“Cavvy, come on,” I said, trying to smile and act like it was just a bad joke. “Stop being a wiseguy. This isn’t funny. Talkin’ about takin’ us in…”
Cavvy stared at me coldly. “It wasn’t a joke, Alfonso.”
I ditched the smile. Hearing him say it drove it in. He really was gonna take us in. This was happening. They’d caught Nayeli.
No, not necessarily, I reminded myself. Just because they’ve finished the psychometric mapping of the crater doesn’t necessarily mean they caught Nayeli. Not yet, anyway.
Annie looked scared stiff. Cavvy faltered, like he didn’t know what he was supposed to do. Dammit man, either shit or get off the pot.
“So what’s the occasion?” I asked. “What’d we do wrong?”
“Nothing,” he said abnormally quickly, as if he was the one who had to make excuses for us. “You’re just persons of interest. I’m sure all they wanna do is ask you some questions. Though, honestly, I wanna know what you guys were doing on that train. Did you-”
“What if that doesn’t work for us?” I asked, interrupting him. Annie tugged on my sleeve.
“Huh?” Cavvy vocalized.
“I mean what if I don’t wanna go?” I said, ignoring my little sister. “You think I want this on my record? My bosses think I’m up to something shady and my ass is left out to dry, and I can’t afford to risk losing my job or miss out on a payment if I wanna make sure Annie’s getting the care she needs. Besides, what if they just use this as an excuse to get me to admit to something I didn’t do so they can take my money and my ass to court? I’m not going.”
All lies, of course. My bosses paid me to get up to something shady. Mentioning my record was, however, a mistake in retrospect.
Cavvy scowled at my indifference. “You don’t have a choice, Alfonso. It’s the law. Either come with me or you’re under arrest.”
“Al…” Annie said again.
For a moment we all just stood there and looked at each other, daring someone to say something.
“Come on, man. Don’t do this,” I pleaded. “Can’t you just-”
“Let it slide? Is that what you were gonna say?” Cavvy said. “You know I can’t do that, Alfonso. Why are you being so stubborn, anyway?”
“I told you. I just don’t wanna go. I don’t trust the cops in this city.” And for good reason. I noticed Cavvy’s hand wavering noncommittally around his holster.
Suddenly Annie was breaking away from me and climbing down the fire escape to where Cavvy was. I should’ve known she’d side with him instead of me, after everything that’s happened lately. But she wouldn’t sell me out so easily, would she? I mean come on, I’m her brother for crying out loud!
Defiantly, she dropped down and started walking over to Cavvy. I nearly blurted “watch out!” when I watched her stumble on the uneven pavement, but Cavvy caught her just fine without me. She stood up, and glared at me. Cavvy nodded at her approvingly, and for that brief second that defiance in her eyes made me hate him more than I ever loved him. But then a second later it was gone.
“Alfonso… stop making this more difficult than it has to be. They’re just gonna take you in and ask some questions. Why are you afraid? What do you have to be scared of?!”
Master Alfonso, Theo said dangerously. I can get rid of him if there is a problem. I already decided on an escape route. Just give me your approval and-
No, Theo. We’re not doing that.
But Master Alfonso-!
I raised my hands up to the sky, the eternal sign of submission to the boot.
“You gonna do it then?” I ask, solemnly. “You really gonna do it, Cavvy?”
He bit his lip. Bit it so hard it looked like he was gonna bleed, like he was chewing it. This wasn’t easy for him. Wasn’t really easy for me either though. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t easier on him, less stubborn and uncooperative. Or maybe I’m just a bastard.
He drew his gun. “Alfonso Anastasio, you are under arrest for the obstruction of justice. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to consult an attorney before talking to the police…”
I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to tell myself he was just following orders and leave it at that, I really did. But because it was him, because it was my friend, telling myself that somehow didn’t make me feel any less betrayed. Goddammit Cavvy…
When we arrived at the police station, I was separated from Annie. Although maybe that’s not the right word. After all, she had no qualms about being led away from me, at least not as many as I had.
After being forced down dull grey corridor after dull grey corridor after dull grey corridor I was brought to the classic dimly lit interrogation room, and forced to sit in one of the uncomfortable wooden chairs. Five minutes later, I was greeted by an elf in a government suit. Great. They gave me a treehugger.
“I wanna consult with my fucking lawyer,” I said.
“If you’re referring to the Marquis Allesandri listed on the information you’ve provided us, I regret to inform you he’s in another room three doors down.”
Okay, quick break. Can I just take a minute, and tell you what really pisses me off about these guys? Why I really fucking hate elves? It’s because they think they’re so fucking perfect, like their shit don’t stink. They’re all “oh, look at us being all at one with nature and the ebb and flow of the universe, ohhhh” when really all they do is sit around in rotting dank forests painting leaves and writing whiny poetry. They’re such fucking drama queens. And you know what the worst part is? How stuck up they are about it. We invite them into our homes and our cities and all they can talk about is how their forests are so much better and how we need to learn to respect nature, all the while a hydra is devouring the next town over and shitting them out looking like good fertilizer. If you think nature is so great, then why don’t you just fucking stay there and keep it to yourselves, instead of coming over here and stealing jobs you don’t even want from hard-working…-
Okay, deep breaths… Sorry. I just really hate elves.
Anyway, the pointy-eared hippie quizzed me for a few minutes about our ride on the City of Cleveland, and I kept my fucking mouth shut. I knew how this went. I knew how to play this game. I’d been playing it since I was fourteen, and I like to think I played it well. The secret is, you gotta remember just one thing. They can’t force you to say shit. And if you don’t say shit, then all they got is shit.
“Mr. Anastasio, my name is Phiynore Ashlute.”
“Charming. You do know why you’re here tonight, right?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. You must’ve misheard me. I’ll repeat myself.” I cleared my throat. “Kiss the hairiest part of my shaft. You fucking treehugger.”
“… Perhaps we should just move on to the questions then. So were you or were you not aboard the City of Cleveland the morning of November the 2nd?”
I stayed quiet. He sighed.
“Mr. Anastasio, we have documented evidence proving you were aboard that train. It’s written on the passenger manifest. Just answer the questions. Honestly, if you would. And I’ll know if you’re lying to me.”
I wouldn’t bet on that, pal.
“Yes,” I spat.
“Good. And were you or were you not traveling with Marquis Allesandri et al?”
“Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t,” I said. “There were a lotta people on that train. How am I supposed to know who’s sitting next to who?”
“Perhaps I should clarify.”
“Perhaps you should.”
His eyebrow twitched just momentarily when I said that. I smiled.
“Are you or are you not an acquaintance of Marquis Allesandri?”
“He’s my financier,” I responded as flatly as possible. “He provided me with free train tickets as a professional gift.”
The elf sighed, apparently not catching on to the bluff. “Good, good, now we’re getting somewhere. Now, were you at any point invited into Marquis Allesandri’s private car?”
I shrugged. “Don’t see why it matters if I was or if I wasn’t. From what I hear, the mayor’s daughter was invited to his private car. You gonna bring Felicity Overscore in here and give her the third degree too?”
My interrogator fell silent. I decided saying “that’s what I thought” might be pushing my luck at this juncture.
The man across the table sighed. He took off his glasses and gently massaged his temples between his thumb and forefinger, hiding his face.
“Call me Al.”
“… Al. I’ll be straight with you.”
“Well that’d be a first for an elf.”
“We have reason to believe one of Marquis Allesandri’s guests on that train may be responsible for the incident you bore witness to in Arizona. I personally do not think you are capable of committing such an act. Not because I doubt someone like you would do it, but because it’d be categorically impossible for you to do it. Nevertheless, I must clarify and state for the record everything you are able to tell me. For the next few hours, or until you deign to give me any halfway decent answers, that is the cross I must bear. Now, are you going to make this easy on yourself, and more importantly your sister, or are you going to keep prolonging this so we both won’t be able to go home tonight?”
My lips pursed. Annie…
They escorted me out of the room in handcuffs. They didn’t have dick on me as far as the Arizona incident (as it was quickly becoming known) was concerned, but by the time we left they did have a reasonable case to make for aggravated assault after I broke that treehugger’s fucking nose. I heard them talking about slapping on an additional “hate crime” charge, but none of them were sure it would stick since the attacker (that is to say me) was also legally classified demihuman, albeit barely.
I scoffed. I had one of the best lawyers in the state in my familia. I had connections. These fuckfaced, limp-dick G-men tried sticking me with anything, they’d start getting some friendly visits from the nice men with guns. Not many people are still so eager to testify after looking down the smokey end of a chopper.
They returned me to the waiting room instead of a cell, but left the cuffs on, walking out and washing their hands clean of me. A few minutes later, Marq emerged.
“You finished with your questioning?” I asked.
“No, I was done with that in under five minutes,” Marq said. “They know better than to start asking stupid questions around me. I’ve been spending the last half hour defending your ass.”
“He threatened Annie,” I growled.
“Barely,” Marq said, sitting down and opening his cigarette case. “I keep telling you Al, I don’t have time for shit like this right now. I don’t care if you don’t like elves. What I care about is getting Nayeli back safe and sound. That’s all that matters right now. And you? You’re not helping.”
He lit up, taking a deep whiff of nicotine before slowly exhaling, his smoke as much a sigh as the genuine article. He looked raggedy, worn down. Like hell froze over, or at least lukewarm. Bags were beginning to form under his eyes. Come to think of it, this was the first time I’d seen him in the last couple days.
He took another drag on the cigarette, inhaling so much that he, a veteran smoker, actually started coughing. He frowned at the smoking butt, then tossed it in irritation. We both stayed quiet for the next five minutes. When the silence finally was broken, I was almost afraid of what I’d hear coming out of his mouth. More bad news, certainly.
“So, Al, who was that stiff that brought you in?” Marq asked.
“He’s…” I hesitated, looking around. “A friend.”
“Really? Well he sure doesn’t look like a friend. He one of yours?”
“Well, he’s… not exactly one of ours. The Allesandris, I mean.”
“What’s his name?” Marq asked. “I’ve been hearing rumors about some uptight new guy downtown. Supposedly has it out for the five families.”
“Special Detective?” Marq asked.
“Jesus fucking christ…” Marq sighed, pinching his nose. “Yeah that’s him. Why the fuck didn’t you tell me? What did you tell him?“
“You sure? Because you know what happens when you rat out the family.”
“I know, Marq. I didn’t say anything, to anybody.”
“Look me in the eyes and tell me that.”
I glared at him, staring right into the pits of his pupils.
“I didn’t say nothing to nobody. You know me better than that.”
Marq sighed, the breath leaving him like some great weight was being slowly lowered onto him, rather than off. His usual commanding slouch just looked tired, vulnerable. The kind of posture men like him abhorred. A sign of weakness.
“Do you still think we can win?” I ask uncertainly.
“I dunno,” Marq said, and just that simple affirmation of uncertainty was terrifying enough.
“But you’re going to try, right?”
“Of course I’m going to try, Al!” Marquis snapped. Conscious of his outburst, he slumped back into his passive position. “I don’t know what I’m going to do if they find her, but I know there’s gotta be a way. If we can’t convince them, we’ll bribe them. If we can’t bribe them, we’ll replace them. If we can’t do either of those things, we’ll run away. They can’t stop us. I don’t know how this is gonna end, but I know that if I ever see Nayeli again, I’m not letting her go. I don’t care what it takes. I saved her from the gods themselves once. If I have to, I’ll do it again. These guys are nothing.”
It was his way of amping himself up. No doubt about it, this would be the most difficult trial of his life, and the one with the highest stakes. He knew that as well as I did. Better, in fact. But he still wasn’t giving up, wasn’t bending or breaking. I admired that about him. It takes a special kind of man to set himself a task and then do whatever he has to, whatever he can do, to finish it.
And he needed to get to it, fast. Nayeli was on her way back home.