t,” he muttered, holding his sword firmly at his side.
The Pub

The publican was not well pleased with the two brothers storming into his establishment at 12 in the fucking morning. However, the place was still open, so he was forced to accomodate their tired asses. Literally. He would have preferred donkeys.
But the skinny one tipped his daughter well, and the big one was more polite to her than he expected from such a musclebound brute. And he ate enough for six men, which made up for having to deal with people at this unholy hour.
When he finally pushed them out the door at three in the morning, they had consumed ten pints of beer, three glasses of wine, and five shots of brandy, as well as thirty lire worth of chicken and dry pasta. Dry. Uncooked.
“Barbarians,” he muttered as he closed the door, and sank against it. “Adam, why did you have to die, and bring all your miserable, misbehaving sons back home?”

“I fuckin love you!” yelled Joseph, hugging Gideon and blowing his nose on his arm.
“I fuck’ love too bruh,” Gideon mumbled, losing half his syllables and drooling on Joseph’s head.
And this continued for a while. About an hour later, however, they began to make the uncomfortable journey back into sobriety.
“Woooh. Damn, Joseph, you, you. . . you’re a real cunt. And I mean it in a good way. Like. . . uh. . .”
“I know whatchu mean,” said Joseph, grinning, while secretly running up the tab in his head. “See, see, we’re brothers. I know, we got our problems, wrath and such. . .”
“Greed. . .”
“Arrogance. . .”
“We’re some slothful sons of betches, yeah. . .” Gideon shook his head, smiling.
“Fat too. Hah.” Joseph snorted, and blew out a lump of snot onto his shoe.
“Lust. Isaac sure had himself some wuman problems.”
“Mmhmm. But, an’ this is my favorite part–” Joseph cleared his throat, swallowing his snot and spit. “I ain’t never been after nobody else’s stuff. Never been jealous. Amirite?”
“Mmm. . .”
While Gideon was still thinking, a smell wafted past them. The lightest, faintest scent of congealing blood and flies.
“You smell that?” said Joseph, looking off towards the bushes along the side of the road. “Smells like meat. Bad meat.”
“Hmm? I don’t smell nothing.”
Joseph pulled away from Gideon’s slack arm and moved towards the bushes, letting his hand hang next to his gun. “Gideon? I want you behind me.”
“Oh. Uh. Okay.”
“And get your fucking axe out already.”
Gideon hefted his axe, shaking his head to clear the daze. “Joseph? What is it?”
Joseph squatted down and thrust his hand into the shrub. Clenching his teeth, he closed his fingers around what felt like an ankle.
“Gideon, help me pull this out.”
“Pull what out?”
“A dead fucking body, that’s what! Gideon–”
Joseph looked up at his brother, towering over him. 6’4” and 340 lbs versus 5’6” and 140. The timber axe glowered dully, flecked with cloud-scattered moonlight that lit up its scratched, but razor sharp edge. Joseph did not recall ever being so afraid before.
“Joseph? What is it?”
“This is Asher, isn’t it?”
“Are you asking me?”
“I can tell by his shoes. Nothing but glue and string holding them together.”
“Joe?” said Gideon, staring Joseph in the eye. “What are you saying?”
“Did you kill our fucking brother?!”
Gideon saw the gun rise out of its holster and rushed forward, ramming Joseph in the chest with his shoulder. The smaller man went sprawled back on the ground, his gun landing several feet away. Gideon lurched forward and swung his axe at his chest. Joseph squealed and scrambled back, the axe slicing just between his thighs. “Shitshitshitshit!”
“You murdering fuck!” Gideon yelled, kicking Joseph in the side and taking another swing, missing his head and cleaving his ear in half. “You kill Isaac, you kill Asher, and then you try to blame it on me? I will fucking end you!”
“Sweet Mary– fuck!” Joseph threw himself between Gideon’s legs as the axe came down where his neck would have been. “Gideon! Fucking listen!”
“I know what you’re after! Money! You want our share of the inheritance! The house, the accounts, the land!” Gideon roared and came swinging again, catching Joseph in teh side with the blunt end of the axe.
Joseph coughed and spat blood as he scrambled away, tripping and writhing on the ground. “You stupid shit— I have more money now than we ever had growing up! What the fuck do I want with your tiny inheritance?!”
“You want the house so you can hide your Sicilian friends and their contraband!” Gideon snorted, planting himself squarely between Joseph and the gun. “You all think I’m an idiot. I’ve got a skull denser than the stump I chop on, do I? That’s it, isn’t it?”
Joseph thought for a moment. “Y’know, that’s actually not a bad idea. If you’d just calm down for a minute–”
“I don’t want your fucking money!” Gideon rushed forward, bringing the axe overhead.
He stumbled as Cain rushed him from the side, and his axe missed Joseph by a mile. He threw an elbow into Cain’s face and drew the axe back for another swing. Cain side stepped it and planted his knee into Gideon’s side and smashed the pommel of his sword against his temple, shoving him away with a vicious kick.
“You too?” Gideon spat blood, his teeth staining red. “Should have known. Brother Cain. Do you think Father knew you would kill your brothers?”
Cain lunged forward with a thrust. Gideon side stepped it, preparing to swing into his neck as he passed by. Gideon was the strongest.
But it was a trick. Gideon watched as Cain jerked back from his feint, as his axe swung through completely empty air, and as Cain thrust his sword into Gideon’s side, shoving six inches of steel through his flesh.
“Brother Gideon the hewer. It’s hard to split the log when it keeps dodging, isn’t it?”
Gideon gasped as Cain yanked the sword from his body, dripping red with blood. He spat and swung again at Cain, lurching forward with a mighty overhead. Cain stepped into him, checking his elbows with his shoulders. His arms locked and the axe’s momentum carried it out of Gideon’s grip. Gideon opened his mouth to bite at Cain’s nose, and Cain rammed thirty two inches of steel through Gideon’s stomach and intestines.
“I’m sorry brother. You’re a mad bull. Somebody had to put you down.”
Gideon spat in Cain’s face. “You son of a bitch.”
“We are a bit like dogs, aren’t we?”
Cain let Gideon fall, then placed his foot on his chest and wrenched the sword out of him, and dried it off on his shirt.
“Oh, thank God,” wheezed Joseph, sighing and lying down on the ground. “I thought I was done for. Cain, I owe you–”
“I’m not finished with you. I brought paper, tablet and pen.”
“Huh?” Joseph blinked, staring at Cain as he walked over and picked up his gun.
“You’re going to sign some papers for me.”
Joseph stared into the black of Cain’s eyes. He noticed for the first time, just how dark they were. Blacker than night itself.
“Saint Mary, deliver me this day. . .”
“Going to Mass now isn’t going to save you. This little pen is.”
Five o’Clock in the Morning

Zev sat on a chair at the back balcony, third story, his eyes weighed down with lead. Had to stay awake. Had to protect Serafina. Had to watch. Watchman. He was that. Yes. Sleepy.
It felt more like a dream, being awake at this hour. Everything looked black. He thought he had good eyes, but nothing prepared him for this. No amount of coffee could give him night vision.
And something worried him. Serafina. She was always the kindest. Maybe it was just because she was the youngest, or because she was adopted, or because she was a girl. But she was the gentlest, and he always thought he’d returned it well.
He would pay for the food he’d eaten. Yes, it was family. . . but she was the only one he could trust. Cain was too smart for the safety of others. Gideon was no more reasonable than a buck mule. Joseph’s greed knew no bounds. Asher was just plain a lazy son of a bitch. And Isaac, may Saint Christopher watch over him—
Isaac had always looked at their little sister funny. Of them, only he could be so debauched as to rationalize that, because she’s not their blood sibling, it would. . .
Zev opened his eyes.
No wonder Serafina had been so quiet.
“Sera–”
A blur rushed past him and leapt from the balcony. Zev suddenly realized that someone had laid a noose around his neck as he had dozed. He reached out a hand, tried to shout–

Serafina swung inwards through the ground floor back door and hooked her steel-toed shoes around the frame just as Zev’s weight began to accelerate her back. Her calves and arms burned as she pulled as tightly as she could, listening to the choke, kick and throttle of Zev’s last struggles for life. She closed her eyes tightly, clenching her teeth, and wept bitterly.
“I’m sorry,” she called, her voice shaking, hoping he could hear this. “I’m so, so sorry brother. You were always the kindest. The gentlest. Even if you did eat like a pig. Brother, I didn’t want to kill you. But you knew.
“Brother. . . I am the serpent. Always underfoot. You and the others never understood. Even you, the kindest of all. You never understood what it meant to come from nothing into everything.
“Brother, I can’t ask you to forgive me. But if you can, tell God I’m sorry. I know He won’t listen to me.”
It took ten minutes for Zev to die. If he hadn’t weighed so much, it might have taken longer. Serafina’s body ached so much by the end of it, she simply dropped to the ground, paralyzed. An hour passed before she could crawl into the house, and another hour before she could start boiling water for breakfast (and a bath).
Nine o’clock in the Morning

It was helpful that Joseph had chosen to live in Florence, in the big city. Otherwise, someone might have asked questions when Cain walked in and deposited a check in his name, and asked several documents to be wired to the Bank of Florence. He didn’t quite walk out of the small bank with a briefcase full of bills, but his pockets were a few dozen lire heavier.
And Joseph and Gideon were buried next to each other, along with Asher, all feeding that one little shrub. Who knows, maybe some day it’ll become a mighty oak.
Cain had honestly never felt better as he was walking back home. It was partially true, what he said to Zev about sleeping. After three months, sleep had become no more than a force of habit. He didn’t particularly need it. And there was something special about seeing the sunrise, after eight years of working out of a Milanese customs office.
He would be a daddy in a month. The thought of that actually made him quite pleased. He really, genuinely felt good about that. And his wife too. Beautiful. Capable. Loyal. Extremely loyal. He always treated her with kindness, and reserved his humor for the home, and for kissing up to his boss.
As he approached the house, no more than half a mile out, it crossed his mind that something would have to be done about his siblings. With no word about Joseph nor Gideon, they’d surely be suspicious. Four brothers gone? It’s a mighty tense party. Zev might take his word for it. But Serafina?
Serafina could smell withheld truths like a snake can see heat. And Zev was the closest to her. He’d believe her over him. He’d have to kill Zev then. He could do it. But with no way to do it quietly, he’d have to kill Fina too. And as much as he wanted to take his wife and little Enoch to America, he’d much rather it was not paid by his sister’s blood.
He had one chance. He knew he couldn’t surprise Zev coming through the front door. He knew the blind spots in the back. If he fucked this up. . .
Cain walked into the back garden, keeping shy of the lines of sight. However, he soon realized he didn’t need to.
There was Zev, splattered on the ground with a rope coiled around his neck, his spine broken by his weight and arms shattered like glass. The crows were already here to investigate him.
He felt a ping of sadness inside. That was no way to treat a human being. To leave him out for the animals. If you were going to murder a man, be content with taking only one life from him. He contemplated throwing a rock to scare them off, when Serafina leaned out of the door and smiled thinly at him.
“Good morning, brother.”
Cain felt his stomach drop at the same time as a genuinely warm smile came to his face. “Good morning, sister.”
“I made breakfast. Your wife is quite hungry, so you’d better hurry if you want any.”
Cain nodded, and glanced at Zev’s body. “And. . .”
“No. She hasn’t seen him. I’ve kept the doors closed, and her sense of smell isn’t too great. If you leave today, that would make things simpler.”
“And forgo the inheritance.”
She shrugged. “Split between us is around four hundred lire each. And, if you’re as smart a brother as I think you are, you’ll have plenty more from Joseph, on the order of a thousand lire. More than enough for each of us to sail to America.”
“I see you have the same plans as me.”
“Yes. I was thinking we could travel together.”
Cain’s countenance darkened.
“I don’t want to kill you Cain. I didn’t want to kill Zev. Or Isaac or Asher. It was never about money. And you have a family. I’m not about to make another orphan like me.”
“It would be for the best if we traveled separately. You can look out for yourself, Serafina. But my wife, and Enoch. . .”
She nodded. “I understand. Shall we have breakfast then? I made lasagna.”
Cain leaned in, and gently, chastely kissed his sister on the forehead. “Sister, have you slept as of late?”
“No. You?”
“Not since Father died.”

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