Part 2: Let's Quarrel
(The Alveare, New York)
It was preparation time, before opening.
In the honey-scented air, a girl sat, forlorn. The staff of the Alveare, madam proprietor, and several members of the Martillo family bustled around the room, but around her, the air was sullen. And even though she looked like a young girl, she was decked out in unusual clothing – in a suit, like a man.
This was Ennis. She was supposedly an imperfect homunculus, created by the alchemist Szilard. When she betrayed her master, she had been prepared to die. However, a young immortal intervened and “devoured” the old alchemist, and so technically he became her new master.
Ennis didn’t subscribe to anything like an “organization.” And for her, this was the first time she had to go to his “family.” He accepted her even though they had been fighting against each other before, and even asked her to move in with him. Such a warm person. It was confusing at first, but over time, Firo became an integral part of Ennis’s life.
But Firo – he was gone.
A week ago, Firo had been arrested by those self-proclaimed officers. After Ennis heard this news, her heart trembled as it had never done before.
Firo was definitely a part of the Martillo family. He’d toed the line between respectability and criminality, and perhaps had even crossed it on occasion. Ennis knew all of this. However, at least in front of Ennis, he had never shown his darker side, had always been an agreeable gentleman. And he had never hidden anything from her.
For someone like Ennis, who in many ways lacked even an instinct for self-preservation, Firo’s role in her life was like a familiar family member. But faced with the possibility of never seeing Firo again, Ennis was forced to reconsider his place in her life.
But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t stay calm and rational. It wasn’t just Firo who was gone, but Isaac too. He was taken away a month ago, and had never been seen since. There hadn’t been news of either of them. Perhaps both of them were being mistreated in prison at this minute.
And as for his partner, Miria Harvent. Everyone thought that she’d cry when she heard about Isaac, or even go into hysterics. But she stayed silent, and shuffled out of the Alveare. She hadn't come back since.
Although Ennis wasn’t there at the time and didn’t see Isaac being taken away, every time she thought of what Miria must have felt then, she felt choked up. Like Firo, Isaac and Miria were close friends who changed the course of her life.
Yet she could do nothing. Ennis felt useless and wretched, and no matter how hard she tried to stop, she kept turning these things over and over in her mind. And since she couldn’t do anything else, she decided to think hard about what to do in the future. So Ennis chose the Alveare, to sit here all afternoon and think about –
“Ennis, are you all right?”
Many people around Ennis were really worried, seeing her so somber everyday, including Czeslaw Meyer, who was like Ennis’s younger brother.
“Oh. Czeslaw …I’m fine. Just a bit out of it, that’s all.”
“If it’s about Firo, don’t be too worried.”
“Sorry…I should be more cheerful.”
“It’s ok. You don’t have to be worried, really. Everyone says so – for people like you, time isn’t an issue. And even if Firo is in prison, it’s not like he’d get sick or die or anything, right?”
Ennis smiled a little at how confident Czeslaw sounded, and when she answered, her voice was calm. “Right…Czeslaw…the same for you. Even though it’s been 200 years, we still see Maiza around.”
Ennis found this vague response odd, and coming from Czeslaw, it was disquieting. Ennis didn’t know how to answer. As she was about to clarify it with him, the voice of Saina, the proprietor, boomed from the back door.
“Apologies, sir. We ain’t open yet, you know.”
“Oh, no, I’m here to discuss something with the Martillos.” Answering her was a low masculine voice.
“Um…well then…did you set up an appointment?”
“Hey, please, don’t be so bureaucratic. Is that Maiza here or not? I’m an old friend, after all.”
Other than Ennis and Czeslaw, everyone else heard this exchange too, and turned to look towards the back door. He said Maiza. Not only was Maiza Avaro a long-time member of the Martillos, he was one of its higher-level members now. On the outside, he looked friendly and laid-back, but he knew his business and was held in high esteem.
And for Ennis and Czeslaw, he was important for other reasons, too –
“Why don’t you let me in first.”
“Hey, wait…” And as Ennis and Czeslaw watched, the man shouldered past the door as if Saina wasn’t there, and headed direction into the Alveare. What everyone saw was a bespectacled and thinly dressed man who wore a guarded expression and hostile eyes. The cheerful drinking atmosphere tensed.
Because of what happened to Isaac, everyone was on extra heightened alert regarding anyone from the law. But the man here made them feel so uncomfortable that they just wanted to retreat further back into their seats.
But there was someone here who was ten times more uncomfortable than everyone else.
Czeslaw’s expression hardened as he saw the man enter. Ennis knew immediately that this was no ordinary person, then. She glanced back at the man, but then stared.
She had definitely never met him before – but her reaction was rather like Firo’s reaction a while ago.
He – he was…
Knowing something that you didn’t know. What a bizarre feeling. And after you realized you do know, you really wish that you didn’t. Ennis felt a sense of guilt overtake her. And the only person who could make her feel better wasn’t around.
Some of Ennis’s feelings must have showed on her face, but the man didn’t pay any attention. Instead his gaze swept over the rest of the guests. Only belatedly did he recognize the still young man beside her.
“Oh, Czeslaw.” His expression softened a bit, and his voice was quieter. “Well, long time no see. How long has it been? 233 years?”
Czeslaw remained as stiff as he was before, even though the man appeared to relax a bit. He could only force the other’s name from his lips. “Victor…”
“Apologies for disturbing you before opening time, ma’am. I don’t need you to seat me or serve anything.” Victor thrust out an arm and stopped the waiter who was going to pour him a glass of water, stalked to Czeslaw and Ennis’s table, and impertinently grabbed a nearby chair to sit without being asked.
“Long time no see. You still look well. That’s the most important thing.”
Czeslaw was still guarded despite Victor’s open expression. He rose and pushed his chair back to put some more distance between himself and Victor. Far enough so that his right hand wouldn’t reach.
Although Czeslaw was an immortal, immortals still had a horror of being devoured. And Czeslaw perhaps was a bit more afraid of this than other immortals were. Ever since he had been betrayed by someone he trusted, Czeslaw had decided to be suspicious of any other immortal. Especially if they popped up before him out of nowhere.
“Um…What are you doing here…?”
“I need to discuss something with Maiza.”
“You weren’t surprised to see me. So…you knew I was here?”
“Hm? Well, of course I did.”
His whereabouts had been discovered. Czes felt a shiver pass through him. He glanced at Victor’s right hand, even more on guard now.
“Did you hear about me from the information brokers? Or did Maiza tell you?”
“Information brokers? You mean those guys at Daily Days? No, when they see cops, they clam up immediately. But I didn’t hear it from Maiza either. We haven’t met for about six or seven years now.”
“That’s because I’ve ordered my men to watch you.”
Czeslaw frowned at this straightforward and simple response. “Your men…?”
“Oh, Czeslaw, you ask so many questions. You should be overjoyed at our reunion.”
“…are my questions really that hard to answer?”
“Oh man, you sure give me a headache, Czeslaw. Okay okay, we’ll go on with questions. Though now we must switch roles – I have something to ask you.”
He looked so intent that Czes immediately felt uneasy. He had been holding the same posture for a while now, and his tense muscles protested. But he still didn’t move.
“Czeslaw, how’s Fermet doing?”
If the atmosphere wasn’t so tense, Czeslaw’s sudden change would almost have been comical. He had been putting on a brave front all this while, but on hearing this name, his face drained of all colour. Even Ennis grew pale beside him, and she stared fixedly at the centre of their table.
Of course Victor noticed these changes, but he carried on relentlessly. “When we disembarked, you went west with Fermet. But now you seem to be by yourself…”
“Well, we seem to have found a truly hard to answer question, haven’t we. I’ll stop asking you personal questions. But keep this in mind if you ever want to start poking into my affairs.” He smiled, but Czeslaw was still white and stony.
Ennis really wanted to say something to snap Czeslaw out of it, but every time she looked at Victor, words died on her tongue. His face – it had been securely lodged in the mind of the alchemist she had devoured. They weren’t just acquaintances, but close friends. In other words, Ennis felt an intense guilt for having eaten such a close partner of the man before her.
Did he come here to kill her? To avenge his friend. Or maybe to take his friend’s memories.
Like Czeslaw, Ennis was stiff and silent. But their silence was cut through by the voice of a young man, surprised, joyful, but also with a hint of reservation.
“Victor – What’s going on? How come you're here?”
A man of 25 or 26 appeared. Although he was wearing glasses like Victor, he exuded a completely different aura. He was tall, with long, smiling eyes, and looked like a warm college professor.
And as for Victor, who everyone thought was beastly already, he warmed somewhat at this voice, and raised his right hand nonchalantly, as if out of habit.
“Ahoy, Maiza. You look like you’re living well. It’s great seeing you again. Sometimes I feel like a stranger when I meet someone I haven’t seen in a while, and so I feel even more a stranger than when we first met. I don’t know who changed, you or me. I was going to tell Czes the same thing, but he didn’t give me the chance. What do you think?”
“You didn’t turn all your blood into liquor after the Prohibition was repealed, did you? Even if you want to lose yourself, it has to stop somewhere...for me, at least.”
“Hey…it seems like I’m not welcome. Did I do something wrong?”
“What do you take this place to be?” Maiza sounded angry, and then sighed as if it should be obvious. “You, a federal agent, come up to an establishment of the Camorra…what could you possibly want?” As he said this, Maiza strode into the shop. All those present were members of the Martillo family and their relationship to officers of the law was already like fire and water, and especially since Isaac and Firo were both taken away, they regarded such men with even greater hostility.
“I know you object to us, Maiza, but that’s really your fault. You keep running these illegal businesses secretly. Don’t you think so?”
Victor was stubborn, and Maiza seemed to relent a little. “Are you here to start a fight? Or do you actually have some urgent matter?”
“Calm down. It’s not really urgent – well, that would depend on how Huey moves.”
Another immortal to pop out – like Maiza, Czes, and Victor, Huey was one of the alchemists on the Advenna.
Maiza looked at Victor in astonishment, and decided to be direct. “Huey – you arrested him, didn’t you?”
“He was really hard to bring to heel. He had tons of subordinates under his command, and they were hard to deal with too. In comparison, even the Flying Pussyfoot incident seems like nothing.”
The Flying Pussyfoot incident. Maiza had heard about it, about how a bunch of terrorists had hijacked the train. He only knew about it because a friend was on board – it had never been reported in the press. Perhaps it had been officially hushed up. It wasn’t mentioned in the news at all, and the families who lost someone in the incident just held private funerals. This sort of cover-up made people like Maiza suspicious. It was hard to hide even daily occurrences, much more a huge railway hijacking involving deaths and injuries. To silence everyone was nearly impossible, and it was a strange approach to deal with the whole incident anyway.
“It couldn’t have been you who barred anyone from reporting this incident, could it?”
“Hey, Maiza, spare me, okay? I don’t have that much power." Victor humbled himself and then appeared uninterested. "Let’s not discuss this now. I can only say that it’s like someone doesn’t want the existence of immortals to be publicly known.” He continued as if to himself. “And that someone probably outranks me...even though we’re all working towards the same goal, they're always trying to work against us…a bunch of idiots…”
“All right, so what about Huey?”
“Hmm? Ah, sorry, sorry. As for that, I think Huey managed to send out some information from prison, though as to how he managed it, we have no idea.”
Maiza pursued this matter, and so Victor had to explain. But what he said next shook everyone.
“Oh right. Your little brother, he’s our watchdog now.”
In an instant, every man present shoved back their chairs and stood up. The hubbub in the room was even louder than when everyone realized that Victor was from the FBI.
Maiza’s thin eyes became stern, and he glared at his erstwhile friend coldly. “What did you do to Firo? Your answer will determine whether we treat you as an enemy.”
Faced with this, Victor only rolled his eyes exasperatedly and held up both his hands. “Wait wait wait. Wait, Maiza. I really do hate you thieves. But it’d be more trouble for me if we came to blows. I’m here because I want to avoid this kind of misunderstanding….treat me as your enemy…that’s too much.” Victor sighed and rose slowly from his chair. “And he didn’t spill about any of you. So it’s not like he betrayed you and went over to us.”
And then Victor looked at Ennis, his eyes unreadable, but seemed to express his complicated feelings about her. “Right, Miss Ennis is here, correct? I guess she’s the reason that he was willing to walk through fire.”
“Hm…?” Ennis started as she heard her name, and looked at Victor, baffled.
Victor’s expression showed was complicated, neither a sneer nor a smile. His voice was deadpan as he related what happened to Firo, and did not hesitate or pause at Ennis’s pale face. As if he was just chatting to Ennis about minor complaints in his life.
“Don’t look at me like that, Maiza. It looks like Miss Ennis has something to say, and my time is tight, too, so I should go.” Victor polished off his tale, rubbed his hands, and got up to leave.
Maiza’s tight voice followed him. “So, in the end, Huey didn’t say what he was planning? Everything’s an ‘experiment’ to him anyway, and now that Elmer isn’t around, it’s even more…Don't you know anything at all?”
“I wish I did.” Victor said, a little vaguely, and dusted off his clothes. “Well, according to our investigations, the creep Huey is planning to play some games in New York. Listen well: if he’s really up to no good, don’t go try to fight fire with fire. It won’t do you any good, and it won’t do your organization any good either.” He sounded a bit annoyed, and stalked towards the door.
“…I guess delivering this warning is the real objective of your visit today.”
Victor wasn’t frazzled by this, but instead showed the same self-satisfied expression he wore when he arrived, though now he looked a bit nostalgic. “Maiza, I still regard you as my friend. I advise you not to do anything to jeopardize that. And by the way…I really advise you to wash your hands of this kind of…business. Then we can still go have a drink together sometime.”
He didn’t look at Maiza as he said this, and then raised his voice so the whole room could hear, as if to make them forget the rather sentimental words he had just spoken. “Listen up, Maiza! Until now, I’ve treated you as a friend. Though whether it’s the Mafia, or the Camorra, or the 'Ndrangheta, I loathe all of them. They can die for all I care – let then die. Over and over again. Until they regret that they were ever born. If you surround yourself with shit then you are the shit of society. Remember that!”
As if he couldn’t stop his outburst in any other way, he ran towards the door.
At that moment, the figure of an older man appeared at the entrance.
“Oh, I apologize.” The old man turned in the doorway to let Victor pass. Victor didn’t even stop; he just grunted and kept on going. But then he felt a bizarre feeling at his feet.
What…? Was there a chair blocking his way?
Victor looked at his feet. Where was the floor?
As he was thinking this, he felt the wind being knocked out of him. It was like his lungs were burning. And then the floor appeared, right under his nose. With this, Victor had to accept that he had indeed tumbled to the ground.
He must have tripped on something. But he didn’t feel like he tripped.
And then a wrinkled old hand stretched out towards him. It must belong to the old man he squeezed by just now.
“Young man, are you all right?”
Victor looked up and saw an elderly Japanese man, Kanshichiro Yagmal.
“It was you just now, wasn’t it, old man?”
Victor had heard a lot about a certain Asian man here, and here he was.
Victor tired to brush off Kanshichiro’s helping hand and to get up by himself, but he found that the old man had grabbed a hold of his wrists. Victor felt as if his wrist was being crushed – by such a wrinkled old hand.
Just then, Victor also felt as if he was floating. Kanshichiro’s helping hand, added to his own effort to rise, yanked him from the floor and dumped him onto a seat in front of the bar. Somehow Victor’s head also landed on the bar. Crack. Something close by broke.
He turned his head to see shards of a broken bottle, and that another man was cleaning up the mess. “Well, young man, if you fell on a pile of broken glass, you’d be dead for sure, be you a cop, G-man, or even the president.”
Victor felt keen eyes upon him and was very conscious that he had just been humiliated. This was their response to his earlier warnings. He was beaten and he knew it. And he couldn’t do anything about it, either. Victor felt galled for a moment, and then tried his best to smooth over his expression.
“Are you threatening me? For someone like me, it’s…”
Kanshichiro leaned over to speak into Victor’s ear. “Well, in addition to being cut by broken glass, my right hand could just slip and land on your head…”
“In the year 1711, that’s what old Szilard did. On the Advenna Avis.”
Who was he…?
Victor’s nervous look swept over him, but couldn’t place him as any of the passengers on the ship. But Maiza wouldn’t blab about what happened to just anyone, either.
Who was he?
The old man smiled at Victor’s confusion, and took the broken glass shards in his hand and squeezed. When he opened his hand, he held a perfect, unbroken bottle. As if the bottle had magically reformed itself.
“Now how about that? To have a mystery pop up when you think you’ve got it all under your control? Alarming, isn’t it?”
Victor looked over at Maiza, but Maiza was standing at a distance, and didn’t make any responses to what the old man was saying.
“A magician? …No. Who are you anyway? It looks like I have to open another case.”
Victor gritted his teeth at his disgrace and stood, putting the bar behind him. “Take heed, all of you…even if you threaten me, I won’t back down.”
He turned to go, and all of the Camorra members looked daggers at his retreating figure. The enmity was palpable and Victor felt it, but he didn’t pause. Because he couldn’t be killed, much less by mere feelings of dislike. So he shouldered their dislike and walked on.
Maiza glanced at the door that Victor just left through. “Yagmal, Ronny, I think your threats went a bit far.”
“Really? If I really wanted to threaten him, his shoulder would be dislocated.” Yagmal was grinning. Ronny, on the other hand, looked coldly at the broken bottle.
“Ronny, what is it?”
“Well, it’s like he doesn’t remember me at all…”
“Do you still expect they’ll remember you?”
At Maiza’s surprised words, Ronny seemed a little crestfallen “No matter. Maiza, I’ve decided.” Ronny muttered to himself. “Next time someone forgets me, I’d have to...leave a stronger impression.”
Victor left the Alveare and climbed into his car. Bill, who was in the driver's seat, turned to him. “Ah…so how did that go?”
“Hm…! I thought I was going to be killed for a moment…Maiza, that…this is the first time he looked at me with so much loathing. All those petty mobsters too. Damn it…things actually came to this…Maiza actually managed to sink so low!”
“Um…what are you talking about? C’mon, tell me…”
For some reason, Bill’s lax tone annoyed Victor even more. But Bill was oblivious to this, and rambled on. “Hm, didn’t you say something like, “I need to rein them in, I want to convince him not to take Huey’s bait’ or something? What exactly were you doing? You’re shaking in your shoes.”
“Whatever, Inspector Sullivan. Whatever you say.”
Bill still pursued an answer even though Victor looked slightly feverish by now. “Hm. I wonder if it’s because you’ve been acting like a jerk.”
Victor didn’t answer. He knew that he had failed in using his status and position to convince anyone, and so only grimaced and closed his eyes.
But then he suddenly opened them and sat up.
“Damn. I forgot to tell him something.”
“What? What did you forget?”
“I mean the whole business about this other immortal, Isaac…because I didn’t expect any of this to happen at all.”
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