Chapter 2: Unexpected Hysteria
(A certain day in December, 1934. Nebula Building, Chicago)
Downtown Chicago was filled with skyscrapers.
The skyscrapers did not look as if they had cropped up haphazardly, but stood in a neat pattern according to civic planning. Passers-by would sigh with appreciation. Although the buildings had hard lines and cold edges, the beholder would inevitably feel that every floor of these buildings was the crystallization of the builders’ labour and aspirations.
If one stood right in the middle of the street and looked up, there between the tops of the skyscrapers was a patch of wintery sky. The heavens and the steel and concrete combined to form a kind of offbeat harmony.
And a certain company also had their headquarters amid this spectacular scene, poised upon the newly-developed area at the edge of the lake.
It wasn’t far from the Wrigley Building, which was recognizable by its renowned clock tower. However, this building was different – it reached towards the sky with walls of unbroken white. This was the Nebula Headquarters.
It was similar to its branch in New York, the Mist Wall building, but this Chicago building was an even purer white. Under the sunlight, it almost gave off an illusion of being a lighthouse rising out of the mist.
Ten years ago, when Karl Muybridge first established the Nebula Company here, Nebula had only been a chapter of an entertainment company. Their job was to make equipment for amusement parks and draw up plans for large-scaled public events. But Muybridge was sharp and handled money well, so he expanded his company into a wide variety of business and reaped massive rewards by investing in stocks. Nebula became a national corporation in a surprisingly short time.
Nebula had penetrated into many different markets. In addition to creating amusement park equipment and event planning, they also owned businesses in food production, chemical industry, the steel industry, insurance, and recently also took on publishing. There had been rumours that it would be taking up weapons research and manufacture as a side interest.
The Nebula motto was, if you have what it takes, you can be chairman in ten years. But the Great Depression had made all aspects of the economy plummet, including Nebula’s business. However, it still stood as a symbol of rapid success in the city centre. It was the American dream come true.
At the foot of the symbolic building stood a girl, who was clutching a camera and yelling.
“It’s wonderful….Mr. Vice President, it’s wonderful! Every window has a different design! And look at the bronze statue in front! It’s gorgeous!”
Before she arrived, she had poured through stacks of information about the Nebula Corporation. But seeing this feat of architectural artistry firsthand instantly blew everything else out of her mind.
“It is said that this building was only constructed after Nebula consulted many architects and synthesized their designs together to address one another’s shortcomings. There was a whole spectrum of public opinion about dividing the design work among various architects – some individuals believed it innovative and others lambasted it.”
The voice that answered the girl with the camera was a man with sharp eyes and a monocle, who was sauntering towards the entrance.
“Wait, hang on for a second. Let me get a photo at a good angle…”
“Our headquarters have already taken a photo, three months ago. The building hasn’t changed significantly since then, so there is no need to take another one. And if you take whatever photos you please, you may be liable to be persecuted, so take care.”
An image flashed in Carol’s mind of grim lawyers surrounding her with legal documents and gavels, and this made her voice a little shrill. “P-persecuted?”
The vice-president just kept walking, and didn’t pay any attention to this except to continue his lecture. “That is not the only reason. We have no idea what may occur in the future, therefore we must not waste film. You needn’t worry – you can improve as long as you grasp the principles of photography and hone your skills as you progress in the field.”
“Ah, well, then again, that was merely my own humble opinion, and there are numerous people who think otherwise. As a reporter, it is very important to listen to a wide range of ideas before deciding on one’s own. You may write a very distorted piece under stress, pressure from your publisher, and public opinion…however, on the whole, it is wise to listen to a wide range of opinions.”
He was again expounding on a grand theory, but Carol still listened attentively and nodded in agreement and hefted her camera and trotted after him.
These two individuals were employees from the small organization, the Daily Days.
Although it seemed like an insignificant New York newspaper publisher, it was merely the front for a well-established trading post for information, renowned throughout the nation.
Carol, who was working as an intern there, seemed like she should still be in school, and no one knew her age. As for the vice president, Gustav St. Germain, it was even more difficult to judge his age. Judging by appearances alone, most passers-by would think them father and daughter.
Vice-president St. Germain had a very different role from the desk-bound and paperwork-loving president of the DD. He placed enormous value on firsthand experience, and thus travelled all over the country and even abroad. If he showed up at the office even ten days out of a year, it would be considered frequent for him.
He was a busy man, and this time he meant to visit the DD staff in other cities and get photographs of them. Carol was brought along on this long and exhausting trip so that it might further her training.
“When we shall need to use film is something we shall never know.”
This principle was firmly locked in Carol’s mind.
They had arrived ten days before, and on the way they had encountered a train robbery. Vice-president St. Germain’s quick thinking had gotten them through, but Carol was still ashamed that she had panicked and not taken any photos of the incident as a consequence.
--- I’d never become a independent reporter this way…I won’t panic again…I won’t…eeeeeeeeeek!
“Eeeeeeeeeeek! Mr. Vice-President! Mr. Vice-president!”
“Carol, calm yourself.”
But she was beyond soothing. “B-but…the man who just passed us…”
“Yes, that was Senator Manfred Beriam.”
Carol twisted her neck several times to gawk, but other people blocked her view and she couldn’t get a good look.
“How can you be so calm about it?”
His face remained impassive. “It’s not like he’s the president. If you let seeing a senator can faze you so, what will become of you?”
Carol was once again filled with admiration at her boss’s cool demeanor.
--- Amazing. Nothing can ruffle him.
After she calmed down a bit, she realized something about his position as a reporter, and ventured a question. “But then again, Mr. Vice-President, you must be very well-connected to know someone in such a huge company.”
“The expanse of the company doesn’t matter. Everyone is a valuable contact in the eyes of the DD, and must be treated with the utmost respect. However, we meet with them as equals, and shall never grovel or yield.”
Carol happily stepped into the elevator, trying to imagine what the vice-president’s contact person might be like.
The elevator began to ascend and leave the ground behind, past the lounges and boardrooms, towards the topmost floor.
(Thirty minutes later, first floor great hall)
“Really, Carol…If we were to compare the magnitude of their fame, he would be less famous than Senator Beriam. Your conduct could only earn you 325 points.”
“…out of how many…?”
The vice-president just shook his head and sighed, and lead the somewhat stupefied Carol to sit on the benches in the entrance hall.
Carol was still reeling from their experience, and could only plop weakly down on benches. Her mouth opened and closed as if she were a goldfish.
“Collect yourself…why be so nervous in front of such an amiable gentleman?”
“B-b-because…I..I just saw th-the president…”
“He is not the president. Mr. Muybridge is the chairman. And another matter, Carol. Haven’t I told you that you are not to call me Vice-president in front of outsiders, but to call me St. Germain? And yet you still repeatedly addressed me as Vice-president. What if the man we saw today was also the vice-president of his own company? What would you do then?”
He wasn’t particularly angry and said this in the same calm air as before, but Carol didn’t seem to have absorbed any of it.
High above her head, at the topmost floor, was a rooftop garden with a lawn and lounge chairs. There she had met the chairman of Nebula, who was renowned nationally as a self-made man, if not all over the world.
She recalled everything up to the point where Gustav St. Germain had greeted their contact, but then she couldn’t remember much after the contact introduced himself. She couldn’t even remember what he looked like. It was all a blur.
Carol glanced at the composed vice-president beside her and shook her head, her face still pale.
--- Just what is he made out of…?
Carol was still wrestling with her fraught nerves and admiration when St. Germain said, “I am going to buy a drink,” and abruptly left.
--- The Vice-president gone makes me feel a bit anxious…
She had a moment of fear as she realized that she was holding her camera. What if she was mugged? But her legs were like jelly and she couldn’t get up to chase after St. Germain, so could only sit there, a lonely little figure in the vast entrance hall.
Rationally, she knew that there won’t be thieves in a place like this, but she didn’t have enough courage and practice to put up a brave front in an utterly unfamiliar place.
She had been pale before, but more blood drained from her face.
A figure had appeared in front of her.
The first thing about the figure that she processed was a white lab coat, so her first thought was that it was a doctor.
--- A doctor?
Then she saw the curves on this person, and made another assumption, though it was still off the mark.
--- A woman doctor?
The first American woman to become a doctor was Elizabeth Blackwell, in the 1800s. In 1853, the first all-female hospital appeared in New York after much hard work from Blackwell and other fellow champions. Such were the historical precedents and there were more women becoming doctors now, but Carol hadn’t see many doctors at all, so for her it was still a curious sight.
Perhaps the Vice-president was worried about her health and went to fetch a doctor?
Carol immediately became very embarrassed at this idea and started to protest. “Huh? Um…I’m all right! Sorry! I’m Sorry!” Her mind was still jumbled and she could only apologize over and over again, without the faintest idea what she was apologizing for.
To her surprise, the woman jumped in fright and also began to apologize along with her, and seemed to be repeating everything she said.
“What? Uh, um, excuse me! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
Carol had recovered a little by now and could focus her eyes enough to look this woman over.
Above the white lab coat was a pair of black-rimmed glasses, and the face that wore the glasses seemed a bit silly and vacant. Two long strands of her bangs swung across her forehead. In contrast with all of this was the figure under the lab coat, which was like a model’s and could one day be compared to a Barbie’s – a perfect figure, with curves that seemed to be almost too pronounced.
Her attire was professional enough, but every time she bowed her head or leaned over, the action would emphasize her rather buxom chest. A slightly random thought flashed across Carol’s mind that this looked rather inconvenient, and she would prefer it if her chest didn’t get so big.
“Um, how do I put this…I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, like, wake you up! It just looked like you were like feeling ill or something, so I was worried and came over to see, but then you jumped up and started apologizing to me! I was thinking, did I accidentally kick you or something like that? Um…I…”
The woman’s eyes were darting left and right confusedly behind her glasses as she uttered this string of apologies, but this only endeared her to Carol a little more. Carol waved both of her hands to show that she was all right. “No, it’s not that at all! I was, um, just a little dizzy, so don’t worry about me! I should apologize to you!”
“Oh, is that so? Sorry, I didn’t mean to butt into your business…”
“No no, I’m the one who should apologize to you.”
“No, I should…”
This back and forth went on for twenty times or so, and Carol found that in the process she was getting less and less nervous. She smiled. “Haha, we seemed to have spent all that time apologizing to each other. Thank you, I feel much better now! Thank you!”
“Huh? Really?” The woman didn’t seem to know what to say to just a direct expression of gratitude, and was flustered for a moment. “Yeah, I guess you look like you’ve recovered. That’s great!”
The woman smiled and also seemed to perk up immensely, and so all the nervousness in Carol vanished.
“My name is Carol, and I’m an assistant for a newspaper. We’re here to interview employees and learn more about this company – I suppose you’re a doctor working here?”
“Hmm? Well…Um…I, like, make medicine and drugs and stuff, so I don’t think I count as a doctor.”
--- So, a pharmacologist?
It made sense that Nebula also had a share in the pharmacy market.
Carol was curious and wanted to ask the woman more about her job, but then --
“What are you doing?”
Into the two girls’ conversation cut a deep voice. Carol and the woman in the lab coat turned as one to face the source of the voice.
Vice-president St. Germain was holding a can of soft drinks and glaring at the woman with his sharp gaze.
“Miss Renée, may I ask what you are doing? This young woman is my assistant.”
“Oh, Mr. Gustav! Um, I was totally not thinking about kidnapping her for an experiment or anything like that!”
Carol took the woman’s words as a joke and instead turned to the vice-president. “Mr. Vice-president! ….Wait, huh? You know her?”
“Well…not personally, but rather our president is in touch with her…”
“Wow, really? You’re a friend of the president’s? That’s so cool!”
The only thing that Carol knew about the president of the DD was that he was always hidden behind a desk piled high with documents and paperwork, and didn’t even know what he looked like. She didn’t even know whether he left the office at all. To think that he would personally know such a beautiful woman!
Carol was by nature excitable and social, and wanted to interview this woman immediately, but St. Germain stepped in instead. “You normally don’t come down to the entrance, do you?” His voice was calm and flat as usual.
“Yep, that’s right, but I heard DD folks were gracing us with a visit, so I thought, I can at least come down and say hello. I never knew that I would find such a cute assistant too!”
“C-cute? No, I’m not…”
Carol’s face reddened in shyness under her warm smile and bowed her head. It didn’t occur to her that the woman perhaps only thought her cute because she was young, and didn’t try to conceal her joy.
In response to this, the Vice-president just placed his hand lightly on the beaming Carol’s head and continued. “Well, that can wait. I am glad to have met Mr. Muybridge and to find him as well as before. And you? What have you been doing?”
“Ahahaha, same as before too – doing research, failing, bothering everyone else.”
“And the one thousand and two hundred people from New York? Was that a success or a failure?”
“Um, well, I dunno yet…because I’m not, like, the only one conducting that project, you know! First, the experiments need more observation, and second, tons of people are causing trouble for us. Mr. Homer and his men have done a lot in New York, and I’m getting busy here too, with the Russos –”
The vice-president cut in abruptly. “You sound like you are venturing into top secret information that you should not divulge to outsiders.”
Renée started and clapped her hands over her mouth.
--- this is the first time I’ve actually seen someone clap their hands over their mouth.
Carol couldn’t really follow what they were saying, and was just captivated by this woman before her and felt that she liked her more and more. Renée herself looked a little sheepish and grinned at Carol. “Wow, Carol, that was close! If I had kept on talking, I would have to finish you off to keep you quiet!”
Carol laughed at this joke. “Ahaha, yes, that was close!”
The three of them continued to chat for a while before leaving.
“Hey, Renée, I hope your work goes well!”
“Yeah, Miss Carol, you too – Oh no!”
Renée had been waving at Carol while walking backwards, and tripped over a bench and fell sprawling to the floor. She picked herself up and waved again, her face red, and trotted away.
As she left the building, Carol thought that it was odd that a woman like Renée, decked out in glasses and a lab coat, could look so intelligent but actually be so klutzy. But then the vice-president asked her a strange question.
“What did she do to you?”
“Huh? What is it, Mr. Vice-president?”
“Well, I would like to warn you to be careful around her. Before you grasp the best way to interact with her, I suggest that you do not find yourself alone with that woman.”
Carol was confused. “What? Why?”
The vice-president did not answer her, but kept on walking. It was only when they had left the building behind them and got close to the river did he open his mouth, but even then he did not look at Carol but rather stared straight ahead.
“When she said she would finish you off…she meant it.”
(Some minutes before, in front of the Wrigley Building)
The Wrigley chewing gum company was second to none in America, and the Wrigley Building was their pride. It had an especially designed clock tower. If you cut between the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower, the road would lead you to the bridge that crossed the Chicago River.
This bridge, which spanned 50 metres across the river, was always filled with activity and people rushing to and fro. But today the people and cars stopped to look wonderingly at the two figures standing at the foot of the bridge. However, once they had taken a good look, the passers-by invariably quickened their pace to avoid any further contact.
What drew their attention was that these two figures seemed to be children - but looked like man-made dolls.
One of the two was huge and built like a beer barrel. He had a knapsack slung around his middle, but owing to his size, it looked like a wallet in proportion.
Beside him, in contrast, was a short and slim boy. Although it was winter, he had no coat on and wore only a simple tank top. The exposed parts of his body were patterned with scars. It almost seemed like he was showing them off.
This boy had an animated expression. He spat out the gum he had been chewing a moment before onto the wrapper and turned to the other boy, who looked fretful.
“Isn’t this great, Frank? I never get sick of gum.”
“Yeah, I like gum too. But I need to chew 10 sticks every time. Or I don’t taste anything. So for me it’s kind of a waste of money.”
“There isn’t any point saving money on small stuff like this. It’s got to be the best food ever. Hey, I heard that this building here, it’s the gum company. If Huey orders us to flatten this city, I’d totally go for that building first.”
“Hoom…right...is that why we’re here?” The big one looked disturbed by his companion’s frank admission of such startling plans. “And hey, Rail…I think people are staring at us…”
“Of course. Between my scars and your figure, which one do you think attracts the most attention? I’d say my scars win. Lots of people have scars, but maybe when they see mine – obviously inflicted on purpose – they’d feel sorry for me.”
“I – I don’t think that’s what they’re thinking…did we really have to come to such a busy place?”
“Don’t worry. Old Huey’s orders about laying low went kaput ages ago. I’m sure the guys after us have gotten wind of us already. And being out in public like this means that were less likely to be hauled off by the police for questioning. If we sneak around it’ll look like we got something to hide and that’ll be worse.”
Then Rail chuckled and perked up as if he had thought of something funny.
“Hey hey, Frank, guess what?”
“You know how I said yesterday about posterity not remembering us and stuff? Frank, do you know a guy called Count St. Germain?”
“He’s someone remembered by posterity, from all the way back in the ancient times in Europe. And actually he got famous from supposedly weird stuff, like being able to move to through time and space at will or immortality and such.”
“So that’s just it, Frank. We’d be remembered by posterity too if we become famous like that. Like if every time these two figures appear in a city, right, all these explosions would happen and wipe the city off the map.”
Rail’s eyes were sparkling with genuine pleasure, but Frank just stared at him for a long while in doubt.
“N-no, Rail. We can’t do that.”
Rail looked indignant but Frank only shook his massive head. “If we do that, then there’d be nobody left to tell everyone else about us.”
“Oh. Yeah, that’s true. Haha! Ahahahaha!”
At the boy’s maniacal laughter, passers-by took a few nervous steps away.
At this moment, however, events took a different turn.
Frank and Rail, who were getting bored, suddenly heard a peal of girlish laughter.
At first, they thought that someone was laughing at them. Rail was already used to the looks of curiosity cast in their direction, but outright laughter was new. He wasn’t angry about it, but just looked in the direction that the laughter came from.
What he saw was a girl, carrying a camera and walking towards them, laughing.
---What the heck? So she wants a photo now?
This was also new. Rail didn’t really mind, since he thought that his scars made him unique and even fashionable. But he suddenly realized that Frank might not like his giant figure.
And anyway, he was the one who wanted to come to the bridge, so it’s not like he could complain.
When he thought of this, he managed to catch what the girl was saying to the man beside her.
“Ahahaha! You’re kidding, Mr. Vice-president! I’ve never heard you make a joke before!”
“I was not kidding. Never mind. If you choose not to believe me, I do not have the right to impose my will upon you. On the other hand, I am your superior, and I cannot watch you walk blindly into danger. A dilemma…”
Rail relaxed upon hearing their conversation. So they weren’t laughing at them at all.
He also though that they had not in fact seen him and Frank and were just walking towards them by chance. The girl seemed to be simply following her companion.
Rail looked at the man beside the girl and suddenly detected a contradiction.
Since they were walking directly towards him and Frank, it stood to reason that the man had seen them. However, the man ignored them completely.
He looked a bit strange too, and the force of his gaze made Rail suspicious. He seemed so cool and collected all the time, so was he an assassin or something?
At this point the vice-president had already walked past them, but the girl was preoccupied and didn’t see Frank, and blundered into them head-first.
“Really, Mr. Vice-president! You can’t really be saying that such a nice woman could be danger-AHHHH!”
The girl gave a squeal and stopped.
Frank didn’t realize that someone had bumped into him, and thought instead that he had bumped into someone else. He wilted and tried to make himself as small as possible. “Oh, I – I’m sorry.”
The girl rubbed her nose. “Ouch ouch…no, it’s my fault…oh my!”
She had been about to apologize, but when she raised her head and saw Frank, his giant figure scared her into silence.
Rail stepped out from behind Frank’s giant leg. “Hey Frank, you scared her you know.”
“Eeek!” The girl saw his Frankenstein-like scars and screamed again.
Rail thought that her reaction was pretty funny and also laughed. Frank, though was a little nervous, and looked from Rail to Carol in confusion.
The man, who had been watching them from a couple of feet away, now walked towards them. He put his hand on the girl’s head and made her stop screaming.
“Carol, how can you bump into someone and scream in response? How impolite.”
Her breathing was a little ragged, but it seemed that the man’s presence gave her a sense of safety. It took her about ten minutes for her breathing to return to normal. As she calmed down, she realized her mistake.
The man also moved to apologize for Carol and removed his hat. “I must apologize for the fact that my companion has momentarily taken leave of her manners. I assure you that I will chastise her soundly for this once we return.”
“Nah, it’s okay. You know, when I saw you just now, I thought you looked like an assassin. So we’re even.”
“But you were not the one who bumped into us.”
Rail’s scars still pulled his mouth into a lopsided smile, and he tilted his head to look at the man with a little wonder. “…Well, actually, you’re pretty brave to talk to us normally.”
“Ah, if you mean your scars or his height – such factors would never be obstacles in my conversations with others. Though I suppose others may beg to differ,” he answered.
“Really…most people would think we were monsters.”
“I have a friend who is a doctor, and he has more scars than even you do. Most of the time he wraps himself in bandages. And as for your friend here, I know of the existence of many other giants,” the man said conversationally. “For example, in Alton, in the south of Illinois, there is a young man named Robert. Although I have never seen him in person, I have heard that he is 240 centimetres tall at only sixteen years old, and his height is increasing at a rate of ten centimetres per year.” And thus he explained the case of what would later be a world record – a man over three metres tall.
“Uh, is that so.”
Frank was speechless with amazement, but Rail still seemed unwilling to trust this man. Before he could object, though, he heard Carol’s timid voice.
“Uh, um…I’m very sorry…I’m sorry that I bumped into you and then screamed…”
Rail glanced at the camera around her neck and her despondent air, and chuckled and patted her on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. When I first saw you, I totally thought you were a thief and stole that camera.”
Rail had a childish smile on his face and this brought up Carol short. She pouted in indignation and didn’t know whether to laugh or to be angry.
“Hey…! You’re being kind of mean you know,” she said. She no longer felt as nervous as before, and decided to apologize again. “I’m sorry, my name is Carol! Would you like to have lunch? As redress for my behaviour?”
“Huh?” Rail had never been invited out by anyone before. He had tried to stick by Huey’s command of lying low, and so tried not to display himself and his scars before other people. Frank was the same way. If he wasn’t working on a mission, he just holed up in Huey’s "cottage."
Frank brightened at the suggestion of a meal, but then his face fell. “B-but…restaurants don’t have chairs that fit me…”
Carol didn’t think that this was a problem. She seemed to have gotten over Frank’s size, and gave him a brilliant and innocent smile. “That’s quite all right. We can get sandwiches and eat them in that square over there,” she said in a mature and firm tone.
“Really? Okay then, I won’t say no to that.”
“I – I’m a big eater though…so it will cost a lot…”
Carol saw one beaming and the other hesitant, and puffed out her chest confidently. “Don’t worry! Mr. Saint Germain looks the way he does, but he’s actually the vice-president of a newspaper company! He’s really generous!”
In response to this glowing introduction, the man peered at them from behind his monocle, rubbed his chin, and said coldly, “…you aren’t saying that I will be paying the bill?”
“I’m leaving now, Miss Lua. If you want me to bring anything next time, please tell me.”
With these quiet parting words, Ricardo Russo shut the door softly behind him.
The hall that Ricardo was in had many doors, and at the end of the hallway, there was a Russo family honcho sitting on guard. The family only assigned one person to guard this place, but when he needed to use the washroom, he would call someone else to take his place, so the hallway always had someone sitting in guard.
The guard had his legs crossed and was holding a newspaper, but above the newspaper, his eyes were fixed on Ricardo.
Christopher, who was waiting for Ricardo just outside the main door, looked at the guard and yawned.
The woman in the room was Lua, a supposed “guest.” Christopher supposed that it wasn’t very nice to lock guests up, but he didn’t feel particularly sympathetic towards her. He didn’t really know what her background was. She should probably try to escape, but it seemed that she never showed any inclination to escape.
Ricardo was responsible for taking care of her, but Christopher thought that he probably didn’t know that she was a hostage.
“She’s been here a week, right?”
“Yes. If it were me, I don’t think I could bear being all alone like that. And for so long.”
“Hey c’mon, have some backbone. If you go to prison one day, you’d flip.”
“Whatever you like.” Ricardo brushed Christopher’s comments off smoothly and assumed a cold expression. “I don’t plan on becoming a part of the mafia – and anyway, the family will die in my grandfather’s time.”
“I’ve said before – both my parents are dead.”
“Right. I think I recall you mentioning something like that,” Christopher said, not at all uncomfortable with the topic. “Remind me how they died?”
Ricardo wasn’t at all sad or angry. His tone was frank and light even though it was a serious matter. “Explosives. Blown to smithereens by a car bomb.”
It would seem like a joke if Ricardo’s gaze and posture didn’t indicate otherwise.
“Ahahahaha! You haven’t changed, you know, still talking like that. Don’t you think it’s better to at least pretend you’re upset? But hey, I’m no expert.”
“It doesn’t matter…sympathy won’t make them come back to life.”
The mention of Ricardo’s parents didn’t bring any changes in his demeanor, but his breathing seemed a little erratic, and the two lapsed into silence.
Christopher didn’t mind the silence, but it was Ricardo who asked a question to change the mood.
“Well, what about you, Chris? Where is your family?”
“If you mean the blood-related sort, then I don’t have any. And never did to begin with…so to tell you the truth, I don’t get any of what your feel about your parents’ death, and I don’t know what to feel either. But then again, human being read novels and stuff all the time, and even though they’ve never experienced the story world firsthand, they can still be touched by that world. So I think one day I’d be able to understand. And actually, I have a bunch of companions, like a family. My dream is that one day, when someone asks me what is most important to me, I could readily answer that it’s my family.”
“Seems a bit sanctimonious.”
“It suits something like me…but you won’t understand, Ricardo.”
The pair rounded a corner in the hallway as their strange conversation went on.
Christopher had been here for about a year, but he never brought up his personal matters unless asked, and Ricardo didn’t say anything about his past either. But sometimes, when Ricardo did ask, Christopher answered without hesitation.
Ricardo had seen him almost murdered anyway, so there was not much point hiding anything. Still, he didn’t talk about everything – he didn’t mention name the homunculi or the elixir of immortality.
“Hm…the family you speak of, are they the Lamia?”
“Yeah, pretty much. To tell the truth, I want to be one family with the entire Earth, but sadly the blood that runs through my veins is not the same as hers.”
“Sometimes you say strange things, Christopher.”
Christopher knew that Ricardo was looking at him with cool detachment but laughed anyway. “Really? I have a pal called Chi, and he often says that too.”
“……and still Mr. Chi is your friend. He must be a good person.”
“I think so too.”
--- That’s right – how have Chi and everyone else being doing lately?
The moment that this thought occurred to Christopher, Ricardo stopped and pointed towards the front hall. “I need to buy some books for Miss Lua, and I need to go to the city centre anyway.”
“Oh, all right. The girl seems a little down, so giving her some books to read sounds like a good idea.”
As Christopher answered, he realized that he hasn’t gone out for a very long time.
Basically, his job was to protect Ricardo. However, for the sake of Ricardo’s image, he never accompanied Ricardo to school. Ricardo never allowed anyone else to accompany him, so Christopher spent most of his time watching Ricardo going to school from a distance. But when he went out for personal business, like now, Ricardo often brought Christopher along.
Christopher had once tried to counsel Ricardo: “If other people see you with me, you won’t be able to make any friends.” And Ricardo returned with, “I’m the grandson of the Russo family, and this fact alone pushes people away.”
And so began the remarkable relationship between the creature who stood apart from the world and the youth who stood apart from society. Although this “normal” life was a little boring, this didn’t bother Christopher too much.
He didn’t get out much, but it was enough for him to banter with Ricardo and flip through some of the volumes at the bookstore.
--- Hmm…The Twins haven’t contacted me for a while…maybe it’s because I don’t get out much.
The Twins were another entity working for Huey, and they were responsible for delivering new orders. Others ranged far and wide across the country, but the Twins could appear suddenly before them to tell them what Huey wanted them to know.
Supposedly, the Twins were composed of a “Sham” and a “Hilton,” one male and one female, working together. But even Christopher didn’t know exactly what they really were.
They lead an incredible existence – no matter what kind of circumstances the rest of Huey’s team were confronted with, as long as they called upon the Twins, they would receive a response. But each time it would be a different person responding. It was the same way during the Mist Wall incident – supposedly everyone being able to retreat safely was due to Sham’s help.
They could be everywhere.
This was what Christopher had thought about them before. But it looked like the remote Chicago suburbs were another matter.
Another way of thinking about it was that he (Sham) and she (Hilton) appeared where Huey thought important.
--- So maybe they think that I’m not useful anymore?
The reason that he could accept such a bloodless and peaceful life was probably because he had been soundly beaten by a mere human being. If they thought that his fighter and killer’s instinct had evaporated, then there was nothing he could do. And so Huey and his erstwhile companions no longer concerned themselves with him.
He tried to think of it this way, but still felt a little upset.
--- Hm, it might not be so bad watching Ricardo grow up. And who knows, maybe I can help him grow into a great leader of his family.
“My ideal crime lord is someone who loves nature…and can sing really well…fly like a bird …lift a car with one hand…swill red wine in one hand, and has thirty lovers at once…”
Ricardo ignored the contents of Christopher’s rambling. “…what are you mumbling about? Let’s go.”
He went out the door and Christopher hurriedly moved to follow him, but then a deep voice rang out.
“And where might you be going, Christopher?”
Christopher turned to see Placido and several henchmen.
“Master Ricardo wants to go out and buy something, so I’m accompanying him.”
“Really…” Compared to when he spoke to Ricardo, Christopher’s tone was slightly more impatient, but Placido didn’t seem to have detected the difference. “I don’t know much about your capabilities, but we are going to get busy, so be prepared.”
“A problem person is going to finish his jail term soon…and when he does, he might target Ricardo. My blood runs through my grandson’s veins, and if he receives any wounds, you can prepare for a wound a thousand times deeper. In the same place. With a red-hot iron poker.”
“A thousand times deeper? Wouldn’t that go right through my body and burn down the whole house?”
Christopher’s words seemed to be a reminder that he was working for Ricardo and not Placido, and he turned and left the house without looking back at Placido once.
Placido just stood where he was, but one of his henchmen spoke up. “Sir, might it be a problem if Master Ricardo is accompanied by someone like that?”
“Hm…don’t worry about them. And it’s not like Ricardo lets anyone near him other than that creature.” A satisfied smile appeared on Placido’s face. “And anyway, I’m less concerned about my grandson now, and more about my own body.”
One corner of his lips rose further as he continued this thought in his heart.
--- The elixir of immortality.
--- I’d be able to conquer the final frontier of ageing.
--- And so there’s no point of leaving an heir.
The Wrigley Building was divided into the North building and the South building, and these two were bridged by a vaulted walkway.
There was a square under the walkway made from the space between the buildings, and many pedestrians would leave the busy street for a respite there.
“Really, when you walk on the street, you must look and see what is ahead. Imagine what would happen if you had damaged your camera. As a photographer, you only receive 100 points.”
“Could you tell me out of how many…?”
“Twenty-six million, seven hundred and eighty-three thousand, four hundred and nineteen points.”
“You don’t need to be so precise you know!”
“Furthermore, I will contact accounting so they may deduct the money for the hotdogs from your salary. Be prepared.”
Carol almost teared up at this and stopped, but Frank, with Rail on his shoulder, was close behind her.
Rail already looked like a rag doll, and on Frank’s shoulders he looked like a ventriloquist’s puppet. Frank’s broad shoulder was like a bench, and Rail felt that he was walking on air.
Frank’s cheerful voice came from below. “I, um…Do you think I can find this Mr. Robert you mentioned? And ask him to be friends?”
“I doubt Huey old man would let you meet up with him.”
“Whatever, you can find Christopher right? He has ‘Wanna be friends’ syndrome, and he’ll naturally be friends with anything that talks to him.”
“Yeah, but Christopher…” Frank sounded doubtful.
In response, Rail shot him a big, confident grin. “He’s still alive. He’s still definitely alive somewhere. He’s practically a vampire, and if he snuffs it so easily, we’d have gotten a mission to rescue him a long time ago. Or he would have died in that lab in the first place.”
Frank seemed somewhat reassured by Rail’s manner, and nodded in agreement. But the “lab” that Rail mentioned seemed to have brought back unpleasant memories, and he shuddered so much that Rail found it hard to stay balanced.
Frank seemed to want to change the subject. “H-hey, you sure it’s all right? Letting them buy so many hotdogs?”
“Nah, don’t worry about it,” Rail said. “You’re the king of bottomless pits, and if there’s free food on offer, you might as well go for it. And don’t you think destiny is at work? We were just talking about someone named St. Germain, and then we bumped into a St. Germain!”
Both turned to look at the mountain of hotdogs in Gustav St. Germain’s hands, their eyes glowing.
But then Frank’s face fell. “B-but…Rail…is he a good guy?” He asked in a tremulous voice.
“…? Sure, why not? He bought us lunch, right?”
“B-but aren’t we acting as bait or something...? We shouldn’t involve them, right?
Frank thought of how they bumped into each other and started worrying about Carol and St. Germain’s safety. Before they met, when he had been talking to Rail, he wasn’t the slightest worried about anyone else’s safety. It looked like he would care about another person’s fate if he knew them personally.
Rail, who had just wanted to wipe entire cities off the map, spoke up. “No worries, Frank. Think about it for a sec. It’s not like someone would attack us in broad daylight. Any sane guy would trail us from afar, wait until the dead of night, and mount a sneak attack when we’re sleeping. And my plan is to stay alert then and foil his plan! It’s not like we’re going to follow Carol and them to their house, so we aren’t gonna involve them at all.”
Frank was the most worried about Carol, and it seemed to him that Rail’s plan was full of holes. But then he savoured the smell of hotdogs wafting his way and decided to think about it no more. Filling his stomach came first.
Events a while later proved that his judgement was faulty. Rail’s plan was indeed full of holes.
And the biggest hole:
Their enemy wasn’t sane at all.
(The bridge over the Chicago River)
“Over here, Boss.”
“Chicago is very beautiful today too…Don’t you think so?”
Graham heard Shaft call him from up ahead, but he lowered his head. “Oh, what sadness!”
There was a bunch of men walking across the bridge, and they raised their voices in a mournful cry. “Argh, why does he always fall into a state of depression? C’mon, get yourself out of it…it’s a bad habit. Won’t you think it’s developing into a self-hypnotic state?”
Graham was walking in their midst. He raised his head and looked with half-open and tear-filled eyes at the skyscrapers of Chicago. “Look…The Wrigley Building on the left…isn’t it the purest white and shiniest building you ever saw?”
A sound of deep sentimentality escaped his throat, but none of his companions were really listening. Because they all knew it would be a waste of time.
“And the Tribune Tower to the right carries a Gothic beauty! Ahhh…ahh…both sides are almost equally beautiful! When two entirely different architectural styles fill one’s vision at the same moment, it is like two different eras melding together with this city…! Tragic…how deeply tragic!”
“…How come it’s tragic?”
Shaft was just asking a casual question, but Graham’s answer immediately howled in his ear.
“The azure of the sky reaches peak harmony with both of them! Perfect! I have no knowledge of art, but even so I can feel ‘Wow, it’s beautiful,’ so this proves that everything is truly beautiful, right? But…but! What do you suppose I thought of next? I thought ‘There’s a lot here worth taking apart.’ Isn’t that ridiculous? Why would I want to destroy something so beautiful? Am I such a nihilist? And a ten metre-long wrench suddenly appeared in my mind and took apart the beautiful scene…why’s that? Where do I want to go? To apologize! Apologize to the people living in those buildings and to their designers, Graham! Dammit…I have recognized that my mind isn’t at all normal – is there anything more tragic than this revelation?”
“You know, I think compared to you, we lot are facing a bigger tragedy…”
A blue uniform plus a giant wrench.
He cut a figure that seemed likely to be immediately reported to the police, but he still let out a howl.
The pedestrians on the bridge left a greater distance between themselves and Graham than they did for Rail and Frank. They didn’t meet his eyes and scooted by him as fast as they could.
(Central Square, The Wrigley Building)
“Oh – both of you belonged to the circus?”
“Yep, travelling carnival and all over the country. Frank and I got given away because of what we look like.”
“Hey, don’t feel bad. I don’t. I suppose our lives were pretty happy ‘cuz of it.”
Rail grinned and spun tale after tale and Carol ate it all up. Carol listened to his stories with rapt attention and often cut in with innocent words of praise.
“That’s so cool! That’s splendid! I really admire you, you know. And um…if you don’t mind, could I interview you sometime?”
“Ahaha, if the ringmaster says okay, then sure.” Rail thought of Huey and began badmouthing him without hesitation. “But he’s kind of a jerk – he never considers whether he’s upsetting other people, so be prepared.”
On the other hand, Frank was using his enormous jaws eating hotdogs non-stop. The vice-president was sipping tea that he had bought from the hotdog stand, so Rail and Carol took up most of the conversation.
Carol had gotten used to Rail’s scars in a very short time, and stared at his face as he spoke.
After a while, Rail started adding a few truths, perhaps because he felt sorry for the gullible Carol.
“And me, I’m responsible for gunpowder and explosives.”
“Yep, we use pyrotechnics a lot you know, like human cannons, jumping through circles of flame, the magician uses a lot of it too, like for that trick where he escapes from an exploding trunk, right? I’m the one who arranges this stuff.”
“Wow! That’s awesome! You look only about my age, but you already have such an important job!”
Maybe Carol’s two brightly shining eyes cheered Rail up, because he added a couple more truths. “I like gunpowder…I suppose it’s influences from my upbringing…”
“Yeah, I mean the carny…yeah, I love gunpowder. Imagine – a bunch of nameless crystals, liquids, or a pile of mush – all they need is a light and they can erupt. They leave no trace afterwards, but all the explosion and fire can turn heads just like that, right?”
Rail’s voice was level, but there was a hint of excitement in his face. It wasn’t a sarcastic smile, but a genuine smile of joy from his heart.
“That’s right – they can disappear in a moment…and no one will deign to remember the name of gunpowder. But in that moment, that split second, ‘There’s been an explosion’ – this memory, the sound, the light, they’ll all be deeply etched in everyone’s mind for as long as they live. Or…if you’re hurt in an explosion, you’d likewise feel it for as long as you live.”
“That’s a scary example.”
“Ahahaha, yeah, I suppose.” Rail saw Carol’s wry smile and laughed. “Anyway, rumour has it that there’s a bomber in Chicago who’s elevated it to an art. I want to surpass this person – that’s my goal.”
“Uh-huh. And she’s become an urban legend – it’s a bomber chick and she has really great control over explosives. She once chose a building about to be demolished and levelled it before the demolisher arrived…and another time she was experimenting with explosives by a lakeshore, and changed the whole shape of the coast. They had to redraw the map…and oh, I heard that when she bombs a building, she can do it so that all the surrounding buildings are perfectly intact, what do you think of that!”
Such tales were only the stuff of urban legend, but Carol sucked it all up as if they were true. She hadn’t even spent a year as assistant in a newspaper publisher, but in this year she had heard of and experienced a myriad of strange occurrences. Because of her experience, she chose to accept Rail’s story, and believed that they at least contained a kernel of truth.
“Well, isn’t she a troublemaker then…”
“Yeah, I guess. And it’s not like the newspapers ever reports these things, so we can’t tell whether they’re really true or not. I’d love to meet her if I have the chance. But I have no idea what she looks like.”
“Yes, that would be a problem…”
---Maybe I can find a clue back in the office.
Carol was just about to tell Rail her plan, but then a voice sounded between them, deep and clear at once.
“What a tragedy…tell me another tragic story.”
Carol and Rail turned to face the voice and saw what seemed to be a blue pole.
Beside the flower plot stood a young man in a blue work uniform, looking at them with sad eyes.
“If this bomber you speak of is that woman with the eyepatch…she’s not here anymore. She went to New York.”
“…Who’re you?” Rail asked sharply, but the man just raised a giant wrench that had been slung at his waist. Then he began speaking in a theatrical tone, though it was slightly different from how the Poet spoke.
“And what is even more tragic…is that even if you do make it to New York, you still need to walk a while with me. Such is human life, full of twists and turns. It really is a dismal and woeful story.”
---Is he our enemy?
Having an enemy pop up in broad daylight was not something that Rail had expected, and this person was now pointing what was obviously a weapon right at them.
Before he could figure out the correct reaction, Carol, who was sitting beside him and turning pale with fright, started screaming.
She yanked on Rail’s arm and hauled him to hide behind the vice-president in an effort to get farther away from the young man.
“The robber on the train!” Carol screamed. “Mr. Vice-president! He’s the robber from the train!”
The young man looked at Carol and St. Germain, and seemed to be thinking.
And then he looked as if he remembered something.
“Hmm……? Eh? What….? Huh?”
Graham’s gang, headed by Shaft, watched this unfold from afar and all shivered.
“Hey, what the heck…the Boss’s started it for real.”
“And there’s tons of people on that big one anyway, so what’s he thinking of!”
“’Cuz he can’t think of a plan like trailing them in secret, not with his brain…but anyway, there’s somethin’ even worse.”
Shaft, the only one who still looked calm, stared at the two figures standing beside their targets and let out a tired sigh.
“I already told you lot that on the way here, we tried to pull a train heist, right?
“Yep, so you did.”
“Other than the Boss, we all tried to chisel some off that dude with the monocle.”
The members of the gang who were on the train all looked a bit green. The others saw this and roughly guessed the outcome, but they still wanted to know the details.
And the details were pretty much what they guessed. Shaft rubbed his chin and recalled how painful it was.
“We got pounded. Well, other than the Boss…he had all of us kissing the ground in a few short seconds. I swear by our reputation that he’s a ninja or something.”
“And afterwards, it felt like he and Boss were fated to meet…so here we are.”
Meanwhile, Graham was looking at the two journalists that he had met ten days ago and spinning his giant wrench with an expression of bafflement.
“Really…and who are we here? The information brokers from the train? Hm…Are you two ‘the Poet’ and ‘Sickle’ then…? Is that it? Novels always have villains with alter egos, so on top of being reporters, you’re Huey’s servants too?”
Graham took out the wanted poster from a breast pocket and compared the descriptions to the four people before him. “This mister here does fit the description of being ‘pompous in his speech’…so this girl’s the capoeira master then? All right, show me some capoeira moves!”
Carol started at Graham’s challenge and started trembling, and couldn’t help yelling back. “Ca…capo what? I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Eh…? The capoeira master says she doesn’t know capoeira! What trick are we playing? I see…is it like riding a bicycle…it’s not a piece of knowledge but a habit, is that so? Hold on, I just lied. I know it’s not you two…but how can you expect me to accept this reality? What good will it do me…what good indeed? Hey, girl, answer my question!”
“What? How should I know?” Carol was still trembling and cowering behind the vice-president.
Rail and Frank were watching this take place with entirely different expressions. Frank was staring blankly at Graham, whereas Rail’s face was clouded with anger.
--- Don’t call me Huey’s servant!
It was obvious that Rail was upset, but he bit back what he was about to say with great effort.
Rail didn’t know exactly what made Carol start screaming, but it looked like this new arrival was some kind of thief.
--- Why would a common lowlife have a wanted poster of us?
He tried to calm down and process everything rationally.
From the conversation between the young man and Carol, Rail thought that he was none too bright, and perhaps he was indeed a common lowlife. If this was true, it looked like their enemy was giving away wanted posters to any number of brainless thugs in order to capture them.
The thing to do was probably to defeat this thug and interrogate him, and find out who was behind it all. Going with them was another option, but if there was a squad of hired guns awaiting them, then he and Frank would be dead.
--- I wish we had Christopher. Or even just Chi and Leeza – they’re not afraid of bullets.
--- I’ve got it.
Rail, who had been busily calculating all this time, arrived at a plan.
--- We’ll pretend to go quietly, and then beat them senseless halfway there, and bring them to where the Poet and everyone else are.
They were just common thugs anyways, so they probably won’t put up much of a fight.
Rail put on a smile. “And if we don’t?”
“I will not accept such a tragic answer.”
Rail glared at the thug shaking his head and swinging his wrench and sighed. “You needn’t look so freaky, mister. We’ll go along with you, no worries…Frank!”
Frank heard Rail and swallowed the rest of his hotdogs, and swung Rail onto his shoulder.
Carol was still totally confused and looked at the two of them, worried. But Rail just smiled a little wistfully. “Hey, Carol, thanks a lot. We didn’t get to chat for long, but I haven’t talked to a normal girl for a long while, you know…now that I think about it, I never have.”
“Th-the hotdogs were delicious too.”
They both finished expressing their gratitude, but Rail lowered his head in thought, and then spoke in a low voice. “Um…I guess this is a warning…um…it’s kind of hard to put into words.”
He didn’t know exactly what the details of their mission was, but since he was here for some purpose and did care about what happened to this girl, he decided to at least tell her something.
“You’d better leave Chicago as soon as you can.”
“I think there’s going to be a huge explosion here.”
Carol watched Rail and Frank being led away by the young man in blue, and felt completely at a loss.
She didn’t know whether she should have prevented them from leaving or whether she should have called for help. But before the left, Rail had told her “Hey, don’t worry,” and this paralyzed her.
She turned for help. “Mr. Vice-president…”
“Well…since they said they would depart, it is not our place to make them remain. I say, if they had not been willing to go, I would not have remained a motionless bystander. However it looks as if they have other plans. If you are so worried, why not follow?”
“If you have no thought of following, then you must adopt the role of a journalist and consider this event from afar. Of course, some reporters venture to the front lines to learn what is closer to the truth. Which professional attitude one chooses depends on one’s feelings and values. But of course we wish that our staff do not hold values contrary to the advancement of the company.”
The vice-president’s voice was calm as usual. He looked at the already-blurry outline of Frank’s giant figure and sought to calm Carol down as well. “And I doubt either of them would readily take insult or injury so easily.”
“And also, Carol, we must remain in Chicago for a while longer.”
“Wait, what do you mean? I thought the plan was to go back to New York tomorrow?”
--- Does Mr. Vice-president want to rescue them?
There was a bit of yearning in Carol’s heart for a superhero to solve all her problems, but in the vice-president’s eyes there was only the usual sharp glare, like an assassin.
“I predict that certain events shall take place here, and there is time before our departure to enter into the fray. Anyway, it should prove most interesting.”
“…Aren’t you contradicting yourself?”
“That is because I am the type to chase a story to the front lines. It is just that the front lines may not be where the two of them were headed.”
The vice-president said this without a shred of hesitation, and Carol shivered. “Um…I suppose you won’t say something like ‘Since we’re not in danger yet, you’d better leave first’?”
“Would you like me to?”
“Absolutely not!” Carol answered loudly, but then felt slightly sorry for herself.
The vice-president looked at the young intern and explained, “True, I was thinking about whether to send you back first, however I decided that it might be more dangerous if you were alone.”
Carol was just about to ask what he meant by this, but a real-life explanation beat her to it.
While everyone had been staring at Frank’s huge figure retreat into the distance, a man had sidled up to Carol and sat down beside her.
There was a scar on his face and he looked like a shady character. He unfolded a sheaf of newspaper with one hand.
Then, with his other hand, he opened one flap of his coat behind the newspaper, just wide enough for Carol and the vice-president to see the metallic gleam of a gun in an inner pocket.
“How ‘bout you come with me.”
He sounded conversational and his eyes remained trained on the newspaper.
“If you got nothing to do with them two…”
--- Would you let us go? Carol thought. B-but that means Rail and Frank are in trouble…
But her worries were entirely misplaced.
Klik tossed the cigarette that he had been smoking to the ground and showed them an evil grin.
“Then hope you don’t mind – it just ain’t your lucky day.”
Carol was frightened out of her wits, but the vice-president stood, fully cooperative, and maintained an even tone of voice. “Carol, I hope that the courage with which you yelled ‘Absolutely not’ earlier could persist until the time it shall be truly tested.”
Then his lips twisted into a sour smile and spoke in a voice only Carol could hear. “What is happening now might not even be the beginning.”
Rail seized the chance to ask the ultimate question when he and Frank were led into a small, empty alley far from the Wrigley Building.
“All right, blue bro, where’re we off to?”
At first there was only the guy in blue, but then as they walked farther and farther away from the Wrigley building, more people joined them. Now Rail and Frank were surrounded by five or six men.
The young man in blue didn’t stop or slow down, but turned as he walked to answer. “Sadly, I can’t divulge where we’re going…However, there is something I can tell you, which is that I am called Graham. Graham Specter.”
“No one asked for your name.”
“Ah, how tragic. You don’t seem the slightest bit interested in me. But…but! An insuppressible urge rises to report my name when I think of what I shall do with you!”
“Wh-what are you gonna do?” Frank stuttered.
Graham let the wrench fall on his shoulder. “You two…you’re Rail and Frank, am I right?”
“Right, but we don’t have last names,” Rail said with a self-deprecating smile.
“Is that so…”Graham nodded. “Excellent. I just thought, what if I only found out now that I took in the wrong people?”
“Okay, so what does this have to do with telling us your name?”
“It’s obvious…don’t you think it’s discourteous to ask for someone else’s name before you give your own? I can’t believe you need to ask – wait, did you ask because you think I lack common sense? Is it? Is it because of this uniform? Is this blue work uniform the crux of the problem? I assure you, this is my attire whether it’s a work day or a statutory holiday…but do you find it discomfiting…? I wash and change between three sets of uniforms every day, you know!”
An answer both innocent and idiotic.
Rail had been brought up short by Graham’s monologue at first, but he collected himself and gave a sarcastic laugh. “Ahahaha, hey, bro, you’ve already kidnapped us, so why bother with politeness?”
“Kidnapping? Is this…kidnapping? Is that what you believe…? Though in this situation, your perceptions hold sway. I suppose that taking you with no possibility of an exposition does fit the definition of kidnapping…Oh dear oh dear, have I really fallen at last? Fallen…or perhaps I will fall soon? Fall to where? Hell? But who decided Hell was below ground? Isn’t that awfully unjust to both above and below? Let me think…people used to believe that the Earth was the centre of the world and the universe turned around this point. In another words, if this is true, to fall means to descend into the centre of the earth! Oh god, this means that the erstwhile world actually spun around Hell…how deeply, deeply tragic…how bleak...”
Graham had fallen into his own world.
Rail watched as the young man in blue fell to his knees and started weeping. Rail patted him on the shoulder and offered gentle words of comfort, words unlike those a child of his age would say.
“It’s all right…let it out. We forgive you.”
“Oh…having a child like you give me absolution seems to drag me further into the sadness of Hell. But I thank you nevertheless…thank you…”
Rail shook his head. “Think nothing of it. You aren’t really all that sad,” and then he added, as if as an offhand comment, “So…who was it exactly told you to look for us?
“Who it is won’t change the sad fact of my existence…and to be thought so little of, that you could use such an unrefined method to extract information from me – this only adds to my tragedy. Alas, why must I descend into such despair?”
Rail gave a childlike smile and stuck out his tongue. “Ahahaha…I guess you aren’t so easily fooled.” But then his smile seemed to have some malice behind it. “All right, it looks like force is the only way.”
As Graham raised his head, Rail signalled to Frank. “Frank, let’s begin.”
“Oh, okay. Got it.”
The giant toddler nodded twice –
And with a move so fast no one saw what happened, he kicked Graham into the air.
Graham, who didn’t see it coming at all, nearly bit off his tongue.
--- What? What’s happening to me?
The force that struck one side of his body a moment ago suddenly lanced throughout his whole being, sending shockwaves through his bones and flesh.
Immediately following this pain was a feeling that he was being jerked downwards.
--- Strange, am I falling sideways?
A second strike hit just as this thought formed in Graham’s mind.
Graham’s body smashed into the wall of a building, though he managed to focus his vision as he slid down the wall.
The person he saw first was Frank, but Frank was miraculously the size of a normal child. Then he realized that Frank had sent him flying a considerable distance away.
--- How far was that?
“What – What the hell are you doing?”
Rail and Frank had sprang into action, though it might be more accurate to say they took advantage of the situation and moved by stealth. Yells of protest rose from Graham’s gang.
Some of these gang members had drawn their daggers, but Rail just looked at them, unperturbed, and just turned to give Frank more instructions. “I think you can handle them all by yourself, but let me lend a hand anyway. Give me my stuff.”
“Oh, sure.” As instructed, Frank reached down to his enormous waist, removed the backpack, and handed it to Rail.
The bag looked a lot bigger in the hands of someone as small as Rail. He pulled a coat from the bag and started to put it on with a leisurely air.
But of course, as Rail and Frank were having this exchange, Graham’s gang also moved. More of them had drawn their daggers, and now they all lunged forwards.
“You little bastard, you’ve got time to –”
But he never finished his sentence. Smack. He was knocked senseless.
Frank’s giant palm had swatted him away, and his body turned a few graceful arcs in the air before landing.
Confronted by this shocking turn of events, all the men stopped dead. They had numbers, but in this situation numbers didn’t seem to count for much.
They couldn’t escape either, so their only path was to advance, surrounding Rail and Frank in a slowly tightening circle.
“Um…maybe getting farther away would be nice.”
“Sure, go for it.”
Rail was still putting on his coat, but Frank suddenly hefted him up –
One of Frank’s pillar-like legs kicked off from the ground with a surprisingly light movement.
A whirlwind seemed to howl in the alley, and Frank’s massive figure bowled between the gang like a giant cannon ball.
“What…” The gang’s eyes collectively widened in disbelief. They couldn’t believe what they saw. Frank was twenty metres away and putting Rail back down on the ground.
A realization finally sunk in – regardless of whether Frank was using his hands or his legs, his movements were so fast that they couldn’t see it coming.
His speed exceeded the motion capture of the human eye. The fact that Frank was huge but could still move with baffling lightness made them feel that his whole body was like a giant engine.
Big meant heavy. This is what they had believed. So, faced with a contradiction, they could only stare open-mouthed with their hands hanging at their sides.
A few civilians were passing through the alley and saw what seemed like miracles. They either ran away in fear or stayed to watch the events unfold. Now their gaze shifted from Frank to Rail, who had finally finished putting on his coat.
The coat looked like some kind of uniform, though it also looked like it was made from a sack. It differed from Graham’s uniform in two ways.
First, its cut was different. Rail’s coat had longer sleeves, and it was loose, with the bottom hugging Rail’s knees. It almost looked like a lab coat.
The second was the colour.
The fabric looked like it was woven from silver threads, and reflected the light coming from all sides. Rail, who already looked like a doll, now looked even more like a figurine in a dollhouse.
“What, scared yet?” Rail seemed to be lost in a kind of personal reverie, though a hint of cruelty peeked through his smile.
The gang thought that Rail was talking about his clothing, but his next words shattered this expectation. “Frank’s nimble moves scared you eh? You must’ve thought that he was slow, from the way he looks and talks. Haha! Talk about reality hitting you like a ton of bricks.”
As the gang recalled how astonishing Frank’s moves had been, Rail giggled, as if amused how their pursuers now looked like they were choking on their own tongues. “But hey, it’s not that strange if you think about it. Sharks in the ocean are pretty big, but they can swim real fast too. Did you know that even crocodiles can get up to forty kilometres per hour? But on the other hand, rabbits – and they seem pretty fast and nimble, don’t they – they still meet their end in the jaws of lions and tigers, and they’re ten times bigger than rabbits. So how could you think that Frank was slow? Ahahahaha! Ahahahaha!”
Laughter. Loud, crazed laughter.
But after this barrage of seeming nonsense and peals of laughter, Rail suddenly stopped, and his lips curled into a cruel smile once more. “Hey, you mean you really don’t know why I just told you all that?”
Graham’s gang, who had been rooted to the spot by a series of unexpected developments, now found that events took another turn.
It was in the centre of the circle they had formed.
There was a strange object where Rail and Frank had been standing. It was a misshapen object attached to a clock.
The best description would be that it looked like an egg, and the clock in front of it was ticking. The sound made all the gang shudder with a nameless sense of disquiet.
As if to give their fear substance, Rail spoke, but his voice was quiet. “We only need to interrogate one person. That Graham guy is enough.”
Rail’s smile augured something nasty, and behind him, Frank was covering his ears and trying to make himself smaller.
“So you lot…hm…you lot can blow.”
The hand in the clock ticked one last time, landing in the 12 position.
The blue sky above the small Chicago alley was rocked with a harsh and resounding explosion.
|Return to Main Page||Back to Prologue 7: Supernatural Requital||Forward to Interlude: The Boundaries of Alcatraz|