Actually you know what let's just finish the volume off with this post. Enjoy.
Alice in Jails - Prison Episode
Color Pages & Epilogue I
Chapter 1 Front
Chapter 1 Back
Chapter 2 Front
Chapter 2 Back
Chapter 3 Front
Chapter 3 Back
Chapter 4 Front
Chapter 4 Back
Chapter 5 & Connecting Chapter & Remaining Chapter
Alice in Jails - Streets Episode
Peter Pan in Chains
"Feels like tomorrow's gonna be a bad day, for some reason," Firo muttered to himself, gazing blankly into the darkness. Lights out had been some time ago, and now he lay on his cot in his dark cell with his blanket pulled up over him.
A few days had passed since his impromptu meeting with Huey.
Firo continued his life as a prisoner more or less without complaint.
The low ceiling pressed down toward him when he laid down to sleep.
Roll was called sixteen times a day.
The tasks they had him do were simple and boring.
The rules were strict.
Firo was already tired of Alcatraz, of every single aspect of it. He found himself honestly pitying those prisoners who were actually serving life sentences in the island prison.
He'd spent the night after his talk with Huey in solitary, and quite frankly, he thought the experience was a lot like what a slave might feel, locked in the lightless hold of a slave ship. To tell the truth, he had no interest in trying it out again.
The only small comforts he'd managed to glean from Alcatraz--aside from his quiet conversations with Isaac during meal times--were the tiny periods of free time set aside for the prisoners, and his chance meeting in the library one day with a huge yet amicable Italian who'd told him about Naples, his father's hometown.
He'd thought about telling Misery about the double agent in his employ, but soon discarded the thought. It wasn't like he had any way to contact the old man anyway. And for his part, Misery had surely judged that calling upon a supposedly normal inmate like Firo too often would be dangerous, and so the camorrista found the days slipping meaninglessly past him one after another. Firo was seized by the helpless feeling that his life was passing him by, but he could do nothing but stand by and watch.
Time had passed, day by day, until he came to where he was now, once again at the end of an uneventful day, idly listening for the sound of crisp footsteps echoing up the hallway.
His head drooped and nodded as he muttered to himself, half-asleep.
"Musta been... I think... maybe one of those three... musta, must've been sent here on someone else's..."
Sleepy as he was, he forgot to keep his voice down, and his words were loud enough to carry over to the cells on either side of him. Firo paid it no heed, his eyelids continuing to flutter hazily.
He knew, after all, that there was nobody in the cells neighboring his own.
Even Dragon, who had held whispered conversations with him between cells from time to time, had been escorted to solitary that afternoon.
In fact, Firo had been present for the event that had bought the Asian man a ticket to the Hole. Not only had he seen something he could've done without, he'd experienced the rare but still unpleasant sensation of having someone else's blood splattered on his skin.
They'd been out on the exercise grounds during the afternoon.
Firo had spotted the fat man with the gap teeth who'd leered at him and called him "babe" on his first day, and he'd been idly fantasizing about what to do to the bastard when it happened.
The fat man grinned an ugly grin and sauntered over to Dragon, clearly looking to pick a fight. They exchanged a few words.
Dragon's long face split in a grin, and he leaned over, his lips almost touching the man's ear.
The fat man's own grin widened and became yet more unlovely as he stood and waited; perhaps he expected Dragon to whisper something to him.
And then Dragon bit off his ear.
"Muh! Uhh? Wha...?"
The fat man gaped, his mouth open but no words emerging as sudden shock and pain washed over him. He stared dumbly at Dragon as though asking for an explanation, but the only answer he got was his own severed ear spat into his face.
Fear of the fleshy red thing before his eyes kept him from realizing it was his own ear, and the man with the gap teeth unconsciously raised his arm to bat the thing away.
Then Dragon ripped a chunk from that arm as well, and soon pained shrieks and sprays of blood filled that part of the grounds.
The other inmates milled about uneasily, staring warily at Dragon, but the man himself only chewed thoughtfully and mused to himself, "Well, not bad, I guess, but... Hrrm... The thought of where it came from sort of gives it a nasty aftertaste."
With little fanfare he spit out the masticated chunk of flesh and grinned toward Firo as the young camorrista walked closer, irritably wiping away the drops of blood that had splashed onto him.
"Hey, Firo. Oh, no, did I get some on you? Sorry, that's totally my fault."
"I dunno what the hell you're thinking, man..."
"Well, see. That pervert over there grinned at me and said something about Asians looking like kids even when they grow up. Shitty way to break the ice, if you ask me."
"So he's that sorta freak, huh," Firo sighed, but he didn't look altogether surprised as he shook his head. "I was thinking about sending the bastard to hell myself, y'know."
He was only half joking.
Dragon grinned knowingly at him, blood still staining his teeth pink, and patted Firo on the shoulder.
"Yeah," he said. "But to tell you the truth, anyone else would've done just fine, too."
Firo opened his mouth to ask Dragon what he was talking about, but before he could speak the guards finally reached them and forced them apart. The fat man with the gap teeth was taken to the prison ward, and Dragon was led straight to solitary.
Firo thought it over quietly, casting his mind back to the bloody violence that had taken place that afternoon.
So of course Dragon wasn't there in the cell next to his own. And Gig, the hulking black man who'd been occupying the other neighboring cell, hadn't come back from solitary either. According to the rumor mill his stay down there would last at least ten days, considering the way he'd behaved when the guards told him to stand down.
There was one more strange thing, too.
He hadn't seen it happen himself, but Firo had heard that the diminutive Caucasian man who'd come to Alcatraz with him was also down in solitary.
Apparently he'd foolishly attempted to make a break for it, screaming that Gig would murder him if he didn't escape.
A few warning shots had made him faint, and in an ironic twist the unconscious man had been transported down into the Hole, closer to Gig than ever.
Still, it wasn't like the black man would be able to reach him through the thick walls that separated the cells. Even supposing that those walls didn't exist, Gig would probably have more pressing problems on his hands than a sickly schizo. Namely, Ladd Russo.
Huh, come to think of it, all three of the guys who came here with me and my first real acquaintance on this godforsaken rock are all down in solitary, aren't they.
On the one hand he thought it a bad stroke of luck, but on the other he had to wonder if it really was just coincidence.
If one of those three who came with me really does have an ulterior motive... I wonder what he's after?
Firo turned over the matter in his head as he drifted off, but the sound of footsteps echoing down the halls yet again--Firo had lost count of how many times it'd been that night--broke into his muddled thoughts. The crisp footfalls fell in time with the faraway sound of rifles firing to form a harrowing duet, the sound seeping insidiously through the bars and eating away at the inmates' peace of mind.
But then, just like that, the infernal orchestra came to an end.
The faint crack of gunshots still came from afar, but the footsteps slowed like the winding down of gears, finally coming to a stop completely.
Firo looked blearily toward the man who'd been walking down the hall as he motioned at the guards standing at the far end, telling them to open Firo's cell.
The door slid back with a dull clang, and moments later someone tore away his thin blanket.
It was the same way he'd been rudely awakened just a few days ago, repeated once again. Firo blinked slowly, shaking his head, and looked closely up the man who'd just entered his cell.
It was the same guard it had been back then, drawing another silver knife from the folds of his blanket.
With his back toward the outside, only Firo could see the guard offer him a sardonic grin, and when the man spoke he sounded for all the world like a stern enforcer of the law.
"You're going to be staying down there for a while this time."
Ladd opened his eyes wide in the total darkness and felt the chains around his ankles. They clanked and clinked slowly as he slid the links this way and that.
The only thing inmates in the darkness of solitary could do, other than sleep, was make that noise.
But the monotonous sound had a way of ringing and echoing off the bricks of the thin walls. And in the lightless world of the Hole, hearing those reverberations tended to play havoc on the inmates' sense of distance.
Some prisoners went insane after as little as one week in solitary, but Ladd had spent nearly half his stay at Alcatraz down in the darkness, alone.
Most of the inmates just shook their heads in wonder at him, thinking the way he remained alert and sane despite his frequent visits to the Hole to be a sign of incredible mental fortitude.
But a few, those experienced men who had lived long enough in the criminal underworld to tell... they recognized exactly what kind of man Ladd Russo was in an instant.
They knew that he didn't go crazy because he'd always been crazy, right from the start, and they knew that the darkness didn't affect him because he'd never looked toward the light in the first place.
And they knew that the twisted thing inside Ladd was something far beyond the mere madness that darkness and loneliness had to offer, that people like him were so snarled and tangled and broken that nothing could possibly make them any worse anymore.
For his part, Ladd kept his silence.
Only the slow clinking of chains kept the madman company, just as always.
But that day, a bright voice suddenly came from the darkness.
Ladd did not reply.
"Hey, you. You're Ladd Russo, right?"
Stopping his rattling of the chains, Ladd looked up and realized the voice was coming from right outside his cell.
"...So you're the Tinkle Bell that Isaac was talking about."
"Tinker Bell? Oh, that's what he called me? You know, I thought he looked a bit stupid, but wow. What is he a kid? That's so funny."
"I don't really care either way. What I do care about is what you want with me."
A girl's voice in Alcatraz?
Most people would have feared for their own sanity. But Ladd had been sure of one thing since the moment he stepped foot on the island. He'd known that if the man he'd come to kill really did exist, then nothing that happened on Alcatraz could possibly be deemed "out of the ordinary." Such rules would not apply on the island.
As though to reward his unyielding belief, there was the impossible voice outside the door, and there was the sound of a key turning in a lock, and there was the door slowly swinging open.
He started rattling the chains again.
The open doorway revealed a small hand, faintly illuminated by the dim lantern it held. Ladd paid it no mind.
"One of your best friends is a guy named Graham Specter, right, mister?" the black haired girl asked, her golden eyes dancing above an impish smile. It just made what she said next seem all the more shocking in its callous cruelty.
"I'm gonna kill him soon, so could you do me a favor and be my hostage?"
"Oh, oh! And after that! I'd really really appreciate it if you'd let me kill you, too!"
"Ah, welcome. You're late."
Once again, Firo found himself in the depths of the island, in a place below even the Hole.
Once again, he faced the man in white.
Huey Laforet sat on the single chair, wearing the same clothes he'd worn before. As he caught sight of Firo he smiled and folded the newspaper he'd been reading, putting it away.
"Ah, this? As you no doubt know very well, the warden here is very strict, and very good at what he does. Unfortunately for me, his skill meant that I was deprived magazines or newspapers for some time. But then Mr. Misery, who I am sure you know already, came to supervise me directly. I must say I am quite grateful for his provision of entertainment."
Firo could make out the name "Chicago" printed in large block letters on the discarded newspaper, as well as other interesting words such as "explosions" and "kidnappings," but he ignored it and instead focused his attention fully onto Huey.
Huey stared back, seemingly interested by Firo's behavior, before finally moving onto the real reason he'd called Firo to his cell.
"Mmm. So, I trust you have given the matter some thought."
"...Yeah. Yeah, I did. I've just got one condition."
"I already swore everything I've got, my life and my past and my future, to my capo-società, Molsa Martillo. If you decide to do business with the Family, then I'll follow his decision without question. But I can't sell what I know to someone else on my own discretion," Firo said tersely, and Huey hummed thoughtfully and gave it a moment's consideration.
"Are you saying, then, that it was not your personal decision to come to this island in order to save Miss Ennis?"
"She's family," Firo said immediately, as if that explained everything.
Huey seemed to take it in stride and said, "I see, I see... The prospect of business with your Family is indeed intriguing, I must admit, but... Considering Maiza's personality, I wager the chances of successful negotiation to be slim at best."
"Then you have no need for my information?"
"...I can guess at it well enough," Firo said, his lips stretching in a humorless smile as he accessed the foreign memories in his head.
"Your guy, Christopher, he told me something pretty interesting last year. Something like, 'We were created using knowledge that was stolen from Szilard Quates.' Ring a bell?"
"...My. Quite the gossip, young Christopher."
"So I got to thinking, looking at the guard standing outside right now and all the others you've got working for you. What if your communication network is nothing but-"
But before Firo could finish, the door behind him swung open. Reflexively he turned to see who it was, his nerves on edge.
The guard who'd led Firo there collapsed into the room, and a man peered inside, poised as if to step over his body.
Huey caught sight of the man and only nodded once, his expression not even flickering.
"Oh? I don't remember calling you here..."
Then a smile ghosted across his features as he understood.
"Which means that you must be the assassin in Nebula's employ. Assuming my information is correct, then... Mr. Felix Walken, I presume?"
The diminutive Caucasian man only smirked, paying the suddenly chilly atmosphere no heed.
"That name doesn't belong to me anymore," he said. "I sold it to someone else a long time ago."
"Now... Now, I'm just a man with no name."
Madison Square Park
Moving back a few days in time , the scene shifted to a park in a city many miles away.
"Wha... Wait, wha... Shit, dammit, I-I, I need to think... Shit! Fuck! Y-you're lying, aren't you, you dirty bastard!"
Spike finally knew why the warning bells in his head had been ringing, but he had no time to revel in his knowledge. Tightening his grasp on the canes he held in both hands, he gestured to the men in black around him.
"Dammit! Retreat, retreat!"
They hesitated, looking at each other as if they couldn't believe their ears. As far as they could see, they clearly held the advantage, vastly outnumbering their two targets. They looked to their leader for confirmation.
Perhaps hearing the confused rhythm of their breathing, Spike half-turned and shouted over his shoulder.
"You all deaf or something, you retards?! I'll explain later, just run! Fucking run away!"
Spike bolted away with speed that belied his blindness, and the men in black dutifully followed despite the confusion clear on their faces. Claire sighed as he watched them go, gave his neck a few casual cracks, and started after them.
"Hey, not so fast. I'm not done with you ye..."
And then suddenly he was floating, not running.
The man in the long coat--the man who'd once called himself Felix Walken--had suddenly appeared at Claire's side, his body bent forward. With a movement like lightning he grabbed one of Claire's legs and used Claire's own momentum to pull it upward, whipping his upper body back.
Chane gasped as she watched, her mind flashing back to her own experience with the former Felix's technique, but what had happened to her did not happen again.
Still upside down in the air, Claire laid his right index finger against the former Felix's lips, freezing the older man in his tracks. At the same time he twisted masterfully in midair and landed lightly on his feet, right in front of the former Felix.
The man batted away Claire's finger as he landed, but otherwise seemed completely unshaken.
"...I have a question for you."
"...Not bad," Claire said, staring at the older man's face.
It wasn't a glare, for there was no hostility there. Just honest surprise and admiration.
For his part, the man in black just narrowed his eyes and moved to the matter at hand.
"You called yourself Felix Walken. Who did you get that name from?"
"Me? Hmm, well, I can't tell you the specifics, but... I bought it from a really awesome dame, somewhere in her thirties."
Chane's eyes widened.
She'd known, of course, that her fiancé had gotten the name from another assassin, but from the name itself she'd thought that the previous owner was a man.
The man in black's eyes narrowed yet more, and he murmured thoughtfully to himself, "I see... It seems there've been more new generations than I expected in such a short time."
That said, he turned his back on Claire and began heading toward Spike and his cronies, who were just now starting up the engines on their cars.
"...You'll see me again, soon."
Claire stretched out his arm to stop him, but Chane grabbed his arm and he stopped to look at her.
"Huh? What's wrong, Chane? Are you hurt?! Did those bastards do something to...?!"
Chane shook her head and only looked at him urgently.
"Oh, you're worried about Jacuzzi and his friends? Oh, oh, yeah. I see. Okay. Got it."
Claire raised his hands in surrender, then wrapped his arms around Chane's shoulders.
"Hey!" he called to the former Felix, pulling Chane close. "Give your boss a message from me, will you?"
"...What is it?"
"Tell him to be a little more careful picking his fights from now on."
"...I'll let him know."
The former Felix raised one hand in farewell as he left, but the present holder of his name seemed to have one more question in mind.
"Hey, one more thing. Who'd you sell the name to, anyway?"
The man's steps slowed, then stopped. He looked thoughtfully up at the sky, as though wistfully thinking of the man he'd once been, and replied.
"I didn't sell the name to one man. I sold it to many."
"To an Asian man, and a black man, and a white man, and..."
A Few Days Later
Another man stepped up from behind the small Caucasian.
He was of Asian descent, and he had tattoos winding up both his arms.
A hulking black man joined them too, his body covered with scars.
"Hey, Firo. Fancy meeting you here."
"Dragon..." Firo muttered.
Dragon grinned and tipped him a wink.
It seemed Gig hadn't healed fully from his encounter with Ladd, for his face was still a mass of bruised and swollen flesh, but nevertheless he stood and stared wordlessly at Huey.
"...The picture is coming together now," Huey commented, his eyes narrowing with thought.
"So. All three of you, then."
Firo looked from Huey to the three men and back again, completely and utterly bewildered.
Ignoring his confusion, Dragon and Gig entered and slowly spread out, surrounding Huey and Firo on three sides. The small white man, who had kept his place at the door, merely grinned and shrugged.
"All three of us? Maybe, maybe not. You don't need to know, that's for sure."
The confident smirk on his face was at complete odds with the shows of cowardice Firo had seen before, but Huey took it in stride and gathered the facts in his head.
"Ah, no. Someone must have led you to this place, so it must be four..."
"They don't call you a genius for nothing, I see," the Caucasian commented, and snapped his fingers once. Another man appeared from the shadows near the door, revealing a man dressed in a guard's uniform who Firo had never seen before.
The rifle held loosely in his hands made the large room seem suddenly stiflingly small.
"I see now. That boat was carrying not only new inmates, but also new guards as well."
A faint smile played around Huey's lips, and the four men reacted to it each in their own ways. At length Dragon clacked his teeth together and stepped forward to represent them, sneering.
"Maybe, maybe not," he said, mimicking his companion from earlier.
"Whoa, wait, hold on," Firo blurted, suddenly feeling distinctly left out. He looked to Huey and frowned, asking, "Who the hell are these people?"
"Felix Walken. You have heard the name, I trust."
"Huh? Oh, umm. Well, yeah, I guess."
Firo's frowned deepened and he looked like he had something to say, but for the moment he just nodded and let Huey explain. The man in white looked calm despite the circumstances, but Firo had the feeling that Huey would have held the same expression had he been hanging precariously from a cliff by a thread.
"They're assassins working for Nebula. I must admit, all I knew about them, myself, was the name. I never even imagined that Felix Walken was in fact a group of four people working together."
"Not exactly," Dragon boasted, grinning and puffing out his narrow chest. "It used to be just a symbol for hitmen, nothing more than a name. We're the ones who made the legend in New York about 'Walken the Cleaner.'"
"You're telling them too much," the man in the guard's outfit snapped. He leveled the rifle at Firo. Like Huey, his expressionless features revealed nothing, but at the same time the air he gave off was of a different sort. "We're asking the questions here. Who're you?"
"...Err, you know, I'm not really sure how to reply to that. Don't suppose you'd give me a minute to think it over?"
"Sorry, but no. It doesn't matter, we'll decide what to do with you later. The mission comes first."
The three unarmed men slowly began advancing on Huey, and though Firo didn't know how good the Caucasian man might be, it was a safe bet that Dragon and Gig, at least, knew how to handle themselves in a fight.
Huey stayed calm, though, and after a moment's consideration simply turned to Firo.
"Sadly, fighting is not one of my areas of expertise. Would you consider lending me a hand?"
"Sorry, but no," Firo said, mimicking the guard, and Huey merely smiled ruefully and slowly placed a hand on his chair.
The hitmen looked wary and tense as they advanced, as though waiting for someone to make the first move before truly springing into action.
And then, a noise interrupted their cautious approach.
It was the sound of approaching footsteps.
Someone was coming, drawing closer from the far end of the hall.
The guard had half-closed the door as he came in, blocking view of the hall outside. The door had a small window at eye level, but the reflected light on the glass made it impossible to see out into the dim hallway.
The footsteps drew nearer, even and measured, regular as the movement of a clock needle or pendulum.
Every flat impact seemed to make the atmosphere ever more stifling, and everyone inside the room turned their attention toward the mysterious footsteps, their gazes drawn as one toward the half-open door.
And then, they stopped.
An ominous silence stretched for long seconds, before a sound like a bomb going off suddenly rocked the room. Everyone shied back at the terrible sound, instinctively reaching for their ears.
As it turned out, the sound hadn't been for nothing. The reinforced metal door crumpled and burst open, the handle going flying off to clatter noisily on the floor.
And in the doorway stood...
"Good afternoon, good evening, good night. Nice to meet you, and goodbye too, come to think of it. I'm looking for Peter Pan in chains. The eternal boy."
A man who belonged there more than anyone.
A man enjoying himself more than anyone.
A grinning murderer more twisted than anyone.
A length of chain was snarled around the hook of metal attached to his arm, and a young girl hung limply on the end of that length.
The murderer, Ladd Russo, heard Huey's low murmur and knew his target in an instant.
And with the sort of smile normally reserved for men meeting the loves of their lives for the first time--a mad, crazy, infinitely innocent and pure smile--Ladd spoke.
"Tick, tock, Laforet. The crocodile's here, with the Cap'n's hook in tow, and guess what? He's starving!"
"Now then! I'm not gonna get too close because there's no telling what you'd do to me if I got too close, so I'll take care of things from here, okay?" the girl chirped from the doorway, taking care to keep out of Ladd's range--not too hard, considering his limbs were chained. She drew out a brace of small discs as she talked.
The discs shone silver, and they had holes in the center, like metal donuts. Their bright shine became keener near the edges, and an observant watcher might have realized what that wicked sheen meant: they were bladed weapons. As Ladd watched, the girl began to spin one around her finger.
It wasn't clear whether or not he realized the danger he was in, considering the dim light. If he did, though, he showed no sign of noticing and kept on rattling the chains at his feet, just like he'd been doing before the door was opened.
"How does it feel to be tied up like that, mister?"
"You know," Ladd said quietly, barely audible over the constant clinking of chains, "I can't really see your face that well because you've got your back to the light..."
"But I bet you've got this look on your face that says you think you'll never die."
"Huh? What're you even talking about, mister? You're funny. But yeah, you're right. There's no way you could ever kill me right now. Actually, I'm the one who's going to kill you later."
The girl giggled, but Ladd didn't react. Clink, clink, went the chains.
"And I don't know what kinda argument you've gotten into with Graham, but here's a tip. He won't kill people, but... In a straight fight, he'd beat me, so you'd better watch out."
"I know that, dummy. That's why I'm taking you hos-"
"But me? Me, I can kill people."
"It doesn't matter who, actually. I can still kill."
"I can kill women, or even children. Anyone who pisses me off."
Suddenly, the sound of rattling chains stopped.
Ladd was only pulling on the chains that bound him, but to Liza it looked like the end of the chain had lifted off the ground.
"I can kill."
Then Ladd leaped to his feet, his eyes glinting darkly in the shadows. The chains wrapped around his right hand came loose, falling to the floor.
Then, only then, did Liza realize what was out of the ordinary.
His chains... They aren't connected to his fee-
A length of whirling chain came down, cutting off all thought...
And only the savage words of a killer were left to fill the air.
"I can kill."
To Firo, Ladd Russo's appearance in Huey Laforet's cell was stupendously sudden, incredibly implausible, and more than anything the air that hung about him was amazingly dangerous, charged and almost buzzing with malice.
Ladd spread his arms wide and grinned, tossing away the girl he'd dragged in.
She hit the wall with a small thud and dropped to the floor, but otherwise didn't move. It wasn't even clear if she was still alive, but Ladd paid her no more heed and instead turned his attention leisurely toward the other people in the room, ignoring the tenseness in the air.
"She pressed my button," he said simply. "That's all."
The prosthetic on the end of his left arm hung awkwardly down from his elbow as he raised his arms higher, but Ladd didn't seem to care.
"Did you know that? Everyone's got a button inside them. It decides whether they can kill another human being or not. That's all that little button does. But if you press it... you can kill. You can kill someone. Anyone. So in other words, your ability to kill another human being is all decided by whether or not you can press that little button. Can you believe it?"
Nobody could make sense of what he was talking about, and as they watched, bewildered, he raised his index finger to his temple and gave it a nudge.
Again, and again, and again, he pressed down on his own temple.
"Like this, and this, and this and this and this and this this this this this. Again and again until you lose count, until it all runs together and you can't tell where anything begins or ends, you press that button. All these buttons inside me, dozens and hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of them! So you see, now, why I can't help but kill people. Right?"
He's crazy, Firo thought, and perhaps the former Felix Walkens around him shared his opinion. Hardened killers though they were, they frowned distastefully as they glared at Ladd.
Only Huey gazed thoughtfully at him, but Ladd himself seemed to find that unacceptable. He shrugged and took another step inside, and locked eyes with Huey Laforet.
"Now that you understand, it's mean a lot to me if you could die for the sake of those millions of little buttons I just pressed. It's alright, though. You only have to die once."
Huey only shrugged back, staring openly at Ladd. His interest had indeed been piqued, but first he wanted to know exactly what Ladd was after.
"...Where are your manners, Mr. Russo? Do you know how rude it is to barge into someone else's room like this?"
"They wouldn't call people like me murderers if we called and asked if it was okay to come ahead of time," Ladd replied, as if that was the most obvious thing in the world. "Why, that'd just be plain crazy."
A hint of amusement entered his voice, feral glee seeping into his voice and spreading his presence through the room.
"Whew, finally. My muscles and gray matter're all warmed up now..."
He cracked his neck first left, then right, then pushed his right fist against his limply hanging prosthetic, cracking his knuckles as well.
"Now, then. Well, well, well well well! How do you want to die? I'm gonna kill you until you wish you could die. Oh, don't worry, though. I'll give you a choice. You can die, or be killed. I'd appreciate it if you made up your mind by the time I'm finished cutting you up into pieces!"
He advanced, and perhaps he had no eyes for anyone save Huey anymore, for he looked neither right nor left as he went.
The guard raised his rifle, frowning as he hooked his finger on the trigger.
"Hey, asshole. Who the hell d'you think you... are?"
Ladd Russo was already standing right in front of him.
There was a sort of logical disconnect at work. Just a moment ago Ladd had been walking toward Huey, staring straight at him, and then the next he'd turned and stepped lightly over to the guard with the rifle, in the blink of an eye.
There was a dry snap, a sickly sort of crunch, and the guard's body went limp.
"You're not exactly standing in my way, but the way you're looking at me, it pisses me off. Your animosity pisses me off. Your voice pisses me off. Your existence, it pisses me off. You're annoying so you piss me off and that makes me mad, you annoying son of a bitch."
Ladd's words reached the guard's ears, and only a moment after that did the pain finally register.
Something was wrong with his arm.
All feeling had rushed from the limb, replaced only with searing agony, but before he could glance down to see what had happened he found a black hole yawning wide before his eyes.
It was the muzzle of the gun that he'd been holding, just a moment ago.
"Oh, but thanks for the rifle. I owe you one."
And only then did the guard realize the dire straits he was in.
Only then did he understand that Ladd had grabbed the barrel of his rifle and torn it from his hands. He looked down and saw his wrist and fingers twisted at unnatural angles, but suddenly he was bereft of even the breath to scream in pain.
"Actually, here, let me repay that right now. Die."
Before he could have second thoughts, before the guard could even begin to feel fear, Ladd pulled the trigger.
A roiling boom filled the cell.
The sound ricocheted off the walls of the enclosed room, and even Firo, who was used to the sound of gunfire, shrunk back unconsciously.
A spray of blood splattered the walls, but it was far less than Firo had expected.
The guard had indeed been hit by the bullet, but he'd only lost his right ear and his consciousness, not his life. Unconscious before he even hit the floor, the man described a short half-circle with his upper body as he spun and fell, slumping bonelessly to the cold floor.
It was pain that had made him faint, nor was it fear. A more direct means had been involved. As it passed the side of his head and took his ear, the bullet had skimmed the side of his temple, concussing the brain inside. Being so close to the muzzle as it fired had also burst his eardrums, and together the sound and the shock ushered him into darkness before he even realized what had happened.
The remaining three inmates warily surrounded Ladd, glancing uneasily to each other and then back at him.
Still, they didn't rush him right there and then, and Firo thought he might know why as he watched the situation unfold.
Yeah, that's enough to make anyone hesitate.
The indescribable feeling radiating from Ladd was twisted but pure. It almost felt as though every atom of the air around him had been inscribed with pure murder.
The strangest thing was that Ladd showed no openings despite his aggressive stance. Firo got the feeling that even if he himself attacked Ladd from his position directly behind the man, he'd be staring down a rifle barrel before he took his first step.
The anxiety ambient in the room skyrocketed, and only Ladd chuckled and kicked the unconscious guard in the face.
"Hah! I was lying, pal. It was a joke. I wouldn't kill a pathetic goon like you. Yet. No way I'd waste this feeling rising inside me on something so trivial."
Ladd grinned a feral grin and raised his gaze to the ceiling. Dragon bared his teeth at him in an answering smile, though there was little mirth in it.
"Do you even know what you've just done, you crazy-"
"Right there! That's enough! Shut up!"
Ladd cut off Dragon's bluster before it could even get started properly and lowered his hands, the rifle pointing down toward the ground.
"Alright. I don't even know who the hell you people are, but I understand. Just shut up, don't say a word, close your mouth and get down and kiss the floor."
"Let me tell you how important it is to keep your mouth shut. Me, I've seen so many damn people going on and on about 'these will be the last words you ever hear' and 'take these words with you to the afterlife,' and then that gives whoever they're fighting an opening to strike back. Crazy, isn't it? I see it all the time, in books, in plays, even in real life! I don't even know why, but somehow the more comfortable someone is with killing, the more they flap their mouth when it comes time to do the deed, yakking on and on and on. As you might have guessed, I myself happen to be such a person! And therefore, as such, in light of that revelation, I'll say that one is enough, and since that one is of course myself, I want you all to shut up. You're boring. Swallow those words and take them to the afterlife yourself if you want them delivered there so damn much."
Dragon's mouth dropped open, his sharp incisors on full display as he struggled to deal with the ridiculously bullheaded speech. Even Firo's eyes widened, while Huey merely smiled and continued to observe Ladd with the air of an intrigued scientist.
But from behind Ladd, slightly to the right, came a deep, low voice as a giant shadow slid forward.
"Dragon. This one's mine," Gig said, moving smoothly and slowly toward Ladd.
"Hey," the hulking black man said, amicably. "Didn't get to show you what I had last time, you know. It'd be rude of me to hold back, don't you think?"
The last words were still passing from his lips when he burst forward in a monstrous display of speed.
Holy shit, he's fast! Firo thought, taken slightly aback. It seemed almost wrong that something so huge could move so fast, flowing through the air like a whisper of wind and drawing close to Ladd. He's totally different from the way he was back in the cafeteria.
Even at a glance it was obvious that Gig was skilled in some sort of martial art, his body skimming the ground low like a cannonball headed straight for Ladd's knees.
The rifle stayed unmoving at Ladd's side.
Gig's face creased in an ugly grin, sure of his victory.
The rifle dropped to the floor with a clatter.
From his low position, all Gig could see were Ladd's feet, flashing away in a fancy display of footwork.
The next moment, he couldn't see the feet anymore, because his field of vision was blocked by a fist.
By the time he realized it was a low uppercut skimming the ground, Ladd's fist had already buried itself deep into the flesh of his face.
"Holding back or not," Ladd declared, the weapon that had given him such an advantage lying discarded at his feet, "you're already being rude the moment you raise your fists at someone, you dumb bastard."
"You crazy fuck..."
The Caucasian and Dragon both muttered disbelievingly under their breath, but Ladd only yawned and stretched. As for Gig, he was in no condition to talk, his nose in such a state that calling it collapsed, or caved in, would be a far more accurate description than merely saying it was broken.
"So, back to the conversation. Who did you guys say you were, again?"
"Do you even know who you're dealing with, you luna-"
"Dammit, I thought I told you to shut up," Ladd said. He shrugged casually.
"I don't care who you are, or what things you've done. Just shut up. Even if you're a million times stronger than me, even if you're gods or demons who can make my head explode with a thought, just shut up."
Now Ladd appeared to be full of openings, and both remaining Felixes came at him at once, one from each side.
The Caucasian reached for the rifle at Ladd's feet, while Dragon leaped straight for Ladd's throat, his teeth bared like the fangs of a rabid dog.
"I don't want to hear about your pasts, or your opinions, or what tricks you've got up your sleeves, or how much you hate me, or what you're proud of or about any legends of magic spells you might've heard in fairy tales..."
Ladd moved as he spoke, and though his movements were quick and efficient, each one was still strangely violent. Perhaps beguiled by the slow rhythm of his speech, the white man and Dragon were just a second too late in reacting to Ladd's actions.
Ladd's right fist sped toward Dragon's face, but instead of dismay the Asian man's eyes flashed with glee as he grinned and opened his mouth wide, gaping so far it brought to mind the dislocated maw of a huge snake. As soon as Ladd's fist cleared his teeth Dragon bit down, his jaws snapping together like a steel trap.
A shock ran through the bones of Ladd's hand, followed by tremendous pressure, like the tightening of a mechanical vise.
But the strength didn't run from Ladd's arm; he even smiled ferociously, as though that had been exactly what he'd been waiting for.
He ignored the pain and twisted, a huge motion that used all his muscles, and released the power inside his body all at once.
"...Whatever it is, I'll hear it all out when I kill you."
Clutching the rifle in his hands, the Caucasian looked up to see a dark shadow speeding toward him.
It was Dragon, his eyes wide with surprise and dismay.
Ladd had lifted him bodily into the air and swung his fist with Dragon still attached like some sort of ridiculous boxing glove, bringing him down straight onto the white man's head.
"...Huh. Is that it?"
An eerie silence fell over the room as Ladd looked around, surveying his handiwork. The four former Felix Walkens lay scattered around him, still to the last man.
Huey cocked his head to one side curiously, murmuring quietly to himself as he thought aloud.
"The legendary Felix Walken, laid low so easily by just one man? Well, perhaps in this situation it would be correct to say that their opponent is beyond what one would consider human..."
Ladd noticed and clenched his still-bloody right fist, the crazy murderer's grin once again spreading on his face.
"What're you muttering about? Rehearsing how to beg for your life?"
Huey smiled faintly. "My desire to study you has increased a little."
"Funny you should say that. My desire to kill you's been rocketing sky high since I walked in," Ladd said, giving Huey a raw smile that contrasted with the scientist's reserved chuckles.
No longer in the spotlight, Firo leaned on the wall and decided to just watch them both and see how the situation would unfold.
They stared at one another for a moment, then Huey chose to break the silence.
"You called yourself the crocodile."
"I might've said something like that, yeah."
"In Peter and Wendy, Peter Pan represents the mind of the child, innocent yet cruel because of that innocence, ignorant of both good and evil. In contrast, though Captain Hook is evil, he represents the rational adult. What, then, does the crocodile stand for? What is its role? What do you stand for, you who have come to strike me down?"
From his expression it was apparent that Huey probably didn't expect a response, but Ladd just shook his head as though in exasperation and answered.
"Pure power and murderous intent beyond good or evil. Endless hunger. Think of me as a catastrophe, a force of nature."
Huey didn't reply.
"I'm a murderer. I like to kill people. If Heaven and Hell really exist, then I've probably bought myself a ticket to Hell a thousand times over. But I've never wrung my hands and worried about the good or evil of it. Even if an act of murder were committed without the intent to kill, without hatred or even a good reason to take that life, only the victim would care about the good or evil of it. It'd never even cross the killer's mind, though. I just follow my instincts, chewing people up and spitting them out. In other words, all I think about it myself. That's all. So I just thought to myself that if I could kill you, even though I hear you can't be killed, that'd be barrels of fun. That's all. That's honestly all there is to it."
Ladd sounded eerily calm as he answered, and Huey's eyes narrowed with admiration.
"I had thought you nothing but a simple and violent murderer, but now I see you are something of a poet," he said.
"Haha! Me? A poet? You're insulting all the real poets out there."
Ladd opened his fist and clenched it, murder rising hot and sticky in his eyes once more.
"I'll just have to defend the honor of all the offended poets of the world, won't I."
"But have you considered this?" Huey asked suddenly. "If that is truly why you want to kill me, then would you not have to divide your murderous intent?"
"You enjoy killing those who think that they will never die, correct? And that is why you decided to kill me, an immortal. But in that case..."
Huey paused for the space of a breath, as though enjoying the moment, as though gathering his thoughts, and smiled coldly.
"Did you know that Firo Prochainezo, the man currently leaning against that wall, is also an immortal?"
Firo gasped, feeling the situation suddenly shift. In an instant he'd been snatched from his position as a third party observer and thrust right into the middle of Ladd and Huey's argument. Huey was probably looking to divert Ladd's murderous intent at least a little, and at the same time force Firo to stand on Huey's side.
All this ran through his head in the blink of an eye. Firo grit his teeth and glared at Huey, then sighed and shifted his gaze to Ladd.
"...Is he telling the truth, Firo?"
Instead of replying out loud, Firo slowly walked over to stand behind Huey, slightly to his right.
And then he raised a finger to his lips and bit down.
The metallic taste of blood flooded his mouth and pain spread from his finger. Blood dripped to the floor, but just a few seconds later it was like the flow of time itself reversed, and the blood taste in his mouth vanished along with the liquid itself, flowing back into the small wound.
Ladd's eyes widened slightly as he saw for the first time what it truly meant to be immortal, but otherwise his expression revealed nothing of what he was thinking inside.
"Yeah, that's how it is. Sorry about that."
It felt like he was betraying a friend, and Firo couldn't deny that it hurt a little. But he had to admit that it was probably better to cut ties with someone like Ladd. The little girl lying motionless in the corner had had him wavering even before Huey's calculated move.
Ladd looked at him for a moment, his expression unreadable...
Suddenly he chuckled, the sound growing louder until soon he was laughing wholeheartedly, his head thrown back with mirth.
"Hahahahaha! I see! I see, so that's it! That's it! Firo! Thanks so much, you taught me something really great!"
I did? What did I say?
Firo hesitated, unsure of what was going on, but Ladd just snapped his fingers and chuckled again.
"I told you, didn't I? I only kill people who're sure they'll never be killed! And don't you remember what I told you along with that? I said you were different from those schmucks!"
"So...? So what's that supposed to mean?"
"Look, Firo. You're immortal, sure, but even now some part of you is still afraid of dying. Your eyes are alive. Even now! Even at this very moment! Look, can't you see you're still on your guard, looking at Huey Laforet? You've got that look on your face that says you think he might try and kill you at any moment! And that. That's taught me something very important."
Ladd took a breath, then grinned an ugly grin.
"That look you have tells me there's still some way immortals can die. You can still be killed. Right?"
Firo gasped despite himself.
"Well, whatever. The two of you can team up and try and take me on. That's fine with me. I'll just have to find out how to kill an immortal if I have to beat the knowledge out of you. I'm in no rush."
Ladd began bouncing soundlessly on his feet, shadowboxing lightly.
"I'll give you some time to talk it over."
"Well, then. You heard Mr. Russo. What shall we do?" Huey asked over his shoulder. He didn't sound altogether troubled at all.
Firo just sighed and grit his teeth. "Look, Laforet."
"Oh? Yes? What is it?"
"You asked me earlier if I was afraid of Szilard or some other alchemist inside my head taking over my mind."
Huey glanced back, obviously curious about why Firo would suddenly choose to bring that up again, but he remained silent and let Firo continue.
"It... it doesn't matter to me. As long as that old bastard doesn't decide to do something to Ennis or my friends, it doesn't matter what he or anyone else does with my body."
Huey didn't reply.
"I don't care what happens to me. As long as my world stays peaceful, it doesn't matter who I am--or even if I don't exist at all, even if I'm just some dream that someone I know is dreaming."
...Come to think of it, I used to argue with Claire about this all the time...
Firo smirked, remembering the days of his childhood.
"May I ask why you decided to mention this now?" Huey asked, and Firo just smiled in reply.
"Well, seeing as how I don't know what might happen soon...
"I just wanted to get it off my chest before we part ways."
NYPD Police Station
Three men sat and waited in the NYPD reception room, each with a different expression on his face.
The police had taken them in and questioned them about the explosion while they inspected the office, and after many long sessions and hard questions they'd finally been let off the hook. The problem was, they were still more or less tied up in New York until people even higher up in the chain of command than Victor finished shuffling papers.
Victor glared balefully up at the ceiling.
"Dammit. Huey got us, and he got us good. The brat we sent to Alcatraz is probably resting easy in Huey's head by now, or maybe he's gone switched sides on us. Nothing would surprise me now."
"I don't know sir," Edward said in a low undertone.
"What was that, Detective Noah? Hmm, come to think of it, you were going to say something before that suicidal bomber came to say hello, weren't you."
Edward kept his silence for a second, then at length, reluctantly, as though he didn't want to talk but couldn't bear keeping the knowledge to himself, he spoke.
"Sir... Sorry to correct you like this, but Prochainezo didn't get to where he is because he's lucky, or because he knows how to kiss ass."
"...Huh, so you do think highly of him after all. Then do you think we can expect something from him?"
"No. No, I don't," Edward said tersely.
Victor frowned, his brow creasing with concern. "What is it you're saying, exactly, Detective?"
"What I'm saying is that we should hope something bad does happen to him."
Edward's eyes focused on something far away, as though he was looking back in time, watching the street rat Firo Prochainezo rise through the ranks of the underworld.
"We shouldn't expect anything from him at all. But we should be careful. We should watch our backs.
"He's a gangster, after all... A villain, through and through."
"Oh, and while we're talking, I thought I might mention one more thing."
'Yes?" Huey asked absently, mostly ignoring Firo in favor of Ladd, who was watching impatiently.
"You said that Felix Walken was a group of four people, right..."
"Yes." Huey didn't take his eyes from Ladd, and Ladd stared back, murder in his gaze.
A small sound reached his ears, the sibilant whisper of flesh parting from flesh.
Then came the sharp cold, sinking into his back.
Then the cold transformed into heat, and heat into pain, making his breath catch in his throat.
The shock felt like it was piercing his spine, spreading from there to his entire body. Then, just as suddenly as it had come, it vanished.
He noted faintly that he could no longer move his arms and legs.
As he pitched forward, his eyes caught sight of Ladd staring back at him. The murderer's eyes were opened wide, animosity momentarily vanishing in the face of surprise. Huey knew then that whatever had happened to him had nothing to do with Ladd Russo.
His body hit the cold floor, and from behind him he could hear Firo's icy voice.
"...Actually, it's five."
Firo moved his right hand toward Huey's head, looking to cut off his consciousness for good.
Even as Firo's shadow slowly darkened his entire field of vision, Huey's mind was awhirl with excited thought.
I never even dreamed of this possibility.
I thought I had hold of the situation to an extent, and look. See how such uncertain elements rear their heads before me.
It became painful to breathe, and Huey felt his consciousness fading fast.
Huey smirked wryly, the face of his old friend floating to the forefront of his mind.
Look, Elmer. It's just as you said.
"This is why... the world is interesting."
Silence and stillness reigned in the cell.
The tiny silhouette that had been lying still in the corner suddenly trembled.
"Mmm.... Ooooh... Oh!"
Just like when she woke up after a night's sleep, Liza snapped to full awareness as soon as she regained consciousness and bolted to her feet.
How long had she been unconscious? She only wondered for a moment.
"...Oh no! I've been out of it for a whole hour and twenty-seven minutes...!"
There was no clock in the room, but still she knew.
Realizing she was in her father's cell, she looked wildly right and left, searching for him.
The first thing she saw was that the door was hanging ajar, and a familiar guard was lying face down just outside.
But none of that mattered to her. She spun in nearly a full circle and suddenly froze, the sight of something dressed in white lying limply on the floor shaking her to the core.
Liza rushed to her father's side.
There was a knife stuck deep in his neck. From the looks of it, the blade had completely severed his spine.
"No... Noooo!" the girl shrieked, grabbing the knife in both hands and tugging as hard as she could.
There was a sickly crack of breaking bone as the knife left the wound, blood spurting in all directions.
An even greater shock than before shook the girl's heart as she saw the blood flowing from her father's body, but she relaxed, just a little, as she saw it stop and change directions, flowing back into his body.
...He's alive. He's alive!
Rationally, Liza knew that her father was immortal, and that he would recover from any injury as long as he wasn't devoured by another immortal, but the sight of the knife in his back had distressed her on a level below rational thought.
"Daddy! Daddy, wake up! Wake up, Daddy! Please!"
"Oh... Liza? Where is everyone else?" Huey managed, slowly sitting up.
Liza flinched with surprise and looked around again, but there was still nobody around except the one fallen guard near the door.
"It's okay, Daddy! You don't have to worry! There's nobody here anymore!"
Gingerly, Huey got to his feet, clinically checking the state of his own body as he rose. Suddenly he realized something was wrong and he turned to Liza.
"Oh? How strange," he said softly. "I can't open my left eye. Would you mind taking a look for me to see what's wrong, Liza?"
To tell the truth he already had a good idea of what had happened, but still he asked his daughter, spurred only by pure curiosity. He wanted to learn what Liza, who thought of him as nothing less than perfect, would think of this.
Hesitantly, fearfully, Liza reached up and touched her father's closed left eye...
The eyelid pulled back, revealing nothing but a dark red pit.
The eyeball that should have been there was not, and so the girl found herself eye to eye with a terrible red-black darkness.
Huey forgot even the fact that he'd lost his left eye as Liza's shrieks filled the air, intent on recording his daughter's reaction into his memory.
He reviewed his actions.
He reconfirmed that he was a terrible human being.
And he smiled gleefully, making the decision to recommence his experiments as soon as possible.
The Daily Days
And that is where I think I will stop for today.
Think of it as a deposit.
I told you, did I not?
I was present for some things.
But I was not, for others.
I have told you most of what went on in the prison during those days. But I did not tell you everything. A select few important matters remain yet untold.
They are rather closely related to certain things that happened on another stage, you see. Things that happened in Chicago. It only makes sense in context.
Now, I would very much appreciate it if you told me what you know.
You do know, don't you?
What I have told you--my side of the story--is only a single part of a greater whole, of something that can only be completed with the knowledge of what happened in Chicago.
What kind of person is Graham Specter?
How did that madman Ladd Russo break the chains binding his feet?
Why did the brat, Firo Prochainezo, pluck out Huey's eye?
What happened to Firo and Ladd after Huey lost consciousness?
How exactly does Master Huey contact the outside world... Well. I suppose you can figure out the answer to that particular question already.
But the answer to all those questions, and more, can only be revealed once I know what truly happened in Chicago.
My apologies. To tell you truthfully, I do want to tell you. But more than that, I want to know what happened where I was not there to see.
I wish to take the information that only information brokers such as yourselves possess, and perhaps even obtain from it new assumptions that even you do not know, and fill in all the missing pieces of this puzzle.
In that way, I suppose, I am much the same as Master Huey.
...Whoa. Closing time already, eh?
Well, guess I better be going now.
When I come in tomorrow I might be someone else, or maybe I won't come at all.
You might be a little confused, but this'll all be taken care of if I can meet Mr. Saint-Germain.
Yeah, yeah. I'm always watching. I'm always seeing something.
Like it or not, I have to watch more things than other people.
That's the fate of the Twins. My fate, and Hilton's.
And in that case... maybe I can change this fate into money, at least.
Well. Anyway, I look forward to doing business with you again in the future, Mr. Information Broker.
I'll believe, for better or worse, that all that knowledge will complete this world of mine.
"Ah, today's your last day here, isn't it. Congratulations."
Isaac smiled sheepishly back at Misery.
"Well, err. I don't know what to say. I'm sorry for all the trouble I've caused!"
"...You know, you're the third person whose entry I've supervised myself. The other two came in, but haven't yet been released."
"Amazing! Then you mean I'm the sole survivor?! No, wait, I can't be that amazing, since I did get caught... In that case, you must be the amazing one, Mr. Warden!"
"What? No, I'm not... Well, I suppose Warden Johnston is quite amazing, but still..." Misery muttered under his breath, confused. He shook his head to clear it and gave Isaac some advice.
"Nobody's ever left this island as quickly as you have--while still alive, that is. Of course you've atoned for your crimes here in prison, but only your life outside, in society, will tell you for sure whether you've truly repented. So let me tell you this: From now on, put your criminal ways aside and live for society, for America. Live for the people you love."
"Got it! I'll do my best, just you wait and see!" Isaac cried, puffing out his chest proudly like a child.
Misery could only grin despite himself as he drew an envelope out from inside his suit.
"Hmm. You know, I never thought the day would come that I'd say these words, but here. This is your pay for a month's hard labor, so take it proudly. And between you and me, I added a little extra as a farewell gift."
Isaac took the paper envelope and gave Misery a sunny smile.
"Thank you so much! Wow, you have no idea how much this means to me! Thank you and thank you again, Mr. Warden!"
"I'm telling you, I'm not the warden..."
"Then, err, Boss?"
"...Well, I suppose that works."
Misery waved him away, still smiling, and Isaac smiled back and left the office.
Just like when he'd come, a guard led him to a boat that was waiting at a dock, and then...
Isaac Dian left Alcatraz.
The light of the setting sun dyed the jutting cliffs a deep, warm shade of orange, the hues of twilight transforming the normally foreboding island into a thing of breathtaking loveliness.
Isaac thought back to his past, of how he'd looked upon the very same island so many times in his youth...
And suddenly, even more than he wanted freedom, he wished to see Miria.
"Oh, no... This isn't enough to get me back to New York."
After a long series of procedures at a Division of Investigation office, Isaac was finally free.
Most inmates were sent to serve the remainder of their sentences in normal prisons even after being released from Alcatraz, but Isaac had never actually been tried, and so he went straight from the Rock back to being a free man.
Apparently, Victor had been scheduled to meet up with him, but he'd run into some problems over in New York and Isaac had instead talked to a man who introduced himself as Victor's boss before being let go.
From here and there in the streets, Isaac could hear radio broadcasts, something about trouble brewing in Chicago, but he paid the urgent voices no heed.
The moment he got back the clothes he'd been wearing when he was arrested, he fished out his wallet and pooled the money inside together with the small sum that Misery had given him, then turned and headed straight toward the train station.
All he wanted to do was meet Miria again as soon as he could.
The problem was, no matter how he turned the matter over in his head, he didn't have enough money to take a transcontinental train all the way back to New York. Prison labor didn't exactly pay well, and he'd only done month's worth of it at that. Even together with Misery's "severance payment," and the few bills left in his wallet, he'd run out of money well before he ran out of miles.
Normally this wouldn't have been a problem at all--he'd have just stolen some money from a passing villain and liberate it for a better cause, but Misery (the warden-cum-amazing person-cum-Boss, in Isaac's mind) had told him to put his criminal ways aside, and to live for the people he loved. With a great effort of will, he set the option of thievery aside.
For just an instant, he thought of his home, so close he could walk there, but then Miria's face rose in his mind and he discarded the option of home without a second thought.
"And besides, if they caught me... they might kill me..." Isaac murmured quietly to himself, and with those mysterious words he instead turned to a nearby telephone booth.
The operator connected him to the Alveare, and with Sena's help and Ronnie's advice, he got the number of the place where the person he wanted to talk to was staying and made another call. Once again the operator helped him make the call, and a familiar voice answered. It belonged to one of his friends, a young man with a fearsome tattoo on the side of his face.
Jacuzzi sobbed and blubbered over the phone, repeating over and over how glad he was that Isaac was safe...
And then, he heard the voice he'd been dreaming of.
The voice he'd wanted to hear most.
She sounded so happy, even through her sniffles, even through her sobbing laughter, that before he knew it Isaac found himself smiling as well.
What should he say? What could he say?
He hesitated, wondering how he should begin.
Suddenly a thought occurred to him, and before he could think it over it passed his lips, sounding just as brash and confident as ever.
"Sorry, Miria! Turns out my wallet was in my pocket all along."
It wasn't a joke or bluster, just an honest apology that came from the heart. Miria's voice came from the speaker immediately, chiming in right after him like always.
"It's alright, Isaac! I forgot all about that!"
Isaac breathed a sigh of relief, and then spoke slowly, as though hesitant to continue.
"Well, you see, Miria... As it so happens, I don't actually have enough money to get back... so... If you could, err, take enough money for my train ticket from my stash and come to see me, that would be great..."
From the eagerness of Miria's reply, it was a safe bet that she'd have dashed across the country to him on foot if that was what he'd asked.
Isaac frowned as he held the speaker to his ear and listened to her talk. It occurred to him that it wasn't fair for him to make Miria come all the way by herself, and he decided to go as far as he could and meet her halfway.
He glanced at the schedule in his hand and settled on a station he remembered.
It was a city where he and Miria had once dressed up as baseball players and taught a bunch of gangsters the error of their ways.
"Then... How about Chicago? I think I can make it that far with what I've got!"
Miria agreed wholeheartedly, and Isaac grinned, the great journey east already unfolding in his mind.
"Alright. I'm going to go get a ticket for Chicago, then. Where do you want to meet?"
He wrote the time and place on a small scrap of paper and stuffed it into his pocket, his head filled with hope as he thought of tomorrow.
The sun set to the west, but Isaac Dian's heart was headed east.
The free man spoke into the receiver, his words short and simple.
The only thought in his soul was of seeing Miria again.
And perhaps his intent shone through his words, for simple though they were, they were more than enough to set Miria's heart at ease.
"Alright, then! See you in Chicago!"
Hello, hello. Pleased to make your acquaintance, for those of you who I'm meeting for the first time. And for those of you (I suspect you're the majority) who're coming back, long time no see! Sorry to have kept you all waiting!
Whew, this volume of Baccano! was nearly two years in the making. Well, there was the drama CD and the novella that came along with it, of course, but all in all it's been so long that even I'm nervous.
Well. The prison talk ends with this chapter, and now we're moving on to the streets.
I'm thinking of a format that's a little different from what I did with 1931's Local and Express Episodes. It might take me a while to get to the end, but I'd very much appreciate it if you stayed with me for the ride.
Anyway. It really has been a long time, hasn't it.
I found all sorts of details I'd completely forgotten, a total basket of surprises, and I wrote this stuff! All my memory went into remembering useless details like Turner's lines.
So, it's the first Baccano! in nearly two years, and...
I have something to tell you, dear readers.
Mmm... Well, those of you who've seen the advertisements might already know, but Baccano! is actually getting a manga adaptation in Dengeki Comic Gao!
Heh... heheheh... Mwahahahaha!
It's been almost half a year since the idea was first proposed. Since then, every time I saw posts on the internet saying things like "Narita's stuff just can't be made into a manga," and "He'd have to sell more to even think of it," I had to fight the urge to plaster the news all over my homepage, complete with a declaration saying, "Hahaha... How the times have changed, pitiful humans!" But alas, the contract made it clear I had to keep it a secret. Thinking back on it, it would have been pretty immature of me to do that. So thank you, contract.
So anyway, the manga will begin serialization in the issue of Gao! that comes out late this December. Unfortunately, I have yet to actually meet with Mr. Gin'yuu Shijin, who will be doing the art and story. Instead, I was able to meet with Mr. Ogino, who's in charge of the manga project.
It's my first time having my work adapted into a manga, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous. Still, I thought of you all, you fans of the original work, and so I grit my teeth and sallied forth into the MediaWorks office, prepared to maybe smoke a cigar or two and drawl, "You'd better stay faithful to the original if you know what's good for you... if you know what I mean."
So, our first meeting. The moment we sat down Mr. Ogino opened his mouth and said...
Ogino: So about Baccano! Would it be alright to change the general atmosphere of the work? Really shake things up, you know.
Me: (Aha! So you've already shown your true colors! But beware, I'll never let you carry out your dastardly plans!) Haha, do you have anything specific in mind when you say that?
Ogino: We were thinking of making it a little more like Weekly Shonen Champion.
Ogino: Or maybe like how Nanjo Norio's Suruga-jou Gozenjiai was turned into Shigurui.
Ogino: We already sent complete sets of Hellsing, Shigurui, and JoJo's Bizarre Adventure to Mr. Gin'yuu Shijin.
I shook hands with Mr. Ogino and then we had a long discussion about the great manga serialized in Champion, until finally Mr. Wada, my editor for the novels, butted in with an exasperated, "I'm sorry, I don't understand a single word coming from your mouths."
...But anyway. I feel a little guilty for getting so excited when I haven't actually even met the mangaka yet. And Mr. Ogino expects him to blitz through three series at once! Isn't that a bit much...?! Why am I worrying so much for someone I haven't even met yet...?! Mr. Gin'yuu Shijin! Don't give up in the face of Mr. Ogino's ferocious assault!
So as you can see, I too am very much looking forward to the new serialization in Gao!, and I hope that at least some of you will share my enthusiasm!
So, our next volume will be the Streets Episode, and it'll be fast and furious. I'd like to try something fancy and lively, something completely the opposite of the heavy air that pervaded the Prison Episode. I can't make any promises, seeing as how I'm still writing it out...
But anyway, thank you for reading, and I hope you continue to enjoy Baccano! in the future!
From here on are thanks and acknowledgements, like the last volume.
My eternal thanks to Mr. Wada, my editor, and Mr. Suzuki the editor-in-chief, and of course the rest of the editorial department. Thanks to my proofreaders, who I can never look in the eye because I never meet a single deadline, and of course to the designers who make sure my books always look neat. Thanks to the marketing department, the publishing department, the managerial department, and everyone else at MediaWorks.
Thank you to my family and friends and acquaintances, in particular those who live in the city of S.
Thank you to Mr. Enami Katsumi, who's brought the world of Baccano! to life with his art despite the ridiculous schedule I've pressed on him.
And of course, to you, the readers...
Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
Full of drive after buying a new car yet unable to actually drive anywhere because of the chaos,
To be continued in Baccano! 1934 Alice in Jails - Streets Episode!