Anastasia

Street Lawyer 5.9

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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.

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Street Lawyer 5.8

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“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 5.1

Previous || Next

Finally the train arrived at the station and we all piled off, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. We’d left the scene of the disaster behind us, but it was only a matter of time before they tracked us down. Right now, what we needed to do was take the stone back to New York as quickly and quietly as possible. The rest we could ad-lib from there. As much as it’d pain Marq, I’m sure the Cintamani stone would make some pretty slick bail for-

“Hello, brother~”

Oh no. No. No. Not now. Marq and I swiveled our heads in unison to find ourselves confronted with the absolute last person we both wanted to see. Milo Allesandri. He smiled.

“You look upset, Marquis. Is there anything I can help you with? A certain stone that needs smuggling back into New York, maybe? Or perhaps you’re suffering from a guilty conscience? This is all your fault, after all.”

Theo brandished her knives while I stood stock-still. How. How was he here? How did he know? Wait, that’s a stupid question, I thought at I stared at Leo and Figaro. Who else could’ve told him?

Getting over his surprise, Marq cleared his throat, straightening his tie. “Sorry Milo, but the stone was a fraud. We don’t-”

“Don’t play dumb with me, Marquis. You’re better than that. We both know the stone is a fake, and we both know it’s hiding a much better prize.”

“The Cintamani stone,” they both said in unison. Milo’s tone was loud and triumphant. Marq’s was subdued and defeated.

Crap…

“How-”

“Did I know? Please brother, we both know I have my ways, just as you have yours.”

“… It was Figaro and Leon, wasn’t it?”

“Huh?” the two goons in question replied.

“You put them undercover on the train and thought we wouldn’t notice, but we did. I erased their memories of the stone, but they must’ve been bugged too. Clever. You knew even if we caught on to them we wouldn’t bother checking our own men for surveillance devices, didn’t you?”

“…”

“…”

This was it. Would Milo admit to it? No, of course not. No logical person would. Even if you knew they knew too, admitting to it doesn’t benefit you at all. It only gives them ammo to use against you later, even if it’s brick-shittingly obvious you did it. The only one who’d admit to that would be a narcissistic psychopath. Then again, that’s what Milo was.

And that’s exactly what Marq was banking on.

“Uh, boss Marquis?” Figaro asked. “What are you talkin’ about? What stone?”

“I’ll admit, it’s a pretty brilliant scheme. So clever I’m a bit surprised you came up with it. You even used low-tech bugs too, didn’t you? Something basic like a pocket mic I’m guessing? So we wouldn’t think it was you, the amulet-obsessed magic tchotchke-freak. You’ve surprised me for once, Milo. Congrats.

Don’t push it, I thought. Feeding into his psychotic ego was all well and good, but sarcasm wasn’t going to help.

Milo frowned. “… I have no idea what you’re on about.”

What?!

Marq maintained his cool. “Sure you don’t. And I’m guessing you just happened to come here because you wanted to meet your beloved half-brother at the station to make sure he was alright? I’m touched, Milo, really.

Milo sighed. “My sources, of which you will not be made privy to, have never and will never incorporate either of these two. Doubt me all you want, brother, but I didn’t send them.”

Marq and I exchanged quick glances. Something was definitely wrong here.

“That being said however, I suppose I am here to congratulate you on what can loosely be called ‘a job well done’. Believe me, it’s the only one you’ll be getting after the devastation you and your… friends caused here.” He looked at us with disdain. “Make no mistake, I have no intentions of defending you or that raging bull of yours in front of the federal court, let alone father. Your best defense right now is compliance. Make me look good in front of father, and it makes you look good by association. I’m sure as a fellow attorney you realize this is your best option at this point, yes?”

Marq nodded. “Yeah.”

“Then hand over the stone.”

Marq didn’t do anything for a second. Then he nodded slowly at Kichirō, who nodded back. Approaching the banged up boxcar of the Nimbus, Kichirō forced open the sliding door with his good arm, revealing stacked cages of animals. Nayeli squealed, the prospect of getting to see Bob making her momentarily forget her funk, and clambered inside.

“Ohooo…” Milo sneered, mildly impressed. “So you hid the stone with the animal feed.”

“Not quite,” Kichirō said. “We actually hid it in the cargo container. It’s connected directly to the boxcar containing the animal’s cages, so no ordinary passengers would be able to fumble in here by mistake. Or by design.

The tone of his voice showed just how much he trusted Milo: only about half as far as he could throw him. Which judging by the look on his face was something he had definitely thought about doing.

“Stay here, Annie,” I said. But she glared at me and propped her crutches on the rim of the car, pulling herself up. After what had happened between us earlier, I decided not to press the issue.

Everyone clambered inside, carefully stepping over the strewn hay and bountiful craps of the animals that had been released in the chaos earlier that morning.

Hmmm… in retrospect, maybe that doesn’t clear things up a whole lot. The chaos at the train station then.

We all followed Kichirō, who stepped with confidence. Worst came to worst, we all figured he’d do his new allies a solid by offing Milo rather than letting him get his hands on the stone. Sadly, fate and a certain gassy ungulate had other plans.

“Where’s Bob?” Nayeli asked, looking around the empty cages. But everyone ignored her.

“We hid the stone in a bottle of ceremonial champagne the shipping company included as a gift for the Monkey King. He likes having little presents hidden in the bottles,” Kichirō explained. “The boxcar should be just up ahead- oh. Oh no.”

Everyone leaned and took a peek over Kichirō’s shoulders. It was difficult to see in the darkened boxcar, but the door had been opened. Violently. Crumpled in like the lid on a pack of goddamn cigarettes.

No one rushed. We all tiptoed in slowly, dreading what we might find.

“What the hell happened to this place?” I asked. “It looks like a damn minotaur got loose… They didn’t actually have a minotaur in here, right?”

“No,” Marq said, sighing. “They had something much worse.”

I looked around. There were some holes poked in the side of the car where dim light shined in from outside. Did I say “poked”? I meant more like “stabbed”. Splinters of wood and broken glass were everywhere, making the place look like it had been torn apart.

Who was I kidding, it had been torn apart. But by what? What could stab a hole through a sheet of solid magically-reinforced steel and looked like it munched on hunks of wood and glass bottles?

Wait…

I groaned. Oh no. I hated it once I figured it out, but I caught on to what we were gonna find just a few seconds after Marq did.

Finally the light beaming in revealed enough and Annie gasped. Nayeli just flipped the hell out.

“Bob!” she yelled, running over to the prone, horse-like animal lying on its side. About eight feet long and seven feet tall if it were standing upright, it had a bright white coat with brown age spots and was unmistakably a unicorn. It also was unmistakably slurping alcohol from a bottle it held in its drunk-ass purple lips, noisily smacking it down.

“Ohhhh, now I remember!” Marq said, going “aha!”. “Bob was retired from the races ‘cause they said he had a drinking problem!”

I look at him weird. Weirder. “Horses drink?

“Oh yeah, all the time, Al,” Marq said in a calm, relaxed tone that made it clear he was completely fucking serious. “Their jockeys feed it to them all the time. They especially love hoppy beer.”

He turned his head. “Hey, Nayeli? You might not want to do that.”

Nayeli, for her part, was trying to get as close to her dream animal as possible (hopefully to make some good memories before we all sailed down piece-of-crap street here in the next few weeks). She had tiptoed her way most of the way there already before stopping to kneel, the unicorn so ass-blastingly drunk it hardly noticed her. She reached out to touch Bob with her outstretched hand. Then she started to stroke him.

“There there, Bob…” she said lovingly. The horse-monster’s eyes snapped open. Forgetting that it was supposed to be drunk and thus sloppy and uncoordinated, it flipped its head around and clamped its chompers around Nayeli’s outstretched fingers.

“Owwwch!” she yelped, pulling her fingers back. Surprisingly, they were red and starting to swell. “B-bob… why?”

The unicorn neighed wildly, bucking and flailing even though it couldn’t stand up on its own. It tried jabbing Nayeli with its horn but to no avail now that she was ready for it.

“Bob!…” she protested, obviously feeling let down.

“That’s a unicorn for you,” Marq said, sighing. “They don’t like anyone who’s not a virgin. They can smell it on you. Drives them crazy.”

“B-but that’s not fair…” Nayeli said with tears in her eyes as she looked at Bob, who’d settled back down now that she’d backed off a bit.

No, I thought. What’s not fair was Marq not telling you this from the beginning.

“These uhhh…” Milo said, picking up the empty bottles scattered around the floor. “These wouldn’t happen to be the bottles you hid the Cintamani stone in, would they Kichirō?”

Our tall Japanese friend sighed. “As a matter of fact, they are.”

Bob belched.

“Oh, that is just disgusting,” I said, plugging my nose as everyone else tried to waft the scent away.

“So what do we do now?” Milo said. “I don’t think I have to remind you what happens to your crew and that homunculus should you fail to hold up your end of the bargain, do I Marquis?”

Not on your fucking life, I thought. Nayeli was already in the shit, but I wasn’t letting Theo join her.

“Well Kichirō?” Marq said, sighing and letting his hands fall to his sides. “What can we do?”

“We can wait for the creature to pass it.”

How long will that take?”

“A few days… a few weeks… who knows?” Kichirō said.

“Okaaay… any other options?”

“We could surgically remove it?”

Marq clapped. “Great! Al, get on it.”

I froze. “What?”

Marq motioned at the prone, bloated Bob blob. “Get on it. You’re Mr. Medicine Man, right?”

“Whoa whoa whoa,” I said. “Slow down. In fact, back up. You want me… to do gastrointestinal surgery… on a unicorn?”

“Yeah… What’s the problem?” he asked me dangerously slow-like.

I gulped. “Well… do you realize how fucked up that is? I mean, it’s a goddamn unicorn!”

“Oh grow the fuck up, Al!” Marq shouted out of nowhere. “This isn’t some fairy tale with pretty pink little princesses, and I’m not going to let you fuck us because you don’t wanna cut open the poor widdle unicorn! It’s a goddamn animal! There’s nothing special about it! I thought you said you’ve worked in the operating room before!”

I stared at him. “I’ve assisted in an operating room before. I’ve memorized how to perform certain surgical techniques, and practiced a few. This isn’t one of them. And even if it was, what makes you think just because I can operate on a human means I’m qualified to chop up a goddamn horse?”

“What’s the difference?!”

“They have four stomachs, Marq! Horses have four stomachs! How am I even supposed to know which one the stone went through?”

“That’s cows, Al. Horses only have one stomach,” Annie said, correcting me. “It’s separated into a front and hind gut.”

I sighed. “Fine. You want me to cut up the goddamn unicorn?”

Yes,” Marq said through grit teeth.

“Well too bad, ‘cause I can’t!” I said. I regretted saying it right away, but I was too angry, too caught up in the moment to stop. “You saw what Bob did to Nayeli when she tried to get too close, right? Well some of us here don’t have adamantine skin, and I’m pretty fond of my fucking hands. How about you?”

“Well there’s gotta be someone here who can!” Marq said, his desperation obvious. He was losing his cool. “Come on Al. Give me something. Give me anything. Isn’t there anyone here who’s a virgin?”

I hesitated. We were pinned down here. We needed that stone, or all of this, literally all of this, would’ve been for nothing. There had to be something we could salvage from this, something that had even the slightest bit of meaning that we could look back at and say “well at least we did that” when we were thinking of just how much this job had cost us all. But there was nothing.

Milo sighed. “Well, this has been fun, but if no one else has any ideas, I propose we just shoot the damn thing and take the stone out from its body by force. Any objections?”

Milo spun the chamber on his revolver, leveling it at Bob’s head. Nayeli sprung into action.

“Yeah! Here’s a few!” she said, shielding Bob with her body. “Go fuck yourself! You want me to kill you right here and now?”

“Go right ahead,” Milo said. “But know you’ll only be adding to your list of crimes by doing so, and once our father gets word of it, expect Marquis’ head to be next on the chopping block once he learns his pet bitch offed his other son. That’d certainly kill his chances in the war for succession. Or would you rather just keep standing in the way like an idiot so I can tell our father Marquis refused to cooperate in retrieving the stone?”

Nayeli was sweating like crazy, and it wasn’t just because the boxcar was damp with animal shit. Milo had had her trapped like a rat again. I bet she wasn’t eager to relive the same experience.

There was nothing we could do. Every way out was a dead end. It seemed silly, but this one little fucking unicorn had become a symbol for this whole fucking job, and if we let it die it’d be like fucking this whole thing up all over again. Something good had to come of this. Anything. But unless we could think of something fast, nothing would. We’d be right back where we started. Totally defeated.

That’s when we all heard a sound no one was expecting to hear. Bob nickering in his sleep.

“Ummmm… I could do it.”

I turned around to see my sister kneeling next to Bob in a sea of booze, broken glass and horse piss. The smell was was so bad it was almost physically repelling, but she just knelt there, bearing it as she stroked the incensed unicorn to calm it down.

“And who are you?” Milo said.

“She’s my little sister,” I said. “And… she’s the only one that can do this.”

I hated saying it. I wanted to protect her, protect my little sister from anything that could hurt her, but right now we didn’t have a choice. Either she operated on a wild, dangerous animal in my place, or we all paid for it. Theo, Marq, Nayeli, me. This was the best option. The only option.

“Lil’ squirt…” Nayeli said, almost teary in the eyes.

“Don’t get me wrong!” Annie said, looking at Milo and Marq. “I’m not doing this for any of you. I just want my brother and Theo back home safely. And this unicorn doesn’t deserve to die either! Is violence all you people can ever think about? There are other solutions!”

Milo snorted. “Feh. Fine. Do as you wish. It’ll probably just end up dead anyway.”

Annie looked at me, asking me what to do first. For just this second, I had some of her trust back.

I sighed, and flipped open my knife. I passed it to her gently.

“Here. Use this. It’s sharpened to surgical standards. Bob should be okay on pain, he’s kind of already… self-medicated.”

The unconscious unicorn farted loudly, and we all pinched our noses.

“Okay,” Annie said, taking the knife. “Where should I cut first? Shouldn’t we sterilize the equipment and move him somewhere clean?”

“We can’t really worry about that right now,” I said. “We’ll leave those problems for the vet. Speaking of…”

“Right, already on it,” Marq said, exiting the car to find the station’s phone.

I looked around. Dark. Damp. Smelly. Probably full of shit and other things that could cause infections. This was hardly the ideal operating room. But we didn’t have much else. It was time to start.

“Alright, first you need to shave the area you’re going to make an incision into. In this case, that’d be his midline,” I said, instructing her as I pointed where to cut and what needed to be shaved. “We’ll use some of the leftover booze as antiseptic. Wait for me to pour that stuff on before you make the first incision.”

Angling the blade carefully, Annie made a few ragged passes, shaving a rough patch into Bob’s belly. Dabbing part of her dress in alcohol, she sponged the area down with our makeshift cleaning agent and antiseptic. With me guiding her, she slowly, very slowly, made the first incision.

Almost immediately Bob whinnied and neighed, but quickly fell silent again. I felt ready to jump in at any minute to yank Annie back. If Bob hadn’t been so completely trashed, I doubt we would’ve been able to do this. A conscious unicorn would turn us into a horn kebab.

Annie finished the long first incision, stopping after more than a foot. Perhaps a bit too generous, but this was my sister’s first impromptu veterinary surgery. All things considered, I thought she was handling it pretty well.

“Okay Annie, this is gonna be the hard part,” I said carefully. “Things are gonna get kinda gross, but I want you to stay strong, okay? Now, you gotta reach in there-”

Without even hesitating, Annie dove into Bob’s guts up to her elbows, smearing blood all over her hands and dress.

“Okay,” she said, turning to look at me calmly. “What am I looking for?”

Damn, I thought. My little sister was a bit more hard-boiled than I’d thought.

“Uhhh… the small intestine,” I said. “You need any help describing what that looks or feels like, or-”

“Nope,” she said, dragging a coil of guts out onto her lap. “I got it.”

“… Alright then. You see a bulge, feel any bumps where the stone might be?”

Annie squeezed the unicorn’s gut-piping in her hands, groping like a pro doctor administering a mammogram. Wrong form, but you had to admire her enthusiasm. Finally, her fingers closed around a section of intestine with a slight bulge in it.

“Find it?” I ask.

She nods. “I think so. It’s big. You want me to make another cut?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Gently, though. You don’t want to poke the tip through both sides.”

She did so, a little squeamishly at first with shaky hands, but in the end she made it through without perforating Bob’s intestines. Pantomiming what she’d need to do, I slowly guided her through the process of squeezing the stone out of the hole she’d made.

A few pushes later and it was finally done. The stone clattered to the floor, a dark orange, almost blood red color like amber. I breathed a sigh of relief, and grabbed my sister in a hug.

“Hrrmmmm… Al,” she said, but ignored her. “… Al. That’s enough.”

She shoved me away, or tried to. I was much stronger than her weak little arms. I let go of her.

“Ah, and there’s the prize~,” Milo said, reappearing just in time to scoop up the stone. “With this I should be able to heal whatever it is that ails father. That should be more than enough to ingratiate myself into his will. Though admittedly, it does stall our family’s little feud somewhat. Such a shame, isn’t it Marquis?”

“Yeah,” Marq proffered with venom. “Should paint a nice fat target on your back now that you’re the frontrunner for the inheritance.”

Milo just smiled. “We’ll see.”

He turned and walked away. And that was the last we saw of him. Till that dreadful day when Nayeli’s fate would be decided.

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Interlude 4.c (Asmodeus)

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Hmm? Why hello there, reader! It is I, Asmodeus! Prince of thrones and… wait, we already did this bit. Nevermind then. No use in making you sit through it again. It’s been a long time since we last saw each other, hasn’t it? A bit too long, I’d say. Here I was starting to think you might’ve forgotten about little old me. I was only introduced in the last arc, you really ought to pay more attention. Tut tut, reader.

Wait, where was I again? When was I again? Oh, right! It’s been far too long since we’ve had a chance to talk, you and I, which swings me back to the topic at hand. Time. It’s a funny little thing, time. It’s simple yet magnificent, like a bagel or a mint julep. Yes, time is like a bagel. It’s circular, which means it never ends and often repeats itself, and much like a bagel what makes it delicious is often underappreciated and so deeply misunderstood.

You see, a good bagel is all about the preparation. There must be specific ingredients of a specific quality (in this case let’s say Philadelphia cream cheese, smoked salmon, capers, and parsley), and they must be prepared in a specific way and in a specific order. Mix the cream cheese, capers and parsley in a small bowl with some lemon juice, salt and pepper. Next, place two slices of the salmon in a cross pattern on a flat surface. Place one-fourth of the cream cheese mixture in the middle of the cross (why yes, silly, of course demons can make this recipe~) and fold the flaps until you have a package roughly two inches to a side. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Then, simply butter each half of the bagel and place your salmon package in the middle to make a sandwich. There you have it! The perfect bagels and lox recipe! Notice how if you’d mixed the ingredients after putting them on your bagel instead of before the end result would have been completely different (not to mention much messier)? Well, that’s what time is like. A few small changes to the preparation or the quality of the ingredients can lead to different and sometimes undesirable outcomes.

And time, much like a delicious bagel and lox prepared with exactly the right ingredients in exactly the right order, is something we demons don’t have the luxury of enjoying the same way you humans do. We experience it out of order.

Oh yes, time is not a simple linear progression as you experience it. It’s far greater than that. And you humans have the luxury of having it prepared and served to you so you can experience it the right way. Your puny, three-dimensional lives are so simple. Demons like me aren’t just served time in the right order. We’re given our bagel and lox in all of its individual pieces, then told to assemble it ourselves, without a recipe. It may sound simple to you after learning my easy five-step recipe, but when you’re given all of time to work with, your choices of ingredients are a bit more vast. Four point four-one-five-oh-four times ten to the power of sixty vast. That’s the total number of distinct instances in history since time began relative to you. And it’s going to go on a lot longer than just that.

Yeah. Imagine making a bagel with that many ingredients.

But we’re not here to talk about my troubles. We’re here to talk about a specific bagel I mean story, one not too far in your future. The day Alfonso Anastasio came to visit me, for the second time. Let’s see if we can’t piece these ingredients together into something delicious. Shall we, reader?

Alright, where did you leave off again… ah, right! The train ride, right after the apocalyptic punch-up but just before well… you know (you don’t know yet, but it’s fun to keep secrets, isn’t it?). Okay, so. Working from there… hrmmmmm… let’s try this ingredient first.

“Are you sure this is wise, Master Alfonso?” Theo asked, lifting the bed sheets to cover herself as she sat up. “To renege on your promises so quickly? You do remember what we talked about while we were aboard the train, right? Or perhaps the drugs have addled your memory?”

Alfonso sighed as he slipped into his boxers.

“For the last time, I remember, Theo. And I thought I told you to stop calling me ‘master’?” Alfonso groaned. “Look, I agree that promises are important. So is being able to trust your family, and I have not been doing a good job at either of those things lately. But do you know what’s more important than that?”

“What?” the homunculus asked.

Protecting your family. And to do that, sometimes you gotta lie, for their own good. Do you think Annie would want to know I’m doing this?”

“She would not want you to be doing it at all,” Theo replied. “So why are you?”

Alfonso slipped on his chalk-white suit, freshly laundered and re-stitched after last week’s incident.

“Because it’s necessary. Because money is money and bills are bills, and if I can’t pay them then Annie gets taken away from me, or worse.

“I understand the difficulty of the situation you’re… we’re in,” Theo said with patience. “But there has to be a better way-”

“Does there? Because from where I’m sitting, it looks to me like life is just one big string of impossible decisions that you gotta make, and then hope you guess right. But then again, I’m not as smart as you are. Tell me Theo, what would you do, with that big computer-y brain of yours? Do you think there’s any rational way to solve this problem?”

“You know that isn’t true, Mas-… Alfonso. You are very intelligent and-”

“Theo? Answer the question.”

She sighed. “I cannot think of one, no.”

Alfonso’s shoulders sagged. “I was actually kind of hoping you wouldn’t say that.”

Theo watched as Alfonso continued to dress himself in his usual work clothes.

“You know that as your familiar I will always support you. Just let it be known that I do not approve of this decision.”

“Yeah…” Alfonso stared at himself in the mirror. “You and me both, Theo. You and me both.”

Hmmm… that seems a little far. Let’s rewind a bit.

“Master Alfonso, are you forgetting something?”

“Hm?”

“We still need to formalize the contract. And then there’s the matter of the first…” Theo cleared her throat. “Feeding.”

Alfonso’s eyes opened wide. “Oh. Ohh.

Oooookay, that doesn’t seem like any of my business, so let’s move on. Though I might go back and finish watching it again later just to see what happens…~

“Dammit!” Alfonso yelled as he pounded on the rickety walls of his tenement building with his fists. “Dammit dammit dammit!

“Master Alfonso!”

Theo quickly ran to his side, restraining him.

“Please be quiet! You will wake Mistress Anastasia at this rate!”

The mafioso struggled uselessly for a few minutes, trying to worm his way out of her grip so he could continue to vent his frustrations. Finally he just broke down, and stopped struggling altogether, losing all motion and momentum and every spark of life like a marionette with its strings cut.

“It didn’t work, Theo.”

The homunculus’ eyes became downcast. “… I see. Do you wish for me to tell Mistress Anastasia?”

No,” Alfonso said very clearly, and calmly. “Don’t do that. Don’t tell her anything. She doesn’t need to know this yet.”

“But Master Alfonso-!”

Please. I don’t want to make her life any harder than it already is. If this is what stops her from suffering, then… I’ll do it. You… understand, right Theo?”

The homunculus was quiet for a moment. Then she bowed slightly. “I understand. I shall honor your wishes.”

Nono, that’s still too far. But it seems like we’re getting closer. Maybe we should just start with the instance where he’s walking into my office. Alone this time. Yeah, that’ll do.

Alfonso stands before me on my throne. And here he is. What does he have to say to me, dear reader?

“Take my soul,” he says, patting his chest.

In the moment, I frown. Well he certainly doesn’t waste time.

Setting down my book, a little tome called “The Gospel of Perfection” from before all that New Testament business took off, I say, “And what are you asking for in return? Don’t tell me this is a charity.”

“I want you to save my sister’s life. Do that, and you can have my soul.”

He says it with the utmost seriousness. It seems like he’s really ready to do it, too. Alfonso Anastasio isn’t the kind of chickenshit who backs out of a deal. So I’ll give it to him straight then.

“… I refuse.”

“Huh?”

“What makes you think one soul, one life is worth an amount equivalent to another?”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’m asking you, smart one. What makes you think that? Would you trade the life of the Pope to save some nameless hostage? Would you expect the President of the United States to donate his own still-beating heart to save the life of a voter on the operating table? Of course not. If we all made deals like that, the world would be in complete chaos. Not even the fun kind, either.”

“So are you saying you won’t take it? I thought the deal was one wish for one soul! What the hell is this supposed to be?!”

“That is the deal, but what you can buy with that wish all comes down to worth of each individual soul. Your life expectancy, your assets, the domino effect you have on the people around you… all of them are important. Ask yourself how you compare to her. What do you think the answer is? Do you really think your lives are equivalent?”

“So then why won’t you take the deal? You said it yourself, she has so much more ahead of her! I have nothing! If my life can save hers, then why won’t you take it?!”

“That’s precisely the point. If she lives, she’ll help change the world someday, and someday soon. If she lives. Now do you understand? Because one of you has so much more ahead of them, they also have so much more to lose. I can’t just trade the life of someone so important for the life of someone who has no future.”

“You think I have no future?”

“Isn’t this little meeting of ours proof enough of that?”

“So what? You’re saying that you won’t take the deal because you want to see that all go to waste?!”

I shrug. “It’s in my nature as a demon to only take deals that I think will compensate me adequately, whether it be in the form of payment for services rendered or my own entertainment. Take Aster here. After I told them their souls were no good, his parents sold him to me for a quick 10k to pay off a couple of loansharks and never looked back. You think I want souls like that? No. No no no, not at all. Aster’s much more valuable. And he’s much better off with me, where I get to decide how he lives and how he dies. He’s the only human I can touch because he’s mine. Isn’t that right, Aster?”

“Yes, mistress.”

“So as you can see, trading your soul for her life wouldn’t be fair. I’m nothing if not honest, and as an honest businessman or woman, would you really expect me to bite on this one? I’m sorry to say it but your sister’s path is set in stone.”

Alfonso snarls.

“Screw you then,” is all he says to me before he walks off. Aster watches him as he goes.

“Do you think he’ll be back, mistress?”

“Who knows? Maybe one day, when he learns just how valuable his sister really is. To everyone besides him, at least.”

I cradle him closely. That’s right. You’re the only one who’s mine, Aster. The only one I want. Your soul. So innocent. So pure. I want to spend eternity defiling it. Twisting it until it’s completely mine, until no one will ever be able to take it away from me, not even that wretch, Death.

And yet… I’ve already seen you die. I’ve already lived a future without you. When the sun is snuffed out and this renaissance world reaches its very end, death and entropy will claim you too, and there’ll be nothing I can do about it. Because I already own your soul.

And when he dies, it will be because of you, Alfonso Anastasio. Everything that happens next… that’s all on you. So I won’t tell you the truth. I will tell you no lies, but nothing honest will escape these lips either.

But I have to know. Why? Why did you do it? Why will you do it? What reason could you possibly have?

The phone rings. Annie’s asleep. Everything is quiet except Al.

“Hello?”

“Mr. Anastasio? Oh thank god. This is Dr. Evans. We’ve been trying to reach you for days. I’m afraid… I’m afraid we have some bad news. We’ve been reviewing your sister’s x-rays since she was last in the hospital with us and… well, it seems like her cancer has spread.”

Alfonso was completely quiet, stunned into silence. Uncomfortable with his complete lack of a response, the doctor continued.

“… It’s metastasized in her kidneys and bones, sadly. Our best guess is that it crossed over from her lymph into these areas. Now, since your sister was already an on-watch cancer patient, we managed to catch these very early on, so we’re hopeful about her five-year survival rate-”

But that’s all he heard. “Five years”. Without saying anything to the doctor, he gently put down the receiver and started to cry.

Ah. So that’s why. As you can see, dear reader, assembling these moments in time so they make sense can sometimes be a difficult affair best left to a storyteller rather than a demon like me.
Well, enough blustering. I should let you go so you can resume your simple, peaceful lives and enjoy this story in the order it was meant to be shown to you in. With that in mind, enjoy the dawn of the newest chapter in Alfonso’s storied little world as it unfolds for you next week. Until next time, dear reader.

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Tokyo Drift 4.12

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Meanwhile, in the minds of…

Alfonso and Marquis

Alfonso sat down next to the Marquis on the train ride back home, sighing as the Marquis flipped through a newspaper.

“Well that’s taken care of, I guess. Not the best way to cap off my career, but at least it was exciting.”

“Uh huh. Yeah,” the Marquis said dismissively, sounding bored.

“Hey. You listening to me?” The Marquis licked his thumb, flipping to the next page. “Hey. Heeeeey. You were serious about giving me that desk job, right? There’s a limit to how much even I can lie to my sister.”

“What? Sorry, I’m just reading about this whole drug scandal with the Yanks. It’s some fucked up shit.”

“Yeah?” Alfonso asked. “What’s it say?”

“Just the usual dick about mandatory drug tests. Says here though that the Bambino might’ve been doping on berserkergäng during the ‘26 World Series. They caught him with like five pounds of the stuff.”

Really? No shit?”

The Marquis raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, Al. No shit, because I’m totally reading the newspaper right now, and not trying to think of a way to save our collective asses and my girlfriend’s ass from the hammer of the Supreme fucking Court. Who needs to work on building a case when Baby fucking Ruth may have been caught with a couple of cadillacs in his Cadillac, am I right?”

“You have been really fucking passive aggressive lately and I’m not sure I like it,” Alfonso said.

“Yeah? Well get used to it.”

“Especially now that we’ll be hitting the mattresses with the Vitalis over this little shitshow. That’s what you mean, right?”

“Yeah, about that…” the Marquis said, dejectedly discarding his newspaper. “The bodies are gone.”

“What?!” Alfonso said, almost standing up. “What do you mean they’re gone?”

“I mean they’re gone, Al,” the Marquis said, sounding annoyed. “I went back to check the bodies and they were toast. Vaporized, burnt to a crisp. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. All that’s left is the metal shit. Choppers and crosses, mostly, and a few silver teeth here and there. Smells like… burnt potpourri in there.”

The Marquis flared his nostrils in disgust.

“Dammit!” Alfonso said, slamming his fist onto the armrest. “What are we supposed to bring to the Council now?!”

“Nothing. That’s the point. Those crucifixes they carry are probably enchanted to spontaneous combust after death so their bodies can’t be recovered. That way Romeo has the benefit of plausible deniability. Everybody fucking knows their secret little hit squad exists, they just can’t prove it.”

“So then what are we supposed to do? We can still testify, right? I mean we got witnesses!”

“Sure we can testify. And get laughed out of the fucking room. Psychometry’s a bust too. Even if we had anyone who knew how to do it, the Vitalis would probably just tamper with the train’s psychic imprint before we could get clearance to record here. Without proof we got nothing, and nobody wants to start a war over nothing, myself included. Not now.”

Alfonso sighed. He understood what the young capo meant. Not while their best weapon was in such a shaky position. Every family had their own different weapons to deter the others from messing with them. With Nayeli out of the picture even temporarily, the balance of power would shift while they scrambled to find something new to fill the void. This wasn’t a time where they could afford to start instigating any wars.

He groaned, rubbing his temples. Marq picked up on this, catching Alfonso’s drift.

“We’re not gonna lose her, Al. I’m not going to lose her. And you won’t lose Theo or your sister either. I don’t know how I’m gonna do it yet, but we’re gonna find a way to make this work.”

“Yeah…” Alfonso said, comforted. “But still. What a fucking time to leave the front lines… Why were they even here?”

“Probably to kill us,” Marq explained. “Exorcising Yoshirō was probably just an excuse for them to be here, or an incidental bonus. They noticed we’d boarded a train with a ticking supernatural time bomb and decided to capitalize on it. Another good reason you shouldn’t have killed all of them. If you’d left one alive, we would’ve had a case to make with the Council and could even learn a thing or two about what kind of secrets the Vitalis might be keeping. But nooooo…

“Oh stuff it,” Alfonso said before becoming serious. “Speaking of information leaks, remember what I said to you earlier?”

The Marquis picked up on it. “What, you don’t really think they’d-”

“I do. Why are they here? They said ‘the boss’ wanted them to keep an eye on things, but you didn’t send for them. At least you didn’t tell us you did. Eliminate you and that leaves two meanings of the word ‘boss’: the boss or another capo. I don’t think your dad would send these two or even bother with this job at all. That means one of your brothers or sisters did.”

The Marquis sighed. “You’re probably right.”

“You know I am. So what are we gonna do?”

“Wipe their memories, I guess. We can’t let the stone fall into Milo’s hands, or at least not the knowledge that the stone isn’t the one he thinks it is. Otherwise all this whole mess amounts to is just us pissing in the wind. That, and billions of dollars in property damage.”

“Sounds good,” Alfonso said, and the two mafiosos got up and started walking towards the guilty party. “You… were serious about the desk job though, right? I mean, I think it’d be a great compromise-”

The Marquis snorted. “Al, let’s be real here. We both know you’ll be coming back.”

“I’m serious, man!”

Leon, Figaro and Barbie

“Gahhh!!” Figaro sighed in frustration. “Here they go and make a big deal out of sending us in on this job and then we barely get to do anything! It sucks, it really fucking sucks! Don’t they know anything about handling your assets? And here I was hoping I’d to take Barbie out for a little exercise…”

“Stop saying that like it’s a bad thing we didn’t get more chances to go out there and almost get killed,” Leon said. “The sooner this job is over the better. And stop talking about your chainsaw like it’s your damn girlfriend!”

“Why?” Figaro tilted his head and leaned over to ask Leon.

Leon stared at him dumbfounded. “… Do I need to answer that question?”

“No, I mean why you gotta be like that?” Figaro said, frowning. “Here I thought we were having a good time and then you gotta go and be a wet sock about it. I thought we were friends, pally!”

Leon continued staring at him just as dumbfounded as before.

“Okay, one. I am not your friend. I will never be your friend. Because I don’t make friends with people who give kissy-lip names to their fucking chainsaws!” he yelled. “Two! I am always like this! I have never not been like this! And three. The sooner this job is over the better, because until then I have to wear this guy’s fucking face and everybody wants to fucking kill me! Now do you see why I’d be just a little fucking angry?!”

Figaro backed off. “Whoa. Chill, pally. You need a drink.”

“What I need,” Leon said, “is to shed this skin and get Boss Frankie off my back.”

Just then, two previously well-dressed men in tattered, stained suits approached them. They were both technically their bosses, but only one had the privilege of being addressed as such.

“Hey boss, hey Alfonso!” Figaro said chipperly. “What’s up?”

“Oh nothing,” the Marquis replied, drawing circles in the air with his finger. “I just want you to tell us everything you know about the Cintamani stone…”

Annie and Nayeli

Nayeli stared at the door to her compartment, her cigarette hanging loosely from her mouth.

“Ummm… what is this?”

In the open door stood a teenage girl on two crutches, unmistakably the younger sister of Alfonso Anastasio.

“Um yeah, sorry. I know this is weird. I was wondering if I could come in and talk to you about my brother, Miss… Nayeli, right?”

“Okay… and why would you wonder that?”

“Because I’ve still got a few questions about what happened today and no one is telling me anything. You’re a demigod, so I figured you probably had something to do with… that,” she said, pointing out the window at the smoldering, hundred kilometer wide crater. “I thought you might be willing to talk to me. Not that I’m blaming you for it or anything!”

“Uh huh. And let’s say I was the one responsible for what happened. That doesn’t scare you at all?”

Anastasia shrugged. “You must have had your reasons the way I see it. If you just wanted to cause random destruction and chaos, you wouldn’t have done it out in the middle of a nature reserve.”

“Okay,” Nayeli said, understanding but slowly losing her patience. “So what do you think I can tell you that no one else can?”

“What my brother was doing while you all were fighting,” Anastasia said confidently.

Nayeli looked at her like she’d had her head chopped off.

“Sorry, but I don’t care what your brother does. Ask someone else.”

“What?” Anastasia said. “Why?”

“Because to be honest, I don’t think I could care about what your brother does. No way, no how. Anything he could do compared to me or to my family… that’s nothing. Like an ant pissing in the wind. It just doesn’t register to me.”

“… Are you saying we’re just like ants to you?” Annie said almost indignantly. “You’re still human too, y’know.”

“You can call me a monster if you want. I won’t mind. I… I probably deserve it. It’s just…” Nayeli said, struggling with the words. “Ugh. There’s a difference, in how big things are where I come from. In your world, Al can kill a man and that’s just this world-ending news to you. In my world, the head of the house can literally end the world, and that’s a lazy Sunday. Our worlds are just too far apart, and they’re only connected by this one tiny little bridge…”

“The Marquis,” Annie said.

Nayeli nodded. “Yeah.”

“What do you see in him?”

Hey,” Nayeli warned. “It’s been a long-ass day and I’m tired as fuck, but if you talk shit about the boss I will kick your ass.”

“… You do realize I have cancer and I bruise really easily, right?”

“You do realize I don’t give a shit, right?”

Anastasia blinked. “Wow… that is the first time anyone’s ever said something like that to me… But I’m being serious! It was honest question. What do you see in him? You obviously love him, but why? Especially when he’s already married!”

“Engaged!” Nayeli corrected. “There is a difference!”

“That doesn’t make it okay!”

Nayeli snorted. “What the hell would you know? You’re just a damn kid. You don’t know anything about love or the way this world works…”

“Alright,” Annie said. She plopped down on the seat across from Nayeli, arms folded like she’d just had a toy taken away from her. “Then explain it to me.”

Nayeli stared at her.

“No, I meant… you weren’t supposed to… gahhhh! Fine! Herc’s greasy fucking taint…” she swore, rubbing her temples and taking a deep breath. “Okay. Let’s assume brotherly or sisterly love or whatever is the same thing as romantic love, which it’s not!”

Nayeli mysteriously jammed a finger up at the sky before returning to what she was saying.

” What would you do if someone said you couldn’t be with Al for some completely stupid arbitrary reason, like you couldn’t be his sister because you’re not blood-related? You’d be pretty fucking pissed, right?”

“That’s not the same thing!”

“Yes it is!”

“You just said it wasn’t three sentences ago!”

“Just answer the damn question!”

“I… I guess I’d be pretty mad, yeah.”

“And so what would you do? Would you just listen to what they said and be happy never seeing him again?”

“Of course not!”

“You see? That’s exactly what I mean!”

“But… sometimes it already feels like that…”

“… Hah?” Nayeli said, her cigarette dangling on the edge of her lips. Anastasia stared at the floor, fidgeting. Nayeli sighed.

Don’t give me that fucking look…

“Alright, fine. Sit down.”

“What?”

“I get the feeling there’s a story here, so come on, spit it out,” Nayeli said, gently but forcibly using her great strength to seat Anastasia next to her. She took a breather from her cigarette, spouting a puff of smoke. “Let’s have a little girl talk and get this over with so we can both move on with our fucking lives.”

Anastasia looked suspicious of her. “This… doesn’t seem like you.”

“Hey, what do you know about me, huh? Maybe I’m actually just a big fucking teddy bear who likes to cuddle. You don’t know that. You don’t know shit.”

“Yeah, but somehow I doubt it…” Anastasia mumbled, sighing. “It’s just… it’s Al. Sometimes it just feels like we may as well be living on two different planets.”

Nayeli raised an eyebrow, suddenly interested. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well… it’s just like…” Anastasia said, struggling with the words. “He says he wants to protect me, right? Well I want to protect him too. I don’t want this for him.”

This?”

“Yeah,” Anastasia said, making confused hand gestures. “This. What he’s doing right now. He has this whole idea in mind for what my life should be like, and he’s doing all sorts of stupid things just because he thinks that’s what’ll help. But because I’m stuck in these stupid crutches and wheelchair, I can’t do anything to stop him. It’s like… it’s like I’m not allowed to have a life with my brother. The kind of life I want for him, where he’s not always trying to get himself killed, or worse.”

Not allowed to have the life you want, huh? Nayeli thought.

“And it’s just… so frustrating, feeling like I’m this powerless waif. That I’m stuck in this situation where I just can’t do anything.” Anastasia laughed bitterly. “But someone as strong you probably thinks that’s really stupid, don’t you? You’re a demigod, after all. You can just take whatever you want. No one can tell you what you can and can’t do.”

Nayeli exhaled a puff of smoke. “Nope. You’re wrong.”

“Huh?” Anastasia said, looking up at Nayeli.

“There’s a lot of stuff I can’t do. I can’t vote. I can’t get a job doing anything besides manual labor. This bracelet I wear, with the little axe on it? I’m not strong if I’m not wearing it, because of a curse. And I… and I can’t be with him.”

Silence passed between them, Nayeli’s words hanging in the air.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Anastasia said, looking at her, confused. “I thought you already were.”

“Oh, if you mean we’re fucking, then yeah, we’re doing that,” Nayeli said as Anastasia blushed. “But I can’t be with him be with him. I’m not ‘qualified’. I’m a mutt. A stray. I don’t fit in in his family.”

“Why?”

Nayeli shrugged. “I’m not fully Italian. Y’know on top of being not fully human. The whole world doesn’t like me, so I can just forget about dinner with the in-laws. I guess what I’m trying to say is… I get it. The whole ‘wanting what you can’t have’ thing.”

Anastasia looked up at her, truly looked up at her, for the first time. “You do?”

“That’s what I just said, isn’t it? It’s hard to keep on living when something you can’t control keeps you from ever being with the ones you love. I get that, I do. But…”

Nayeli paused, looking away and out the window. “We should at least be grateful we’re able to spend the time with them that we do. You especially. At least you still have your brother. Your relationship isn’t gonna be perfect, because they never fucking are, but at least you got family that loves you and cares about you. Even if it is that weirdo.”

“Miss Nayeli…” Anastasia said, hesitating. “Does your family…?”

Nayeli looked down at the infirm teenage girl sitting beside her, and while she never said anything, she didn’t need to. The intensity in the look in her eyes told anyone looking to back off. Then, she closed her eyes.

“Nah,” she said. “Now get outta here, and don’t tell anyone I played nice with you. I got a reputation to keep, kiddo.”

She gave Anastasia a friendly pat on the back, making her go “oof”, and sent her on her way. Halfway to the door, Anastasia stopped.

“Miss Nayeli… thank you,” she said. She didn’t turn around. She didn’t feel like she had to. They weren’t friends or gal pals or anything like that, but even so… she felt like a connection had been made today. Maybe someday, she’d get to call on it again.

Nayeli sighed.

“Go on, get outta here,” she said, waving her hands. Anastasia obliged, leaving with the tiniest hint of a smile.

Felicity and a gentleman caller

In the back of the train, the daughter of one of the most powerful men in New York crammed herself into a tight phone booth and started thumbing coins into the slot to make a call.

The phone rang approximately once before someone picked up on the other side.

“Hello. This is Asset Felicity, making my report.”

Felicity sighed. “With all due respect, must we really communicate this way? Speaking like one of them just feels so… wrong.”

A moment of silence.

“Yes,” she said, nodding. “Yes, I know what our mission is. No, I haven’t forgotten. Yes, subtlety is key. We can’t force the Marquis to do anything. Only shape the circumstances around him so that he has no other choice. With that in mind, I think there may be a way for us to spin this in our favor.”

Felicity adjusted herself in the tiny booth, and took out a notepad.

“The daughter of the Olympians will be facing severe criminal charges for this offense. That’s bad for our agenda, but if I may be so bold, it could also provide us with an opportunity. If we use the demigod like this…” There was silence in the booth, the young woman’s hushed whispering being absorbed by the glass. “Yes… what do you think? Eh? What do you mean by that? ‘What do I think’? Surely that’s not important…”

The voice on the other end could not be heard or understood, but the young woman’s facial expressions were easy enough to read.

Elimination? No. No, I really don’t think there’s any need for that yet. With all due respect, the demigod is troublesome but she could still prove to be a useful blunt instrument in the future. I can handle her. Besides, killing her could have the opposite of the intended effect on Marquis. However…”

Felicity looked back, craning her neck to catch a glimpse of them. The brother and the sister.

“… there may be a few variables whose usefulness could be reevaluated.”

Her grip on the phone tightened subconsciously. That damn thing. Asking to play nice with it, that she could handle. But to simply ignore it after it had insulted her like that? It was like being talked down to by a child. No, by an animal, or an insect. Something so vastly your inferior that its gall to criticize you made you feel indignant. And what was wrong with it anyway? Was it so spoiled by its idyllic life that it had forgotten what its role in all this was? And how easily it could be replaced?

While some of us are out here working hard and trying to prove ourselves, that filthy half-breed thing

The voice on the other end crackled.

“What? No. No, I haven’t forgotten. Yes, I realize it’s important, but… what? No, I do not feel jeopardized! My position is as secure as ever! And I will not allow any rumors they might spread to persist. I will cement my place in the Marquis’ household without fail! I know my results as of yet have not been promising, but-”

Her bravado faded.

“Yes. Yes, I understand. No, no I do not need to be reconditioned. I will not fail this time. With the demigod out of the picture for a while, I should have some more room to maneuver. Hm? Satisfaction, you say? With all due respect, I have all the incentive I need! I am completely dedicated to… yes. Yes I know. No I am not refusing your kindness. Okay. The hospital then? You can really do that? Okay. That sounds fantastic. Please do that then.”

The crackling grew harsher.

“Yes. Yes I know you’re not doing this for me. The asset needs to be reactivated. We cannot afford to lose control of it at this point. I understand. Goodbye then.”
She hung up.

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Tokyo Drift 4.11

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The train stopped, and it was over. It was finally, really over. So, when all’s said and done, when you’ve won the day, gotten the girl (in our case represented here by the darling Cintamani stone), and everyone, even the bad guys, live happily ever after, what else can you say?

“Well that was a fucking disaster.”

I grimaced along with Marq. Well I guess there was that. Both of us staring outside at the massive gaping hole where a tenth of the entire state of Arizona used to be kinda put our personal victories into perspective.

“That… got out of hand quickly…” I said, agreeing with him.

“Indeed,” Theo said.

Marq groaned. “People are gonna have some really fucking interesting things to say about this. One thing’s for sure, this is not going to help come election day.”

“Ah come on, Marq,” I said, trying to cheer him up. “It’s not that bad. Like they have any way to trace this back to us or Nayeli. And even if they did, what are they gonna do? Johnny Dumani destroyed an entire fucking mountain fighting that hydra and they let him get away with it.”

“First, that was in defense of public property,” Marq said, sighing. “The collateral damage might’ve been pretty severe in the surrounding areas, but Johnny still saved the entire county from total annihilation. That alone negates half the charges against him. This was completely senseless, not to mention a thousand times worse. We’ll be lucky if people aren’t still talking about this when we’re all old and gray.”

Marq turned to the two Yamada brothers. “Kichirō! What the hell did you give Ren that made Nayeli go all-out like this? Some kind of mythic weapon?”

Kichirō glared softly at him. He was cradling Yoshirō, who was barely conscious and barely breathing. “I appreciate your help, Marquis. More than you’ll ever know. I never thought you’d actually deliver on your promises. But right now my brother is still gravely injured. He’s in pain, and he needs me. Whatever this is, it can wait.”

“Really?” Marq said. “The biggest un-natural disaster in recorded history since the Lost Renaissance… and it can wait? Look, I didn’t even know Nayeli had that kind of strength. This places her in the United States’ top ten for demigods, if not top ten in the world. If this had gotten any worse, she might’ve cracked the whole damn continent in half. Now I don’t know what you or Ren did that made this possible, but I need to know, because right now we are on a countdown until this place is swarming with feds and cinder dicks and aaaaalllll sorts of Untouchables, and we are all implicated. If I don’t even know where to start building a case, how could I possibly-”

“Waitwaitwaitwait. Wait,” I said. “What do you mean we’re implicated? We had nothing to do with this!”

“It won’t take a genius to check the registry and see our names listed right next to Nayeli’s, Al,” Marq said. “She’s a registered demigod and a known associate of the Allesandris. Trust me, the legal system and I are both intimately acquainted with her.”

“Uhhhh…”

As her lawyer, Al,” Marq said, telling me to keep it quiet around others. “Even if we personally had nothing to do with this, we’re all persons of interest.”

“Okay, so what? How are they going to prove anything? We’ll just pay off the judges like we always do. Make it look like some kind of natural disaster. Like, I dunno, a volcanic eruption. The Allesandris have always been good at covering our tracks. That’s why we’re top of the New York food-chain, right?”

“Second to the top, Al,” Marq said. “You forgot the Pescatorres. We’re pretty neck and neck with the Sartinis right now too, and you can expect a major upset now that we’ve got this to deal with. Besides, you’re missing the point. The second one I forgot to mention earlier.”

I did a mental search of all the conversations we’d had in the last forty-eight hours, seeing if anything fit what he was talking about here. Then…

“Oh,” I said. “Oh shit.

“You remember, don’t you? The bill just got passed last week. Psychometry can now legally be used as evidence in a court of law. And with a disaster of this size? The feds are gonna be rolling out the spirit cameras by the thousands, capturing every possible angle. Soon this entire crater is going to be on lockdown, and they’re gonna rewind the whole damn thing, Al. They’ll have a frame-by-frame playback of the whole fight. Even if they do think it’s just a natural disaster, they won’t be thinking that for long. Which brings me back to my question, Kichirō. What did you do?

Kichirō stared at us silently.

“… The nepenthe should be dulling the pain,” I said. “For what it’s worth, your brother probably doesn’t feel a thing right now.”

Kichirō hesitated for a moment, then gave in. “Phoenix yolk. I gave her phoenix yolk.”

“Phoenix yolk?”

“To activate her power of zenkai, Ren needs to be close to death,” Kichirō explained. “I gave her a belt of phoenix yolk vials so she could fight at full health while retaining the extra power she gained from each zenkai. Ren is strong, but there are people much stronger than her, like your demigod. This was a strategy we developed to fight those people that allowed for theoretically infinite gains as long as phoenix yolk was in steady supply.”

Marq became deathly pale. “You mean to say-”

“Yes. It is theoretically possible that Ren became strong enough to kill your demigod friend. Just as possible as it is that she killed mine.”

“Or!” a voice cried out in the distance. “Or maybe we could both be alive, and you could be crying for nothing, ya worry-warts!”

I poked my head out the car door. Two smokey female figures started to resolve themselves on the horizon. Both were covered in ash, and one was leaning on the other. The taller and bustier of the two (I assumed Nayeli) waved at us.

“Also, we could use a change of clothes!”

“Yes! Quickly!” the shorter one (Ren) said while she tried to strategically cover herself with her hands. “Before anyone see!”

“Heh. Heheh,” I chuckled, before wheezing and breaking into gut-busting laughter. “Hahahahaha haaaa. Holy crap! Marq! You’ll never guess who it is!”

“Nayeli!?” Marq yelled, all too relieved.

“No, uh, seriously boss. We need clothes,” Nayeli yelled back. “Like, right now. Please?”

“Oh, uh… right. Rightrightrightright!”

Marq scurried back into the car, panicking and trying to find some clothes to cover them up. I laughed again. Somehow, in spite of or maybe because of how much of a literal trainwreck this day ended up being, this was the funniest thing I’d seen all day.

I poked my head back outside.

“You do know you two ladies look like English chimney sweeps right now, right? I don’t think anyone’s seeing nothing until they give you like five baths and a de-skunking, at least.”

Fuck you asshole, you already got a free show and I’m not giving you another!” Nayeli said, her middle finger raised high.

Marq rushed outside carrying a children’s night-gown in one arm and his coat in another. Handing the night-gown to Ren, who scurried off to change behind the train where nobody could see her, he wrapped the coat around Nayeli and proceeded to bombard her with the usual slew of questions.

“What happened out there?”

“Things… got really out of control.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you hurt?”

“No, not really.”

“Define ‘not really’.”

“I got some bits of a spear stuck inside me.”

“Oh jesus…”

“Relax boss, it barely even hurts anymore.”

“You got bits of a spear? How did that even happen?

“I uh… kinda crushed it with my abs.”

“Okay one, that’s kinda hot and I am so tearing the clothes right off your body as soon as we get home. Y’know, after we give you like, five baths and a de-skunking,” Marq said, causing Nayeli to blush (though you could hardly notice it). “Two, what the hell were you thinking?!”

W-What?” Nayeli said, flustered by Marq’s sudden outburst. “Well, I mean I was kinda thinking that if I let her stab me I could-”

“Not what I meant, but finish that thought later. I mean what the hell were you thinking when you let this happen?!” he almost shouted, pointing at the gigantic hole in the state that a lot of mapmakers were probably gonna get pretty pissed off about, come to think of it. “And I meant that for both of you! I told you to keep things discreet, Nayeli, that’s why I told you to fight outside in the middle of nowhere! And Ren, why did you egg her on?! Do either of you have any idea what you’ve just done?!”

“Oh come on, it not that bad,” Ren said, stepping out wearing the night-gown. “This Arizona. We fight in the middle of giant forest, there no cities for miles! Besides, there no way they can trace this to us.”

Marq sighed. “First, yes there is, and second, no, but there are towns. A good handful if I remember correctly, and they’re going to want to know why their homes and their loved ones are now part of a giant hole in the ground! This is serious, like ‘eyes of the world’ serious! We will all be lucky if a ten-year legal battle is the worst that happens to us as a result of… this.

Marq gestured at the giant hole. I swallowed dry as the high from the battle came crashing down. Yeah, it didn’t really occur to me until just then, but uh… wow. When you looked at it, this was… wow.

I tried to forget about it. Not like we didn’t belong way down below already. This was just… this was a little more extreme than we were used to, I think. I mean, no one wanted this to happen. Even Nayeli seemed a bit shaken up by how scary her own power was.

“Hey… I uh… so Marq I mean boss I… if you w-want me to, I can just… go, I guess is what I’m… t-trying to say,” she said, sniffling. “I mean I know I… I… oh god… I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to, I swear I didn’t!”

The woman I thought was an invincible stone-cold bitch started crying like a little girl, and Marq welcomed her into his arms. Was it because she knew she’d just killed gods know how many people and regretted it, or because she wanted so desperately for Marq to not hate her? I dunno. Which was more sad, do you think?

“Shhh, shhh, it’s okay. I’m not mad, it’s okay…” Marq said, trying to comfort her. If that was a lie, it wasn’t a very convincing one.

“No, no it’s not ‘okay’! I mean holy shit, I… I-I-I-I…”

“Just don’t think about it, babe,” Marq said. “Focus on me, okay? You listening? We’re gonna make this alright, Nayeli. One way or another. I don’t know how, but it’s gonna be okay. Just… trust me. We’ll think of something.”

Nayeli sniffled into his coat. No response, in a situation for which there really were no words.

I suddenly became acutely aware of just how cold and clammy I was for an Arizona morning.

This was the world we lived in, a world forever changed by gods and monsters, where one minute everything is great and peachy and keen and the next minute everything you thought you ever knew and would never go away gets swept up in an instant by some storm of heavenly or demonic violence that was just so much greater than you were. So great it may not have even intended to put you in harm’s way to begin with. And then? You get fucked. Just like that. Straight up fucked, like DVDA.

I looked out at the huge pit. This time it was Nayeli, and Marq. How long before the uncaring hands of the Fates came after me and Annie?

Panting with exhaustion after the stress of the recent battle, Felicity pushed the door to the car open and came stumbling out. She quickly picked herself up and dusted off her suit.

“If,” Felicity said, huffing, “you two are quite done, I’d like to remind my husband of his position, and recommend he start taking action if he wants to keep it. Starting with unhanding a wanted fugitive.”

Nayeli heard what she’d said and surprisingly clung to Marq instead of saying anything, begging him with her eyes not to do what she said.

“You know, before anyone starts to get the wrong idea.”

Desperately, Nayeli mouthed, ‘no’.

“Felicity…” Marq said slowly, still holding on tightly to Nayeli.

“Now darling, you need to begin preparing a preliminary statement in your defense if you wish to have any chance in the upcoming election, or else your campaign will tank like the Titanic.”

Felicity…” Marq said, his tone sharper.

“Of course I’d recommend just cutting all ties completely to save face, but I know my sentimental fool of a husband would never do something as sensible as that. So instead, I’ve devised a plan that will hopefully still prove to be effective if we can’t just deny we know anything about her. If you throw the demigod under a bus, darling -figuratively speaking of course, there’s no way that would kill a mutt like her- then you may still be able to make an appeal to the public-”

Felicity!” Marq shouted. His eyes were sharp and cold like a reptile’s. “I appreciate your input. But I’m not your husband yet. So if you’d kindly fuck off, I have business to attend to. Allesandri business. You know, with the family.”

Nayeli didn’t quite smile, but she looked relieved. Felicity snarled.

“Listen, you-”

“I’m sorry, did I not make myself clear? Take it to a ten cent box, or I’ll call one for you. Or better yet, a meat wagon.”

“Al! Allllllll!”

Everyone’s heads turned. I heard the voice of my little sister as she crashed through the door to the dining car. She stumbled, catching herself on the rails before she fell. She was… running. I couldn’t believe it. She was running!

“Al!” she yelled, jumping down off the train and heading straight for me like an adorable cruise missile. I welcomed her in my arms and caught her with a bear hug.

“Annie!” I said, relieved.

“Oh thank god you’re alright, Al!” she said on the verge of tears. “I don’t know what happened! You disappeared as soon as I left and when I tried to look for you outside everything was exploding, it looked like the world was about to end!”

“Yeah…” I said hesitantly. “Yeah, it was a… volcano… right, Marq?”

Felicity opened her mouth to say something, but Marq shut her up.

“Yeah, that’s right. There was some kind of eruption. They think it was due to some unexplained seismic activity in the area. Sounds like Gaia having a stomachache, doesn’t it, Nayeli?”

She nodded. Good. About time someone shut Felicity up.

“I’m just happy you’re okay!” Annie said. “But… you’re sober. How did you do that so quickly?”

“I, uhhhhh…” I said, trying to explain.

“It was because of me, Mistress Anastasia,” Theo said, approaching Annie in full maid mode. The red party dress and bloody knives did not sell the look.

“Theo?!” Annie shouted in genuine surprise. “I thought you were in Montreal! How did you-”

“I flew here on the back of a dragon. It is not important,” Theo said dismissively, shrugging. Sorry Theo, but even I think that sounds like a big deal.

Annie looked around. First at Theo, then the wounded Yamadas, then to the dragon circling almost silently in the clouds above us. The wounded Sostene, Felicity who was still carrying her empty Tommy guns. Then her gaze settled on Marq and the half-naked Nayeli, and I think that’s when she put the pieces together.

“Al…” she said slowly, with trepidation. “What’s going on here? What happened?”

“What do you mean?” I said. “We told you, there was an earthquake followed by an eruption and-”

“Don’t give me that crap, Al!” she said with a ferocity I wasn’t accustomed to that may have scared even me. “Something’s going on here, I know there is! First all this stuff with the Marquis, and now these people we don’t even know, this disaster…

“What, you can’t seriously think Marq caused that,” I said, laughing nervously.

“That would be ridiculous,” Theo said dully, nodding.

“Answer me, Al! Why do those people have weapons? Why are they wearing suits of armor, and why do you have a gun?!” she said with alarm as she spotted the revolver I’d tried to keep hidden. “There’s something you’re not telling me, and I can guess what it is! Why have you been hanging out with the Marquis? Why do you have this gun and a knife? Where did Theo really come from, and what happened here?! What have you been doing brother, and don’t tell me you’ve just been working at the hospital and that Marquis is your financial advisor, because I know that’s a lie!”

Tears started dripping down her face onto the arms of my suit.

“Tell me, Al!” she said, close to sobbing. “I don’t want to hear it from someone else… but I will if I have to!”

She glared at Marquis, who instantly took a step back from the crippled invalid girl, my little sister. When she wants to be, my little Annie can be as scary as a bearcat. But… what did I tell her? I knew this day would have to come eventually, but not this soon! Not now!

Kichirō and Ren stared me down with a look of urgency. Figaro unsubtly mouthed “no”, while Leon and Felicity looked like they couldn’t have given less of a shit. I looked at the expression on her angry, tear-stained face.

Tell… me…

I looked over at Marq, silently asking for his permission. He shrugged, and I sighed with resignation. So this is where it ended, huh?

“… Annie… I’ve been working with Marquis.”

“I knew it…” she choked through hot, angry tears. “How could you, Al? You know what he does! He’s a murderer-”

“Hey!” Nayeli said.

“-and a thief-”

“He certainly is,” Felicity said.

“-and a no-good lying bastard son-of-a-bitch!”

“Guilty as charged,” Marq said nonchalantly.

“You’re not helping!” I said, pointing at Marq. “And you watch your language!”

“Why? Because you said so? Why should I listen to anything you have to say if you aren’t going to listen to me?”

“Because I don’t want you growing up like me!” I blurted. We floated through the awkward silence for a moment before I sighed, and tried to explain myself. “I was running out of money to pay for your cancer treatment-”

“Then why not just ask me to help with the finances? I’m sure there’s something I could do to make money! Or better yet, why not ask Marquis?! If he’s such a good friend of yours, why doesn’t he help pay for our hospital bills?”

“You know you’re in no condition to be working, Annie, and besides, the family business is a family business. You can’t expect them to just hand out money. A boathouse burned is a dollar earned, and it’s a lot better than owing them money. Trust me.”

“Or y’know, trust me because I’m the one who usually has to hand out those punishments to all the naughty boys and girls!” Figaro said with a chipper voice.

“Then we need to budget ourselves better!” Annie protested. “You work at a hospital! Even as an assistant nurse you should be making more than enough to-”

“Annie!” I said, interrupting, already regretting what I was about to say. “I… I didn’t get the job at the hospital. I never did.”

She looked confused. “W-What?

“They turned me down, Annie. Because I was a medium. I was ‘the least favorable candidate’ because they didn’t trust my powers, so they gave the job to an elf instead. I’m sorry. I… I didn’t have the heart to tell you. That was the last straw. We had no more money, we didn’t have any other options, so I went to to work for Marq.”

“I bet that’s how it happened,” she said, glaring at Marq. “That’s when he suckered you in-”

Actually,” Marq said. “Your brother came to us.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Ouch. So quick on the comebacks…”

“She’s got your number, Marquis,” Kichirō said, rasping wheezily.

I sighed again. “No, he’s right, Annie. I did. I came to them looking for a job, because it was the only way I was going to be able to pay our bills. I already had a history as one of Marq’s associates, and as it just so happened another made man had gotten bumped off recently, so they, y’know, held a ceremony and welcomed me into the family.”

“I was there!” Sostene pitched in unhelpfully with a slurred voice. He sounded really dizzy. “Can someone get me some blood? I think I… I think I ran out…”

“I can’t believe this…” Annie said, shaking. “I don’t want to! That you would… you said you’d leave that life behind once you became an adult! So you could look after me! Those were your words! How am I ever supposed to trust you again, Al?”

Everyone looked at me. Yeah, great. Put me in the fucking spotlight why don’t you?

“I… I dunno,” I said, giving up. “How can I make you trust me again, Annie?”

She glared at me. “Stop telling me lies.”

“Okay.”

“You promise this time?”

“I promise.”

“And you’ll start listening to me from now on?”

“I promise.”

“Good. Find another job.”

“No can do,” I said, throwing my hands in the air.

“Al!” she said. “Already?!”

“What do you expect from me, Annie?” I said. “Once you’re in the family, you can’t just leave!”

“He’s right, you know,” somebody added.

“It’s a life-long commitment, both in honor and in blood!”

“There are people who would kill me just for being Allesandri, Annie, and they’d kill you too!” I said, trying to sound as urgent as possible to convince her. “The only reason we don’t have to worry about those kinds of no-good punks is because we’re under Marq’s protection! Even if I could just turn in a letter of resignation to Franky Allesandri and walk away from the mafioso lifestyle, we’d have to constantly look over our shoulders! I don’t want that life for you, and if I have to bite the bullet so you can live like a normal, happy girl, then that’s just how it’s gotta be! That’s my decision, Annie!”

“But you’re making it about my life!” she said. “And you’re my brother, Al! Don’t I get a say in this? I don’t want to see you become something like him!

Marq sighed. “And again she singles me out… Listen, Annie. You know the rules, or at least I think you do. Your brother can’t just leave us. There are strict laws and codes of conduct in place about how you honor the family. Pay your tributes, respect the family, never snitch. It’s all about omerta.”

Go to hell,” she said.

“Ah ah ah,” Marq said, tutting. “You’re gonna wanna hear what I have to say. It might make you change your tune. I did say your brother can’t leave us. I didn’t say he had to keep doing what he’s doing. There are other jobs available to a made man besides being a hired gun. It was just my preference that Al’s skills be put to good use. If both of you want, I can try to find him a different job besides being a hatchetman. Say, maybe, butter and eggs?”

She looked at him, confused. Marq sighed.

“He could work the bankroll. Manage finances. Maybe do work as an information broker? I’m sure he’d be good at that. Point is, there are less lucrative but also less violent jobs we could have him doing. How does that sound? Would that help you forgive your brother for lying to you?”

Annie blinked.
“Huh?”

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