I kicked the door open and trudged out of Sostene’s reefer with my head down and my hands in my pockets. I knew why I was mad, but I didn’t know why I was so worried. This was Marq’s train, we were safe here. The job hadn’t even started yet, we were hundreds of miles away from Arizona. But still, I was uneasy. It was like something he’d said had gotten to me, and in this moment where I’d let my sister out of my sight, where she’d wandered off on her own, I began to realize just how stupid I was to think I was capable of protecting her on a trip like this. A thousand miles away from home, and I’d lost my one and only sister.
When I finally found Annie, she was walking around outside on one of the connecting platforms.
“Annie!” I yelled. “Jesus, you scared the shit out of me! Get away from there, it’s dangerous! Don’t you know that?!”
“What?” she said. “What are you talking about? I was just looking around.”
“You were going to try and cross over to the next platform, weren’t you?”
“What? No I was not!”
“You’re damn right you’re not,” I said, grabbing her hand. “Not without help, and not without my permission.”
“Ow! What is your problem, Al?” she said. “I just wanted to look around! And since when do I need your permission to do anything?”
“Since when I became your legal guardian and you became sick, that’s when,” I said. “You’re not healthy enough to be walking around on your own!”
“And there you go again! You’re doing it again, brother!”
“Doing what? Looking out for my little sister?”
“Babying me! Like I’m a child who needs to be taken care of! I don’t know if you know this, but I’ll legally be an adult in less than a year, Al. I don’t need you to take care of me anymore! It’s none of your business, and I’m gonna prove it!”
She threw her crutches across the platform connector to the other side.
“Annie,” I said slowly. “What are you doing?”
“What does it look like, brother?” she said, smirking. “I’m crossing the platform. And I’m going to do it without your help.”
“Annie…” I said. “Don’t.”
But she didn’t listen to me. She took a step onto the thin bolt connecting the cars, only her frail, twig-like arms keeping her steady as she clung to the railing of the car.
“Annie!” I yelled.
I ran as soon as she let go of the rails. She reached for the next set of rails on the other side of the gap, momentarily frozen in time with nothing to keep her from falling off the train except a metal bolt barely wider than her feet. I dived and tackled her to the ground, our combined momentum carrying us to safety. We landed on the other side, Annie wrapped up in my arms with her eyes screwed shut. She opened them.
“Al…” she said, looking at me. She frowned. “What the hell?! That really hurt!”
“Well what did you think was going to happen?!”
“I thought you were going to act like a normal person for once and just let me cross! Now thanks you I’m probably bruised all over!”
Oh shit. At the time, I hadn’t thought of that.
“Here, let me see,” I said, pulling at the sleeve of her dress.
“Hey! Al!” she protested. Ignoring her, I pulled her sleeve down so I could see her arm. Sure enough, she had a big black bruise running the length of her forearm. And it was my fault.
“Jesus…” I muttered, trying to apologize. “Listen, Annie, I’m sorry-”
But she pushed me off and grabbed her crutches. She swung open the door to the next compartment in a huff.
“Annie, wait!” I said. But she’d stopped. And I highly doubted it was because of me.
“Al…” she said. “What is this?”
I poked my head in, and took a step inside. What I saw certainly wasn’t what I’d been expecting.
What we’d unwittingly entered was a large car with accommodations for wining, dining, and dancing. No, large is a misnomer. Saying this car was large is like saying Babe Ruth was only pretty good at baseball.
“Well this isn’t something you see every day…” I murmured. I poked my head out the door to look at the car from the outside to confirm what I was seeing. Sure enough, bigger on the inside.
The car’s inner dimensions matched that of a ballroom almost exactly, and it was being catered to just as well. Long buffet tables lined either side of the room with a bar at the far end of the car where some big shit with a greasy haircut was polishing glasses with his back turned to us, and a chandelier hung from the ceiling where it sparkled dimly, accentuating the cool smooth jazz playing on the gramophone. It was my kind of scene, even if it wasn’t the kind where I belonged.
“An atelier, huh?”
“Correct!” Marq said, appearing behind us in that way he always does. Felicity walked beside him with Nayeli trailing behind, still visibly agitated but trying her hardest to stay on her best behavior. It was kinda hilarious, like watching a bull trying to tiptoe through a china shop.
Marq put his hand on my shoulder. “So, Al… how do you like it? This is where we’re going to be riding through the night in style for the next three days!”
“So… this is yours?” Annie said incredulously.
“Ours,” Marq corrected her. “I rented this car out for everyone, Anastasia. It’ll be like our own private party, complete with singing, dancing, food, drinks, and entertainment.”
“How much did this cost?” Felicity said, arching an eyebrow.
“Oh please Felicity dear, money is no object.”
“Perhaps for you it isn’t,” she said. “But I prefer to not waste valuable time and money on frivolous things.”
“If I may, Miss Felicity, the Marquis only went to all this trouble for you. If I was you, I know I’d be feeling awful grateful right about now.”
Felicity frowned. “Well, Nayeli, you’re not this man’s wife, so I find it hard to believe you’d be qualified to speak for me. In fact, I find your tone insulting. Who gave demigods the right to speak for normal human beings like us? Our lives are as different as night and day.”
“Not as much as you think,” Nayeli almost snarled.
“Is that so?” Felicity said, turning her nose up at Nayeli. “Then perhaps you should convince the Marquis to bring it to the city council. Or perhaps the United States government? I’m sure they’d be delighted to hear your case.”
“Actually, I intend to,” Marq said, interrupting.
“Nayeli is my closest and dearest friend, Felicity. One of my goals has always been securing the rights of demihumans like Nayeli, Alfonso, and Sostene in our city. And one day, I do plan on taking it to the Supreme Court. I will see justice done for her. And for the rest of my family as well.”
Nayeli smiled in earnest, then smirked at Felicity. For a moment their eyes met and I was afraid one of them would actually try to kill the other. Then Felicity sighed and looked away.
“Fine. Pursue your fruitless dreams if you absolutely must, Marquis. Just make sure they don’t get in the way of our business together, understood? I’m going to go have a drink…” she mumbled and left, slamming the door.
I paused. “Shouldn’t you… you know…?”
“Go after her? No thanks. Let her stew in her own juices for a bit. Underneath that pedigree and that tweed business suit she’s still just a spoiled little daddy’s girl, so this’ll be a good lesson for her.”
“What, that the Marquis is the one who wears the pants in this relationship?” I joked.
“That the Marquis isn’t going to be controlled by anyone,” he said all too seriously. In the wake of that little spat, that just about killed the mood. Everyone was silent.
“So…” I said, trying to cut through the awkward atmosphere that was thicker than pea soup. “Anyone want to go get a drink?”
“No,” Marq said, sighing gently. “I think I’d rather have a dance.”
He held his hand out to Nayeli, and after she tenderly accepted they walked out on to the dance floor. I on the other hand found my way to the bar, Annie trailing behind me, unsure what to do.
“Tell me the truth, Al,” Annie said as I sat down. “Those two are… are…”
“What, fucking?” I said.
“What? You obviously weren’t gonna say it.”
“Well obviously!” she said, turning a shade of bright red. “So are they?”
“Are they what?”
“Doing it! Are they doing it?!”
I drew in a loooooong breath. “It’s… complicated.”
“I knew it…” Annie said, still blushing. “How long?”
“How long what?”
“How long have they been doing this?!”
“I dunno,” I said, taking a sip of my drink.
“How can you not know?”
“Like I said, it’s complicated.”
“No, it’s not, Al.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I’m going to go tell Miss Felicity about it, right now!”
“Alright, you have fun with that,” I said. “I take it you don’t want my help getting across?”
She glared at me.
I sighed as my one and only sister walked away. Sometimes I feel so unloved.
Figuring there wasn’t much use in holding back anymore, I shotgunned the rest of my glass and slapped it on the counter.
“Hey buddy,” I said. “Another round.”
“Buddies?” he said with his back turned to me. “I didn’t know we were buddies.”
Wait, that voice. I knew that voice from somewhere.
“Hey, you wouldn’t happen to be…”
“But if you say we’re buddies, then I guess I don’t have any other choice than to get you another drink, pal!”
The bartender set the glass he was polishing on the counter and lifted his mask. Now there was a face I was hoping not to see.
“Fig?!” I said, shocked.
The blonde bodybuilder leaned in across the counter.
“Hey Alfonso, how’s the shitkicker doing!”
“The fuck did you just call me?”
This hunkachunk was Figaro. Last name unknown and ir-fucking-relevant. He was the premiere torture technician for the five families, and a grade A psychopath. Bozo liked to cut people up like he cuts hair, and he uses a fucking chainsaw to do it. Worse part is, he’s battier than a belfry. I’ve met houses of cards more stable than him is what I’m saying. And worst of all, he really pisses me off.
“Shitkicker. It’s your new nickname. Georgie came up with it. Sounds like it’s been catching on too.”
Yeah, that’s right, they decided to call me “Shitkicker”. Alfonso “Shitkicker” Anastasio. You wanna fucking laugh at it? Be my guest. I’ll do the same thing to you that I was imagining doing to Georgie just then. I mean, I do all that work for them and that’s how they repay me. Can you fucking believe that?
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
“Nope. He used to just call you ‘little shit’ like Mickey did, but after you humiliated him like that, and by him I mean Mickey…” He stopped like he’d forgotten what he was going to say. “Anyway, how’s it going? Enjoying the ride? Cuz I know I am.”
“Oh you know, just sitting back and enjoying the view, having a drink, that kind of thing. Which uh, reminds me. You mind coming a little closer, Fig?”
He leaned over the counter and I grabbed him by his tie.
“What the fuck are you doing here?!” I hissed, completely forgetting my drink.
“Ouch! I’m on call,” he said, cleaning out his ear with his pinky finger. “Orders from on high. Real top-secret stuff, hush-hush. They want me on this train to make sure things go eheheh… smoothly for the boss. But uh, don’t tell nobody I told you that.”
As always you are a shining beacon of subtlety, Fig.
“Which boss?” I questioned. “I don’t remember Marq saying anything about enlisting your help.”
“Oh well it’s not just me,” he said. “I got to bring along another little buddy too. Say hello, little buddy!”
Just like that he got down and picked up something big and wriggling from behind the bar. Upon closer inspection, the thing he was holding with one hand was actually a man.
“Wait a second, is that…”
I look closer at the guy he’s got bound and gagged, and I almost gagged myself. Mickey fucking Donahue. But how? Marq would never let that bastard live after what he did! I watched him die!
I slowly reach for my gun so I can cap him a second time myself. How? How did they bring him back?! Necromancy? No, that shouldn’t be possible. We destroyed the body! Is it a poltergeist? A homunculus implanted with Mickey’s memories?!
“Hey uh, Alfonso, you okay there, buddy? You’re lookin’ kinda twitchy,” Fig said, ignoring the squealing and wriggling bundle he held in his left hand.
Then the realization hit me, and I let go of my gun. Mickey was dead. Well and truly dead-as-a-doornail dead. What I was looking at? That wasn’t Mickey.
“Leo,” I said, biting my tongue. Leo just screamed, muffled by the rag they’d stuffed in his mouth. I sat back down. He was no threat, especially not in his condition.
“Me and Leo here got paired up in this assignment together!” Fig said. “Something about him wanting to repay his debt to the bosses for the whole ‘Mickey Donahue’ thing. He’s real excited, can’t you tell?”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” I said sarcastically. Checking over my shoulder, I made sure Marq and Nayeli were still dancing. No one else was in the room. I was in the clear. I leaned in over the bar to whisper in Fig’s ear all hush-hush. “You said earlier that you two got called in by one of the bosses. I need you to tell me which boss. Who authorized this? Was it Marq?”
“I dunno. Nice weather for a train ride though, isn’t it?”
“Fig, listen to me. Pay attention. Which boss called you in?”
“Seriously, I don’t know!” Fig said. “They never told me which one. They just said ‘the boss’ wanted me here supervising this little choo-choo ride.”
That didn’t sound good. I was gonna question him some more so I could find out who relayed the message to him, but before I could ask him anything else, Leo’s muffled screaming broke the flow of the conversation yet again, and I sighed, my forehead creasing and adding yet more lines to my beautiful face.
“Fig, cut the poor bastard loose.”
“And put the chainsaw down!” I said as soon as I saw him reaching for it.
Fig didn’t even bother with a knife and just ripped the ropes apart. He tore the duct tape off of Leo’s face causing him to yelp in pain which, since he was wearing Mickey’s face, wasn’t altogether unpleasing.
“Hey there, sport,” I said. “How’s the entomophobia treating you?”
He coughed. “Fuck you, asshat! I don’t got nothing to say to you!”
Glancing around, I picked up a cockroach that was helping itself to the peanut shells around the bar and flicked it at Leo’s face. He screamed like a little bitch and fell to the floor scratching at his face. I laughed.
“Well that was mean.”
“We live in a mean world, Fig,” I said.
It was too true, though. If we didn’t do this, Theo would be sold to Frankie as a bargaining chip, and I wouldn’t be able to do anything to stop it, which is why I had to succeed here. So then why…
I eyed Fig warily as he helped Leo off the floor. Why were they here?