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Playing Phantom Cards

Chapter Text

The curtains rise, revealing a single man standing on the stage in a white uniform, a red sash running from shoulder to waist. A spotlight focuses directly on him, and everything else falls into darkness.

Thomas Sanders unclasps his hands from behind his back and takes an oratory stance, one arm behind his back and the other ready to gesture.

“Last year, we began a story. It takes place in Boston; in the September of the year 1923. Prohibition was in full effect, and mobs ran the streets.

“Of these mobs, five held our concern:

“The Orchids, a female-dominated organization known for their brothels, run by one Madame Foxglove);

“The McLaughlin Boys, the local Irish mob known for gambling dens and assigned hits, and run by Sean ‘Jack’ McLoughlin, who doubled as a drummer at Freddy’s;

“The Liguori Family, led by the ailing and bedridden Cordato (uncle of one very beloved Stephanie Patrick), who were struggling to keep their heads above the water;

“The Russian mafiya (with their iron-fisted leader Charles ‘King’ Mir locked away in prison), of not much consequence at the beginning;

“And the Faceless, a syndicate of mask-wearing individuals most commonly known for their assassins—and though many aren’t murderers for hire, every single graduated member has blood on their hands.”

Sanders seems to wink at that last one.

“The cast of characters was quite large, so you’re quite forgiven for forgetting minor or infrequent names—or for mixing up the young JP Woodward, a young man taken in by Madame Foxglove and her beloved Wade Barnes; and PJ Liguori, who begins this story as both the underboss for the Family and a bassist at Freddy’s.”

Sanders pulls a set of glasses out from behind his back and sets them on his face, then straightens his blue tie and smooths his dark shirt.

“Freddy’s was, of course, the mandatory speakeasy in these kinds of stories. What sets it apart, however, was that it was run by one Mark Fischbach-” and here Sanders pulls out a card, as if checking notes- “though he went by Wilford Warfstache during the night-” he clasps his hands behind his back- “a man completely unable to consume alcohol. Madame Foxglove sponsored it, and Felix Kjellberg, a local wealthy alcohol manufacturer, provided the booze.

“Furthermore, the dangers of running a speakeasy during Prohibition were high: being caught carried not only a heavy fine and a year in prison, but complete social disgrace. For Mark, that was simply unacceptable. After all-” Sanders grabs the side of his frames and adjusts his glasses- “his brother, an associate justice; his father, a respected late member of the community? His mothers, completely upright women themselves? Freddy’s being discovered would spell disaster for all of them.

“Thus, it was with extreme caution that Mark, Foxglove, and Wade ensured Freddy’s remained hidden from the prying eyes of the law.”

He pulls on a cap much like the one popularly portrayed as being worn by Sherlock Holmes.

“The law has eyes, though; and it has ears, and it has a brain. Or, at least, it has a tendency to steal the hard work of reporters, taking their valuable and hard-won information, such as that of the intrepid Boston Bumblers Dan Howell and Phil Lester. The law also has the minds of its detectives: Matthew Patrick, and the rookie Garuku Bluemoon, secretly a member of the Faceless.”

A gray sweater flies into Sanders’ hand, and he twirls it over his shoulders without a second thought. The tie and dark shirt had disappeared into the surrounding darkness, cast aside for a shirt of pastel blue. Soon after, the hat careens off stage.

“Unfortunately,” he continues, not missing a beat, “while MatPat very much enjoyed the company of Gar, he really missed his friend and old partner. Jason Parker, though, died months before the events of our story began, under rather mysterious circumstances.” His brow furrows. “Everyone else was convinced Jason was just a boozehound and drank bad giggle juice, but that just wasn’t like Jason, was it? MatPat suspected murder. And, spoilers, he was right.”

He puts one hand to his chin.

“It’s not too surprising that when Mark’s older brother put MatPat and Gar on the hunt for speakeasies, MatPat thought of this often. Finally, in September, he was determined to go after the speakeasy Jason had frequented. It was, after all, likely the only clue remaining unseen in his murder case.”

He claps and grins broadly.

“And thus, the scene was set: mobs, a speakeasy, detectives, secrets from friends and family alike, unsolved murders, hidden agendas—and all of it really began when Felix hosted a poker party at his house.”

He frowns and begins pacing, shifting uneasily.

“I wish I could say the rest of the story was as happy as that one day was, my friend, but I can’t. From nightmares about molasses and dead partners, to kidnappings, to- no, I can’t do it.”

He pulls his sweater down over his head, and suddenly his hair is in his face, the glasses are gone, and the sweater is a tattered jacket over a faded black shirt.

“That was where the happiness ended, really.” He taps his lip with a finger. “Where to start? Mark overworked himself to the point where he collapsed when someone almost killed Tom—when someone would have killed Tom if not for the benevolence of Jack’s sniping skills.

“You’d think it was a good thing that PJ found love in a young woman called Sophie, but she wasn’t Italian, and he was already breaking so many rules by playing at a speakeasy deep in Irish territory.” Sanders makes a face. “It’s no surprise they break up later—though I will admit, it ends better than I expected.

“PJ was really the one who got much of this rolling, if you think about it.” He narrows his eyes. “He was the one who ordered the hit on Molly and Wade, and that prompted them to be more cautious, and ultimately allowed Sophie to learn PJ had been hiding his involvement with the Family from her. The subsequent break-up threw him even deeper into the Family, forcing them to gain more land and further tangle with the McLaughlin Boys, as he was trying to avoid Freddy’s until he got a better grip on himself.”

He took a deep breath.

“Jack had to respond, of course. He grew in desperation as his men and land were taken from him, and one of his best friends had all but disappeared from the face of the earth from heartbreak. So he ordered the oldest of the youth protected by the mob to help, and took PJ to the movies to distract both of them—but not before Mark managed to give PJ a drink of his own concoction.”

He flips his head to the side, throwing his hair up and then, as his head returns to facing the audience, right back where it had been in front of his eyes.

“Halloween arrived, and a whole mess was at its heels.

“MatPat and Gar fought—quite often, actually, but the one we care about happened that Halloween eve. Gar defied orders to protect MatPat. It didn’t do great things to their relationship.

“Jack protected Mark and his mother during the night, though not without damage to the Tiny Box.

“PJ went on a murder spree, killing dock workers and police men to get at powerful weapons to use against the mob. He didn’t even think once about their families or lives—it’s a good tell for the kind of guy he’s shaping up to be.

“After Halloween, MatPat yelled at Gar about trustworthiness, and Gar was nearly killed by an officer who’d figured out he was a Faceless spy in the precinct. That put a kink in their relationship, and boy, MatPat regretted it.

“Then the news came that Mir was getting moved to a prison closer to Boston. This made everyone nervous. He’s really not a nice guy, and they wanted him as far away as possible.

“Molly decided MatPat was getting far too close to Freddy’s, so she drugged him on his birthday and kidnapped Stephanie in hopes of distracting him enough he’d lose the trail. It was decently effective, slowing his tracks for many weeks.

“Wade and JP were caught bootlegging, and while JP got away, Wade didn’t. He was sentenced to prison by Tom—the same prison where Mir was. Mir found out about Wade’s connection to the Fischbach family easily enough, and made sure Wade got a proper welcome. He barely survived, though he did manage to escape back to Molly. Pretty much down and out for the count at that point, though.

“Meanwhile, suspicious fires were burning down warehouses, and nobody could trace their origins or figure out why they were occurring. The mob was losing land and men alike at truly frightening speeds, and PJ was favoring progressing the Family over taking care of himself. None of this was good.

“Gar killed the police chief to keep him from realizing he was Faceless, and earned his formal Faceless mask in doing so.

“PJ had returned to regularly playing at Freddy’s, though he was followed by Jordan (a friend and subordinate) as a bodyguard. One night they were trailed by another member of the Family, and reported to the godfather. The godfather, already ill and bedridden and recently poisoned by Molly, ordered PJ to stay away from Freddy’s—and from Sophie. (And to kill Jordan, let’s not forget that part.)

“PJ had had enough—I mean, who can blame the guy? He was tired of taking orders, and he was next in line for complete control over the Family. It was a simple, though not easy, matter to smother the godfather in his bed.

“Jack, in the meantime, had learned that Jordan was part of the Family, and realized a member of the Family would only guard Family —and the pieces fell into place to reveal PJ as the underboss. With a heavy heart driven by desperation, Jack prepared to kill his friend.

“He almost succeeded, too, when PJ came to say his goodbyes to Freddy’s and the crew there. Sophie put herself in the way of Jack’s gun, and Molly interfered to remove Sophie and PJ from the messy situation. In the confusion, Jack broke one of Mark’s ribs—and along with it, their friendship.

“Then… Mir was released from prison far too early.

“And then MatPat and Gar figured it out: the speakeasy they’d been hunting down all this time: it was Freddy’s—it was run by Mark Fischbach. They didn’t want to accept it, because they both liked Mark and the Tiny Box, but it was their job. So they prepared to go in and arrest everyone.

“They weren’t the only ones busy planning things, oh no. A mysterious person paid for Marzia to be kidnapped, and the ransom was Felix’s life. Cry went in his stead, and while Marzia came out alive, Cry vanished.

“PJ created a trap for the mob, baiting them with the destruction of gambling rings and funneling them into a death trap. He wasn’t allowed to attend the slaughter, with his own health doing so poorly, but he snuck along anyway.

“He shot Jack in the eye.

“In the meantime, Dan and Phil had warned Mark that MatPat was coming. Mark chose to evacuate Freddy’s and burn the place to the ground himself. Dan, who really wasn’t in the best state of mind, remained inside to die. Mark was having none of that, and, with great effort, got a badly burned Dan out.

“He, however, never followed, as the ceiling came crashing down.

“Gar put together that one of his close friends was being blackmailed, and confronted him about it, and got shot for his efforts. Fortunately for him, the remainder of the BBC found him and took him to safety, though it cost the lives of Delirious and Cartoonz.

“Carpett forced MatPat to arrest Tom, and spent quite a lot of time looking for Gar, until Gar’s trail of blood literally disappeared. He wasn’t going to stop looking, though.

“Sophie decided she wanted to be with PJ more than she wanted him to quit the Family, so she had Molly take her to him. They caught him returning from shooting Jack, and he was not in great condition. They barely got one kiss in before he collapsed. Which makes two people who collapsed in the course of this, which is more than you’d really expect from a mobster story.

“The Wolf, a Faceless operative, found Jack out on the streets and took him in, Ohm returned to the Family under the name and face he wore as a youth, MatPat promised he’d find Gar and Steph, and Mir took great pleasure in thinking Mark was dead. And, oddly enough, it turned out he’d been working with someone the entire time.”

He shrugs his shoulders, and the jacket falls off to reveal Sanders in his original outfit.

“The story is not done, though. While that was quite a climactic series of events, lots has happened since then.

“Tom settled in as Felix’s bodyguard, though he’s had to live through lots of reminders of Mark while doing so. PJ became a force to be reckoned with. PJ and Felix promised to hold onto each other and not turn against the other, and have only strengthened their positions in the public eye because of that.

“Mark was taken by Mir, and his legs were broken to keep him from running.

“Sophie was taken by Mir.

“Molly opened a new speakeasy.

“MatPat has spiraled deeper and deeper into desperation, until he considered some very dark things—and would have gone through with them if I hadn’t gotten a call in time. Dan and Phil moved from the newspaper to the radio. And, last we heard, the young Garuku Bluemoon was returning to Boston.”

Sanders grins widely.

“And that brings us to the now, dear audience. June of 1924. It’s not the end of our story, oh no. There is much more to be told, even greater sights to be seen. Adventure, mystery, tragedy, perhaps even a dash of comedy—all shall be made known to you in the coming days. Or,” a distinct twinkle appears in his eyes, “as I like to call them, pages.”

He smiles, winks, bows, and vanishes.

The background, which had remained dark the entire time, begins to lighten, as if the show was about to begin.