“Are you going to Chicago too?”
In the third-class train carriage headed to Chicago, Avilio was drawn into conversation.
Seated across from him was a Caucasian girl around his age, currently facing him and gazing at him with interest. Avilio’s response was brief.
“Are you a student? Or are you already working? Do you have some job to do in Chicago? Or are you on your way home?”
Inwardly dissatisfied at being bothered like this, Avilio was about to reply when the girl hastily cut him off.
“Ah, hold on. Let me guess.”
Having spoken, the girl immediately sank into thought. Upon seeing this, Avilio sighed quietly. It was good that he was just being disregarded like this, but on second thought, chatting with her a little might not be too bad.
It had already been three days since he left Lawless on the pretext of heading to Chicago. In reality, if traveling straight from Lawless to Chicago via the waterways, it would only take one day to get there.
However, in order to get Corteo settled, Avilio had had to visit the hideout - the small town where he had previously resided - and had stayed there for two days. Corteo had been mindful of his own safety, and naturally didn’t want the Vanetti Family to pick up on his tracks.
For this reason, Avilio had chosen a land route that one would not usually take. He was deliberately riding in a crowded third-class train carriage, and had also made a small detour some distance, but he could no longer delay his arrival in Chicago.
“It’s for work. I’m going to Chicago to meet with a client, and hand over a contract.”
“Why did you have to give away the answer?”
Looking at the girl indignantly puffing her cheeks, Avilio smiled slightly. That childish expression and fluffy blonde hair reminded him a little of Luce.
In the northern United States, it was extremely easy to travel to Chicago from the region termed the East North Central States. By taking the railway trains - jam-packed with passengers, luggage, or both - one was sure to arrive at Chicago.
People and luggage were crammed indiscriminately into freight cars; Avilio and the other passengers in the third-class carriage had already been sitting on the hard wooden chairs for three hours. There should still be almost four hours to go before their arrival at Chicago.
In a nutshell, it was dull.
Avilio figured that saying nothing at a time like this wasn’t the best course of action, as it would instead make him seem rude and draw more attention to him. Thus, he turned the conversation back to this girl named Amy, who just happened to be sitting in the same carriage as him. Because he himself had nothing interesting that he could tell others.
“I’m a student at the University of Chicago, and I’m thinking of specializing in sociology.”
“That… it’s a field of study that focuses on societal phenomena, and researches the causal relationship between their origins and their results. If we were to take an example… say, investigating the effect that the Prohibition Act has produced on society.”
Hearing the words “Prohibition Act”, Avilio looked up slightly.
“Do you think the Prohibition Act is a mistake?”
“Exploring questions like this is precisely what sociology does. From now on, the United States - hmm… not just the United States, but the entire world - will see major transformations. I believe sociology will be of great use when that time comes.”
“I see. That’s impressive,” Avilio said with feeling, when he heard Amy’s reply.
At the same time, Avilio also understood why he himself was able to relax slightly in this meaningless conversation.
Because he and this girl lived in completely different worlds.
A girl the same age as him, who dreamed of the future and studied diligently. And the mafia whose lives were under the sway of the single piece of paper known as the Prohibition Act, manipulated to run about in all directions, even to the point of murdering each other. They really were talking about two different worlds.
“It’s not impressive at all, really. And my grades are just scraping by.”
“I’m sure you’ll make it.”
“Really? Thank you! You truly are a good person.”
After all, this was a topic from another world. Considering this, Avilio was able to respond with honest feeling, and could also reply with feigned emotion, and could even put on a smile.
But somewhere deep in his heart, Avilio was savoring this exchange. Or perhaps it was because he was relieved to find that he could still engage in normal conversation. Avilio was irresistibly reminded of how he used to listen to Corteo cheerfully talking about topics that were difficult to understand.
The train made of steel, laden with people, luggage, money, and dreams, advanced on its way towards Chicago.
Along with this idle chatter, the dull journey finally approached its end.
“Then, is this your first time visiting Chicago?”
“Yes, didn’t I say that?”
“Then let me show you around! Everything here will be a big surprise for you.”
Amy stole a glance at Avilio’s face with avid curiosity.
Avilio lifted the suitcase he’d placed on his knee, and said as apologetically as he could, “I don’t have time to sightsee. I need to head to the client’s place right away.”
The suitcase contained no documents at all; it only held several bottles of Lawless Heaven for use in negotiating with the Galassias, a gun, and a box of reserve ammunition. Other than this, there was only the resolve to kill and be killed.
The luggage that Avilio carried was the only thing out of place in this ordinary train carriage. But facing this Avilio, Amy was completely undaunted.
“But before you go see the client, you must still have time for a meal? I know a restaurant that’s both good and cheap - how about it? Surely you won’t turn down a girl’s invitation?”
Avilio involuntarily cracked a bitter smile. Most likely Amy would never even dream that the person before her was a member of the mafia.
If the other party were a mafioso, Avilio was confident in his own ability to reject any of their requests with cutting words. In contrast, when faced with girls - with whom he didn’t usually interact - Avilio did not have the knack of gracefully turning down their invitations. Even after reflecting briefly, Avilio still had no good way in mind to refuse.
But that being said, it occurred to him that he hadn’t eaten anything since setting out from the hideout; he still needed to find somewhere to fill his stomach.
“Alright, I’ll go with you. You made this journey less boring; let me treat you to a meal as thanks.”
“Really? That’s great! There’s a place very near the station; it won’t take too much of your time. Also, I’ll pay for my own meal. I certainly didn’t invite you because I wanted you to foot the bill.”
Hearing Amy’s words, Avilio inadvertently smiled wryly again. Not long after, the train pulled into Chicago’s Union Station.
Moving through the crowd with his suitcase, Avilio finally emerged from the jostling throngs of people and stepped out of the station, only to be greeted by a sight that shocked him speechless.
“I did say it’d be a big surprise, didn’t I?” Amy said with some pride. Avilio nodded, slowly surveying the scenery all around him.
Chicago was the second largest city in the United States, only outranked by New York. Although Avilio had previously seen photographs of it in the newspapers, it was a far cry from actually witnessing it with his own eyes now.
In front of the station was an endless stream of people headed in all directions, dressed in various styles of clothing and of different races. Even just the number of people walking about the streets might already exceed the entire population of Lawless. Perfectly laid out roads with numerous lanes extended in every direction, and innumerable bicycles and streetcars passed back and forth. The tips of quite a few skyscrapers were visible in the distance.
Back in Lawless, the playhouse was already considered to be quite imposing, but the buildings here were on a completely different scale.
So humans could create something this big -
Faced with this overwhelming sight, Avilio was unable to say a word.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it? That futures trading center was just completed not too long ago.”
“About how tall is it?”
“600 feet, I think? I hear it has 45 floors.”
Avilio’s breath was taken away; Amy glanced at him and laughed. At that moment, a group of children shoved their way between the two of them.
“Hey you, watch out!”
“You watch out! Hahaha!” The children moved away, leaving behind only the sound of their laughter.
As Avilio watched their departing backs, he started to think -
Now, what next?
While Avilio thought, he took out a cigarette from his breast pocket, put it in his mouth, and lit it. As the smoke he breathed in filled his lungs, Avilio felt his train of thought slowly become clearer.
Amy watched with keen interest. “Hey, could you give me one too?”
“Yes, help yourself.”
Avilio passed her a cigarette, and helped her to light it with a lighter.
Amy gazed intently at the smoke from the lit cigarette, and lightly inhaled a mouthful.
“So you smoke too. It really doesn’t suit you.” Avilio bluntly stated his impression.
“Ack, ack! Wait, wait, I really can’t do this! It tastes awful!”
Choking on a large quantity of smoke, Amy glared up at Avilio, as though blaming him completely for her current plight.
“Th- this was my first time smoking. Because you looked like you were savoring it so much.”
“It’s not my fault that cigarettes don’t taste good. Blame yourself for being a fool.”
“What did you say?! I can’t just let that slide-”
Before Amy’s words were fully out, Avilio had already circled around behind her and torn off something that was stuck to her; he handed it over.
“Eh! Whoa! What is this?!”
It was a small sticker with “Oops, I’m a fool!” written on it; there was even a doodle of a crying girl included next to the words. It was probably a prank by those children who had brushed past just now.
“Why didn’t you tell me right away? You noticed it earlier, didn’t you?”
“I was still deciding when to tell you. After all, I had to honor their handiwork. It’s quite a good drawing, isn’t it?” As Avilio said this, he folded up the sticker and put it away in his breast pocket.
“The handiwork of a prank? Your mind sure works in interesting ways.”
“Is that so.”
“You might be quite well suited for academia.”
“As if.” Avilio smiled bitterly. That comment would make for a pretty good joke, if she had any inkling of Avilio’s real identity.
“Well, at least now I know that cigarettes taste foul - that counts as a gain. It’s good to experience everything once.”
“Don’t play around with this kind of thing. It’s better not to smoke if you can avoid it.”
“Coming from you, that’s not convincing at all.”
Avilio extinguished his finished cigarette under his foot, while Amy continued to walk forward without him.
“If you wander off, you’ll get lost. You don’t have much time, do you?”
“Ah, yes, wait for me.” Avilio hurriedly caught up with her.
If left alone in the streets of such a large city, even Avilio would feel a little uneasy.
Their destination was a restaurant near the avenue in front of the station.
“I’m back, Paul. I’ve brought a customer,” Amy called out as she pushed the door open. A young chef came dashing out from the back of the restaurant.
“Amy! How’s your father doing?”
“Like I expected, it’s not too bad; he just sprained his back. Never mind that, I’d like a quick bite to eat-”
“That’s no problem. Who is this?”
The chef called Paul seemed to have only just noticed Avilio’s presence; the gaze he cast at him was brimming with clear hostility. Of course, to Avilio, this degree of antagonism was mere child’s play.
“Didn’t I say he’s a guest? I met him on the train back.”
“Oh? On the train, huh…”
“We’re famished - please just rustle up something.”
“I know, I’m on it.”
Despite saying this, Paul instead looked at Avilio.
“You’re from the countryside, aren’t you? I’ll give you something to remember about your Chicago visit - I’ll cook you something heavenly. Be sure to go back and brag to your friends at home.” Having said his piece, Paul returned to the kitchen.
Honestly. Avilio grudgingly shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m sorry. He’s got a sharp tongue, but he really is an excellent chef. You know the food is something special if it can get me to visit so often - I can vouch for the taste.”
This meant that Amy was a regular at the restaurant, but she seemed to have absolutely no idea why the chef Paul was being so aggressive towards the guest she’d brought.
Avilio couldn’t help but think that he really had gotten caught up in an odd farce.
Avilio then casually asked about the names of some commercial districts, and Amy told him how to ride the streetcars. At that time, Paul brought out the freshly prepared dishes.
“Chicago’s specialty is steak. But don’t think it’s as simple as me grilling the meat until it’s done - anyway, just try it.”
Numerous thinly-sliced pieces of beef were stacked together, and various types of sautéd vegetables were sandwiched between every layer.
Avilio ate a mouthful, and his eyes involuntarily went wide. “…It’s delicious.”
But now, Avilio was eating with utmost concentration; he even ate the vegetables sandwiched among the beef, and the sauce sprinkled on the vegetables. Although he had no idea what the ingredients were, it didn’t matter - at any rate, they were delicious.
In no time at all, the food had been polished off. After a short breather, Avilio asked Paul, “What’s this dish called?”
“Called? Oh, uh, the dish’s name? I haven’t thought of it yet…”
“Haven’t thought of it? What does that mean.”
“This is a recipe I just came up with. My father said that if Amy thinks it’s tasty, then it can be added to the menu. So I’ve been waiting for her to come back.”
“Mm, it’s scrumptious! This dish is bound to be a hit. You have to be sure to think of a good name.”
“It really is very delicious. If Nero tried it, he’d definitely be beside himself with joy.”
“Nero? Is he your friend from your hometown?”
Avilio’s head abruptly jerked up at Amy’s words.
“Did I just say Nero?”
“You did. You said that if Nero tried it, he’d definitely be beside himself with joy.”
“…Is that so.”
Together with this name, Avilio’s sigh also contained the inarticulate feelings that filled his heart. But after a brief pause, his mood promptly returned to its original state.
“I wouldn’t call him… a friend.”
“I should be going. How much is the bill?”
Avilio rose from his seat; Paul, looking at him, shook his head.
“No need to pay. After all, I got you to sample my new dish, and you even praised my cooking. That’s more than enough.”
“Mm, it really is something to remember. When I get back to the countryside I’ll boast about this to my friends.”
Hearing Avilio’s reply, Paul and Amy exchanged a look and smiled happily.
It was time to part.
“We’ll see each other again, won’t we?”
“Of course. If I come back to Chicago, I’ll be sure to visit this restaurant,” Avilio said with a smile, but in his heart, he was certain that they would never meet again.
Paul extended his arm to shake Avilio’s hand. “Then we’re friends now. That… Come to think of it, I still haven’t asked your name. What are you called?”
“Ah, I still don’t know either!”
“…My name is Angelo.”
“Angelo… that’s a good name.”
“Thank you.” Having said that, Angelo headed out to the street.
Amy and Paul watched Angelo as he left, all the way until his figure was completely out of sight.
After passing through many winding streets, Avilio got some distance away from the restaurant; only then did he finally let out a sigh, as though to himself.
He took out a cigarette, lit it, and inhaled the fumes. With this, “Angelo’s time” came to an end.
Amy and Paul were both living for their own dreams, and there would eventually come a day when their dreams would be realized.
Avilio’s parents and younger brother had all been murdered, and he had lost everything. The only thing he had left that kept his heart beating was the survival instinct of not wanting to die. Those days of eking out an existence by stealing others’ money - could that even be considered living?
Every day was merely another day of not being dead. But no matter what, it was impossible to call this “living”.
Since the day he received Ganzo’s letter, Avilio’s existence had regained meaning. It was for this reason that his heart throbbed and his blood flowed; his hands trembled from excitement at the thought of taking revenge on the people who had killed his parents and Luce.
From that moment on, only the drive for vengeance had sustained Avilio and kept him going until today.
He would never regret it.
Neither did he intend to repent.
Because there was already no turning back.
Amy and Paul’s smiles were dazzling, but their radiance had absolutely no way of reaching Avilio.
Avilio realized that the reason why he’d taken notice of these two people was because they were very much like Corteo’s future - no, the future he himself wanted for Corteo.
He didn’t know whether Corteo would use the money he had given him to go to school. If possible, he hoped that Corteo could live on in the same way as these two people. If he could take it one step further, he also hoped that he himself could be by Corteo’s side as Angelo - but that was far too extravagant a wish. Avilio was well aware of this.
It was likewise clear to Avilio that he had already hurt Corteo through his own willfulness.
When leaving the hideout, he’d made a promise that he would be sure to return. That promise was definitely impossible to fulfil.
Avilio lifted his head and looked up at the gray sky of Chicago, and all the unhappiness accumulated in his heart escaped as a single sigh.
He had to get to work.
Avilio did not lose his way at all, and arrived at the Galassia mansion without a hitch.
Standing at the main entrance, Avilio said to someone who was unmistakably a mafioso, “I’m here representing the Vanetti Family. They should already have sent word.”
Passing through the heavy iron door, Avilio walked into the mansion, and took in the sight of lavish decorations and expensive artworks.
After he had been searched, Avilio handed over his gun and ammunition, and was then brought into a plain, unadorned room. He sat waiting for a while on the unyielding couch, but the eventual arrival was not Don Galassia - instead, it was several young mafiosos.
“Didn’t I say - go fetch Don Galassia,” Avilio said to this group of people, not budging from where he sat.
“Be a good boy and take a hike. The Don won’t meet a wet-behind-the-ears errand boy like you. If you want to apologize for what happened with Mr. Ronaldo, let Nero Vanetti come.”
The man who spoke carried a submachine gun - a Thompson submachine gun, or in other words, the so-called tommy gun. If he wanted, he could reduce Avilio to a patchwork of bulletholes in an instant. Apart from him, the other people were all armed with handguns as well.
Avilio unhurriedly raised his head, and gazed past the gun muzzle pointed at him, straight into the man’s face.
“Isn’t that my line? My business isn’t with small fry like you. To repeat, I’m here as a representative of Nero Vanetti, to apologize for the matter of Mr. Ronaldo. Go give that message to your Don.”
“There’s a time and place for acting tough. Now hurry up and get lost before we blow your head off.”
The man, somewhat aggravated at being taken for a low-level ruffian, pressed the muzzle of the gun against Avilio’s head. In contrast, Avilio’s gaze didn’t waver in the slightest.
“If you want to get rid of me, then shoot.”
“Huh? Are you out of your mind?”
“So the Galassia mobsters won’t kill someone who’s out of their mind. How gentle. But it’s a pity - I’m perfectly sane. Come on, quick, shoot.”
The man recoiled slightly at Avilio’s words. Avilio continued to speak.
“Just like I said, I’m here as Nero Vanetti’s official representative. Pointing a gun at me is the same as pointing a gun at the Don of the Vanetti Family.”
“But, but- the second son of you small-town gangsters - how could his life count for as much as a Galassia Family executive? You think we’ll write it off just like that? Quit your wishful thinking.”
What he said was correct, and unfortunately, it seemed that Don Galassia shared the same thought. In the present situation, it was clear that the Vanetti Family, which had brought about this disturbance, was at a disadvantage. The question of how to settle this debt was completely up to the Galassias - it was as simple as that. The Galassia faction, too, was probably planning to use Ronaldo’s death as leverage to make unreasonable demands of the Vanettis.
“Yes, yes, that’s how it is. Which is why I came to apologize and make amends; I can’t go back before I’ve spoken with the Don. If you want to get rid of me, then kill me.”
From the perspective of this group, Avilio was simply here to throw away his life.
Flustered, the man was just about to move his gun away, but Avilio instead seized the barrel of the gun, and pressed it against his own forehead.
“Special service. I’ll give you a hand to make sure you don’t miss.”
“But first let me say this.”
Avilio deliberately stared at that man.
“If I am killed, we will no longer owe each other anything for the Ronaldo affair. Not just that - from then on the two families will be in a relationship of equals, and we will be on the same footing in all matters. Unless this is done, the two families won’t be able to talk terms - but if things turn out that way, the Galassia Family will be the one to lose face.”
This group of people had no authority to make decisions; most likely they had merely been ordered to chase him off. And after the speech they had just heard, there was no way they could kill Avilio either - because in the slim chance that something happened, they couldn’t answer for the consequences.
To tell the truth, there was no way that Avilio’s death would carry so much weight when dealing with the powerful Galassia Family. But he could only brazen it out if he wanted to meet Don Galassia.
Unrelenting, Avilio took it a step further with his next words.
“Either you let me see the Don, or you kill me. That’s it. Since you won’t let me see him, then just shoot. What, is this gun a toy? Or did you leave your ‘balls’ back in your mother?”
Just as the enraged man was about to pull the trigger, in the depths of the room, a door opened.
“That’s enough. The Don says he will see him.”
“Mr. Strega!” the men cried in unison, putting away their guns. But the man carrying the tommy gun was unable to recover it from Avilio’s grip; at a loss, he looked towards the person addressed as Strega.
Strega, although young, had an elegant bearing that clearly set him apart from this group of ruffians before him; he was probably at least an executive-rank figure. He watched Avilio with a piercing gaze.
Avilio released the gun barrel, stood up, and walked towards the executive.
“I deeply apologize for the disturbance. I would like to meet with the Don.”
“…Come this way.”
This time, he was escorted to a spacious reception room. The walls were hung with paintings, and also decorated with various animal specimens and artworks.
Strega stopped in front of the Don. Don Galassia was seated on a velvet-covered couch.
“I am Galassia.”
“My name is Avilio Bruno. I am here as the representative of Nero Vanetti.”
Galassia sized Avilio up with an appraising gaze.
“Why did you provoke the youngsters from my family? You don’t have enough lives to spare to be behaving in such a way. Does everyone from the Vanetti Family take this kind of attitude when they’re negotiating with someone?”
Although his tone was mild, the look in Galassia’s eyes was severe.
Faced with this inarguably valid question, Avilio said, “My apologies. I am not too good at negotiation.”
“Oh? …Then what are you doing here?”
“I am here simply because Nero assigned me. But-”
Avilio lifted his head, and said, looking at Galassia, “I’m sure you already have something in mind; this negotiation is just secondary. If my life can compensate for Ronaldo’s death in the slightest, I think I will not have made this trip in vain.”
Galassia straightened up and studied Avilio’s face with strong interest.
“That is to say, you came here to die for your family?”
“Yes. As for the negotiations, someone who’s better at it can be sent to settle things afterwards.”
The Don didn’t even bat an eye, and looked straight at Avilio.
“…Mm. Then, on account of your courage, I’ll let you handle the negotiations. You should have brought some collateral.”
The game was on.
Avilio’s suitcase was by his feet; he now set it on the table and opened it.
“We hope that we can draw on the support of the Galassia Family to sell this liquor in Chicago,” Avilio said as he quietly poured the liquor into a glass.
“We call it Lawless Heaven. Please try it.” Avilio proffered the glass full of amber liquid to the Don.
After tasting a mouthful, Galassia involuntarily rose to his feet, and then drained the glass in a single breath. Avilio laughed inwardly at this sight.
“This is truly… a remarkable brew. Can the Vanettis produce this liquor in large quantities?”
Refilling Galassia’s glass, Avilio nodded.
“I thought you would like it.” Avilio had absolute confidence in the quality of Lawless Heaven.
At this point, the negotiation could already be said to be a success.
“The recipe for the liquor is guaranteed. The production facilities are also completely prepared, and we plan to expand the scale from now on. Orco, the former enemy, is gone, and the Fango Family that took its place has come under our command as well. In other words, there are no obstacles at all to us manufacturing Lawless Heaven.”
Galassia listened, swirling the Lawless Heaven in his glass.
Having said his piece, Avilio slowly knelt down before the Don.
“I should have said this first: it was an internal feud within our Family that led to Mr. Ronaldo’s death, and on behalf of Don Vanetti, I express our sincere apologies. Mr. Ronaldo was greatly respected by everyone in the Family; he and Miss Fio were happily married, and we all regarded him as one of the Family. It truly was… most regrettable.”
Galassia looked upon Avilio’s bowed head, at a loss, and then put his hand on Avilio’s shoulder.
“Stand up, Avilio. What happened to Ronaldo is not easily forgotten, but the Vanetti Family, too, has paid a corresponding price in blood. I hear that Nero killed his younger brother with his own hands; this is not something that is easily done.”
Avilio raised his head, and Don Galassia nodded with satisfaction.
“Your negotiation has succeeded. Lawless Heaven is an outstanding liquor; it is sure to sell extremely well, even in Chicago. The specific arrangements can be discussed later.”
The Don let out a soft sigh, and then continued speaking gravely, “The matter of Ronaldo is now put behind us. I swear on the title of Don Galassia that henceforth I will not demand anything of the Vanettis regarding this issue. Inform Nero - no, please inform Don Vanetti of this news.”
“Thank you very much.”
Avilio once again bowed his head deeply. In contrast, Strega stood to one side, silently looking on.
After this, Avilio finally stood up, and Don Galassia once again leaned back against the couch. He gestured to Avilio to be seated; only then did Avilio sit on the couch opposite him.
“That being said, Nero might be young, but he has unexpected depths. To have an excellent subordinate like you, but instead treat you as an expendable-”
“I do not know what Nero intended.”
“How is that so?”
“I did wonder why Nero gave me no bodyguards, and let me come alone to negotiate. But whether he dispatched me out of trust, or because he was treating me as expendable - I can only guess.”
Avilio thought back to Nero’s expression when he had said he was sending Avilio to Chicago.
Had that been affection, or abandonment? Perhaps, just maybe, he had been giving Avilio and Corteo a chance to escape together. But, no matter what -
“No matter whether I live or die, all I can do is respond to Nero’s faith. I know no other way.”
This, too, was for the sake of returning to Lawless to complete his revenge.
That evening, Avilio accompanied Galassia on a tour of the streets of Chicago.
The southern avenues glittered with gorgeous neon lights. Avilio dined at numerous top-grade restaurants, but in his opinion, they all fell far short of Paul’s cooking.
After the meal, Avilio was brought to an underground speakeasy run by the Galassias. In terms of its scale and the number of people there, it far outstripped even the largest speakeasy in Lawless, “the Island”. Avilio was astonished.
“Are there really no problems with being this conspicuous?”
“For a long time, the mayor had the final say in this city, but right now I expect he’s too busy dealing with creditors. He doesn’t have the time to come out and enjoy himself in the evening.”
Galassia tilted his wineglass meaningfully.
“And Alphonse is done for too. This is the very moment - our time has come.”
“I think so too.”
As Avilio spoke, he drained his drink in one gulp. If they wanted a liquor that could win over the next generation of power brokers, a flavor like this wouldn’t pass muster. Lawless Heaven was certain to take Chicago by storm.
In the depths of the speakeasy, a band put on a lively performance; the guests were drinking and reveling in the music, and a few of them started dancing merrily. To Avilio, even the used matchbox printed with the name of the establishment seemed to carry a trace of elegance.
“…It’s nothing like Lawless.”
“Indeed. Enjoy the Chicago night to the utmost.” Galassia cheerfully patted Avilio on the back.
A new era was about to dawn.
Avilio had been acutely aware of this since the moment he had arrived in Chicago. Here was the vital energy that drove the thoughts and emotions of multitudes, and the city of Chicago was the very vessel that encompassed all of this - Avilio sensed this keenly.
However, all of this was irrelevant to Avilio. As soon as day broke, he would be on the way back to Lawless.
And then it would be time to play out the final act of his revenge drama.
While Avilio was in the speakeasy imagining the future, at the same time, in a certain room of the Galassia mansion, Strega received a telephone call.
“Mm, he’s still alive. No, that’s not it. I apologize in advance, but I have no intention of allowing him to return alive. About what happened to Ronaldo - it was you who told me that bastard had a hand in it.” Strega lit the cigarette he held in his mouth.
“The Don may forgive, but I will not. Ronaldo was my cousin and the person I trusted most. He was supposed to be my right-hand man, we were going to do great things together, but instead…” Strega slammed his fist on the table.
“The Don already knows about the liquor. But I want to kill Avilio, and I won’t give you any trouble. That’s fine, isn’t it… Thank you very much, Mr. Ganzo.”
After ending the conversation and hanging up the phone, Strega expelled a mouthful of smoke, and took a look at the clock on the wall.
Perhaps, if Strega had not known the truth, he would have spared Avilio. But now that he knew the facts of the matter, he had to settle the score with his enemy. It was all arranged already.
Strega leaned against the back of the chair, and silently shut his eyes.
“Why not just stay at my mansion?”
Faced with Galassia pressing him to stay, Avilio solemnly declined.
“I can’t impose upon you like that. I’ve already found a place to stay.”
“Hmm… Perhaps you youngsters have your own ways of having fun; I suppose I’m old,” Galassia said with a laugh. “Then, what kind of women do you like? No need to be shy.”
“Thank you for your offer, but I have no need for that. When I return to the hotel, I’ll just be going straight to sleep.”
“Even if not women - if there’s anything else you need, just say the word and I can arrange for-”
Hearing Galassia’s words, even Avilio couldn’t help but let slip a wry smile.
“Apologies, apologies, I shouldn’t force you. But come see me again before you head back. Be sure to come.”
“Alright, I promise.”
Avilio walked out of the Galassia mansion, got into a taxi that had already been prepared, and told the driver where his destination was. Of course, that wasn’t the address of the hotel where Avilio had actually made a reservation.
Avilio alighted at a randomly chosen intersection, and made his way on foot to the place where he was staying.
He had already found an inexpensive motel the evening before he had gone to the Galassia mansion.
The reception desk was surrounded by curtains; Avilio gave his room number to the elderly person seated within, who wordlessly tossed over the room key.
“So it seems Don Galassia’s taken a liking to me-”
Naturally, there were people among the Galassia Family who were hostile towards Avilio, like the underlings who had previously confronted him. It would be no surprise if there were people who harbored a grudge over what happened with Ronaldo and came in search of revenge.
Under these circumstances, it would prove fatal if the place where he was staying became known. If he spent the night inside the Galassia mansion, no matter what he did, they would find some excuse to get rid of him, and it would be extremely easy to dispose of the evidence.
The room he had been given was the semi-basement type; there was a narrow air vent in a spot close to the ceiling, but there were no windows. Because of the heavy humidity, there was also a faint smell of mold in the room; he might just be imagining it, but even the hard bed looked damp.
The room door was both thick and heavy, and could only be shut tight with some effort. Moreover, it was so old-fashioned that the key had to be used even when locking the door from within. After inspecting the condition of the room, Avilio exerted all his strength to close the door, and then turned the key to lock it.
“This room isn’t too bad. I should be able to sleep in peace,” Avilio murmured to himself, placing his luggage on the wooden table.
“Then how about you sleep forever.”
Suddenly, a voice spoke from behind him.
In a flash Avilio crouched down, flung himself onto the floor, and rolled to one side. But in that split second, the suitcase and wooden table were already cleft in two.
“Dammit, when did you get in?” Avilio kept moving; after having created some distance between them, he looked at the other person.
It was an Oriental person, dressed in a white suit; in one hand he gripped a long sword - a Qing Long saber.
The man slowly swiveled his head, and turned his composed face to Avilio.
“You dodged it.”
The wooden table lay in scattered pieces, and the unopened bottle of Lawless Heaven rolled over next to the leg of Avilio, who was prostrate on the floor.
The man once again raised his weapon; Avilio, the silver blade, and the assassin’s cold eyes were aligned into a single line.
“You stand no chance - face your death head-on.”
Before the words were out, the blade slashed again, moving as fast as the wind; Avilio just dodged it by a hair’s breadth.
But it was pure chance that Avilio had avoided this strike; Avilio couldn’t even detect the slightest trace of his opponent’s killing intent, let alone any change in his breathing.
“Who sent you? You’re going to kill me anyway, so it shouldn’t matter if you tell me.”
“An assassin does not reveal the name of the employer. This is what is called a code,” he replied in fluent British English.
Avilio’s intuition told him that this fellow was very hard to deal with.
The so-called killing intent was not something so easily hidden. At the very least, during a direct confrontation, one should be able to predict to some extent when the opponent was going to launch an attack - based on the opponent’s shifting gaze, their special quirks, the rise and fall of their breath, their preparation to move, and so on.
However, the person before him was completely devoid of these tells. It seemed that, to him, killing people was as ordinary an occurrence as peeling an apple. As a result, no such thing as killing intent even existed for him.
“Is killing people with a sword also part of your code? Wouldn’t a gun be easier?”
“No, I am better at wielding this weapon. You cannot escape from under this blade.”
“You sure are cocky. Then let me try.”
Avilio rose, and with his right hand he grabbed hold of the Lawless Heaven that had tumbled onto the floor, and flung it towards the assassin. The assassin retreated a step; the liquor bottle smashed against the floor, and shattered all over the place.
As Avilio spoke, he ignited the cigarette lighter in his left hand, and set the flame to the spilled Lawless Heaven flowing towards the assassin’s feet.
“I wonder if you’ll still be so calm after bursting into flames?”
The assassin’s expression changed, and he swiftly dodged backwards; seeing this chance, Avilio immediately dashed to the room door. The lighter fell to the floor with a metallic sound, and then the flame was extinguished with a hiss.
“…What did you say?”
Before the assassin could react, Avilio had already escaped into the corridor, slammed the door, and locked it.
“You really thought it’d catch fire? Get back to school for a few years.”
There was a tremendous crashing noise, and the room door began to shake; it seemed that the assassin was hacking at the door with the Qing Long saber. But this door would hold up for a while.
Avilio ran out of the motel without a backward glance.
There was no need to truly overcome the opponent. As long as he himself wasn’t killed, he’d count that as a win. He had considered fleeing to the Galassia mansion, but if this assassin was sent by the Galassias, that would instead be even more dangerous.
Avilio threaded through Chicago’s dusky alleyways, mentally reviewing the map of the city; he then gave up on the Galassia mansion, and sprinted straight towards the bustling streets.
After much furious swinging of his sword and chopping at the door, the assassin finally emerged from the room. In the instant he crossed the threshold of the motel, he came to a halt.
His figure was reflected in the glass window of the entrance. “No matter what little tricks they play, none of them can escape my grasp. Don’t you agree?”
As the assassin spoke, he brushed his fingers across the glass.
Never before had he made a misstep; this was his sole pride, and it was also the reputation by which he made his living. And now a small-time rustic ruffian had made a fool of him; this certainly could not be borne. But there was no need to worry either.
“Then, go kill him.”
The assassin nodded at himself in the glass window.
Dressed from head to toe in a pure white suit, the assassin vanished into the dark alleyway.
“This is bad. I can’t get back my extra ammo.”
After having run for a while and gotten some distance away from the motel, Avilio now caught his breath. He drew the handgun at his waist, and verified the number of remaining bullets.
That assassin was probably just getting out of the door.
Rather than running here and there drawing attention to himself, it might be better to hide in the darkness like he was doing now, and keep moving stealthily. He should have evaded the pursuit at last.
When Avilio snapped out of his thoughts, that Oriental person had already appeared before his eyes.
He’d arrived with no more effort than the blink of an eye - no, that wasn’t the case. Even if this man had destroyed the room door in less than minute, his showing up here at this time was just too uncanny. How on earth did he know where Avilio was? How did he catch up?
Still scrambling for answers, Avilio had already drawn his gun and pulled the trigger. However, the bullet he fired just disappeared into the darkness.
“You cannot hit me like this. Something like a gun, besides having a limited effective range, also easily reflects the wavering of your heart. As long as carefully timed, the sword will have the upper hand.”
With this matter-of-fact explanation, the Qing Long saber glided through the air, sweeping towards Avilio’s feet.
Avilio sprang forward as though he had been tripped; he managed to dodge the blow, but the blade suspended in the air immediately changed its course. This time it sliced downwards from directly over his head.
The clash of metal striking metal rang out through the alleyway; the sparks from the collision momentarily illuminated the two faces.
“Oh? You have a good gun, for it to not be chopped in half by this sword.”
“I’m very particular with the tools of my trade.”
Despite the bravado of Avilio’s words, his heart was pounding ferociously as though it was about to burst.
In the moment he was faced with his death, Avilio had unconsciously raised the gun in his hand; it was mere coincidence that he had been able to block the blade. There was also a huge gash on the gun barrel where it had caught the sword.
Staggering backward a step, Avilio immediately calmed himself, and this time he precisely fired off two shots at his opponent. Avilio was fully confident that he would not miss his mark at this distance.
But the assassin’s voice issued again from the darkness.
“You actually sorted out your mental state in an instant. That’s impressive, but-” the assassin hefted the Qing Long saber before his eyes, “this time your aim was too accurate.”
He had seen through Avilio’s attack, and used the Qing Long saber to block the bullets.
“Tch… You monster!”
Compared to the giant who had previously ambushed him in the village, the two killers were as different as heaven and earth. If Avilio tried to meet force with force, even having multiple lives wouldn’t be enough. Here again, Avilio could perceive what set a large city like Chicago apart from the rest; something like this was beyond even his dreams.
There was nothing left but to run.
Steeling his resolve, Avilio fired another shot towards the assassin’s forehead. The assassin unflinchingly raised the sword and deflected the bullet; in that instant, the Qing Long saber blocked his line of sight.
Avilio seized this opening and fled further into the depths of the alleyways.
“As long as I can make it to the main streets, there’ll be some way…”
Chicago had experienced a great fire, and the city center had subsequently been rebuilt according to an urban plan. But the area Avilio was currently weaving through had not been affected by the fire; all around stood the haphazard remains of old buildings, and the alleyways twisted and crisscrossed, with many forks in the road.
He’d finally shaken off the pursuit; now he just needed to get to the main road and board a taxi in order to successfully escape. Avilio had no time to think; he took a few turnoffs at random, and blindly raced through the dark lanes.
“No way through.”
As he turned into some street, the assassin appeared before him. Clad completely in pure white, he was like a ghost floating in the darkness.
“Dammit, how is this-!”
Avilio turned tail and ran into another alley.
When had the assassin caught up? Could it be that Avilio had gotten turned around? Although his opponent had the advantage of knowing the terrain, Avilio also remembered the map, and he had considerable confidence in his own speed. Surely there wasn’t some kind of magic or superpower involved?
The assassin appeared yet again on Avilio’s escape route. Avilio initially assumed that he would attack head-on, but the next moment, he delivered a cut from behind instead. Avilio was not fatally injured, but after evading multiple blows, he finally failed to dodge in time; fresh blood seeped from within his torn shirt.
“How about it? Are you not running anymore?”
The voice sounded, right by his ear. Avilio could only dash onwards without looking back.
Avilio then ran continuously for close to half an hour. His heart was pounding frantically and he was panting non-stop, but even dripping with sweat, he had no choice but to lift his leaden feet and keep sprinting.
“Where to run, what to do…”
Avilio mumbled to himself in a low voice, racking his brain for a way out. No matter how wretched he was, he could not give up. If he died here, then he would be unable to complete his revenge.
“Still two bullets left…”
If he did not choose his shots with care, they would just be dodged or deflected.
The reason why the assassin had not killed Avilio immediately was because he had too much pride. He intended to force his quarry into a dead end, and after letting it fully experience the loss of all hope, only then would he deliver the final blow.
If Avilio wanted to find some loophole, he should probably latch on to this point. What could he do that would enrage the other party? No, even if he managed to enrage him, it would still be difficult to get an opportunity to exploit. This assassin was not such a low-level opponent.
“From the look in your eyes, it seems like you haven’t lost hope yet.” The assassin’s voice drifted from above.
Here it comes again, Avilio thought. No matter how exhausted he was, it was still too strange that he’d been overtaken so many times.
“Same to you. How long must I run before you’ll give up?”
“Until you’re crying and begging me to spare your life, and when I have taken your severed head - then I will stop. Go on, aren’t you running anymore?”
The assassin stood in Avilio’s path, taunting him.
“Ah!” Avilio mustered all the strength in his body to charge straight at his opponent.
The assassin had originally expected that the prey would continue to run away like before; he had not anticipated a counterattack. However, Avilio’s strength was already depleted; he stumbled before the enemy’s eyes, and his opponent was able to dodge.
Seeing Avilio in this state, the assassin drew him into a tender embrace, as though handling a lover.
“You cannot kill me like this. Put a bit more killing intent into it - and then, in the instant of the attack, when you believe you can kill me, I will crush your hopes to dust. Let me see your expression in that moment.”
Avilio wrenched himself free of the assassin with great effort, and continued hurtling forward.
Behind Avilio, whose mind was consumed by thoughts of escape, the assassin’s laughter echoed.
Avilio brought up a projection of the map in his head, only to realize that he was making no progress at all in his estimated direction. It finally sank in that he had been led astray by the assassin.
“This is bad. I’m getting further away from the main streets.”
What awaited him ahead was - a dead end.
Avilio understood that now, even the option of flight had been stripped from him. It seemed that the assassin intended to finish things here.
Since there was only one route to be taken, then he had no choice but to carve his own way through.
“Nowhere left to go, is there…”
In that blind alley shone a tiny streetlight. It was just like a spotlight illuminating Avilio’s execution.
“Cast aside that so-called readiness to be killed. What I want is despair.”
The assassin stood right behind him.
“From now on, until you have lost all hope, I will flay off your skin bit by bit, peel open your veins one by one, cut off your fingers one after the other. And until you are crying and begging me to kill you, I will not finish you off. Rest easy.”
The assassin’s regular features twisted and warped; like a performer on a stage, he paced onward while talking unceasingly.
Avilio leaned against the wall and watched him. From the pocket of his bloodstained jacket, he took out a cigarette.
It occurred to him that he had left his lighter back in the motel room.
“I’ve messed up. Like this, there’s no way to finish it.”
“No final libation - you’ll have to make do with one last cigarette. It looks like you already understand there’s no way out-”
“No, I’m just a little frustrated. So it turns out my opponent is this much of a fool.”
“…A fool - surely you don’t mean me?” The assassin raised his eyebrows slightly.
“You don’t think you are?”
“At least not so much that you can call me one.”
“Fine, you’re not a fool. My apologies.”
Avilio, still dangling the unlit cigarette in his mouth, walked slowly to the middle of the blind alley. Once again, he grasped his gun and took aim at the assassin’s heart.
“You think you can hit the target?”
“We’ll see, won’t we?”
Before the words were out, Avilio swiftly jammed the gun under his left armpit, and fired off a shot behind his back.
A brief wail sounded, and someone collapsed with a thump.
“You- you, why…”
The assassin before Avilio stared ashen-faced at him.
Behind Avilio lay a man who was utterly indistinguishable from the assassin. The features, the pure white suit, the Qing Long saber gripped in his hand - every single detail was completely identical.
However, there was one discrepancy -
“When I said fool, I meant him.”
The assassin lying on the ground had a tiny smear of blood on his back, and the bullet had hit him in the chest. Naturally, that was not the assassin’s own blood.
“It’s my blood. It got swiped on when I crashed into him.”
That, in itself, had been no more than Avilio’s last-ditch struggle.
When shoving away the assassin to flee, Avilio had smeared his own crimson blood onto the back of the pure white suit; that image was deeply imprinted in his mind.
“But as for you, waiting here for your prey - there was no trace of blood on your body. You couldn’t possibly be carrying a change of clothes with you. So why was that?”
Being outflanked repeatedly on his escape route, being attacked from multiple directions - this was no magic.
Rather, it was because there had been two assassins from the very beginning.
“How did you know that my younger brother would ambush you from behind?”
“After repeating this so many times? Only a total idiot wouldn’t have their guard up somewhat. Not to mention that I also knew there were two opponents. I suppose you were planning to behead me in the moment I fired the gun? Once I’d figured this out, your ploy was nothing more than a cheap trick.”
Avilio disinterestedly brushed off the dust that clung to his jacket.
“The two of you - this time your aim was too accurate.”
Avilio suddenly thought of something; from his pocket, he took out the small sticker with “Oops, I’m a fool!” written on it. Making as though to press it onto the assassin’s face, he held it out for him to see.
“Well then, who’s the fool - you or your brother? Would you like me to help paste it on, just to make it clear?”
The assassin looked at the sticker, and his shoulders shook with uncontrollable fury.
“You dare- you dare to do that to my brother…!!”
In a towering rage, the assassin charged towards Avilio; the paper with “fool” written on it was split into two halves, and drifted through the air.
However, Avilio nimbly dodged the sword as it chopped straight down; from the side, he knocked the assassin away with a single kick.
“Calm yourself. I can tell just how badly your heart is wavering - I learned this from you.”
“Stop kidding around! We, we two brothers have always-”
An ice-cold gunshot resounded in the blind alley.
The assassin, pierced through the temple by a single shot, collapsed atop his younger brother’s body. Avilio gazed down at the two corpses lying in a heap.
“It’s not such a bad ending, is it? I let you both go down to hell together.”
With those parting words, Avilio vanished into the pitch-black streets.
The next day, Avilio showed up at the Galassia mansion at dawn.
“Are you going back just like that? I’ve been in touch with the Vanettis. It’s fine if you stay here for a few more days.”
Despite Galassia urging him to stay, Avilio smiled slightly and replied, “I’ve already enjoyed Chicago to the fullest. To be honest, I’m starting to miss Lawless a little.”
The wound under his shirt still ached with a keen stabbing pain, but Avilio could not let this show.
His shirt, jacket, and suitcase - they were all identical replacements that he had purchased before coming to the mansion.
“I’m also indebted to Mr. Strega for your hospitality.”
“…Mm,” Strega replied without changing his expression.
Galassia lowered his voice slightly and said to Avilio, “Just between us: Avilio, are you interested in remaining in Chicago like this?”
This was an invitation to him to leave the Vanettis, and go over to the Galassia Family instead. So Galassia had taken this much of a fancy to Avilio.
“In my position, I’ve developed a good eye for people. Of course, I will find someone to settle things over there with the Vanettis. As long as you are willing, you are very welcome to stay.”
“I’m extremely grateful for your kindness. But I have unfinished business with the Vanetti Family.”
“Is that so… No, my offer is open anytime. Think it over.”
Seeing Galassia’s expression of regret, Strega chimed in.
“The Don thinks very highly of you. The next time we meet should be when the Lawless playhouse is completed. I hope that before then, you will consider your answer carefully.”
Strega was surprised that Avilio was still alive, but this was also a reflection of Avilio’s ability. If he could be won over, he was bound to be of use someday - or so Strega calculated.
For now, Strega chose to remain on the sidelines, and silently observe this young man burning with the fire of vengeance, as he walked towards the stage for his performance.
And thus, Avilio’s short trip was concluded.
The ship advanced along the canal; Avilio, standing on deck, lit a cigarette. The memories of his journey wafted outwards with the smoke.
Corteo had departed Lawless safe and sound; although only briefly, Avilio had gotten to spend a time together with him that was just like before.
The girl he had met on the train - her life was, like Corteo’s rightful future, dazzlingly bright. The food had also been delicious. However, Avilio thought, he had no need for such things; they belonged to a world he could never reach.