I don't think the repeal of the American Prohibition worked quite how it's written here, but eh. I'm not entirely comfortable with rewriting exposition from the author like that.
I did take some liberties in translating Isaac and Miria's dialog, though; somehow I don't think expressions like gyafun and watarinifune would work very well in English.
Oh, and in case you didn't notice, I've scanned the Baccano artbook, which you can find here. Just a heads up.
Cloudy to Rainy
Color Pages and Prologues
Bloody to Fair
Color Pages and Connecting Chapter
Epilogues & Remnants
"Now then... If you have any excuses, Miss Maria, I am all ears," Luck said quietly, tapping the table with one finger.
A gentle smile graced his features, but the mirth there stopped far short of reaching his eyes.
There was a small jazz hall located in Little Italy. Beneath this place was the office of the Gandor Family, who ran the illegal operations in the area.
The jazz music drifting down from above gave the underground office an easygoing atmosphere. Several round tables dotted the wide room, and there were even pool tables in the corners.
The shifty looking men gathered there made it clear that the Gandor office was no place for normal, law-abiding citizens.
However... There was one person in this office who acted nothing like the others.
She sat at one of the tables in the center of the room, facing Luck. At a glance, her colorful clothes could have led one to believe she was a dancer. She was a young woman with smooth brown skin, attractive in a healthy, robust sort of way.
The woman, Maria Barcelito, looked away and pouted.
"What do you mean, hmph?!"
Luck lost his composure and slapped the table with his palm, as though scolding a young child. The gangsters gathered in the room stifled their laughter.
"Miss Maria. Your job is to guard the casino dancers. You do understand this, right?"
"Of course I do, amigo! That's why I took out those rowdy guests! It was over in the blink of an eye, chop chop!"
"And in the blink of my eye, I found myself looking at three completely totaled slot machines, an obliterated baccarat table, something that had once been the casino door, and a broken chandelier--all casualties of your blade along with the men you killed. Now, I would very much like to hear the reason why you found it necessary to destroy my property."
The truth stared her in the face, and Maria averted her gaze.
"...It just sort of happened."
"It just sort of happened?!"
Luck hit the table once more and heaved a heavy sigh, colored with long suffering.
Spying the smile disappear from his face, Maria offered an innocent grin of her own, as though to comfort him.
"Don't look so down, amigo! You look better when you smile, you know!"
"And who is at fault for my current mood, may I ask?"
"...I'm sorry, amigo."
Maria drew back, cowed. She looked like a beautiful woman, but her actions were still those of a child.
Maria was a guest of the Gandors--though, admittedly, she had invited herself--who had originally made her living as an assassin.
That didn't mean she'd retired, so perhaps it would be more accurate to say that she still made her living as an assassin.
She'd come into contact with the Gandor Family due to a certain event that had taken place last year, found herself swept away by Keith Gandor's charisma, and entered the organization as a steadfast ally. At least, that was the story she liked to tell. In reality, she was more like an uninvited guest.
Women were a rare sight in the Gandor office, and a Mexican senorita even more so. There had been some friction between her and some of the Family when she first joined. However, the truth of the matter was that most of those incidents had not been brought about by her gender or nationality, but by her overly innocent personality.
But soon enough she and the Family had adjusted to one another well enough, and no serious problems had arisen for quite some time.
Instead, she had promptly begun causing migraine-inducing but minor problems instead, like the one that made Luck sigh sorrowfully now.
"I approve of you taking care of our rowdy customers. In that I can find no fault. I just want to know if you can do it with a little less collateral damage."
Maria smiled demurely and patted the two swords sheathed at her side. The darkly shining grips, connected to swords that looked a bit too long for someone with such slender arms to wield, provided a somber contrast to her colorful clothing.
"Murasamia and Kochite(1) here just cut up whatever they want when I draw them, you see!"
"Don't blame your swords for this."
"What do you mean, hmph?!"
Palm met table for the third time. Some of the Family members watching could bear no more and burst out laughing at the comical play.
Luck shot them a frigid glare and they looked away hurriedly, but from the way their shoulders shook it was clear that they were struggling to hold in their laughter. Luck was normally calm and collected, for some reason he seemed to have trouble handling Maria, and their talks often devolved into something that resembled a rookie schoolteacher scolding a misbehaving student.
Technically, he could have punished her far more harshly than he actually was, but Maria was the greatest fighter the Gandors had. Of course, if one were to look outside the Family, there was a hitman named Vino, but Luck considered him entirely too flighty and unreliable to be counted as part of their strength.
In other words, there was nobody in the Gandor Family who could have actually carried out any punishment on her. Granted, she obeyed whatever Luck's brother Keith said without question, but the problem was that Keith only spoke once a month, if that, and he seemed ill inclined to fix Maria's behavior.
His other brother, Berga, seemed to like Maria's hearty personality, and when asked had merely smirked and said, "Let her do what she wants, why don'cha?"
Which led to Luck being left alone, looking as though he'd downed a mouthful of lemon juice, lecturing his organization's best killer.
"Well, it'd been so long since I got the chance to do anything... Nobody ever attacks the casino."
"Of course they don't! They shouldn't! Do you have any idea of how hard we work to ensure that we don't make enemies?! In the best case scenario, you would always continue dancing on the stage, because nobody would ever start any trouble."
Now Maria could take it no longer.
"That's no fun! No fun no fun no fun at all, amigo! You know I'm an assassin! Don't you have something more exciting and fun? It's boring just dancing day after day after day! If I keep going like this I might end up slashing someone's eyes if he stares at me the wrong way!"
"Please, don't even joke about that."
Luck seemed to realize that there was no use in continuing the argument, and switched tactics.
"Very well, Miss Maria. If you insist, I can give you something else to do."
"Oh? Really?! Thanks, amigo! So, which Family's don do you want dead?!"
"Nothing quite so fearsome as that, I'm afraid."
"What? Fearsome? Come on, I could just walk over to that little camorra that's nearby. The Martillos or something? Want me to go and take out their boss?"
If anyone not in the Family had chanced to hear that, it could have led to serious problems. Luck gathered his hands and bowed his head as though offering a prayer to some uncaring god.
He sighed yet again, and tried to decide just what he wanted to say to Maria.
"Miss Maria. We are continuously doing our best to make sure that no such conflicts ever occur. If a turf war were to erupt during times like these, Lucky Luciano's Cosa Nostra would be on us before we could blink."
The mafia of the time were swiftly becoming modernized, thanks to the efforts of one Lucky Luciano. A vast organization known as the Cosa Nostra ruled the criminal underworld with an iron fist, and even such matters as revenge hits and turf wars had to be approved by the Cosa's council first.
The Gandor Family itself was not part of the Cosa Nostra, but it was exactly for that reason that they had to be even more careful. Luck in particular, being in a position of responsibility within the organization, wanted to avoid anything that could lead to the Family's decimation more than anything else.
And so he decided to give the woman before him a job that would keep the status quo maintained, just like he wanted.
"If you wish to fight so much, I'll give you a job that might give you the chance to do just that. It would be against some delinquents who are not part of any organization, in a place where none of our property is around for you to destroy. Of course, this is entirely dependent on how the negotiations go."
"So what is it, amigo?"
Maria leaned forward a little, a hint of curiosity in her eyes, and Luck wasted no time in taking his chance.
"There seems to be a group of young misfits in the area who've been doing odd jobs without our permission since last year. Of course, they're just playing at doing what we see as business, but... as you know, the Prohibition is being lifted this year."
The Prohibition had had a profound influence on American history since its passing in 1920, particularly on the growth of criminal organizations.
It went without saying that said influence had been resoundingly positive.
The Prohibition laws had been set into place according to the wishes of politicians and certain citizen groups, but instead of diminishing sales of alcohol as intended, the Prohibition actually led to a sharp increase in speakeasies and underground brewing activity, providing a huge source of income to America's mobs and gangs.
This unintended effect had in turn led to a protest against the flawed laws, and finally, in February of 1933, Congress amended the U.S. constitution. The states abolished their individual laws one by one, and when Utah ended its ban on liquor in December of that year, the Prohibition came to its end.
That time hadn't come quite yet, but it was common knowledge on the street that the Prohibition was on its last legs, and taverns could now proudly order their spirits from legal breweries instead of having to smuggle them in.
This in turn forced the gangs of America, who had made hefty profits from their smuggled liquor, to find a new source of income. The Gandor Family, which made most of its money from illegal brewing and smuggled alcohol, was no exception, and Luck had been wrestling with the problem of what to do for quite some time...
"Miss Maria, these young troublemakers are taking up several illegal activities without our permission on the streets. They dabble in illegal brewing, horse betting rings, and even some illicit bartering on the side. Normally we'd rough them up a little and leave it at that, but it seems that their group has more members than we expected... It's a bit of a headache."
"I hear you loud and clear, amigo! So you want me to go and slash them all!"
"...I don't even want to know about your modus operandi before you came here. Anyway, we don't want to cause a commotion, so I'd like it if you could simply go and intimidate their leader a bit. Just enough so that he won't think to cross us. Of course, if he submits to our demands, even that will be unnecessary."
Maria thought it over for a moment and said, "I think I understand, amigo. So you want me to cut down just one of them first and if they attack I can take that as resisti-"
"...Sorry. I guess I got a little carried away, amigo."
Maria had no choice but to apologize in the face of Luck's icy smile. Her time in the underbelly of society had served her well, for Maria could instinctively sense when she was about to cross the line and truly anger someone.
"The problem is that they operate on our turf, but their base is in another organization's territory. We have a cease-fire pact with said organization, and so I would very much like it if you refrained from causing a ruckus."
Mollified by Maria's trite expression, Luck eased up a little and began to explain.
"To put it succinctly, I want you to be a bodyguard. Mr. Tick will take care of the negotiations and the threatening. All you have to do is keep him safe."
Luck glanced pointedly at the back of the room, and Maria turned to look as well.
They saw a young man sitting at a small table, his scissors snipping away as he cut at a vase of flowers.
He was named Tick Jefferson, and he was the Gandor Family's torture specialist.
The young man sat and continued cutting the flowers with a bright smile on his face, until at length he realized the two were staring at him and raised his hand to give them a wave.
He held a pair of shining silver scissors in that hand, and they reflected the light as he waved his hand back and forth, drawing a metallic arc above his head.
"Hi! Anything you want from me?"
If one were to only take in his tone and his actions, he would have seemed like an affable young man--perhaps a bit childish, but likable enough nonetheless--but the scissors in his hands dashed that image to pieces.
Luck gave him a quick smile and turned to look at Maria once more.
Like Tick, she too smiled innocently and waved her fingers at the torturer.
...It looks like you two are at about the same level of maturity.
Luck revealed none of his thoughts in his expression and continued his explanation to Maria.
"I've already explained everything to Mr. Tick, so I leave the matter in your capable hands. And one more thing! The delinquents I'm sending you to deal with have also been working on the Martillo Family's turf, so they're involved too. The Martillos have told me that they intend to make their move around today as well, so please, please don't start any trouble with them!"
Maria jumped up as soon as Luck finished speaking and zipped over to Tick's table, taking a seat across from him and giving him a soft smile.
"Whatcha doing, amigo?"
She studied him as though he was doing something quite fascinating. There was a vase full of flowers on the table, and from time to time Tick would thrust his open scissors at random into the bouquet and close them with a snap.
There was a clear snap of metal on metal, and as it faded a flower fell silently onto the table, its stem cut in two.
"I'm cutting flowers," Tick said calmly, picking up the severed flower and sticking it back into the vase.
"Edith gave them to me. She said I'd make a good florist."
Edith was an employee at one of the Gandor Family's taverns. She'd come to know Tick through a series of strange events, and having grown to see him as a friend, had given him flowers as a present. But...
"I think flowers are amazing."
Again, the metallic shearing sound, and again, another flower fell to the table.
Tick had told Edith that he'd cut them with care, and true to his word, he'd spent the past few days cutting them to pieces.
"You can cut them right in half and they'll stay alive as long as you keep them in water, see?"
Though the flowers had already been trimmed when he received them, and he'd sheared through the stems on all of them at some point or other, none of the flowers had yet to wither completely.
The bouquet had shrunk to half its original height, and the once carefully grouped flowers had become a hopeless disheveled array of haphazardly grouped blossoms.
Edith had told him he'd make a good florist, but it was hard to imagine anyone buying such a ragged bouquet.
"Mmm... I guess, but I want to slash things a little more substantial than flowers, amigo," Maria said, completely derailing the conversation. Most of the Family sat far away from Tick, finding his habits unsettling, but Maria was utterly uncowed by the young man's strange hobby.
"So about that mission! When're we going, amigo? Now, right? Right now, right?!"
Maria leaned in closer, her eyes shining. Her gently curved chin touched the petals.
If one were to take a picture of that moment it would have been beautiful, but her words ruined the atmosphere. The man watching her sighed and muttered to themselves wistfully that she would have been perfect if only she were sane.
Only Tick smiled innocently and said, "Wow, Maria. The flowers make you look even cuter."
"Really? You think so? Thanks!"
Maria seemed to take the complement to heart, looking once more at the flowers. There were many different types in the vase, but instead of looking flamboyant or fancy, Edith had chosen varieties that would serve to soothe the eye.
Maria stared at the vase for a moment, lost in thought, and then suddenly grabbed Tick's arm.
"The flowers can wait until after we're done! C'mon, let's go work! Please?"
She looked almost like a child at a carnival as she tugged persistently on Tick's arm.
Unable to refuse her forceful proposal, Tick gave the bouquet one last snip and then rose, murmuring under his breath.
"...I wonder if this flower has a family too..."
"What was that?"
"Oh. It's nothing."
Tick's smile grew somehow softer and more gentle than before. Following Maria's lead, he mounted the steps leading to the outside.
Their expressions were utterly bereft of fear or hesitation, making it hard to determine whether they understood what they were setting out to do.
Whether they truly understood that just one small error could lead to a bloodbath...
The Family members left in the office chatted idly amongst themselves after the two left.
"You think those two'll really be able to handle it?"
"They act like kids, yeah, but then again those little punks they're going to deal with are kids, so I guess they'll be okay. I mean, Tick might talk like an idiot, but he's smart enough."
"Maria's with him, so it's not like he'll get hurt, at least."
"Those samurai swords of hers are even scarier than most machine guns..."
The men all believed in Maria's skills to some degree, and so nobody was truly worried for them.
Luck stepped in and put a damper on the lighthearted mood.
"Gentlemen. Don't you think you're relying too much on her strength?"
If an organization came to lean too heavily on one person's ability, the rest of its members could grow complacent and lazy. It was a situation that Luck wanted to avoid more than anything else. He'd worried that it might happen when Vino came to visit, but fortunately the man had gone to earth soon enough, and so that matter had settled itself.
But now there was the matter of Maria. Under no circumstances could the Gandor Family afford rumors that their power hinged entirely on the whims of some girl.
"But Boss, you gotta admit that she probably really could go and bring back Martillo's head by hersel-"
"Don't even say joke about that. Unless you've suddenly decided that life is a burden, in which case by all means, feel free to continue."
His voice was positively glacial; no hint of the emotion he'd revealed while talking to Maria entered his tone now. The gangster on the receiving end of that veiled threat found a shiver running down his spine.
"Besides, the Martillos are no laughing matter. They have Ronnie Schiatto, a man on par with Vino himself... and Yaguruma and Maiza are not to be underestimated, either."
Once he was finished scolding his subordinates, Luck muttered quietly to himself, "And then there is their youngest executive... Firo Prochainezo, as well..."
The Same Time
"You're terrible, Firo!"
"There's nobody more evil than you!"
"Not in the whole wide world!"
There was a road that stretched between Little Italy and Chinatown, and on that road there was a honey shop, and in that honey shop there was a small restaurant.
There was a metal board in the shape of a beehive hanging at the entrance, with the word Alveare--"beehive" in Italian--written underneath.
Among the criminal organizations of Italy, there existed a group called the Camorra. They were structured differently and had different rules compared to the mafia, and they were counted as one of the three great Italian crime rings, together with the Sicilian Mafia and the 'Ndrangheta.
Among the many lesser organizations that made up the Camorra was the Martillo Family, a gang that controlled tiny portions of Little Italy and Chinatown. This restaurant, drenched in the smell of honey, was their base of operations.
Originally it had been the largest speakeasy on the Martillos' territory, but thanks to the Prohibition being done away with, Alveare had been changed into a completely legal parlor. Inside there was a chandelier that sparkled with gemlike glass, a bar decorated with stately sculptures, tables, oil lamps on the walls... The area was festooned with flamboyant decorations, and above all filled with the scent of sweet dishes, made with liberal use of honey.
It was lunchtime, and normally the restaurant would have been filled with hungry patrons... but on that day, things were a bit different.
"Oh, come on. Gimme a break already. I said I was sorry, didn't I?"
A man leaned heavily against the bar, a look of tired irritation on his face as he reluctantly apologized.
He looked to be in his late teens, perhaps eighteen or nineteen years of age. If one were to look at his boyish features alone, they could easily have been led to believe that he was a couple of years younger than that.
He sat surrounded by several people, and at the forefront of this motley crowed was a couple raising their voices in protest, waving their arms wildly about.
"Sorry won't cut it!"
"Won't cut it at all!"
The man wore a tuxedo that made him look like a stage magician, and perhaps in an effort to match her attire with his, the woman wore a dress that would have let her fit in perfectly at a formal dance.
They looked utterly out of place, but nobody really thought to question their choice of clothing.
The man, Isaac Dian, swung his fists about in the air as he glared at the boy.
"Do you have any idea how hard we worked to set up those dominoes?!"
The woman, Miria Harvent, chipped in as well. She, too, waved around clenched fists of rage.
"Our blood and sweat and tears went into those, you know!"
The boy, Firo Prochainezo, sighed again in the face of their angry ranting.
"'Scuse me, but I don't remember any blood and tears being shed."
"Don't think to deceive the righteous passion flowing through my veins with your devilish tongue!"
"Isaac cried a little when you knocked those dominoes over, you know!"
Their words didn't really make much sense, but the people gathered around seemed to agree, for they too joined in on admonishing the young man.
"Man up and admit it was your fault, Firo."
"You big fat screwup."
"You lack concentration. This is all because you've been lax in training."
"I think you should try and apologize more sincerely, Firo."
"Aiya, more things on floor to clean up because of Firo."
"Go home already."
"Yeah, buzz off."
At first he'd taken it all without complaint, but it looked like he was getting more and more irritated as his companions lashed out at him. The slight frown on his face slowly deepened into an expression of true anger.
...I am a Martillo Family capo, right?
Randy and Pecho, I can take. They're Martillo executives too. But why should I have to take flak from Czes, and the non-executive Family members, and even Lea, the damn waitress?
True, I screwed things up. But do I really deserve to get chewed out like this over something like that?
Firo brooded moodily on his dark thoughts, the anger in him building up until...
"Pay us back for those dominoes!"
"We demand reimbursement!"
...It finally came to a head.
"Why the hell do I have to pay anyone back for some stupid dominoes? I just knocked 'em over, for crying out loud! Did I smash them? Huh? What, did they break into itty bitty pieces just 'cause I knocked 'em over?! Well?!"
Isaac and Miria stiffened in surprise in the face of Firo's sudden outburst.
But Firo's anger had not yet run its course, and he continued.
"I mean, this place is for eating, not for setting up dominoes! I even let you borrow our turf for this, you know, so can't you just let it go already?!"
Firo stopped, breathing hard, glaring at the couple.
Randy and Pecho whispered loudly to themselves as they glanced askance at the furious youth.
"You'd almost think that we're the bad guys here, eh?"
"I didn't see him complainin' while he was stackin' them dominoes, no sir."
Firo could hear them, of course, but he deliberately ignored them and kept his features fixed in a mask of rage.
Isaac and Miria stood frozen for a long while, then suddenly began to tremble in unison, and...
"Aaaugh! You're an utter jerk, Firo!"
"Waaah! You're a total touhenboku(2), Firo! A complete barbarian! Stupid and mean and a bad guy all around!"
...unleashing a torrent of the most terrible insults they could imagine, they dashed toward the exit, sobbing loudly.
"...To, toehen... what?"
Firo faltered, his anger replaced with confusion as he tried to make sense of what Miria had said. Yaguruma, who'd immigrated over from Japan, muttered quietly to himself from Firo's side.
"I wonder how Miss Miria came to know Japanese so well..."
Isaac and Miria threw open the door and nearly smacked straight into the man coming in. He was holding a paper bag in one hand, and he stepped neatly to the side to avoid the couple.
Just when it seemed they were gone for good, Miria stuck out her head from behind the man's back and stuck out her tongue at Firo.
"Bleaaah! I hope Mr. Yagyou(3) tramples you with his headless horse, Firo!"
Her final devastating insult delivered, she stomped out after Isaac.
The sight of Miria running away, her long dress whipping behind her, brought to mind the fairy tale of Cinderella. Firo watched her leave and sighed heavily for the third time.
"Who's this Yagyou guy? Damn it... I'm so confused I'm not even mad anymore..."
He turned around, still grumbling, and found everyone in the store glaring at him. They didn't say anything, but it was clear that they were all expressing their disdain.
"...Alright, already! I was wrong, okay? It's all my fault! There, you happy?"
The man who'd come in late looked curiously at Firo.
"Something happen while I was gone?"
"Ah, Ronnie. No, it was nothing. I just knocked over Isaac and Miria's dominoes right before they finished."
Firo's manner changed in an instant from petulant and angry to respectful.
Officially, Ronnie was the Martillo Family chiamatore(4). Unofficially, he was the organization's second-in-command.
"Hmm. I see... So they ran away. But where did they go?"
"It's nothing, don't worry about it. They don't have anywhere else to stay so they'll be back when they get hungry."
"...No matter. I had to go out again anyway, so if I happen to see them I'll persuade them to come back with me."
Firo's eyes widened at the senior executive's offer.
"N-no, it's fine, really! You don't have to-"
"If I happen to see them, I said. If I don't, then that's that," Ronnie said calmly, taking a bunch of pepper shakers out of the paper bag and arranging them on the counter.
"And I heard that the workers on that riverside construction project were assaulted by a group of strange people. It's probably nothing, but then again there's nothing wrong with exercising a little caution."
He finished laying out the contents of the bag and immediately turned around to leave again.
A slender silhouette stood up to follow him.
"I want to go with you."
"Ennis," Firo said, surprised, staring at the young woman in the black suit. "I'm telling you, don't worry about them. They'll come back by themselves sooner or later."
"But what Mr. Ronnie said bothers me, so..."
Ennis stepped closer to Firo's side and leaned in close, her lips nearly brushing his ear.
"...Please do try and think up a proper apology while we're out," she said, like an adult gently chastising a child. Instead of getting angry or retorting, Firo went beet red and could only manage the slightest of nods.
Firo frowned exaggeratedly and averted his eyes like a young boy. Ennis smiled gently and turned, slipping out the door and into the streets of New York.
Firo watched her leave and slowly turned around, as though expecting the worst.
But nobody was glaring at him anymore; they all seemed to have gone back to their own business, tucking into lunch or reading the papers.
Firo breathed a sigh, this time of relief, and sat at the counter to finish his coffee.
Another man took a seat at his side as though it was the most natural thing in the world.
It was a tall man wearing a pair of glasses--Maiza Avaro, the Martillo Family's conta è oro(5) and also Firo's mentor.
He alone had stood to the side while everyone else took their turns haranguing Firo. Perhaps he had decided to wait until he was alone? Firo glanced at Maiza out of the corner of his eye, trying to gauge the other man's intentions.
"Firo," Maiza said, his gentle expression never changing, "you did it on purpose, didn't you."
"I'm saying that you knocked over the dominoes on purpose."
There was a long silence.
Maiza's voice had been calm but clear. Firo looked around to see if anyone had happened to overhear, but it seemed like nobody was eavesdropping on the conversation.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Still gentle, that voice, but the force behind it denied Firo's attempts at playing things down.
Firo kept his silence for a moment, but at length gave in.
The young man thought it over, then replied tersely.
"I was scared."
"That old man, Szilard. His memories in my head are so far beyond anything I can understand."
The sudden appearance of that unwelcome name made Maiza fall silent this time.
"I think... I think this might be a sort of karma for us immortals, a kinda payback for our original fates being erased."
"Damn it... Do you have any idea of how much we paid those information brokers to get a lead on your whereabouts? Those people are like brick walls when it comes to immortals. We practically dumped information and money into their mouths by the truckload just so that we could find where you were. I think a little thanks is in order, don't you?"
"...Hell if I know."
"Hah, you're right. Then perhaps we can find out what you do know, Genoard. Just how much do you know about immortals?"
A strangely dressed band walked along the road leading to Little Italy.
It was the Larvae, with Tim at their head.
At first glance they seemed like just a group of run-of-the-mill neighborhood punks, but some of them were dressed in banker's suits, making it hard to define them at a glance.
"How much did you hear from Szilard Quates when you became immortal?" Tim asked Dallas, who was straggling along a few paces behind the ten-odd strong group.
"Hell if I'm telling you," Dallas grumbled, still glaring fiercely at the back of Tim's head.
"Then I'll take it upon myself to explain the basics in case you don't know. The first and most important part is that you're not really immortal. You can't be killed, but you can still age. A sort of in-between stage of immortality, because you can still die of old age. I guess you could say that you're defective."
...This fucker's got a talent for pissing me off.
Dallas' glare intensified, but of course, the back of Tim's head showed no ill effects.
"The real immortals are a bunch of alchemists who made a deal with a demon about two hundred years ago, and drank the elixir of immortality."
"Wow, do I really have to explain all this? Adelle, explain that bit to him for me, will you?"
"What? Oh, right!" Adelle said with a start. She'd been walking docilely beside Dallas.
She was wearing white clothing that had been tailored for easy movement, and there was a strange stick-shaped object strapped to her back. It looked like some sort of weapon, but Dallas couldn't really imagine what sort of weapon it might be. Nor was he was really inclined to do so, honestly.
He really didn't like the girl, who seemed timid and easily startled by even the smallest things. And to top things off, Tim had told him that if he stepped out of line, Adelle would be the one to kill his sister. Just the thought of it made him want to murder the girl.
...Not that she looks like she could really kill someone, but...
Dallas stopped and shook his head.
Three years ago, he'd had his ass handed to him neatly by a girl just like Adelle. Her name had been Ennis, and Dallas spat scornfully to the side as he remembered the face that went with the name.
"...Well, ah, alchemists are people who, well, they do... Ah, excuse me, are you listening?"
"Does it look like I'm listening, dumbass?"
"Y-you don't have to be so mean..."
He halfheartedly pretended to listen to rest and then looked scornfully to Tim.
"So what about these immortals."
Tim laughed and replied, "Well, to cut to the chase, we've heard rumors that there are quite a few true immortals in this area. This is information that our boss Huey heard from the info brokers, so we haven't confirmed it ourselves, but apparently the old man who made you immortal, Szilard, was devoured by one of these immortals a while ago."
Devoured. It was a strange expression, but Dallas could easily call up a fitting image in his mind's eye.
He remembered it clearly. It had been just after he became an incomplete immortal. Szilard had simply placed his right hand on the forehead of one of his friends, and the man had been sucked straight into his palm.
"You see, true immortals can devour other immortals with their right hands--including defects like you--but you, on the other hand, can't return the favor. You pretty much just exist to be exploited."
"Shut up and stop pissing me off."
"Alright, alright, don't get so mad. Anyway, long story short, our boss, Huey Laforet, is one such true immortal," Tim said, calmly revealing the inner workings of his organization to the outsider. But Dallas seemed quite unconcerned despite the secrets being revealed and spat again, as though urging Tim to hurry up and get to the point.
"Aren't you curious who devoured Szilard?"
"Why would I be?" Dallas said diffidently, but Tim ignored his reply and gave voice to a name.
Dallas stopped walking.
He ran the meaning of what hearing that name implied over in his head, standing stock still in the center of the street.
One, that asshole's still alive.
Two, that asshole's a real immortal.
Three, that asshole can kill me, but I can't kill him.
"You've gotta be shitting me," he muttered, trying and failing to deny the conclusion that stared him in the face as sweat beaded on his face.
He found himself gripped by the delusion that he had suddenly become the weakest being in the entire world.
Firo Prochainezo was immortal.
He'd become that way by chance, when he'd been swept up into a fight between alchemists three years ago.
And it wasn't just him. All the Martillo Family's executives, the Gandor Family's three bosses, the bandit couple Isaac and Miria, several family members of those Martillo executives, and two Alveare employees...
All of these people had been granted immortality in the space of a single night.
Szilard Quates had been one of the alchemists with a hand in those events, but all of his experiences and memories had been absorbed that night by one Firo Prochainezo.
Not just his memories and experiences, but his past as well... Everything that he had been.
"That old man's memories are still inside me... He was really a terrible person. I think I can remember what sort of things he enjoyed... but to be honest, I can't understand any of 'em."
Firo stirred his coffee and began to lay out his thoughts to Maiza.
"He... he felt happiest at the moment when he took away everything someone else had achieved. It didn't matter whether it'd taken lots of time or lots of effort to him; all that mattered was that it meant something to someone, and that he took it. He enjoyed it so much, so much more than I ever enjoyed anything in my life! I don't know what to think. My memories've changed. It feels like he was happier when he ate someone than I was at the moment I became a capo."
Maiza neither agreed nor disagreed, and instead continued to listen silently.
"I don't even understand them, those memories, but... they're part of me now."
Emotion revealed itself starkly on Firo's face. It was terror, pure and absolute, like that of a young child.
Maiza said nothing.
"I'm scared, Maiza! As long as those memories stay inside me, maybe one day I'll turn out like tha-"
Firo's voice rose with panic, but Maiza merely raised one hand.
The young man focused on the upturned palm and seemed to come to his senses, dropping his gaze to his cup as he took in his surroundings.
"I... I'm sorry."
"No, it's quite understandable."
The waitress came and placed a cup of coffee in front of Maiza as well. He added two cubes of sugar and stirred, keeping his eyes fixed on the cup as he talked quietly.
"So that's why you had to make sure."
This time it was Firo's turn to stay quiet and listen.
"You had to see if you, too, felt a sense of accomplishment, of joy at taking and destroying what other people had worked to achieve," Maiza said calmly. Firo couldn't bring himself to disagree.
"You didn't want to, but the need was too strong to bear. Perhaps you would feel happy. Perhaps you wouldn't, and all your worrying would be for naught. That's why you thought to experiment with something that would do no real harm to anyone..."
Firo stared openly at Maiza.
"...Can you read my mind or something?"
"Just a theory," Maiza said, smiling lightly. "So, Firo. Tell me, how did you feel about taking away the things they had worked so hard to set up?"
He held back on giving a conclusion, instead only asking for the result.
Perhaps Firo had been expecting the question, for he promptly said, "When I saw 'em crying, I wanted to beat myself up."
"Haha. That's good to hear."
Maiza had been expecting nothing less, and he threw back his head and laughed on hearing Firo's reply. The two of them shared an amicable chuckle and each took a sip of coffee.
"I'll try my best to forget everything about him."
"That isn't necessary. All you need to do is accept it and overcome it. As long as you're able to cut it loose if you feel it's dragging you down."
Firo thought it over and said, "I'll try."
He took a gulp of coffee.
"But... Do you really think I can overcome someone else's past or emotions all by myself?"
"I believe that's a dilemma that everyone faces, not just immortals," Maiza said solemnly, and added another cube of sugar to his cup.
"Though if that past was something that you experienced yourself, perhaps you would need to deliberate a tad more on whether to let it go."
He sipped his sugary coffee and stared at something far away, his eyes unfocused.
"Everyone is capable of moving on past their sadness and pain solely through their own efforts," he murmured quietly, but there was firm conviction there that belied his placid tone. The man who had called forth a demon so long ago, who had been the first among his peers to grasp the secret of immortality, gave voice to his philosophy.
"That's what I believe."
"Grrr... Damn that Firo! We've got to make him say uncle!"
"He'll cry bitter tears!"
"Wait, we're going to make him say uncle and shed bitter tears? Don't you think that's a little cruel, Miria dear? I think the uncle part will be enough! We'll forgive him after that!"
"Wow, Isaac. You're so kind!"
Isaac and Miria had wandered aimlessly through the streets of Little Italy after running out of Alveare.
"That's right... Maybe we can give him a slip of paper with 'uncle' written on it and tell him to read it out loud. Or maybe we can find Firo's uncle and stage a family reunion."
"The perfect plan! But why do you want to make him say uncle?"
Isaac puffed out his chest as though he'd been waiting for the question.
"The expression is actually a traditional chant of some sort that comes from Japan! Back in the Edo period, they used to say 'oncle' instead, but a Japanese man named Uchida Roan(6) wrote it down as uncle! It was in a book called The Hundred Faces of something or other... probably some sort of novel about a cunning thief like Arsène Lupin(7)!"
"You're so smart, Isaac!"
Isaac thrust out his chest even more at his partner's praise.
"Of course! I can't read Japanese so I asked Mr. Yaguruma to read it for me! Perfect, isn't it!"
"So that's what they call hired help!"
"...Wait, I can't remember whether there was actually a wily thief like Lupin there," Isaac said worriedly, voicing a concern that any sane person would have mentioned long ago. Miria, however, seemed to take it all in stride and helpfully provided a solution.
"He was there, but you probably couldn't see him because he was hiding! What a sneaky guy!"
"You're right! They don't call him the man of a hundred faces for nothing!"
"Even a todomeki(8) wouldn't be able to see him!"
"Damn it, he must have stolen into my mind while I was distracted!"
The two of them went off on increasingly bizarre tangents as they discussed their next plan of action.
"But Firo's even worse than that. He burgled more than my heart! He stole away my dreams and hopes and time! I declare war on Firo!"
"A war for the ages!"
"For the dominoes! We won't go back until he apologizes once for every domino he knocked over! Are you ready, Miria?"
"Of course... ah!" Miria cried, something occurring to her that put an abrupt damper on her zeal.
"But Isaac, where are we going to sleep tonight? We left all our money and belongings back in the restaurant."
"Don't worry, Miria! There's a saying that's originally from the far East, don't you know? Any port in a storm!"
"What does that mean?" Miria asked curiously.
"I suppose it means that no matter what kind of port you're in, as long as it's storming outside there'll be boats waiting to take you anywhere... In other words, we can head wherever we want and things will turn out okay somehow!"
"You're so dependable, Isaac!"
With Miria's adoration ringing in his ears, the small fact that he was utterly wrong didn't matter to Isaac at all. He started on a new train of thought, intent on impressing his partner even more.
"I've got it. Hahaha, Miria! It means Heaven will send Noah with his ark to save us, like it did for Moses!"
"Like the great flood of Egypt!"
"Hah, that means we've got the Ten Commandments. We'll command Firo to apologize for the dominoes ten times! In the name of the god of dominoes!
"So that's why they call it a dominion! What else did the domino god tell you, Isaac?" Miria asked, her eyes sparkling with joy at Isaac's makeshift plan.
"We've got plenty of friends to depend on other than Firo! We can ask them to give us a place to sleep tonight!"
"What a great plan!"
The two set off immediately, not a shred of doubt in their minds that their chancy plans would come to fruition.
The sky was cloudy, but somehow they shone brightly nonetheless. It almost looked as though they were the center of the world.
A while after the strange couple left, a new pair of people came to stand where they'd been.
One was a sharp-eyed man wearing a trenchcoat, and the other was a slender young woman wearing a business suit.
Ronnie and Ennis.
The two made a strange but not totally unlikely pair as they stopped in the middle of the busy street and looked around.
"Hmm, looks like we're late... Well, no matter."
"We should split up and look for... Mr. Ronnie?"
Ennis turned around to see Ronnie deep in thought, his eyes closed and his fingers pressed to his forehead.
"Mr. Ronnie? Is something wrong?" Ennis asked tentatively, and Ronnie slowly opened his eyes.
"...It looks like they're headed to the same place I am... No matter. This way."
"Excuse me? What?"
Ennis followed him, bewilderment clear on her features.
"Wait, Mr. Ronnie... Wait!"
Ronnie immediately set off to complete his mission, as though he could see where Isaac and Miria had gone... It was like his eyes saw everything.
Ennis gave up and decided to just follow him.
I wonder why Mr. Ronnie does this from time to time. He does this whenever he's searching for something, and then he'll find it, wherever it is, like he can see where things are without looking.
She'd long felt strange vibes from the man known as Ronnie. He seemed different from normal humans--more like her old master Szilard, or Maiza, or Firo.
What perplexed her more than anything was that she felt as though she'd met him somewhere before.
She'd looked through the memories of the immortal she'd devoured long ago, thinking that perhaps those memories had belonged to him... but still failed to recall anything regarding Ronnie Schiatto's past.
As though that past was something forbidden for her to see.
"So where're we going, anyway?"
"Mmm?" Tim said, easily replying. "Millionaire Row. Why?"
Dallas floundered for a moment upon hearing the name of Manhattan's most affluent neighborhood. It was a place for rich people, not a motley band of ruffians like Tim's crew.
Dallas himself, of course, was different. He came from one of New Jersey's richest families, and there was actually a great mansion built by his grandfather on the Row.
He'd been one of the heirs to that great fortune, but there'd been some friction between him and the rest of his family besides his sister, and in the end he'd run away from home, gotten caught up in Szilard's plot, and somehow or other found himself where he was at present.
"That place ain't for trash like you chumps."
"...Your arrogance never fails to amaze me," Tim said, smirking blandly. He peered at Dallas as though he were some sort of strange new life form. "I can see why Huey's interested in you."
"Oh, pretend I didn't say that, will you? Anyway, about our destination. I'd wager you've been there yourself a few times."
Dallas drew back in surprise, then suddenly realized what Tim meant.
"You asshole, you're heading to my house, aren't you?! Why... There's nobody there right... wait, is there?! Hey! Eve ain't there, is she?! If you bastards..."
"Well, you're right about one thing. A round of applause to our guest for getting the place right... Though, the rest is wrong."
Tim kept going, his expression serious as though to head off Dallas' angry shouts.
"Don't worry. Your little sister's not there."
He chuckled quietly, and murmured something that Dallas wouldn't understand.
"Instead, there's a small gang of delinquents staying there..."
"Though I suppose it'd be more accurate to call them bait."
"So, amigo, where're the people we're looking for?" Maria asked her partner as they walked along Broadway, boredom clear on her face.
Ads festooned the street like flower petals, and through that dizzying flurry one could spy colorful billboards. There were many that were so flamboyant that one could almost be forgiven for thinking that they were festooned with neon lights despite the sun still hanging high in the sky, and indeed, some of them did sparkle with bright florescent light.
The beautiful decorations drawn on the ads came together to form a great mosaic, so large that one would have to crane one's neck back to take it all in at once, and these mosaics in turn came together to form the grand advertisement known as Broadway.
But even in such extravagant circumstances, Maria's beauty caught many eyes, and several men stopped what they were doing to whistle appreciatively as she passed by. They probably thought she was some sort of actress.
Maria, for her part, was completely oblivious to these admiring gazes, her head instead filled with dire thoughts of how to wield her swords with maximum efficiency so as to cut down everyone around her.
Her question to Tick had been an attempt to stave off her boredom after finishing one such massacre simulation.
"An abandoned factory? A basement? Where are you taking us, amigo?"
It was a question that should have been asked much sooner, but Tick didn't seem to mind.
"Mmm, well... It's a house on Millionaire Row that belongs to a Mr. Genoard."
"So this Genoard is our target today? Can I slash him?" Maria asked, an excited flutter in her breast, but Tick shook his head.
"No, mmm, the people living there right now are led by someone named..."
He took a memo out from his pocket and read the name written there.
"Let's see, he has a tattoo on his face..."
Tick had to read to the end of the memo to finally find the name he was looking for.
"That's right, it's Jacuzzi! We're looking for a Mr. Jacuzzi Splot!"
Chapter 1 End
(1): 虎徹(tiger slayer). Actual pronunciation is "Kotetsu."
(2): 唐変木. Ignorant oaf.
(3): 夜行さん. A ghostly horseman who rode a headless horse at night, trampling unlucky travelers.
(4): Italian for "one who calls." In this instance, used to mean "secretary."
(5): Italian for "bookkeeper."
(6): 内田魯庵. A Meiji-era critic, author, and translator. Known for translating Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. Also wrote a collection of novellas and short stories critiquing the negative growth of Japan's new capitalist society following the first Sino-Japanese War titled "社会百面相," or "The Hundred Faces of Society."
(7): A gentlemanly rogue created by the French author Maurice Leblanc.
(8): 百々目鬼(Ghost with a hundred eyes). A female monster with a hundred bird's eyes growing on her arms. Often surprised travelers by showing these eyes to them. Also pronounced "dodomeki."