Alfonso Anastasio

Street Lawyer 5.11

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What we found in that cell resembled the fiery bearcat of a woman I’d come to know and begrudgingly tolerate about as much as roadkill resembled an opossum. “Worked over” would’ve been a gross understatement. She looked like nothing less than the underworld warmed over, which raised a couple of very disturbing questions. Were the Untouchables really so well-equipped that they could do this to a high-class demigod like Nayeli? And worse, what in the hell would Marq do to them if he ever got the chance?

“Heheh…” Marq giggled softly to my astonishment. His fingers were splayed across the invisible barrier between them like a gecko, trying desperately to find any sort of purchase or point of entry.

“Boss?” she croaked. I wasn’t sure if she was asking if he was okay, or if she was so beat up she only just realized we were there.

“Nayeli,” he said, smiling and swallowing softly. “I want to know who did this to you. Do you have any names? Can you tell me what they looked like?”

Soft tears trickled down his cheeks. Right then, I was considering taking a step back. I’ve seen Marq mad. I’ve seen him furious. I’ve seen him scream and cuss so loud you’d think he was trying to wake up a dead dog. This wasn’t like that. I’d never, ever seen this. This was anger transmuted.

It was then I realized he’d already reached his boiling point the moment we’d stepped foot on this island. Everything since then had just been steam building up inside him, pressure rising with every new injustice he imagined. Seeing it now, that anger had crossed a new threshold, building up so violently inside him that what was hot just became cold. He’d gone so far in one direction he’d ended up right back where he started, or someplace like it. Except now he was like a spring-loaded knife, or a coiled viper. One wrong move and he’d just snap, and when he did, someone was gonna bleed. I was determined to not be that guy.

“Boss…” Nayeli croaked. “I didn’t… it wasn’t-”

“Nayeli, it’s okay,” Marq said, putting away all his questions for now. “I’m just glad you’re back home. You’re safe.

Nayeli collapsed on the other side of the glass-like barrier, sobbing like a child. The prodigal daughter returned to us and Marq hadn’t even bothered to mention how much she’d made him worry or how her actions may have affected the family. She was forgiven in his eyes. The two of them tried to approximate a hug without actually being able to touch each other, a gesture I would’ve laughed at if I hadn’t known who these two were.

After a few moments of quiet sobbing and consolations, Marq approached the subject again.

“Nayeli, who did this to you? Was it the Untouchables?” he said. His voice was gentle but his intentions were deadly sharp, like a knife.

She nodded. “They caught me in California. I… don’t actually remember what happened. I just know it was them. I remember their voices.”

“Voices?” Marq asked. “You remember what they said? Did they read you your rights?”

She shook her head. “It’s not like that. I don’t know…” She sighed, angry with herself. “I don’t know how to fucking explain it, it’s like I remember the sound of their voices, but every time I try to remember what they said it’s all just… garbage. Crap. I can’t understand it, it’s like they’re whispering or muttering.”

I looked at Marq. “You think they used some sorta magic to, y’know… erase her memory?”

I had no clue how you’d go about doing that, but I was pretty sure it was possible. It could be done without magic, if you were willing to risk serious brain damage. Stands to reason you could do it with magic too, and probably a lot more precisely.

Thankfully Marq seemed to agree with me, which spared me the embarrassment of admitting I hadn’t been keeping up with all my studying like he’d wanted.

“Seems likely,” he said. “I know a couple ways you could do it. In theory, anyway. But they’re all pretty complicated. It takes a pretty intricate ritual to dig your fingers into someone’s grey matter, and you’d need an expert to perform it step-by-step if you wanted to remove any specific memories instead of just blasting an entire day or month from your brain. It wouldn’t be an easy process is my point. I mean if it was, we’d be doing it already.”

“Those fuckers…” Nayeli whispered. “They were inside my head… those fuckers…!

She’d curled up into a ball without me noticing. The notion of someone toying with her memories clearly didn’t sit well with her.

Like it’d sit well for anyone… I thought.

She looked up, suddenly seeming like she’d thought of something very important. “Boss, we were really… we’re still… right? They didn’t make that up, right?

Her tone of voice was urgent, and she looked about ready to cry again. The thought of being apart from Marq, or worse, the thought of all the time they’d spent together being nothing but fake memories, had clearly settled in. Paranoia was probably the rational response here, after all. We had no idea what they’d done to her. She already seemed like a reflection of her former self.

Marq smiled gently. “No Nayeli, those aren’t fake. They’re real. They happened. Don’t let this make you think otherwise. I still love you. I’ve always loved you. And we’re gonna find out the truth. If we can prove they tampered with your memories, it might give us an edge in the upcoming case.”

“How?” I asked.

“Memory alteration is a class B magic, Al. Even using it for therapeutic purposes is illegal. Sanctity of memory and the protection of your mental faculties is considered a basic right of life for everyone, even criminals.”

“No, I mean,” I said, being patient with him. “How are we gonna prove it? You said it yourself, memory magic is complicated. Besides, she’s inside an atelier. What are we gonna do from out here?”

He smiled reassuringly, although there was something bitter in his usual triumphant grin. “We don’t need magic, Al. Just a good ol’ fashioned party trick.”

He pulled his pocketwatch out of his jacket and swung it around like a pendulum.

“Hypnosis?” I asked.

“Post-hypnotic memory recall, actually,” Marq said. “I read about it once. Apparently the shrinks think you can use hypnosis to trigger repressed memories. I thought we’d give it a try.”

“Might work,” I said, shrugging. Marq blew me off with a chuff.

Will work,” he said. It’s got to, is what I imagined he was thinking. He turned to Nayeli. “Alright Nayeli, I need you to lie down on your back.”

Nayeli didn’t really agree to it at first, I could tell. The idea of someone, anyone digging around in her skull so soon after the last time, even if it was Marq, upset her. To her, her mind probably already felt fragile enough. It’s not that she didn’t trust his intentions, she just didn’t trust him to not cock it up.

But eventually she did exactly as she was told, following his lead more out of faith than anything else, and I began to wonder. Maybe she wasn’t afraid of Marq making a mistake. Maybe she was afraid of what she might remember. After all, it could just be simple paranoia on the part of the Untouchables, a desire to leave out any potential loose ends, or perhaps even a mercy to make her forget the pain of the beating, but you generally didn’t bother to erase someone’s memories without having a good reason. And usually, that reason was you did something that you didn’t want anyone else to remember. Something that had to be pretty fucking awful.

A number of delightful scenarios entered my head, and I knew they’d seem just as unpleasant to Nayeli if she was imagining them just then. The best we could hope for was just a history of her bruises. The worst could help us build a case, but… well, I hope Marq understood that it wouldn’t be worth it. Still, he seemed determined to find out the truth.

I put a hand on his shoulder.

“I think I’m having second thoughts about this, Marq.”

“Oh yeah?” he asked. “Why’s that?”

“I mean…” I struggled to find the words. “You know this is just gonna hurt her, right? What if she doesn’t want to relive those memories? What if they’re bad?

I stressed that last part, thinking it was important he understood “bad” meant more than just physical pain or injury.

He looked at me sternly. “Al, we have to know the truth. We have to know who did this to her.”

“Why?” I asked. “So you can get revenge? Doesn’t that seem… selfish?”

“And what’s that supposed to mean, Al?”

Marq’s gaze was so cold it made me flinch. He made it clear I was pushing my luck. But for now, I still had the right to speak.

I chose my words carefully. “I mean… are you really sure you wanna put her through this, whatever happened to her, again? I’m not saying anything did happen to her, whatever that may be, but do you really wanna hurt her just for your own self-satisfaction?”

Marq grit his teeth, raising his voice. “She has to know, Al! Do you think there’s any other choice?! If anything happened,” he said, the potential implications of that word hurting him so much it showed in his voice, “then they happened. We can’t undo it just by ignoring it. If anything that means they’ll just get away with it and we’ll have nothing to use against them in court! She deserves to know.”

“You mean you do,” I said, then immediately regretted saying anything. Marq looked at me, utterly desperate and more unstable than I’ve ever seen him, and I quickly began to backtrack. “Look, all I’m saying is that this should be her decision. If you-”

“If I really love her, yeah… I know,” Marq said, taking a deep breath. This was difficult for him. Difficult for me too, but I suspect for vastly different reasons. He looked at Nayeli.

“Nayeli… doll… do you want me to do this?” he asked. “If you really don’t want me to…”

She shook her head. “No, you were right. I wanna know what those bastards did to me. Just promise me that… if it’s that… it won’t change how we-”

Her voice croaked as she tried to swallow that bitter pill.

“No. God no,” Marq said, forehead pressed up against the glass. “But it won’t be that. I know it won’t. And no matter what it is, whether they beat you with sticks or just tickled you until you passed out, I’m going to make sure they regret it. You hear me Nayeli? They’re gonna fucking pay, no matter who they are or what they did.”

Nayeli nodded without saying anything, and laid back down.

I didn’t know exactly what they meant when they so artfully dodged around the subject by using the word “it”, but I could guess. But why would they think the Untouchables would do that to anyone? Mickey Donahue was one thing, but not them. Corrupt cops they may be, but I don’t think they’d ever go that far. Unless Marq had a reason to suspect they would, but that equally didn’t make any sense. Still, like I said, there weren’t many reasons to use memory alteration magic that weren’t… unpleasant.

The pocketwatch pivoted back and forth, its clock-like motion captivating as it wove arcs through the air. Marq gave her the usual set of instructions used in stage hypnosis, then waited until she’d fallen asleep, deep into a trance.

“Now Nayeli, I want you to describe for me what happened when you were… attacked,” Marq said, hesitating. “Tell me everything you remember. Did you see your attacker’s faces? What did they look like? Did you hear any names? Tell me what they did to you.”

I could hear him grinding his teeth as he said that. Then, as soon as he stopped, Nayeli began to speak.

Her story was a lot like what we’d been expecting, with a few extra twists. The invisible city-sized blimp kinda threw me for a loop. But so far there was nothing that suggested they’d done anything worthy of memory alteration. Had they only been trying to protect state secrets like that ziggurat?

“Alright,” Marq said. “Can you remember anything else after you blacked out?”

“Yeah…” she said drowsily. The words tumbled out of her mouth the same way a sleepwalker talks. “They’re taking me up… into the floating city. They’re taking me… to meet someone.”

“Who?” Marq asked patiently.

“I can’t tell,” Nayeli mumbled. “It… looks like a man. I can only see his back but he’s turning around. He-”

And then she just stopped, mouth still open, lips quivering. Concerned, Marq leaned in closer.

“Nayeli?”

“I can see.. His eyes…” Nayeli said, a steady drip of panic flooding her calm voice. “His eyes… Marq, I can’t… I can’t see his eyes! They’re black! His eyes are black!”

Marq jumped on that. “Black eyes? Is he a demon?”

“No,” she said. “Not black like that. Black like… like space. Like an endless pit but with no stars. There’s nothing. There’s just nothing! No light, no pupils, no eyelids! All I see is black! He doesn’t have a soul!”

Nayeli started writhing on the dirt floor of her cell, her own eyes closed, twitching. Marq rushed over and pressed his hands against the barrier.

“Nayeli? Nayeli listen to me! You’re okay! What’s he doing? What’s going on?”

“He’s coming towards me!” she said. “He’s just… walking through the gravity, like it means nothing! Make him go away, Marq! Make him go away!”

Her convulsions started pressing against the barrier, shaking the space in her cell with the unrestrained strength of a fearful demigoddess.

“It’s okay Nayeli, he’s not really there!” Marq shouted. “Tell me what you see!

“He’s reaching out!” she yelled back from across the veil. “He’s trying to touch me! His fingers… they’re so cold! I can feel them on my face like a blizzard! No… no! Stay back! Get away from me! Get away!

Then, like a snapping piece of wood, Nayeli’s back arched sharply, her mouth stretched wide open into a scream like nothing I’ve ever heard. The noise must have been tuned for us by the barrier, because inside the volume of her agony was reducing what little adorned her cell into powderized atoms, smoothing the walls into an inoffensive dark slab of polished rock. But I could hear her. I could hear her all the same, and the sounds she made weren’t human. They sounded like an animal being tortured, like a monkey in the cold hands of a probing scientist being pricked and stabbed with needles. Whatever it was, it wasn’t touching her body. Something was touching her mind.

And then she stopped, collapsing to the floor. We both stared, shocked into silence. Marq was the first to react.

“Nayeli…” he said, clamoring against the barrier. “Nayeli wake up! It’s over! None of it was real! Someone get this cell open!

I stared at her. “What the fuck was that?

Marq, however, didn’t share my confusion. He was too busy seeing to Nayeli. Her eyes flickered open.

“Oh thank god,” he said, breathing a sigh of relief. “Nayeli are you okay? What happened back there? Do you need to talk about it? What am I saying, of course you do…”

He fumbled for something to comfort her with before remembering nothing but light and sound could pass through the barrier. Nayeli just looked at him, confused.

“What are you talking about, boss?” she asked. “Talk about what?”

He stopped. I chimed in.

“Uhhh… your memories? The little episode you just had where you tried to burst God’s eardrum?”

She scowled. “Stop giving me shit, you little shit. What are you talking about?”

I tried to ignore how irritating it was that she was calling me that too now. “You mean you literally don’t remember? Not a thing you said, not even destroying your cell?

“What do you mean-” She stopped and looked behind her, shocked once she saw her new interior decorations. “I did that?

I huddled over to Marq, and whispered in his ear.

“Marq, what the fuck is going on? She doesn’t remember anything!”

But he didn’t say anything. Didn’t even look my way. Just kept staring straight ahead, like he’d remembered something himself. Something important.

“Marq?” I asked. “Pal? You look like you got something to say.”

I waited for him to start talking. When he didn’t, that’s when I knew shit was going to get really fucked up really fast.

“… Please say yes. Please? Just for me?” I tried to negotiate. “Because that freaked me the fuck out just now, and if you don’t start explaining shit I think I’m just gonna start sweating.”

Marq not taking the role of the little exposition gnome to dump the magic knowledge on me at times like this was something that was really, really unsettling. It meant he either didn’t know, or didn’t want to. Either option scared me.

“Al,” he said softly, wetting his dry lips. “I don’t know about you, but… I’ve seen a face like that before.”

“What, like old Black Eyes?”

“No, Al. Not a demon,” he said. “A fae.”

“Oh,” I said softly. “Shit.”

It was quickly becoming clear Nayeli’s captors hadn’t erased her memories to cover up them doing unspeakable things to her or anything else like that. The violence clearly wasn’t the part they’d cared about. I imagined they’d admit to torturing her without shame if they’d actually done it. No, Nayeli had been silenced because she’d seen too fucking much.

“Marq,” I said, trying to take a deep breath. “Please tell me you know what the fuck’s going on, because I don’t.

“Me?” he replied back. “Not a clue.”

Nayeli looked at us funny. “Boss? What’s going on?”

Marq tried explaining it to her. Me, I just left. Couldn’t stand the darkness. Not after what I’d just seen.

I leaned back against one of the tunnel walls, breathing hard like I’d just run a marathon.

“Holy shit…

What the fuck had we just gotten ourselves into?

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Street Lawyer 5.10

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We saw it from the NYPD headquarters as just a bright flash of light. Blindingly bright, like a miniature sun had been brought into being above Riker’s Island. All it did was hover for a second or two, although you wouldn’t have been able to tell where exactly it was in the sky just because of the glare. Then it descended, touched down, and disappeared. I’m telling you, there was nothing. Almost as if the light that had, for just a moment, consumed the entire city had just been spontaneously generated by some unknown force, and then just as quickly shut off. Like flicking a goddamn light switch, except with the sun.

We didn’t know what it was but we knew it had something to do with Nayeli. What else could it have been? Weird supernatural shit happens all the time here in the Big Apple, but not like this. Magic on this scale either meant we were all gonna die, or that the government was somehow involved. Sometimes, both. Given that we were all still breathing after five minutes, fears of smiting and of giant monsters quickly gave way to the realization that the Untouchables had just paid us a visit. And, no doubt, they’d brought Nayeli with them.

Riker’s Island. Formerly owned by a particularly ballsy Dutch settler who had the sheer fucking audacity to name an island after himself, the land remained in the possession of his family for nearly two and a half centuries before they were forced to sell it to the state of New York for a pittance sum of $180000 in 1884. And just like that, two hundred years of history and an entire island changed hands, becoming a Civil War training ground in 1861, a workhouse in 1884 upon the eve of its purchase, and finally a prison for demihumans and magic users in 1925. That last one’s what people still know it as. They call it the Cairn.

That’s not it’s real name of course. Matter of fact the island’s home to a dozen different correctional facilities, some of them housing demihumans and some not, but seeing as how every one of those facilities is buried deep underneath what may as well be a gigantic burial mound, the name is fitting. They built it like that to keep some of the rowdier inmates from destroying the prison, of course. Having a few millions tons of dirt hanging over your head ready to bury you alive at the slightest sign of trouble is a great motivator to not cause trouble in the first place.

Marq insisted we leave right away, even before Annie had finished or before Cavvy knew we had left. Bastard practically dragged me along by the collar the whole way there. When we got there though, I saw Marq’s fears, and my assumptions, had not been at all incorrect. The media was amassing around the Cairn like flies, fittingly enough, buzzing and swarming around the stone tower atop the mound that was the only way in and out of the prison. Lights atop the stone structure speared through the cloudy evening twilight like thunderbolts, momentarily illuminating a crowd that seemed like it could fill Grand Central Station shoulder to shoulder and then some. I shuddered in the crisp dark sea breeze.

“Outta my way, coming through!” Marq said as he abruptly started pushing and shoving his way through the crowd. “Official legal representative here! Make way, make way! I said ‘make way’, asshole!”

For a moment I panicked. If I lost him in this crowd, I might get fucking trampled.

“Sonuva-… Marq, wait for me!” I yelled pathetically as I clumsily tried to wade through the rapidly shrinking wake he left behind him. Unfamiliar shoulders bumped into me every step of the way, and I raised my arms to protect my head from the swinging of wayward fists and cameras, hands grasping for hair to grab on to, raking past me for blood and ink.

At last we made it to the front of the crowd, Marq looking pristinely untroubled compared to the beaten up mess I’d become after emerging from that island-sized mosh pit. Looking annoyed, he rapped the glass window of the empty booth where a guard should have been minding the door. Poor bastard must have come to the reasonable conclusion that now was as good a time as any to clock out and be on the next boat home.

“Hey,” Marq began.

“Go away!” a voice said from inside. “Visiting hours are over! We’re not taking any more questions!”

“Cool it pally, we’re not with the vultures,” Marq said. A timid-looking guard who’d sequestered himself in hiding from the mob slowly un-sequestered himself from his hiding spot, crawling out of the fetal position he’d assumed under the counter. He looked at Marq, trying and failing to project an image of calm.

“P-Please state your business then.”

“I’m here to see someone new you’ve got locked up. Name should be ‘Nayeli Knossos’-”

“Weekend visiting hours are from seven am to two pm,” the guard insisted robotically, reading off a mental checklist. “All visits must finish by four pm. If you want to come back tomorrow or on Wednesday or Thursday, visiting hours will be-”

“I’m not her family, I’m her fucking lawyer.”

That shut him up, or at least interrupted his meticulously rehearsed list of responses. He stared at us with the same look as a deer in the headlights as Marq waited for him to say something, anything that’d move things along. I got the feeling this guy didn’t do too well in high-stress situations. What a job to pick.

Marq continued to stare at him. He stared back.

“… Well?”

The guard snapped out of it and started fumbling with the phone in the back of the booth, the one that (presumably) connected him to his boss. After a brief exchange he hung up, and gave us two tickets printed from some sort of hand-cranked machine. Moments later, the colossal doors behind him creaked open, flood lights framing the unforgiving darkness that lay behind the gates.

“Well that’s not fucking ominous…” I muttered under my breath. But my quiet complaints were drowned out by the sounds of hundreds of reporters scrambling and squeezing past us to get at the door, like they thought it contained some kinda free candy and ice cream buffet instead of the literal army of murderers, rapists and thieves it actually held. A goddamn stampede is what it was. I guess reporters really are animals.

Thankfully at least for us, the prison had a handy dandy little system for dealing with such situations. They prefer not to use it unless they have to (or so I’m told), but once you see it, you can’t deny its effectiveness. The exact moment the first reporter made it past the gates, he fell over and immediately began puking, wrought with the kind of sickness that makes you believe in the existence of an angry God (that’s with a capital G, because we already know we have plenty of the angry lowercase ones). From what I’m told, the effect is caused by a curse barrier that inflicts acute delirium and disorientation, the kind that gives you ringing in your ears and makes it impossible to stand. It’s nonlethal, but… messy. Useful for preventing escapes and unwanted entrances though.

The wave crashed into the doorway, and dozens of others met the first reporter’s same fate, all of them collapsing onto the floor in a giant vomit circlejerk. Marq and I took a step back, then I took two more. Ceiling sprinklers turned on above them, washing the upchuck down into little drains I’d just noticed were spread evenly throughout the doorway.

“Sorry about that,” the guard said apologetically. “Happens everytime. Oh, but you two are okay! Just grab those tickets I gave you and hold on to them tight when you’re passing through the doorway.”

I looked at my ticket and saw little glyphs and symbols had been printed on it, the most prominent being a large stylized eye. So they were charms then.

Marq nodded, holding on to his ticket. “Thanks.”

The guard turned and waved to us as we passed through the door, dodging the wayward jets of high velocity vomit. “Have a nice visit!”

Uh huh. We’ll do that, pally.

The descent into the prisons was a long one, broken up by a bunch of small stops. Our first few took us through the ground-floor facilities meant to hold the human prisoners. Mages, witches, wizards and warlocks of all stripes. Shamans, priests and faith healers galore. Nearly all of them were being kept in straightjackets behind enchanted and magically reinforced bars suffused with a trace amount of orichalcum. Dwarf-forged, of course. That was the bare minimum in prisons these days. Keeping the inmates from causing trouble had understandably become more complicated now that a pre-war prison cell could be escaped by gnawing off one of your fingernails and drawing a sigil in blood.

Of course prisons aren’t made of money and with the astronomical crime rates these days, they’re gonna cut corners wherever possible. In a perfect world, every cell would be its own atelier, perfectly inescapable from the inside while simultaneously providing the ne’er dowells with something to tinker with. But because ateliers are expensive and time-consuming to make, that kind of high-security imprisonment is usually reserved for the worst of the worst. It was my guess that we’d start seeing more of those the deeper we went, and probably where we’d find Nayeli.

But aside from the security measures that would’ve seemed downright draconian twenty years ago (had they even been able to conceive of some of these things back then), everything seemed normal and pretty above board on the “ground” levels. For the big house, I mean. Things were being kept clean and well lit, relatively speaking. The prisoners didn’t show any obvious signs of being mistreated, and some of the model inmates were even outside of their cells playing cards and reading the news in a small communal area. Good behavior in here earns you extra time each day that you can spend outside your cell without wearing a straightjacket, or so I’ve been told. I’ve never quite been on this level of lock-up before, due to Marq’s good graces.

For a while there I was starting to think that some of the horror stories I’d heard about the Cairn were baloney. Things didn’t seem too bad here. Kinda like a regular jail, just without windows. Then we started descending again, and I realized this was just Level 1. Minimum security. The human part of the prison. Things changed when we started moving down into the parts of the prison where they kept the demihuman prisoners.

As we moved on from the minor assaults and petty thefts down into the belly of the Cairn, the well-lit facade of the ground levels started to bleed away like the edges of a painting. The modern facility lit by halogen lamps and presided over by relaxed guards and genial prisoners disappeared, slowly at first, until we were plunged into a full on medieval oubliette. The kind designed to hold monsters. This is where they kept the demihumans. And this was where our journey started getting difficult.

You see, turns out they’d endeavored to make the whole underground complex as maze-like as possible to further stall and prevent escapes. To add to that, the only light in the whole place came from dimly lit bulbs of foxfire that gave the whole place the air of crawling through some vast, ensnaring cave or root system, one which only got darker the deeper you went. The giant tunnels even stretched out like gnarled roots, branching out into dead ends and smaller capillaries whose entrances were hidden by the shadows. I swore I heard some of them growling. Images of dragons or minotaurs shackled to the tunnel walls, waiting to be fed by the next hapless wanderer, were all I could think about, and I stuck close to Marq. I remember almost jumping when I felt a moist droplet of condensation drip onto my shoulder. All around us, I thought I could hear crying and the faint screams of tortured inmates reverberating through the walls into the endless darkness. The Cairn was starting to look more and more like it had earned its name.

If it weren’t for the tickets we held, which provided a crude map and a source of light beyond the mushrooms growing on the walls, we would have been all but blind. That didn’t mean, however, that it was easy for us. Reaching the checkpoints that marked the entrances to the various facilities and the individual cell blocks required a lot of backtracking out of dead ends and diverging tunnels, and even the guards who manned the checkpoints were suspicious and unhelpful until we presented our tickets. The whole miserable experience made me feel more like a spelunker than a gangster, and the morale of the expedition was not at all being helped by Marq’s mood.

“Keeping in a place like this… like she’s some sort of animal… I swear to fucking god if they’ve harmed a hair on her head…” he mumbled, fists clenched.

“Uhhhh, I think they’d kinda have to, Marq. You really think Nayeli’s the type to just let herself be taken in quietly? Besides, at least it’s not as bad as Alcatraz.”

“God… don’t even joke about that, Al. Sending people to Tartarus wouldn’t be as bad as Alcatraz. At least people have escaped from Tartarus. Not that I think the Titans really count as people…”

We finally reached it. Cell block 19. I had no idea if it was the last cell block or not, but by this point, we were deep. Had to be at least a couple hundred feet underground, not counting the fifty or sixty feet of the prison that was still above ground. The guard checked our tickets, nodded to us, then led us to one of those wire birdcage elevators. A satchel of TNT was wired to the roof, with the detonation cord extending all the way back to the guard’s station.

Pulling the door open, the guard beckoned for us to enter. He slowly closed the door again, like someone closing the lid on a coffin. I was willing to bet my bottom clam most of the people who rode this elevator down probably never got to ride it back up. The look on the guard’s face seemed to agree.

He pulled a lever, and then we were gone. Vanishing down the vertical shaft into cell block 19. The smooth walls roared past us like the slimy gullet of some giant creature, expanding and contracting in the dim light of the elevator. Nervously, I checked the TNT satchel above our heads.

Then finally we made it. The doors opened, and I realized with a sickening sensation of clarity that it was so, so much worse than I’d imagined.

The cave-like aesthetic of the underground prison continued out from the tunnels and into the cell block, except now it lacked even foxfire to illuminate it. The tickets were the only source of light in the entire cavernous block, and it immediately garnered us the lion’s share of attention. Hundreds of reflective, predatory eyes lit up in the darkness. Screams, both angry, pleading, desperate, and blinded by the sudden appearance of light, nearly caused us to go deaf. Bars rattled, and the whole prison felt alive with hate. Now I knew where those noises I’d been hearing came from.

“Come on,” Marq said, putting a hand on my shoulder. “It says it’s this way.”

We began walking, surveying each cell as we passed it. I looked around, and almost jumped out of my skin the first time one of the inmates tried to gank me. He didn’t get far of course. Some of the cells were completely open to the air, and this I realized was where they kept the high profile cons. In the ateliers. The guy who tried pouncing at me bounced off an invisible barrier as soon as he got too close to the door of his cell, and he scurried back into the darkness of his room, hiding beneath his bed. But I saw enough of him. He was wiry, pale, and malnourished, skin stretched over a loose, elongated set of brittle bones. It looked like he hadn’t had a decent meal in years, and he’d long ago gone blind. His prison uniform resembled nothing much more than rags, perhaps a tribal loincloth, and his behavior indicated the presence of an animal rather than a man. In the corner of the cell, far from what could possibly described as a bed, the man had made a neat pile of his own turds. Flies buzzed around it. I wanted to barf.

As we continued down the line, we started to see this was the norm for this place rather than the exception. People, far be they from innocent people but people nonetheless, had long ago lost their minds down here, eating rats to satiate their hunger and mutilating themselves just to provide themselves with some sort of sensory input to remind themselves they had a body in this vast, unforgiving darkness. Regenerators, at least the clever ones, had long ago realized that their own dismembered body parts could be used as an emergency stash of food, or better yet, bait to attract the rats and other things they could eat, and had piled them up against the walls. Some people had just flat out died in their cells, and nobody had come to clean them out yet.

It was all true. Everything I’d heard about the Cairn was true.

“This is fucking inhumane…” I whispered. Then, we found her.

“Nayeli!”

Previous || Next

Street Lawyer 5.9

Previous || Next

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.

“Al…”

“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.”

“Bite me.”

“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.

“Mr. Anastasio…”

“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.”

“Dante Salvo.”

“Special Detective?” Marq asked.


“Yup.”

“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?

“Nothing-“

“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.

Previous || Next

Street Lawyer 5.8

Previous || Next

“Come on, Al, sit down!” Annie invited me. “I just finished making some of your special tea.”

As much as I would’ve liked to, I was frozen. Dammit. Why did it have to be him? Why did it have to be now? Why was he here?!

“Anyway, I can’t believe you’re a detective now, Dante,” Annie said with genuine admiration in her voice. “I mean, how long has it been? Everything’s so different it… feels like I’m meeting you for the first time.”

She laughed, trying to get him to ignore the awkward pause. So she did still have a crush on him…

Cavvy laughed. “It’s been fourteen years. And you’re the one telling me. Last time I saw you, you were barely up to your daddy’s shin. You were riding around on your brother’s back all the time, that’s how small you were. I’m the one who can’t believe you grew up to be such a doll, Annie.”

“Oh!” My sister blushed. “Umm… thank you!”

She giggled. Ignoring the fact that Cavvy was hitting on my little sister (she could certainly do worse), this was still bad. Very, very bad. How much could he see? How much had he already seen? There was Theo, my knife and gun, the crutches, my cocaine pills, the potted nepenthe plants I’d been-

Oh fuck.

Cavvy smiled at me fondly. Was that really Cavvy being Cavvy, or was that him saying “I’ve got you now, you son of a bitch”?

“I didn’t realize you and Annie were living in a tenement, Al,” Cavvy said. “Tough times. Depression must’ve hit you hard, huh?”

“Y-yeah,” I responded. He was right, though for completely different reasons. I looked around at the modest trappings of our everyday modern life. Like I did every day, I found it… let’s just say somewhat lacking.

There was about as much space to the place as half of a floor of a normal house, most of it taken up by appliances and furniture either bought looking like crap or worn down into such a state by years of abuse and institutional frugality. Mold lined the corners of the walls where the apartment bordered the spriggan’s (though thankfully, it was non-toxic and easily cleaned), and the paint was peeling at a frankly disquieting pace. The kitchen was just about the coziest part, and all there was to that was an icebox, an old black stove, an ironing board, and a matching cabinet and table squeezed away into the corner on the fringes of an ugly, frayed rug that covered the creaky wooden floor. There was my room of course, which I’ve mentioned before, but that’s about 10% bed and 90% jungle, especially after Theo moved in with her unique… needs.

All in all, the phrase “fixer-upper” didn’t quite do it justice. That implied that there may have once been something worth fixing.

“And yet,” he said as he stood up to interrogate me. “You’re wearing a brand new suit and scarf that probably costs more than the rent on this place.”

He looked me straight in the eye for a full ten seconds before poking me in my chest.

“Learn to manage your clam better, man. You’ve got a little sister to feed.”

“Yeah,” I said, laughing nervously. “I’ll work on that.”

We all sat down again.

Theo! I screamed internally, putting on best poker face. Theo where are you?!

A few tries later she picked up.

Master Alfonso? What is wrong?

Where are you right now?! I hissed mentally.

Mistress Anastasia said we were running out of fresh vegetables, so she sent me out to buy some, Theo responded, sounding worried. I am only a block away, I can be home in five seconds-!

No! Don’t do that! Anything but that!

What? Why? she asked.

“So what kind of cases do you handle?” Annie asked, sipping on some of my homemade herbal tea.

“Mostly narcotics, but they do call me in for some homicide cases now and again,” he said. “The kinds where some bozo ODs on Red Dragon or gets bumped off with a hex bag, that sort of thing. Last thing they had me working on was the Mickey Donahue case.”

“Really? Then you should’ve stopped by sooner! Al and I were actually a part of that case!”

“What?” Cavvy’s eyes widened. “Are you serious?”

“Yeah,” Annie said nonchalantly. “Though I only got caught in the gas. My idiot brother’s the one who helped out with catching him.”

You’re saying too much, Annie… I thought, biting my lips.

What did she say? What is wrong? Theo asked.

The fuzz is here! I said, turning my thoughts back to my familiar. The pigs! P-O-L-I-Z-I-A!

Nothing. I groaned out loud.

The cops, Theo!

“Al, you’re lucky Annie didn’t get hurt back then. You really need to… Hmm?” Cavvy looked at me. “Something wrong, Alfonso?”

“Oh. Uh, me? It’s nothing, my legs just hurt a bit is all,” I said. “Still need to take it easy after everything that happened. You know. With Mickey.”

“Hmm…” Cavvy grunted in understanding. “Anyway, like I was saying, you need to be more careful. Chemical weapons are no laughing matter. Your sister could’ve been seriously-”

I tuned him out.

Did you get that? I asked Theo, returning to our silent conversation.

Yes. You screamed it quite loudly, Theo snarked back. Why are the police at your house? Do you know?

Her voice took on a sudden nervous edge.

They have not found my cache, have they?

No, but they still might. Which is why I need you to come home right now.

But you just said not to-

I meant don’t be obvious about it! Look, just don’t come charging in here knives akimbo. All you need to do is sneak in my window and clear out all the evidence. He hasn’t been in there yet, and if you’re quick and if you’re quiet, he might not find anything once he starts looking. Understand?

I could feel her nodding. I understand, Master Alfonso.

Great, I said. Once you have the stuff, book it. Try to be just as quiet on your way out as you were coming in, but if you have the stuff, don’t be afraid to bolt if I give you the signal. All that matters is that he doesn’t see you, and he doesn’t find anything in my room.

And Mistress Anastasia?

She won’t talk. She’s smarter than that. I hope.

Alright. If I may ask, Master Alfonso, who is this man?

I sighed. An old friend.

I hung up. Now I just needed to keep him focused on me until I could find a way to make him leave.

“Al,” Cavvy said, presumably pissed that I wasn’t listening to his speech. “You hear me?”

“Yeah, yeah. You know you really should’ve called,” I said, changing the subject. “We coulda cleaned the place up a bit.”

“Ah, don’t be silly,” Cavvy said. “You think after all the work I’ve done some dirt’ll scare me? Trust me, my apartment looks way worse anyway.”

There’s a noisy rattling like a chain-link fence on the fire escape outside, like something heavy and suspiciously person-like just landed on it.

Theo that is not stealthy! I thought to myself. That is not stealthy at all!

My apologies, Master Alfonso. I am feeling a bit under the weather right now. My magical powers appears to be waning. Perhaps if we had performed the ritual…

Now is not the time, Theo!

Listening closely, I thought I could hear the latch on my window being jiggled open. The rusty window squeaked for an eternity, getting louder and louder each second. That’s what it sounded like anyway. I cringed.

He’s gonna hear it he’s gonna hear it he’s gonna hear it!

The squeaking stopped. Cavvy still hadn’t noticed. I took a deep breath, exhaling the fear-soaked air from my lungs. The worst part was over. Then I heard a loud thump and my heart skipped a beat.

Cavvy looked around the apartment.

“You hear that?” he asked, his eyes finding my room.

“What?” I asked. I had to misdirect him.

“That thumping noise,” he said, getting up. “I swear I heard somethin’ just now.”

“You’re hearing things, Cavvy,” I deflected nervously. “That’s just the Johnsons next door. Mr. J’s a mean drunk. Hits Barb all the time. I keep telling her to move but she doesn’t listen-”

A potted plant broke in the adjacent room. Cavvy silently reached for his gun. Shit.

“Cavvy?”

“Al, pipe down and get behind me,” Cavvy whispered. “There’s someone tryin’ to bust into your apartment. You stay here and make sure Annie stays safe.”

“Whaaat?” I said, exaggerating maybe a little too much. “You’re crazy, Cavvy. This is the third floor! Nobody could just crawl in like that!”

I laughed, my tone obviously and embarrassingly fake. Cavvy didn’t seem to think it was as funny as I did. He was dead silent. Sometime when I hadn’t been looking, he’d slipped back into his uniform (figuratively speaking). I wasn’t talking to Dante Salvo my best friend anymore. I was talking to Dante Salvo the cop.

Theo I don’t know what you’re doing but hurry it the fuck up! Throw everything out the window if you have to, Dante is coming!

More loud noises came from the room without a reply from Theo. I looked at Cavvy, who was creeping along the wall towards my bedroom door, gun drawn.

“I-It was probably just the damn cat,” I lied, even though we don’t have a cat. “Seriously Cavvy, it’s no big deal. You hear sounds like that all the time in the tenements.”

But he wasn’t listening to me anymore. Annie looked up at me with a stern glare that said “if you get caught, I’m not covering for you”. Message received loud and clear, Annie. You’re still upset.

There was another bump, then things went quiet. Cavvy gripped the doorknob, and I wrestled with the options inside my head. I couldn’t kill Cavvy, but I couldn’t break omerta either. Annie was an exception. Getting found out here wouldn’t be. I’d either have to kill Cavvy or hold my tongue and go to the hoosegow. I wasn’t prepared to do either.

I gulped. Maybe Theo or I could grab him. Tie him up, give him a puff of the peace pipe and then take him to someone in the family to have his memories erased. They’d do that for me, right?

Right. Because any plan that starts with abducting and drugging a police officer is obviously already off to a good start.

I looked around nervously. Theo are you out yet?!

No, not yet. I am almost finished clearing out our possessions. Just give me one more minute.

We don’t have one more minute! I screamed internally. Cavvy is about to open the-

The doorknob clicked, turned, and opened the door, swinging inwards to reveal Theo, dressed in an apron and holding a feather duster and a hissing, spitting cat. There was absolutely no trace of any drugs or guns to be seen, except a smashed potted plant with an innocent petunia poking out of the spilled dirt.

“Ah,” Theo said to me. “Master Alfonso. I am terribly sorry. It appears the cat has knocked over another one of your potted plants again.”

The cat yowled, scratching away at Theo’s impenetrable skin. I stared. Cavvy stared. Then we both looked at each other.

“Al…”

Theo…

“Who the hell is this?”

Where the hell did you get that cat?

The three of us sat back down quietly as Theo pretended to finish her cleaning and relieved us of our empty teacups and saucers. Annie and I were nervous. Cavvy was suspicious. None of us were talking. We just sat there and listened to the rush hour symphony of honking horns, busy sidewalks and yowling, hissing cats. I tried to think of something to say that’d break the ice, but I was coming up short.

“So. Where’d you get a maid?”

Cavvy spoke up for me. I didn’t like the way he was still eyeing Theo with that sort of sleuth’s sensibility. I could tell that, inside his head, he was still working a case.

“We let her- I mean hired her a few weeks ago,” Annie said, stammering.

“Few weeks ago…” Cavvy trailed off. “You mean around the time that Mickey business was going on?”

I tried not to look at Annie in any way, lest I give myself away too easily. Dammit though. She couldn’t lie. Not like me. I was sure I could trust her to keep a secret, but that didn’t mean I thought I could keep Cavvy from wriggling one out of her.

“A bit after that, actually,” I said, jumping in. “We hired her so someone could look after Annie while I wasn’t home. Isn’t that right, Theo?”

Her ears perked up. “Yes, that’s correct. I cook, clean and tend to Mistress Anastasia while Master Alfonso is out of the house.”

“Mistress? Master?

I laughed nervously. “She uhh… she takes the job very seriously.”

“I see…” Cavvy said. I don’t think I got him to stop suspecting her of something, but I at least dodged that bullet. “Her services come cheap?”

“Why do you ask?” I said. “You planning on hiring her?”

“My apologies, but my contract is exclusively with Master Alfonso,” Theo said almost matter-of-factly. God I hoped she wasn’t gonna choose now to be her usual literal self.

“Nah, I was just thinking it must be because of the ears. That’s why you can afford her, right? Demihuman labor?”

I spit out my tea.

“W-What?” I stuttered, trying to piece together where that came from. Annie was quicker to respond.

“Dante!” she scolded. “Don’t be rude! Apologize to Theo!”

“What?” Dante said defensively. “I’m just telling the truth! A lotta lycans work lower income jobs. They’re menial labor types, that’s just a fact.”

No, they’re not!” Annie said. “Theo is really smart, and sensitive-”

“You sure you want your partner to know you said that?” I responded. “Remember, there’s more than one demihuman in this room here.”

Cavvy sighed. “Look, whatever. I wasn’t talking about you anyway, Al. Let’s just… forget it, okay?”

He nibbled on a cheap biscuit. Well, on the bright side, his secret racist opinions at least made the conversation awkward enough to steer it away from Theo.

“Say…” He said, picking up a picture of me and Annie that I took on Ellis Island. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but how are you and your folks getting along? Everything okay?”

I visibly tensed, knuckles turning white. Cavvy was too preoccupied with the picture to notice.

“I ain’t trying to pry or anything of course, it’s just I’ve been looking around and they don’t seem to be in any of your photos. Did you have some sort of falling out?” he asked before hmmming to himself.

What did I tell him? That our parents abandoned us in New York and never came looking?

“… We got separated,” I said, telling him half the truth. “After the war. They’re back home in the old country.”

He looked up at me, his face betraying his surprise. “Separated? You mean they put you on different boats?”

I remembered my father’s face. That soft, reassuring smile he gave us as he told us to get on the boat. We’ll be right behind you, is what he said.

“Something like that,” I said, fidgeting.

“Well they came looking for you, right?”

Annie looked down, crestfallen. I sighed.

“… No.”

“No? Whaddya mean ‘no’?” Dante said, some of the old country slipping back into his voice. “Are you saying you and Annie lived all by yourselves for the last fourteen years? You’re kidding me, right?”

“No, I’m not,” I say with a little more hostility than I intended. He picks up on it and I flinch.

“… Look, it’s not something we like to talk about, all right?” I said, deflecting it with a sigh. “It happened a long time ago. All that matters is that we managed to make do, okay?”

Dante scoffed. “Make do? Al this is not making do. I don’t care if you do have a maid, you’re living in a tenement hall. Your father was a surgeon, Al. He made good money. There’s no reason you should’ve had to grow up like this, and if we just try to find him and get in contact with him I’m sure he’ll do whatever he can to-”

“I don’t care if he’s still alive, I’m not asking that bastard for anything!” I nearly yelled without thinking. But then, as if to save me from having to explain myself, we all heard the static from Dante’s police radio flare up through the open window, scratchy voices shouting some indeterminable alert to all available units. Without even saying anything, Dante jumped out of his chair and started climbing the fire escape. Man was dedicated.

He rushed to the car and opened the passenger side door, scrambling to pick up the receiver.

“This is Special Detective Dante Salvo,” he shouted into the microphone. “What’s the news?”

There was a moment of brief static as the station relayed information only he could hear. Judging by the look on his face though, I could tell it wasn’t good.

When he was done, Cavvy had this wide-eyed look, and he didn’t even bother to hang up the receiver. He just dropped it and looked up at us.

“Hey… Cavvy ol’ pal?” I said hesitantly. “What’s eating you? You’re freaking me out here. You trying to give me the evil eye or something?”

“Annie, Alfonso,” Cavvy said, swallowing. “I’ve… been asked to take you in.” 

What?” Annie shouted, panicking. “Why?!”

“An official order for the arrest of the person or persons responsible for the Arizona attack has come in,” Cavvy said. He looked every bit as hurt and betrayed as I felt when I heard what he had to say next. “You two have both been listed as persons of interest. You’re going to have to come with me.”

Oh no…” Annie whispered. I was a bit less subtle.

“Shit.”

Previous || Next

Street Lawyer 5.7

Previous || Next

Nearly two weeks had passed since Nayeli left, and Marq was getting desperate. He’d had our guys comb the entire city trying to find her, and when that failed to turn up anything, he’d resorted to taking Sigurd out on joyrides and flying over the countryside, trying to pick up Nayeli’s scent. So far, no luck. In the meantime, I’d been asked to pick up the slack in taking care of our three fugitives hiding out at the docks.

I stopped in front of Mickey’s old studio warehouse on Pier 6, the one I’d nearly burnt down a couple months ago. There were still scorch marks toasting the place and nobody had bothered to replace the broken windows. All in all, it couldn’t look more abandoned if you stuck a tumbleweed in front of it.

Balancing a food tray with my one hand, I knocked on the rolling shutter door with the other. Faster than I can react, the terrible end of Yoshirō’s turgid metal deathstick speared through the door’s thin sheet metal only a few terrifying inches from my face. I think I almost pissed myself.

Who. Is. It.”

Kichirō’s voice asked me tersely from the other side. I swallowed, trying to regain my composure.

“It’s Alfonso. I’ve got your food. Y’know… soup’s on…”

“… Oh. You can let him in, Yoshi.”

The shutter doors rolled up and I walked on inside, looking around for the three of them. Were they hiding?

“You know,” I shouted into the darkness, “you really don’t need to do that every time I stop by. Can’t you just tell it’s me by sensing my ki or whatever?”

“True,” I heard Kichirō say as he stepped into view. “But Yoshi doesn’t like you.”

I felt a snort of hot air on my neck and nearly dropped the soup all over my new loafers. The big guy was right behind me, wasn’t he?

“H-Hi, Yoshi…” I squeaked, turning around slowly. “How’s it going?”

“Don’t call him that. He’s still mad about how you drugged him back on the train, Kichirō said, snacking on a tiny bag of circus peanuts. “He says you’re lucky he doesn’t turn you into sashimi.

“Duly noted…” I said, slowly backing away. “Do I at least get some soy sauce?”

Kichirō raised an eyebrow at me.

I set the tray down on a toolbench and unwrapped the bread, breaking off bits of it in their soup. The chunks float for a few seconds before sinking to the bottom. Typical New York cuisine. Soup was so watery you could stick a boot in it and call me Ishmael.

“You know, not that I don’t enjoy these daily chats of ours, but why don’t you just go and lay low with the Four Beasts again?” I asked as I literally broke bread with my enemies. “I mean I like the smell of mildew and stewed human flesh just as much as the next guy, but this isn’t exactly a five star hotel you got here. Don’t you want some better digs?”

“Asking the Four Beasts for help again would be… unwise,” Kichirō said. “They seem to have heard about how we treated their men, and now they want revenge. They’ve already sent men after us numerous times.”

“What? Why didn’t you tell us?!” I said, dropping half a loaf in one of the bowls.

“We going to, but…” Ren started.

“… they don’t seem to be particularly thrilled with the Allesandris right now either,” Kichirō said.

“Yeah, and whose fault do you think that is?” I said, sighing. “Here’s your soup.”

The bowl clanked to the floor, spilling a few precious drops of its liquid sustenance. My immediate instinct was to reach for my hanky and wipe it up, but I held myself back. I figured the floor could stand to get a little dirtier. Once you reach a certain point of no return (like say, burnt clothing and human flesh), any new mess you make kinda just gets lost in the background. No point in dirtying a perfectly good handkerchief then.

Ren hesitantly picked up her spoon and took a nibble, then immediately spat it out.

“Bleh! This taste worse than yesterday!”

“Oh really?” I replied sardonically.

“Yeah! It taste like nuppeppō pus!”

“I have literally no idea what that is,” I said. “It’s cream of mushroom soup from a can. Just eat it.”

“Canned? I thought they use fresh ingredients?” Ren said, or rather accused.

“Yeah, right,” I replied, snorting. “Fresh water, maybe.”

“Ren,” Kichirō chided. “It’s impolite to criticize the food someone’s given you out of the kindness of their hearts.”

Kichirō raised his spoon to his lips and tasted the soup, smacking his lips.

“That being said, I have to agree. This does taste an awful lot like nuppeppō pus.”

“Still don’t know what that is,” I said. “And I thought you said it was impolite to criticize.”

“I also said the food had to be given out of the kindness of their hearts,” Kichirō said with a wry smile.

“Fair enough,” I sighed, taking a seat. “If the food tastes like crap it’s because our local kitchen just lost one of its biggest supporters.”

“God-girl, right?” Ren asked, blowing on soup.

“Yup,” I said. “Without her around they’ve had to switch to canned to keep up with the demand. Her disappearing act is throwing a lot of monkey wrenches in a lot of peoples’ plans.”

“Why you think she did it?” Ren said, blowing on her soup.

“Who knows?” I said, sighing. “Wouldn’t have been my first choice. All that matters is that Marq is tearing his fucking hair out trying to find her. If she doesn’t show up before a formal arrest is issued, they’re probably gonna send the Untouchables after her, and that’s not going to end well for any of us.”

“The… Untouchables?” Kichirō asked.

“Yup.” I cracked another loaf in half and offered it to Kichirō. “They’re an anti-magic law enforcement division, beholden only to the highest authority within the US government. Sorta like secret agents crossed with cowboys by way of Merlin.”

“Uh-huh. So what make them so special?” Ren asked, chomping on bread.

“Easy shortstuff,” I say, enjoying my one chance to say that to someone else for a change. “Each of them is given a special mythical weapon that only they’re allowed to wield. Y’know, astra and holy swords and all sorts of cursed shit. Real nasty stuff like that. They’re the government’s last line of defense against monsters and magic users.”

“Sounds dangerous,” Ren commented.

“You don’t know the half of it. If they caught wind that any of us had dealings with the Cintamani stone, we’d all be locked up right now faster than you can say ‘I plead the fifth’. We should thank our lucky stars they haven’t perfected the technology for audio-based psychometry yet.”

“Hmmm… If they’re law enforcement like you say though, shouldn’t the Marquis just be able to buy them? That seems to be your family’s preferred way of doing things. Bribing people until the problem goes away.”

I grunt in annoyance. Cheeky little…

“Wouldn’t work. These guys? They’re incorruptible. The textbook fuckin’ definition of fanatics. Assassination, blowing up family-owned trucks and boats, smashing up entire warehouses then burning them to the ground. And that’s just the stuff they do to harass us. When the real monsters come knocking and the big guns come out, I’ve heard of entire towns getting written off in the name of their mission. Tabula fucking rasa, like they never existed. All to keep the peace, supposedly. Nobody knows where they find these psychos but they make the Vitalis look restrained by comparison. If you ask me, they dig ‘em up from the deepest pits of Alcatraz, give them a badge, then just turn them loose.”

“And your government let them get away with that?” Ren asks. I shrug.

“We live in crazy times, I guess. It all makes about as much sense to me as it does to you. All I know is that they’re tough, they’re mean, and they’ve got a license to kill. If they’re brought in to deal with Nayeli, we better just pray they bring her back in one piece.”

Ren snorted.

“Really? You worried about god-girl? When she can give Yamata-no-orochi a run for his money? It don’t matter what kind of weapons they bring. She tough enough. She can take it. God-girl is invincible.”

“Against an enemy like you who just uses brute force, maybe. But you weren’t there at Central Park.” I paused. “Anyway, you should always remember one thing. Demigods? They’re weak against magic.”

I soaked up the last of my soup with my half of the loaf, and stuck it in my mouth. Forcing my arms into my coat’s sleeves, I brushed myself off and got ready to go.

“You leaving already?” Kichirō asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “I got two more mouths to feed back at home.”

Light shone through the slit in the door Yoshirō had made. Working my hands under the door, I lifted with my knees, and pulled up the metal sheet like a blind. Dark sunbeams from a cloudy but-not-too-cloudy sky pierced my eyes, flushing me back into the kind of daylight you only find hanging over New York City smog. I look back over my shoulder.

“I’ll be back tomorrow. Let us know from now on when the Four Beasts start to give you any trouble. We’re… working on a fix. Things have just been… well, you know the way they are right now,” I said. “I’ll let you know once Marq has something he wants you to do. For now, just stay put.”

“What you think we’ve been doing?!”

I walk out and let the door drop behind me, drowning out the incensed oni’s protests. The way things are right now, huh? And what exactly was that? What way were they ever supposed to be to begin with?

The stairs creaked softly as I walked up to our apartment on the second floor, carrying a bag of groceries. I only mention this because normally the stairs make noise like a pissed off cat whose tail someone just stepped on. I can think of a few good reasons for why today was different. For one thing, the bag’s lighter than it should be, on account of me having to skimp now to pay Frankie. I don’t know how much extra he wants, but I’m not about to go overspending and test the man’s generosity any more than I already have.

Second, they’ve been doing renovations around here lately, something they say is finally gonna have us all caught up with the new building code they instituted a few years after war. Been a miracle they managed to get away with not doing it for this long, but then again nobody’s in a hurry to pay for the living conditions of the working class.

Dwarves – excuse me, dvergr – clung to the architecture wherever I looked, hammering away and tearing down walls, ripping out electrical wires. That part was probably gonna be easy. Not much in the way of commodities here. We were lucky we had our own bathrooms, let alone lights. A few of them muttered something in Old Norse as I walked past them, which made me frown. If you’re gonna say something about me, at least say it to my face in the King’s English.

I walked to the other end of the hall where our apartment was, and noticed there was one thing they weren’t touching. The spriggan’s old room. So far it had been spared the hammer and the hacksaw. Not a single soul had touched it. I snorted. Probably because they were still figuring out how to get inside. The spriggan had always been a private old girl, and now that she was a tree she was going to be even harder to convince to leave.

As if to prove my point, a vine crept out of the mass of roots and flower buds that had already grown out of the wall surrounding her apartment and coiled around the doorknob, its slow, deliberate movements more than making the tenant’s wishes clear. She’d move when she was damn well ready to. As for us, I wasn’t sure what we’d do when they started fixing up our place. Probably sleep downstairs in the basement until it was fixed like everybody else. I could ask Marq for a place to crash, but I don’t think Annie would like that, and she’s plenty pissed at me as it is. Besides, he… needed his space right now.

I fished for my keys, trying to keep the contents of the bag from spilling over. Turning the key in the lock, I heard that satisfying ka-chunk that let me know “I’m home!” and then I shut the door to our apartment behind me.

“Annie? Theo?” I announced to seemingly empty space. “You guys here?”

I didn’t expect to hear much back. Theo wasn’t the talkative sort most of the time, and she said she would be out doing the laundry this afternoon anyway. As for Annie, she was still mad at me, so I didn’t really know what to expect.

To my surprise, I heard her call back, “Yeah Al, we’re in the living room!”

Funny, I could’ve sworn she still wasn’t talking to me this morning. “You’ll never guess who’s here!”

“Who’s here?” I asked, immediately suspicious. Had that shitty agent stopped by again? Dr. Evans?

I looked down and noticed an extra pair of shoes by the door. Spit-shined leather oxfords, with their laces carefully tied.

“Oh no…” I said to myself. I turned the corner into the living room, walking as naturally as I could. There I saw Annie in her wheelchair, and setting next to her was…

He looked up at me. “Oh, hello Alfonso.”

I tried smiling as convincingly as I could. “Hey there, Cavvy.

Previous || Next

Street Lawyer 5.6

Previous || Next

We watched them wheel Frankie out of the house on a stretcher. Sometime in the past seven minutes, he’d lost consciousness. I’d done all I could in the meantime, but was hard to know if he’d ever wake up again.

Milo lifted Frankie into the ambulance himself, then marched on over to us.

“How does he look?” Marq asked. “Is his heart rate stabilizing-”

He barely got to finish that sentence as Milo decked him in the face, knocking him to the floor.

What did you do to him, Marquis?!”

“Whoa whoa whoa, easy,” I said, stepping in front of him with my knife out. To my relief, Theo backed me up. Milo glared at me with every ounce of hate he could squeeze out of that sour lemon smile of his.

“Out of my way, soldato trash,” he growled. “Know your place or I’ll put you in it.”

“My place is with my boss,” I said firmly. “You’re not my boss. Now take a step back.”

He smiled. No, it was more like an imitation of a smile, wrought from anger and forced through clenched teeth like toothpaste in a tube.

“You have a lot of nerve talking to capo like that. I could have you stripped of your rank if I wanted.”

“Really? Is that what you are?” I replied. “I guess we’ll have to see how long that lasts after Boss Frankie wakes up. If he wakes up. I get the feeling he won’t take too kindly to you almost killing him today.”

That wasn’t me!” Milo roared. “It was Marquis! He… he did something… to the stone!

“Like what?” Marq said, wiping blood off his lip. “I don’t know the first damn thing about how that stone works. Kichirō doesn’t either, so I have a hard time believing you do. Admit it, Milo. You went in half-cocked not knowing what you were doing, and it almost got dad killed.”

“Stop trying to pass the buck!” Milo shouted. “You did something to the stone, admit it!”

“When exactly would I have had a chance to do that?” Marq asked. “You watched us cut it out of a live unicorn and then you took it for yourself. I haven’t seen it since. You just fucked up trying to make daddy love you.”

Milo bit his lip, a thin rivulet of blood forming as his teeth squeaked across the delicate flesh, ripping it open. A drop hit the floor, then two drops. On three, Milo went for his gun.

“Shut up shut up shut up!” Milo screamed, pointing his revolver at Marq and through me. “This is your fault! I didn’t… I couldn’t…

Marq stared at him coldly.

“And you think I would? What reason would I have for killing dad? Me, the supposed ‘favorite’? Why would I go out of my way to shake this family up even more than it already has been with this stupid blood feud? Take some responsibility for yourself, Milo. Whatever happens to dad from hereon out is on you. You made a mistake. Now you have to live with it.”

He brushed the dirt off his coat, ignoring Milo completely.

“Come on Al, let’s go.”

With that, Marq turned his back on Milo even while he still had his gun out, and I guess I followed suit. Wasn’t really sure what else to do.

Milo’s gun hand shook, and he almost pulled the trigger, but Theo knocked it out of his hands before he could, the tip of her throwing knife wedged into the steel of the barrel. Then she waggled her finger at him like a disapproving nanny, a move I found surprisingly sassy for Theo. I liked it. I liked the expression on Milo’s face even more.

We all piled into Marq’s car before things could get any worse, and I turned my head to look out the window at Milo as we pulled out into the street. Even without my powers, I don’t think I would’ve forgotten that face. It looked something like a kneecapped lion or a cornered wolf. Desperate, broken, unrestrained anger with a little fear mixed in, a highly unstable mixture that almost always blew up in your face.

I looked away, trying not to let it worry me. If it really was supposed to be my job to protect my boss, I would’ve told Marq right then. I should’ve told him. We’d just made a very big mistake.

“Al,” Marq said, catching me by surprise.

A moment of quiet passed.

“… Yeah?” I asked, taking his silence as an invitation.

“Does this seem a little convenient to you?”

I thought about how I wanted to respond to that very carefully. “Convenient how?”

Marq sighed. “I mean, Milo won. He had the stone, there was nothing we could do to keep him from using it on our dad and curing his disease. Then dad nearly dies when the stone conveniently starts acting up. Doesn’t that seem a little suspicious to you?”

“What, you think Milo used the stone to try and kill Frankie on purpose?” I asked, confused.

“No, no,” Marq said, waving his hands. “Not like that. You’re approaching this all wrong. Even if it was just a freak accident or a mistake Milo made going in all half-cocked, the most likely outcome of someone mishandling the stone should’ve just been nothing happening at all, not a blood vessel popping in my dad’s brain. And besides that, I can’t see Milo ever trying to kill him to begin with. It’s like I said, what do we have to gain? For someone in Milo’s position it’d be a risky move at best, and career suicide at worse. And Milo’s too much of a daddy’s boy anyway.”

“So what are you suggesting?” I asked. “That he was framed or something?”

“It’s possible, though I don’t see why anyone would do it. Everyone knows Frankie never really liked Milo, so what point would there be in trying to knock him out of the race when he’s already not a threat? You’d have to be pretty low on the waiting list to be less popular with dad than Milo, and frankly we’re running out of brothers and sisters,” Marq said as if it were just simple mathematics. “Besides, why not just kill him if that’s what you want to do? Anyone who can sabotage the stone or Frankie’s medical equipment should already have the resources to do that.”

“Maybe they were worried it wouldn’t work?” I suggested. “It’s not a guarantee that a demon would take a deal to have him assassinated, and hitmen can make mistakes.”

“And this roundabout method is somehow more foolproof?” Marq asked me sarcastically. He sighed. “Look, right now I’m not suggesting anything. All I’m saying is this smells way too much like fish for us to ignore it.”

We parked outside Marq’s office a half an hour later. I looked at Theo as we all piled out, and she cocked her head at me questioningly.

“You should head back home, Theo,” I said. “… Make sure Annie’s doing okay.”

“And you, Master-”

I put my finger on her lips.

“Don’t. Say it. I’ll be home soon. Just gotta take care of some things here at the office.”

She closed her eyes and tipped her head forward in a bow. “Understood.”

“Don’t do that!” I hissed, whipping around to make sure no one was looking. “It’s really embarrassing! Besides, you don’t want to get caught, do you? If anyone finds out you’re a homunculus we could both go to prison!”

“I’m sorry, Master. My apologies,” she said, and bowed again.

God-!” I started, then took a deep breath. “Look, just go. I’ll see you at home.”

Theo nodded. “Please call me immediately if you think you may be in danger.”

“What do you mean? Why would I be-”

But she was already gone. I hadn’t even seen her leave. Damn she’s fast, I thought to myself.

I sighed.

“You know, you really don’t have to be so hard on her,” Marq said. “She’s just trying to do a good job.”

“A little too good if you ask me,” I said. “Makes me feel uncomfortable. I don’t want her to feel like she’s still a slave. Makes me feel shitty.”

“Maybe this her way of trying to thank you,” Marq suggested. “You saved her life, so now she figures being the best familiar she can be is the least she can do.”

“Speaking of that,” I said. “What did she mean by ‘call’ her? This telepathy thing, how do I use it? I haven’t had much practice.”

“Oh, that?” Marq said. “That’s easy. Just think about your familiar really hard, then tell them what you want them to do or whatever kind of message you’re trying to send.”

“That? That’s it?” I asked. “Sounds a bit too easy, don’t you think? I mean, a guy has to worry about his privacy now and again. What if I’m uhhh… thinking about Theo but I don’t want to call her? That seems like it could get embarrassing.”

Marq snorted. That got a chuckle out of him.

“Don’t worry. The geas we use for familiars was designed to prevent that from happening. You have to be very deliberate in what you’re doing, otherwise your message won’t go through,” he explained. “It takes a little practice though. Try to train your mind to associate calling her with a very specific set of stimuli. A strong mental image, like a phone ringing. Maybe snapping your fingers to a certain beat or clicking your heels together three times and saying ‘There’s no place like home!’ You’ve gotta make a ritual out of it. That way it doesn’t happen by accident, and you can trigger it whenever you want.”

I tried to think of something that’d make a good trigger. Mental images were out. I didn’t trust my brain enough for that. After all, your brain can be tricked. Doesn’t even take magic to do it. So it had to be something I did physically, or with my voice. Wouldn’t that be inconvenient if I wanted to make a call in secret though? It’d have to be something inconspicuous then.

I frowned, deep in concentration. Damn this was hard!

Master Alfonso?

“Huh?” I said aloud. Was that Theo’s voice? Had I accidentally called her?

What is it that you need?! Theo asked urgently. Are you in danger? I shall head there right away-

No no, Theo, I tried thinking back to her. I’m just trying to get this telepathy thing down. I didn’t mean to call you.

Oh, she said, her voice sounding much calmer. Well that is certainly a relief. Should I…

Yes, go check on Annie. I’ll see you at home.

I paused.

How… do I disconnect?

I could feel Theo’s sigh of exasperation on the other end of the line, then I felt nothing at all. The connection had been cut, presumably on Theo’s end. Well that was embarrassing.

“So what are we here for again?” I asked Marq as he opened the door, trying not to think about my ineptitude as a mage.

“Just wanted to go through our stories and all our information together,” Marq said. “Make sure everything matches up. You will be testifying, right?”

“Hmmm…. I dunno,”’I said, faking uncertainty. “I mean technically I was inebriated, so I don’t know how much of that fight I really witnessed  per se. And when you take the curvature of the Earth and the early morning light into account, I can’t really be sure what I saw…”

Marq raised his eyebrow at me.

“… Of course I’m going to testify, you idiot. Nayeli’s family, no matter what your dad says. She’s loud, annoying, obnoxious family, but she’s still family. And besides, what kind of mafioso would I be if I didn’t look out for my boss or my blood brother?” I said, ribbing him with my elbow. He smiled as he pushed open the doors and nearly bumped smack dab into the lady of the hour herself.

“Nayeli,” he said, surprised. “You’re up… and out of the house. What are you doing here?”

“Oh, ummm… just picking up the apron I left here,” she said sheepishly. “I thought I’d head down to the soup kitchen to help out one last time. You said we still had a few days before the news got out, so, y’know… I figured I’d make the most of them. Do something good.”

“Really?” Marq asked, still bewildered. “You’ve been cooped up for the last couple days. Are you sure you’re ready?”

Nayeli giggled. “Come on boss, I’ll be fine. Really, I will.”

“Ookayyyy…” Marq said, still somewhat disbelieving. “Well, do you want me to drive you there?”

“No, I’ll walk,” she said, heading for the door. “What are you so worried about?”

“Nothing, it’s just…” Marq faltered. “I love you… you know that, right?”

Nayeli smiled warmly, one of the few times I’ve seen her do that.

“Yeah. ‘Course I know that.”

“Well… see you later then, I guess.”

“Yeah. See you later, boss. Take care.”

Marq watched her go. She sounded so sad when she said that. I didn’t think about it too much though. I had problems of my own I needed to talk to Marq about.

“Marq. Hey Marq,” I said, snapping my fingers in front of his face. “We were gonna do our stories or whatever?”

“Right, right,” he said, the trance broken. “Here, let’s just head into my office quick.”

He turned the doorknob. The room was absolutely cluttered with stacks of paper, mostly legal documents. Court transcripts, letters, laws, bills, dossiers, the works.

“Johnny Numani v. the State of Florida, Adler v. the Black Cove Coven, ‘On Demihumans and How to Judge Them’, ‘A Short History of Post-War Law’, ‘Our New Reality’…” I read aloud. “Marq, what is all this shit? I’m feeling a bit behind the grind, here.”

“It’s demihuman defense law, Al,” Marq said. “I’ve been studying it, trying to find something that’ll keep Nayeli out of the hoosegow.”

Marq scowled once he saw his desk.

“Oh what the hell is this? Who moved my papers?! I had these all nice and arranged in a specific order! Now I’m gonna have to redo this whole thing…”

He sat down and started sifting through the mess, shuffling folders and packets of paper around in ways that only made sense to him, I’m sure.

“Hmmm… looks like there’s a letter here,” he said, picking up a folded envelope at the bottom of the pile. “Did I leave this here?”

He pushed a bottle of brandy to the side and cut the letter open with the knife he kept next to his pens. Now seemed like as good a time as any.

I took a deep breath. “Listen, Marq, about we talked about on the train. I was thinking I should-”

But he wasn’t listening. He was just staring, at the piece of old paper he held in his hands. Staring at it like a cyclops. Worst of all, his hands were shaking.

“… Marq?” I asked, hoping he wouldn’t say anything. That everything was still going according to plan, like they always did. “What’s wrong?”

He looked up at me, slowly, like someone was cranking a car jack attached to his neck. I’d never seen that look in his eyes before. I’d seen him mad, sad, frightened, worried, anxious, happy. Afraid. But never this. This was true fear. We stared at each other wordlessly, then he bolted for the closet.

“Marq!” I yelled after him.

Nayeli!” he shouted, dropping the piece of paper at the door as he hurried to the stairs. Not thinking twice, I grabbed the paper and followed him through the trapdoor.

“Marq, what’s going on?” I asked him, extremely worried, but he wouldn’t respond. Instead he just skidded out the door on the bottom floor, making a mad dash for the exit. He flung open the front doors wildly and yelled out into the streets at the top of his lungs.

Nayeli! πρώτa αγάπη!” He yelled in Greek. “Isn’t that what you said?! πρώτa αγάπη?”

I held the piece of paper up to see what was written on it. My eyes scanned the chicken-scratch Greek lettering, and suddenly I understood.

“υγεία χαρά…” I read aloud. That meant goodbye.

“προτιμώ εσένα!” Marq trumpeted into the streets, desperate for his pleas to be heard. “προτιμώ εσένα! προτιμώ εσένα…”

He dropped down on his knees, sobbing.

“προτιμώ εσένα…” he croaked. “Please… Nayeli…”

I walked over and put a hand on his shoulder, concerned. He looked up at me, crying.

“She’s gone, Al,” he said, choking through tears. “Nayeli’s gone.”

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Street Lawyer 5.5

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A chill ran up my spine. No, actually it was more like being spooned by Jack Frost. I swallowed a hard lump and took a step forward to cover Theo. Frankie grinned upon seeing me.

“Alfonso Anastasio, associate no more,” he said, addressing me in an almost fatherly way. “Come on over here, let me get a look at you.”

I did as he asked, getting close enough that I could stand over his bedside. He looked me over.

“God you seem different. How many years has it been?”

“Ten, sir,” I said. “At least I think.”

“Shhhshhshh,” he lisped. “I don’t care what you think. I’m just happy to see one of my son’s oldest friends finally joining the family. We never talked much, but the way you two looked out for each other, I’ve always regarded you as one of my sons. You’ve been a good brother to my boy, Alfonso. Now you’re brothers by blood. How does that make you feel?”

I looked at Milo out of the corner of my eye. His sights were set squarely on me. That wasn’t good.

“… Honored, sir.”

“Then tell me,” Frankie asked. “Why did you disrespect me?”

My heart skipped a beat when he said that. I could feel it coming as I broke out into a cold sweat and my mouth dried up like a turd in a litter box.

“I-I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t really understand-”

“You stole from me, Alfonso,” he said, his voice hard like a rock. “You took what wasn’t yours without permission. The homunculus. That’s her right there, right?”

His wandering eyes passed over Theo, and I could see her stiffen up as she tried her hardest not to show what she was feeling. She was shaking, but I felt paralyzed.

“Well? Tell me, boy,” Frankie commanded. “Is it?”

Slowly, I nodded. “Yessir. Her name is Philippa Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von-”

“Homunculi don’t have names,” he said dismissively, waving his hand.

“Well… this one does,” I said.

Frankie grunted. “And? What made you think it was okay to steal her from me, when she wasn’t yours to take? I punish thieves very harshly, Alfonso, and traitors even harsher. Why shouldn’t I just kill you, and be done with it?”

Finally Theo couldn’t take it anymore. She flashed her knives which she’d hidden in her dress, and pointed them at Frankie. Milo immediately reached for his gun.

“You may try,” Theo said through grit teeth. That just made Frankie laugh.

“I like her! She has spunk. She would’ve made an excellent little dollie for me to play with,” he said, licking his lips. He turned his attention back to me. “I think I’m beginning to see the full picture here now. Alfonso, you did not enter into a contract with her of your own volition, did you?”

“… No.” Not necessarily, anyway…

“And you didn’t do it to steal from me?”

“No,” I said. “I was… incapacitated. About to be killed. She came to my rescue. Without that contract, I don’t think I would have survived.”

“And if you could go back in time and do it again, this time under different circumstances, would you still have done it?”

Theo looked at me. Did I defend her and say what was really on my mind, or did I say what he wanted to hear so we could all still leave this place in one piece? It felt like no matter what I picked, I would be burning a bridge and betraying my family. Except one of those bridges was built over a deadly fall.

“Well?” Frankie asked, urging me to get on with it.

I gulped. I had to answer honestly. I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t. The Allesandris always came first, but the people I shared that tiny tenement with came even before that. As long as I didn’t give him the contract, he could never have Theo, even if I died. Annie would have the life insurance, and Theo to look after her. Everything would be fine if I just died here. That’s what I had to tell myself.

“… Yes,” I said. Frankie’s gaze hardened, while Theo’s looked relieved. “I would have done it exactly the same way. She deserves to be free, sir. She’s earned that.”

“And yet all I see is her calling someone else her master. Someone who isn’t me,” he intoned threateningly.

“With all due respect, sir,” I said. “She chose to be with me. That’s… as close to freedom as she’s ever going to get.”

And it was still wrong. But it was better than whatever Frankie had planned for her.

It was in thinking about that that I made my mistake. Frankie reached into his pillow case and pulled out a revolver, pressing it square against my chest. Theo gasped and drew her knives, panicking, but I held out a hand to tell her to stand down. If she attacked now she might very well kill me herself.

“I’m gonna give you one last chance, Alfonso,” Frankie said with his finger on the trigger. “One last chance to rethink what you just said, and hand her over.”

I gulped. What were my options here? Was Theo fast enough to go for the save? Would I survive a shot to the heart? Unlikely, to both of them.

Did that change what I had to say? Ditto.

“Sorry sir, but my answer’s the same,” I said. “Theo isn’t property we can just pass along, and I’m never going to let her be property ever again.

Frankie and I locked eyes. There was no give and no take between us. Either this ended when he put the gun down, or when I bled out on his lavender fucking carpet.

Frankie’s face twitch. Mine loosened for a second, betraying my surprise. He made a noise like snorting, then after a few agonizing moments of him making confusing noises, broke out into raucous laughter. He lowered the gun.

“That’s great! That’s really great! The balls on you kid; I just cannot believe it!” he said, guffawing. “When they told me you’d been mouthing off to Paulie and Georgie, I thought he was telling me tall tales, but you really do have some, don’t you?”

I laughed nervously.

“Eheh… heh… Ummm… I’m confused,” I said. “Does this mean you’re not going to shoot me?”

“Alfonso, I would’ve shot you if you had given her to me,” Frankie said. “It’s clear to me now how strongly you feel about this, and I have no place in this organization for men with weak convictions. If you couldn’t defend your girl there, how could I ever expect you to defend our family? You gotta have resolve, kid. If I really want a doll like her, I can just find one somewhere else. But I can’t just replace good men that easily.”

My chest lightened, and filled with air. “So does that mean-”

“Yes. In exchange for a forty, fifty… ehhhh… seventy percent increase in your tribute, I will ignore this transgression. Just this once,” Frankie said. “In the name of good faith and family bonds. You have potential, Alfonso. I expect a lot from you. But the next time this happens, you know what I’ll have to do.”

“Yessir,” I said, a growing relief rising in me.

“Good,” he said, waving his hand. “Now go.”

Relief washed over me. Marq and I nodded to each other. It was time to go, before things had a chance to turn pear-shaped. But just as we had turned to leave…

“One moment, father. Aren’t you forgetting about that other thing we discussed?”

“Huh?” Frankie said. “Oh, right right. The cinnamon stone.”

Cintamani stone,” Milo reminded him.

Frankie scowled. “I don’t give a damn what it’s called, just bring it here if you’re so worked up about it.”

Milo beamed and approached him.

“I know it’s not exactly what I promised, but it can do everything the philosopher’s stone can and more,” he said.

“Hmph,” Frankie snorted. “I find that hard to believe. Well, let’s see what you’ve brought me this time, Milo. Maybe this one will actually work.”

Marq and I stood rooted in place, waiting to see what would happen. There was nothing else we could do. Events had long since conspired to take matters out of our own hands, a state of affairs that had for the longest time been known by its proper name “being Fate’s bitch”.

Milo unwrapped the stone after pulling it from an antique wooden box, making an elaborate show out of the whole thing. Frankie looked like he was getting impatient.

Then the stone appeared, the veil concealing it lifted. Its humble, unpolished appearance belied its power, but to someone who didn’t know what that power was, looks could be deceiving indeed.

Frankie huffed. “What’s this?”

Milo looked at him, confused. “It’s the cintamani stone.”

That?” Frankie asked incredulously. “I wouldn’t give a stone like that to a whore! You expect me to believe that’s some kind of great and powerful artifact?”

He narrowed his eyes.

“Milo… you better not be wasting my time again…”

“Of course not, sir!” Milo said, practically pleading. “Here, watch!”

He tapped the stone, causing a tiny light to flare up inside it. It looked like he was about to use it.

“I just have to find the right spell…” Milo said, his eyes glazed over. A few silent minutes passed. Frankie harumphed.

“I knew it. You have no idea what you’re doing.”

“Please, father! Just give me one more moment!” Milo begged. His eyes twitched frantically like he was reading an invisible book.

“There! I found it!” he said. Looking back, I’m pretty sure he was lying. The only question was to who.

The stone started to glow faintly, like there was a candle inside it. Milo pressed the stone to Frankie’s chest. The Allesandri patriarch jumped.

“What the hell do you think you’re-”

The effect was immediate. With a sound like wrapping paper crinkling in reverse, Frankie’s chest started to expand, taking deeper and deeper breaths. Color flushed back into his face, and his weakness went away. Whatever Milo was doing, it was working. I heard Marq click his tongue.

“What… what is this?” Frankie asked, then demanded. “What’s going on?!?”

“I’m using one of the enchantments inside the stone to heal your sickness, father,” Milo said, concentrating. “Please, hold still.”

Frankie took a couple of experimental deep breaths. After he realized he could breathe clearly again, he laughed heartily. It sounded… normal. “Haha… well, Milo, this… this really is something.”

Milo smiled. Miraculously, Frankie rose from his iron tomb and pushed aside the door, setting his feet on solid ground again for the first time in years. He balled his hand up in a fist, testing his grip. It was strong again. New, like a young man’s.

Slowly, he stood, his squat frame juxtaposed against Milo’s tall, lanky body. He looked up at his boy, and smiled.

“Not bad… Not a bad job at all, son! This is wonderful! I feel ten years younger!”

Milo’s eyes brightened. “Th-Th-Thank you very much, sir!”

Frankie put a hand on Milo’s shoulder. “You know, son, I… I have a confession to make. I never thought you’d amount to much. You lacked the imagination to really succeed like your half-brother. Didn’t have an independent thought in your head, is what I thought. But… I misjudged you. And I’m sorry. When I learned what the stone really was, I thought it wasn’t worth pursuing. But you looked at what it could be, saw something I didn’t. And now… now I’m healed! Thanks to you!”

He smiled wryly. It was barely a nudge at the corners of his lips, but it was the most genuine emotion I’d ever seen from him.

“Son, I’m prow of you.”

The mismatch didn’t register at first. We all just thought it was a slip of the tongue. Milo’s smile broke for just a millisecond.

“What did you say, father?”

“I said I’m prow fuf you.”

There it was again. Milo stopped smiling, concerned.

“Father, are you okay? You don’t sound quite right.”

“Wuhya mean? I feelfin… feel fin… feel… fine…

Frankie started to mumble.

“F-Fine. F-F-F-Fuh-Fine. Fiiiiine. Fiiiiaaaace. Face. Face. Face. Face. Face! Muh face!”

The Allesandri capofamiglia, the boss of bosses, started twitching spasmodically, fingers clawing at the left side of his face. He just repeated that same word over and over again, spittle dribbling out of his mouth.

“Fuh-fuh-facee… Fuuuuuh-fuf-faaaaaace… C-can’t…”

He slumped down, back against the iron lung, still twitching. His arms fell uselessly to his side.

“Father, what’s wrong?!” Milo said, shaking him by his shoulders. “What are you trying to say, father? What are you trying to say?!”

I knew.

“Call 911!” I shouted, shoving Milo out of the way. I grabbed Frankie’s twitching shoulders and held him down, doing my best to keep him lying on his side. I loosened his tie. “He’s having a stroke!”

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