A Chicago police detective knocked on the door of an unmarked office.
Fakir, his hair still damp from the shower he'd taken earlier, opened the door and slipped out of the office quietly. Ignoring the fatigue in his body, he focused his attention on his colleague. "What is it?"
The Chicago detective guided Fakir into an empty interview room nearby where they each took a seat.
"Our boys are still sifting through the rubble of the garage, but I thought I'd give you an update, as well as ask you a question that I have," the Chicago PD said as he pulled out a notebook from a pocket and flipped to the relevant page. "Our preliminary investigation suggests the explosion was caused by a propane container stored behind the garage. A lot of evidence was damaged as a result, but we recovered a body at the bottom of the crumpled structure."
Fakir's heart clenched at those words. "Have you identified who it is?"
The Chicago detective pursed his lips and gave a small shake of his head. "That's what I want to talk to you about. The body was partially burned by the fire, and doing a fingerprint match will take time. However, we did recover a distinctive ring from the victim. Here," he said, reaching into a coat pocket and took out a small evidence bag. "Can you identify it?"
Fakir accepted the envelope, and when he opened it, saw a gold and ruby ring with a raven insignia.
"This is Domenico Corvo's ring." Fakir handed the evidence back to the Chicago PD, who nodded. Even though he now knew Don Corvo was dead, the look of concern remained on Fakir's face.
He said to his colleague, "Is that all? There was a second person who might've been there, and he's…" Fakir paused. "…he's Don Corvo's right hand man, Principe."
The Chicago detective shook his head. "I remember you mentioned him earlier, when you gave us your statement, but no. There's only one body. We're still going through the crime scene, so we may find clues to his whereabouts yet."
"I see…" Fakir exhaled softly, feeling at once relieved and conflicted.
Don Corvo's death tolled the death knell of his organization. However, Mytho's fate, and his whereabouts, now weighed heavily on Fakir's mind.
Did he get out somehow? Was he injured by the blast? Where is he right now?
Fakir's string of thoughts was interrupted by a knock from the door, making the two men in the room look up.
"Come in," the Chicago PD responded.
A young police officer opened the door and said, "Detective Romeiras? There's a call outta New York City for you. It's someone who claims he's the captain of the 53rd Precinct."
Seeing Fakir was needed elsewhere, the Chicago detective rose from his chair. "We can continue with this tomorrow. It's late now, so we've arranged hotel rooms for you and the gal. One of our boys will come find you in an hour or so and give the two of you a ride there."
He tipped his hat towards Fakir, who nodded his appreciation before walking off with the young officer to a desk where a telephone awaited him.
"Charon?" Fakir said into the microphone.
The noisy background made Fakir strain to hear Charon's words, but he could clearly make out the concern in his supervisor's voice. "Fakir? Are you all right? Is Miss Stannus alright?"
"We're both fine." Fakir's eyes glanced at the room he had stepped out of earlier. "Duck is resting right now. Did you receive my telegram?"
"Yes, I received it shortly after lunch," Charon answered. "I'm on a payphone in Grand Central Station right now, and will be getting on a train for Chicago within the hour. With the snow cleared, I should be there by Thursday at the latest."
Fakir nodded. Knowing Charon's time on the phone was limited, he gave the captain a quick rundown of what the Chicago PD had just told him.
"So Domenico Corvo, by all appearances, is dead," Charon said with a sigh. "I was hoping we'd be able to prosecute him one day, but maybe…"
Here the captain closed his eyes and lightly shook his head. "What is done, is done."
Opening his eyes, he spoke into the receiver, "By the way, Deputy Bookman came for his evidence yesterday. I told him you had discerned the clue hidden within it, but in the process the book was a little worse for wear."
"I don't suppose he was happy about that," Fakir said dryly.
Here the captain smiled, and he answered, "No, he was not. He was furious that the book had been taken apart without consultation, and at what he called your 'continued meddling' in a case that you are no longer in charge of. He threatened to speak with the police commissioner to have you dismissed from the police force."
Fakir rolled his eyes. Petty political revenge was the last thing he wanted to deal with after everything that had happened. "Does that mean I'm out of a job now?"
"I told him you're currently in the Missing Persons division, and that the destruction of the book was pertinent to an urgent kidnapping case you were working on. You were just doing your job; nothing wrong with that," Charon said lightly, as he recalled with a smile a livid and speechless Deputy Bookman storming out of his office.
"Before the Deputy Marshall made good on his words, I spoke with the police commissioner," the captain continued in a more serious tone. "I think I've convinced him that transferring you to Missing Persons was a great loss for the Homicide division. I cannot speak for you, but if you would like to return to Homicide, your old desk will be there, waiting for you."
At this, Fakir couldn't help but crack a smile. "Only if I get all of my paperwork back along with the desk."
Charon let out a hearty laugh. "Yes, that can be arranged," the older man said, unknowingly returning a smile.
Glancing at his wristwatch, Charon sobered when he saw he only had a few seconds left on his call. Speaking quickly, he said, "I think my time on the phone is running out. I will see you in Chicago. In the meantime, get some rest. And Fakir..."
Here the captain paused, then said more softly, "Good work, son. I'm proud of you."
Fakir smiled. "Thank you, Charon," he answered, and with those words, the line went dead.
Placing the earpiece back on its hook, Fakir took a deep breath and rubbed his neck, still sore from his night spent sleeping inside a wooden crate.
Pondering what to do next, the thought of checking on the progress of the evidence analysis crossed his mind, but he had a feeling that sort of intrusion, especially by an out-of-state detective, would not be tolerated by the local police department.
Maybe it won't be a bad idea to rest for a bit, Fakir contemplated as he returned to the small, unmarked office and softly opened the door.
In the relative quiet of the room, his eyes turned to Duck, who sat sleeping in a cushioned wooden chair. Her small frame was wrapped in an old quilt blanket one of the clerical staff had brought in after the two of them had washed away the grime from their dunking in the Calumet River.
Duck's eyes fluttered open at the sound of the door opening and shutting, and she spoke with sleep heavy on her tongue. "Fakir? Is everything all right? Any news on Mytho and Rue?"
Fakir paused. Even though he had seen with his own eyes how Duck treated both Mytho and Rue as friends, a part of him still marveled at her willingness to embrace them even though they had been responsible for endangering her life.
Pulling up the sagging quilt back over Duck's shoulders, Fakir reassured her, "Everything's fine. So far there's no trace of Mytho or Rue, and no one can say what had happened to them, or where they went. But there are good people working here, and we'll all keep looking."
Taking a seat in the empty chair next to Duck, Fakir said, "We'll be here for a little bit longer, then in about half an hour or so they'll take us to a hotel where we'll spend the night. Go back to sleep. I'll wake you when we're ready to go."
"Oh…okay, then…" Duck sighed softly. To Fakir's surprise, Duck, worn out from everything that had happened to her, didn't argue. She leaned her head on his shoulder, closed her eyes, and quickly fell back asleep.
Fakir tensed, but stopped himself from flinching away from Duck. Instead, he took a deep breath and tilted his head back against the wall to look across the room at the window.
Outside, the sun had already set, and a tiny stripe of darkening sky was visible through a break in the forest of buildings. To Fakir, the time between today's sunrise and sunset seemed to have passed in the blink of an eye.
During those few hours, he had rescued Duck, found out the identity of his parents' killers, and witnessed the downfall of the Corvo crime family. The personal grudge he held against Don Corvo and his league of criminals was avenged. He had fulfilled his ultimate goal for becoming a police detective; but, what would he do now that it was done?
Fakir frowned as he suddenly realized that he—just like Mytho—had never truly contemplated what he would do once his goal had been achieved. He had been so focused on chasing after his parents' killers that he had never given any thought to what would happen after Don Corvo's organization collapsed.
A light, snoring noise next to him pulled Fakir's thoughts away from his reveries. Looking at the sleeping girl next to him, Fakir's eyes softened.
Stupid, a voice in his mind chastised. The answer is right here, in front of you.
With the dissolution of the Corvo gang, a chapter of his life had come to an end, but his career as a police officer was far from over. He would continue to protect those around him for as long as he was able.
Fakir took another deep breath and, gingerly, rested his cheek against the top of Duck's head. Closing his eyes to the bright incandescent light of the room, he allowed sleep to overtake him.
The gray veil of winter eventually lifted, giving way to the colors of spring. Bright green leaves, with drops of rain still clinging to their surface from the April shower the night before, waved gently in the breeze. In the damp but snow-free streets outside the 53rd Precinct, Fakir walked up to the familiar building and made his way inside.
Walking past the brass "Homicide" division plaque, Fakir nodded his greeting to the other members of the division. When he finally reached his desk, he set down his coat and placed his badge, with its sparkling brass eagle and shield, on top of the desk.* He surveyed the mess strewn across its surface.
Unlike the clean desk that had greeted him after he returned from sick leave, Fakir's desk was now pilled high with stacks of papers and files. However, this did not seem to bother the detective one bit, as Fakir hung his coat and hat and sat down to work.
Just as Fakir picked up the pen from the top of the paper work he had left half finished the day before, the telephone next to him began to ring. Irritated by the disruption, without putting down his pen, Fakir picked up the black earpiece and answered tersely, "Yes?"
"Sergeant Romeiras? I have a Mr. Autor Brahms on the line for you."
At the sound of Autor's name, the pen in Fakir's hand went still. With a grimace, he said, "Put him through."
While he waited for the connection, Fakir's gaze drifted to a half-folded sheet of newsprint that had been trapped in the middle of a pile of papers. It was a copy of Autor's exposé.
In it, the journalist had laid out the Corvo gang's various sordid deeds using the research and evidence he had gathered on his own from past news reports and interviews. Published only weeks after Domenico Corvo's dramatic death made headlines across the country, the exposé had made Autor—quite literally overnight—a hero in the public's eye.
But Fakir knew this one article was not the end. In his article, Autor had cited the fact that the investigation into Domenico Corvo's organization was ongoing, and so he was not at liberty to reveal everything that he knew just yet. That suggested the reporter was intent on telling the full story of how Don Corvo met his end, a story that would surely make front page material again once it was published.
The prospect of that being made public made Fakir uneasy as the phone line cracked to life with Autor's voice.
Fakir leaned back in his chair, and with his brows in a deep frown, demanded, "What do you want?"
A huff came from the other end, and with indignation, Autor said, "Not even a simple greeting! I see your arrogant attitude hasn't changed. And to think, I was going to offer you some interesting information…"
"Information? About what?" Fakir's back straightened. This wasn't what he had expected to hear from Autor, and as a police officer, the prospect of getting potentially useful information got his attention.
"…But since you asked me what I wanted, then I suppose I will go first then, and ask something of you," Autor replied smugly, and Fakir stifled a groan.
I knew it! The detective thought as he shook his head. "Fine. What do you want to know?"
"I heard from a fellow in the bureau that the girl who used to work in your office, Malen, had entered a plea deal. The details of the plea deal haven't been released yet, but as lead detective, I was wondering if you might know something about it."
Fakir pursed his lips. Looking around to make sure no one was close enough to overhear, he said in a low voice, "The DA and her lawyer agreed on it yesterday, and settled on a two year suspended prison sentence."
"That seems awfully lenient for someone who was complicit with criminals."
"She was coerced, Autor," Fakir stressed, remembering the tearful look on Malen's face when he had seen her after she had confessed her actions to Charon. "If she didn't agree to work for the Corvos they would've probably threatened to kill her father. Charon spoke with the DA and the judge on the case, to make it clear to them that Malen was pressured by the Corvo into shuttling information. The judge agreed with Charon's opinion, but the DA was harder to convince. In the end, they settled on the suspended sentence. I'm pretty sure once the probation period passes, the sentence will be dismissed."
"I suppose you have a point," Autor said as he jotted that down on his notepad. When the scratching sound of Autor's pen came to a stop, the reporter asked, "And what about the autopsy report on Domenico Corvo? Did you see those?"
"No," Fakir lied, hoping that would dam Autor's questions.
That reply however, failed to fool Autor, who said pointedly, "I called the medical examiner's office yesterday for the report, but he told me the state had ordered for it to be sealed. I know that report had been made, Fakir, and as lead detective, there's no possible way you had not seen it!"
At this Fakir rolled his eyes. "This is an active investigation; I'm not at liberty—"
"Don't give me that spiel. You really believe I'll fall for that?"
Fakir groaned loudly in exasperated. "Damn it, Autor!" the detective growled at the phone, "I can't just go telling people things over the phone like this!"
"Fine then," Autor's cool, nonchalant reply took Fakir by surprise. But he was even more surprised by what the reporter said next. "When are you off this week?"
"There's a deli near my place where we can meet. What days are you free?"
"Autor—" Fakir began, but Autor cut him off.
"We can meet in-person, and I can show you something that I've found."
Fakir raised an eyebrow distrustfully. "Is this the 'information' you were talking about earlier?"
Fakir exhaled a long sigh. As much as he was tempted to just hang up on the conceited reporter, he couldn't help but wonder what it was that Autor had uncovered.
Fakir slumped back into his chair and glanced at the calendar pinned to the wall next to him. "I'm off Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoon this week."
"An extra half-day off? Is this a benefit afforded to sergeants in the New York Police Department?"
Fakir tsked at Autor's sarcastic ribbing. "Sunday is Easter, and I'm going to a family dinner at my cousin's house with—"
When Fakir's voice suddenly stopped midsentence, Autor, sitting in his office, raised an eyebrow. After a pause, he smirked knowingly. "Let me guess, with a certain neighbor of yours?"
Fakir cleared his throat, but said nothing.
Autor chuckled. "Very well, I will meet you at Ben's Delicatessen, on 3rd Avenue in Yorkville. Ask anyone in that area and they ought to be able to point you there."
After arranging a time for their meeting, Autor hung up and Fakir was left wondering what the reporter was planning.
Guess I'll find out when I see him, Fakir frowned as he made a note of their meeting on his planner.
The deli that Fakir found was buzzing with activity on a warm Saturday afternoon. Once he'd squeezed himself past the two elderly gentlemen chatting and blocking the front door, it took a moment for Fakir to find Autor, sitting in a secluded corner, a half-finished sandwich on his plate and perusing the day's newspaper.
Approaching the reporter, Fakir dropped his hat on the red and white checkered tablecloth. Autor's eyes darted up but said nothing as Fakir pulled back the chair opposite him and sat down.
Shuffling the newspaper in his hand, Autor said noncommittally, "If you're hungry I recommend the pastrami sandwich. I can vouch that it's the best you'll find in Yorkville."
Knowing Autor was leading him on, Fakir cocked an eyebrow at the bespectacled reporter. "You hauled me all the way out here just to recommend a sandwich to me?"
"No," Autor said, folding the paper in his hand and laid it down on the table, "but that statement is true. It's made with my grandmother's own recipe."
At this Fakir huffed, "Don't tell me this deli is run by your relatives?" After a pause, something dawned on Fakir and he said with surprise, "Wait, you're Jewish?"
Now it was Autor's turn to cock an eyebrow at Fakir, and the reporter said primly, "On my mother's side, yes."
"I thought you were… oh, never mind!" Fakir waved his hand dismissively.
As someone who was of mixed ancestry himself, who was he to comment on Autor's family history? Nonetheless, it took Fakir by surprise to know he had something in common with Autor beyond their professional interests.
"None of that matters," Fakir shrugged, "especially in this city."
"No, it doesn't," Autor huffed. "And there are other advantages to meeting here besides the food…"
Autor paused when a waitress with carefully pinned hair walked up to them. Resting one hand on the back of Autor's chair, she greeted him cheerfully. "Oh, so he's the friend you've been waiting for, bubbeleh?"*
Looking to Fakir, she said with a smile, "What's your name, dear?"
"Fakir Romeiras, Ma'am," Fakir nodded politely at the woman.
"He's…a colleague, Aunt Judith," Autor replied, trying his best to look dignified in front of his gregarious relative.
"Well, friend or colleague, he looks like a nice, mensch kinda fella," Autor's aunt smiled approvingly at her nephew and Fakir. "I'll leave you boys alone so you can continue with your conversation. Just let me know if you want anything to nosh on!"
Once Judith turned away to talk to other customers, Autor cleared his throat and looked back at Fakir, "Aunt Judith is a little chatty, but both she and Uncle Benjamin are discrete people; neither of them will gossip about what they overhear in their shop, especially when family members are involved."
Fakir nodded. As Autor took out a small notepad and pen, still feeling a little taken aback by the insight into Autor's family, the detective said quietly, "So what do you want to know about the autopsy report?"
"What was Domenico Corvo's cause of death? I know there was a fire and an explosion afterward, but were either of those what killed him?"
Fakir leaned forward in his chair, and with his elbows resting on the table, whispered, "No. When they found him, his body was intact, and there was no ash in his lungs. However, the coroner found a single gunshot wound to the chest that had pierced his heart."
Autor tapped his notepad contemplatively. "That means he was dead before the placed caught fire then? Could it be that the person who fired the bullet was Myt…"
"We don't know for sure," Fakir interrupted Autor's half-spoken question. "We found a bullet, but without the gun that it was fired from, forensically we can't identify who fired the shot. The Chicago PDs did find a partially burnt wool coat, which looked like the one Mytho had worn, but other than that there's no direct evidence that he was the one who fired the fatal shot."
"And what about Mytho's whereabouts?" Autor said softly, and he could see Fakir tense at the mention of that name.
Shaking his head as his answer, Fakir said nothing.
Autor looked thoughtfully at Fakir and the conflicting emotions on the detective's face. Wordlessly, Autor reached into his coat and took out a folded piece of newsprint before placing it in the center of the table.
Surprised by the gesture, Fakir opened the folded square of paper and saw a headline that read: "Truth Behind Actress' Retirement Revealed?"
Below the bold type heading was a black and white photograph. The photo appeared to have been taken from a distance, and showed the back of a woman walking with a cane and her male companion as they walked toward an ocean liner. The hats they wore obscured the top of their faces, but even so, to Fakir's eyes, their features were strikingly familiar.
Fakir's heart raced as he skimmed the two short paragraphs below the photo. The author of the article claimed to have seen the retired Hollywood actress Odile Legnani board the RMS Empress of Asia at the port of Vancouver, Canada.*
She was seen using a cane and accompanied by an unknown male companion. The report speculated, in sensational language, that perhaps a terrible accident had befallen the actress, that this was the true cause of her retirement, and not due to a fall out with movie studio executives as was previously reported in the press.
The writer of the article claimed the mysterious gentleman seen with her was a wealthy lover who was spiriting her away to the Orient, eloping with her to a far off land where no one would disturb their amorous escapade.
There was no word on which port of call the actress and her companion were sailing to, and other than the name of the ship, no other solid information was presented in the article.
Lifting his eyes away from the paper, Autor answered the question that was foremost on Fakir's mind. "Someone in my bureau showed this to me after seeing it in the New York Daily Mirror earlier this week.* He knew I had interviewed Odile Legnani before, and he thought I'd be interested in the story. Given the Daily Mirror's reputation, I'm skeptical about the validity of the written article, but it's possible that the people in the photograph are indeed Rue and Mytho."
Fakir said nothing as he held the news clipping in front of him, his brows furrowed in an intense gaze. Then, much to Autor's surprise, Fakir lowered his eyes and pushed the article across the table towards him.
"You're not interested in catching Mytho?" Autor said, astonished.
Taking a deep breath, Fakir said evenly, "No. Principe is dead, along with Don Corvo."
"But he's—" Autor stopped himself. Realizing after a second what Fakir meant, he nodded, picking up the news clipping and returning it to his pocket.
Once the clipping was stowed away, Fakir sighed and said aloud, "Is that all?"
"Yes, for now," Autor replied.
Hearing this, Fakir moved to stand up.
As he pushed the chair back and reached for his hat, Autor said quietly, his voice just audible above the background noise of the busy deli, "Fakir, I've begun writing the second half of my exposé, chronicling the downfall of the Corvo clan."
At those words, Fakir's hand froze, and he looked down wearily at the reporter, who continued, "I dislike media censorship. Truth is of the utmost importance for journalists, no matter how ugly or uncomfortable those truths might be. However," Autor touched his glasses and looked Fakir in the eyes, "that does not mean that I am insensitive."
Sitting with his hands clasped together on the table, Autor said solemnly, "I know how much the Corvos have hurt you and your family. I won't cause you any more pain by dragging your past into all this. But there is one person whose name I feel compelled to include in my story. She is, after all, the catalyst that triggered the downfall of the Corvo clan. I feel I should consult you on this matter before I began writing."
"Don Corvo is dead, Autor. As such, the cases against him have closed, and she won't have to testify as a witness anymore." Fakir clenched his fists, his voice growing in intensity. "She's finally gotten back the life she had before this whole thing started. Revealing her identity now would only endanger her again!"
"I know that! But she's too important in all this for me to leave her role out, Fakir!" Autor argued. "I have to give her a name of some sort, even if it's not her real one."
After a paused, Fakir picked up his hat and said thoughtfully, "In that case, call her 'the witness'. It's factual without giving away her identity."
"But that's rather bland, don't you think?" Autor folded his arms across his chest. "It doesn't sound evocative at all."
Fakir huffed and doffed his hat, turning to leave. Before walking away from the table, he paused and looked back at Autor. "In that case, how about 'a most uncommon witness'?"
"'An uncommon witness'?" Autor touched his chin as he mulled over the suggestion. Slowly, a grin rose at the corner of his lips, and he exclaimed, "Yes, that has a catchy ring to it!"
Seeing Autor mentally reoccupied, Fakir slipped away.
Making his way back to his apartment, Fakir paused outside Duck's door. He knew she was gone for the day, having a day out on the town with her friends Lilie and Pique. But the news Autor had brought weighed heavily on his mind as he entered his apartment and opened his bedroom window.
Duck would want to know what had happened to Mytho and Rue, and he would have an opportunity to tell her the news tomorrow, when they would be walking over to Rachel's house together.
But a part of Fakir wondered if it was better to never bring their names up in conversation again. He didn't want to remind her of all the fear and uncertainty she had gone through. The thought of her hurting, even from reliving her own memories, pained Fakir more than any physical injury he had endured.
Yet he also knew Duck desperately wanted to know what had happened to the two people she considered friends. He could not simply pretend that Duck never met Rue, that her mother Elsa was never Mytho's ballet instructor. It would be akin to disavowing his own boyhood memories of Mytho. Whether he liked it or not, the threads of their fates had been intertwined, and even though they had each gone their own ways, such history wasn't something he could erase.
A light spring breeze wafted through the opened window into Fakir's room, gently stirring the loose strands of hair above his eyes. Raising his hand to push his bangs back in place, Fakir's eyes paused on the pale scar marking the skin on the back of his right hand.
Time heals all wounds.
For a long time, Fakir had refused to believe in those words; the anger and hatred in his heart had refused to give the wounds he carried a chance to heal. Back then, he would've done what he thought was right, regardless of anyone else's opinions or desires.
But that old self had also been blinded by his single-mindedness, and it had nearly cost him Duck's life.
Fakir lowered his hand and looked up at the bright azure sky outlined between the rows of brick buildings. Another spring breeze brushed past him, plucking dried and decayed leaves from the year before from the thin branches of trees, making room for new leaves to sprout and grow.
I'll tell her about Rue and Mytho, Fakir decided firmly. It would be selfish of me to withhold that information from Duck. She has a right to know the fate of the people she cares about.
With his mind thus made up, Fakir made a mental note to pick up a copy of the Daily Mirror the next time he passed by a newsstand.
Turning his gaze back to the interior of his room, Fakir's eyes fell on the Victrola phonograph sitting in its corner of his room. Picking out a record, Fakir wondered idly where Mytho and Rue were now.
They could be at the ends of the Earth right now, Fakir thought with a small smile as he wound the phonograph and placed the needle on the record.
As the familiar piano music began to play, Fakir knew one thing for certain: Rue and Mytho both had, at long last, escaped the long shadow that had hung over them and dictated the direction of their lives. They could go anywhere now, because the heavy burden of their former identities had been shed. They were, at last, free.
Tiny droplets of water kicked up by the bow of the ship landed lightly on the skin of the pale haired man as he looked out at the shores of the foreign land stretched out before him. A smattering of wooden junks dotted the water's surface as seagulls soared overhead, their wings casting fleeting shadows over the polished deck of the ocean liner.
Other passengers stood to the side, taking in the strange new sights and the warm April sun. Carried in by the wind, the sounds of their laughter, the cries of the gulls, and snatches of conversations in a foreign language buzzed in the background, below the low hum in the man's ears. The hum acted like an invisible wall, aiding the man in nursing his solitary thoughts while his hand cradled a small jewelry box in his coat pocket.
The veil of noise draped over his thoughts was suddenly pulled open by a familiar voice at his side.
"Oh!" the man's golden eyes blinked at the raven-haired woman, her slender hand on his arm. The surprise in his eyes turned to warmth as he smiled teasingly. "Good afternoon, 'Ms. Brunhilde'." *
Leaning against her new walking cane, the corner of Rue's lips responded with a smile. "Good afternoon to you as well, 'Mr. Siegfried'," she replied gamely.
Nestling herself next to him, Rue's expression grew serious as her eyes looked with concern at her beau. "I was calling for you from across the deck, but you didn't respond. Is it because you're not accustomed to that name, or is it because of your hearing?"
"Both, probably." Mytho replied, taking his hand out of his pocket and wrapping it around Rue's waist. "It's been three months now. The doctor in Toronto said the tinnitus ought to improve with time, but it doesn't seem like it has improved much in the last few months."
Rue sighed. Glancing at the other passengers to make sure she would not be overheard, she said, "If only you had been further away from that explosion, then…"*
As Rue trailed off, Mytho drew her close. "Maybe…but there was something I had to do…" he said, recalling the end of that violent morning in Chicago.
When Mytho pulled the trigger, the floor around him simultaneously lit up in flames. The fire leapt up and ignited the trail of gasoline on his suit trousers. Tossing his gun aside, Mytho managed to pull his jacket off and smother the flame on his trouser leg. Luckily for him, the woolen material of his clothes did not burn readily, and Mytho was able to extinguish the fire without injury.
However, while Mytho was preoccupied, the fire inside the garage had grown, fueled by the various oils and other flammable materials in the building. Mytho scrambled outside just as the flames shot up and fanned out across the ceiling.
Breathing heavily, a metallic glint caught Mytho's eyes, and he saw it was the pistol he had tossed aside earlier. Bending down to reach for his gun, his eyes came to rest on the motionless body of Don Corvo by the doorway.
The monster was dead, and both he and Rue were now free. But even as the police sirens wailed and the threat of being discovered loomed ever closer, Mytho knew that another monster—one whose hands had slain the fiend that was Domenico Corvo—still lived.
This last monster too must now be slain. Glancing at the singed jacket still in his hand, the once pristine material now mottled with soot, Mytho closed his eyes.
Taking a moment to steady the pounding adrenaline in his veins, Mytho recalled the sacrament taught to him and the other children by their caretakers at the St. Vitus orphanage.
"Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed."*
The hot wind kicked up by the blaze swept past Mytho, its blistering heat caressing his skin as the wood in the building cracked and popped.
Accepting that as a response, Mytho opened his eyes, his clear golden eyes reflecting the light of the pyre before him.
With as much strength as he could muster, Mytho hurtled the jacket into the blaze. At the same time, the structure began to creak and groan. The ritual completed, Mytho turned and dashed away from the fire.
But he had not gotten very far when, without warning, a loud explosion rocked the building, disintegrating it and sending a shockwave in all directions. Mytho was knocked to his feet.
His memories of what happened next were somewhat hazy, but despite being momentarily stunned and his ears and chest in pain from the blast, Mytho somehow managed to pull himself back onto his feet and stagger the rest of the way to the boat where Rue waited.
Though they were both in pain and injured, they managed to stay hidden in the boat, underneath the cover of a large drainage pipe until evening. When night fell, Mytho led Rue to a car he had previously stashed with cash and supplies half a mile away in a different warehouse.
After bribing a small town doctor outside Chicago into treating and properly dressing Rue's leg, the two of them crossed the border into Canada, first to Toronto, then after acquiring the necessary forged documents, made their way to Vancouver, where they decided to sail for Shanghai: a metropolis with a large Western presence where they would be able to blend in, but foreign enough that they would have little fear of being recognized by someone on the streets.*
As the ship now drew closer to their destination, the crashing of the waves against the ship's bow and the cry of the gulls competed with the ever present ringing in Mytho's ears. Yet the former mobster seemed unfazed by this handicap.
Breathing in the salty scent of the sea, Mytho smiled, "At this point I'm not sure if my hearing will ever recover. But after what I've done," he paused, "this is a small price to pay."
Rue looked down at her legs, now covered in dark stockings to conceal the scar on her calf. Her grip on the handle of the walking stick tightened, and she said somberly, "Both of us have been branded for the trespasses we've committed in the past," Rue said, frowning. "With this injury, I don't think it will be possible for me to ever dance again."
Mytho kissed Rue's forehead. The gesture eased away some of the gloom clouding Rue's thoughts.
Resting her cheek against Mytho's chest, she could hear the beating of his heart and the breath in his lungs as he said quietly, "Even though we carry the scars of our pasts, it shouldn't stop us from starting a new future, Rue. The most important thing is that he's gone now, and we are free."
Rue nodded against Mytho's chest. Shifting her eyes towards her love, a hopeful smile appeared on her lips as she said, "I may not be able to dance anymore, but with the money we brought with us…maybe I can start a dance school here. Maybe that will be my true calling; not as a princess, a ballerina, or an actress, but as a dance studio operator."
Mytho chuckled softly. "It would be a fitting career for you, I think," he said sincerely as he gently touched the jewelry box in his pocket, and the images of two red haired women and their kind smiles and blue eyes, flinted across his mind.
Turning his thoughts back to the present, they watched as the outline of the Bund came into view, and with it, the promise of a land filled with unknown challenges and opportunities.
"Our future is in our hands now, and we can be anything we want to be."
The bright Sunday afternoon sun warmed Duck, dressed in her Sunday best, as she stood waiting outside the building she shared with Fakir.
Looking down at her watch, Duck frowned. "Fakir's usually so punctual; what's holding him up today? At this rate, we're gonna be late for Easter dinner with Rachel," the pointe shoe shop girl whined.
As she shuffled her feet impatiently, Duck looked up when she saw a familiar figure jogging up towards her, a rolled up newspaper in hand.
Once Fakir was within hearing distance, Duck puffed up her cheeks and said to him, "What took you so long? Rachel said she would show me how to make folar bread. We're gonna be late if we don't leave soon!"*
"I had some work I needed to wrap up at the precinct," Fakir replied, catching his breath in between sentences. "But you're not the most punctual person anyway, so she probably expects us to be late."
"Why, you! I will have you know that I was on time for work this whole month!" Duck shouted indignantly.
"And that's only because you finally bought a new alarm clock the month before," Fakir said dryly.
"Oh, never mind!" Duck threw up her hands, "Why do I have to put up with a rude, two-bit gumshoe like you all the time?!"
Just as Duck was about to turn her heels to leave, she paused when Fakir unexpectedly held the newspaper in his hand out to her.
"I thought you might want to see this," he said simply.
Glancing at the newspaper, Duck's peppy demeanor faded when she looked back up and saw the serious expression on Fakir's face. When he gave no further explanation, a mystified Duck accepted the newspaper from Fakir's hand.
Scanning the page held opened to her, Duck's eyes widened when it caught on the title, "Truth Behind Actress' Retirement Revealed?"
Duck quickly read, then reread, the article, her fingers gripping the paper so tightly that it bunched and wrinkled in her hands.
When she looked up her face broke into a bright smile. "So that means they're both alive, then?" she exclaimed.
Fakir nodded. "I don't know where they're going, or how accurate this article is, but by and large, they seem to be doing all right—"
Before Fakir could finish his sentence, Duck, without warning, launched herself at him and hugged him tightly.
"Duck!" Fakir stuttered, his flushed face turning even redder when passersby glanced their way. "What are you doing!?"
"Oh, thank you, Fakir!" Duck spoke into the lapel of his jacket. Pulling away, she wiped away at the tears that had formed at the edges of her eyes. "I was so worried about them! To know that they're both alive…it means so much to me!"
Seeing Duck's tears of joy, the question from yesterday resurfaced in Fakir's mind. Even though he knew her tears were from relief, Fakir couldn't help but wonder if Duck would be happier to have never been put through any of this.
That question found its way to his tongue as he spoke hesitantly, "Duck…have you…have you ever wished that none of this had happened?"
Duck blinked at him in surprise.
Looking away from her, Fakir continued, "You nearly lost everything you had ever known, and your life was in danger at every turn. Don't you ever wish that none of it had happened?"
Here Fakir paused and as he formed the next sentence in his mind, a lump rose up in his throat, but he would not let it stop him from finishing his thought. "Don't you wish you had never met Mytho, or Rue, or me?"
Duck sniffled, and rubbed her nose as she looked down at the pavement. Even though Fakir had anticipated her answer to his question, he still found himself holding his breath when she finally answered.
"Yes, I did," Duck said slowly. "In the beginning especially, I wished that I had never walked down that alley. I didn't want anything to do with this case at all! Even now it's still scary to think back on that night, and I don't think I've ever been as scared as the night when those two thugs tried to kidnap me on my way back home, or when I was brought into that warehouse in Chicago."
Her gaze rose from the floor to rest back on Fakir, and much to Fakir's amazement, he found a faint smile on her lips. "But in the end, against all odds, somehow it all worked out."
Folding her hands behind her back, she mused, "It's true that if none of this had happened, I would've never met the three of you, but looking back on it now, after I've gotten to know each of you… I don't regret what happened.
"It probably sounds strange to say this, but ever since I met her, I always felt like Rue was a good person. Even Mytho, once I got to know him better, I could see his true character, his innate kindness and gentleness, through the mask he was forced to wear as Principe."
Meeting Fakir's gaze, Duck smiled sincerely. "And as for you, Fakir, you were always looking out for me, and you made me feel safe. You protected me, and I am so grateful for that. So I'm really glad I met you; if it weren't for you, I'm not sure I'd be here today."
At those words a feeling swelled in his chest until it threatened to lift him off his feet. Swallowing thickly, Fakir found his cheeks once again beginning to flush as he was unable to maintain eye contact with the bright, smiling blue-eyed girl in front of him.
"I-idiot…" Fakir stammered awkwardly, "as long as you'll let me, I'll always be here to protect you…"
Flustered, Fakir's mind frantically sought a distraction to change the topic of their conversation. He found it when he glanced down at his watch and saw what time it was.
"Damn! We really are going to be late if we don't leave now!" Fakir shouted, aghast at how long their conversation had taken. Reaching forward, he took Duck's hand. "Come on, we need to get going!"
"But you said Rachel wouldn't mind if we were a little late!" Duck whined as she curled her fingers over Fakir's hand.
"I did, but you just said you want to see how Rachel makes folar, right? She usually makes it first, so that it will be ready before dinner. We'll have to hurry if you want to see how she makes it."
"Oh! All right, then! I hear it's really delicious, and I love bread! I was thinking I might even try making it myself some time if it's not too complicated."
"You really are a duck, aren't you? Do you eat anything else besides bread?"
"I do too! Let's see, I like greens, fruits, potatoes, and fish, but I don't like eggs or chicken or…"
Walking together, hand in hand, the two of them continued to banter as they traveled down the street. Around them, fresh green leaves swayed in the light breeze, welcoming the sunlight and all the promises and hopes of new beginnings.
Even though this is the last chapter, it seems I've also saved the most notes for last! So here goes!
* In the New York City Police Department, officers are given badges based on their rank. A detective has a badge with a medallion design, while a sergeant—the rank Fakir was promoted to a few chapters ago—has a shield and eagle design.
* "Bubbeleh", "mensch" and "nosh" are all Yiddish words. "Bubbeleh" is a term of endearment, like the English word "honey" or "dear". "Mensch" is the term for a gentlemanly, honest person, while "nosh" means to snack or nibble on something. I felt it would be remissive to not touch on the Jewish community in New York City in the 19th and early 20th century, so I apologize if the revelation of Autor's German-Jewish American family heritage felt a little tacked on at the last minute, but I couldn't find a good opportunity to bring it up earlier in the story.
* The RMS Empress of Asia was an ocean liner operated by the Canadian Pacific Steamships Company. Built in 1913, it sailed between Canada and the Far East. During the two World Wars, it served as a troopship, and was sunk in 1942 by Japanese bombers near the Sultan Shoal near Singapore.
* The New York Daily Mirror was a tabloid newspaper published from 1924 until 1963. It focused on sensational news, including scandals. To quote Wikipedia, the paper's management "estimated that its content was 10% news and 90% entertainment."
* The name "Siegfried" is a reference to the canon Mythos' real name of Prince Siegfried, which is the name of the prince from "Swan Lake". However, "Siegfried" is also the name of a well-known opera by Richard Wagner, and in the opera the titular character marries a valkyrie by the name of Brunhilde. I realize Rue could've also gone by the alias of Odette, but since she's already publicly known as Odile, that alias wouldn't have been a very good one, in my opinion.
* Tinnitus (ringing of the ears) is a condition commonly caused by noise-induced hearing loss. In Mytho's case, he was too close to the garage when the explosion occurred, and it damaged his hearing. I wanted to include this detail not only because it's a little more realistic to real-world circumstances (contrary to what Hollywood would have us believe, where the hero dives to the ground during an explosion and comes out completely unscathed), but because I feel like after everything Mytho has done as Principe, it would be unfair for him to walk away into the sunset with no karmic retribution.
* The prayer that Mytho recited is part of the last rites performed for the dying in accordance with Catholic traditions. In this case, the act of reciting the last rite is symbolic, as the Principe part of Mytho's identity is forever put to rest.
* For those of you wondering why I chose Shanghai of all cities for Mytho and Rue to quite literally sail into the sunset to, there's three reasons for this. The first being that in the early 20th century it was (and very much still is) a global metropolis, so two Westerners could live in this city and not look out of place. The second reason is a little more personal, as my family was originally from that region of China, and I've visited the city a few times, so I wanted to make a small nod to my heritage with this reference.
The third reason is…well, a little more silly. In the 1980's there was a very popular Hong Kong TV drama called "The Bund". The show was set in 1920's Shanghai, the same era as this fanfic, and revolved around a man who worked for the Shanghai underworld, played by the actor Chow Yun-fat (you might recognize him from his roles as Li Mu-bai from "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", and Sao Feng in "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End", to name but a few). The show—and its theme song—were hugely popular in the Chinese-speaking world in the 80's and 90's, and despite not having watched the TV show myself, I can't help but think about the parallels between the two stories. Thus, I thought it would be fun to make an indirect nod to it here, in the final chapter.
* Folar is a type of Portuguese bread made during Easter. Depending on the region and recipe, the bread can be savory or sweet. It's also commonly served with boiled eggs, which serve as a symbol of rebirth. This last detail might've eluded Duck though.
I have finally made it to the end of this story! Looking back, I really didn't think I would make it to this point when I began writing this story in 2009. It's been seven years (just thinking about that number scares me a little) and I want to thank you, my readers, for following this story through to the end. I also want to give a huge thank you to Tomoyo Ichijouji, my friend and beta-reader who's not only edited the story, but provided valuable feedback which allowed me to create a much more polish story than what I could've accomplished on my own.
At this time I do not foresee any sequels/side stories to AUW being written, as I have other projects that I am now working on. But, never say never, right? ;)
And with that, thank you once again for reading! Until next time!