Nice Has An Idea For Furthering Chane's Cultural Education
Jacuzzi leaned back against the wall, studying the cheaply printed advertisement he'd picked up earlier. "Hey, Nick, you ever been to Coney Island?"
"Aw, yeah! Ma took us when it got real hot so we could all cool off at the beach, back before we moved to Chicago. When we had a spare couple a nickels, anyway. It was great."
Jacuzzi smiled down at the paper. "Maybe it'll get real hot this summer and we can go sometime. We got some dough now. I saw it on a newsreel once, and it looked real fun."
Nick laughed, with a glance over at Nice sitting backwards in the room's only chair. It was a delicate, expensive thing, and looked even more delicate with a scarred one-eyed girl resting folded arms across the back. "Yeah, boss, that Hollywood guy sure loved your explosives. We're almost earning an honest living!"
Nice snickered. "I wouldn't go that far." She looked pleased, though, despite her words. "We still got the bootlegging."
"Donny, you ever been to Coney Island?"
Donny shook his head. "Nope. Heard about it, though."
Chane listened silently from her chair in the corner, hands folded.
Nice glanced at her, brow furrowing behind the frames of her glasses. "Chane, you ain't been either, have you?"
Jacuzzi's eyes widened. "Aw, yeah, Chane! You gotta know about it, though, right? I mean, not that I'm tryin' to say it's bad if you don't! You can know about whatever you want! I just mean -- it's Coney Island, that's all."
Chane shook her head slightly. The group gasped in ragged unison.
"...Okay," said Nice firmly, after a second. "It's pretty warm today, yeah? I think we should go. It'll be fun. We ain't had an outing in ages, and it's nobody's territory we need to worry about. Show Chane what she's been missing, huh?"
Two Of The Russo Family's Employees Combine Business And Recreation
"Hey Joey, you have any problems with that Thackery punk?"
Joey Fiore shook his head, and grabbed another dart from the collection on the table. "Nah." He took aim, squinted, and threw; the dart thudded into the outer ring of the dartboard, and Joey grimaced. "He was holdin' out on me for a bit, but I gave him a good working over, and he about pissed himself promising to pay us back. Told him I'd be back in two days."
"Heh." Gino Ferrara snagged a dart himself, and a slug of cheap whisky with it. "We'll get the goods, then."
"Goddamn better. I'm sick of losing sellers to that Splot kid."
Gino grunted. "Damn brats holing up on Millionaire Row. Wonder how they got such an in with the Genoards? Wasn't that family all tight with the Runoratas?"
Joey flung another dart, with equal lack of success. "That was the last generation. Eve Genoard's got some connection with the Gandors, but mostly she's keeping her pretty little hands clean."
"Not with Splot in her spare penthouse she ain't."
Joey grimaced agreement. "Yeah, well. Nobody's pinning anything detailed on her, anyhow."
"And we still can't get at those brats without causing a ruckus on Runorata territory. Shit! If they'd just blunder into our territory once, I'd show 'em what happens to people who mess with the Russo family." Gino took another moody swig of whisky.
"Speakin' of Jacuzzi Splot, is Freddie scopin' out that penthouse joint again today?"
"Nah, Freddie's off with his baby cousins. Boss could send Mike."
"Yeah, we'll see." Joey shrugged, and stole the whisky bottle to refill his own glass. "Geez, Freddie's turning into a real family man, ain't he?"
"I hear that little cousin of his is gonna be asked to join as a picciotto pretty soon. Takes after his daddy." Gino snorted.
"All fists, no brains?"
"You got it."
Isaac And Miria Embark On An Ambitious Enterprise Via Public Transit
On the subway, passengers cast uncertain glances at the pajama-clad couple in their midst.
"Remember, Miria!" Isaac hunched down, Miria mirroring the motion beside him. Their nightcaps bobbed. "We must be totally inconspicuous!"
Miria put a finger to her lips and peered suspiciously around the car. "Totally inconspicuous!"
"That way, no one will suspect us of making plans for a great robbery!"
"Our greatest ever! But Isaac, how will we carry off a whole island?"
"Don't worry, my dear! It's very simple when you think about it. You see... uh... an island is something like a boat, in that it's surrounded by sea. All we have to do is row it away!"
Miria flung her arms wide in jubilation. (The woman on her other side ducked hastily.) "Wow, Isaac, you're so smart! No one's ever stolen an island before!"
Arriving At Their Destination, Jacuzzi's Gang Is Satisfied
"Welcome to Coney Island, Chane!" Jacuzzi spread his arms, beaming. A moment later he dropped them, half-turning to regard Chane with worried eyes. "You think it's okay, right?" His voice cracked upwards in preemptive dismay. "I know it's maybe not your thing... It's okay if it isn't! But I don't mean to imply it isn't!" He waved his hands in hurried apology, his eyes glittering with what looked suspiciously like impending tears. "It's just that I know you're probably not used to big crowds, but this probably isn't really very crowded for Coney Island since it's just May and all, but--"
Chane brushed pale fingertips over the knife concealed in her dress, and glanced at Jacuzzi. He brightened again, reassured.
"C'mon," said Nice. "Let's go get somethin' to eat. Chane, you like hot dogs?"
"I like hot dogs," volunteered Donny, looming obediently behind.
"I usta try to practice the hot dog guys' talk," Nick mused. "I bet I could still do it. Maybe not that guy, he talks way too fast." He nodded to a man in a striped cap, who was keeping up a rapidfire patter as he flipped frankfurters with one hand and slathered mustard with the other. "How's he even do that?"
Nice shrugged. "Guess he's talented. You wanna sell hot dogs, Nick?"
"Nah. We got a better gig. I did when I was a little kid, though. I wanted to spend all my time here, eatin' franks."
Chane stepped back slightly from the cart as the others pushed their way into line, letting a skinny man eating sugar cubes from a box slip by her. "Don't worry, Chane," said Nice with a quick smile at her. "I guess you don't like hot dogs? We'll find you somethin' else if you get hungry."
"Ooh, Nice," Jacuzzi beamed, "that guy over there's selling cotton candy!"
Despite The Available Amusements, Two Mysterious Figures Prefer Lurking
Two figures peered around the edge of the freak-show barker's stand.
"Isaac, I don't see any oars..." Miria, currently wearing vampire fangs and a dramatically high-necked cloak, scrutinized a tangle of microphone wire doubtfully.
"Don't fret, my dear!" Isaac, resplendent in the ragged clothing, green paint, and neck-bolts of Frankenstein's monster, lifted a finger sagely. "They must be hidden, so that no one will accidentally steer this island off-course! We'll have to case the joint to find them."
"Yeah, case the joint! Isaac, you're incredible!"
"Just remember, Miria, we must be completely inconspicuous."
Miria crinkled her brows in determination. "Super-inconspicuous!"
"That's right! Nobody will notice us like this!"
"Nobody at all!"
A young girl, watching them zip past, tugged her mother's sleeve. "Ma, look, it's a free show!"
Freddie Sapochetti Enjoys A Family Outing
Freddie Sapochetti, of the Russo family's New York Mafia branch, was loudly and companionably despairing of his young cousins. "Jimmy, you gotta throw the ball at the hole. No throwin' it at the piglet."
"Aww, Cousin Freddie, why not? It'd be a hoot!" Jimmy, sixteen years old and rangy, flung the ball at the marked hole anyway. It slammed through. Nearby, another confused piglet came squealing down a metal slide.
"Hehehe. Yeah, it would. But that clown guy's keepin' an eye on it, see? You gotta learn to lie low when it ain't your territory and you ain't got any orders. He looks like the kinda geezer that'll make a big old stink, and it ain't worth it for a dumb pig."
"Aw, this game's no fun." Jimmy threw his last ball, and turned away. "C'mon, Ralph, let's go find a shooting game."
"Yeah!" His younger brother punched the air. "We'll win that one for sure!"
Freddie snickered. "If you don't, Jimmy, maybe we can pound the guy a little for runnin' a dishonest game. Long's we don't make a ruckus, well, that's just civic virtue."
Ralph punched the air again, jumping up and down. "Yeah, let's pound a guy!"
Nick Fails To Enjoy The Famed Cyclone Roller-Coaster
"Hey, Nice, whaddaya think?"
Nice cupped her ear and leaned closer, as the roller-coaster rounded a bend and a chorus of laughing shrieks broke out around them. "What?"
Jacuzzi shouted, "Whaddaya think?"
"This is swell! Kinda like the train roof, but without all those crazy white-suits and black-suits shootin' at us! How about you, Chane? You never been on a roller-coaster before, have you?"
Chane shook her head.
"Aw," Jacuzzi laughed, peering around Nice for a better look at Chane, "I think Chane likes it! She looks a little bit happy. That's great!"
Nick, squished in a car beside Donny, clapped both hands to his mouth when the train launched itself downhill.
"I think it's kinda fun," rumbled Donny under the delighted shrieks of the crowd, hunkering politely away from Nick.
Chane nodded, just a little.
Nice flung her arms in the air, laughing, as the train swung upwards with a stomach-sinking lurch. Nick squeezed his eyes closed.
The Former Claire Stanfield Consults A Member Of The Press
The young man currently known as the Rail Tracer leaned against the side of a sandwich stand, gesturing expansively with a dill pickle. "See, I know my girl's around here somewhere. I asked a guy she knows, and he told me everybody ran off to Coney Island for the day. Then I dangled another guy off a subway car after I found him snooping around by the place she lives. He didn't know where she was, so that wasn't so useful, but he had it coming for lurking around planning harm to some good citizens in any case, you know?"
The stoop-shouldered man standing nearby offered a box of sugar cubes, in silence. The red-haired man waved it away.
"No thanks. Sugar doesn't go with pickles. But I'm gettin' away from my point. I know I can find her here, but my question is, what is the proper thing to do when a girl's out with her friends at what happens to be a perfect location to take a lady for an afternoon out? I don't wanna be rude if she wants to spend some quality time with her friends. But I know for a fact she hasn't been to this vacation spot before, and I kinda want to make it a special day. But then again, I said we could start as friends, so if she's here with friends, maybe she'll want to be here with me for a while instead as another friend. She said she could maybe fall in love with me, and I fully intend to marry her and protect the precious world she has formed around herself, but I don't wanna rush things. What would you recommend as the gentlemanly course of action?"
The dour-faced man lifted a sugar cube to his mouth and bit down.
"You're right. I'm gonna go ask her what she wants to do. Thanks for the advice!"
The man slowly masticated another sugar cube, watching the youth stride into the crowd.
Isaac and Miria Are No Longer Impressed By Coney Island's Wonders
"Daaaaaddy! Daddy, I want the teddy bear!"
The tall, threadbare man ruffled his son's hair, with an apologetic half-smile at the woman running the ring-throwing booth. "Sorry, little man, but you spent your dime on that. No bullseye means no teddy bear, I'm afraid. You can try again another day, maybe."
"But Daddy, I want it!"
Isaac reeled and clutched at a nearby railing in horror. "Miria!"
"Miria, this amusement park isn't amusing after all!"
Miria clasped her hands, her face crumpling. "Oh no!"
"Look, my love!" Isaac pointed a quivering finger at the small boy now trying to wheedle a few more cents from his father. "It destroys the happiness of children!"
"Destroys their happiness," Miria sobbed.
"That poor, kind little boy only wanted a stuffed animal! And he failed! That cruel shopkeeper denied him even the smallest teddy bear!"
"All he wanted was a teddy bear! Oh, Isaac, how sad!"
They fell into each other's arms, wailing.
Suddenly, Isaac lifted his head, brightening. "Miria, I have an idea!"
Miria sniffled, swiping at her eyes. "Isaac, can we help that poor boy?"
"Yes! Miria, we can!"
"We'll steal the happiness of Coney Island, and distribute it to all the poor boys and girls!"
"Oh, Isaac! You mean... the stuffed animals?"
"Yes, my dear! And all the other prizes that taunt these heartbroken youngsters!"
"All the prizes!"
"Then all the little children here will be able to be happy again!"
"Isaac, you're a genius!"
They twirled hand in hand, heedless of the passersby dodging away.
Nice Holystone Does Not Blow Up Any Of The Beachfront
"Nice, look at the shells!" Jacuzzi scooped up a conch and turned it over in his hands, studying the nacreous edge.
"Hey, those are lots bigger than the ones from Lake Michigan!" Nice kicked over a clamshell. "I guess it makes sense, this bein' an ocean and all. I bet I could blow them up real nice."
Nick cast her a wry look. "You sure do love explosives, boss."
"I usta bury some little bombs in a heap of sand, just like that, and sometimes I'd make a little sand castle on top. You gotta be careful so the bombs don't get wet, though. It was so pretty when it blew up...!"
Donny squatted down to prod the sand with a thick scarred finger. "I made sand castles in Mexico. No bombs, though."
Jacuzzi glanced back at Chane, who stood watching the others from the edge of the boardwalk. Her usual expressionless demeanor had given way to a faint glint of curiosity. "You probably wanna take off your shoes if you're gonna go off the boardwalk, Chane. You'll get sand in 'em if you don't."
"I guess she don't care," Nice said, as Chane dropped down to the sand. "Well, that's fine. Whatever makes her happy."
Chane walked three paces across the warm sand before she crouched in a quick motion to run her fingers through the sand. Her black dress's hem crumpled on the ground, picking up a lacey coating of dust.
"Ow!" Jacuzzi laughed, hopping awkwardly off another clamshell. "That shell's kinda sharp!"
"Hey," rumbled Donny, looking over Nick's head across the crowd. "Ain't that...?"
Chane's head had come up on the first syllable, and she peered intently through the crowd up on the boardwalk, as if she'd spotted a particular pair of ankles from her crouch on the sand.
Nice craned her neck. "Oh, hey, Chane, it's your --" She trailed off, and rallied with, "Well, that's a nice coincidence, ain't it?"
"Not really," contributed the Rail Tracer, amiably, coming to a halt at the edge of the boardwalk. Chane stood. (Jacuzzi gulped, and tried unsuccessfully to look at ease.) "I thought I'd see if you wanted to go somewhere for dinner or something, but nobody was home except your friend the cook, so I asked him. He was real helpful. Don't worry, I didn't hurt him or anything."
This reassurance failed to have the intended effect on most of the group, although Chane didn't show any particular reaction.
"T-That's good!" said Jacuzzi, determinedly cheerful. "Well, uh, do you wanna spend some time with Chane? N-not that you can't stick around with us if you want! I didn't mean to imply anything like that! I'm sure we'd have lots of fun. You know what I mean, right, Chane?"
Chane nodded. She took two steps forward, hopped easily up to the boardwalk again, and slipped her hand into the former Claire Stanfield's elbow. He brightened.
"Okay, Chane." Nice slipped her hands in her pockets, with a quick smile. "We'll catch ya later, all right?"
Freddie Sapochetti Recognizes An Acquaintance And Postpones Snack Foods
"Come on, Cousin Freddie, let's see if we can find some dead fish!"
Ralph bounced. "Yeah, I wanna stomp on the fish!"
"No you don't, Ralph, you're gonna get fish guts on your shoes!"
Freddie rolled his eyes. "There ain't gonna be any fish, kids. If there was, a dog's probably eaten it first. Hey, there's a place over there where a guy guesses your weight. You wanna give it a try, Ralphie?"
"How about popcorn?" Jimmy pointed. "I got a nickel for popcorn."
"You want popcorn, yeah, we can get some." Freddie squinted across the beach, bustling even in late May. "...Hey," he said slowly. "You see that guy over there with the sword tattoo on his face?"
Ralph squinted through the crowd of adults. "Yeah?"
"Yeah..." Jimmy scratched his head. "Hey, do I know his face from somethin'? Was he up on a poster?"
"You bet he was, Jimmy. That's Jacuzzi Splot. Right here at Coney Island." Freddie's grin spread slowly. He loosened his beefy shoulders. "C'mon, kids, we'll get popcorn in a minute. We're gonna have a little bit of fun first."
Isaac and Miria Spread Joy Throughout The Island
A jostling ripple of surprise ran through the throng, as everyone turned to stare at the novel sight of Dracula and Frankenstein's monster bounding through Coney Island, laughing and flinging stuffed animals into the air behind them.
"There you go, poor unhappy children!"
"There you go!"
A stuffed dog flopped to the ground in front of a two-year-old girl, who burst into tears.
"Now you can be joyful! You're no longer oppressed by the cruelty of those fiendish game-masters!"
"Oppressed no more!"
"Miria, this cancels out the pain we caused those poor children when we replaced their educational books with picture books and deprived them of learning!"
"You're right! Wow, Isaac!"
Freddie And His Cousins Engage In Business On Vacation
Freddie Sapochetti cracked his knuckles, smiling like a shark. His cousin Jimmy, beside him, was big enough for some menace himself, with the aid of the switchblade in his hand; Ralph was too small and skinny to manage much intimidation, but the evil grin on his young round face helped.
Jacuzzi gulped. "H-hey, guys..."
"You know what I think? I think you boys--" Nice cocked an eyebrow, and Freddie amended, "--you boys and that young lady are gonna come along nice and quiet to see Boss Rescigno, and he's gonna have a talk with you about all the trouble you been causing the Russo family."
"I think you should just g-go away! I don't want anybody to get hurt!"
Donny, behind Jacuzzi, loomed meaningfully. Nick scowled grimly.
"Well, if you come along," Freddie allowed, "you're gonna get hurt pretty bad. But if you don't, then I'm gonna hurt you all real bad, and then we're gonna drag you back, and then you're gonna get hurt even worse. But hey, it's your choice."
That was the point at which a stuffed kangaroo went soaring over Jimmy's head -- he yelled, ducking fast, and nearly dropping his knife -- and a pair of stuffed lions flew at Donny. He caught them, blinking.
"Here you go, poor little chil-- oh, look, it's our friend Jacuzzi!"
Miria waved, beaming, with the hand not clutching a sack half-full of plush animals. "Jacuzzi! Hi!
"Miria, it looks like Jacuzzi's in a spot of trouble with this rough-looking scoundrel here!"
Miria gasped. "How awful! Don't worry, Jacuzzi, Isaac will save you!"
The Man Formerly Known As Claire Stanfield Ponders Renaming Himself
"So I think I'm gonna start calling myself Felix. What do you think?"
Chane tilted her head, watching him sidelong.
"I've been kinda wanting a new name, after all. I could keep going by the Rail Tracer, but I dunno, it doesn't seem like the best choice now that I'm not working for the railroad as a conductor or anything anymore. Plus it keeps scaring people, but I don't think that part really matters so much since people got scared when I went by Vino and Claire Stanfield too. So what I hafta conclude there is that a lot of folks just need to learn to take it easy and not flip their lids over little things. But anyway there's this old guy, Felix Walken, who says he's been wanting to retire and change his name. He was an assassin, but he's got a family and all now. And I'm an assassin, and I've been wanting a new name, so it's kinda perfect how it works out, right? Unless you don't like the name. I'd hate to change my name to something you didn't like, since you are pretty important to me and all."
Chane tipped her head to rest against his shoulder, and Claire flushed with startled pleasure. Around them, passengers screamed as the roller-coaster veered through a curve.
"Well," he said, and rested his cheek against the top of her head. "Okay. Felix it is. You know, Chane, I think I kinda like this ride. It's boring compared to a train roof, but you get a great view."
Chane said nothing.
"I get it. You like Coney Island, huh? It's nice when it's less crowded, like this. In the middle of the summer half the city's out here." He studied the fairground whizzing below with bright-eyed and impartial interest. "Hey, Chane, isn't that your friends down there with that Sapochetti goon?"
Chane straightened, her eyes gone narrow and lethal.
"Yeah, he works for the Russo family's New York branch. You wanna go cut in, then? I'm sure your friends can handle themselves and all, but it seems polite, huh? We can get off when this train slows for the climb if you want."
In answer, Chane stood up in her seat. The wind whipped her hair around her face, and the couple behind them shrieked a panicked protest. Felix grinned, and bounced to his feet beside her.
Isaac And Miria's Gifts Tip The Balance Of The Stand-Off
"Hey," Freddie scowled. "You freaks got nothin' to do with this. Get on outta here."
"Get outta here!" Young Ralph added, with a much less effective glower.
"Isaac, Miria, m-maybe you guys should do what he says," Jacuzzi quavered. Behind him, a bemused Donny passed one of his newly acquired stuffed lions over to Nice. "I'd hate for anybody to get hurt. We can handle everything! Mister, you and your fellas should all just go away, okay?"
Freddie stared at him for a moment before bursting into laughter. "Us getting' hurt! Now that's rich. You got a career as a comedian ahead of ya, kid."
Isaac clapped a hand to his heart, with a deeply wounded expression under his green facepaint. "Jacuzzi, you have a noble soul!"
Miria sniffled, wiping away a tear with the ear of a plush bunny. "A noble soul!"
"But we could never desert you in your hour of need!"
"Hey, mister." Nice drew back her arm, holding the stuffed lion by its tufted tail. "Catch!"
Freddie yelled, Jimmy flung up his arms reflexively, and Ralph pulled a horrible face at it. The lion was nearly to them when it exploded.
Nice Holystone Clarifies Her Policy On Endangerment Of Bystanders
"Oh, hey!" Felix Walken, formerly Claire Stanfield, lifted his hand in a friendly wave at the sprinting group. Jacuzzi slowed; it took another few steps before the others followed suit. Chane, with the faintest hint of relief, lifted her hand away from the concealed pocket where her knives lay hidden. "We were just comin' to see if you guys were doing okay, but I guess you got yourselves out fine. Although it looked like you were using explosives in a crowd of innocent people." He cocked a glance at Nice. "That's kinda dangerous, don't you think?"
"Aw, I didn't use the good stuff," Nice assured him, though she looked more than a little disappointed by her admission. "Not with little kids an' all around. That one's all noise and smoke. It's hardly got any kinda real explosion. Even that jerk'll be fine."
"I think we better keep runnin', though, boss." Nick cast a wary glance back over his shoulder, and Donny stepped politely aside to facilitate it. "He'll be comin' around soon, won't he?"
"Most likely," Felix agreed cheerfully. "An' I hate to say it, but you do kinda stand out with that tall guy there, and your faces and all. Chane, you want to go with them, or stay here with me a while longer? I'll see you get home fine, not like you need me to. I gotta admit, I would prefer it if you would consent to stick around, us having only had the one ride together this afternoon thus far."
Chane glanced up at him, her pale face expressionless and intent.
"I getcha. That's a good point. He was doing violent business in a crowd full of people, and that's just rude. And an amusement park is kinda like a circus, isn't it?"
"Um," said Jacuzzi, looking between the two of them. "Okay, Chane, I guess we'll see you later!"
"Yeah, we gotta get goin'." Nice grabbed his hand and tugged. "Bye!"
"Bye," Nick said, and "See ya, Chane," Donny muttered in passing, and they were gone into the boardwalk throng. Donny's head and shoulders loomed over everyone's heads, and bystanders parted around him.
Felix grinned, sharp and pleased. "Let's go see what needs taking care of, shall we? And then after that, they got a tiger show here. You like tigers?"
In The Epilogue, Isaac And Miria Mourn A Comrade's Loss
Isaac's tears made pale runnels through his makeup as he stared dolefully at the charred shreds of stuffed lion scattered around his feet. Miria wept into the lion's twin.
"Miria, this poor, poor lion sacrificed its life for us!"
Isaac sniffled. "It's just like the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, when Buffalo Bill offers to lay down his life for his friend Cao Cao!"
"Except the lion really did!" Miria flung her arms around Isaac, and they clung to each other. "Oh, Isaac!"
Behind them, the sun sank slowly into an orange sky. Sugar Cube, a teddy bear tucked under his arm, watched the wailing vampire and monster sob on each other's shoulders. Thoughtfully, he popped another sugar cube into his mouth.