Keith Gandor Exercises His Eldest-Brother Power of Veto
Keith Gandor’s craggy gangster’s face warmed unmistakably as his wife walked into the office, but his eyes narrowed, questioning.
“No,” said Kate, “it’s all right, there’s no trouble. Hello, Berga, Luck.”
“It’s unusual for you to visit our office so early in the afternoon,” Luck remarked.
“Yes, I know,” said Kate. She walked over to her husband and gave him a kiss on the cheek, allowing the girl standing behind her to be seen.
Berga let out half a curse; Keith shot his brother a glance, and did not otherwise react. Luck stood immediately and removed his hat. His narrow fox’s eyes revealed nothing. Berga looked at Luck, then slammed his hand of cards down on the table and rose as well. On Luck, the gesture looked gentlemanly. On Berga it looked like a threat.
“I asked Miss Kate to bring me,” said Eve Genoard. “Oh - please don’t stand.”
“I thought we’d concluded our dealings with each other, Miss Genoard,” said Luck. He didn’t sit, and neither did Berga. “Is there something more we can help you with?”
“Yes,” said Eve. Her back was as straight as it could go and she was standing at her full height. It didn’t feel like much. “I want to propose a business arrangement.”
In response to her husband’s quick look, Kate said, “No, I didn’t ask what it was.” She looked around the circle of faces, and added, “I’m going to go give my greetings to Mr. Tick and Maria. I promised to take Eve up to the jazz bar after, so don’t keep her too long, all right?”
Eve saw Keith touch his wife’s hand briefly before the other woman left the room, and wondered, not for the first time, how a woman like Kate managed to keep her air of serene distance from the world of gangsters and murderers and ‘business arrangements’ when married to a man like Keith Gandor.
Luck waited until Kate was gone before he spoke again. “Of course we’re always interested in discussing new business.” Eve had been sure he would sound like he was patronizing her, and was somewhat surprised to realize that he didn’t. “Please, Miss Genoard – have a seat.”
Berga made an irritated grumbling sound and sat down, ungracefully. He started to gather up the playing cards, shuffling them back together in his hand. Eve looked at the open chair, hesitated a moment, and sat. As soon as she did, so did Luck.
He didn’t offer her cards, of course, but the sense of entering a game in progress was almost overwhelming regardless. If so, it was her move. She took a breath, and launched into her prepared speech. "I want to say, first of all, that I know my – my family has harmed yours . . . so I do feel like I owe you something.”
“Huh?” said Berga, and then, dawning realization in his face, “oh yeah, the Genoard brat! Well, it’s not like we didn’t fix him already, lady.”
Though Berga spoke first, Eve found herself looking at Luck. It was natural, really; Luck was the one who had – who she’d had dealings with before, put it that way, and Luck was the one who spoke most. Perhaps the decisions really were his. If so, that didn’t bode well for her right now; his face had gone shuttered and hard. “I told you already,” he said. “Our conversation about that is over.”
“Please,” Eve said, “listen.” She folded her hands tightly in front of her on the table. They were small hands, fingernails cut down to the quick. She used to bite them until not long ago. “You know my family’s money came from the drug factories.” She had practiced saying this until she could speak clearly and easily, with no faltering on the words. It was a sinful trade, a shameful one, but she knew now it was the truth.
Luck had looked like he was about to cut her off, but now he sat still, a kind of unwilling curiosity on his face.
“The factories belong to me now. I receive the royalties from them. But the men who run them are Runorata men, and most of the profits and the product still go to the Runorata family.
“I don’t want to be in any kind of partnership with the Runorata.” Despite all her practice, she could hear the hatred come through clearly in her own voice. The Gandors heard it too – or Luck heard it, certainly, from the quick, unnerving look of understanding he gave her, and Berga heard it from the way he was suddenly paying attention. As for Keith, she couldn’t tell.
“I can’t get rid of the Runorata men on my own. But I still own the rights to the factories, and what I own I can sell. I understand from, from our last encounter that having a hold over the Runorata family might be a good thing for you. If I sold the factories to the Gandor family, you could run them as you liked, with your own men, and cut out the Runorata in the market. I would have a business I don’t want off my hands, and I could use the money to – to put into other projects.” She didn’t dare look at Luck as she said that. Of course he knew exactly what other projects she meant.
Eve didn’t like money. She’d never wanted it. If her brother Dallas hadn’t been so concerned with getting it, he probably wouldn’t be drowning eternally at the bottom of the Hudson River in a drum canister half-filled with cement. But she’d spent the past month grappling with her options and her conscience, and eventually come to terms with the fact that saving Dallas from his fate was going to take a little more than a miracle. To be specific, it was going to take dredging the Hudson, and that would take construction workers and connections on the city council and a few well-placed bribes and a number of other things that prayer was probably not going to cover.
And on top of that, she and Dallas had a debt to pay. That was why she was here.
She hurried on, hastier than she planned: “Of course I would sell you the rights to the factories at a discount, much less than they’re worth. Like I said, I feel like I owe you. And you would be doing me a favor, too.”
There was a pause. Eve smoothed her hands together and was glad she’d broken herself of the habit of biting her nails.
“It’s an interesting proposition,” Luck said finally.
Berga laughed. “I’ll say I wouldn’t mind getting one over on those Runorata bastards.”
Keith continued to say nothing at all.
Luck and Berga looked at their eldest brother, as one, and then back at Eve.
“I’m sorry,” said Luck, and he did, in fact, sound like he was. “It is a very interesting proposition, and we appreciate receiving the first offer. But it’s just impossible. That market is one that we’ve decided not to be involved with.”
Then she blinked again, flushing red. She’d always known they might say no, of course. Really it was quite likely that they would. But all her plans had centered on them saying yes. It was supposed to have been good for them, a gift. She felt, absurdly, rejected.
“I’m sorry too,” she murmured, “to have wasted your time.” She rose, and felt it graceless. “Would you tell Miss Kate that I’d be happy to see the jazz club with her another day?”
“Of course,” said Luck, polite and courteous again, the perfect young gentleman – the perfect young Mafioso. She could almost feel his eyes on her back as she walked towards the door.
The Runorata Have Not Learned Their Lesson Regarding Acting on Incomplete Evidence
“Eve Genoard negotiating with the Gandors!”
“That little girl? I don’t believe it.”
“Luck Gandor was there when Gustavo got the kissoff –”
“Without Begg our profits are short as is. If the Gandors got their foot in the market –”
Bartolo Runorata raised a hand, and the men around the billiard table fell silent. The old man had a faint smile on his face.
“I didn’t expect a play so soon,” he murmured. “That young man, Keith Gandor . . . he’s certainly full of surprises.” He glanced at his informant, who stood up promptly.
“We don’t know what was agreed on, sir. Only that she met with them yesterday. But our men in the factories say she’s started making inquiries there, too, and one or two of them have seen people sniffing around who shouldn’t’ve been sniffing – so it’s obvious the deal’s got something to do with that. And it doesn’t seem likely that she’d be acting on her own.”
“Indeed,” said the old man of the Runorata family. “I understood from her father and brother that young Eve knew nothing of the business, before last month’s unfortunate events.” If his memory of the elder Genoards was tainted by the fact that he had ordered them murdered, there was no sign of it in his tone of wistful recollection. “Well, it seems she’s become a pawn of the Gandors. Such a pity.”
The man who was currently winning the billiards game sniggered. “What you wanna bet Gandor Junior’s been battin’ his eyelashes at her? The dames all fall for those pretty-boy types.”
“Yeah, like your wife!”
“Why, you –”
“Hey, boss,” said one of the higher-up members of the Runorata organization, cutting through the general laughter. “You want we should send her off to join the family?”
"“No, no.” Bartolo shook his head. “The girl’s no threat. We wanted someone ineffectual holding the deeds, and there was always a risk someone else would take advantage of that. The key is to neutralize the Gandors.”
“Not to question your judgment, sir,” said his chief informant. “But I thought you said, when Gustavo –”
“Oh, no, not that way,” said Bartolo. “It seems very clear that’s ineffective. No, the Gandors are welcome to stay on the map for now. All we need is – a certain leverage.” He smiled that odd, faint smile again. “The youngest Gandor? Luck? Well, I suppose it’s not unlikely that he could have turned young Eve’s head. We’ll see.”
Inconveniently, Claire Stanfield Does Not Appear In This Story
Luck Gandor awoke in a small room, in an uncomfortable position, with a foggy aching dullness in his head and a kind of numbed tug in his hand. Someone was politely waiting for him to wake up.
Luck allowed himself a moment to take stock, and then said, wearily, “Ah, I see . . . Ransom?”
“Not quite,” said the man at his bedside.
“Ah,” said Luck. Pressure on his brothers, then. He had thought it wouldn’t be long before someone got around to trying that, once it became clear that killing the Gandors would be a difficult proposition. (An impossible proposition, in fact – but of course not many people would believe that.) The anger he was starting to feel was helpful; it made his head sharper. The pain in his hand was coming through more clearly too. “Was it someone in my organization who gave me the drug?”
“No, you can rest at ease,” said Bartolo Runarata. “None of your own betrayed you. We hired a man for the purpose. I believe he’s hoping your pet assassin will come after him in revenge so he can try his hand against him.”
If his wrists hadn’t been restrained by cuffs, Luck would have had to suppress the urge to facepalm. Having the underworld’s most legendary assassin for a foster brother sometimes caused more problems than it solved. Luck consistently found himself surprised at the number of dangerous madmen lurking in New York City whose dearest wish was to launch themselves at another, even more dangerous madman. “Then he’ll be waiting a while. Claire – Felix – is off on his honeymoon. My brothers won’t be able to reach him until he gets back.”
“My congratulations,” said Bartolo.
“We’re very happy for him,” said Luck.
“Well,” said Bartolo. “I just wanted to make sure you understood the situation, as a professional courtesy. I also wanted to give my apologies for the measures we’ve had to take. But they are usual in this situation.”
“Measures,” said Luck.
“You Gandors are lucky men,” said Bartolo Runarata, and his voice, for the first time, betrayed emotion: curiosity, and sheer envy. He looked down Luck’s arms. Luck looked as well, down past the glinting silver of the cuffs. His right hand was whole. His left was missing two fingers and a thumb. The wounds were still open, a sheen of blood shimmering over the top of each, not splashing out – as if they’d been carefully covered in plastic. Waiting, invitingly, for the return of what was missing.
This must have to do with Eve Genoard’s visit somehow, thought Luck, over his sudden wave of nausea. Somehow, whenever that girl made a play, it always managed to ruin his hand.
The Luckless Gandor Brothers Have Some Difficulty In Communicating
“Miss Kate?” Eve lowered her hand from where she’d been knocking as the door swung open. “I’m very glad you’re home. wanted to apologize for leaving yesterday without saying –”
She trailed off, anxiously taking stock of the woman who stood in the doorway. Kate’s pretty eggshell face was even paler than usual, and there were purpling shadows under her eyes. "I’m, I’m so sorry – is this a bad time?”
“I just received a call from my husband,” said Kate. “I’m afraid there won’t be many good times at present.” She hesitated, and then opened the door wider. “You should hear, I think. This may concern you too.”
Sitting at the table in Keith Gandor’s kitchen, Eve felt her own face go pale to match Kate’s as she heard the news she had to tell of the package the Gandors had received. “Kidnapped? And, oh, his hand –”
She was remembering the feel of a pistol trigger, and the bizarrely pink mist that had floated in the air as Luck Gandor held his hand in front of a gun to stop her from killing a man. He never had told her why he’d done it. In her mind, she’d thanked him for saving her from that murder, and hated him for it too. He had no call, and no right, to take her sin on himself. It had kept her hands clean through a cheat.
She had thought she wanted to pay off her debt, and her brother’s. What she had done, instead, was simply to offer him her family’s sins again, through the drug factories – sins passed off of her conscience and onto someone else’s – small wonder the Gandors hadn’t accepted it. And now Luck was paying for those sins anyway –
“I wanted to tell you to be careful,” Kate was saying. “The note warned us off Runorata turf. If they think that you’re working with us, you might be in danger too –”
Eve only half heard her. She stood up from her chair, kicking it backwards. “Thank you, Kate,” she said, and leaned forward to briefly clasp the other woman’s whole and delicate pianist’s hands. “It will be all right, I promise.” Then she turned and ran out the door, leaving Kate to stare after her.
She ran through the streets, going straight through puddles and piles of mud, ignoring the people who stared at the well-dressed young girl charging unaccompanied through the city. She had to stop, once or twice, to catch her breath. She ran all the way to the Gandor office, and burst in the door without knocking.
No one heard her, but that might have been because of all the clatters and crashes and shouts coming from within. When Eve cautiously stepped into the office, the source of the noise became clear: Berga Gandor was throwing everything that came to hand against the wall, including scissors, chairs, and packs of playing cards. From the state of the room, this seemed to have been going on for some time. A young man with a cheerful face hovered nearby, apparently concerned that if he came too close, Berga would pick him up and throw him as well. The only thing that Berga wasn’t throwing was the box that sat in the center of the table. It thrummed faintly, Eve saw, as if something inside it was trying to get out.
“Bastards!” Berga was roaring. “Those bastards! I’ll kill them all –” Another pack of cards went flying towards Eve; she caught it in midair before it could hit her forehead, and Berga’s head jerked towards her. He was still holding the file cabinet drawer he had just picked up, but he didn’t throw it.
“It’s my fault,” Eve said. She felt very calm and composed now, despite how out of breath she was, despite the mud on her skirts, despite Berga’s glare aimed in her direction. Far more composed than she had the last time she was there. “I know. But I’m going to fix it. I can go talk with them, I have –”
Berga hefted the drawer higher, and bellowed, “Fix it? This is Gandor business. Get out!”
It seemed like he might throw it at her, after all. Eve took a breath and didn’t otherwise move. “It’s Gandor business because of the Genoard business. Please, can’t I – please, won’t you listen?”
Berga kept his glare fixed on her for another moment, eyebrows like small cannons jutting off his forehead, and then turned to look back at Keith sitting behind him. Eve hadn't even noticed the other Gandor in the room, dwarfed as he was by his brother's raging bulk. The man next to Berga took the opportunity to sidle over to the wall and snatch up the scissors embedded in the plaster.
As they looked at each other, waiting for words, the two hardened eldest brothers of the Gandor family for a brief moment seemed almost lost. The lack of Luck was like a presence itself in the room.
Then Keith Gandor stood up. His thin furrowed face always looked like a gangster’s, but right now, Eve thought, it looked like a killer’s.
He said, “Let’s talk.”
After a Lot of Talking, the Story’s Main Action Takes Place
The Runorata, unlike the Gandors, were a large organization, and kept men at their door at all times. Eve didn’t know them, but they recognized her at first look. They brought her in to face Bartolo Runarata across the billiards table, one standing at each of her elbows, and didn’t search her. Eve was grateful for their mistake. She’d worn her whitest and frilliest dress in hopes of encouraging it.
“I’m here to talk business,” she said to the man who had ordered her family killed. Her voice sounded nervous, high and above all young, which of course she was. This had its advantages too, and was, she hoped, useful in masking her hate.
“Miss Genoard,” said Bartolo Runarata, sounding faintly pleased and not entirely surprised. “It is a pleasure. We have met before, once, when you were very young, when I was a guest of your father’s. You wouldn’t remember it.”
Eve ducked her head, hiding her eyes. “I know. You were, ah, a friend of the family.”
“Poor child. I am sorry not to have been in contact sooner. I should have realized, left alone in the world, and so young,” said Bartolo, “that you might need someone to assist you with business matters. Of course, your brother Dallas –”
“Hasn’t been found. I’m – I’m coming to terms with it,” Eve said. He would think the shaking in her voice was from grief, probably. “I wanted to keep the business for him, but – I don’t think I can any longer.” She raised her gaze back to the man in the chair, who smiled sadly down at her with calm lizard’s eyes. “It’s an awful business. I don’t want it on my hands. I’d like to sell out.”
“And knowing that your father and I were in partnership, you came to me.”
“Yes,” said Eve. “Knowing about you and my father, I came to you.” She reached into the pocket of her dress and pulled out a paper, folded. “I have contracts here. I had our lawyer draw them up – I so hoped you would say yes – there’s some room to change the terms, but I wanted it to be done with. Our lawyer gave me a figure, but it seemed high to me. I told him to make it lower. He said that we only have to sign them.” She did her best to look artless and innocent. It was strange, faking something she’d always been.
“That’s very kind of you, Miss Genoard,” said Bartolo gravely. He made a small gesture, and one of the men next to him stepped forward, hand outstretched for the paper.
Eve hesitated, dropping her gaze again. “There’s just,” she said quietly, “one thing.”
The men around Bartolo stirred. Even from a sheltered seventeen-year-old in ruffles, those words never boded well.
“The Gandors,” Eve said, head bowed. “They’ll be angry with me – I think they hoped I might sell to them. But I think Luck is a little fond of me. I mean, he’s always been very kind to me.” She didn’t know why she was flushing at that – it was only a lie – but the red in her cheeks probably made her look more convincing, so she couldn’t really complain. “If he were with them, I think he might talk them into leaving me alone. Please, Mr. Runorata –” She clasped her hands together and looked up, with all the pleading she could put into her gaze. "As a condition of the sale, I’d like you to release Luck Gandor.”
There came an exhalation of breath from all around the table.
“Miss Genoard,” said Bartolo, kindly again. He didn’t look surprised. “While I appreciate your concessions, I’m afraid young Mr. Gandor is quite valuable to us where he is. I would pay you more for your deeds, if you insisted.”
Of course it wouldn’t be so easy – but she had been hoping, all the same. She wrung her hands together and bit her lip, wishing she could buy herself time to think. “I had so hoped you would agree. I really don’t think I can sell without – Mr. Runorata, if I didn’t at least try to get him out, I wouldn’t put money on my life.”
“That is a pity,” said Bartolo, pitiless.
Perhaps he was waiting for a counteroffer. She wondered if she was supposed to offer to sell to him for nothing, if he released Luck – but she couldn’t do that, either. She needed the money to save Dallas, and however much she owed Luck Gandor, she could not and would not trade that away. Luck might be the better man of the two – almost undoubtedly was – but Dallas was her brother, the only family she had, and even if she was the only person he had ever been kind to, he had been kind to her. She stared ahead at the billiard table, remembering his kindness. It had been the day after the thieves came and she’d thought it a miracle. He’d taught her –
There was an idea.
“Mr. Runorata,” she said, slowly. “Gambling is a sin, I know, but in this case – for the ease of coming to an agreement, I mean . . . how do you feel about wagers?”
They had trouble finding a short cue for her; the ones in the Runorata office were standardized. A man was dispatched for that. Another three men were sent to bring Luck Gandor from the windowless room where he was being kept. Eve had insisted, politely and apologetically, that if they were to wager for Luck he had to be proven to be still in existence.
Bartolo had smiled strangely at that, but agreed. Of course he wouldn’t share what he knew about the Gandor brothers and how long they were likely to be in existence. He didn’t know that she knew it as well.
The cue they brought was 52 inches long and made of maple. Luck Gandor was cool and composed, and walked with grace despite the cuffs around his wrists and the missing fingers that marred the line of his hands. The thrumming in Eve’s breast pocket increased as he walked in, though that was only to be expected. She tried not to look at the open wounds and instead moved her gaze up to his expressionless face. She hadn’t quite planned to meet his eyes – but of course he was looking at her, as was natural given the situation, and so she couldn’t really avoid it. Once their gazes were locked, she found it hard to look away. It must hurt, his hand. It must hurt more feeling helpless.
I’m sorry, she tried to tell him, but if he could see it in her face he gave no sign.
“Mr. Gandor,” said Bartolo Runorata, and Eve and Luck both jerked their eyes back to the old man. “Have you had the stakes of this game explained to you?”
“I’m afraid not,” said Luck. His voice was as cool and composed as she remembered it from their first conversation, about anger and dead men: I simply cannot forgive this, that’s all.
Bartolo gestured to the billiards table. “Miss Genoard wished for a wager to try her skills. A victory for her means a higher price on the deeds, including your freedom.”
“And a victory for you?” said Luck.
“A much lower price for Miss Genoard,” said Bartolo. “But not a nonexistent one. I am a reasonable businessman.” He didn’t say anything about what would happen to Luck, in that case. It was fairly obvious.
“Given the circumstances,” said Luck – it was hard to tell whether he was talking to Bartolo or Eve – “wouldn’t a game of chance be more appropriate?”
“If Miss Genoard is going to enter these games,” said Bartolo, “it behooves her to learn the necessary skills. She will not always be able to rely on luck.”
This seemed to be a hit. Luck inclined his head, and stood quietly, surrounded by his guards.
Eve flushed again, but said nothing – only lifted her cue, and jerked her chin high. “I think we should start.”
Luck Gandor did not actually know very much about billiards. The Gandors played poker: cards were cheap and portable. Billiard tables were not. Still, he thought could recognize skill when he saw it, and – against all the odds and expectations – Eve had it. As the game started she took aim to break with a confidence that other girls her age might reserve for dance steps. The balls scattered around, and one of the yellow ones made its way into a hole. This meant she was playing yellow, and could shoot at one of the scattered yellow balls, which she did.
Under other circumstances, he might have had to stifle a laugh at the very serious look of concentration on her face as she leaned over the table to judge the angle of her stroke. But he wouldn’t have laughed for very long. Luck was the kind of man who admired skill. Eve’s cue ball rolled along the table and met another yellow. The two parted with decorous choreography, and the yellow sank into another hole.
Someone else might have justifiably stopped to look smug. Eve paused to consider her next stroke, but her forehead stayed knitted and her intent frown didn’t shift. She sent the cue ball sliding over the table again. It hit a yellow into the pocket and nearly followed it in, tottering for a precarious second on the edge of a fault before settling itself safely on the table. A fault meant one of Eve’s safely sunk yellows would have to come out and return to play, undoing one of her shots. Eve bit a pale lip until it went white and made what Luck thought he could identify as a safe shot. It failed to sink any balls and her turn was over. She stepped back, head high, and relinquished the table to the head of the Runorata family.
Her determination was obvious, and so was the hatred that came off her in waves. Luck wondered how Bartolo Runorata couldn’t feel it – but then, maybe Bartolo had never hated in the same way Luck had. There was a certain kind of hate that came from caring about people and losing them, and that was the kind he knew, and what he recognized in Eve. Her whole body was stiff with it.
Bartolo Runorata, on the other hand, was stiff because he was an old man, and probably arthritic. Of course this only counted for so much against the fact that he’d been playing all his life. He sank two balls with ease; his third shot wobbled awry.
“It will be an interesting game,” he said, moving aside to allow Eve her turn.
She sank another three balls this time, moving around the table in a flutter of ruffles and making her choices with steady deliberation. One of her strokes sank two yellows at once, earning an appreciative whistle or two from the men standing around. They weren’t rooting for her, but they could appreciate skill also. Eve didn’t smile then, either, but for a brief moment her forehead lost one or two of its pleats. With some surprise, Luck realized that in their (admittedly brief) dealings together, he never had seen Eve Genoard smile. He wouldn’t have bet on ever getting the chance.
Eve fumbled her last stroke –her right arm was hanging lower now, like there was a weight on it; apparently she was tired – and Bartolo came forward again. One, two, three balls found their way home, and Eve’s fingers twisted together in front of her. Luck kept his breathing steady and his thoughts off his own missing fingers. A fourth ball sailed into a hole, making six. One more and he could try for the black ball. If he sank it, the game would be over. Eve looked like she was praying. Bartolo smiled at Luck, as if to say, see how much the child has to learn, and took casual aim.
Luck wasn’t anything like an expert in billiards, but he knew the way you played games, and if he had to guess he would say Bartolo’s mistake was in that smile. His red ball sped towards its proper place – but the cue ball followed too closely, toppling into the pocket after the red. A foul. Bartolo was required to replace one of his balls on the table, and step back for Eve’s turn. Luck noted that he didn’t look much perturbed.
Eve squeezed her eyes shut for a long moment and then stepped forward. Her right arm trembled a little, but neatly, and without undue fuss, she sank her last yellow, and then the black.
Silence from Bartolo Runorata.
Eve took a breath. “I hope,” she said, “this won’t teach me to gamble in the future. I know it’s wrong. But I won, didn’t I?” She turned and stepped close to Luck, reaching out a hand. Luck’s own hands tensed before he realized that she hadn’t been reaching for the hand after all, but for the chain around his wrists. She lifted it – not high; Luck was not a tall man, and she only came up to his chin. “Where’s the key?”
“I enjoyed that game, Miss Genoard,” said Bartolo thoughtfully. “Truly, I did. We’ll pay the price we agreed on. You have earned it.” He paused. “But I am afraid it is still impossible for us to release Mr. Luck Gandor.”
Eve twisted and stared at him over her shoulder. “But – Mr. Runorata!”
Luck, who had been expecting something like this, shifted his hands a little so he could put his whole one on her forearm in a gesture of restraint. “A game is a game,” he said, coolly. “Business is business. Isn’t that so?”
“I shouldn’t expect any less understanding from a Gandor.”
“But those were the stakes!” said Eve, her voice shaky. “You promised!” She was doing something in the front pocket of her dress – pulling something out from under the piles of ruffles. A box. She was standing close enough to Luck, by now, that no one else could see. Something inside the box was pounding, and his hand suddenly hurt a good deal more.
Now Luck stared.
“I thought I could trust you,” Eve said, still looking over her shoulder at Bartolo. “How can I sign the papers if you can’t keep a bargain?” Her right hand fumbled for Luck’s mutilated one, the hand without two fingers and a thumb. Her hold was gentle, and her fingers soft – she’d never done anything in her life to callous them – but his breath came in a hiss through his teeth as she found it. With her left hand, she cracked open the lid of the box.
Two fingers. A thumb. The fingers were lean, their nails neatly trimmed, and the thumb had a familiar scar across the top joint from where he’d cut himself playing with one of Claire’s knives as a child. Almost incredulous, Luck watched them come straining out of the box. He had never seen this happen after such a delay and separation before, but of course it was only an extension of the basic principle of immortality – no different than the way his blood poured itself back into an open cut. They flew to him and attached themselves to the correct places, bone and flesh settling onto each other and skin sealing around it. It only took a few seconds for all traces of his wounds to vanish.
Those fingers had been sent to his brothers, to show them that the Runorata were holding him. Luck was positive of it. He’d thought Eve had come on her own, with the same kind of brave, defiant gesture that had once taken her to the Gandor office hunting for her brother – but given this evidence, there was no way that could be the case.
A man could do a lot of things with five fingers.
Eve’s attention was still on Bartolo, who was talking. “Miss Genoard, don’t be a fool. You’re still receiving plenty of compensation. I doubt you’ll get a better offer.”
“I suppose that’s so,” Eve said doubtfully. She dropped Luck’s hand and turned around, her head drooping.
“Come along, then,” said Bartolo. “Bring the papers over to the table, and we’ll sign.”
From the shifting of Eve’s shoulders she was about to move away.
The time had to be now. Luck took a quick step forward, erasing the distance between them and lifting his handcuffed wrists. His hands went over Eve’s head and then down. It wasn’t hard given their height difference, and Luck was quick; before she could move, he pulled the chain that linked his handcuffs together against her windpipe. Eve made a sound in her throat and stood still. Luck rested his wrists on her thin steady shoulders, and looked over her head at the rest of the men in the room.
“You want the factories,” he said. “If Miss Genoard doesn’t survive to sign the deeds, that won’t happen.”
Eve had never stood as close to anyone but her nurse as she was to Luck Gandor right now. She could feel the beating of his heart against her shoulderblade. After she’d seen the proof of his immortality, she hadn’t really thought his heart would beat like a normal person’s, but from what she could tell it moved in the same pattern as hers.
“Mr. Gandor,” said Bartolo. “Would you really? A child who’s been trying so hard to help you?”
“What she’s been trying so hard to do is sell you the factories she already promised to us,” said Luck, which confirmed to Eve what he was doing – not that she’d really doubted it. “I don’t have anything to lose.” He took a step backwards, pulling his hands slightly up, and her back got colder as air rushed between them. The chain pressed into her neck, and that was cold too. Bartolo frowned and looked over to his chief informant, and Luck took advantage of his distraction to bend down and murmur in her ear, the words as much breath as sound. “If they call my bluff, turn us around. Use my back as a shield.”
She’d be damned if she would. (It was the first time she could remember using profanity, even in her own mind. The underworld did corrupt.) Out loud, she said, “You’re hurting me,” and took a small step backwards to relieve the pressure on her neck. “Mr. Runorata – I don’t think he’s bluffing.” She didn’t have to fake the tremble in her voice, or the anger.
“I’m willing to give you what you want,” said Luck, as if she hadn’t interrupted. She couldn’t see his face, but she could imagine the hard set of it: nothing gentlemanly about Luck Gandor now. “I’ll let her sign the papers. First, I want a gun.”
Bartolo didn’t move, and Luck laughed. The wind from it ruffled her hair. “You didn’t think you could hold me forever, right? I’ll get out one way or another, and the longer you keep me here, the more blood it will cost you. I’m not a forgiving man, and neither are my brothers – especially my foster brother. This way’s easiest for both of us.”
There was a pause, and then Bartolo nodded and lifted a hand in a short gesture. One man scuttled off out the back through the door that led further into the Runorata complex. “He’s gone for a weapon,” said Bartolo. “I won’t deprive any of my men of theirs. All right.”
It seemed they would be in for something of a wait – and Bartolo might have sent his man to get reinforcements, or to put a guard up around the building to catch them when they left, or anything. They didn’t have time. “Pardon me, Mr. Gandor,” said Eve, flushing slightly, “Mr. Runorata,” and moved her left hand up to the neck of her dress, right below where Luck’s fingers hovered. There were several large frills around the collar of her dress and the seam of the sleeve, and the fabric puffed down to the elbow. She slid her hand underneath the fabric and gripped wood. Strapped to her upper arm, its bulk concealed underneath the ruffles and puffs, was a pistol that could only be described as dainty. It had been intended as Berga Gandor’s birthday gift for his wife.
She pulled it out, staring straight ahead past Bartolo Runorata’s ear, trying to keep her face impassive and not looking at any of the men who were eyeing her with surprise or fascination or leers on their faces. She could feel that her cheeks were hot. As soon as her hand came out from under her collar it bumped against Luck’s right fingers – all five of them – and he took the pistol from her.
“Thank you,” he said courteously. It was said loud enough for everyone to hear, but it was for her benefit, not the Runorata. She’d brought the pistol for him, of course. She didn’t (yet) know how to shoot it with accuracy.
“Miss Genoard,” said Bartolo, more in sorrow than in anger. “I wish you hadn’t felt you had to come armed.”
“So do I,” said Eve. She heard the sound of a gun being cocked; then there came a sudden strong pressure on her shoulder, and she stumbled backwards into the crook of Luck’s arm, which wrapped around her and held her fast. His hands, still linked by the cuffs, were holding the pistol in front of her. It was aimed at Bartolo.
“Don’t think I can’t still kill her in an instant,” said Luck. “You might want to bring a folding table so she can sign the papers comfortably. And a pen. Yes, over by the door. I don’t think we’ll be accepting your hospitality very long once she’s finished.”
A folding table was fetched, and a pen. Luck started to move towards the door, slowly, keeping the pistol trained on the Runorata capo, and guiding Eve with his arm. She walked awkwardly, but tried to move with him. She hadn’t had a dance lesson since her father and brother died. She wished now that it hadn’t been so long; it would have been easier to follow his lead. They reached the table and paused. “Mr. Gandor,” said Eve, red again. “The papers are in my skirt pocket. Do you mind if I –”
“You can take them out,” said Luck, and Eve reached down into her pocket and then stepped forward within the circle of his arms to place them on the table. When she bent down to sign the butt of the gun was right in front of her. She went cross-eyed for a moment focusing on it before she looked down on the page, and hesitated.
“Before I sign,” she said, “I’ll need the money.”
Bartolo looked briefly amused. “Miss Genoard, I don’t think that considering –”
“No,” she said, and jerked her head up to glare at him. There wasn’t much need to play meek now. “You’re getting what you want. Mr. Gandor is getting what he wants. That’s fine, but I’m going to get what I want too. These papers have the price on them as part of the deal. If you bring the money, then I’ll sign.”
“I think,” Luck said, “you had better bring Miss Genoard’s money.”
Eve could feel her own heart starting to race despite herself as one of the men came forward with a pile of bills and placed them next to the deeds on the table. Maybe Luck could feel it too. “Thank you,” she said, and reached out to put the bills in her pocket. She had never handled so much money before – but then again, it wasn’t as if that was her most significant first today.
Then she leaned over and, without hesitating, signed away the drug factories that were her father’s legacy.
“Thank you, Miss Genoard,” said Bartolo, as she put down the pen.
“Stay down,” said Luck, low, and jerked his arm up over her head in one quick motion, releasing her from the circle defined by his handcuffs. “All right, let’s –”
“Not so fast, I think!” There was a crazed kind of laugh coming from somewhere in the room. Eve jumped and looked around for the source. A man she’d never seen before had just come through the back door where the other man had vanished a minute or two ago – to fetch a weapon, Bartolo had said.
“Damn it to hell,” said Luck, who had apparently forgotten he was in the presence of a lady, “Bartolo’s weapon.”
“You know I can’t let you escape,” said the man, breathlessly. He had a sword and a pistol and he was running towards them. He looked twitchy, frenetic and happy. “You know I can’t let that happen. If you go, then your assassin Claire Stanfield won’t come. If Claire Stanfield doesn’t come I can’t fight him. If I can’t fight him I can’t beat him. If I can’t beat him I can’t –”
There was a loud sound by her ear, and then a sharp coppery smell and the feeling of damp spattering on her dress. It was all familiar, the noise especially – Eve hadn’t heard it before very often, but she would never forget the few times she had. The man with the sword and the pistol blinked twice, apparently not registering that much of the top of his head was gone, and then fell over.
Luck rolled his eyes and spun the cylinder of the gun. “You need a better class of assassin,” he said. “That shot wouldn't have gotten anywhere near Claire. By the way, I still owe you for my fingers.” He was talking to, and aiming at, Bartolo, but then he looked back at her.
“Eve,” he said. “The assassin would have killed you too. This man was going to let you die.”
Eve thought she would feel nauseated, looking at the red-gray meat scattered around the room that had once been part of a man, but she didn’t. Then again, why should she? She’d been carrying living fingers around with her all day. She’d shot a man’s hand off once – if by accident – and seen it explode into pink mist in front of her. She’d meant to kill a man and tried her best to do it. Why should anything make her sick now?
“Don’t worry,” she said. “Heaven will punish him. We don’t have time.” She wanted to grab Luck’s wrist and pull him towards the door, but if his gun wavered from Bartolo, she knew they would both be cut down instantly by his men. She settled for stepping backwards and pushing the door open, waiting for Luck to follow. Maybe he’d shoot anyway, but she hoped he wouldn’t.
He did follow after a moment, taking slow and careful steps backwards until he reached the door. As it swung closed in front of them, his fingers closed around her wrist and he said, his face tense, “Now we run.”
Eve didn’t have to be told twice. She hitched up her skirts and ran. Luck ran faster, half-dragging her forward. Footsteps thudded behind them. A lot of footsteps, Eve thought, but maybe some of that was her heartbeat again. Luck pulled her left and then right, and it was a good thing he knew his way, because she didn’t know these streets at all. Everything was a maze of dingy buildings and shuttered storefronts. Another left turn, and then Luck abruptly jerked her into a side alley and pulled her behind a truck. She couldn’t see, but she listened, and heard the footsteps running by the mouth of the alley in front of them.
”That won’t fool them for long,” Luck said, and released her wrist, belatedly. “We can steal a car, but I’ll need my hands.” He looked down at her, his expression unreadable for a moment, and then picked up her hand again. While she blinked at him, he pressed the gun into her palm.
“If you shoot off my hand, I can slip my wrist out of the cuff.”
Eve stifled a sudden hysterical urge to giggle, though of course it wasn’t really funny at all. Their entire business relationship was going to be based on her shooting off his hands. The stock of the gun was warm where he had been holding it. “Put your hands up against the wall, spread apart,” she directed. He did as she ordered, face set – he was clearly anticipating pain. Eve took two steps forward, pressed the barrel of the gun straight up against the links of the chain between the handcuffs and shot.
The links parted. Luck pulled his hands apart, and stared down at her.
“That was easier, wasn’t it?” said Eve, with buoyant calm, and handed him back the gun. “I couldn’t have carried you back if you fainted again.”
“Of course,” said Luck, after a moment that probably wasn’t long, but felt that way. He turned toward the truck, and then paused.
“By the way.” He didn’t turn back to face her. “Heaven doesn’t punish the wicked.”
“You can’t rely on something like that.” She couldn’t see his expression, but in his voice was the most emotion she’d heard from him all through that day, and she almost forgot to listen for footsteps. “Heaven won’t punish Bartolo. And if you think I was an agent of God when I took out Gustavo for you, you’re mistaken.”
“No,” Eve said. “I don’t think that.” She took a step forward to touch his elbow, so he would turn, and when he did she met his eyes. In the dim light of the alley they looked the same color as hers did in the mirror. “Please don’t think I don’t hate Mr. Runorata,” she said. She was genuinely calm now, as calm as if she were discussing the table seatings for a party. “I do. More than you do. His punishment will hurt him more than a bullet would – and hurt you and me less.”
Luck’s smile was humorless. “It’s a waste of your time to worry about the hurt I’d take from killing.”
“Then it was a waste of your time too, last month,” said Eve. “I don’t think it was, though. Mr. Gandor – shouldn’t we be going? They’ll be back soon, and you need to steal a car.”
Randy and Pecho Are Getting Ready To Dispense Divine Justice
“Hey, Randy,” said Pecho.
“Yes?” said Randy.
“We never burned down a factory before, did we?”
“Nope,” said Randy.
“Six is a whole lot of factories to burn,” said Pecho. “That’ll catch us up.”
“It sure was nice of Mr. Keith,” said Randy, “givin’ us the chance to burn all a these down. And we ain’t even part of his gang!”
“It was nice of Mr. Maiza, lettin’ us do the work for Mr. Keith as a favor.”
For a while, the only sound was the glunk of oil pouring, as they pondered Mr. Maiza’s benevolence.
“Why do you think Mr. Keith wants ‘em burned down?”
“I guess,” said Randy, doubtfully, “it’s ‘cause Mr. Keith doesn’t like drugs – right?”
There was another pause while they both considered this, and then shrugged. It didn’t much matter, really.
”We got great bosses, Randy,” said Pecho, happily. “We got great bosses and a great job.”
“And a great big fuckin’ fire to set,” said Randy, and lit the match.
For the Moment, Dallas Genoard Continues to Constantly Drown at the Bottom of the Hudson
A week after the incident, Eve’s butler announced a gentleman caller.
Eve, who happened to have been looking out the window, said, “That’s not a gentleman,” and came down the stairs to greet him.
Benjamin and Samasa brought Eve and Luck to the parlor and exited with aplomb; Eve was fairly sure that they went straight to the parlor door to go listen to everything that was being said. She’d told them all about the incident after it happened, of course. To their credit, there had been a relative minimum of fussing and fluttering about her safety before they settled down to talk business. They’d had a few financial decisions to make – Eve didn’t like money, but if they were going to have it, they ought to at least do something useful with it. They’d spent yesterday at the bank, all three of them. That was taken care of now.
“Would you like to sit down?” she said to Luck, politely.
“I don’t think I’ll be long,” said Luck. “My brothers wanted to convey their appreciation for what you did, that’s all.” In the hubbub that had resulted as Luck walked back into the Gandor office – the shouts and fond pummeling from Berga, the hug from Kate, the relieved, overwhelming silence from Keith – Eve had quietly slipped away. She’d done what she came for, and she needed to put her winnings away where they couldn’t be lost. Besides, that reunion hadn’t been for her. “I understand,” Luck added, “that you planned most of it out in advance with Keith?”
“Some of it,” said Eve. “Some of it was – was more of a surprise.” Somewhat to her own astonishment, she felt herself smiling a little, ruefully. What else could you do, in the wake of a day like that?
Luck took in her smile for a moment or two before he returned it, with a brief expression that might have been genuine before it shifted into the pleasantly cool smile he wore for business. “I was surprised by the billiards,” he said. It might have been a joke.
“Without the billiard game, I couldn’t have gotten you out of wherever they were keeping you,” Eve said, almost apologetically. “The rest you did yourself mostly.” The smile was gone again. She stopped, and then said abruptly, “Anyway – it was Dallas who taught me to play billiards, you know.”
“I guessed,” said Luck. His smile was gone as well.
“So really,” Eve pressed on earnestly, “it was Dallas that rescued you – all the credit you’re giving me should go to Dallas. Not me. I still owe you.”
She looked up at him, suddenly defiant, wondering if he was going to finally address what they both knew: that most of the money that Eve had gotten for her sale of the drug factories (the factories that, very shortly after the sale, had become useless piles of ash) was going to be used to rescue Dallas Genoard from the punishment that the Gandor brothers had decided on for him. Because Dallas had killed their men, and their men deserved justice.
But he didn’t address it, and Eve wasn’t sure whether she was relieved or sorry. Instead, he said, “You should be careful. If you say you owe me a debt, someday I’ll probably call it in.”
“That’s fine,” said Eve, squaring her shoulders underneath the ruffles of her collar. “I told you you could.”
Luck smiled again then, almost as if amused, and then moved forward and picked up her hand. It hung, limp, in his. She didn’t know what he was going to do, until he lifted it and brushed his lips very lightly against her knuckles. Then he let her hand drop and straightened, stepping backwards. “I’ll thank you anyway. The skill may have come from Dallas, but the gamble was yours.” He wasn’t just talking about billiards.
“Whether I won or lost he would have had to bring you out. So it wasn’t really a gamble.” Eve could feel that her cheeks were pink again. She was really going to have to work on that. “Oh,” she said suddenly, and scrambled over to the side table. “Speaking of gambling, Mr. Gandor – I think I have something that belongs to you.”
“Another finger?” said Luck politely.
“No!” Eve forced herself not to glance over and see that he still had all of his – she knew that he did, anyway, from when he’d taken her hand. “When I talked to Mr. Gandor and Mr. Ga– to the other two Mr. Gandors, I, er, picked this up accidentally.” She turned back around and lifted the pack of playing cards that Berga had thrown at her when she went to their offices.
“Ah,” said Luck. He looked bemused. “Thank you. Berga will be pleased.”
“It’s a very strange pack,” said Eve, “all jokers.”
“Sorry,” said Luck. “I misspoke. Keith will be pleased.” At Eve’s look of confusion, he explained, “He always cheats.”
Eve spent a moment trying to imagine that little man with the thug’s face having enough panache to pull off cheating with a pack of 52 jokers, and then gave it up as an impossible image. (Though when you came down to it – perhaps arranging for the factories to burn hadn’t been all that different, except on scale.)
“I hope you’ll remember, Mr. Gandor,” she said instead, handing him the pack, “that gambling is a sin.”
“Then I think,” said Luck, “that makes us both sinners. It’s all right, Miss Genoard, I’ll show myself out.”
The Daily Days Gets the Last Word as Usual
Luck Gandor returned to the office from that meeting in a thoughtful turn of mind, fingers running over the pack of cards in his pocket.
Keith was sitting at the table when he got to the office, chewing on a cigar that he wasn’t smoking and looking through a copy of the Daily Days. He looked up when Luck walked in, nodded his head in greeting, and went back to reading. Keith always made it a point to be up on the news.
“Where’s Berga?” said Luck absently, and then answered his own question: “Right, he’s probably off playing dominos with the Martillos again.”
Keith turned a page.
“Speaking of, Keith-bro –” Luck reached into his pocket and pulled out the cards, setting it in front of him. “This is yours, isn’t it? Eve Genoard had it.” He glanced at Keith. “Berga was throwing a tantrum over me? I’m touched.”
Something that might have been a faint smile crossed Keith’s features. Brothers, his face said, were brothers. Idiots most of the time, but what could you do.
Luck took a seat at the table and leaned back in his usual chair, crossing his arms behind his head. Soon he’d probably go over and join Berga and Firo and the others – though to be honest, he didn’t see much appeal in the game itself – but he didn’t feel like a crowd just yet.
“Anything interesting?” he said, glancing at his brother’s newspaper.
Keith gave Luck a sharp look, and then folded the paper several pages back to the Business and Economy section. He set it down in front of Luck.
The first item he saw instantly; it had a large headline near the top, where the little old ladies looked to find the few snippets of cheery news that could be picked out of the consistent sea of depression before their eyes started giving out.
GENOARD FAMILY PICKS UP PET PUBLIC WORKS PROJECT: Riverbank maintenance proceeds ahead of schedule with an influx of funds donated by Eve Genoard. Have the New York Genoards produced a philanthropist at last? We’ll be keeping our eyes out for more developments from Miss Genoard, who, in the continuing absence of her brother, notorious ne’er-do-well Dallas Genoard . . .
Luck looked up and found Keith watching him steadily. “Interesting,” he said, keeping his face bland.
Keith pointed further down on the page.
The line he pointed to was buried deep in a list of business deals and mergers far down on the page and read simply, Genoard family acquired the struggling New York-based playing card company Caltrops, in yesterday’s unexpected merger. Then the page moved on to discussing John D. Rockefeller’s health that week and the implications for the oil industry. The name Genoard was not mentioned again.
Satisfied that Luck had seen the mention, Keith took back his paper.
“Without the factories, she’ll need income to be coming in from somewhere,” Luck said, after a moment. “It was smart of her to put some of her money back into another business.”
Keith, now engrossed in the Arts and Music section, didn’t answer, so Luck went on chasing his thought. It made sense for her to buy up another business, but there was nothing that had compelled her to invest in a business that played an integral role in the shadier side of New York. After this last hand had played out, she was free; she could have folded with honors and left the game for good. Instead, she’d doubled her stakes and announced her intention to stay.
Now that he thought about it, Luck couldn’t imagine a speakeasy that would last more than a night or two without a few extra stacks of playing cards around.
“Hm,” said Luck, and started to smile. “Hey, Keith-bro, what do you think? Are we going to have to invite her to play a hand with us some time?”