One member of the Vanetti family was a man named Barbero. He was a one of the attendants to Don Vanetti’s eldest son Nero, and feared by all as a capable man, a mafia among mafia. He used no aimless violence like the thugs in that crowd, having instead an excellent intellect and a cultured mind. That Barbero was currently just a little perplexed.
“Hey, Nero. Frate was on the fence. He was conspiring with Ronald to sell the Vanettis to the Galassias. None of us think you did anything wrong. Rather, you made a decision for the sake of the Family.”
“...Ah, I see,” Nero responded listlessly to Barbero’s consolation.
It was the first time he had seen Nero like this. Nero was always full of confidence, shining like the sun. Now, he looked sickly, simply looking down at the floor.
“Honestly, it was a good thing you came back. The situation is changing rapidly. Orco’s dead and Fango is on a high. The Don is old already. Right now, you’re the only one who can bring the Family together.”
“I know that.”
Sitting in his dark room with the curtains drawn shut, Nero hung his head, not even attempting to look Barbero in the eye.
“Then...!” Barbero was on the verge of yelling, but swallowed the words. “...I understand how you feel, but this isn’t the time to mope. Nero, stand up, make your call, and lead the Family.”
No matter how capable Barbero was, this was something he could not do. Nero was, to Barbero — no, to the Vanetti Family — a singular, irreplaceable existence.
He had thought that after Nero returned to Lawless, he would eventually return to his former self. But a bond once broken would not return to its original form. Nero had killed his blood-related brother Frate with his own hand, and his sister Fio had left Lawless as a result. For Nero, who treasured family above everything, that must have been unimaginably painful. It was a sad event that would wring anyone’s heart if they heard the tale, even if they weren’t as close to Nero as Barbero was. Yet when seen from an outsider’s perspective, even that became a weakness that could be exploited.
We are mafia. A weak mafia is prepared only for a wretched end. So he had to say it. That was Barbero’s job.
“Forget Frate for now.”
Nero didn’t respond to the words that Barbero gritted out. Barbero’s heart was almost crushed by the silence that swallowed the room. Then, in place of an answer from Nero, he heard the sound of a knock on the open door at his back.
“Barbero, Tigre is searching for you. He says it’s work-related.”
When he turned, Avilio was standing there, waiting expressionlessly for a response. Barbero hurled the words at him in irritation.
“Oi, I’m talking to Nero right now. Save it.”
“Then tell that to Tigre. There’s no point telling me.”
Barbero lost the words to reply to that perfectly logical argument. He couldn’t stand the way Avilio always acted like this. He wondered how he could look so collected while Nero was in pain. The irritation he swallowed down burned in his gut. Then Nero opened his mouth.
“Go, Barbero. Nobody but you can handle the booze runs.”
“But Nero — ”
“I trust you. Please, Barbero.”
If he was told that, Barbero had no choice but to retreat. Avilio entered the room as Barbero left, as if switching places. Then he drew back the curtains which had been closed and opened the window.
“Oi, it’s bright,” complained Nero, looking up. Avilio silently held out a cigarette. Nero took it and held it to his mouth without a word. The click of Avilio’s lighter rang out. Two plumes of smoke carried on the wind blowing from the window.
“I don’t want to get smoked with you.”
“Shut up. I’ll pass on that too.” Nero laughed at Avilio’s boring joke.
Barbero, seeing that, felt hatred rise in him along with irritation. I mustn’t look — thinking such, he turned on his heel and decided to leave Nero’s room.
“Tigre’s going on ahead to the Lodge,” Avilio said.
“I see. Thanks,” Barbero replied, without turning. He left the mansion alone, got into the car, and headed to the Lodge, their illicit distillery.
Telling himself he needed a change of mood, Barbero pushed down hard on the accelerator.
Tigre was waiting at the Lodge as Avilio had said. “The next batch will be ready to send soon. What should we do?”
Stacks of paper tied with string were laid out on the table that Tigre pointed to as he spoke.
“Wait one moment.”
Barbero sat in the chair and took a small notebook from the inner pocket of his coat. He used it so often the leather cover was lightly stained. Tigre removed the string from one of the bundles and spread it out on the table. Barbero picked up several sheets of paper and began transcribing the numbers they were littered with into his notebook.
“15 from A-K, 200 from K-V...”
Simple letters and numerals with no units or anything. He arranged the line of code into the correct order and compiled the scattered numbers. These were the results of Barbero’s work: simply by looking at the listed numbers, he could prove his decision had been correct. The room rang out with the sound of the clock hand ticking on and the dry scratch of Barbero writing numbers in his notebook.
A small time passed.
“This week might be like this....” muttered Barbero, closing the small notebook.
Tigre checked it and called out to the young newcomer who had been waiting outside the door.
“Boy, as always, the documents on the table are to be — ”
“Understood. I’ll burn them immediately,” answered the youth, looking respectfully at Barbero.
“I want to become a capable man like you, Mr. Barbero. So I’ll be quick to remember my work and earn money.”
Barbero interrupted, “Then be silent and do your job.”
“S-sorry. I’ll do it now!”
Flustered, the young man began collecting the pieces of paper.
“Oi, Barbero. Don’t bully him,” Tigre said, looking astounded.
“Yeah, I know. Sorry about that,” Barbero said, discomfited. He looked back at the youth. “Work honestly. Don’t think about useless things. Lauro, you’re doing well.”
When Barbero said that, the still innocent youth — Lauro — beamed and dropped the papers he had collected back onto the table.
“Oi, I just praised you.”
Seeing Barbero’s shock, Lauro became even more flustered. “S-sorry! But I’m kind of glad that you knew my name, Mr. Barbero.”
“I won’t forget the name of a useful underling. That’s why I’m leaving an important task in your hands.”
“T-thank you very much!”
Barbero gathered the pieces of paper at his feet and handed them to Lauro. “Lauro, listen well. We, the mafia, will do anything. Murder and theft are a given, and if it earns us money we’ll brew alcohol illegally too. But the most important thing to us is not money.”
“The most important thing to the mafia is — ”
“Trust. Don’t betray. Swear your trust and allegiance to the Family. If you risk your life for the Family, the Family will risk its life for you.” Barbero asked Lauro, who looked awed, “Are you a trustworthy person?”
“Y-yes! I’ll work hard!”
“I’m counting on you, Lauro.”
He gently patted Lauro’s shoulder and beamed.
— I know everything. Your name, your address, your family, even where you drank last week and the name of the prostitute you slept with last night; everything.
The documents I entrusted to you have no meaning on their own. Important? Don’t make me laugh. Everything that is important is stored in my head. If you will stay simple, thinking nothing, doubting nothing — that’s good. I can kill you anytime if you try to betray us. Trust nobody. Doubt always. Use others. If you cannot use them, erase them.
In the Family bound by trust, Barbero’s job was to ‘doubt’. That was what he had done up until that point. It was what he would continue to do from that point on, always. Everything for the sake of the Family. Everything, for Nero.
As they watched Lauro leave the room, Tigre took the cigarette from his mouth and asked, “So, what are we doing about the sales?”
Barbero fiddled with his notebook, considering. “Same as last time. But don’t ship the twentieth case; leave it at the Lodge.”
“We’re getting more orders in, right? Are we going to hold off on selling?”
“The Fango Family is extending its influence. By all rights, orders should decrease. Even so, [[Lawless Heaven]] sells. We won’t change the price, but we’ll raise transaction costs on secondhand auctions. I don’t intend to make a loss.”
Tigre gave him a big nod.
“Got it. We’ll do as you say. Report that to Nero.”
This was one of Tigre’s good points. Barbero didn’t tell him everything he was thinking, and Tigre didn’t ask unnecessary things. When it came to things outside of his area, he trusted his companions and selflessly, silently, did his job. That was what it meant to be a professional.
“The most important thing is trust,” Barbero said, as if persuading himself.
Family was bound by trust. As long as you were trusted, you shared in everything: money; joy; sadness. That trust was earned in every job taken, and on occasion, on the staking of one’s life. Even a youngster used for running errands was to swear his allegiance as a member of the family. But what was with that brat Avilio?
After wandering into Lawless just a month earlier, he had seated himself in the core of the Vanetti Family in the blink of an eye. Barbero recognized that he had ability. You could use him for anything. Though he was young, he had pluck. But to say we can trust Avilio?
“Damn, this is pissing me off.”
The words slipped out without him realizing.
“What’s wrong?” wondered Tigre, pouring a glass and handing it to him. “It’s rare for you to get worked up.”
There was no point hiding it.
“Hey, Tigre. What do you think of Avilio?”
“What? He’s young, but he’s pretty good. I know Nero trusts him.”
“That’s not what I’m asking!”
Barbero banged his glass on the table.
“Oi, this is really odd. What’s wrong? In the first place, if he hadn’t brought Corteo with him, we’d have gone under by now. They could have sold their drink to Orco. But they didn’t. Thanks to that drink, we don’t have to play a dangerous game stealing Orco’s anymore.”
“Then what more reason do you need than that the group trusts him?”
Barbero was silent.
Tigre continued, as if admonishing him, “Hey, Barbero. No matter how much importance Nero gives Avilio, his trust towards you won’t change.”
“I’m just saying it’s better not to trust Avilio too much.”
“That goes for anyone, doesn’t it? If you’re saying that, you should suspect me too. Hey, Barbero, why is Avilio the only one you’re this worried about?”
“It’s not like that. You’re different from that guy!”
Barbero realised with a shock that he had half-risen from his chair.
Tigre just smiled. “Nah, I was a bit surprised, but I’m glad I got to hear a bit of your real thoughts. Normally, even when you speak you only say roundabout things.”
He poured [[Lawless Heaven]] into Barbero’s empty glass.
“But you know, cool your head. You’re of a different mettle to my thuggish looks. You should put aside any unreasonable emotion. You’re the one who taught me that greed leads to death.”
Barbero took the glass and held it up.
“If you drink this, you’ll return to your senses.”
He drained the glass of [[Lawless Heaven]] in one gulp. He swallowed down the burning heat and felt the kick like a blow to his chest.
“It really is good booze.”
Normally, he should have been satisfied with that.
Materials began arriving at the Lodge the next day, and preparations began with Corteo as the head. He was the only one who knew the recipe for [[Lawless Heaven]]. Neither Nero nor Barbero tried to force him to reveal it. This was partly out of respect for him and partly as a fallback guarantee of his safety.
“How is it? If there are no problems, start work.”
Corteo’s expression was serious as he inspected the quality of the ingredients. Barbero couldn’t stand that he was Avilio’s associate, but he had never slipped up in his job brewing alcohol. In that sense, Barbero held some goodwill towards Corteo.
“It seems fine. Am I making the same amount as last time?”
“...I think we could sell a little more.”
It wasn’t Corteo who said that.
“Avilio! You came!”
Corteo spread out his arms and welcomed the visitor. And that visitor wasn’t alone.
“Are we preparing [[Lawless Heaven]] for shipping? Let me hear a report I can understand.”
Nero pushed open the heavy iron door and entered the distillation room.
“Nero! Is it, are you alright now?”
“You’re the one who told me to forget about it. This guy dragged me out by force, telling me my soul would wither away if I just stayed holed up in there.”
Nero jerked his chin in Avilio’s direction.
“So while I was taking a stroll I thought I’d come observe the brew. Right now, [[Lawless Heaven]] makes up the bulk of the Vanetti Family’s earnings.”
He proceeded to the center of the room and looked back at Barbero. Everyone took note of his actions and waited for what he would say next. This sort of glamour was part of his character; it couldn’t be put on for show. It was proof that Nero undoubtedly carried the blood of Don Vanetti.
“So, why not increase the distribution of this central product? We’d need to increase the distribution to compete with that idiot Fango too, wouldn’t we?”
Barbero sighed and answered, “It’s the opposite. If we try and force a sale, we’ll attract Fango’s attention no matter how we do it. There’s no need to go out of our way to push it. As for why...it’s because [[Lawless Heaven]] sells.”
“Yeah? So in the end, you’re saying it sells. So it’d be better to increase — ”
“Say there are buyers, but no product. What happens?”
“Well — the price would increase.”
At Nero’s answer, Barbero nodded, satisfied.
“That’s right. First, we limit distribution without changing the wholesale price. On top of that, we sell off a third of our stock at a high market price on the secondhand auctions. We won’t make a loss. Even now, our profits are rising plenty.”
Nero listened with narrowed eyes.
Barbero continued his explanation. “Then we lay aside a portion of the stock.”
“Lay aside? You mean, keep it without selling it? I understand you even less there.”
“Right. Booze isn’t something you should drink immediately. Corteo’s drink is a product that could stand fermentation. If we just put it in a corner of the warehouse it will rise two or three times in price.”
Barbero took a bottle of [[Lawless Heaven]] and held it up to the light of a lamp. That pale amber light was the light guiding the Vanetti Family to glory.
“I’d like to use this as a chance to attach add value to [[Lawless Heaven]].”
Right as he thought Nero had somehow understood, Avilio cut in. “...How miserly. Are you pretending to be a businessman or something, Barbero?” Without flinching at the glare Barbero cast him, he continued, “We’re mafia, right? We can make what we please and sell as we please. If you want to fiddle with calculations, why don’t you go count the creases in Fango’s ass?”
“A-Avilio, that way of putting it is — ”
Barbero had leaped up and grabbed Avilio by the lapels faster than Corteo could stop him speaking. He dragged him closer.
“Tell me, Avilio. Surely you don’t think you can say that sort of thing without any repercussions?”
Even so, Avilio’s eyes held neither fear nor timidity. It was like he was being stared at by utterly chilled glass spheres. Barbero grew even more disgusted.
Unthinkingly, he made to draw his pistol. It was Nero who stopped him.
“Stop, Barbero. And Avilio, think of a better way of putting it.”
“It’s the same no matter how I put it. If something sells, you should sell it boldly. Are we wine sellers? No. We’re just using it because everyone needs it.”
Avilio looked up stubbornly at Nero. He was the only one who took that sort of attitude with him.
Avilio continued his speech. “And who holds the most delicious drink? Even if we don’t push sales, our booze sells. No matter how much of an idiot Fango is, he can’t fault the taste. So we don’t have to hold back for anyone. We can just brew as much as we can, and sell as much as we can.”
That was yet another logical argument. But how many more people would die by that logic?
Barbero added to his argument. “If we’re that bold, we’ll draw the attention of the federal authorities. It would be their chance to round up the whole lot of us. Fango isn’t our only enemy.”
This time, Avilio said nothing. Barbero released his collar.
Nero muttered to himself, “That damned Scusa...I hadn’t thought that far.”
After a full ten seconds, he made his decision.
“Corteo, don’t increase production for now. We’ll do as Barbero says. Alright?”
After glancing in Avilio’s direction, Corteo gave a stiff nod.
“You’re alright with that too, Avilio? It’s my decision. Don’t grumble.”
“Yeah, got it,” Avilio answered, facing Nero.
Then Nero talked about a number of work-related matters and a number of meaningless matters, after which he left, accompanied by Avilio, to return to the mansion.
Nero’s decision had done a great deal to calm Barbero’s feelings, because Nero had recognised that Barbero was more correct than Avilio.
But Barbero’s good mood didn’t last even a day.
The next day, Tigre flew into the Lodge’s distillation room.
“Barbero, Corteo, have you read this?”
He threw a third-rate tabloid known for publishing dirty gossip onto the table.
The word ‘scoop’ jumped out from the page.
“‘Charges filed against Head of the Federal Bureau of Prohibition, Scusa, on the suspicion of accepting bribes’...it says? What’s this.”
Barbero cast his eye over the entry. As far as he knew, it was very accurate information. The names of the persons concerned had been skilfully concealed, but the Vanetti Family’s history of involvement with Scusa had been documented in the exposition.
In the end, Scusa had been an opportunist, balancing the Orco Family and the Vanetti Family and accepting money from both, so negotiations had broken down.
“Why is an article like this coming out now...?”
Barbero’s questions were soon answered.
Avilio came to the Lodge and told Corteo, “Corteo, increase production of [[Lawless Heaven]]. Nero’s orders. Will you make it in time?”
“Ah, yes. It’s still fine. I’ll start at once.”
Barbero, watching that exchange, crumpled the tabloid paper and threw it onto the floor. “Did you sell information to the reporters?”
“Scusa won’t be able to move for a while after this. He’ll be busy putting out the fire in his own ass, and if he’s bad at that he’ll lose his position. We can sell booze openly.
“That’s not an answer. I’m asking if you sold Family information to increase alcohol production.”
“Would you believe me if I said no? Avilio wasn’t triumphant. “If you don’t have proof that I sold information, it’s no more than slander.” He fired the words calmly, without derision.
“The increased production is Nero’s order.”
That was all he said.
Barbero gnashed his teeth hard enough to shatter them.
The one to leak the information had been Avilio. Even if he had no proof, he was sure of it. Rather than refute Barbero with regards to the matter of increasing alcohol production, Avilio had created a situation which would push his own opinion.
And it had happened in only a day.
His way of doing things meant that if he made even a single mistake, his life would be in danger from both the federal authorities and the Family. But by doing that, Avilio had earned the right to speak on behalf of Nero.
“About the alcohol, Nero says to leave ongoing matters to you.”
This time, he would accept Avilio’s way of doing things. But that way of doing things — that willingness to burn his own body — made Barbero’s doubts about him swell. As Nero had decided to sell boldly, Barbero’s job expanded to include sales management. For several days after, he holed himself up in the Lodge, doing nothing but make gradual progress on his work.
People came in and out, but since Corteo was cooped up in the Lodge all the time as the brewery supervisor, he naturally became Barbero’s conversation partner.
“...Corteo, you hated the mafia.”
“I don’t intend to join the mafia now either, but — ”
“It might not look that way from the outside, I suppose. I’m earning plenty of money. I’m just doing a job that enables me to have that. Honestly, I’m happy that my drink sells.”
A wry smile unwittingly slipped onto Barbero’s face at Corteo’s reply.
“Did I say something strange?” Corteo asked, controlling the distillation equipment with dissatisfaction.
“No,” Barbero answered. “you’re suited to the mafia. Far more than me or Avilio.”
“Is that praise? I’m not really happy about it at all...”
Barbero shrugged and laughed at the curt response. “Honestly, you think you were dragged into this, right? Sorry about that.”
Barbero had been the one to propose expanding the production of alcohol to Corteo while Nero and Avilio were away from Lawless. The Lodge had been prepared for that purpose, and they had several other similar facilities built so it wouldn’t be a problem if this one was destroyed.
“I do think I was dragged into this. But not by you, Barbero. By Avilio.”
“Then you could say a word of complaint.”
“I chose to be dragged into Avilio’s life.”
Corteo said nothing more.
Barbero, too, continued working silently. Even so, while he was throwing off his reserve bit by bit, Barbero clearly started to become interested in Corteo. They talked casually, perhaps because their circumstances were similar.
Apparently Corteo’s father had passed away when he was young, and he had lived with his sickly mother.
“A lot happened to me, too,” he hedged, and Corteo didn’t try to pursue the subject either. “...Back then, I hated the mafia too.”
“Should the right hand of the next Don be saying something like that?”
“Even if I said it, it’d just be taken as a joke. Besides, you and I are the only ones here. I don’t mind.”
Then Barbero said, with feeling, “...Don’t become like me.”
Those words might have been directed at his past self.
Nero showed up at the Lodge occasionally. He had completely returned to himself, and talked happily about work while stealing drinks, saying he was taste-testing. Barbero was grateful to Avilio for that. But Avilio was always next to Nero when he smiled, and the number of times Barbero’s name came from Nero’s mouth grew less and less.
He knew that Nero’s current right hand was rumored to be not himself, but Avilio. He had friends who countered that, but rather than express his dissatisfaction, Barbero continued working. He believed that was the best way to respond to Nero’s trust.
One day, when Avilio was away from his seat, Nero said, “Avilio could stand to be a bit more sociable. He said he was raised in an orphanage so I wonder if he’s gone loopy as a result.”
A slight sense of incongruity arose within Barbero at those words. And even after a few days, that unease hadn’t disappeared.
— What was wrong?
It was the first time he had heard Avilio had been raised in an orphanage. But everyone had a past they didn’t want to speak of. If he was raised in an orphanage, that was all the more true.
Avilio had originally appeared with Corteo, who he called his acquaintance, selling alcohol.
He had heard about that day from Nero countless times.
“Hey, how did you get to know Avilio?”
“Eh, we met at a dive bar about half a year ago, and he’s helped me out with a number of things since.”
“I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him about it,” replied Corteo, when Barbero asked.
There wasn’t anything particularly unnatural about that. Barbero was worried for that exact reason.
I chose to be dragged into Avilio’s life.
He hadn’t been able to forget Corteo’s expression as he said that. Was that the sort of behaviour warranted by a mere friend you’d met half a year earlier? At times like that, Barbero decided to follow his instincts to the bitter end.
Telling himself it was his only good point, Barbero concentrated and continued to think, realizing he didn’t even know Avilio’s objective.
Money? He’s already earning more than enough. If Avilio was after money, he shouldn’t have had a problem with Barbero’s plan. But in reality, he had walked a dangerous path crushing the Federal Bureau of Prohibition and continuing to sell alcohol under Fango’s nose, continuing to raise a grand ruckus together with Nero.
What sort of merit did that have for Avilio?
“What does Avilio intend to do with this Family, no...with Nero?”
Barbero rose slowly and started walking towards the entrance with the car keys in one hand.
“I have something to do,” he told Corteo. “I won’t be back tonight.”
He left the Lodge.
His destination was the number one dive bar in town, The Island. The person he wanted to meet was someone who could soon be found by asking around at several bars.
“Yo, Cerotto. You’re plain as ever.”
Upon seeing Barbero’s face, Cerotto looked ready to flee the premises.
“Wait. I haven’t come to eat you or anything. I’ve brought you a job.”
“A job? For me? I-I’ll do anything. Please let me do it! Please!”
Having betrayed Orco and then Scusa, Cerotto had continued to lose his wagers. Well, Cerotto himself hadn’t intended on betraying them. He’d just chosen the stronger side each time. If he hadn’t, he’d have been killed right away, so in that sense he might just have been unlucky.
Anyway, it was a given that Cerotto, now working as an information broker, had a reputation lower than dirt. He wanted to aim for the chance to raise it eventually. He felt it was still too early for him to exit the stage.
“The order is simple: investigate Avilio Bruno. Rumours are fine; if you find anything unsavoury, better still. Request whichever expenses are necessary.”
“T-that’s generous of you. As I thought, even Mr. Barbero himself is worried about his position as Nero’s right han — gwah!?”
Barbero grabbed Cerotto’s mouth and twisted. “You must not let Avilio realise that you are investigating him. And shut that mannerless mouth of yours. In front of me, at least.”
“G-got it. I’ll be careful.”
“I’ll come to the Island once every three days under the pretense of conducting market research. Tell me your results then.”
Barbero handed him capital to cover him for the time being and left the Island.
Right as Barbero was meeting with Cerotto, Corteo was toasting Avilio in the distillation room at the Lodge.
They didn’t have any particular objective. It was a small joy before they sent Corteo from the Lodge to the house. He and Angelo had the rights to taste the first glass of the batch Corteo had brewed.
“Speaking of which, Barbero asked me about you. He asked where we met.”
“...How did you reply?”
“I said we met at a bar in Lawless about half a year ago. I don’t know about your past before that.”
Avilio tilted his head slightly and narrowed his eyes.
— So he’s finally starting to want a background check.
“That’s fine. Don’t say any more than that, Corteo.”
Avilio swirled his glass and gulped down the remaining drink in one go.
In the three days after, Barbero waited for the results of the investigation while desperately quashing his impatience.
What he received basically amounted to nothing.
Cerotto, who had received the job, could say that at the very least he had searched with all his might.
Starting from within Lawless, he had found the names registers of all the orphanages and poorhouses in the vicinity, but hadn’t found anyone called Avilio Bruno on them. Though he showed them photos of Avilio and slipped countless bribes by them, he couldn’t catch even a shadow of a person like that.
Cerotto, at the counter of a bustling dive bar, began making excuses in a cold sweat.
“Mr. Barbero, I really searched.”
“I know. Somehow, no matter how much you, an information broker, searched, you couldn’t catch his tail. What does this mean...”
Barbero thought, staring at the picture of Avilio lying on the table.
“Cerotto, you were originally an acquaintance of Corteo’s, right?”
“Well, yeah. At the start, he wanted to know where to sell alcohol. It’s been years since then.”
“You don’t know his friend Avilio?”
“No, not at all. I hadn’t even heard that Corteo knew someone like that. I only started hearing Avilio’s name come from Corteo’s lips this past month.”
Exactly when Nero and the others had met Avilio.
So Avilio hadn’t been in Lawless before that?
“Corteo didn’t want to sell to the mafia, right?”
“Yeah. At the time, I was working in Orco’s shop — well, back then I was pretty much one of his henchmen, so.”
Cerotto rushed to excuse himself. Barbero urged him to continue his story. “That’s fine. Continue.”
“I invited him countless times to sell wholesale to the Orco Family, but Corteo stubbornly refused to agree to it.”
“When was this?”
“This was just a month ago as well, I think. Actually, I gave up because he’d started associating with you guys. There’s no doubt about it.”
Then right after Corteo had refused to sell his drink to Orco, he had sold to the Vanettis.
Corteo had hated both the Orcos and the Vanettis equally as mafia. Then what had brought on his change of heart?
“...Is this what he meant by saying he was dragged into it?”
“What is it?”
When Cerotto looked up, Barbero handed him a white envelope.
“Your pay for this time.”
“Eh, but I didn’t — ”
“Take it. You did a rather good job.”
Faster than Barbero had spoken, Cerotto had tucked the envelope in his inner pocket. “Thanks, hehe.”
Barbero put the money for the drink on the counter and quickly left the bar. When he looked up again, the pale moon, just covering the night sky, was looking down on him.
As Cerotto was counting the bills in the envelope, Avilio was in the Vanetti mansion.
Nero had a glass in one hand and was staring at the moon.
“Back in the day we’d often do this. Look at the moon together, drinking leisurely. A lot has changed in a short time, huh...”
He gulped down the drink and huffed out a sigh.
“Whew! That’s potent. We’d been drinking bad booze stolen from Orco then, but this is an just the best ‘heaven’. Everything’s changed.”
“...What do you mean by ‘everyone’?” Avilio asked, standing as if avoiding the moonlight.
“Well, everyone’s everyone. Vanno’s gone, both Barbero and Tigre have been entrusted with important jobs, so we can’t drink whenever we want. I invited Frate countless times, but he didn’t come with...”
Nero took another gulp of his drink after he spoke.
“You’ve been with Barbero for a long time.”
“Yeah, that’s right. Speaking of which, the moon was big like this on the night I first met Barbero, too.”
Yes, a big moon had hung in the night sky on that day, too.
It had been Barbero’s fifteenth birthday.
As he returned home from his job as a day’s laborer, he had been struck off his feet by his father.
It wasn’t just that day. It happened every night. His father took the money from Barbero’s pocket as he lay fallen, unable to move, and ranted about the same thing every night.
“Is this all! I can’t buy booze with this! You useless damn brat!”
“But if we don’t pay off our loans we won’t have a place to live...”
“If you’ve got money to pay people back, go buy booze!”
Though he was yelled at and beaten, if he held himself together, things would someday work out.
When his father fell into a drunken stupor, he could crawl into the cellar, hug his knees and sleep. Then when morning came, he rushed out of the house to work as if he were running away.
When he had been younger, he had sold newspapers. He had entered bars and restaurants holding the newspapers close, and gentlemen had taken pity on him and bought them; he had even received several tips. It had been a typical job for a needy child.
He had no money, so he hadn’t been able to attend school. His father lost his job and was tempted by vicious mafia to bear responsibility for a loan he wouldn’t be able to pay off for his whole life. He drowned himself in alcohol to avert his eyes from that reality. Barbero didn’t learn until much later that the work project itself had been a trap to catch his father.
Every night, his father ranted that Barbero didn’t earn enough, but of the children who sold newspapers, he was earning the most.
“If you do the same thing as others, you’ll earn the same amount.”
So Barbero used a little resourcefulness in his work.
He slipped several varieties of gums and smokes in his bag along with the newspapers and sold them to customers there where required. He happily accepted simple errands, so he came to know the regular customers’ likes and schedules so he could cater to them.
“For instance, the plumber, Arnold, goes to meet his lover after finishing work on Fridays. So I pass him a single flower with the paper. If you slip cheap items in with the newspaper, they’ll be happy to leave you a big tip.
He taught the other children that resourcefulness freely, but there was nobody who earned as much as him.
Observe people well, sense their subtleties, have proper manners, yet acted like a child.
He was the only one who could do that.
When he got older, he became able to do a variety of jobs.
He liked working. He didn’t have to think while he worked, and the sum he earned was an honest appraisal of his effort.
He learned his alphabet from the papers and taught himself some level of arithmetic in order to understand interest rates on loans.
The bulk of the money Barbero earned this way went towards paying off his father’s loan.
“There’s enough for the interest. Tch, how boring.”
The mafia who had lent the money snatched the interest from Barbero’s hands and left grudgingly. On the other hand, when he didn’t have enough on the repayment day, they gladly beat him up.
The mafia were scum. When he finished repaying the money someday, he’d have nothing more to do with that bunch. Believing just that, he slowly reduced the amount of the original loan.
To Barbero, doing that was beneficial for both the borrower and the lender.
But he had been mistaken.
“Don’t tell me you can’t return the money. If it’s impossible for you to return it, we’ll thoroughly uproot something. Be it your home, or your land, or if you’ve a woman in your family, her body. If you pay back just the interest all neat and tidy, that doesn’t earn us anything.”
That day had been Barbero’s fifteenth birthday.
His father had taken up a new loan without telling Barbero, and that debt was irrecoverable. At once, the mafia stormed their home and informed him of it while beating his father.
His mother had died in an instant.
“Even if you’re a man, if you’re young there’ll be a buyer. Shall I tell you what you’ll suffer? Hee hee hee.”
With a vulgar laugh, the thug licked a stripe up Barbero’s cheek.
He could still die.
When he imagined suffering a fate worse than death after that, his legs froze up.
“Ahhh, you dabbled in human trafficking. Mafia trash. The slave trade was abolished a hundred years ago. Even a junior school brat knows that.”
A boy the same age as Barbero stood in the entrance to the room.
“What’s with this brat?”
The mafia henchmen looked dubiously at the boy.
The boy barged into the room, completely unafraid of them. As the pale moon shone through the broken glass in the window, the boy stroked his hair.
“You don’t know anything. You lot are subcontractors of subcontractors at Uncle Orco’s place, dickweed mafia, right? I’ve got priority over this claim. Pull out, dumbnuts.”
The boy thrust the piece of paper he was holding at the thugs.
They read the name printed on that document.
“Vincent Vanetti...? You’re from the V-Vanetti Family...?
Their faces paled.
“That’s right. I’m their representative, Nero Vanetti. When I came to collect our debt as my father told me, I see this charade. Ahh, this old man’s dead.”
Barbero’s father was lying on the ground without even a twitch. The boy — Nero Vanetti — checked his pulse and then shrugged in amazement.
His father was dead.
But it wasn’t that much of a shock.
More than that, he couldn’t take his eyes off the boy named Nero who was boldly facing off against mafia opponents.
“You touched our claim without permission. What should I tell my father? Hey, can a dead man pay back money?”
As Nero spoke, he kicked the mafia in the side.
“Urgh...S-sorry. We didn’t mean to kill him.”
“I’m not asking you if you meant it. How did it happen?” he continued, and kept on kicking the mafia.
“W-we’ll pull back. So won’t you intercede for us to the Don?”
“Then hurry up and begone, ya spineless octopus.”
The mafia ran off, leaving Barbero, Nero, and the corpse of Barbero’s father in the room.
“Sorry about that. If I’d come a little earlier, your father might not have died.”
“Is it? Well, if you say so...Here.”
He held out a hand to Barbero, who was sitting on the floor.
Instead of taking the hand, he asked, “Are you part of the mafia too?”
“I don’t want you lumping me in with that group from earlier, but yeah.”
“If I take your hand, what will happen to me?”
“Well, you’ll be taken along in place of the loan. By me.”
The borrower’s death didn’t nullify the loan. Nero was telling him to work in place of his dead father.
“Well, don’t worry, I’m not going to dispose of you somewhere. You’ll become a member of the Vanetti family.”
Family. If was what Barbero wanted the most. But at the same time, it meant the mafia Barbero despised the most.
“I hate the mafia. They’re the worst, aren’t they?”
“I have a dream. If I join the mafia, it won’t come true.”
“Hmm, let me hear it.”
“...I want to go to school and study. Then, I want to get a job where I can be useful to people.”
He had never spoken that desire aloud before. Even if he had, he’d have been hit and that would have been the end of it.
“If you want to study, study as much as you like. As for the rest of it...Be useful to me. Any complaints?”
No matter how Barbero refused, Nero boldly kept his hand outstretched.
“Come with me, Barbero. You’re not a man meant for hiding in this sort of place for the rest of your life.”
“How do you know my name?”
“I know everything about you. Even that you’d been paying off your father’s interest.”
Barbero was surprised that Nero knew him.
“Unlike me, you’re smart. I was moved...That’s why.”
He’d never been praised before.
“In the future, I’ll become the Don of the Family. At that time, I want you to be this for me.”
As he spoke, Nero tapped his forehead with his pointer finger.
Barbero hated the mafia. They were the cause of his unhappiness. If he accepted Nero’s invitation, he would have to become a part of the mafia he hated...
But the pale moon shone down on Nero’s figure. Nero, shining like he was beloved by the moon, had acknowledged Barbero’s worth.
“I need you.”
To be needed — it was an unbelievable temptation.
Fearfully, fearfully stretching out his hand, Barbero clasped Nero’s hand.
Then he kissed it.
Nero smiled like the sun.
Barbero was satisfied just with that.
Barbero and Nero were simultaneously looking up at the same pale moon that had been there that day.
When he finished talking about his meeting with Barbero, Nero, completely drunk, pestered Avilio. “That’s the story. Yet you guys do nothing but fight. I’m tellin ya to get along. What can’t the both of you stand about each other? If there’s something, tell me, c’mon.”
“Ask Barbero. There’s nothing in particular on my part,” Avilio answered.
He had no interest in Barbero. After all, Barbero’s name hadn’t been written on that letter. And he wasn’t the other unnamed person. He just didn’t want him to interfere with his plans. That was all.
The next day, Barbero called Avilio, Corteo and Nero to a bar.
“What on earth is the matter? It doesn’t seem like we’re here to swap make-up drinks.”
Nero stared, mystified, at the assembled group.
The bar was a cheap one targeted at the general public, so it was full of drunkards in the evening.
“I won’t take up much of your time.”
Barbero shot Avilio a look filled with plenty of suspicion and a spoonful of jealousy. But Avilio looked not even a bit shaken.
— This is the only time I’ll allow him to be settled. I’ll soon peel off his disguise.
Without letting his eagerness show, Barbero turned to Nero.
Nero shrugged his shoulders in defeat.
“I get it, I get it. I consent to it, so hurry up and get it over with. In exchange, tonight’s tab is on Barbero. You’re fine with that, right, Avilio?”
When Avilio nodded wordlessly, Barbero smirked and spread out his hands.
“Then let’s begin. Corteo, answer my questions honestly.”
“M-me? Not Avilio?”
Corteo swallowed. They had expected that Barbero, who suspected Avilio, would come with some sort of trick. Avilio and Corteo had decided on just one fact. The two of us met half a year ago, at a bar in Lawless. Apart from that lie, they would tell the whole truth. Corteo was incapable of acting any more than that, and even when he thought of telling that one lie, he was so nervous his mouth dried up.
“Earlier, there was a point when Cerotto told you he wanted to sell your drink. Do you remember that? It was the day the man Cerotto called his older brother destroyed the kitchen in your house.”
“Y-yes. I remember.”
He couldn’t forget. It was the day Avilio had returned to Lawless.
“When was it?”
When Corteo answered with the exact date, Barbero took a lightly stained notebook from his pocket and wrote that date down.
Nero, who had been watching that exchange, seemed to realize something.
“Huh, that date...”
“Nero, be quiet. Corteo needs to say it.”
“Now, the next question, Corteo.”
Barbero’s glasses glinted, and the inside of Corteo’s mouth became even drier. Unable to bear it, he swallowed the contents of his glass in one gulp, but the alcohol evaporated in an instant. He peeked at Avilio, but Avilio was looking away with an expression that said it was no concern of his.
“You and Avilio came to the Island to sell your drink, right? Tell me the date.”
Corteo turned more to Avilio.
His mouth flapped, begging silently for help, but Avilio’s words were harsh. “Answer. It’s nothing to feel guilty about.”
Corteo responded timidly, “...The same day Cerotto came to mine.”
“In other words.” Barbero leaned forwards across the table and brought his face close to Corteo’s. “The same day you refused to sell to Orco, you went to the Island to sell liquor. Isn’t that odd? What brought about this change of heart?”
“That’s because Avilio told me to...”
“Oh, you do get along. Then, when and where did you meet?”
“Half a year ago, at a bar in Lawless.”
— Got you, Barbero thought, and pulled the trigger.
“Ahh, I’ve heard that before. Then let me ask Avilio. Where in Lawless were you in the time between when you met and when you came to the Island to sell your drink?”
Avilio lapped at the drink in his glass. Barbero couldn’t stand even that brief silence.
“You can’t answer? I investigated too. The name ‘Avilio Bruno’ hasn’t been on the register of any cheap inn or the cheap apartment or the high-class hotel over the past year. Did you use a pseudonym? Then anyone’s fine. Bring me someone who knows you.”
There, Nero cut in again.
“Sorry for cutting in when you’re getting worked up, but is there a point to these questions? I mean, what. What’ll happen if Avilio can’t prove where he’s been this past half year?”
“If he can’t prove his whereabouts over the past half year, then Avilio only came to this town one month ago; I expect, on the very same day you met these guys.”
“Hmmm. And then?”
Nero looked at Barbero thoughtfully. Barbero was talkative now, and explained the path to the truth.
“Then where did these two meet? Corteo, you had your sick mother, so you couldn’t leave Lawless. That means Avilio was living in this town, right?”
Avilio put a cigarette to his lips and quietly lit it, without trying to escape Barbero’s questioning. Barbero watched Avilio’s movements and interpreted them.
“Were you lying about coming from an orphanage too? There’s no point of contact. The only people who associate with orphanages in this day and age are crazed religious folk or Reformists. Not Corteo or his mother. They wouldn’t have had the ability.”
Barbero seized Avilio’s shoulder.
“Avilio Bruno. Who are you, really? For what reason did you approach the Vanetti Family?”
Just as it seemed Barbero was about to press Avilio...
“You jerk, I’ll kill you!”
“Very good, come at me! I’ll stop that small-town spirit!”
The shop flew into a frenzy. It seemed a drunken fight had broken out. The surrounding customers began to bet on who would win, and one side grew loud with cheers and applause.
“We were just at a good point, but it can’t be helped. I’ll go stop them a bit.”
Nero swung his arms and jumped into the fray.
“You guys, shut up! If you’re gonna have a stupid fight, go do it elsewhere! Or shall I be your opponent?”
“Fine with me, damned brat! Don’t go crying to your mother after!”
Rather than stopping the fight, Nero joined in and the noise level rose to a maximum. Barbero watched the scene with irritation.
“What’s this. What do we do, Avilio.”
“Have a glass and calm down, Corteo. It’s not on the level of your liquor, but since Barbero brought it it’s got a good amount of alcohol in it.”
Avilio smoked his cigarette without any change to his normal demeanor. The moment would soon come for that composed expression to crumble into something unsightly. Will he act defiant, or snap and go on a rant? Or perhaps he’ll beg for forgiveness while crying. What will Nero do when he sees that? While Barbero was thinking such things, a bloodstained man appeared to Nero miserably from one corner of the noisy room.
“W-wait a moment! I was wrong! I’ll apologize, so let up already!”
“Huh? Don’t tell me to stop now. I’m raring to go.”
The drunkard, beaten up by Nero, cast a wobbly gaze around the room. Then he ran at full speed towards the table Barbero and the others were at.
“Avilio! Oi, Avilio! Help me! I’ll be killed at this rate!”
When the drunkard clung to Avilio, as expected, Nero stopped swinging at him too.
“Huh? Avilio, do you know this guy?
Avilio quietly but clearly answered, “Nero, won’t you spare him? He’s a friend from the same orphanage. We came to Lawless together half a year ago. Oi, Guccio, are you alright?”
The worn-out drunkard leaned on Avilio’s shoulder. From there, it didn’t take long for the story to be resolved. The man’s name was [[Guccio Baltano]]. He came from an orphanage in a small town named Consto. It was far from Lawless. Half a year earlier, he had come to this town with Avilio to find work.
“Can I prove it? Well, I have my work certificate, and you can ask the landlord of the place we rented when we were here as many times as you like. Avilio was at mine for a while, but I’m not going to guarantee his identity for you or anything. He did help me, but if it’s to do with a mafia dispute, leave me out of it.”
Guccio spat out the words in one go and poured the alcohol on the table down his throat. “Ow, my mouth is all cut up inside.”
Just to be sure, they confirmed with the orphanage in Consto from a nearby public phone and found that Avilio and Guccio were indeed on the register. The check was quickly completed.
“So that’s that, but do you have any other questions?” Avilio asked. Nero let out a huge sigh and Barbero’s jaw was slack. Corteo’s lips were squeezed tightly together, not letting a word escape to the very end.
Nero clapped Barbero on the back.
“So you were just thinking too hard, Barbero. Avilio, don’t hold it against him. His deep distrust has gotten us out of many a pinch before.”
“I don’t mind.” Avilio laid a hand on Barbero’s shoulder. “That’s your job. I don’t know what went on, but as long as your doubts have cleared, it’s fine with me. I’ll send Guccio home.”
Avilio held back Corteo, who tried to follow him. “I’ll be back soon. Today’s on Barbero, so drink up.”
“That’s right, right! Today we’ll drink until your savings are gone! Old maan! Bring us the best booze you have!”
Turning their backs on the din, Avilio and Guccio left the bar. Corteo watched them worriedly.
The two of them walked silently after leaving the shop. After some distance, they stopped in a back alley.
Guccio waved his hands in front of Avilio. “Was that alright? I was beat up good. If you don’t hand over some sort of reward you’ll pay dearly.”
“Ahh, that’s right.”
Avilio pushed a bundle of bills into Guccio’s breast pocket.
“Seriously, you’re giving me this much?”
“You saved me, Guccio. By the way, take this too.”
The moment that Guccio, lost in counting the bills, looked up, a gunshot rang out in the alleyway.
Avilio threw Guccio’s corpse into a wooden box piled up to the side.
Upon learning that Barbero doubted him, Avilio hadn’t neglected to prepare. First, he looked for a man from an orphanage who had come to Lawless half a year before. It didn’t matter where he came from. The important thing was that he could prove those, and he soon found a man who met those prerequisites.
Next, he sent a donation to that orphanage and had them add the name Avilio to their register. In this day and age, the running of orphanages was just a power struggle between religious groups, and the adding of names to the register was a daily occurrence, so that was solved with the money and a single call.
Then, when Barbero called him out, Avilio, knowing that he would be cross-examined, arranged with Guccio to have that situation play out...
Finally, after completing the trick with Barbero and Nero, he quickly killed that man. Thus, the secret would stay safe forever. The corpse, as that of a nameless person who had collapsed and died on the street, would be disposed of. That was an everyday occurrence in this town.
Avilio was smiling. With this, he could return to his daily life. That everyday living for revenge, smeared with insanity, was the safe place Avilio currently desired.
Several days passed after that.
Barbero was bogged down working on market expansion, but there wasn’t a day he didn’t think about Avilio. In the end, he still didn’t know Avilio’s objective. Barbero still doubted Corteo and Avilio. That was his job.
“Barbero, what should we do for the next batch?”
“The same as the last. No matter how much we make, there’s not enough. Keep the twentieth case,” Barbero answered Tigre while jotting down numbers in his lightly stained notebook.
“And have you read this?”
Tigre held out a third-rate tabloid. It had reported in a corner of the local news page that a new federal head of prohibition had been appointed to office. In the short interview, the new head of prohibition was enthusiastic about crushing the mafia in Lawless.
“It’s a worthless story.”
In all likelihood, the new head of police would prioritize crushing the Fango Family over the Vanettis. They could lend them a hand there; there were any number of ways to do things. Barbero’s hand stopped as it was turning the page of the notebook. He wondered what meaning the date written there had. He hadn’t been able to seize the truth about the day that someone assuming the name Avilio Bruno had returned to Lawless, and the day Nero had met Avilio.
I wonder where our paths are joined.
The one truth was that until severed their bond, Barbero would continue to serve Nero.
The door to the Lodge burst open and Nero rushed in.
“Oooi, Barbero! How long are you going to stay cooped up in here scribbling numbers down. We’re going to open up a new market! Tigre, you come too!”
“My, my. You just want to drink.”
“That’s right. Let’s drink the bars dry and sell them [[Lawless Heaven]] instead.”
Barbero closed his notebook and pushed it into the breast pocket of his coat, then rose from his seat.
“Now, today we drink!”
Nero smiled happily and clapped Barbero on the back.
When they left the Lodge, Avilio was sitting in the driver’s seat.
“Oi, Nero. I’m telling you not to let this guy drive. It would be an embarrassment to the mafia if you died in a traffic accident. Switch with me, Avilio. I’ll drive.”
Avilio silently rose from the driver’s seat.
I should have realized it earlier. My dream has already come true. So then from now on, too, no matter where I go, I won’t regret it. Wanting to see things through to the end if possible, Barbero turned the car key.