Month: February 2015

Interlude 3.b (Figaro)

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Normally, all the lights in the fancy shops on Millionaire Row go out around midnight, no one willing to work later than that. All except for one, the barber shop on Fifth Ave. For whatever reason, its lights were still shining brightly long into the night despite the rainy dreariness outside. It almost felt like someone was having a party inside. And in a way, someone was.

“HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHNNNNNNNNNN!!!”

The sound the man’s fingernails made as they were slowly ripped from their nail bed was something akin to the sound of a zipper, or perhaps worn-out velcro, and it was barely heard amidst the sound of music filling the barber shop, along with the hos and hums of the gigantic masked man standing over him holding a bucket full of fingernails and a bloody pair of tweezers. Oh, and the screaming. That was rather loud as well, no matter how much the masked man tried to muffle it with a hot wet towel.

The masked man lifted his goalie mask and smiled apologetically. Truth be told, he actually had a very beautiful face.

“Come on, Mr. Sanders, be reasonable. By the way, do you like being called Mr. Sanders? Or would you rather be called Shep? I’d rather be called Shep personally, but I don’t know if that’s what you like-”

“Fuck you, you sadistic psychopath!” Shep Sanders spat as the masked man lifted the towel, his voice raw with pain. The razor blades that had been hammered in between his teeth should’ve been making it really hard to talk indeed, but somehow Shep was managing.

The masked man just sighed, wearing that same apologetic smile.

“Now now, Mr. Sanders- You know what? I’m just gonna call you Shep- Shep, talking back isn’t going to get us anywhere. Now all I need you to say is one little world. One little word, and all of this-”

The masked man picked up a hammer and beat his captive’s shin with it. Now that was two legs he couldn’t walk on. Shep Sanders’ screams began anew.

“-can stop. Just one word, Shep. It’s not that hard.”

“No! You’ll never get me to agree to sell out to that… that thing! I’d rather die!”

The masked man sighed, and lowered his hockey mask again.

“Alright. But I’m telling ya, this is gonna get messy.”

The masked man put the towel back on Shep Sanders’ face and reached for the flat iron plugged into the wall. He tapped against it lightly, checking the temperature of the metal plate. Judging it to be adequately hot, he walked back over to Shep Sanders, holding the heated metal instrument ever so lightly over his face.

“Cuz you see, my employers are paying me extra to make this slow. They don’t want you dead just yet. Not until the demon says so anyway. So they told me don’t use any sharp instruments, don’t hit him anywhere people are gonna see it, don’t do any permanent damage, yadda yadda. They even told me I couldn’t use any of my favorite tools sos I wouldn’t ah, ‘accidentally’ kill you before I got you to say ‘yes’ to the dress, so to speak. So I’m sorry to say this, but uh… well, let’s just say this is gonna hurt.”

He pressed the hot flat iron directly onto Shep Sander’s exposed chest, the hair crisping and burning away instantly in a foul-smelling puff as his flesh began to singe in the shape of a triangle. This time, not even the wet towel could muffle the sound of Shep’s desperate screaming.

“Oh, now that’s a shiner!” the masked man said as he removed the iron, revealing an ugly glistening blister. He lifted the towel again to see if his torture doll had anything new to say, but all he got was some pained sputtering.

“Come on Shep ol’ buddy ol’ pal, just say it. Say the magic words and you’ll be free,” the masked man said, holding the flat iron tantalizingly close to Shep Sanders’ skin as if threatening to resume the burning.

“Abraca-go fuck yourself,” Shep said, coughing.

“Hmmmm… Abraca-go fuck myself, you say? Nah, sorry. That’s not what I wanted to hear.”

He stuck the flat iron on Shep’s stomach, moving it around in circles. Shep writhed and squirmed, but there was nowhere to go, and no more breath left in him to scream with. He just grunted and squealed.

“You know Shep, it occurs to me we’re not getting anywhere,” the masked man said. “We’ve been at this for… how long, exactly? Two hours? Two hours, yeah. And yet I feel like we’re not any closer to you saying that one little word I need you to say for me, so howsabout we speed it up a bit? You see, I was planning on doing this thing where I’d draw a little line down your chest with the flat iron until we got to your balls, but that’s just gonna take too much time. Sooooooo…”

He reached for a pair of scissors and a straight razor, and Shep’s eyes widened. “No please! Stop! I’ll do it, I’ll say yes!”

The masked man’s eyes widened. “Ohhhhh? Mind repeating that for me, just for confirmation?”

“I said yes! I’ll do it! I’ll do whatever you want! Just not that! You gotta be fucking kidding me with this shit…“ the man hiccupped, sobbing.

“That’s the spirit!” the masked man said, setting aside his tools. “Now was that so hard, Mr. Sanders?”

Reaching for a bucket of cold water he’d been keeping on hand, the masked man splashed the iron burn on his chest to cool it and keep it from scarring. Shep Sanders squirmed, but the cold water felt good against the scalding burn. Blood washed off him and slowly spun around the drains built into the tiled floor, leaving no evidence of the fun times they’d had in there. He supposed that had been planned.

The phone rang, barely noticeable above the radio. The masked man quickly turned the dial off and hurried over to answer the phone.

“Figaro’s Barber Shop, how may I help you?”

“Fig, it’s me.”

“Oh, heya Johnny. What’s up?”

The voice on the other end of the line hissed. “You idiot! I told you not to use my real name!”

“Sorry, sorry,” Figaro said lazily.

“How’s that job coming along?”

“It’s coming along great! I just finished up, actually. And to think I didn’t have to use my chainsaw for this!”

Shep Sanders slowly turned his head around, and was horrified to find the man had actually been keeping a chainsaw on hand, tucked away in an inconspicuous corner of the shop where no one would’ve seen it.

“You weren’t supposed to use your chainsaw to begin with, you idiot. Quit talking about that like it’s a good thing.”

“I don’t think it’s a good thing. I don’t think it’s a good thing at all. I like using my chainsaw.”

“Would you just-” The voice on the other end of the line sighed. “Listen. The boss is calling you in.”

“Which one?”

“Doesn’t matter. He says he wants you to pack up your stuff and buy a couple of train tickets to Arizona. They’re last minute, you should get a good price. You’ll be taking a friend along with you too, so make sure you pick him up before you go.”

“Sounds good,” Figaro said, twirling his blonde, curly locks. “Anything else?”

“Yeah, one more thing. He says you can bring the chainsaw.”

Figaro hung up the phone. Slowly, a smile crept up his face.

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Woops, I fucked up

Now before anyone groans and rightfully says “k0spam? Again with all these delays? You’re down to only one chapter a week!”, this isn’t a delay. Rather, the continuity alarm is busted and I didn’t notice until just now.

For those who remember Snatch.14, you might recall the offhand comment made by Paulie and Georgie about the mafia making deals with demons. I recently reread this chapter myself and realized that I’d totally forgotten about it while writing Stealing Stones and Breaking Bones and spent two whole chapters writing Al like a total idiot freaking out about an ongoing practice it’s been clearly established he is aware of. It’s not easy for me to admit, but I seriously screwed the pooch here, because now two chapters make no sense and both Al and I look like total boobs.

To those who spotted this mistake before I did but were just too polite to say anything, please feel free to laugh it up at my expense. I will be rewriting these chapters in a way that makes sense sometime in the near future. I encourage you to check them and the less than stellar Interlude 3.a out when they’re finished, but until then please bear with me while I correct this embarrassing mistake inbetween writing your scheduled weekly updates.

Interlude 3.a (Four Beast Gang)

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Last Night

“<I’m Kichirō. And you are?>”

“”

Ren… Yoshirō…

“…iiiiii. Oi, Kichirō. You awake?”

He groaned.

“I am now.”

Kichirō looked around for his brother. Yoshirō was leaning up against a wall on the far side of the warehouse, just like he had been five hours ago. Nothing had changed, for better or for worse. Same as always.

Kichirō sighed. Did he think he was still on guard duty, or had he just dozed off like that, unmoving? It was getting hard to tell if he was asleep or awake these days.

Yoshirō opened a single blank white eye, staring back at Kichirō. Then he closed it again.

“Jesus christ…” Kichirō muttered. “Ren, when was the last time you saw him sleep?”

“Hm? Why you ask?”

“Because I can’t remember what it looks like when he’s asleep anymore. How long has it been?”

“It been a month, I think.”

“Jesus fucking christ…” Kichirō trailed off.

He clenched his fist up against his head and felt the unpolished stone bite into his skin. He uncurled his fingers just to look at it one more time. The Cintamani stone. The fake, the false stone of miracles. A fleeting illusion of almightiness that men would and had killed for, himself included. When he’d sought it, he thought it could save his brother. He thought it could redeem him. And after all the blood he’d shed for it, it had turned out to be completely useless.

Kichirō stared unflinchingly into the rough facets of the stone. He tried as hard as he could, tried to find an image of his past self trapped in the crystalline matrix of the stone. Something of him preserved. But there was nothing. His face curled into an unrecognizable snarl. The stupid mud-red stone couldn’t even show him his reflection, much less save his brother. What was he supposed to protect with this?!

He felt an overwhelming urge to destroy the stone right then and there. To smash it into pieces and just go home, back to Japan, and put an end to this stupid, asinine quest. There was nothing he could do for his brother anymore. What was the point in endangering everyone’s lives trying?

What’s the point in not trying at all?

He was sure his brother hated him for what he’d done. More than sure. Yoshirō didn’t have to be able to speak to tell him that. What he’d done was unforgivable. Odds were that even if he succeeded, he’d still go to hell for what he’d done to his little brother.

You’d better make the most of the time you have left with him then.

The stone stared back at him, cold and unfeeling. How much blood had been shed over this thing already? Could he really wipe away his debt when the stone was just as guilty as he was? Could two wrongs really make a right just this once?

Is anything really “right” in this fucked up world?

Kichirō sighed, his grip on the stone weakening. He needed to bear with it. This was his last chance. If not to make things right, then to fix them at least. He just had to be patient a little while longer, with both his brother and the blasted stone. Until then, any grievances he had were irrelevant.

“Kichirō? What’s wrong?” Ren asked. “This not like you.”

Kichirō sighed. “It’s nothing, Ren.”

It was time to change the topic of conversation. Deftly making the transition to Japanese, he asked, “<Moreover, when did you decide to start speaking in English when we’re alone? There’s no one here to hear you, you know.>”

“” she said. “”

The back door clicked, and two lycans quietly entered the warehouse. A man and a woman, both five-seven with messy, unkempt hair. One was unusually short and the other was unusually tall, and they both smelled like wet fur.

“That not necessarily true.”

Kichirō studied them carefully. They’d hired the Four Beast Gang, a group of local lycans, to help them escape the city with the stone. They were an organization of a few thousand that recognized the authority of the bird, the snake, the lion and the dog, and whose lieutenants and generals all bore the traits of those animals. These two must have been the ones in charge of this hideout.

Aside from their height and generally messy state of dress, the two were complete opposites. One, the man, was incredibly pale while the woman had a crisp dark tan. Their hair were opposite shades of brown, one dark and greasy and the other practically sunbleached. Most importantly, the man’s ears were canine, the woman’s distinctly feline.

“Hey, what’s all this now?” the man said, dropping his grocery bag. “You sayin’ something about us, mate? The Four Beasts are being awful kind letting you people use one of our hideouts. You should show us a little more respect. You wouldn’t want us to throw you back to the Allesandris, now wouldya?”

“Oi, that’s not funny. If they find out we had anything to do with this, we’ll be killed too,” the woman said. “So shut it, ya big twit.”

The man snorted. “Better a twit than a twat.”

“What the fuck did you just say?”

“Nothing,” the man said. “Lay off me, wouldya? Christ on a cracker woman… All I’m saying is we’re sticking our necks out for these ungrateful blokes. The least they could do is show us a bit of fucking respect instead of talking behind our backs in that weird fucking moon language.”

Kichirō listened intently. Not to their words, but the meanings behind them. Both the man and the woman exhibited fairly thick English accents, Kichirō noted. The woman’s was Scottish perhaps and the man’s a thick, immediately identifiable cockney. That meant they were probably fresh off the boat. Forced immigration after depopulation. The man with the greasy hair was more than likely one of the survivors of the recent attack led by the Wild Hunt.

“If your god really does exist, he must certainly be a cruel one,” Kichirō said, thumbing bullets into the magazine of his gun.

“What did you say?” the lycan responded. “You bein’ cheeky with me, mate? Come on then! You and me! We’ll see how good you talk shit once I’ve ripped out all your teeth!”

“Etsy!” the woman said, grabbing his shoulders. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?! These are our customers!”

“Like I give a fuck!” the lycan said, wrenching away from her grip.

Kichirō sighed. “I was only trying to offer my condolences for what you must have lost in the attack on London. But it appears you don’t want it.”

“Heh. Is that it then? Is that what this is about? This fake pity? May be news to you mate, but I’m fuckin’ Welsh.”

Kichirō raised an eyebrow. “But you were born in London.”

“So what if I fuckin’ was? I’m no Londoner anymore. I lost my home five years ago to the Queen of Blades! Cardiff burned to the ground in bloody fuckin’ cinders!”

“I always think Cardiff would be destroyed by aliens,” Ren pitched in. “You hear it in news all the time. Wrinkly grey lizard-people with black eyes who look like corpses.  Always something flying over Cardiff.”

“Yeah well, some fuckin’ little green men would’ve been nice compared to what we got. Fire everywhere, people going half out of their fuckin’ minds while the rest get turned into bloody fuckin’ ghouls… I still have nightmares about that night.”

The man began crying softly, and Kichirō looked away.

“There there, it’s okay…” The Indian woman started patting him on the back like a baby, his muffled sobs absorbed into his jacket. “Let’s go fix you up a nice bowl of soup, we’ll get you sorted in no time.”

“I’m sorry…” Kichirō said. “I’ve never been that good at speaking to people. They only sent me and my team on this job because we knew how to speak English.”

The woman led her… Kichirō still couldn’t decide if he was her friend or not, but she walked him to the door, his sobbing becoming more and more pronounced.

“You’re lucky, you know,” Kichirō said. “She spared you from a far more horrible fate.”

That got the lycan’s attention.

“Are you jokin’? You think those London shits went through worse than we did?”

“I don’t know. I wasn’t there. All I know is that three hundred thousand people made it out of Cardiff. A third of that made it out of London. You should be grateful.”

“You… you think you’re so fuckin’ high and mighty, don’t you? You think you got it all figured out, like the rest of us are all just fuckin’ stupid or something!”

“I don’t remember ever saying that.”

“Well I’d like to see you keep talking all that good shit after you’ve had to watch your gran-gran get eaten alive by fucking zombies!”

The woman interjected. “Actually, I think they’re called-”

“I know what they’re called! My brother was one of them, you know. My little kid brother. I had to put him down because he was trying to snack on me grandmum. You know what that’s like, pretty boy? You know what it feels like to kill your own brother?!”

“As a matter of fact,” Kichirō said, locking the slide of his gun in place. “I do. And right now I am trying so very, very hard not to have to experience that again. So while I thank you for your hospitality, if that’s all you had to say I’d prefer it if you would leave us alone. We have work to do.”

The Indian woman looked at him.

“We’ll be out of your hair by morning,” Kichirō assured her.

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Stealing Stones and Breaking Bones 3.10

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Y’know, there are a lot of times in your life where you can learn something really important about yourself just by taking a step back and looking at what’s in front of you. For me, one of those moments occurred when I realized I was packing my bag full of garden-fresh curare and scopolamine in anticipation of a shootout. Some men pack submachine guns in violin cases to take with them onto trains. I fill toiletry bags full of burundanga and Venezuelan spit straws.

And you say you like your shootouts like you like your women…

What part of “one hit knockout drug” doesn’t meet your requirements for quick, clean, and easy?

I dunno, the part where a differential of a few fucking milligrams means I either get shot in the face half-a-dozen times or I kill someone instead of knock them out and have to explain to the cops why I’m the only one on the train with the exact same blowgun and darts full of home-grown jungle drugs used to poison a man in cold blood? Which would then of course lead to an investigation of my house and the subsequent discovery of a budding nepenthe farm…

I sighed. Priorities, Alfonso. Priorities.

I packed the powdered plants deep away into my suitcase like I was Edward Teach and his merry band of buttpirates trying to bury their lost pirate booty, before a creaking noise in the living room made me jump. I peeked my head out the door at Annie, still snug as a bug in a rug sleeping in her bed. I breathed a sigh of relief and sat down next to her, gently running my hand through her hair.

She was sleeping so peacefully. What was I worried about? Even if she had seen me, to her all those plants I kept lying around in my room were just a weird hobby. Annie was a voracious reader, but she couldn’t care less about flowers or saving the rainforest, and I knew she didn’t know the first thing about drugs. Or at least I hoped she didn’t.

No, not my hopelessly naive, straight-laced little sister. She’d sooner have a smoking gun in her hand before she had a doobie. Poor girl had always been afraid of drinking even before Prohibition started. She always said she was gonna join a temperance union once she came of age.

I got up and nearly fell flat on my ass when my nerves lit up like they’d been struck by a tiny lightning bolt. Pins and needles ran up and down my leg and I had to steady myself on the wall. I looked down.

Right, still should be in a cast. Why do I keep forgetting that?

Funny thing about hospitals. They’ll admit you if you ask them to, but they don’t necessarily discharge you when you ask them to either. They’ll discharge you once they’ve decided you don’t need them anymore. Or in other words, whenever the hell they want. Just because my arm and leg are still broken doesn’t mean I still need to be in the hospital, apparently. See, caring for patients takes money, and whenever they can afford to stop spending that money, you’re no longer the hospital’s problem.

In my case, they decided I was ready to be out and walking about even before everything finished healing, so they slapped some brand new casts on me and sent me on their way even though my arms and legs weren’t gonna be anywhere near fixed for a few more weeks. Then they charged me extra for the crutches and pain medication I’d need to get around outside the hospital and told me that if I came in again because I got my legs busted up in some accident (like say an accident caused by having to get around on crutches and a bum leg), I’d have to be readmitted, which would of course cost extra, putting me even deeper in debt because they wouldn’t finish the job the first time (if you’re wondering how I kept them from scalping me, I borrowed some of Annie’s old crutches and asked not to have a cast put on my leg).

And they say we’re the criminals.

I grunted as I stabilized, remembering not to put too much weight on my one leg all at once this time. Stepping carefully, I waddled over to the bathroom where the medicine cabinet was. Opening the squeaky door quietly, I grabbed the bottle of pain medication they prescribed me. Good ol’ benzoylmethylecgonine hydrochloride a.k.a coke.

I unscrewed the lid. Nowadays you needed a fucking prescription to get this shit legally, can you believe that? I could’ve easily asked Marq for some, but as long as I had a legal carte blanche to take this stuff, I might as well buy it from the pharmacy. It’s purer, and I can always just refill the official looking bottle with Paulie’s cheap shit once I run dry.

I used to do cocaine even as a kid, y’know. Me and Marq would go out behind the dumpsters and snort like pigs until the cops chased us away. We started experimenting in all sorts of different ways to get fucked up. Once I even took a hit right off a hooker’s ass once. Eventually I kicked the habit once I got serious about providing for Annie at the hospital, but now it looked like I had no choice but to jump back on the bandwagon.

Popping one of the drops in my mouth, I shuddered as a wave of euphoria hit me. I’ve heard people describe it as feeling like having your first orgasm all over again except through your entire body, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. Maybe the first time, yeah, but after that it just gets more and more disappointing the more you do it.

Guess it really is a lot like your first orgasm then, I thought, screwing the lid back on the bottle. I was gonna have to take these things with me too, huh? Couldn’t risk getting the feeling in my leg back if I had to start running.

I jangled bottle around. I dunno though. Something about being high on the job never really agreed with me. Seems fucking stupid.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike drugs. Drugs are fucking amazing. Most drugs anyway. But there’s a time and a place for that. I don’t like the idea of being so fucking blitzed that I can’t do my job right. It’s disgraceful. I’m not some fucking teenager anymore, am I?

“Al?” I heard someone say weakly. Annie. She sounded tired. Had I woken her up somehow? No freakin’ way. I almost knock over a bookshelf and popping pills is what wakes her up?

I poked my head around the corner. There she was, sitting up in her bed. Unbelievable.

“Hey,” I said. “What are you doing up, Annie? It’s late. Go back to bed. You heard what Marq said, we have to be at the station at 8:30.”

“Yeah, I just… I heard something. What were you doing in the bathroom, Al?”

Shit.

“It’s nothing, I was just-”

She stared at the bulge in my breast pocket. Before I could do anything, she’d snatched up the bottle and was holding it under the moonlight to read.

“Cocaine?” she said. “Why do you have cocaine?!”

I snatched the bottle away from her.

“It’s not what you think it is. This is just the pain medication they prescribed me.”

“Brother, you know you have a problem with that stuff! Why are you using it again, I thought you said your leg was fine!”

“Well it isn’t!”

“Liar! You were walking around on it just fine yesterday!”

“I was… kinda…”

“…. No. You were not.”

I nodded my head.

“And at Spankie’s?!”

“Yup.”

“And now?!”

“Guilty as charged,” I said, sighing. “Listen, Annie. I don’t know what you’re so upset about all of a sudden. This is just medicine, that’s it. I take it to numb the pain so I can walk without crutches.”

“I’m upset because we both know you’ve already been addicted to that stuff once! What’s to stop you from having a relapse once you’re healed? We don’t have the money to spend on that, Al!” she said. “And what’s wrong with walking on crutches? I walk on crutches!”

“Newsflash Annie, but we barely have the money to spend on anything. That hospital bill? That set us back thirteen thou’. That’s more than I have in savings, and if I can’t work, we’re gonna be up to our eyeballs in debt again sooner than you can blink!”

“You’re a nurse, Al! Why do you need pain medication to work?!

“I dunno, maybe because I can’t concentrate without it. How’s that for an answer?”

She looked away. Oh no.

“I’m worried about you, brother.” Ohhhhhh no. “You’re acting weird, you’ve been working late hours, and sometimes I never even get to see you. Now I find out you’re still friends with that man and you’ve been taking cocaine drops and lying to me about it!”

“It’s not really lying, I just… never told you…” I said weakly.

“Same thing!” she said on the verge of tears. “I’m worried about you, brother, I really am. I’m worried and I’m scared and I don’t know what to do. First you’re in the hospital, then the Marquis and now all this? I keep trying to do my part and look after you the way you look after me, but… what do you expect me to do when you’re trying so hard to get yourself in trouble?!”

Annie started sniffling, and suddenly I just… I wasn’t mad anymore. Mom had always said Annie was a little doe. She had a way of just looking at you with those eyes and suddenly you just melted in front of her. The way she used to look at me when she was a kid… that was what made me think I just had to protect her. No matter what.

“Hey, hey…” I said, wrapping my arms around her. “You do plenty, Annie, and I appreciate it more than you’ll ever know. It’s gonna be alright. We’ve been through some tight spots before and we always manage to pull through. It’ll be the same this time. I just need you to trust your big brother, okay Annie?”

She looked up at me, and sniffed. “Then tell me what’s going on. Tell me what’s going on so I can help you. And no bullshit either! I want the truth!”

I felt someone tie my stomach into a knot. This situation… I had to tell her. I had no choice. But how could I tell her? Then again, how could I not?

I gulped.

“The truth is… the truth is…” I sighed. “The truth is Annie, I haven’t just been working at the hospital. I’ve been doing other work too. I said Marq was my financial advisor, but the truth is… he’s my boss. Kinda. Part-time. I… I help him with stuff around the office when I’m not busy at the hospital, running errands and doing little favors for him. In exchange, he pays for what my nurse’s salary doesn’t.”

“Are you sure that’s it?” she said. “Are you sure there’s nothing else you want to tell me?”

“Come on, quit busting my balls here, Annie. It kinda sounds like you wanted there to be something else to it,” I said, teasing her. “Don’t tell me you secretly dream of living dangerously as la donna de disastro like Anne Bonney or Calamity Jane?”

I managed to work a chuckle out of her with that one..

“Of course not…” Then she hugged me back, just out of nowhere. “Thanks for telling me the truth, Al.”

I forced myself to smile. “Yeah. No problem.”

Even for as much as that thank you stung like a bitter poison, I could live with myself just a little while longer telling her that. The truth that wasn’t the truth, simultaneously a fact and a fabrication. Or as Marq would’ve said when we were kids, “some fancy fucking footwork”. To adult me though, it just felt like my mouth had written Annie a check my butt wouldn’t be able to cash.

Another day, Alfonso. Save it for another day…

—-

Annie and I met Marq at the train station at exactly 8:30 the next morning, and quite promptly at that. A pleasant numbness spreading throughout my leg after popping my last pill at breakfast, I handed my completely innocent luggage to the attendant and meandered over to Marq carrying my toiletry bag of smuggled tools.

“Yo,” I said, looking around. “Where is everybody?”

Marq sighed. “Well, Sostene got apprehended at the door by one of the stewards. Apparently sun-fearing fellas like him aren’t allowed to ride in first class according to company regulations, so they took him out back and he’s been arguing with them ever since.”

“That’s horrible…” Anastasia said.

“Isn’t that, y’know, kind of a bad idea?” I said, worried about Sostene’s “anger management issues”. “And what about Nayeli? Where’s she at? Don’t tell me she got detained too.”

“No, she’s always allowed to ride in first class. For the… opposite reasons.”

Because it was too much trouble to let a vampire onboard with all the other passengers, and too much trouble not to let a demigod on board. I understood immediately.

“Okay, that just leaves one person unaccounted for,” I said, smirking. “Where’s this new bird of yours, Marq? If she looks anything like Nayeli, I’d sure like to get to know her.”

“Right here, Mr. Anastasio.”

I turned around, and immediately the color drained from my face. The brazenly blonde-haired girl I was looking at was about my age, a few years younger than Marq at least. And I hate to say that I recognized her immediately.

“You’re…”

Marq sighed. “Alfonso, meet Felicity Overscore. Local independent businesswoman and daughter of our dear Mayor Overscore.”

She stuck out her hand, her eyes fixedly stonefaced. “It’s my pleasure.”

Timidly, I shook her hand. “Yeah, sure. No, pleasure’s all mine…”

This was going to be an interesting train ride.

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Stealing Stones and Breaking Bones 3.9

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“Alright, listen up everybody! I want all eyes on me!”

Annie looked around nervously. We were sitting in Marq’s office at his invitation. Said it wouldn’t do for us to just let him drive us home, we had to come back for a drink and some friendly conversation. Typical.

I grimaced. My sister’s sitting here antsier than a chihuahua, and all he wants to do is talk business. That was just like Marq. He always liked testing me on how well I could play his game, keep my cool under fire. I’d gotten good at it, but I had a long ways to go before I could compare to him. Having Annie here was just another psychological roadblock he’d set up for the newest round of our little game.

Annie fidgeted.

“Mr. Sostene, I didn’t know you were, ummm… familiar with Marquis Allesandri. Didn’t you say you worked with Al at the hospital?”

“He does. He also just so happens to be another one of my close friends and valued clientele,” Marq said, seamlessly lying through his teeth again. Sostene had been working for the Allesandris for as long as I could remember. Calling him a close friend is like saying your uncle is distantly related to you. “And besides, I’m hurt that you honestly feel like you have to use my full name, Annie. We’ve known each other for at least six years, so you don’t have to be so formal. Just call me Marq like everyone else.”

Nayeli glared at her, daring her to do it. Annie jumped up in her seat a little before settling back into her trademark frown.

“Sorry, I think I’ll pass.”

“Ah, right. I forgot to introduce you. Annie-”

“Please just call me Anastasia.”

“-meet Nayeli Knossos. She’s my personal assistant and my bodyguard.”

Nayeli grunted in affirmation, still glaring at me and my sister. Typical guard dog. Doesn’t like strangers. How cute of her.

“Bodyguard?” Annie raised an eyebrow, and I flinched. “Why would you need a bodyguard?”

“As an investment banker I’m very used to handling large amounts of money, especially in the stock exchange,” Marq said, dismissing her question with a wave of his hand. “It would only be natural that I have enemies. Sostene you already know of course, and both you and your brother will be meeting my fiancee at the train station tomorrow.”

I glanced at Nayeli, whose face had involuntarily puckered at the mention of this mystery woman. His fiancee and his girlfriend, sharing the same table in the same compartment with him sitting smack-dab in the middle of the shit sandwich. Couldn’t say I envied Marq.

I chuckled. Still, there was no doubt this was going to be an interesting train ride.

“Now that we’re all re-acquainted, let’s go over the plan one more time.”

“Why do we need a plan?” Annie interjected. “We’re just going to the train station, it’s not like this is going to be incredibly complex.”

Marq smiled in a way I’ve always found to be kind of condescending. “What are you talking about, Annie? A plan is absolutely essential in any undertaking, large or small.”

Annie groaned.

“Now, I’ve got us booked on the transcontinental City of Cleveland. We’ll be seated in first class, so expect to dress formally.”

“So that’s what the fancy monkey suits were for,” Annie said, rolling her eyes.

“The train leaves tomorrow at 8:30 AM,” Marq continued, undeterred. “I want everybody ready and waiting at the station at least a half an hour before that. We won’t get a second chance to board this train, so it’s important that everyone’s on time.”

“Why this particular train?” Annie asked.

“Hm?”

“Why this particular train? You said that like we can’t miss this particular train. What’s so special about it? I’m sure you could get the tickets refunded if you wanted to, so why the emphasis on not missing this particular train?”

Marq’s calm demeanor broke for a second and for once I saw him have to force a smile

“Let’s just say I have a fondness for this particular train, and I thought it would be a lovely way to celebrate my engagement to my new fiancee.”

Annie raised an eyebrow.

“It’s god’s honest truth.”

“Yeah. I’m sure your anniversary with your fiancee will just be enhanced so much by having us tag along. I mean, we all just get along so well. You, me, my brother, his coworker, and miss whatsherface over there. I mean, we’re so close we’re practically a barrel full of monkeys! A laugh a minute!”

“Annie!” I reprimanded.

“No, it’s quite alright,” Marq said, sighing. “If I’m going to be honest, this trip isn’t really about my fiancee anyway. She couldn’t care less.”

“I knew it!” Annie said.

“I arranged this trip as a thank you to your brother for being such a dear friend all these years.”

“… huh?”

“What did you think this was about?” Marq asked. “You’re certainly right about one thing, Annie. I wasn’t always on the straight and narrow. In fact, I’ve worked with a lot of shady people over the years. Dangerous people. My needing a bodyguard to feel safe is testament to that.”

“But-”

“But your brother was always there to bail me out whenever I was in too much trouble to handle. And now that I’ve put that life behind me, I feel like it’s only right that I repay him for all his kindness.”

Annie was left speechless. I smiled, giving her a dose of that good ol’ sibling telepathy.

Told you. Changed man.

Her look said, Piss off, brother.

“Alright, now that we’ve settled the matter of my trustworthiness, all that’s left is to take care of all the boring legal junk. Finances, etc. We’ll only be a few minutes. Nayeli, do you wanna escort Miss Anastasia to her car?”

“Uhhh, no?”

“… Allow me to rephrase that. Would you please escort her to her car?”

“Why should I?” Nayeli said. “I’m not her damn nanny. Let Sergeant Sister-complex do it. She’s his problem, not mine.”

“Yes, but Al and I still need to discuss some things-”

“I’ll do it,” Sostene said, getting up out of his chair. “Anastasia and I are already acquainted. I’m sure she doesn’t mind. Do you, Annie?”

Annie shook her head. I made a mental note to poison Sostene’s food with garlic later for calling her “Annie” like he was her damn brother and not me.

Marq sighed. “Alright then. Sostene, if you would show our guest out. I’m sure she’s just dying to leave.”

Annie stuck her tongue out at Marq before they left, and Sostene shut the door quietly, leaving us three alone to discuss the important stuff in private.

I whistled. “That was some smooth talking, my friend. How’d you do that? I know I’d love to be able to lie like that when she starts giving me the stinkeye.”

“The best lies start with the truth,” Marq said, tipping his hat. “That’s all there is to it. Though I’d hoped Sostene would be here to hear this-”

“Why? What’s wrong with me?” Nayeli said defensively. “Am I not important?”

“Of course you are Nayeli, you just… well you tend to break things more than follow the plan,” Marq said about as delicately as he could. “I figured rather than bog you down with the devil’s little details, I’d just let you do that thing you do, by which I mean kill lots of people and look damn good doing it, and work it into the plan as we go. How does that sound?”

Nayeli pouted. “Fine, I guess.”

She tried her best to look angry but it was obvious Marq had a way of defusing her just as quickly as a K-9 defuses a bomb. Flattery really is the way to a woman’s heart, apparently. Then again, I thought, reflecting on Theo and my numerous ex-girlfriends, maybe that isn’t the best tactic to try on the women in my life.

“Alright, let’s hear it,” I said. “What’s the plan? The real plan?”

Marq cleared his throat. “It’s quite simple, really. They already know we’re on to them. They’ll be on the next train out, and if we tried to book on the same train, they’d just give us the slip and we’d be right back where we started. So the plan is this: we take a ride on the City of Cleveland, which just so happens to intersect with their train in Arizona. They’re hitching a ride in the VIP car of the Monkey King’s new circus train, the Nimbus.”

“Waitwaitwait,” Nayeli said. “Did you say ‘circus train’? As in, the Monkey King’s Magic Kingdom Menagerie?”

“Yeah, why?”

Nayeli reached into her suit and pulled out a piece of paper. She slapped it down onto the table in front of her.

“New to the Monkey King’s Magic Kingdom Menagerie… Righteous Robert the Racing Unicorn? Come see the famous race horse on his retirement tour around the world…”

“Says here Bob broke fifteen world records,” I added, reading the flyer. It was adorned with an airbrushed portrait of a stereotypical white unicorn and its rider rearing up on its hind legs with the finishing line tape from the track billowing around its horn. In the distance you could see the rest of the racers, who hadn’t even finished the lap yet.

“Is this what you’re so excited about, Nayeli?” Marq said.

“Of course!” Nayeli said, practically shaking. “I’ve always wanted to ride a unicorn!”

Marq and I exchanged looks that said ‘we’ve seen some shit, but this takes the cake’. Nayeli just beamed doe eyes at Marq like she was trying to get someone to pick up on her radio station.

I sighed. Oh lord…

Nayeli glared at me. “Got a problem? Unicorns are majestic fucking creatures, and it’s been my dream to ride one since I was little.”

“No, it’s just… not what we were expecting from you,” Marq said. “I mean, you never told me anything about this…”

“Because it never came up!” Nayeli said. “Come on boss, we gotta go see Bob the racing unicorn, we gotta!”

Marq sighed. “We can’t, Nayeli. Even if Bob is on that train, we won’t be able to go see him anyway.”

“What?! Why!?”

“Because once both trains come to a stop at the station to let off passengers, we’re going to sabotage the Nimbus and force the remaining passengers to board the City of Cleveland. I’ve rented out one of the cars and turned it into my own private atelier for the duration of the trip. We detain our friends, bring them back home with us for questioning, and leave the Nimbus for the cinder dicks to detain while they obtain a search warrant. We get our friends in the federales to empty out the cargo for us, and by the time we get home we’ll have three new hostages slash torture buddies and we’ll have made off with the stone.”

“But… but Bob!” Nayeli blubbered.

“We’re gonna have to leave him behind on the Nimbus,” Marq said.

Nayeli’s shoulders sagged. She looked like a baby whose parents had taken away its candy, almost like she was ready to cry. Marq patted her on the head.

“Don’t worry, we can always go see him another time. Here, howsabout this? Once we’re done with our little vacation, you and I will go see Bob at the Monkey King’s next show, just the two of us. I can even pull a few strings and get you backstage to meet him. Bob, I mean. How does that sound?”

Nayeli’s eyes lit up and she made a high-pitched noise I can only describe as a cross between a whistle and someone strangling a cat.

“Alright, this whole thing is sounding pretty airtight so far,” I said. “How are we gonna sabotage the Nimbus though? I thought those new generation trains were supposed to be one hundred percent private atelier. How you gonna make the passengers bail out on the fucking thing when it’s in its own pocket of altered space?”

Marq grinned. “I’ve made arrangements for a new type of bomb to be shipped to us from the Chinese. They call ’em atelier busters. Guess what they bust.”

“Your balls?” I joked.

“Cute,” he said. “I have it on good authority that these are the real deal. They’re packed with a special kind of shot that’s been enchanted to pierce areas of altered space. They’ll crack the Nimbus open like a nut, mark my words.”

“What about the animals?!” Nayeli asked nervously.

“The animals will be fine, Nayeli,” Marq said, sighing. “These are controlled explosions. Small enough to sabotage the train without damaging the contents inside. If we just blew up the train willy nilly, we might risk damaging the stone. This way, we make it look like an accident. See, look. They’re like firecrackers.”

Marq held up a small cartridge of the explosives, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand with space left over.

“That’s it?” I said. “That thing looks about as intimidating as Mr. Wang’s buddy Little Wang, and probably just as disappointing.”

Marq snorted. “You would know.”

“All I’m saying is I’m not feeling this plan,” I said. “Why don’t we just use gas instead?”

“Because gas might arouse suspicion and delay our train as well.”

“Wouldn’t explosives be a little more suspicious than gas?”

“These are small enough that they can be passed off as technical failures.”

I sighed. It was obvious he just wanted a reason to play around with his new bombs.

“Alright, whatever. I just don’t like playing around with untested magic, so pardon me if I’m feeling a little fucking skeptical.”

“Hey, who’s the master magician here?” Marq asked.

“… You are.”

“Sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the sound of your complaining.”

You are.”

“Damn straight,” Marq said. “Now go home and pack. Bring anything you think you might need. Guns, knives, etc. I’ll be bringing along a few new toys myself, so don’t feel bad arming yourself to the teeth. We’re not taking any chances on this job.”

“You mean besides the obvious one?”

“Can it, Al.”

I got up, stretching. “Yes, boss man. Sure thing, boss man.”

“Alright, good. Now get out of here before I decide to just cut costs and replace you with a talking monkey.”

“Hey, come on. Could a talking monkey ever be this handsome?”

Marq grinned. “Do you want me to answer that?”

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A Friendly Reminder

Thanks for your patience, folks! As of today, Goodfae’s week-long hiatus is over. The new chapter will be up on Wednesday 11:59 PM CT (or whatever timezone WordPress operates on), after which it will continue to update once a week on Wednesday for the foreseeable future. Or at least until May 16th. Happy reading, and thank you for your readership! It means a lot to me.