He was wounded just before the end of the war.
He didn’t feel like a hero despite the medals that were pinned to his chest. What kind of hero is it that participates in the killing of his fellow man? So what if the other side wore a different color uniform than he? Still less heroic, he felt, was that only a coward walks away (he didn’t walk away; the medics found him just barely alive and carried him to an ambulance) when all his comrades have been slaughtered. âWhy did I live,â he wondered. âWhy couldnât I die with my buddies?â
Monte de Greco was wounded near France mere hours before the armistice. His entire platoon was wiped out by a battalion of Germans, that had somehow managed a sneak attack from the rear. Monte was discovered face down in a foxhole and was, at first, thought to be as dead as the rest of his mates.
He was removed to a hospital in Paris where he underwent a difficult and lengthy recuperation. It was touch and go for awhile but nearly two years later he was released with a purple heart for his troubles, a cane for his mangled leg and a patch to cover his empty eye socket. Perhaps as a balance to those acquisitions, he had lost three fingers on his left hand.
âDoc, itâs not the scars and injuries that have got me depressed,â he told the army shrink to whom heâd been assigned after his release from the hospital. âI certainly deserve them. I just canât understand why I didnât go down with my buddies.â
âCorporal de Greco, you donât deserve them! It wasnât your fault that your friends were killed and you survived. Thereâs nothing wrong with being lucky,â the doctor said.
âLucky, my ass,â Monte replied. âIf Iâd been lucky Iâd have died with the others.â
It took some time but finally the doctor believed that heâd convinced Monte that it was okay to have survived and that perhaps his survival was an opportunity to make the best of his life as a tribute to his friends who had died. Concluding that Monte was cured, he released him from his care.
Monte decided to remain in Paris. Heâd had a wonderful childhood in Athens, Georgia and although he knew that he would miss his family dearly, he couldnât bear for them to see what had become of him. He ignored every letter that he received from back home, dumping each in the trash without ever unsealing an envelope.
So he chose to wallow in the wanton offerings of Jazz Age Paris, hoping that in his new life he would forget the horrors of the war and his own inadequacies. He soon discovered that the wine in France was the best in the world and that his army decorations and war wounds pretty much guaranteed an endless stream of âthis oneâs on meâ glasses of the delectable nectar.
It was much the same with the girls. They seemed eager to offer themselves to him as well-earned treats. Barely a night passed without his sharing his bed with a bottle and a babe. And it wasnât just the whores. He had no trouble seducing his choice of ârespectableâ girls of all ages, or more accurately, being seduced by them. His lost or mangled body parts seemed to make him, in their eyes, more, rather than less of a man. After a time, it became obvious to most observers that Monte, like many Parisians in those years, had become seriously addicted to the wine and, especially, to the members of the opposite sex. He, too, was conscious of these obsessions but he had become powerless to resist.
âHold your horses,â he muttered as he staggered drunkenly to the front door.
âHurry back, honeyâ cried the beautiful ballerina from whose naked arms heâd reluctantly extricated himself.
âWhatâs wrong, darling,â she inquired when heâd returned to the bed. âYou look like youâve been hit by a sledgehammer.
âMust you leave Paris immediately, Monte,â the ballerina asked, sulkily, after he had related the bad news that heâd found in the telegram. She had removed his eye patch and was lovingly tracing her finger over the weblike scars where his eye used to be. In the past, such sensual caresses had never failed to arouse him. Today, they had the opposite effect. âYes, I must,â he retorted. â Donât you understand? That telegram was from home. My father has died. Why donât you just get the hell out of here and go home to your husband?â
After heâd apologized and her tears had dried, they shared a marathon goodbye fuck before she returned to her novelist husband whose latest project apparently interested him more than she did.
As he embarked on his journey to Georgia, Monte began to realize that the life of debauchery in which heâd been trapped was not a life at all, but rather, a denial of the one to which heâd been born.
âHow could I have abandoned that?,â he thought. âI really had it all.â He spent the better part of his trip lost in thought, reminiscing about his lovely hometown, his darling little sister, his mother, whom he worshiped and his dear departed dad.
Dad was dead but Mother was still there. Sheâd remained in his thoughts during his self-imposed exile. In fact, it would not be ludicrous for one to observe that many of Monteâs lovers seemed to be reflections of his mom. Now, the anticipation of seeing her once again seemed to cause time to stand still; but finally, he arrived in Athens.
A beautiful woman greeted him at the door. âMonte,â she screamed as she dropped her glass of wine and leaped into his arms. After a long, emotional hug, she stepped back and he stared blankly for an instant before it clicked.
âOh, my goodness. Amber! I didnât recognize you,â he told his little sister. âAfter all, it has been nearly six years,â he continued after noticing the disappointment his remark had caused. âWhen I left for the war you were a fifteen year-old tomboy with a muddy face and scrawny legs.â
He was shocked to discover that now she was a grown woman whose electric beauty surpassed even that of their mother, a former Miss Georgia beauty queen.
âOh Monte,â she cried as she once again fell into his arms and hugged him tightly. âItâs been so long. Iâve missed you so much. Youâve no idea how lonely Iâve been for my big brother.â
âIâve missed you, too, Amber. Iâve missed the entire family.â
âThen why did you stay away?â Like a fast-moving storm, her adoring expression had suddenly turned to one of anger. âIf you had been here, none of this would have happened.â
âNone of what?â
âThey wouldnât have killed Daddy.â
The air rushed from Monteâs lungs as if from a punctured balloon. He sagged against the wall until he could catch his breath. âWhat are you saying, Amber? Who wouldnât have killed him?â
âWhy, Mother and her lover, of course.â
âLover? What…who… what the hell are you talking about?â
She took his hand, led him into the living room, gently sat him down on the sofa and took a seat close to him. Her hand alighted on his leg as she began to explain.
âI donât know if you remember Daddyâs cousin, Augustus. Well, he moved here from Atlanta about a year ago and Daddy, being the fine man that he was, gave him a job as an executive at the firm. Augustus didnât deserve it; he had no experience and, in my opinion, no brains; but, thatâs the kind of man that Daddy was. He would do anything for his family and his friends. But Augustus was no friend. Unbeknownst to Daddy he embezzled from the business and he soon began spending more and more time here at the house. At first, he was invited to most of Mother and Daddyâs parties and to private dinners with the family, as well. Eventually, he was given carte blanche to just pop in to use the swimming pool or the tennis courts. Soon he was dropping by whenever Daddy was away. I neednât tell you what happened next. That ingrate stole Daddyâs money and then he stole Daddyâs wife.â
âAmber,â Monte almost shouted. His nerves were jangled from the shock of his sisterâs accusations. His brow had become moist and his throat dry as he suddenly became aware of his sisterâs hand on his leg and the crush of her breasts each time she leaned towards him to make a conversational point. He self-consciously distanced himself from the girl but he couldnât help feeling a guilt-inducing stirring of lust. Amber, meanwhile, turned her head in order to hide the fiendish smile that briefly flashed across her pretty face.
âMontgomery? Montgomery, is that you, honey?â There was no mistaking his motherâs sweet voice.
âYes, mother, it is me,â he replied as he ran up the stairs to reunite with his beloved parent.
âIs that you, honey,â Amber mimicked, bitterly. âGod, I hate that bitch; Iâve hated her forever. She never deserved a man as fine as Daddy.â Then she put thoughts of her mother aside and calmed herself by sipping her wine and thinking about her father.
Her daydreams were not much different than the ones sheâd had of him when she was a girl; dreams that heâd always suspected her of having but that heâd never quite discouraged. After a time, she curled up on the sofa with a smile of pleasure on her face and a hand between her legs, drifting into a warm sleep that was filled with delightful dreams of her Daddy.
âSo, what gives you this ridiculous notion that Mother murdered Daddy,â Monte asked the following afternoon when they had resumed their conversation.
âItâs not ridiculous, Monte,â she replied. Her voice rose as frustration with her disbelieving brother grew. âItâs a fact.
âDaddy found out that she was sleeping with his cousin and demanded a divorce. Obviously, he also fired Augustus from his job and banned him from our house. A divorce would be disastrous for Mother. Since Daddy could prove that she was an adulteress there would be no alimony and she would lose everything … and Augustus couldnât provide for her without a job.
âDaddy had moved out of the house until the divorce could be completed but Mother somehow convinced him to come by for a drink so they could discuss the pending breakup. She got him plastered and lured him upstairs for a roll in the hay; we de Greco girls are good at that,â she said with a coquettish glance towards Monte.
âThe coroner called it heart failure; caused, probably, by their vigorous session in the bedroom. Daddy had had some heart issues lately but I have no doubt that after he had fallen asleep, Mother had smothered him with a pillow.â
âThatâs ridiculous, Amber,â Monte hollered. âHow can you possibly believe such nonsense? You must be crazy.â
âNo,â she said. âIâm not crazy. She killed our father and now, as his only son, you must take revenge.â
Monte was enjoying dinner a few hours later. It was wonderful to spend the evening with the two women of the family despite the palpable friction between his mother and his sister. The chicken was delicious and the Bordeaux was sheer delight to the palate. The three de Grecos finished the bottle and a bit later his mother excused herself and retreated, somewhat unsteadily, to her room. Amber brought out another bottle of wine and led him to the sitting room.
âOkay,â she began, after filling each of their glasses. âItâs time to discuss how we will avenge Daddyâs murder.â
âAmber,â he replied, âthis is crazy. Even if Mother did kill him, revenge is not the answer. Wickedness can never be rectified by further wickedness.â
Amber began to sob and would not stop. âDonât you even care that your own father was murdered? I thought you were a war hero. Arenât you man enough to do something about it?â
Monte bristled when his sister called him a hero. âIâm no hero, Amber,â he protested as the familiar old feelings of worthlessness returned. âIâm just a guy who was nearly killed in a meaningless war.â
âBut you were a hero in that âmeaningless warâ and you will always be a hero to me. Now act like a hero and punish the murderer of your father,â she sobbed. You mustnât shrink from your duty. Itâs high time for revenge.â
She continued crying and Monte refilled their glasses in an effort to comfort her. He moved closer and put his arm around her, gently pulling her towards him. She obligingly placed her hand in his lap and laid her head on his shoulder. Gradually, she calmed herself. They remained like that for some time, moving only to gulp their wine and refill their glasses. By the time the bottle was empty, he was feeling such tenderness towards his sister that he knew he would do anything for her.
She lifted her head, pulled his face towards her and kissed him passionately on the lips. Monte felt such a heat pass between them like heâd never known. He was now so filled with desire for his sister that he could no longer think clearly. She took his hand and led him upstairs to her bedroom. In his eagerness, he stumbled and nearly fell down the stairs but quickly regained his footing and played off the mishap with a drunken guffaw.
She kissed him once again at the threshold of her room and pressed her body against his. Monte enthusiastically responded in kind but she stopped him as he began to fumble with her clothes.
âHold on, my darling,â she cooed. âYou know what must first be done.â She entered the room, opened her bureau drawer and returned with her pistol. âIâll be here when youâve finished,â she said, seductively, as she handed him the gun. âPlease hurry back.â
He protested mildly at first but then, as if in a dream, Monte accepted the weapon and made his way to the third floor where his motherâs bedroom was located. A hodgepodge of conflicting thoughts fluttered through his mind like a swarm of butterflies but in the end, all he could think about was the reward that awaited him when he completed his mission.
Amber smiled with satisfaction as the sound of the gunshot thundered through the house.
âOh, dear God, what have I done,â Monte cried. âIâve murdered my mother!â He sank to the floor, overcome by grief. Downstairs, his sister felt no such grief. Still smiling but becoming increasingly annoyed by her brotherâs continued blubbering, she walked, calmly, to the telephone and began to dial the number for the police. Before she could finish dialing, however, she was startled by the roar of a second gunshot which had suddenly exploded in her ears.