Chapter 44, Carefully Spun Rumors
[BY XAVIER MARIGOLD JILTEN]
“It’s strange seeing you without your inner gang, Xav,” Hajime comments.
I lean back in the black leather booth and glance over my shoulder at the crowd in the casino. Marigold sure is taking long... I hope she isn’t dealing with some idiot. I don’t quite feel like explaining why my wife has murdered some poor bloke.
“My inner gang is out on a mission to rescue someone. You’ve heard of the Rhodes name, right?” I ask.
Kenichi Hajime kicks his feet up on the coffee table in front of him, the purple neon lights reflecting off of his polished black boots. “Yes, I’ve heard of the Rhodes family. Owen was the last leader, right? What a tragic tale, ey. He had such a bright future and then everything went wrong for the poor boy. I wonder what his downfall was?” Ken takes a sip of his overly-decorated cocktail before he glances at me again. “Seems like quite a lot of people have had their downfall ever since your wife entered the game. Strange that she claims not to enjoy the killing.”
I can’t really argue with Hajime. Tygerwell has always been a bit chaotic but since Marigold has joined in, death has never been more prominent than before. I know Marigold herself isn’t out for blood, but wherever she goes, death follows. Much like myself really.
And yet we are campaigning for a better world.
I sometimes wonder if we’re the villains on the other side of this story.
“Yes well, Rhodes has joined my inner gang. They’re out rescuing his sister from traffickers,” I explain.
“That’s dangerous business, Xav.”
“My inner-gang are dangerous people themselves,” I reply, taking a sip of my whisky, “They know better than to die without my permission.”
“Exactly! I love that, uh, gen... that principle! I’m the same with my clan. Dying means great dishonor and to Yama-gumi, honor means everything. I make sure to keep the most loyal people close to me. Take Seki here. You see the Katana by his side?” Hajime says and I look over to where there is indeed a katana at the man standing close to Ken. Seki doesn’t flinch and continues staring straight. “This katana is soaked with the blood of anyone that dared approach Seki in hopes he would betray me. And as you know, I have a lot of people that hate the idea of me being Kumicho of this clan.”
I smile at that. “We have a special section in the spruce forest back home dedicated to people who thought my inner gang would betray me,” I chuckle, “At least you have the old man’s blood. I was adopted. It was quite the scandal when I was chosen to be the leader of the North. Back then anyone with a gun thought they could overthrow me.”
Hajime finishes his cocktail and starts playing around with the axe in his hand. “A leader is only as strong as his nakama. And nakama are only as loyal as their leader,” Hajime says, “Speaking of, why isn’t Tetsu in your inner gang yet? Do you not trust him after all these years?”
“No,” I laugh, “Quite the opposite. I trust Tetsu quite a lot even though him joining the North was not, quite as one would want to gain members, he’s been nothing but good. I’m afraid lack of promotion is his own fault entirely. He refuses the position. Insists on staying in the shadows and doing traveling work for me. I keep him in charge of the shipments I receive from Yama-gumi.”
“I’ll admit, when the old man gave Tetsu to you just like that, I was sure he just wanted to plant a spy in your mids, but it seems he genuinely wanted to give you a gift when you finally became leader. He grew quite fond of you through your visits back in the day,” Hajime explains. Ah yes, back when I was just the North’s messenger I remember traveling to Japan to confirm an order and meeting the yakuza for the first time. Ken here tried to belittle the North but I quickly put him in his place. When the old man caught us, I was sure I was done for, but instead, the man laughed and expressed to my leader how much he likes my spirit.
“I was skeptical as well, but I trusted the man so there were no qualms on my part taking Tetsu in. I just wish he would drop the formalities.”
“Oh, I think it just runs in the family. Seki is the same way,” Hajime laughs. He orders another cocktail of which I’ve never heard of before taking his feet off of the coffee table and getting a little more serious. “But that’s enough about small things. I’m sure you are here to ask if the shipments will continue as they did with the old man?”
“Yes,” I say and sit up straight. Time for business. Though Hajime and I are close, I know the guy loves money and I’m not sure if he is willing to be as kind to me as the old man was.
“I was thinking long and hard about the contract getting renewed. I kept remembering that first day we met when you gave me this,” Hajime says pointing at the two nasty scars across the side of his head.
Yes, I still remember the day as well. I never used a katana before then, but quickly picked up two of them when Hajime started disrespecting the Northern Leaders.
“And you know, I don’t feel like the old man was quite fair with his deal. Selling off high-quality weapons for money. That’s quite expensive. And I know that things in your country aren’t going well. I hear war is on the verge of breaking loose. And everyone here is thinking the same thing. Come one year’s time and there will be only one upper-gang left in this world. Vespucci by the looks of it will swear themselves to the mafia soon and Trojan is always off doing mysterious deals with overseas groups that nobody knows of. There are rumors circulating that Trojan will be adopted by the military over there and become a government group. They say the last two great upper-gangs are Southern Sterling and the North,” Hajime explains.
What he’s saying is true. Trojan and Vespucci know that if an official war for power breaks loose, they don’t stand a chance coming into the fight. I’ve also heard of rumors of those two looking to leave the country. They’re getting swallowed as is.
“So you see, Xav. The international community are all betting on whether it’s Southern Sterling or the North that comes out on top. And right now it isn’t looking good. By your own laws of blood, you and Amber should be hunted down and killed for spilling a leader’s blood.”
“What?” I ask confused.
“You remember Jason Brass?”
“Yes,” I answer, “He was the co-leader of the South along with Kyle. Marigold and I killed him in a fight.”
Ken shakes his head and takes the cocktail that the waitress brings over. “See nasty rumors have been spreading about that fight recently. I’m not too familiar with your rules but from what I understand only a leader can kill another upper-gang’s leader and at the time of the fight Amber wasn’t a leader. This is why Southern Sterling has been calling for your heads. The unfair death of Jason Brass.”
“That’s ridiculous!” I say.
So this is how Southern Sterling are justifying their actions? Bullshit. Jane is just out for Amber because she’s feeling intimidated and Kyle wants me out of the picture because he knows I won’t let him do whatever he is planning. I know his route for peace will only result in countless lives lost. And no matter what, we cannot let that happen.
“Amber was the North’s co-leader well before we killed Jason,” I answer. “We were bound with blood. She had every right to kill Jason.”
“That’s not what’s been floating around these days,” Hajime sighs, “Look, I don’t care for your country’s rules. I don’t care about the rumor. All I know is that it’s been floating around you two only got married to become co-leaders by vowed blood in order to cover that unfortunate death up. All I care about is who will come out on top. It’s either you who rules with fear or Kyle who rules with love.”
Kyle that bastard is so sneaky... But I can see right through his plan. He wants to make sure the international community turns against the North and he’s trying to find any reason possible. Having rumors spread is only the start of it. I’m sure he’ll try to pull something off at the dance next week or even the last dinner... Yes... On the final day, he’ll make his big move. Marigold and I have about two weeks to stop whatever it is he’s planning.
Think, Xavier, Think. What does he have up his sleeve?
“Don’t be so worried, my friend,” Ken suddenly says.
I look up and the man is smiling like he’s lost a few screws. “I knew from the start that I would support you no matter what. Anyone who’s in this life and claim to rule with love is a liar. I’d rather side with an honest villain than a deceiving hero. Besides, now that I met the infamous Amber Marigold Jilten, I’m not so sure the odds are in Southern Sterling’s favor.”
“You are willing to renew our contract?” I ask.
“No,” Hajime says, “That contract was much too expensive as I’ve already said.”
I quirk up an eyebrow as I observe the man in front of me click his finger. He’s wearing so many rings I’m amazed he manages to do it, but Seki quickly places a contract in front of me that I didn’t even know he had on him.
“The new contract will be something in the lines of this,” Hajime starts, “The weapons shipped for the next year shall double in both quality and quantity for the same price as previously established. After one year, the amount will go back to what it was. In addition, I will send over my construction company to help fortify your territory in Tygerwell. I know that keeping power means keeping that town so it’s essential that you can defend yourself and not get any surprise attacks. Along with this, I shall send over multiple vehicles that you would find most useful with their reinforcements. It’ll take a rather big bomb to put a dent in even one of those monsters. And lastly, I shall send over two dozen of my finest clan members for the duration of one year in hopes of turning the tides of the war that’s to come.”
“This is... This is so much more than I could have ever asked for,” I tell Hajime.
I’m genuinely shocked. The weapons themselves will help a great deal but sending over his construction company is just what we needed! I’ve already started on fortifying the walls around Isabella’s, but we need upgrades on the house itself as well as the gang houses and storage facilities in the North. I’ve been meaning to get to that but having a company I can trust will speed up the process tremendously! And then there are the extra hands he’s lending me for the fights that will undoubtedly break out... The Yakuza are excellent fighters. This could really turn the tides but...
“At what cost? I don’t understand what you get out of it,” I say.
“All I ask is for our friendship to continue,” Hajime smiles, “And having tea with Amber some time would be very nice.”
I smile. She did it. Marigold really did it. As much as I would’ve wanted her to help save Kelly with the inner gang, without that woman, none of this could’ve happened.
Hajime would’ve continued his support with me regardless if I would win or lose because of our friendship, but all this... This means he thinks we can win. And he undoubtedly thinks so because of the golden work of art that’s on my side. I don’t even think Marigold realizes just how much influence she can have.
“I look forward to our future together,” I tell Hajime just as I stand to shake his hand.
“Same for me,” he smiles happily.
Knowing my business with the Yakuza is still intact, I finish my whisky and politely leave. Tetsu is close to my side and Fluke joins shortly after as well.
“How’d it go?” Fluke asks.
“Couldn’t have gone better. We seem to be very lucky recently,” I explain.
Very lucky indeed.
The scary part is when the price for this luck comes in.
I rub the creases from my brow and let out a breath that’s been stuck in my throat for a while now. I didn’t realize I was this stressed, but I am. I have this horrible feeling that the price for all our recent luck is going to be very high.
On top of all this, I have to deal with Kyle spreading rumors. He’s making things unpleasant for us on the outside which means his next target will be creating discourse from within.
But that’s where Kyle is going to fail. The North is unbreakable on the inside. And when he comes to lay his traps he’ll find himself stuck in the very webs he spun himself.
So let him come. Let him try to disrupt us from within.
Suddenly just knowing she’s near, I look over my shoulder and watch Marigold walk over. It’s hard to believe she’s still so young. She looks so mature for her age and even among all these dangerous families sending her suspicious glances, she still looks like she fits right in.
“You alright?” I ask my wife.
“Yeah, I just needed a breath. The night sky can do wonders,” she explains. There’s something about her smile that seems a little more staged.
“Did anything happen while you were gone?” I ask.
Marigold looks at me for a moment longer before she says, “No. Nothing happened. Everything is fine.”
I let my gaze linger a little longer before I offer my elbow. Marigold hooks her arm in with mine before we start walking off. “It’s time we go meet Don Vito and get things over with,” I say.
“Have you seen him yet?”
“No, but I know exactly where to find him,” I smirk. “Though the don owns more casinos than anyone in the world right now, he hates gambling. You won’t find him here.”
I lead Marigold away from the gathering and towards the elevators. I was planning on meeting the don tomorrow or a little later tonight, but we just arrived and I don’t think it’s fair to tire Marigold too much on the first night of the international gathering. She seemed a little off earlier and I can only imagine what running into Blake could do to her right now.
We enter the elevator and head for the floor above, the restaurants.
“Tonight I want us to focus on the easy tasks. We don’t have to converse with people who want us dead just yet. Is that fine by you?” I ask.
“Meeting the Don is an easy task? He sounds intimidating,” Marigold says.
I can’t help but chuckle. “Yes, I’d say Hajime was probably the easiest part. We could meet with Vespucci tonight as well if you’d like but before we try and engage with them I feel like we need to establish neutral ground with the mafia. And the only way to do that is to win Don Vito’s favor. You know how he feels about us though so it’ll be tricky,” I explain.
“If not for Daniel, he’d want us dead?”
“I got an extra gun strapped on me if you need.”
I laugh at my wife just as the elevator doors open and we step onto the second floor. “No need, Marigold,” I answer, “Why do I need a gun when I’m married to the scariest weapon here?”
“Now that you mention it, I’m married to a pretty intimidating person as well,” Marigold smirks. “Perhaps we should even the playing field for everyone else?”
Marigold turns to me with a mischievous look and angles her leg in a way where the slit of her black dress exposes her tanned skin. I feel Fluke and Tetsu stop not too far behind us.
“Good idea,” I answer my wife just as I slip my hand up the slit of her dress. I grab hold of one of the guns strapped to her thigh, my fingers lingering a little longer than needed, and I feel Marigold’s breath hitch for just a second.
“Fluke,” I say and the guy quickly scurries over as I hand him the gun, my eyes never leaving Marigold’s for even a second. I take a step closer, my hand traveling to her other leg and grabbing hold of that gun. Without a word, I remove it and hand it to Fluke as well.
My throat goes a little dry seeing Marigold holding my stare and when she wets her lips for a moment, I just want to drag her to the nearest room right now.
“Let’s go then,” I tell my wife as I take her arm once more and lead her down the modern hallway towards the restaurant up ahead.
The tension is taut between Marigold and me, my skin burning where we touch, but I don’t comment on it. I keep a cool head and satisfied smirk as my eyes stay in front of me.
“Why exactly did Daniel leave?” Marigold asks, “I feel like I should know.”
“Daniel himself hates talking about his family, pretends they don’t exist but, I met him when I was fourteen. He was thirteen. I was delivering a Message to Don Vito when I met the guy. Daniel was definitely not the man you know today. He was unbelievably serious. Barely smiled or talked. His father had been grooming him to become don one day since the moment he was born. I can only imagine how much weight he had to bear on his young shoulders.”
“So why did he run away?”
“It’s actually a funny story,” I smile, “I was staying in Sicily for about a week, waiting for the don’s answer to my leader’s message. Bored out of my mind, I hacked into the security footage of the don’s estate I was staying at and spied on everyone. Before I knew it, I was fought red-handed. Daniel came up to my room to invite me to dinner when he noticed what I was up to. I thought this was it. This stuck up little asshole was going to rat me out, but to my surprise, his first words to me were: Can you get footage of the ladies steam room?”
Marigold starts laughing out loud, covering her mouth in an attempt to be quieter, but I join in and we can’t help ourselves.
“Now that’s the Daniel I know,” my wife laughs.
“Yeah, now imagine how surprised I was. I explained to him that the steam room doesn’t have cameras and he told me we have exactly one week left to accomplish his sole mission in life: To see a naked lady. We were little pricks back then. I was a pretty serious kid growing up as well, but with Daniel, I felt as though for the first time I was acting my age. He was my first true friend,” I explain.
“That’s sweet,” Marigold smiles, but the smile doesn’t last long. “Was the mission a success?”
I cough nervously for a moment before changing the subject, “We became good friends in that week and he explained to me all the pressure he was under. He explained that he felt like his life was getting written for him. Like he didn’t control any of it. He told me that for just once he’d like to make a choice that was his own.”
“And then he chose to get kidnapped by me,” I grin. “He pretended to be the good son in front of his father but one night, we hurried to get onto my plane and make our way to Tygerwell. He discarded his given name, swearing to never be called Dino Luciano ever again, and renamed himself Daniel Lansford. He turned his life around completely, vowing to live a life in which he can be happy.”
“Surely the Don wasn’t happy about it though? And the Northern leader? He just accepted a kid like that?”
We reach the restaurant before I can finish my story. Like most of the resort, it’s slick and modern, decorated with sandstone, marble, and glass. Water features snake throughout the layout of the restaurant with massive ferns and palm trees decorate the area like it’s an oasis within the pyramid. The restaurant is empty save for seats at the back which I already know the Don is occupying.
A waiter comes to nervously greet us and I tell the poor boy to let the don know that Xavier Marigold Jilten is here to meet with him. He nods before walking off in a rush, his back already wet with sweat.
“The don wasn’t happy at all,” I whisper to Amber, “But you might say that it was all fate if you know what my message to the don was as well as the answer he gave me.”
“You see the North had two sons and prior to me arriving in Sicily, there was an international gathering much like this one. It was the first gathering for both me and these two sons. Without meaning to, they offended the mafia. These sons were idiots, and they didn’t even know what offending such a dangerous family meant. Don Vito demanded an apology, but these sons were too stubborn and when they refused, he swore blood was to be spilled. I was sent over to meet with the don for one reason only. To achieve peace. There were only two ways this was going to happen though. Either the don accepts a written apology from the Northern leader on behalf of his sons or... my blood would be spilled as an offer.
“The don’s answer was no, but before he could give it to me, Daniel warned me. We got the hell out of there and when the leader of the North was furious to see me alive, Daniel stepped forward and offered to be a willing hostage. He explained that as long as he was part of the North, we would be safe from the mafia. It’s proved to be correct and we’ve had the guy as a hostage ever since. He went to school here, failed, and he’s grown up in Tygerwell for the most part. Daniel Lansford is who he is. He doesn’t ever want to acknowledge as the boy he was. Dino was just a pupped, but Daniel was a real.”
“My respect for the guy has gone up,” Marigold says.
“Yeah, he acts like an idiot, but he’s a lot smarter than people know. He just chooses not to be too serious. And besides, other than being our shield against the mafia, there’s one last thing you have to remember about Daniel.”
“If anything was to happen to him, we’re all done for,” I smile.
The waiter returns and tells us the Don would like to see us now. We walk through the array of tables until we reach the head of the Luciano mafia family. The man sitting in front of me looks almost exactly like Daniel and yet... They aren’t anything alike. He looks up at me with dark eyes and gelled hair. Unlike everyone around him, he has his jacket off and sleeves rolled up with a plate of food in front of him.
“Ciao, Xavier Jilten,” the don greets, “I’m afraid I’ve no more children for you to steal.”
Good lord, please let my luck last just a bit longer.