Mayor Overscore never once liked hearing the phone ring. Blame it on his job maybe, the misconception he had that every time the phone rang something bad happened. That little red bastard in his office never seemed to budge for good news, but whenever he missed an anniversary or someone on the cabinet died or the budget needed reevaluating it was always the first to know, and it taunted him with that knowledge, ringing without rest and making him sweat and stew in the anticipation of the dark unknown until he gave in and answered it. And he would always answer it no matter how much he tried not to. That was just the kind of man Mayor Overscore was. “This is the job you wanted”, is what he’d always tell himself, and somehow knowing that made the bad news just a bit more bearable.
But even then, there was one phone call he always dreaded receiving. A phone call from the Marquis, just like the one he’d gotten today.
Now, Mayor Overscore was not unfamiliar with the mafia. Far from it. Anyone who grew up next door to Franky Allesandri and spent their weekends playing poker with Paulie Pescatorre obviously couldn’t be too uncomfortable with the idea of associating themselves with organized crime, or else they’d have a more wholesome hobby with more wholesome friends. When he first took office, his predecessor had given him some very valuable advice. No matter what you think your principles or obligations are, having the five families on your side in this job was an invaluable asset. You could never hope to control them, but if you could befriend them, you’d make your life that much easier.
And for the most part, he’d been right. Staying on Paulie and Franky’s good sides and cooperating with the rest of the Council had allowed him to do his job mostly unmolested, and had even put him in a position where he was allowed to ask for certain small favors, like protection or financial aid. Many might not see this as truly taking responsibility as mayor if he was just going to allow a cabal of criminals to run the city for him, but they failed to understand that for Mayor Overscore, this was the best possible outcome. An arrangement where all parties could conduct their business freely and openly without interference was an arrangement where the minimum amount of innocent blood would be shed, and Mayor Overscore could continue going about his work pretending nothing was wrong.
His conversations with the Marquis had a habit of shattering that delicate illusion.
Imagine, if you will, the difference between the Marquis and any normal mobster as represented by a crow, a corpse, and a hatchling of maggots. If a normal mobster was like a maggot that quietly feasted on the insides of a decaying carcass, then the Marquis was like a crow, or a vulture. Some giant, black, scavenging bird that swooped down out of the sky from nowhere with all the subtlety and grace of a freight train to devour the maggots and scour the corpse clean of its flesh, consuming everything with no regards to the maggots or anyone else. It eats and it eats and it eats, and when it’s finished it leaves nothing but bones and sour memories in its wake, cawing triumphantly as it plucks the eyes from the desiccated corpse, taking off on black wings that celebrate death. It was both an omen and a worshipper of death that could not be caught and whose presence would not stand to be ignored. And what’s worse, just like the crows that followed you expectantly on your walks through Central Park, cooing for crackers, it could make you like it. Make you ignore what it did and how it lived, taking advantage of other people’s misery. That was the kind of man that illegitimate bastard child Marquis was.
And yet the Mayor had no choice but to love him, for he loved his foster-father like a brother. As children, they had once made a promise to each other that should they ever have children of their own, they would be married and become a family. Now here he was years later with a daughter of marrying age and a city in desperate need of financial aid, and the Marquis was both available and profitable. What choice did he have, especially since his dear Felicity had been so insistent upon agreeing to Franky’s terms?
He sighed. That was his dear daughter. Always putting business before her feelings (or anyone else’s, for that matter).
“Something the matter, mayor?”
The mayor lifted his head. What he saw was the Marquis smiling pleasantly, sitting across from him with his lovely bodyguard, her head hung low and her hands folded in her lap. The mayor’s own assistant was busy in the corner brewing coffee.
“Nothing, my dear boy. It’s… it’s nothing,” the mayor said dismissively, giving a cursory nod and a thanks to his assistant as she placed a cup of coffee in his hands. “You were saying something about the… the…”
“The Ásketill Guðmundr-Allesandri nuclear fusion reactor?” the Marquis finished, stirring a spoonful of sugar into his cup followed with a drop of milk.
“Yes, that thing. Don’t you think it should have a simpler name? Something easy to remember?”
“What’s so difficult to remember about the word ‘nuclear’?”
“Well no one knows what it bloody means for starters!” the mayor protested. “Do you know what it means, Ariel?”
His assistant shook her head, and took a seat at her crowded, much smaller desk.
“We don’t have a bunch of physicists running around reading the papers and paying our taxes for us,” the mayor continued. “If you want public support for this project, it needs a simpler, catchier name. Like…”
“Like that, yes. How did you just come up with that off the top of your head?”
“I’m a magus, we’re good at naming things,” Marquis lied.
The Marquis sighed. “A wizard, Mayor Overscore.”
“Ah,” the mayor said, pretending to understand the distinction. “So tell me, how does this…”
“Ásketill Guðmundr-Allesandri nuclear fusion reactor?”
“Yes, Ásketill Guðmundr-Allesandri nuclear fusion reactor of yours work?”
“The name says it all, really,” Marquis replied. “It’s the prototype for a new form of hydroelectric power I hope to implement cross-country should this reactor yield promising results. Basically what we’re doing is constructing a specialized cage for infantile salamanders and undines that will force them to ‘react’ to each other and begin producing fire and water in the form of ice and nuclear fusion (like you find in the sun). Both of these things are necessary, because power generation without them is simply not possible.”
The assistant asked, “How so?”
“Well I’d be happy to explain,” the Marquis said, sounding pleased with himself. “We’ve found through rigorous scientific study that salamanders create trace amounts of plasma as a byproduct of their unique respiratory system. They quite literally breathe fire, like tiny little suns. Which, when you think about it, isn’t exactly an unfair comparison. Just like the sun, the nuclear fusion that powers a salamander’s metabolic processes dumps a large amount of excess heat energy into the atmosphere. Depending on what stage in its life cycle the salamander has reached, this heat may be hot enough to melt steel or even ionize the molecules in the air into a free-floating soup of particles. We counterbalance this destructive dearth of useless heat energy with two or three undines for every salamander. The undines cool the salamanders by transmuting atmospheric oxygen and hydrogen into fresh water in the form of ice, which melts and absorbs the heat. This has the added benefit of producing large quantities of steam which in turn powers turbines that convert the otherwise useless thermal radiation into useable energy such as electricity.”
“Wow. That’s quite something,” the mayor said, pretending to understand.
“Indeed it is,” the mayor’s assistant said, frowning. “So much so I have a hard time believing you came up with it on your own.”
“Ariel, that’s quite enough!” the mayor said nervously. “Don’t speak to our guests like that!”
“Well, I can’t take all the credit,” Marquis admitted. “Part of the original design should be credited to the fae. As I understand it, they’ve been using a similar form of power generation for centuries now, only cruder and less efficient. Their culture somewhat abhors progress, you see.”
The assistant narrowed her eyes.
“But even then they were still producing more power in a year than we have in the entire history of the human race,” the Marquis quickly added. “Just imagine what we could have accomplished if we had that kind of power! Almost makes you wish the human world had tried to destroy itself sooner, doesn’t it mayor?”
“And, if all goes according to plan,” the Marquis said mischievously, “it will cost the city almost nothing to maintain, paying back its own pricetag in less than a month.”
The assistant couldn’t help but think he sounded quite pleased with himself. What an arrogant man.
“New York will be the first city in the world to have clean, self-sustaining energy. We’ll be trailblazers, mayor. Honest to god trailblazers. Now how does that sound?”
“It sounds very good indeed,” the mayor said, laughing anxiously. “It’ll certainly make my life easier if it saves as much money on heating and lighting as you say it does.”
“You have my word, Mayor Overscore, that it’ll deliver everything I’ve promised you and more. Now, speaking of promises, I believe you made a promise to me.”
The mayor’s face lost its cheerfulness. “Yes, I… I certainly did, didn’t I?”
The Marquis smiled. “In exchange for the gift of this power plant which has so generously been paid for almost in full by the Allesandri family, you’re going to secure me a spot in the city council come next election. I hope you haven’t forgotten.”
“No, I haven’t.”
“And the support you promised me for my proposed alterations to the Scarecrow Joe laws that would grant full or partial legal rights of citizenship to New York’s demihumans?”
“Let’s try to change the world one step at a time, shall we Marquis?” the mayor said nervously. “You know as well as I do that such a law just isn’t possible in today’s sociopolitical environment-”
“Enough bumping gums, Mayor Overscore. It doesn’t suit you,” the Marquis said. “If you’re going to say no, just say no. Oh, speaking of politics. Mr. Mayor? There was one other thing I wished to talk to you about today. Do you mind?”
“Ummm… no, certainly not. What is it, my dear boy?” the mayor said, trying to appease him.
“I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but I’ve been observing your lovely assistant for the past few minutes and I’ve just now come to the startling conclusion that, despite your best intentions, you’ve been working with a fae. Am I wrong?”
The assistant’s eyes darkened. No, it wasn’t quite fair to say that. It was more like their eyes had sunk so far back into their skull that the dark pits had begun casting a shadow over their features. Its once full lips had shriveled into a flat slit across its mouth like a lizard’s lips, and although some would just dismiss it as the eyes playing tricks on you, its skin seemed like it had taken on a shrunken gray pallor, like a corpse’s, its hair dying and receding back into its head. The assistant groaned like a creaky old house as it opened its mouth, the most hideous and unearthly sounds emerging as whisps from the corners of its stretched flat face. Fetid breath articulated words that sounded like the blaspheming hymns of the damned, if what passed for speech where this thing had come from could be called words.
The Marquis smiled, his hands shaking. So this was a fae.
The mayor began to panic. “Ariel, that’s quite enough! I don’t know what you’re thinking, but uh… s-stop! Calm down! Please calm down… please?”
“My my, mayor. This is quite a surprise. You, working with the fae? You of all people? I mean, my goodness. This is illegal, you know. The Interspecies Nonaggression Pact of 1916 clearly states-”
“I know what the damn pact says!” the mayor said in a panic, trying to placate his “assistant”.
“-that fae and humans are in no way allowed to interfere in matters concerning each other’s governance and peacekeeping,” the Marquis finished. “There are no humans planted in the Seelie court as far as I know, so why is a fae undercover in the mayor’s office? Why, if there’s one here they could be anywhere! Imagine the outrage that would cause if it went public…”
“Just calm down, Mistress Ariel! They mean no harm to you! They aren’t a threat!” the mayor consoled the fae. Offhand he spat, “What do you want from me, Marquis?”
“Now that’s a silly question,” the Marquis said. “I want everything.”
“Hmmm…” the Marquis said, faking thinking. “Well, if I had to pick, I’d say right now I want to change the world. Anything less and I might just have to go public with this, and we wouldn’t want that, now would we?”
“Alright, alright! I’ll support your damn law! Just get out of here! Out!”
The Marquis dusted off his bright pink hat and massaged his left leg. Something about it had been bothering him lately, and the fae only seemed to agitate it. He said his customary thanks to the mayor and left his office quietly, his bodyguard trailing behind him.
“A fae. Jesus… I never thought I’d see one in person,” Nayeli muttered, still visibly shaken. “What’s it doing here?”
“I wish I knew…” the Marquis replied. “But it’s gotta be something important if it’s willing to violate the nonagression pact. And if I know anything about the fae, it’s that they never do anything alone. Not since the fracture of the Courts…”
The two of them left City Hall without any further problems (miraculous when angering a fae). But before they could get in their car and drive off they faced a rather… interesting delay.
“What the hell is this, Marvin.” The Marquis said flatly regarding the well-dressed servant holding an unwired telephone on a crushed velvet cushion.
“Your brother, sir. He told me to contact you right away.”
“Alfonso?” my little sister asked, looking down on me in my hospital bed.
“Yes, Annie?” I said fearfully.
“What the hell is this?”
“Oh, hello Anastasia,” Marq said casually, looking unusually cheerful. He was holding a box of chocolates in one arm and a bouquet of flowers in the other. Nayeli stood behind him, looking up at the ceiling and tapping her foot impatiently. And my sister was sitting next to me, the guy caught with his metaphorical pants down because his employer, a well-known affiliate of one of New York’s most famous mob bosses, had decided to pay a surprise visit at the last minute when I was trying to explain things to her in a way that wouldn’t get me caught.
Now that we’re all on the same page, feel free to sit back and watch me suffer.
“You’ll have to forgive me,” Marq said. “If I’d known your little sister was going to be here I would’ve bought a second bouquet. So tell me…”
He reached into his coat pocket and for a split second I was afraid he was going to draw a gun on us. I don’t know why I thought that, but thankfully what he pulled out were two tickets on the transcontinental train City of Cleveland.
“How do you and Ms. Anastasia feel about taking a ride on the Reading Railroad?”