Twin Cities, Gemini
There was always “a word on the street” in the Twin Cities of Gemini. Always something big happening. Rumors, tall tales, gossip, and the like circulated through alleyways and late-night casinos like currency. Gossip for gossip, rumor for rumor. All done without an air of professionalism. Parsing through the truths and lies within these things professionally was what Astante did for a living.
For example, there was a rumor on the street that he was the best at his job. And while this was an interesting rumor, no one would pay good money for it.
Mulling about this to himself in his office, Astante emptied out his favorite box of dominoes onto his desk.
People in this city were more interested in other matters. Ones that could easily tip the delicate balance of the city.
The east half of the city and the west half of the city were on opposite ends of a wonderfully crafted scale that had been in place long before he had taken up this profession. It was a delicate balance that Astante watched carefully. He took note of even the most minute shifts, even the smallest tips of the scale. And, oh, was it tipping.
Sighing, Astante selected a domino from the pile and placed it upright on his table.
The tipping had started with an interesting woman dropping by his office without appointment. She had requested information on a renowned mercenary group that operated in the south-eastern countries of Signum; and, in exchange for this information, she had offered him a large suitcase full of currency from different countries. Usually, he’d ask people for a piece of information as well, but she was so entertaining that he let her go with just that.
Another appointment had followed right after that with a young man who wanted information on the schedules of the leaders of a certain group. The young man claimed that he wanted an audience with the Foxmans for a job application and was tired of queuing for weeks for them. A terrible lie. So terrible, that Astante had decided to go right along with it.
The Foxman brothers were a small crime organization that had a reasonable amount of power in the city due to their control over the city’s docks. There were three of them with the eldest Allen serving as the main head. They dealt in shipping all types of black-market goods in and out of the city and had a friendly business relationship with the Romano Family of the east side. At the end of each week, the three brothers would come together for a round of cards at the Rosario Round, a casino that served as one of their money-laundering fronts.
In exchange for this information regarding the brothers, the broker had requested information about the changing relations between the Campana Family of the west side of the city and the Romano Family of the east. As usual, Astante’s lying patron was startled at his request but begrudgingly gave it when he learned that he wouldn’t receive the information he wanted unless he gave some himself. That was the art of brokering.
Three days later, a rumor circulated the streets. One of the Foxman brothers had apparently been ambushed in the back alleyway outside of the Rosario Round. Of the five men who had accompanied him, only two had survived. The brother was left in critical condition.
Recalling this with a frown, Astante continued to line up the dominoes.
Following this chatter, Astante had found himself booked for every day the following week. His first client was unsurprisingly the other two Foxman brothers. He was nearly thrown from his chair when he informed them that he had divulged their patterns to another patron. He was almost thrown out the window when he had declined to tell them who requested such information.
“It’s policy,” he had told them. “Client protection.” In turn, they refused to tell him about their current relations with the Romanos and the Campanas.
That was fine, the broker supposed. He hadn’t given them information they hadn’t already known anyways. Besides, several days later that he had received that information from a member of the Campana Family who wanted to know if the Foxman brother who was stabbed truly survived the incident.
An hour after that Foxman encounter, he had been greeted with yet another unscheduled visit by a Sagittarian tourist who requested information on the best touring sites in Gemini and Aquarius. The Sagittarian had wanted the “good, secret, one-of-a-kind” locations that no one knew about. Which was an astounding request in itself. The Sagittarian had wanted locations that were “so jaw-droppingly inspiring that laying eyes on it sent people to hospitals.” A strange request to an information broker, but Astante was so entertained that he let the man have the information free of charge.
That too was surely something akin to a domino, Astante thought as he placed another piece down near the edge of his desk. He was starting to run out of room. He glanced at the newspaper lying beside the domino he’d just placed. The headline took over half the front page—
TWIN CITIES MAYOR LUCIANO VARGAS MURDERED IN PRESENCE OF BODYGUARDS. WHAT DOES THIS SPELL FOR OUR CITY?
The fine-print article below it detailed the events of the mayor’s death. To summarize, one moment the mayor was in one piece, and in the next his limbs were scattered across his office. A locked-room mystery.
Astante brushed the paper to the ground and continued to line up the dominoes in the cleared space.
The rumors surrounding the mayor’s death had come aplenty—each one more outrageous than the next. The dockworkers and young kids had speculated that the Golden Beast was behind it. There was no other explanation for such a sudden and grizzly death, they said. The Golden Beast itself started off as a small sea tale that had exploded out into a full-on, popular urban legend. A tale about a merciless monster that disappeared people in a flash. Astante knew, however, that the spread of this legend could be traced to a renowned swindler who often took offers from the Romano Family.
After laying down the last domino, Astante leaned back to admire his work.
Of course, those were just rumors. Mere speculation. And although there was no such thing as a useless rumor or groundless speculation, the truth of the matter lay in a completely different direction.
This was all tied to three peculiar visitors who came to see him recently: the woman with the snake tattoo on the left side of her face, the man who seemed to have a book attached to his right arm, and that smiling saint candidate.
With a hum, Astante reached out and flicked one of the dominoes at the end of the lineup. As he spun in his chair, he tuned his ears to the wonderful crescendo off the dominoes falling one after the other.