Apparently this chapter's too long for Blogger to process. orz So I split it up.
Local Episode - The Man Who Does Not Cry
It could be said that the development of America as a nation went hand-in-hand with the development of transportation and communication technologies.
The pioneers--or to some, invaders--who led the way for the expansion of the American west were the ones most satiated by the development of the rails, and the completion of the transcontinental railway.
The rails continued to evolve long after the end of the age of the pioneers. Its growth knew no obstacle, rendering even the Great Depression practically obsolete at its peak, the 1930s.
The unemployed numbered over eight million in 1931, and a hunger march had made its way to the White House, its food and drinks all transported by train. The golden age of trains would continue until the sudden boom of cars and airplanes took its place decades later.
All paths were connected by rail. The countless, ever-enduring beams of steel laid down by the hopes of pioneers still continued to carry the American Dream upon its shoulders.
At least, that was what the 'haves' believed.
The Flying Pussyfoot was a curiosity of sorts, a train created by one fortunate company that managed to recover from the crash.
Its design was based upon the trains used by British royalty. The interior of the First Class trains were entirely decorated with marble and the like, and Second Class was no slouch, either.
Most trains had First, Second, and Third Class cabins on every car, with each car structured so that Third Class cabins were directly above the badly cushioned areas directly above the wheels.
The Flying Pussyfoot, however, divided its cars between the Classes. In the lead was the locomotive, followed by three First Class cars, a dining car, three Second Class cars, a Third Class car, three cars with freight holds, an overflow freight hold, and the caboose at the very end.
With the exception of the dining car, the hallway was always on the left side of the cars. Passengers would note the cabin numbers mounted on each door and enter their designated rooms. Instead of having specialized freight cars, as most trains had, the Flying Pussyfoot had three cars fitted with freight holds. As with the other cars, the hallways were on the left side.
Choosing form over function, it was a train for the quintessential nouveau riche--the third class car, which was there only as a formality, was almost sad to look at.
On either side of the cars were ornaments that looked like squashed statues, which only compounded the cheap shadow of majesty that was embodied by the Flying Pussyfoot.
The strangest thing about this train was the fact that it worked separately from the railway companies' normal operations. It ran on the condition of 'renting' track space, like a modern-day royalty train.
And on December 30, 1931, the curtains would rise on the tragedy that took place on this train.
It had been several hours since departure. The skies outside had begun to grow dark.
"What do you think, youngster? Used to this job yet?" The middle-aged conductor asked, standing with his back to the window.
"Oh… Yes. Kind of." The young conductor raised his head, answering vaguely.
They were now about halfway through this long journey, but this was the first time the older man had said anything to him at all. The young conductor calmly stared at his coworker, surprised by the sudden question.
'Now that I think about it, I've never really gotten a good look at his face before.'
The young conductor was astonished at his own disinterest. The face reflected against his eyes, however, wore an almost mechanical smile. It was as if the older conductor was forcing his smile, the wrinkles on his face growing deeper and deeper.
"I see… That's good to hear. You see, sometimes when I look at the outside world from here, growing ever more distant, I find myself feeling loneliness… and fear."
"Haha! I kinda get what you're saying."
"All kinds of fear lurk within anxiety. Even more so when you're in the middle of a pitch-black tunnel."
"Yeah! That's exactly it! All the others keep telling me ghost stories; I sometimes get scared when I'm all alone at night!" The young conductor agreed, chirping in with his own opinions. "It's not really nice, you know? Tormenting a newbie with scary stories about hook-handed men made of bees, or rumours about call bells from deserted cabins…"
For someone who was supposedly not fond of scary stories, the young conductor's eyes positively sparkled with excitement. It was easy to tell that he had truly been terrified on some occasions.
"And that other story--the one about the Rail Tracer."
The older conductor had worked on the rails for many years, but this was the first time he had heard of such a thing.
"Oh, you haven't heard about the Rail Tracer?"
The older conductor was not interested, but it was almost the designated time. He didn't see any harm in hearing out his coworker. He grinned pitifully and slyly, deciding to humour the young conductor.
"It's a pretty simple story. They say that there's a monster that chases after the train in the the dead of night."
"Yeah. It becomes one with the shadows, changing into all kinds of shapes as it slowly approaches the train. Sometimes it looks like a wolf, or the mist, or even a train shaped just like the one you're on. Other times it's a giant with no eyes, or thousands of eyeballs clumped together… Anyway, it takes on all kinds of shapes as it follows the rails.”
"And what happens if you're caught?"
"The thing is, at first no one notices it’s coming. But people do notice that something's going strangely."
"People start disappearing--one by one, starting from the back of the train. And in the end, everyone disappears, and it's as if the train never existed to begin with."
The older conductor then voiced a reasonable question.
"Then how does the story get passed on?"
Although he was faced with a kind of question that was normally a taboo in urban legends like this, the young conductor was not at all taken aback.
"'Course, it's because some trains managed to survive."
"Haha! Don’t rush me. There's a bit more to the story." He grinned delightedly, and reached the heart of the matter. "You see, they say that mentioning its name summons it--the Rail Tracer, I mean."
The older conductor was somewhat disappointed..
'So it's just an urban legend. I'm pretty sure I can guess what he's about to say next.'
The young conductor continued just as his older coworker expected.
"But see, there's one way you can stop it from coming!"
"Hold on, it's time."
It was time for their regular report, so the older conductor flipped on the communication switch and turned on the lamp that signalled an all clear.
A bright light leaked into the conductor's compartment from either side of the outside walls.The tail lamps that were fixed to the last car of the train were used to signal the train's passing to the people on either side of the tracks.
The Flying Pussyfoot, however, also had a larger lamp under the normal tail lamps.
Operation regulations on this train dictated that the conductor's car would have to maintain regular contact with the locomotive. This was to make sure that the engineers in the locomotive would know quickly if the following cars were ever to become detached.
It was an unnecessarily old-fashioned system, but it was part of the ostentatious package of the Flying Pussyfoot. The conductors did not complain about this system, faithfully turning on the lamps at the designated times.
But for the older conductor, this signal held a second purpose.
The young conductor waited for his coworker to turn off the lamplight and cheerfully continued to tell his tale.
"Where was I …Oh, right! So there's one way to stop it from coming-"
"Hold on. Why don't you save the surprise for a bit later? I know a rather similar story myself, so hear me out first."
The young conductor nodded agreeably. "Exchanging survival tactics, huh? That sounds interesting."
The older conductor looked at his cheerful coworker with a mix of pity and condescendence, and began his story--the story about his own identity.
"It's a rather simple, common tale. It's a story about the Lemures--ghosts who feared death so much that they became living phantoms.”
"You see, the ghosts had a great leader. The leader tried to bring them all back to life by dyeing everything they feared in their own colour. But the damned feds are afraid of this resurrection! And those impudent fools are trying to entomb the leader of the ghosts!"
The young conductor didn't quite understand what his coworker was talking about, but he could tell that the older man's voice was filling with rage. The young conductor felt a chill running down his spine.
"So that's why the other ghosts came up with a plan. They would take over a hundred people hostage, including the family of a Senator, and demand their leader's release. The feds would never accept our conditions if the hostage-taking is revealed to the public. That's why the negotiations must take place in secret. We will not give them time to make a rational decision. They only have until this train reaches New York!"
"A Senator… you mean Senator Beriam? Are you talking about this train? What's going on here, sir? Please explain!"
The young conductor seemed to have finally realized his perilous position, and took a step away from his coworker.
"'Explain'? That's exactly what I'm doing. To be honest, I never thought that being a conductor would come in this handy. But in any event, this train is now the Lemures' mobile headquarters! And with the hostages as our human shields, we'll disappear somewhere along the tracks. After all, not even the police can monitor every stretch of the railway."
"A-and what about the leader?" The young conductor asked rationally, taking another step back. But he backed straight into the wall--the conductor's compartment was not a very large space.
"Our leader, Master Huey, will be questioned at the Justice Department in New York tomorrow. That is why we have chosen this train to be his sacrifice!"
The train would arrive in New York tomorrow afternoon. If the negotiations were successful, they would likely take their leader onto the train and escape with the hostages in tow.
The young conductor now knew what his coworker was planning. He looked the older man in the eye and asked an obvious question.
"So… why are you telling me all this…?"
The answer was simple enough to guess.
"Master Huey is a merciful man. I am merely following his example. You are a happy man, you know, seeing as you are going to die knowing why I am going to kill you."
The older conductor then took out a gun.
"Now, about how to escape this disaster… Thing is, there is no escape. There is no way to be spared!"
Pointing the gun in the young conductor's face, the older conductor finished his story and pulled the trigger.
The tracks carried the sharp sound as it echoed across the cabin.
It carried the sound into the endless, pitch-black night.
And the monster was awakened.
Some time earlier.
The sun set on the uneventful train ride, as all sorts of passengers took part in dinner in the dining car.
The dining car's design had also been based on that of royal trains. The plain colours of the wooden framework and the extravagant golden ornaments melded together to create a stylish atmosphere.
Any passenger, no matter their class, was permitted to use the dining car. Even those in Third Class could eat like kings, which was one of the reasons this train was so popular.
About half of the dining car was occupied by tables, and the other half showcased a kitchen and a line of seats beside a counter. Several cooks busily moved about the cramped kitchen, using what little space they had for maximum efficiency to create their ambrosial scents and tastes. On top of the dining tables were everything from French cuisine to Chinese food, and even Jambalaya--all kinds of foods made their trademark features known among the diners.
However, there was a certain group of men who were not at all focused on their food like the rest of the patrons.
"I told you, we can't discuss it right now, Jacuzzi. The other passengers might be listening."
"Get it, Jacuzzi? You should."
Jacuzzi was sitting on a seat at the counter, being lectured by two men. The two men were both on the other side of the counter--one of them was dressed like a cook, and the other a bartender.
The cook was East Asian, and the bartender was an Irishman. They were both Jacuzzi's friends, and insiders who had made this train robbery plan possible.
"No, well, um… I know, I know. Fang, John, you're both right. But if I can't even talk about it with you guys at dinnertime, I was wondering when we could…"
The Asian man was Fang, and the Irishman was John. A Chinese-American and Irish immigrant duo was rather unusual for this time period, but both of them had been driven out of their respective communities after causing some sorts of trouble.
Jacuzzi accepted people like them into his gang without prejudice, eventually becoming the central pillar of the gang of delinquents. He never particularly wanted to be the leader, but the other gang members, like Fang and John, never objected to his leadership. Of course, that didn't mean they gave Jacuzzi their undying respect.
"We can't help it, you know? We still have customers to serve. And there's these people here who keep ordering nothing but Chinese food. The head chef's gonna kill me if I take off now." Fang sighed.
John sighed in turn. "And I'm the only bartender here. I can't leave as long as people are at the counter. I'm sorry, Jacuzzi."
"Ohh… is the railroad company ignoring the Prohibition?"
"Normally, it does. But today we're completely alcohol-free. The dining car's really tough on the rules today."
"Doesn't that mean you don't have to be here?"
John shook his head. "Those two over there have been ordering nothing but honey green tea this whole time. And they're only asking for alcohol-free stuff… I think it's best that you give up."
"Yeah, that's them over there. The ones who've been sitting there since departure ordering Chinese food."
Fang gestured to the end of the counter.
Jacuzzi turned around, and caught sight of an odd couple.
The man was, simply put, a gunman straight out of the Wild West. He wore a ragged coat and a vest, and there were multiple holsters at his hips and over his chest. Of course, there wasn't a single gun in his possession. The lasso he wore at his shoulder made it difficult to tell if he was trying to be a gunman or a cowboy. On a related note, for some inexplicable reason, he also had three sheriff badges pinned to his lapel.
The woman was dressed to match her companion--she looked like a dancer from a bar from the previous century. She had long straight hair, and she wore a red, Spanish-style dress. She was also wearing a wide-brimmed, bright red hat.
Their appearances were suitable for the location, but temporally anachronistic. The couple was creating a world of their own at their seats at the end of the counter.
"You could try asking them to leave, Jacuzzi."
"B-but I'm scared… what if they're bad people?"
"Says the guy with a tattoo on his face." John said plainly.
Jacuzzi made a face that made him look as though he was about to cry, when Nice joined the conversation.
"It'll be fine, Jacuzzi. Why don't you go up and talk to them? I bet it'd be pretty interesting."
"N-Nice… you really think so?"
"The way they're dressed, I think they might even be movie stars!"
Jacuzzi glanced at the couple one more time.
"Maybe you're right."
"See? Wouldn't it be pretty cool to be friends with a pair of stars?"
Jacuzzi fell for her words and slowly began to make his way to the couple.
"Maybe you're being a bit too hard on him, Nice." John whispered, watching Jacuzzi walk away.
Nice's tone when she spoke to John was completely different from when she was talking to Jacuzzi earlier.
"I don't think so, John. I just want to see Jacuzzi being a little more outgoing."
"Still as formal as ever… you haven't changed a bit, Nice."
"I suppose it doesn't go very well with my look, does it?" Nice shyly bowed her head, fingering her eyepatch decorated with gold threads.
"W-well, not necessarily."
"To be frank, it doesn't really go with your appearance. But that's still a virtue, you know? In fact, I'm almost concerned about the fact that you don't talk to Jacuzzi like you talk to the rest of us."
"Jacuzzi insists on me talking to him informally. He's stubborn like that sometimes." Nice laughed, and turned to look at Jacuzzi, who had just walked up to the couple in the corner.
John and Fang followed suit, slowly reiterating what Nice had just said.
Suddenly, they noticed that Jacuzzi was tearfully looking in their direction, trying to say something.
"Maybe she actually meant that she spoils him too much."
Jacuzzi sat beside the couple, awkwardly stuttering out a greeting.
"Uh, um… uh… have you eaten already- I, I mean… Good evening…? W-well… I'm sorrypleaseexcuseme-"
Jacuzzi was rambling at a loss for words. The man finally seemed to have noticed him, putting down his cutlery and looking directly at Jacuzzi.
He stared into Jacuzzi's face as he chewed. He spoke as soon as he swallowed.
"What do we do, Miria? This stranger here suddenly started apologizing to us!"
"Then I guess it means we won!" A cheerful woman's voice yelled from behind him.
"A victory, is it? Great! I don't really understand what just went on here, but that was a magnificent battle. Thank you!"
Without warning, the man took hold of Jacuzzi's hand in a firm handshake.
'This person really is weird.' Jacuzzi thought. He tearfully looked towards Nice and John to ask for help, but Nice just waved at him nonchalantly. John and Fang were called back to work by an angry voice from the kitchen yelling, "Quit slacking off, you two!".
"Anyway, that's an amazing tattoo you've got there! I've never seen anyone with one on their face!"
"Are you by any chance a movie star?"
This was the complete opposite of what Jacuzzi had expected. Anxiety quickly began eating away at his senses.
"N-no, I-I'm n-not a m-movie star or anything. I just bootleg liqu-I, I mean! No! No, Iwasjustjokingnow… I'm just a delinquent, um… I'm really a normal person! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"
Tears welled up in Jacuzzi's as he apologized for no reason at all.
"Hey, Miria. He's apologizing to us again."
"That's two victories in a row!"
"I see… so you let us win twice! You're a really great person!"
"You're a good guy!"
"Now, now, stop those tears. Watching a good man cry makes us want to cry, too."
"We'll end up crying with you!"
Jacuzzi looked up. The couple before him was also looking at him, misty-eyed. He took the handkerchief they handed him and realized that things were going a little strangely.
"There, there. Wipe your tears and join us for Chinese food."
"It's all you can eat!"
"No it's not!" Fang yelled from the kitchen. Jacuzzi was somewhat perplexed, when food suddenly entered his mouth.
Jacuzzi found himself swallowing the mouthful without even realizing it.
The taste of the steamed chicken spread through his mouth. Now that he thought about it, this was the first time that Jacuzzi ever tasted Fang’s cooking.
By the time Jacuzzi came to his senses, his tears had already stopped.
"--So that's when I put my gut into it and said, 'damn it'!"
"Wow! You're amazing, Isaac!"
"Wow! It's been a long time since I last heard Jacuzzi laughing out loud like this!"
The counter seats in the dining car had practically turned into a miniature party hall.
Nice had joined them somewhere along the line, brightening up the conversation.
The night grew deeper, but the dining car remained as crowded as ever. But the orchestra in black and the men in white still had yet to set foot into the car.
"Come to think of it, Isaac. You've been ordering nothing but meat for a while now." Jacuzzi noted, with a surprisingly calm voice.
This was the first time Nice had seen Jacuzzi speak to a stranger so easily. It must have meant that Jacuzzi was already so fond of this strange duo. His lack of fear was because of his trust in them.
'I can't believe they managed to get Jacuzzi to warm up to them so easily. Who are these people?'
Nice was a little jealous, but above all else, she was very fond of the couple.
"Oh? Don't worry, Jacuzzi. This is beef."
"What do you mean?"
"Cows eat grass, right? So if you eat beef, it means that you're consuming both meat and vegetables!"
"Wow! You're so smart, Isaac!"
"That so…?" Jacuzzi tilted his head. Isaac and Miria ignored his confusion and lost themselves in their own little world.
"Right, right! So this is why eating something that's eaten something else means that you eat whatever it's eaten in the past. It doesn't just apply to food, either--it also goes for things that belong to other people! For example, if you were to take a bag which just happened to be full of money, both the bag and the money are yours!"
"Haha! We're rich!"
"Yes! In the Orient they have a saying--um… 'finders'…"
"'Finders keepers', huh… I see."
"Good for you Jacuzzi! You learned something new today."
Jacuzzi amusedly committed this faux-Oriental knowledge to memory and took a bite out of his food.
Suddenly, something crashed straight into his back.
Jacuzzi was forced to down a piece of beef without even chewing it. He hurriedly drank large gulps of water.
A familiar voice then called to him from behind.
"Oh! Not again… I'm sorry, Mister!"
Jacuzzi turned around in the middle of a coughing fit. He saw the boy who had bumped into him on the platforms before boarding. One thing was different, however--the boy was accompanied by a girl about the same age.
"N-no, it's all right. I'm okay. Are you all right?"
The boy nodded his head and smiled as he did before, but the girl hid behind him and nervously glanced over at Jacuzzi's tattoo and Nice's eyepatch.
"Ahaha, I'm glad you're okay. Is this your sister…?"
His throat was still in pain, but Jacuzzi forced himself to smile. The boy seemed to have noticed this and apologized again, then answered.
"No, she's not my sister. We're in the same cabin, so we became friends!"
The girl nodded quietly. Her eyes were still fixated on Jacuzzi's tattoo. It seemed that his appearance was somewhat scary for a young child to look at.
Suddenly, a woman stepped in from behind them.
"I'm so sorry. My daughter can be such a handful sometimes. I hope you'll accept my apologies."
She was perhaps about thirty years old. The woman was dressed in expensive, but pleasant clothing. There was not a hint of condescension or hesitation in her tone--she merely slipped into their thoughts in serenity.
"Now, Mary. It's rude to stare at people like that." She scolded her daughter.
"H-heh… that’s very straightforward of you, ma'am." Jacuzzi could not get angry or cry at the woman's kind tone. He smiled apologetically.
"I'm so sorry. I should have been more careful…"
"N-no, not at all! I should be the one apologizing!"
"Why?" John and Fang asked Jacuzzi simultaneously, but Jacuzzi ignored them and went back to crybaby mode.
"Miria! They're both apologizing to each other. What do we do?"
"We have to pass judgement!"
"I see! So we're the ones with power over this battle!"
"It's a big responsibility!"
As Isaac and Miria came up with their own conclusions, Nice decided to step in to give Jacuzzi a hand, changing the subject.
"Are you on a family vacation?"
"Yes. My daughter and I are on our way to see my husband. We came to have dinner with the boy in our cabin, but it doesn't seem like there's any room for us at the moment." The woman replied, not at all intimidated or wary of Nice's appearance.
"Then is this boy on his own?" Nice asked curiously.
"Yes. He's- Oh my goodness! Where are my manners? I haven't even asked him."
"My name's Czeslaw Meyer-" The boy said shyly. It was a difficult name to pronounce--the boy quickly shut his mouth, then continued after a moment of silence. "You can call me Czes. I'm on my way to New York to see my family."
The woman and her daughter followed and introduced themselves.
"My name is Natalie Beriam. And this is my daughter… Introduce yourself, Mary."
The girl shyly stepped forward at her mother's prompting. "My name's Mary Beriam."
She continued to occasionally glance over at Jacuzzi and Nice, still somewhat intimidated. She didn't seem to be curious at all about the out-of-fashion gunman at the counter, however.
Jacuzzi, Isaac, and the others followed suit and introduced themselves. The party in the dining hall became a little bigger than before.
"Czes bumped into Jacuzzi a little earlier, too." Nice said, ruffling Czes's hair. Her lone eye was filled with cheer.
"I'm really sorry about that."
"No, it's all right. It wasn't your fault or anything."
As he spoke with Czes, Jacuzzi found himself more at ease. Of course, it was a silly thing in itself that he could not be at ease unless he was talking to a child.
Suddenly, Isaac and Miria spoke up loudly.
"That's right! After all, the Rail Tracer would've gobbled you right up if you were a bad boy!"
"Just like that!"
"That's what my father used to say to scare me when I was younger!"
"Huh? Wh-what's a R-Rail Tracer?" Jacuzzi instinctively realized that it must have been something terrifying, as his eyes began tearing up again.
"You don't know, Jacuzzi? The Rail Tracer is…"
"…And that's why if you tell the this story on the train… you end up summoning the monster… The Rail Tracer!"
"Eeek!" Miria squealed in an obviously fake tone.
Jacuzzi was the only one who was losing himself in a soundless scream. Everyone else seemed to have taken the story as a common urban legend.
"Th-this is terrible! We're gonna disappear! Wh-what are we gonna do?!" Jacuzzi worried, taking the story too seriously.
"Don't worry, Jacuzzi. There's actually a way to stop the Rail Tracer from coming!" Isaac said, trying to calm Jacuzzi down.
"Only one way!"
Jacuzzi's face brightened. "R-really? Th-then tell me! Please, you gotta hurry!"
"All right! Listen up. The only way to survive is… is to… uh… well…"
Jacuzzi's bright hopes began being clouded by doubt.
"The only way to survive… was… What was it again, Miria?"
"I've never heard about it before."
Nice and the others wondered why Miria had enthusiastically agreed with Isaac despite her ignorance.
Of course, Jacuzzi didn't have the peace of mind to be able to worry about things like that.
"O-oh no! This is bad! It's terrible! Quick! You have to remember, or we're allgonnadiewe'regonnadisappear!" Jacuzzi yelled, teeth chattering.
"I've heard that story before." John said calmly.
"R-really? H-how do we stop it?!"
"Well, I ended up forgetting, too."
"Ack! How could you, John?!"
"Calm down, Jacuzzi. I heard the story from the young conductor. Why don’t you go ask him?"
Jacuzzi stood from his seat and took off as soon as John finished. He looked back when he reached the middle of the dining car, forced himself to smile, and yelled back towards Isaac and the others.
"D-don't worry, Isaac! I'll be back as soon as I ask the young conductor! L-leave it to me!"
Jacuzzi's intent may have been honourable, but his teary eyes fooled no one. Of course, about the only ones there who believed the Rail Tracer story were Isaac, Miria, and Mary.
Jacuzzi made his way between the tables and made a run for the back of the car.
"I'm sorry about that. Jacuzzi's not a bad person… He's just a little scared is all." Nice said, getting up from her seat and running after Jacuzzi.
"I know. I can tell that Mr. Jacuzzi's a very kind person." Mrs. Beriam replied with a smile. She realized that Jacuzzi was honestly afraid of the Rail Tracer, but she did not blame Isaac for the misunderstanding.
Isaac and the others also understood.
"Say, Miria. Jacuzzi's a really great guy, isn't he?"
"He's such a nice person!"
"We'll have to let him win next time, that's for sure!"
"So next time, I'll apologize to him like there's no tomorrow! …About twice!"
"Then I'll apologize once!"
"I see! So Jacuzzi's going to win three times!"
"He's the champion!"
"Whoa. Jacuzzi rush?"
Jacuzzi ran into Donny and the others outside the dining car, just as they were about to enter. Behind Donny's gigantic form were the two members Nice had picked to bring along on this mission.
"I-it's terrible! This train's gonna disappear! So I'm gonna go see the conductor!"
Jacuzzi did not even explain himself as he disappeared, heading for the back of the train.
Nice appeared not long afterwards.
"Great timing! Donny and Jack, follow me. Nick, you take care of the dining car!"
Donny and the man called Jack followed after Nice, despite their confusion.
Meanwhile, the man called Nick was utterly lost.
"So… what does Nice want me to do with the dining car?"
Nice had actually meant, "Keep an eye on the situation in the dining car", but Nick was an experienced mugger--as a result, he came to an entirely different conclusion.
"So, what she means is, I have to keep the dining car quiet while they get on with the job… Sounds about right. Can't have anyone finding out about us and stopping the train along the way."
As Nick stood outside the dining car in thought, a man in a white suit passed by him and went through the door. The longer Nick stood there, the more people might end up being in the dining car. He simply worried about the number of people he had to watch out for, took out his favourite knife, and took a careful step towards the dining car.
"All right! All right! It's gonna start soon! Our little show's about to begin! And their lives are gonna start ending soon!"
Ladd rolled around the Second Class cabin, hugging a pillow.
"Oh! So it's time already?! I'm so excited I can't stand it! I'm so happy I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight!"
Lua watched him coldly and the other men laughed as Ladd rolled around in the tiny cabin.
"If you're so excited, why don't you go yourself?" Lua asked in a mumble.
"But I caaaaaan't! I lost the draw! Damn it! Vicky, you lucky bastard! I'm so jealous I think I'm gonna die!"
Ladd's gang's first course of action would be to overpower the passengers in the dining car. They had drawn lots to decide who would be the lucky winner, and as a result, the man named Vicky had left to make the first move.
"Oh, there is no God in this cruel world! Vicky must've killed 'em all by now!" Ladd complained, doing handstands despite his formal attire.
"If you’re that worried, why don't you go take a look…?" Lua mumbled again.
Ladd got back on his feet, turned around, and began slapping Lua's face.
"You're right, Lua! I can just go take a look! I'm such an idiot. There's no reason I have to just sit around and wait here! I thought I had to just shut up and stand back 'cause I lost the draw! All right! I'll be right back, sweetheart!" Ladd rambled, and dashed into the hallway.
He then crashed right into someone.
"Hey, watch where you're going, you…"
Ladd trailed off mid-complaint.
"I-I-I-I'm really sorry, sir! I'm so sorry! But the train's in big trouble! S-so I-I have to get to the conductor's compartment quick…! I… I'm so sorry…!"
The young man ran straight towards the back of the car.
"That kid just now…"
There was no mistaking the tattoo on his face. He was the chump on the wanted poster his uncle had given him a few days ago.
"Hm? I wonder what's going on here? Hey, Lua!"
Ladd poked his head into the cabin and made a simple request of his girlfriend.
"Go take someone and check out the conductor's compartment for me, would ya? And if you run into a kid with a tattoo on his face, make sure you catch him, ya hear?"
Lua nodded quietly and headed for the back of the train with one of Ladd's friends.
"Hm…? Things are getting exciting. I hope it just gets even better… or wait! I could make it more interesting!"
Ladd grinned and headed for the dining car, armed with nothing but his own two hands. A bespectacled, eyepatch-wearing woman and a 7-foot tall giant passed by him along the way--they were running quickly, anxiety written over their faces, and overtook Lua in an instant.
"The suspense is killing me! Wonder what that trouble the tattoo kid was talkin' about was all about. This isn't good, I'm getting excited… I'd better let go soon, or I'm gonna lose it…!"
Ladd hummed a familiar tune as he slowly stepped forth towards the dining car, which was by now no doubt overcome by chaos.
"Preparations are complete, Goose. The Beriams are currently in the dining car."
Goose was in the First Class cabin, listening to his subordinate's reports. Currently, they had three members each stationed in Second Class, Third Class, and the freight hold. Everyone else was gathered here.
"Everything is set. Good. Begin the mission in teams of three. I will be on standby here, so do not neglect to maintain regular contact. Anyone who misses his regular reports will be assumed dead." Goose ordered mechanically. It was almost as if his face was using the barest minimum of muscles he needed to speak.
"It's time. The 'conductor' must have begun his mission by now. The train will now continue moving forward, no matter what happens in the cars in the back. Spike. send a message to Second Class and Third Class. Our first priority is to take control over all passengers and cars. We will end this mission by taking control of the locomotive. We must finish things before the trains are switched."
Steam locomotives were legally forbidden from the vicinity of Pennsylvania Station. This was why the Flying Pussyfoot had to be switched out with an electric engine right outside the station. The switching point was to be where they picked up Huey Laforet, and where half of the hostages would lose their lives. They needed to keep the other half alive in order to ensure a safe getaway.
"Men, we shall now commence the operation to rescue Master Huey Laforet."
The orchestra in black stomped their heels onto the floor on command. The sound of the footsteps became a twisted work of art, sharply echoing across the First Class cabin.
"This is a ritual--a ritual to bring Master Huey back into our midst. Do not forget that this train is the altar, and its passengers the sacrifice."
Goose remained expressionless to the end, announcing the advance of the Lemures.
"Pandemonium is upon us. Concepts like Justice or Evil are no longer relevant. We are the ones with power. Once we have rescued Master Huey, this power will finally become justice--that is what we are fighting for. Now, go forth! We shall devour the passengers, this train, and the entire nation!"
The men in black became a collective shadow, scattering towards each car of the train.
The shadows moved forth, armed with machine guns. Three of them headed for a certain car.
A particularly bright light leaked out from a car filled with the chatter of passengers. The shadows ran, intending to bathe the brightness in blood. Their target: The dining car, where Mrs. Beriam was. The door was now just in front of them.
Vicky was excited.
He would fill the dining car with screams.
He had never expected that the honour of starting the commotion would be his.
Dressed in white, Vicky calmly and thankfully accepted the stroke of good fortune that had befallen him.
Perhaps he should just kill someone to reward himself and make a show of what was to come. The couple in the Wild West costume, or the children beside them, maybe? Or the beautiful woman sitting next to them--he then remembered that Ladd had a bit of a fondness for the mother and daughter. But perhaps Ladd wouldn't really mind if he offed the girl? It would be quick and sneaky--Vicky was sure Ladd wouldn't mind.
He looked around the dining car, lost in his mad fantasies. Several people--no doubt curious about his white suit--glanced at him, but it seemed like he was being treated as a normal person in comparison to the likes of Isaac and Miria. They soon returned to their meals as though nothing was wrong.
Speaking of strange people, Vicky remembered the magician they had seen earlier--his absence likely meant that he was in one of the Third Class cabins.
However, there was one person that concerned Vicky. It was the woman in fatigues that sat by the window.
'She's no amateur.'
There was nothing resembling weakness in her expression. When he glanced at her for a moment, the look of wariness in her eyes visibly intensified. In fact, the woman was looking very intently at everyone in the car, not just himself. The moment their eyes met, Vicky felt as though her gaze was piercing right through him.
'Who is this girl? She's being really cautious about something…'
Although Vicky was worried at first, he assured himself hat the woman's wariness had nothing to do with them.
Of course, she would soon be involved in the chaos, whether she liked it or not.
Losing interest, Vicky made his way to the middle of the dining car.
'Let's get this started.'
He silently drew a gun from his coat pocket.
"All right. Let's begin."
The men in black opened the door, guns at the ready.
"Let's do this!"
Nick took out a knife from his pocket and opened the door to the dining car.
Three sets of voices rang out loudly through the dining car. There was no room for error in understanding.
"All of you, on the floor now!" The men in black who barged in through the front door yelled. They were all armed with machine guns.
"Hands in the air, right now!" Yelled the man in white, who stood in the middle of the dining car. In his right hand was a bronze-coloured pistol.
"Everybody freeze!" Yelled the man in ragged clothes, who had entered through the back door. He was holding a single fruit knife.
"Wh-what are we supposed to do…?" One of the passengers asked, covered in cold sweat.
Surprisingly, the first ones to react were Isaac and Miria.
They had the children beside them get onto the floor, then ducked with their hands in the air and froze.
As Ladd walked through the hallways, he heard gunshots coming from the dining car.
"They've already started without me! Ahaha! I hear gunshots, this is great! I can't wait!"
Ladd was so thrilled that he began skipping towards the dining car. Suddenly, he stopped in place.
He heard a series of short, individual shots, followed by a veritable storm of gunfire.
"Hm? Machine guns?"
Ladd's expression hardened for a moment, but he soon smiled and began skipping again. He seemed to be even more excited than before, his movements practically oozing with anticipation.
"That sounds even better!"
When he arrived at the car before the dining car, a young man dressed in ragged clothing ran over. He glanced back at the dining car several times, before running right past Ladd without so much as looking at him.
"What the hell just happened there?! Nice! You never said things would end up like this!" The man yelled, disappearing down the corridor.
"Is it danger? Danger… It's danger! What's going on in the dining car? Am I gonna get to kill people? Are people dying?! Which one is it?! Hey, I'm getting excited! Yesyesyesyesyes!"
Ladd was so enraptured that he found himself running forward without even thinking.
The closer he got to the dining car, the louder the sounds of sobbing and screaming became. Was it heaven or hell that awaited him beyond the door?
He loudly opened the sliding door. Most of the people in the dining car naturally focused their attention on him. Some looked at him with desperation, others with hope, and yet others with eyes full of despair.
In the middle of the dining car was Vicky, lying face-down on the floor. His white suit was dyed red with his own blood.
On the other side of the car were three men holding machine guns. Their outfits told Ladd that they were members of the orchestra.
It seemed that one of them had been shot by Vicky--he was crouched down on the floor, holding his shoulder. The other two were waving around their guns, scaring the screaming passengers so they would not try to escape.
Th trio focused their attention on the man in white who had just entered the car.
It seemed that the doorway had led Ladd to hell.
But for some reason, he grinned.
"Looks like I've got no choice."
Ladd strode forward into the car.
"I'll take a sec and change it into heaven…" He mumbled, and raised his arms into the air. "Hold on a minute! As you can see, I am completely unarmed! I'm not your enemy!"
Of course, the men in black did not let their guard down. Judging from their outfits, the newcomer was a friend of the corpse lying in the middle of the car.
This was why Ladd had a chance.
One of the men in black approached him, pointing a gun in his direction.
"Who are you… who are you people?"
"I won't deny being a suspicious fella, but we're not your enemies."
Another one of the men in black approached Ladd. He was probably planning to restrain him while the other man held Ladd at gunpoint.
The only one at the other end of the dining car was the injured man in black. He held down his shoulder as he carefully watched the passengers, holding his gun in one hand.
The moment the two black suits lined up in front of him, Ladd raised his voice to complain.
"How many times do I have to tell ya? I'm not your enemy!"
By the time he finished his sentence, the black suit's machine gun had been kicked into the air, the barrel pointed at the ceiling.
Ladd's kick had taken the first black suit completely by surprise, not even giving him time to pull the trigger. Ladd then easily took hold of the barrel of the machine gun, and pushed it back over the shoulder of the black suit in front of him--right towards the second black suit, who stood behind his anxious ally.
Naturally, the black suit resisted--but the gun was pushed onto him despite his efforts. The thin barrel pressed down heavily on his shoulder.
With his free hand, Ladd took hold of the stock, having used the black suit's shoulder as a fulcrum to pull it towards him in an instant.
The black suit's finger was pulled away from the trigger. The spot was soon filled by Ladd's finger, which had been holding the stock until just a moment ago.
There was an ear-splitting noise as the upside-down gun began spewing out lead.
The bullets hit the second black suit. His throat, lungs, heart, and his entire upper body was dyed black by the fountain of blood, as his form collapsed into a heap on the floor. At the same time, the volume of the screams in the dining car increased exponentially.
The injured black suit held up his gun, but his ally was standing between him and Ladd. Not only that, Ladd was holding the ally by the throat. The man’s feet lifted off the floor little by little. His face began to turn red, his neck being squeezed by the kind of strength that should not have logically come from someone of Ladd's build.
The black suit kicked and tried to break himself free, but he knew of no techniques to aid him in such close quarters. He tried to stab at Ladd's eyes with his free hand, but Ladd noticed it quickly and countered with his teeth.
Ladd spat out pieces of flesh and blood, and spoke to the injured black suit in the corner.
"What are you gonna do now? Run? Get shot with your buddy here? Kill yourself? Or wanna chat for a bit? How 'bout tea? Or dinner? How's the economy doing? I guess it can't be good, huh? Then what? Reforms? Wanna run for office? How about a war? Kill and be killed? Are you scared? Are you nervous? Or are you angry?" Ladd asked meaninglessly, and giggled. He suddenly stopped, then aimed the gun from behind the man he held up as a human shield,
"At least try and answer one!"
Instead of answering, the injured black suit turned away from Ladd and his ally, leaving the dining car. Ladd did not give chase; instead he threw his human shield to the floor.
"Well, this is getting fun!"
The lone black suit hacked and coughed, then glared at Ladd.
"You were a fool to let my friend get away. I don't know who you bastards are, but you're not gonna get away with turning us against you!"
"You know? The mafiosi I killed always said the same thing. 'Course, none of that matters."
Ladd threw the machine gun to the floor without a care. The passengers sitting nearby screamed softly.
"Don't get cocky!" The black suit got to his feet, taking out a knife hidden in his boot and slashing horizontally. He expected to kill the man in white with this attack, but things were not so easy.
Ladd's head was no longer where he had seen it before attacking.
By the time he noticed that Ladd's hair was just beneath his line of sight, it was too late. A powerful impact struck him in the gut.
"You don't even get a consolation prize!"
The dull pain spread through his stomach as nausea assaulted his senses.
Ladd snickered, having landed an uppercut on the black suit's side. In contrast, the black suit was sweating bullets and moaning.
"B-bastard… that was a… boxing… move…"
The moment he was about to fall to the floor, however, a lightly clenched fist propelled him upwards again.
"Hm? Nothing to worry about. I'm not quite as strong as Pete Herman!"
Just as the black suit began to fall backwards, Ladd grabbed him by the collar and forced him back up.
"I'm no Jack Johnson, and I don't have Jack Dempsey's punches or skills!"
A right hook. The unnatural sound of breaking bone rang out through the dining car.
"Maybe 'Jack' is a good name for boxers, don't ya think?! Well?!"
Several light punches made their way in one direction.
"I just mentioned Herman and Dempsey, but do you even know any of these people I'm talkin' about?! Anyone who calls himself an American should know, am I right?!"
"I dare you to tell me you don't! I'll kill ya!"
"You!" Smack. "Ain't!" Smack. "Getting!" Smack. "Away!" Smack. "With!" Smack. "That!" Smack. "And!" Smack. "Even!" Smack. "If!" Smack. "You!" Smack. "Did!" Smack. "I'd!" Smack. "Still!" Smack. "Kill!" Smack. "You!"
Ladd finished his flurry of punches with an uppercut, knocking his opponent backwards. Although the black suit would have fallen long ago, Ladd had purposely been beating him to keep him standing.
The black suit's head tilted behind him and hit the wall. Right beside him was the door. The continued beatings had driven him all the way to the end of the car.
"Whew! Finally got him to drop that knife. That wasn't nice of ya, pulling a weapon on me like that! I was so scared I ended up beating you to a pulp!"
The black suit had dropped the knife when Ladd first punched him, but Ladd exaggerated his gestures and played innocent.
"Oh? You're still conscious? I guess I really do need some practice. What a shock! What now? Hey! Take responsibility!"
Ladd took the black suit's neck with his hands and pushed him against the wall.
"I knew you wouldn't shoot me on sight. You wanted to see what us white suits were up to, right? That's why you came up to try and capture me, right?"
He then hugged the black suit with all his might.
"Thank you! I love ya, buddy! You did exactly what I expected you to do!"
He rubbed his cheeks against the black suit's face and thanked him, eyes filling with tears.
"You people are so great, you know that?! That's why I told you, I'm not your enemy! I don't care about allies or enemies or anything like that, as long as there's love! See? We're on the same side! I really love you people! But just go ahead and die!"
He then slammed the black suit against the wall.
The black suit, bleeding profusely from the mouth and nose and his eyes rolling back, was still conscious.
"You… stupid… bastard… turning… us… againsguh…"
A fist slammed into his mouth. He could feel something under his skin--likely his teeth--snapping.
"You keep yapping on about this 'we' stuff. Stop fucking around, you shit! I'm gonna kill you!"
"You barbarians… think…. you can stop… Master Huey…"
A fist smashed into his right eye, then his left. His eyes, which had already rolled back into his head before the punches, would never see the light of day again. Of course, he wouldn't even have a chance to confirm the state of his own eyes unless he could get out of this alive.
Ladd suddenly put on a very calm face, then whispered something into the black suit's ear.
"I don't know about you people or this Huey guy, and I don't give a rat's ass about it."
And as the black suit's consciousness faded, Ladd accentuated his words with a punch to his stomach.
"But there is one thing I know. First, the orchestra in black is our enemy. Second, they have a bunch of scary little guns."
Ladd's fists pounded away in rhythm. The strength behind his punches increased with his tone. The targets of his punches slowly rose, going from stomach to chest, and from chest to face.
"And lastly! I bet you're all thinking, 'As long as we're all armed to the teeth, no one can beat us! We're unstoppable and unbeatable! You think you're all safe!"
The black suit's consciousness and life disappeared as he sensed the white suit's voice echoing through the dining car.
Ladd's fists, whether he knew of the victim's death or not, would not stop.
"Well?! Isn't this fun?! Killing people! Jerking out their insides! AND SQUASHING THEM ALL UNTIL THEY SQUELCH AND BURST LIKE GODDAMN SAUSAGES!"
Ladd's fists were what were making the squelching sounds. His punches, becoming ever stronger, smashed apart the black suit's face.
Ladd's face as he bathed himself in the blood shone like that of a man who had just achieved some gargantuan task. To a normal person, however, it was just the insane laughter of a homicidal lunatic. And both were true.
Ladd turned around with a refreshing smile. The entire car gave him their attention. He was sure that they would have all escaped by now, but a quick look at the opposite entrance told him why they remained.
His friends--the men in white--stood at the door, armed with guns and glaring at the passengers.
"Ladd? What's goin' on here?"
"We came running 'cause we heard machine guns. So, what's the fuss?"
There wasn't a hint of seriousness to the men's voices. Ladd waved at his friends and confidently strode through the middle of the dining car. As he passed by the counter, he noticed a woman who was crouched on the floor with her arms wrapped protectively around a pair of children.
"So you're Mrs. Beriam?" Ladd asked.
The woman glared at Ladd defiantly, and slowly nodded.
Ladd's face turned into a grinning mess of an atrocity.
"That's good to hear, but thing is, some of our scheduling got a little messed up. We'll take care of the orchestra first. Then it'll be your turn. See you around."
Ladd rejoined his friends, not forgetting to take the guns dropped by Vicky and the black suits.
"But what about them?" One of his friends asked, gesturing at the passengers.
"Leave 'em. We've got more interesting things to discuss. Let's meet up in the cabin first."
"If you say so, Ladd. But how 'bout your hand? You gonna be all right?"
Blood dripped to the floor from Ladd's hand. The passengers thought it had come from the black suit, but the skin on Ladd's knuckles was torn in places. It was only natural, considering the amount of punching he did without even the most basic of taping. It was practically a miracle that he had come out of it with such minimal injuries.
"Hm? No problem. A coupla dislocated bones, but nothing's broken. I'm still good for now. I feel like I can still beat down at least five more of 'em with my bare hands."
"Just make sure to tape 'em, okay?"
Ladd and his friends quietly left the dining car as if nothing had happened, not even wiping the blood that continued to fall from Ladd's hands.
Silence came upon the dining car. Even the sounds of crying and screaming stopped, the stillness only broken by a pair of oblivious voices.
"How long do you suppose we should stay here like this, Miria? All that gunfire I've been hearing from above us is scaring me!"
"It's a horror show!"
"And you know, I'm getting a bit tired, trying to hold still like this."
"Frankly, it's really tiring!"
Initially, the remaining passengers were silent. As they began to get a grasp of the situation, however, they slowly began to murmur amongst themselves. No one had yet left the dining car, as they had no idea if the black suits or white suits were standing watch outside the doors.
Their anxiety swelled, and the passengers began to direct their fear at the cook and the bartender, who were employees of the railroad company.
"What's going on here?" "Is this supposed to be some sick joke?" "Where's the conductor?!" "Let us off!" "Stop the train!"
Fang and John, unable to counter the passengers, locked themselves in the kitchen. they knew that, as immigrants, it would do them more harm than good to try and defend themselves or talk back.
But there was one person who stubbornly persisted in making unreasonable demands.
"Who is in charge of this dining car?! How dare that yellow ape and filthy Irishman hole up in the kitchens?!"
One of the men, seemingly out of things to complain about, began to direct his verbal attacks at John and Fang. He was a rotund, moustached man who was too vulgar to be flatteringly called "grand" or "plump".
"I paid good money to get on this train! What is the meaning of all this?! I demand a refund!" The man yelled at the hapless young cook. He slammed his fist on the counter.
Suddenly, something was placed on top of his fist. It was a wad of cash made up of exactly a hundred bills.
"Is that good enough for you, you… you bad person?!"
The moustached man looked around. The cowboy and the dancer were staring a hole through him.
"Wh-what are you freaks?"
"If you want a refund, I'll give you a refund! So don't even consider yourself a customer anymore! Right, Miria?"
"Now you're as good as riding without even paying!"
Isaac and Miria complained to the moustached man at the top of their lungs. John and Fang, somewhat surprised by their outburst, poked their heads out from the kitchen.
"Who do you lowlifes think I am-"
The moustached man continued to complain as he reached out to grab the wad of bills.
"Be quiet! You're the one who's talking about 'apes' and 'filth' in a dining car, where everyone's trying to enjoy their meal! I bet you were trying to complain a free meal off these people!"
"You're blinded by money!"
"And if you're blind, go see a doctor!"
The couple persisted with stubbornness rivalling that of the moustached man, throwing another wad of bills in his face.
"Just go disappear somewhere! If you don't, my hundred… no, my billion guns are going to go off at once!"
"We're gonna turn you into a beehive!"
All of a sudden, a voice came out from a corner of the kitchen that was a blind spot to any passengers sitting outside. It was a deep and powerful voice, reminiscent of a gigantic bear.
"John! Fang! You two hear that? That swine's not a passenger or a customer anymore! Get him outta here!"
The moustached man's conceit evaporated the moment he heard the beastly voice from the kitchen.
"All right, boss."
"What a bother…"
Despite his complaints, John assisted Fang in lifting the moustached man by the arms and quickly disappeared through the rear door of the car.
Then, the beastly voice changed to that of a veritable gentleman and made an announcement to the dining car.
"I humbly apologize for the terrible inconvenience that's befallen this car! The head office will not only reimburse you for the cost of the tickets, it will pay you back double. I understand it may not be a sufficient apology, but…"
The voice then went on to reveal the most important point.
"As long as we have lost contact with the conductor's compartment, I advise you to take charge of your own safety until this train arrives at New York. That is all!"
The head chef's final statement was eerily irresponsible, but no one was brave enough to complain. Silence returned to the dining car.
"You filthy immigrants! Let go of me! You'll get your grime all over my clothes!" The moustached man yelled, as he was dragged out into the hallway.
Before leaving the man, however, John crouched down and glared at him. At some point he had obtained an ice pick, which he was now holding in his right hand.
That one look was enough to silence the condescending man. John had once made his living in the seedy underbelly of Chicago society--he was not so easily intimidated.
"Listen up, you moustached pig. Half these rails were made by us Irishmen, working like slaves--we practically were slaves. You know that?"
"And the other half was us Chinese people."
"In other words, half of everything that runs on these tracks belongs to us Irishmen."
"Add in the Chinese, and that makes it all ours."
John's logic was even less sound than that of the moustached man. After all, he hadn't been the one to lay down these tracks, and it was the countrymen who did the work that kicked him out in the first place, leaving him to join Jacuzzi's gang.
"So listen up, you swine. As long as you're here, your life is in our hands."
The duo slapped the moustached man and turned to return to the dining room. The moustached man, getting nervous, pathetically tried to plead with John.
"W-w-w-wait! Stop! The white suits are gonna come this way! Please! Let me back inside!"
"I don't think you'll be that bad off. After all, none of them are filthy apes. But try to come back inside, and you will die."
The door shut mercilessly.
When John and Fang returned, the dining car had regained some semblance of calm. The three corpses were gone, likely moved somewhere by the other cooks. They were all now hard at work wiping the bloodstains from the floors and walls.
As they returned to the counter, John's eyes met those of Isaac and Miria.
"Thank you." He said quietly, but the duo didn't seem to have heard him.
"Oh! Welcome back! Anyway, I guess the head chef here is really really strong!"
"A Legend among Legends!"
Isaac and Miria began to inflate their image of the head chef.
The head chef of the Flying Pussyfoot prioritized his cooking above all else, and refused to leave his station while he was still cooking. There was a rumour that he had once remained at the stove and nursed his food even as a gas explosion occurred right next to him. Of course, the gunfight that had occurred earlier was not nearly enough to distract him from his stew.
"Anyway, that man just now was really horrible! How could he just blame people like that?!"
"He was horrendous!"
"This place isn't filthy at all, and I don't see any monkeys anywhere! How could he be so insulting?"
"He shouldn't insult our intelligence like that!"
John had a thought--was it actually that this couple wasn't defending them, but that they merely didn't understand the moustached man's use of slang?
John broke out into sweat and decided to forget that he had considered the possibility.
"Who are those white suits?" Goose grimaced.
He had heard earlier that a group of men in white suits were in the Second Class cabins, but never had he expected that his men, armed with machine guns, would lose. All he knew about these men in white was the fact that they were a force to be reckoned with.
"Call in anyone who is not currently occupied."
Upon Goose's order, several men left the cabin, and one turned on the telegraph to try and contact the cars in the back.
"Damn it. First Neider, and now this--could this be a test?"
"I don't think this mission's gonna be that easy, Goose." Spike said.
Goose shot a glance at the corner of the cabin, where Chane sat silently with her arms crossed, and said, "You're right. We cannot reach the same heights as Mater Huey by any normal means, after all."
Goose turned his back to Chane and smirked.
"So Ladd, who are those orchestra guys?" One of the men in white asked Ladd.
"A feast. That's all I know, and that's all that matters. Am I right?" Ladd answered, face overflowing with excitement. His friends were confused by this statement.
"Anyway, just kill off anyone you see who's with the orchestra."
Excited murmurs spread through his crowd of friends. Now that Vicky was dead, there were only ten of them left. The Second Class cabin, which was rather large in its own right, was packed to the brim.
In terms of numbers, they were clearly outmatched. But the difference did not matter to them.
"All right! Now we can each take two or three! And they'll all be bastards who seriously think they've got the upper hand!"
The excitement soon gave way to cheer, charging the cabin with restless energy.
"But this isn't even a joke. Other than the ones in the dining car, the only ones in Second Class are us and those black suits."
Inside the cabin next to Ladd's were three corpses. Ladd's friends had taken care of them while Ladd was in the dining car.
The three black suits were Lemures who had come to take over the Second Class cars. They were all killed in different ways, the only common thread linking their deaths being the fact that none of them were killed instantly.
"Anyway, it's dangerous to all gather like this. Let's split up. I'm gonna go tell Lua about the whole plan."
Ladd slammed open the door, armed with a single rifle.
"Meet back here whenever! Come back whenever you feel like you've done your fill!"
There was no dissent. The white suits scattered throughout the train, planning to destroy the black shadows and eat away at the train.
Neither Goose nor Ladd had yet to realized the fact that a monster that outmatched them all was aboard this train.
And the one who knew of this was the most cowardly man on the train.
"What… is this…?"
Jacuzzi's face was white as a sheet. He stood rooted to the floor, unable to so much as twitch.
He had run to the conductor's compartment, gasping for breath. And there, he was greeted by a horrific sight.
"No! No! It can't be! They're… dead? Huh? Please wake up! Please let this all be some horrible joke! Please, Mr. Conductor! You gotta wake up!"
The last car had been dyed red with blood.
Before Jacuzzi lay the mangled corpse of a conductor.
And there was a second corpse lying beside the first.
One of the conductors had been simply murdered.
The other had been badly mutilated. His neck was twisted at an unnatural angle, and his face and right arm were completely gone.
Perhaps they were smashed or bitten off--whatever the case, the mess left behind assured Jacuzzi that this was not the work of a bladed weapon. If it was a blade, it could not have been anything but a serrated saw.
The incandescent light shed an eerie glow on the grotesque scene. Jacuzzi glanced at a puddle of blood in the corner of the cabin.
"It's here. I'm too late. It's already caught up to us…!" Jacuzzi muttered to himself. There were no tears in his tone--was it despair eating away at him, or defeat?
The nauseatingly clear blood shone in the light, looking almost like wine.
Jacuzzi then mumbled the name of the monster--
Back in the dining car, Mrs. Beriam was speaking to her daughter.
"Listen well, Mary. You have to go hide somewhere with Czeslaw. Just stay hidden until tomorrow morning, and your father will save us. Everything will be just fine."
The dining car was surprisingly quiet. The passengers all remained in their seats, a range of expressions on their faces, from despair to hope. Other than the occasional wail, the car was nearly silent.
Of course, no one was in the mood to order any food.
"Now, Czes. You must take care of Mary."
The boy nodded energetically, and left the dining car with the girl's hand in his. He opened the door and carefully looked around.
"Aren't you going to hide?" John asked from behind the counter.
"No, it's better this way. I don't know why, but it looks as though both sides are after me… And if I were to hide, it would cause trouble for everyone else on board." Mrs. Beriam smiled softly.
"I see. then I suppose it might be the safest for you to stay here. And I doubt that even people like them would kill a couple of children."
'Of course, I can't speak for the boxer in the white suit.' John thought to himself, but did not voice his opinion. He was sure that Mrs. Beriam also knew this, which was all the more reason for her to have the children hide away somewhere.
Suddenly, Isaac and Miria raised their voices.
"All right, we're off!"
"We're on our way!"
They simultaneously got off their bar stools.
"Where are you guys going?" Fang asked. Isaac answered without missing a beat.
"We're going to find Jacuzzi, of course!"
"It's dangerous out there!" Fang tried to stop them, but they were undeterred.
"That's exactly why we're going to find them!"
"We're going to rescue them!"
"I don't know what's going on with those black suits, the white suits, and the man with the knife, but I'll fend them off with my guns and run away!"
Isaac thumbed his empty holster and whistled dramatically.
John also backed down. Not only that, the fact that he was acquainted with the man with the knife made it somewhat awkward for him to try and stop the couple.
'Anyway, what in the world was Nick thinking?'
As John tilted his head, Isaac and Miria left through the back door.
At the same time, the front door opened. The passengers screamed simultaneously and fell to the floor.
From beyond the door stepped in the men in black, armed with machine guns.
"Good evening. You're Mrs. Beriam, I take it?" The leader of the men asked Mrs. Beriam. The other men in black were glaring at the other passengers, brandishing their guns.
"My name is Goose. I hope you will understand that we have some business for which we need your husband's cooperation. Please, come this way."
Mrs. Beriam harshly glared at the man called Goose.
"Promise me that you won't hurt any of the other passengers."
"Haha! I'm afraid you're in no position to bargain. Of course, I suppose it's true that the fate of the passengers rides solely on the decision made by your husband and the government."
Goose began to lead away Mrs. Beriam at gunpoint, then realized that someone was missing.
"Where might your daughter be?" He asked with the faintest hints of a frown. Mrs. Beriam looked down and bit her lip. Her hands were tightly clenched into fists.
"Where is she?"
Mrs. Beriam raised her head. There were tears in her eyes, and her lips and palms were bleeding.
"The men in the white suits… they took my daughter away…!"
'Oh, so that's what she's planning.' John thought, and marvelled at Mrs. Beriam's acting skills. She had completely transformed herself from the dignified image she gave off earlier.
"The men in white, you say? Who are they?" The way Goose said 'men in white' was rather contemptuous, but he soon concealed his discontentment.
"I'm not sure. They were also after me, but they took away my daughter first… oh… oh, Mary…"
"You have my sympathies." Goose said, not shaken by Mrs. Beriam's extraordinary acting as he gestured to his subordinate. "But I'm afraid you're going to have to come with us."
Mrs. Beriam left the dining car, held at gunpoint by Goose's men.
"All right. Get into teams of two and take shifts watching this car." Goose ordered.
He turned to leave, but suddenly noticed the sound of wind blowing through the car. He followed the sound to an open window beside one of the tables. It was nothing unusual, but something about it nagged at Goose's intuition. He pointed a gun at the man who sat by the window.
"You. Who opened this window?"
"Aah!" Surprised by the sudden threat, the man made a noise rather like Jacuzzi and yelled. "N-n-no! It wasn't me! I-it was the woman in fatigues!"
"A woman in fatigues?"
"Y-y-yes! When the shootout started, she suddenly opened the window and climbed outside! Really! I'm telling you the truth, please don't shoot me!"
Goose asked no more of the man and looked out the window. Right above him he could see part of the ornamentation on the outer wall, within an arm's reach from the window. There was a line of uneven surfaces along the wall, and it would be possible to climb onto the roof with some effort.
'A woman in fatigues.'
Goose had seen her before, near the freight holds. Who in the world was she?
Goose added her to a mental list of dangerous elements, and left the dining car without a fuss.
At the same time, an underground casino in New York.
"C'mon, Firo! Can't you make the roulettes here a little easier to win?"
"Sorry, but you shouldn't be saying that on another Family's turf, Berga."
Two men were talking in the luxurious and lively casino. One of them was a rugged giant, and the other was a young man.
The giant called Berga was one of the bosses of a tiny New York mafia family, the Gandors. He and his two brothers were the leaders, and the three of them were at once the bosses of the organization.
The young man called Firo was the youngest executive of the Martillo Family, an organization called the Camorra. He was also a friend of Isaac and Miria.
On a related note, because Firo was the manager of this underground casino, it was normally unthinkable for Berga, the boss of another organization, to be here. But Firo and the Gandor brothers had grown up like family in the same apartment. Of course, business was still business and individual loyalties had to be respected.
"Besides, do you even have time to be hanging out here? I heard you guys were nearly at all-out war with the Runoratas." Firo mentioned the name of a mafia family that had recently begun to expand into New York.
"Like you don't know already. I'm here 'cause someone might get attacked on our turf. And I know for a fact that the Runoratas won't touch the Martillo Family."
"Don't get us involved, Berga. Just go home." Firo said, and suddenly raised his right hand and gave a signal.
The very next moment, a group of men surrounded one man who had been on a huge winning streak at the poker table in the corner. One of the men pulled up the lone man's arm.
Several cards fluttered to the floor from his sleeve.
The man was soon dragged away into a small room, despair written all over his face.
"I have to get home soon. I gotta pick up someone at Pennsylvania Station tomorrow, so I really wanna get some rest, you know? Go back before the Runoratas find you here, Berga."
Berga tilted his head.
"What, you too?"
"We're going to Pennsylvania Station tomorrow too. I thought pick-up duty was our job."
"Who're you talking about?"
"Who're you talking about? You said you were going tomorrow!" Berga started getting angry.
"Calm down, Berga. I'm going to pick up Isaac and Miria tomorrow. You saw them at my promotion party last year, remember?" Firo said.
"Huh? Oh. Ohhhhh! What, those idiots?"
"Speak for yourself… anyway, don't make such a scary face. Who're you going to pick up? Gimme a name."
Firo's eyes widened.
"Claire? Claire's coming in?"
"The one and only!"
"I see… This is gonna be good. So Claire's gonna help you out… Then I guess Runorata's gonna be history." Firo mused, driven to predict the Runoratas' defeat at the mere mention of the name.
"'Course, we can't say for sure that we're gonna win."
"What do you mean you're not sure? Who around here doesn't know the name 'Vino'? If you lose with that freelance killer on your side, you don't deserve to call yourselves competent." Firo whispered. It wasn't in good sense to loudly refer to an active assassin by name.
"If there's one thing you can count on Claire for, it's skill. Not even a genius could appear out of nowhere and kill anyone, anytime!"
"Quiet down, you big lug. Then again, Claire's really at the top when it comes to a sense of judgement in fights and athletic skills. You gotta wonder how arms that thin can pull off so much."
It seemed that the name 'Claire' was equated with some concept of 'absolute power' between these two.
"Hey, don't tell me Claire's coming on the Flying Pussyfoot?" Firo asked suddenly.
"Yeah! That's the one! What, so they're on the same train?"
Firo suddenly went silent. He paused for a moment, then raised his head.
"Actually, Maiza says he's going come tomorrow, too." He said hesitantly, mentioning his superior.
"Huh? Maiza's going to pick up those idiots personally?"
"No, not them. Actually, he has another acquaintance who's coming to see him on that train…"
Firo hesitated, then mumbled in a quiet voice.
"An old friend of his. One of the alchemists who became immortal two hundred years ago."
Ladd headed to the conductor's compartment to find Lua. He had to pass through the Third Class car and the freight holds if he wanted to get there, and he was certain that the black suits had taken over Third Class.
He amused himself with fantasies of killing the black suits, when he noticed someone loitering around at the coupling.
Ladd aimed his rifle at the figure and spoke to the man.
"Whoa there! Don't move, buddy. You scared? What're you doing, fiddling around here?"
He then realized that the silhouette was not one of the black suits, but the grey 'magician' he had passed by when he boarded the train.
The magician turned to look at Ladd, and spoke without a hint of fear of the weapon he was faced with.
"Are you not allies of the men in black?"
It was definitely a man's voice.
"Nope." Ladd answered, not lowering the rifle. Was this man an enemy, or an ally?
"I was just on the roof to get some fresh air. But now it seems my cabin’s been taken over."
From his voice Ladd surmised that the man was about forty to fifty years old. He wasn't young, but he didn't sound very old, either.
The couplings on this train had no walls or roofs, only railings to prevent falls. There were steel ladders built into the walls beside the coupling doors, so anyone could climb onto the roofs if they wanted to.
The magician looked up at the night sky with a melancholy expression. Seeing his face, Ladd lowered his rifle.
"Hey. Mister magician. The Second Class cabins are all free. Use any of 'em you like."
The magician then laughed from behind the cloth over his mouth.
"Thank you, my good man. 'Magician', you say? Wonderful. Of course, I suppose that’s not too far removed from my real profession." He said, as he passed by Ladd with a black bag in hand.
"Hm? What's in the bag?"
"Would you like to take a look? I don't believe it will interest you much." The magician turned around and opened it.
Inside were all kinds of medicine bottles, strange apparatuses, and books written in a language Ladd had never seen before.
"You're right. Go ahead… Oh, right! If one of the guys dressed the same as me tries to stop you, tell 'em that Ladd gave you permission. They'll let ya through."
The magician nodded, closed his bag, and entered one of the Second Class cabins.
"Tch." Ladd watched him disappear. "Agh, damn it! What's with that look?! It's like he doesn't care when he dies! It's like he's already dead! I can't deal with guys like that." He complained, then remembered Lua and began heading for the conductor's compartment.
"'Course, if he were a woman, he'd be my type exactly."
He recalled Lua's eyes--dull like those of a dead fish--and looked up at the sky from the coupling.
"The roof, eh? This is gonna get fun."
A First Class cabin.
When Goose and the others returned to their cabin with Mrs. Beriam in tow, they found Spike in front of the telegraph, looking some flavour of uneasy. Goose swallowed the urge to ask him about it immediately, worried that Mrs. Beriam might notice that they were having problems. It was only after she was escorted to another First Class cabin that he spoke to Spike.
"What's going on?"
"Well, there's nothing wrong with the telegraph, but we lost contact with the guys in the freight hold."
Three men had been stationed to keep watch over their remaining equipment in the freight hold.
Goose sent out an order to the freight hold, but no matter how long he waited, there was no response.
"Maybe the bastards in the white suits got 'em." Spike suggested, scratching his head.
"We have no time for guesses, Spike. What we need now is a clear picture of the situation."
Goose gathered together a new group of three to investigate the freight hold, and sent them off.
All of a sudden he realized that Chane was no longer in her corner of the cabin.
"Spike. Where has Chane gone?"
"Oh, looks like she's gone to hunt down some of the white suits. I saw her pick up a couple of weapons on the way out."
Chane the fanatic may have been a member of the Lemures, but she only followed Huey's orders--nothing else. She was only giving her silent cooperation to this mission for the sake of Huey's freedom. Perhaps she even considered Goose and the others as nothing but pawns to achieve her goal.
Goose looked around, making sure that Chane was nowhere within earshot, and revealed the truth to Spike.
"We need to have her do as much of our work as possible. After all, she won't live to see tomorrow afternoon."
A couple walked through the Second Class car. The lights were on, but they were little comfort from the overwhelming darkness of the world outside.
"It's so dark here. I'm getting nervous." Isaac noted feebly.
"It's cold! And scary!" Miria agreed quietly but energetically.
"What? It's all right! I'm not cold or scared! So don't worry and follow me, Miria!" Isaac boasted, doing an about-face.
"Wow! You're so dependable, Isaac!"
No one reacted to their conversation. Only silence enveloped the corridor.
"It's so quiet. It's as if no one's around. I wonder where all the men in white from Second Class went off to?"
"There's only one path all the way down the train!"
"Maybe the Rail Tracer's gotten to them already."
"We'd better hurry… I may be armed, but not even a prizefighter can defeat the Rail Tracer!"
"It's an unbeatable monster! Like Frankenstein and Count Dracula!"
"Miria, Frankenstein is the name of the scientist, not the monster."
"Really? So what's the monster's name?"
"Huh… I think it was… Mary Shelley? I think his full name was Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley."
"You're so smart, Isaac! But isn't 'Mary' a girl's name?"
"There are plenty of men out there with feminine names! Besides, there's no telling what kind of name a monster might have!" Isaac declared triumphantly.
His declaration was answered by the distant sounds of machine gun fire.
"Was that from Third Class?"
"No, it must have been further away! I think it might be the freight hold!"
Suddenly, a man's voice came over the radio in Goose's cabin.
Crackle… [-lp! This is-] crackle…[freight hold-] crackle… [This is the freight hold! Someone please answer!]
There was so much static that Spike scrambled to turn the dials. They normally communicated by telegraph, so the fact that they received a radio transmission could only mean that this was a dire emergency.
"This is Spike. What's the situation?"
[Help! Help! Send backup immediately! The other two are dead! Well, they just disappeared so I can't say for sure, but they're gone! They just disappeared!]
"What?! Who are you going up against?! The white suits?!"
[White suit? N-no! That's not it! That thing can't be human! I-I didn't get a good look at it, but… that thing's a monster! You can't beat… that… thing…]
"Hey! What's going on?! Answer me!"
The voice over the radio grew more and more distant. It seemed that their ally was facing down his foe with his back to the radio.
[No… stay back… no, no, no, no, no… NOOOOOOOOOO!]
The sound of machine gun fire carried through the radio. The sounds came out of the speaker as a jumbled mess of noises, tearing apart the atmosphere of the First Class cabin.
Spike unconsciously put his hands over his ears, but by then the gunshots had ended.
Then, they heard the sound of something being thrown onto the floor, followed by a quiet groan. The groan faded within seconds.
The silence on both ends of the radio weighed heavily on the men in black suits.
The silence was occasionally broken by the sound of something like footsteps walking across a puddle.
Spike and the others were certain that it was no pool of water--it was the blood that had been spilled from the ally they had just been speaking with.
Something was walking over this pool--the thing that had just killed one of them. The being on the other side of the radio, which made its powerful presence known through nothing but sound, became a very real fear in the minds of the terrorists.
"Someone go and call back the men who just left for the freight hold." Goose said gravely, offsetting the stillness.
There was someone other than the men in white who was getting in their way. Goose punched the wall with a scowl.
However, there was something that nagged at Goose--something about the possible identity of the 'monster' on the other end of the radio. Of course, he had no way to be certain.
'That woman in fatigues who disappeared from the dining car…'
Mary Beriam was inside a broom closet in the Second Class washroom, quiet as a mouse.
"I'll go check out the other cars, so hide in here until I get back, Mary. You have to stay here, okay? Don't worry, I'll be right back." Czes had said as he departed. Mary felt as though her heart would burst from terror.
After a while, she suddenly heard a voice from the direction of the corridor--a bright and cheerful voice that did not fit in with the situation at hand. It was Isaac. Having ascertained the identity of the voice, Mary wondered for a moment if she should leave the broom closet.
Suddenly, she heard the distant sounds of machine gun fire. Mary flinched, covered her ears. and crouched down. She was too scared to move. She was so terrified that she couldn't even cry for help.
Isaac's voice soon faded away.
"What in the world happened here?"
"Whoa. Jacuzzi. What's… going on?"
The conductor's compartment had been turned into a veritable slaughterhouse. A pair of familiar voices spoke to the stunned Jacuzzi.
Relief entered Jacuzzi's eyes as he recognized his friends.
"You're all right… I'm so glad you're safe… I was so scared… sniff… What a relief…"
"Me and Donny, anyway."
"Huh? Then what about Nick and Jack?"
Nice worriedly bowed her head.
"They got caught. Remember the orchestra in black? They're probably train robbers too."
"Jack got caught… The people in white got caught… Nick got caught, too."
Nice explained the situation: First, Jack had gone into the freight hold, saying that he would tie up the watchmen.
The orchestra was using the first of the three freight cars, which meant that the loot that Jacuzzi's gang was after would be in either the second or third car.
Nice and Donny waited for Jack in the second freight car, but Jack did not return.
They left to see what had happened, when they suddenly saw a bound Jack leaving the freight hold. Men in black appeared from behind him, armed with machine guns.
"Jack and the man were coming in our direction, so we hid in the corner. They threw Jack into the hold in the second freight car."
"Two guys. With machine guns. Came out into hall. A man and woman in white came… and got caught. Nick came at the end, and got caught. That's all."
"D-don't end it like that! So what happened?! Are Jack and Nick all right?"
"Calm down. One of the three men are watching all the hostages right now. That means they're still alive, so they should still be safe."
At first, Nice and Donny worried that Jacuzzi had also been caught. They stayed put for a while to see what they could do, then determined that the men in black had no intention of budging from their stations. They then decided to check the conductor's compartment.
"And that's how we got here to find you in this mess. What happened here, Jacuzzi? Don't worry. We know you didn't do it."
"Th-thank you, Nice… B-but, this is terrible! The Rail Tracer! The Rail Tracer is here! We have to get away from here or it's gonna get us, too! Quick! We gotta save Nick and Jack and make a run-"
Suddenly, they heard the distant sounds of machine gun fire.
Nice's lone eye widened from under her glasses.
"Wh-what's happening? What was that gunfire just now? What were they shooting?! Who died? Huh?!"
What could these sounds have meant? All kinds of possibilities made themselves known to Jacuzzi's imagination, compelling him to draw all kinds of conclusions.
"Sniff… aaah… Niiice… Donny…"
His brain was urging him to get away--to leave this train as soon as possible. But his heart was racing towards a different conclusion.
Jacuzzi could picture the faces of John and Fang. He remembered Isaac, Miria, Czes, the Beriam family, and the faces of the people he had seen in passing in the dining car. Overlapping with these images he saw the corpses of the conductors lying on the floor before him.
Before he knew it, Jacuzzi had swallowed his thoughts of escape and come to a different decision.
"We'll do everything we can to get those black suits and the Rail Tracer off this train… Sniff… Huh? Wh-what am I saying? No, no, we should be running away, but… but…"
They were a group of incurable delinquents. They bootlegged liquor and killed people--which was not excused by the fact that the men they killed were mafiosi. They were already irredeemable criminals, and all of this was his own fault.
But Jacuzzi had always acted out of what he thought to be the best of intentions. He believed that the Prohibition against liquor was wrong, and he did not like the fact that the mafia abused this system in order to make fortunes and commit murders left and right. This was why he had determined to personally make delicious, affordable liquor to sell to people.
Before he knew it, he was surrounded by a group of delinquents who called him their leader.
When his friends were killed, he fiercely fought back against the Russo Family. And the other night, though he did not intend to do so, he ended up avenging the deaths of his friends.
Jacuzzi was aboard this train in order to steal a certain cargo from the Flying Pussyfoot. This cargo, which Nice also wanted, was safe to sell as long as the insides were discarded. Not only that, it was dangerous to let the cargo arrive in New York.
If it were to reach its destination, the cargo would likely cause the deaths of many people. Jacuzzi could not stand by and let this happen. He knew that he was being a hopeless hypocrite, but he was afraid that allowing this to happen would make him a worthless human being.
And now he planned on dragging his friends into an even greater act of hypocrisy.
He wanted to save the passengers. It was a childishly foolish thought for the leader of a group, who should be looking out for his subordinates above all else.
But he knew very well that Nice and Donny would agree with a smile. The idea of abusing their trust made him nauseous, but Jacuzzi did not hesitate.
He was already a criminal who had broken the law and killed people. What more would he have to lose through a few more acts of hypocrisy?
He was done making excuses. Jacuzzi knew better than anyone that no one would accept such flimsy pretences, so this was why the excuse was directed towards himself. He knew it was a selfish thought, but he didn't care.
In the end, he was still a criminal.
After a moment of silence, he made his decision known. How much courage had it taken him to express in words something that a so-called "Warrior of Justice" would be able to say without even a blink of the eye? Tears were flowing down his face, but there wasn't so much as a hint of fear in Jacuzzi's eyes.
"We'll beat them ourselves. Both the black suits and the Rail Tracer."
The reluctance disappeared from Jacuzzi's expression. His sharp eyes became a perfect match for the tattoo on his face.
He waited for Nice and Donny to nod, then left the blood-covered cabin.
His demonic, tattoo-covered face was covered in warm tears.
Mary was frozen still in the broom closet.
Some time had passed, but there was still no sign of Czes's return.
Perhaps he had already been caught.
Her fear ballooned in the pitch-black darkness as tears ran down her cheeks.
Soon, she heard the sounds of footsteps approaching from the hallways. Could it be Czes, or Isaac?
Mary tried to put her ear against the wall to listen more closely, but accidentally knocked over a mop in the process.
The small but distinctive noise rang out through the closet.
The sound was so clear that Mary thought her heart would burst.
'Please don't let that person have heard the noise…'
Her wish, however, went unheard. The footsteps stopped.
Soon, she heard the washroom door open. The person likely couldn't tell exactly where the noise had come from. This ruled out the possibility that it was Czes.
Fear welled up in her heart. Tears overflowed from her eyes, and Mary wanted nothing more than to be able to run away screaming.
She buried such thoughts and desperately put everything she had into keeping herself quiet. She remembered her mother's face and waited for time to pass.
But time eventually brought her to a cruel fate.
The footsteps in front of the washroom slowly approached in her direction, and stopped right in front of the closet.
There was no locking mechanism of any sort on the closet door. A simple turn of the doorknob would deprive Mary of her shield.
But the door had yet to open.
'I'm all right. I'm all right. Besides, it might be Mr. Isaac. It might be Mr. Jacuzzi. Or it could be mama… maybe it's mama. It just has to be. mama's here to pick me up. please, mama… mama…'
In Mary's mind, the person on the other side of the door could be no one but her own mother. Despair gave way to hope, and she could no longer picture any other situation.
The door slowly opened.
Mary wanted to cry for her mother and leap out of the broom closet, but she could not do so.
The hand that appeared between the door and the frame belonged to a man. Following the large hand Mary could see a snow-white sleeve.
Mary's constructed fantasies began to collapse. The sound of destruction gave way to her screaming.
But her mouth was then covered by the hand of a man in white.
The droopy-eyed man grinned maniacally as he threw open the door.
"Don't scream now, haha! I feel a bit bad for Ladd, but I guess I’ll be taking the girl!"
Mary resisted with all her might, but the man in white was stronger than most other adults. Mary desperately tried to break free regardless.
"Stop struggling! Ahaha! I'll drop you out the window before Ladd catches me!"
He tried to drag her out of the broom closet.
"I'm not like Ladd! I only like picking off people who're weaker than me! Hehehehe…Hee-!"
The man's laughter suddenly stopped. He froze still for a moment, and Mary felt his grip loosen. She took the chance to push him forward--the man fell to the floor without resistance.
A pool of red spread over the corridor as the body lay spread-eagle before Mary. She slowly looked up, oblivious to what had just happened.
There was a woman standing there.
"Eek!" Mary screamed softly.
The woman was wearing a black dress. She held a knife, blood dripping from the blade.
But that was not what Mary was afraid of. she had caught sight of an inexplicable, terrifying glint in the woman's eyes.
Mary ended up looking directly into the deep, pristine eyes of Chane, the woman in the black dress.
Unfortunately, Mary found herself calling out a completely different name. In her current state, she could not see Chane's appearance as anything but that of a certain monster.
"The… The Rail Tracer…"
"Okay. First, we'll take care of the guards. I'll lure ‘em out, so you two have to jump him as soon as he walks out the door.”
"Yeah. Leave. To us."
They were in the corridor outside the freight hold where Jack and Nick were being held. Jacuzzi knocked on the door.
If Nice and Donny had seen correctly, there should only be one man guarding the hold. Jacuzzi took two steps back from the door and waited, leaning against the window.
But no matter how long he waited, there was no response. Perhaps they needed a password of some sort? Jacuzzi walked up to the door and knocked again. There was still no answer.
Jacuzzi then took a deep breath and took hold of the doorknob. The door squeaked open rather easily.
The cargo hold was dimly lit. There were two silhouettes in the corner. One of them was crouched down as if in pain, and the other was glaring in the direction of the door, bound in ropes.
"Huh? Jacuzzi, 'that you?"
"Nick? I'm so glad you're safe-"
Jacuzzi's joy soon turned to worry. He noticed that Jack, crouched down beside Nick, was sporting a bloodied face.
"Don't worry. It's not gonna kill him." Nick bowed his head angrily.
"How could I not worry?! What happened to you guys?"
"That's what I wanna know. Setting aside those black suits, what's up with that lunatic in the white suit?"
Nick explained what had happened to him after he was caught by the black suits.
When he was dragged into the freight hold, he noticed that several people had been brought there before him.
"Whoa, they got you too, Nick?"
One of the three restrained people was his friend Jack. The other two were a man and a woman, both dressed in white.
The people in white would not speak, no matter how much he tried to talk to them. Nick gave up on them and tried to talk to Jack, but relented when he noticed that the guard, armed with a machine gun, was keeping a close eye on them.
When some time had passed, the guard opened the door and went outside. He had probably gone to switch shifts with one of his allies.
Quite some time had passed, but no one came inside. Nick and Jack struggled to untie themselves in the meantime, when the door suddenly slammed open.
When they looked up in confusion, they saw a man dressed in white. Or rather, he was dressed in a white suit with red speckles all over his clothing.
"Thank you! Fuck you! The star is here!" The man yelled unashamedly. He struck a strange pose as he stepped into the room and did a pirouette.
"Hm? What's this? What's this? There's no guards, no nothin'! What a bore! But anyway, I'm so glad you're all right, Luaaaaa!"
"You weren't worried about me at all?" The bound white suit spoke for the first time. Meanwhile, the woman mumbled, "Thank you" almost inaudibly.
Nick and Jack grinned to each other, relieved at this stroke of good fortune. However, the man in white only untied the other white suit and the woman and tried to leave.
"H-hey! Aren't you gonna untie us, too, buddy?"
The man turned towards Nick and Jack with a look of confusion.
"Hm? Why should I do that? What good is it for me if I untie you? You gonna do something for me? If you were a woman, I'd ask for a kiss! But you're a couple of guys! Why don't you just die like this? Maybe if you died, a couple of women are gonna be born into the world instead! So just die, all right? Because that's your fate. And if you try to cross destiny, you die!"
The man spun around in place and poked them mercilessly. Jack, red-faced with anger, was provoked into raising his voice.
"Shut your trap, you son-of-a-bitch! Untie us now!"
The excited men didn't even try to retort, as he giddily stepped towards the exit with his friends.
"Hold up there, you piece of shit! I'm not done talkin' to ya!"
"Stop it, Jack, let's just try and untie ourselves."
It was at that very moment--the moment Nick called Jack's name--that a face poked in through the freight hold door. It was the strange man who had stepped out just now.
"Hm? What's this? Did I just hear the name ‘Jack’?"
He skipped over and quickly untied Jack.
"What're you up to?" Nick asked, but the man was only looking at Jack.
"So your name's Jack, huh? This is interesting! It's finally time to see if everyone named Jack is good at boxing or not! Start!"
Just as the man verbally announced the beginning of the match, he thrust his fist deep into Jack's face.
"It was real bad afterwards. He just kept beatin' on Jack the whole time… then we heard gunshots from the car in front of this one, and he finally stopped."
Upon hearing the gunfire, the man in the speckled white suit twisted his face into a grin and ran off towards the sound of gunshots.
"Jack might've died if he hadn't stopped." Nick mumbled. Jacuzzi checked on Jack's face again.
He was breathing with some difficulty, and his his face was so swollen that it was impossible to even tell what colour his eyes were.
Jacuzzi narrowed his eyes and clenched his fists. Nick took a step away from him and whispered to Nice and Donny, "Hey. Don't tell me Jacuzzi's gettin' serious?"
Nice nodded. "Yes. I haven't seen him like this since the Russo family killed eight of our guys." She whispered.
"That was a pretty big ruckus."
"He knocked over eighteen Russo speakos in one day. And he was crying the whole way through."
This was what made Jacuzzi's face known, leading to the spread of his wanted posters among the Russo Family. He had only returned to his cowardly old self after the funerals of their murdered friends.
They had been unable to find proper graves for them, so they dug up an empty plot of land in a graveyard. It was a better end, at least, than having to bury them under the floorboards as people did in the slums. Several days later, they dragged over a priest they were acquainted with to hold a simple funeral for their friends. It was only afterwards that Jacuzzi finally seemed to have regained his fear, apologizing to his friends with his head bowed.
"He doesn't look as angry as before, but did something happen?"
"Well… I'll explain later."
Jacuzzi had already stepped outside, so there was no time to chitchat. Nick was supporting Jack on his shoulders, not caring that his clothes were getting soaked with blood.
"Whoa. I'll. Carry Jack."
Donny took Jack instead, and the delinquents left the freight hold.
Jacuzzi then noticed that the width of the freight hold was much too narrow to match the length of the car. He also noticed that the colour of the back wall was slightly different from that of the floor and ceilings.
He was now certain that their target was hidden within these walls.
"What's up, Jacuzzi?"
"I-it's nothing, Nice. Let's go."
Jacuzzi did not make his realization known--after all, they still had time left, and they had another job to do right now.
But he also knew that, depending on the circumstances, he might eventually have to come back for this secret cargo--the large quantity of a new model of explosives, and the bombs that were refined from them.
"How 'bout this? What do you think? Isn't it gorgeous? Exciting, isn't it? Oh, what the hell? Damn it! I shoulda just walked in normally instead of walking across the roof!"
Ladd was dancing in the corridor in front of the door of the first of the three freight cars.
Lua's dark eyes dimmed even more. She was looking directly into the freight hold, beyond the open door.
Suddenly, they heard a yell from the end of the corridor.
"There! I see 'em!"
Nice and Jacuzzi tried to stop Nick from shouting, but it was too late. Nice and Jacuzzi braced themselves, but the white suits were merely looking in their direction, nothing more.
"What about the black suits?"
Jacuzzi and the others cautiously walked up towards the men in white. He was planning to ask them why they hurt Jack, and depending on the answer, he would even resort to violence.
But Ladd's words stopped their plans in their tracks.
"Hey there! So lil’ Jack was with you guys? Is that loser who tried to fight a machine gun with a towel still alive, Jacuzzi Splot?" He asked as soon as he caught sight of Jacuzzi.
"?!" Jacuzzi was shocked. How did this man know his name?
"Hm? Where are my manners? My name's Ladd Russo. And that should tell you exactly how I know your name. And if that doesn't tip you off, you're a total idiot, but I guess that's pretty fun in its own way, too!"
Jacuzzi and the others tensed. They didn't know how this man was connected to the don, Placido, but there was no doubt about his affiliation to their enemy.
"What, so you recognize me? That's too bad. I was hoping for some excitement. Ah, well. So why're you on this train, anyway? What makes you think you're good enough for this place? We're gonna take over the damn thing, y'know? We're gonna kill 'bout half of the passengers--or maybe all of 'em! If you don't wanna get killed by us, just jump off and die! Don't get in our way!" Ladd argued, gesturing as if shooing away a dog.
Jacuzzi was interrupted before he could even speak by a sudden, clear sound.
The sound had happened just as Ladd gesticulated to shoo Jacuzzi away.
The waves spreading under Ladd's foot explained everything about the sound.
A pool of red liquid oozed ou from inside the freight hold. It was identical to the scene from inside the conductor's compartment.
"You curious 'bout this room? Why don't ya come take a look? If you've got the guts to do it, anyway." Ladd snickered, trying to provoke Jacuzzi. But Jacuzzi's gang stayed put.
"Cautious, aren't ya? They say that being cautious and cowardly are two different things, but doesn't being cautious mean that you're a coward, too? Which one are you?" Ladd laughed. Jacuzzi glared back coldly.
"We don't have time to face you guys right now. But I'll make sure you pay for this later."
"Pretty daring, ain't ya, Little Crybaby? You're completely different from before. The conductor bully you around before you got here?"
"The conductors are both dead. It wasn't you guys, was it?" Jacuzzi asked.
Ladd and the others visibly reacted.
"They're dead? Both of 'em?"
"Both? There wasn't anyone else there?"
Jacuzzi frowned. Why was Ladd being so particular about this point?
"Let's go… we're off to the conductor's compartment." Ladd said to his two friends, and walked over in Jacuzzi’s direction.
Jacuzzi and the others tensed. Nick took out his knife, and Nice took out a small bomb and a zippo lighter. But Ladd put his hands in his pockets and passed right by them with disinterest plastered over his eyes.
"You're in luck. I don't have time for you right now."
Ladd's excitement had faded. His tone almost sounded anxious.
The moment Ladd's gang passed them by completely, Nick spoke up.
"Hey, Jacuzzi. Can we just let 'em go like that?"
"Yeah. It's all right. We have other business to take care of first."
Jacuzzi had trouble believing that Ladd would really follow up with his threat to kill all the passengers, and decided to prioritize the defeat of the orchestra in black and the Rail Tracer.
The bloody freight hold in front of them also concerned Jacuzzi.
Just as he stepped in front of the door, however, Ladd yelled at them from the other end of the car, just about to step out onto the coupling.
"And just to let you know, we're not the ones responsible for that mess!"
Jacuzzi wordlessly turned around and stepped onto the bloodstained carpet. He turned to look upon the sight.
Initially, Nick thought that a cask of wine had been spilled in the freight hold.
Jacuzzi and the others, meanwhile, had seen a very similar sight in the conductor's compartment. They had no such trouble in recognizing the scene.
The room was drenched in blood. The incandescent light reflecting off the pools of red gave off an eerie gleam, making the blood on the floor seem almost warm. But the warmth instantly turned to fear as they looked upon the object in the middle of the room.
The thing lying in the middle of the room was wearing a black tuxedo.
It was easy to tell that it was no longer a person, but an object--something other than the massive amounts of blood was enough to tell them so.
The black suit's corpse was missing its entire lower body.
The incision could by no means be called clean. In fact, it looked more like the man had literally been torn in two. Nick remained silent for a moment, then made a dash for the corridor window.
They heard the window opening and the sound of intense vomiting. Jacuzzi and Donny looked upon the corpse, and Nice's lone eye carefully assessed their surroundings. The orchestra's cargo was stacked up in huge piles on either side of the room, and several of the containers were open. A strange machine was placed atop one of the boxes, but it was impossible to tell what it was used for.
The moment Nice looked up, however, her eye stopped in place.
Jacuzzi, with Nice's prodding looked around. Nice's eye was fixated on the ceiling.
Jacuzzi looked up in turn, and flinched.
On the ceiling was a bloodstain that was nothing in comparison to the terror on the floor. The problem was, however, the fact that such a large amount of blood got onto the ceiling in the first place.
It would not have been possible for a corpse to spurt out that kind of blood from the floor.
Tears were running down Jacuzzi’s face, but he no longer feared the Rail Tracer. Even still, he found himself even more on edge by the sight of the things this monster was capable of.
The bloodstained ceiling was not the only curiosity about this room.
There was a large sliding door on the other side of the room, used to hoist cargo onto the train directly from the platforms. It was currently half-open.
The scenery outside the door was bathed in darkness, looking as if there was a great gaping hole in the wall.
The train was currently passing through a forest, and the dim moonlight lent an eerie glow to the trees they passed, giving them the look of hands gesturing towards the hole.
Even more strangely, they found footprints on the floor.
Not the entire floor had been covered in blood. There were parts of the floor that retained their original colour, upon part of which were a set of red footprints.
Initially Jacuzzi thought that Ladd and the others might have wandered around the room, but soon discarded the thought.
The footprints clearly led in one direction.
After wandering all over the room, the owner of the footprints left this room without a care, through the door that led to the dark outside world.
Nick had finally regained some sense of calm, having thrown up the contents of his stomach.
The moment he was about to turn to his friends, however, he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. He had spotted something red beyond the door that led to the coupling at the front of the car.
"Hey, guys? C’mere for a sec."
Jacuzzi and the others could tell from Nick's anxious tone and his pale face that something was wrong.
They carefully stepped out into the hallway and found Nick covered in cold sweat.
"I think there's something over there, near the coupling up ahead."
Jacuzzi and the others were suddenly overcome by an eerie sensation. They had felt as though they were being watched by something from the very coupling that Nick had pointed towards.
"We'll look out on the count of three… One, two, three!"
Everyone but Jack, who was on Donny's shoulder, looked over at the coupling.
And they caught sight of it--the sight of a red creature moving from the coupling to the side of the train.
The thing had moved out of their sight. It was too quick for Jacuzzi's gang to make out its shape, but they were now sure that a red 'something' was wandering the train.
Jacuzzi and the others cautiously stepped out into the coupling, but they could no longer see anything.
They still did not see it, even in the car right before the Third Class car.
"Maybe it climbed onto the roof."
Jacuzzi's gang looked at one another and nodded, then climbed onto the roof of the car.
"You can't climb up here with Jack, so go through the hallway, Donny. Watch out for those black suits, all right?"
"Right. Leave. To me."
Donny nodded, then stepped towards the corridor.
"Wait for us at the next coupling, okay, Donny?" Jacuzzi said from the roof, as he began to move forward against the powerful winds.
What could those gunshots have been?
Isaac and Miria carefully made their way through the corridors.
There was only one Third Class car on this train. And a huge silhouette stood before the duo, who had opened the door to enter the car.
It was a brown-skinned giant of a man, with a bloodied young man slung over his shoulder.
Donny strode along the hallway of the Third Class car. Things had been fine so far, but he could not let his guard down.
The moment he arrived at the door to the coupling, however, the door opened.
Before him appeared a man dressed like a gunman and a woman dressed like a dancer.
The woman's dress was bright red, almost as if it had been dyed in blood.
An uncomfortable silence enveloped the man and the duo as they faced one another.
Isaac slowly shut the door.
"Wh-wh-wh-what was that?! C-could he have been the Rail Tracer?!"
"Eeeek! We're gonna disappear!"
"Whoa. A r-red dress. That woman… Rail Tracer?"
Three people, separated by a single door, broke out into cold sweat. Silence enveloped them the moment they heard one another's voices. Only the sound of the moving train and the whistling of the wind made its way to the rattling door.
Isaac finally took a deep breath and spoke tentatively.
"Please answer us!"
They heard a very deep voice responding to Miria's call. It must have come from the giant they had just run into.
"Um… The Rail-! I, uh, mean, are you, by any chance, the Rail Tracer?"
"A monster! …I mean, are you a monster?"
"Gah… Aren't you… Rail Tracer?"
"Hey, Miria, are you the Rail Tracer?"
"Nope! Probably not!"
"All right then! I trust you, Miria! Hey there, I asked her, and I don't think she is!"
"Yay! Isaac believes in me!"
They heard a sigh of relief from the other side of the door.
"Um, so, you're not the Rail Tracer?"
"Then what about the man on your shoulder?"
"Are you going to eat him?"
"No. This guy… My friend. Hurt. I carrying… helping him."
Isaac and Miria finally opened the door, their tone doing a 180.
"So you weren't a monster after all! I almost ended up paying homage to you! I'm sorry!"
"You weren't a monster!"
"You're a good guy who's thinking of his friend!"
"Uh… You… Who?"
Donny finally seemed to have lowered his guard as well, speaking to Isaac and Miria in an embarrassed tone.
"Me and Miria? Hm. We may just look like Miria and an ordinary gunman, but in reality, we're Isaac and Miria!"
"Hm…?" Donny was confused. "Wh-what… you doing?"
"We're looking for our friends."
"See, we have to find our friends before they get gobbled up by the Rail Tracer!"
Donny was now convinced that these two were not his enemies. He also realized that the story of the Rail Tracer was more ubiquitous than he initially believed.
Of course, he had no way of knowing that the duo was the cause of the whole Rail Tracer fiasco. Not only that, he had no idea that the friend they were looking for happened to be his leader.
"I get. You. Good people."
A shadow was cast over Isaac's face.
"A good person, huh? I'm afraid that's a huge misunderstanding. But I hope that we'll be able to earn that title properly one day."
"That's why we're trying to do good things! Even if the rest of the world doesn't acknowledge us, we'll keep doing good things until we're satisfied! We've done bad things before, but we're going to make up for it!"
Donny found himself inexplicable embarrassed by Miria's smile, which starkly contrasted Isaac's expression. He didn't understand what they were talking about, but Donny was certain that they were good people.
"I hope… you find. Friend. Soon."
"Thank you! I hope that friend of yours on your shoulder gets better soon!"
"A bowl of grandma's chicken soup should do the trick!"
With that, the duo set off for the cars further back.
"Uh. White suits. Dangerous! Stay away." Donny yelled after them. The couple waved and thanked him,
Donny waved back and said goodbye to them, then stepped out onto the coupling and quietly waited for Jacuzzi and the others.
Meanwhile, in a cabin just one door away from the hallway where Donny ran into Isaac and Miria--
"Hey. You hear something?" A man in white--one of Ladd's friends--asked.
The game of murder had already come to end in this Third Class cabin.
Five people were in the room, with three of them on the floor. One person was kneeling before the men on the floor, and the last man was standing by the door.
The kneeling man looked down at the three still silhouettes and began laughing hysterically.
The ones that still moved were dressed in white.
The ones that lay on the floor were dressed in black.
"Hey, you listenin' to me?"
"Hyaahahahahaha! Ahahahahaha! Hahahaha!"
"Hey, you and boss Ladd might get a kick outta killing people, but I'm in it for the cash. I need my pay, so please try and watch out…"
The two had eliminated the black suits, and were now taking a breather in the cabin. Perhaps they were still reeling from the excitement of the kill.
The man by the door, sick of his ally's endless guffawing, put his ear to the door.
He could vaguely hear a cheerful woman's voice and a couple of male voices.
"Hey, shut the hell up!" He yelled, without even looking at the other man.
"Hahahahaha! Ahahaha! Aha-!"
The laughter suddenly stopped.
The white suit did not give the silence much thought as he did his best to concentrate on the voices outside the door.
The male and female voices grew distant. They were likely headed for the cars further back.
"Hey. Let's get goin'."
He put his hand on the doorknob, but heard no response.
He turned around, and went silent.
His ally was no longer there.
The Third Class cabin was by no means small, but it was a very empty space. There was no place for anyone to hide anywhere.
"Hey! Where the hell are you?"
He looked around for his ally, but received no answers or responses.
One thing, however, nagged at him--the wide-open window. He was certain that, up until just a little while ago, the window had been shut.
The uselessly large window was wide enough that a grown man could enter and exit through it with ease.
"Huh… did he fall off the train?"
The white suite tentatively stepped towards the window.
But the moment he raised his leg to step over one of the corpses, 'it' appeared from the window.
A dark red silhouette lunged through the darkness and entered the cabin.
And some time passed.
No silhouettes remained in this cabin.
White suits and black suits alike had been erased completely.
"Sorry we're late, Donny. The roof was harder to walk across than I thought. We almost even ended up crawling across."
Jacuzzi and the others climbed down onto the coupling.
"Jacuzzi. All right?" Donny asked.
"Yeah. The roof was totally clear. No Rail Tracer, no nothing. It was a bit scary, since we had to see by moonlight, but we didn't se any red shadow anywhere."
Continued in Part 2.
Continued in Part 2.