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|Let Freedom Ring|
-1 (Blood & Steel)
Saturday, May 13, 2017
A man in a pale blue military uniform stood at the Council Table, smoothing out his thick, black handlebar mustache before reading a sheet to the courtroom crowd.
"In the trial of the man known only as 'Gevurah,'" he began, "The Council has examined the evidence, deliberated, and reached the following verdicts: On the charge of grand theft auto, we find the defendant not guilty due to lack of evidence. On the charge of assaulting an officer with deadly intent, we find him guilty. However, due to the involvement of an extralegal and equally suspicious 3rd party during his capture, and no other witnesses to corroborate the cadet's story, we have chosen to give him the minimum sentence of 2 years with option for parole."
Gevurah turned to grin at where Euryale was sitting, and now squirming, in the pews. Phorcys pulled his wife closer to himself and put a hand on his daughter's shoulder.
Chairman Franz, as his name plate read, continued, "On the criminal conspiracy charges to commit grand larceny, murder in the first and second degree, arson, torture, and terrorism, we find the defendant not guilty due to lack of evidence. Thus concluding the charges, we order the defendant to be taken away and begin serving his sentence." He banged his gavel without even looking up, turning back to the Council as Chief Beifong came forward to escort Gevurah away.
"Unbelievable!" Euryale hissed, her family and the rest of the crowd following behind, "How could they say there's no evidence?!"
"His lack of records served him well," Phorcys answered grimly, "Since the suspects won't talk, all the Council has is our word, and we'll never know what went on behind closed doors. Senthose didn't help matters much either."
"I didn't ask him for help, but if he didn't, I would've died!"
"And I have to be grateful for that," he assured, "No matter how much I think he's a rotten apple."
"If keeping you meant losing the case, then so be it," Ceto agreed solemnly, tears brimming in her eyes.
As the doors were flung open, a man in a gray trench coat and fedora rushed up from the crowd. Reaching for his belt, he shouted, "The Red Monsoons send their condolences!" before swinging his hand forward, firing a hail of ice shards right into the former crime boss.
He jerked with each shot and sagged to his knees, sputtering as Chief Beifong immediately wrapped the assailant head-to-toe in steel and forced him painfully against the stairs. People screamed and ran in any direction they could, Phorcys and Euryale immediately going into Officer Mode to try to pacify the crowd and direct them to flee in an orderly fashion. All the while, a barrage of camera flashes and questions rang out from the press.
It took nearly an hour of confusion, but eventually the crowd was thinned and a taxi hailed for Ceto, who reluctantly agreed to pick Stheno up from school and head straight home once department reinforcements and emergency forces arrived. Soon after, the crime scene was taped off and men in dark Manchurian uniforms were zipping Gevurah's remains into a black bag. While the Chief of Police was busy addressing the Council inside, the other officers who worked on the case were gathered around. As most had minimal involvement, the Rakshashi duo and Inspector Matsu were left largely to themselves.
"Do you think Senthose had something to do with this?" Phorcys asked his colleague.
"He's still in custody," she answered, "So it'll be hard to link this to him without proving his connection to the Red Monsoons."
"But there were Club Voland members found among the bodies, right?" Euryale asked.
The Inspector shook her head. "Only a few were club members, and records conveniently say they quit years ago. It wasn't even enough to get a warrant. Voland is good at covering his tracks."
"No link between the club and the Monsoons also means Senthose is likely to be let off," Phorcys observed.
"Yep. There's no evidence linking him to the scene of the arson."
"Didn't you say that Gevurah said Senthose cut his throat?" Euryale asked her father, clarifying, "Before the 3 of us fought?"
Matsu scoffed, "Please, nobody would trust his testimony, especially since they know Senthose helped you capture him."
"Well, isn't there anyone else we could ask?" the cadet pressed.
"Selene has an alibi," the River Patrolwoman explained, "But Netzach's been missing since that day. If we could only find him, it might break the case."
The officers turned their gaze to the Club Voland building, unaware of what was transpiring in Little Water Tribe.
"Thank you for being discrete," Nix Voland said with a heavy voice as he handed a fat stack of yuans to a group of goateed men wearing blue rain coats over black scrubs. They bowed their heads and swept out of the room, leaving Nix to rest a hand on a navy casket.
It sat atop a gurney behind a wide, clinically white building with domed black rooves. A sign on the wall read "No Trespassing—Property of Keex Funeral Home."
Dark spots appeared on the casket lid as Nix's shoulders heaved. "I'm sorry, but this is all I could do for you, my son. It must be a private funeral, so the boars never learn the truth. You understand, don't you?"
He ran his hand along the oak and looked to the door. "Your sister is here too," he lied, "Of course. I know I didn't always show it, but I did view you as my own. I'm sure you realize that. I'm sure there's no bad blood between us."
He adjusted the collar of his fur-lined gray coat and began wheeling the coffin to a ramp half-swallowed by the tides. "I'm sure you know that I only did what I must for the sake of the Red Monsoons. For my family. For you. I'm sure that, in the end, you must have been proud of your old man."
He tilted the gurney slightly, the casket sliding into the bay with a heavy splash. He then began waving his arms, creating waves to send it out to sea as it slowly sank. "This is the closest I can give you to an authentic Water Tribe funeral. But it will protect your brothers and sisters in arms, as well as your legal family. No one will ever be able to link any of us to the end of that ash-making scum who murdered you in cold blood."
Feeling his breathing grow heavier, he fished in his breast pocket for a bottle of pills, dropping a few into his hand and tossing them down his throat as he watched what was left of Netzach sink.
"Ah, yes, I nearly forgot to tell you: I heard on the scanner that the man I sent did the job. Gevurah is no more. I hope you can be at peace knowing that your sacrifice was not in vain."
He turned and walked into the building, taking a fedora from the rack and pulling it low to obscure his face. He then gathered his cane and made his way for the exit.
He slowly hobbled up the boardwalk, until an elongated Satomobile with an obsidian finish pulled up alongside him. The chauffeur nodded, the brim of his hat exposing only his pointed chin, and the crime boss entered the back seat of the vehicle, laying his cane over his knees. As they rode in silence, he stripped off his coat and hat, returning to his classic pinstriped suit.
The car stopped at The Blue Spirit, a squat bar tucked away in a nondescript alley, one of several in the city. Nix entered, pressing a handkerchief to his face to protect from the thick haze of smoke. Eyes watering, he scanned across the tables of cards, Pai Sho, and stick Kuai ball games, before finally spotting a set of slender marble shoulders with a feathery boa wrapped around them. From the high heeled boot that bounced on her knee to the silky evening glove that clutched a slender stick contributing to the fogging of the establishment, Selene was clad in sparkling obsidian.
"Scram," he growled at her companion, whom he noticed as he drew closer.
The young man, purple-suited with a ridiculously broad-brimmed and feather-plumed fedora, turned from Selene, pencil mustache cockily dancing on his tan features. "Aren't you a little too old for this place, Grandpa?"
"Oooh, bad choice," Selene winced.
"Why, what's he gonna do, hack up a lung on me?"
Half turned away from the elder Voland, the young man didn't notice Nix reaching out to his drink. With a flourish that became a fist, he sent the alcohol flipping through the air to punch into the delinquent's chest, toppling him from the stool.
"Ugh—you're gonna regret that, gramps!" he growled as he straightened his hat. He lunged, only to find a cane pressed against his throat. This wouldn't be a problem in and of itself, were it not for the steely glint of the sword Voland had partially unsheathed from it.
"Whoa, okay, okay!" he yelped as he staggered back, hands raised in submission. "You win, so let's not do anything crazy, here!" When the Triad leader didn't press the attack, he broke into a run.
Voland gave a curtly satisfied nod and sheathed his cane, before doubling over in another coughing fit. Smirking, the younger man turned on his heel, grabbing a Table Kuai stick and swinging it, only for Nix to poke the cane sharply in his stomach, whacking him hard across the face with the handle once he doubled over. The bartender snatched the stick out of midair before it could do any damage, tossing it back to the players.
"About time—get this fool out of here!" Nix yelled between coughs as a set of burly blue bouncers arrived. "And make sure he learns a painful lesson—that's what I pay you for!"
As they dragged the unfortunate, sputtering man from the building, the other patrons pointedly turned back to their respective games and beverages.
"Daddy, you're embarrassing me!" Selene hissed, hiding her face in her hands. "And I was just about to get him to buy me a drink!"
"That can still be arranged, don't worry. You ought to be embarrassed that you were giving such a retch a free show!" he shouted, gesturing to the cut of her dress, almost as low in the front as in the back. He bit his lip in fear when she turned to him with a fierce glint in her eye.
"I am a grown woman and I can wear whatever I want! I hope you never talked to Mother like this!"
She pointed an accusing talon in his face and it was his turn to stumble back with his hands raised in defense. "Of course not! You're right...I'm sorry, Sweetie. I just don't like the thought of you giving yourself to anyone who isn't worth you—that's all."
"Oh, Daddy," she giggled, holding up her 3-ringed hand. "Nobody's worth me, but they all pay their share in the end."
"That's the spirit, kiddo!" he responded with a hearty laugh, clapping a hand on her shoulder.
Leaning closer, Selene whispered, "So, did you get him?"
"Aye," he answered, sitting to whisper back, "Ashes to ashes. Nobody crosses us and gets away with it. I'll have to thank Xunaa for the tip to hit him at the trial."
"Please," his daughter scoffed, "We both know Xunaa's not bright enough to come up with that. She's been picking up tips from the new kid after hours, if y'know what I mean."
"Then good for her that I sent my best legal counsel to handle his case. We'll have him out of that birdcage in no time."
"Shame Netty wasn't so lucky," she retorted, ignoring Voland's falling face to signal the bartender for 2 glasses, pointing at something on the menu.
"Honey..." he began slowly, "I think it's time we discuss the future of the club. I can't keep doing this job forever, it's bad for my health. Not quite as bad as it is for my competition, but still." When she didn't respond to his laugh-here-pause, he continued, "Once I step down, it'll just be you and Senthose. We'll need to strengthen our cabal, or the other families will try to seize power from you. Who are your strongest allies in the club?"
Selene stared at her rings. "Probably none of the men. Or the ex-wives created in my wake, for that matter."
Nix massaged his brow with a sigh. "I told you your little indulgences would come back to bite you. We'll just have to build you a stronger support base."
"And how do we do that?"
"We need to show them that your success is their success. Perhaps you can expand our businesses, or defeat some major enemy."
When their drinks arrived, Selene lazily dipped her finger in hers, stirring until the bartender stepped away. She turned to a dart board, shooting an icicle from her finger deep into the bullseye. "Matsu," she said simply.
"Are you sure?" he asked with a frown. "Once she goes down, all suspicion will be on us."
"Oh, daddy," she said, shaking her head, "You're so naïve. When someone dies unexpectedly, it's always the spouse. And once she's in the river and he's in jail, by the time they have someone else to take over nosing through our business, we can easily get them in our pocket."
Her father's lips curled over his pristine fangs. "That's exactly the kind of forward-thinking I want to replace me. But what made you decide on this particular plan?"
"I've never hunted a woman before," Selene answered, corner of her mouth twitching as she raised her glass to her lips, "I haven't been this excited since I met my first husband."
"Then to the future!" her father said jovially, raising his own drink. They clinked glasses, and downed their shots, the bartender turning up the phonograph to drown out the muffled cries from outside.
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