A shabby musician with a violin perched on his shoulder. Several young men were swearing up a storm while holding glasses of bourbon in their hands. The swinging door with a missing hinge creaked because the lazy bartender never bothered to fix it.
If you consider how the two cowboys sitting at the table next to me were staring at their cards with serious looks on their faces, it was apparent that their ability to play poker was lower than my own. You two need to work on your poker faces. A pair of aces and eights was a hand that Wild Bill Hickok had before he died, but why do you look so happy with that dead man’s hand?
I quietly drank my glass of milk and emptied my cup.
Each time the sound of beer mugs clinking together rings out and folk songs are sung merrily, this town becomes wealthier.
The last stop of the railroad on the west side of the country, the End of the Frontier. That was what people called this city.
The city of Sacramento, the last train station on the western end of the transcontinental railroad where the blazing sun shone heavily.
“Still not yet?”
I turned to glance at the table a little distance away from me. It seems it’ll take a bit longer before the outcome of the bet comes out.
Led by my boredom, I slowly lowered my gaze to the glass that I had put down on the counter. I could see my reflection on the side of the glass where some white froth had slid down.
It might be because I have a job that doesn’t require me to look at mirrors often, but something about my own reflection, which I hadn’t seen in a long time, looked weird to me.
Other than when I go to sleep, I would never remove the hat on my head even when indoors. Additionally, between my long-collared, Bondi blue shirt with orange vertical stripes and my vest, my ragged scarf did its best to act like an ascot tie.
How long have I been cherishing this one attire for?
If it were a year ago, I would have thrown these old clothes out sooner.
I decided to lean my body down on the counter and peer into my glass cup closely.
Black hair that was just long enough to reach past my nose and eyes. It might be because of the overall sharpness of my face and the fact that my slit eyes are harmoniously slanted along with my eyebrows, but my face, which people would often say looked spiteful and keen, would always appear discontent whether I wanted it to or not.
I feel like my skin had more gloss to it a year ago.
I wonder why I turned out this way. I forced myself to swallow down my meaningless lament and regret and continued to pointlessly mess around with the cup in my hand. It’s already been half a year since I started to live like this. I should start accepting my situation and get used to my new lifestyle.
After rotating my glass a couple of times, I noticed a crack going down from the top of the cup to the bottom. This cup was broken. I tapped on the counter twice with the bottom of the glass. This was a silent request to have my cup changed.
“It’s cracked, huh? Hand it here.”
The bartender rinsed the glass once before examining it in one hand. He then placed a single dollar bill on the counter. What does he intend to do?
“Customer, I’m asking just to be sure, but you aren’t planning to use this crack as an excuse to ask for another glass after having finished your drink already, right?”
I grinned at him without uttering a word. I’m not that shameless.
“I’ve been practicing lately, so this is a good opportunity. Let me show you something interesting.”
‘Although it isn’t that amazing,’ the bartender added before pinching a corner of the dollar bill between his index finger and thumb.
“Owner, are you going to show ‘that’ today as well?”
Patrons of the bar who were drinking nearby gathered next to me. They were all focused on the bartender’s hand.
Is he going to show us a magic trick? I was starting to get bored, so this was good. I put some hope into this unexpected entertainment and whistled.
“Have you ever seen alchemy in person?”
The bartender made quite the serious face as he asked me that. Have I seen alchemy in person? That was a difficult question to answer. In times like this, it’s best to just give an answer the other person wants to hear.
“Then watch closely.”
The bartender triumphantly returned his gaze to the dollar bill on the counter.
I thought he was going to grab the corner of the dollar, but the bartender actually grabbed on to something that didn’t have any physical form.
Once the bartender raised his hand up, something semi-transparent with the president’s face crested on it came out of the dollar. The rectangular, transparent spirit looked so similar to the dollar that if a dollar bill had a soul, then it would probably look like this.
“I’m concentrating, so be quiet.”
Everyone was already dead silent and the bartender already knew this, but it seems he couldn’t help himself and said that in order to make what he was doing seem as dramatic as possible.
Once the semi-transparent spirit was completely pulled out of the dollar bill, the ink printed on the dollar faded away without a trace. It became a blank piece of paper. The dollar lost its value.
“This is one of the basics of New World alchemy, ‘Value Extraction’.”
The bartender proudly waved the soul of the dollar bill in front of my face. I looked at the fluttering object that was emitting a faint, blue light and smiled.
Value Extraction. A basic skill among basic skills of New World alchemy that was capable of extracting the common value of things such as money, precious metals, etc.
“This is the ‘value’ you took out from the dollar, right? It’s interesting to see it up close like this.”
The bartender laughed triumphantly once I went along with his performance and massaged his ego.
“Haha, the United States of America is overflowing with alchemists these days. You can find at least one greenhorn like me in almost every town.”
It was just as the bartender said. Different from the alchemy in Europe which demanded a high degree of talent and systematic learning, the principle of the United States of America’s alchemy was rather simple, so there were a fair amount of people who knew how to use it even without having any prior talent.
“Owner, stop chit-chatting and show us the next part.”
The bar patrons, who had gathered around the counter, urged the bartender to continue.
Honestly, I was starting to get bored of this skit, so I wanted to leave, but if I leave while I’m still waiting for the “outcome of the bet”, then not only would I miss the show, but I would lose out on my winnings as well. I decided to stay seated.
“And this is, ‘Value Granting’.”
Another basic of New World alchemy. A technique that grants an extracted value onto another object.
Once the bartender uncurled his fingers above the glass cup, the “value” that looked like the soul of the dollar bill fell into the cup and was absorbed into it.
The audience let out a sound of amazement all at the same time. The crack in the glass mended itself in a flash. The stains and smudges on the glass cup also disappeared in an instant.
The old cup became brand new in the blink of an eye.
Cheers and applause erupted the moment the bartender lifted the glass cup in the air. The two men focusing on their poker match a short distance away glared towards the direction of the noise in annoyance, but no one besides me seemed to have noticed.
I received the glass and pretended to examine it as if I were amazed.
An object that was artificially given value through alchemy, a Fund. You could say that this glass cup, which the bartender had granted value to, was an excellent Fund.
It was a new trend that was moving the United States of America. Value is defined by New World alchemy as a power that can move the world. Even a mere dollar bill has the latent ability to fix a cracked glass.
The philosophical meaning of value is ‘the importance an object has to humans’.
Through the act of forcefully granting value to other objects after extracting value from things such as money and precious metals, New World alchemy flipped the direction of cause and effect. Therefore, it created a significance in supporting the value that was granted onto things.
Value Extraction and Value Granting. As these two things are the basics of the New World alchemy, they’re also all there is to it.
“I didn’t expect a ‘Fund Manager’ would be selling alcohol.”
In order to distinguish them from the alchemists in the Old World, we call New World alchemists that create and use Funds, ‘Fund Managers’.
“I’m a greenhorn who hasn’t been doing this for long. Don’t praise me too much.”
The bartender waved his hand in embarrassment. It seems he knew that he couldn’t call himself a Fund Manager if all he could do was fix cracks in cups.
If you think about it the other way around, although the threshold to learn New World alchemy is so low that even normal people can put their foot in the door, its uses are endless, so it’s difficult to master. To put it simply, you can call it a power that can improve everything.
“I must have gotten nervous because it’s been a while since I last did this. My body is all stiff.”
The bartender was so proud of himself that he looked like a politician who had just achieved a huge feat. As far as I could tell, he was a greenhorn who had only recently learned how to extract and grant value, but it seems he was fairly proud about fixing a single glass cup.
Well, I can’t say much when I can’t use alchemy.
“Thanks for the show.”
I wound up watching the entire skit. I tossed the bartender a coin and turned my back to the counter in order to resume watching the result of my bet. It seems the main event I was looking forward to was just about to start.
“Take a guess at what my name is, darling.”
There was a couple whispering sweet nothings to each other at the table across from me. It’s begun.
The couple was a Caucasian female who looked like a prostitute and a Caucasian gentleman who was wearing a nice, sleek suit. He had a gold ring on every one of his fingers besides his thumbs, so he looked like a typical upstart through and through. He was tall and had a chiseled face, but he was one of those people who always had a cocky smirk on their face.
“Can’t you give me a hint?”
She had a somewhat sweet voice that wrapped around your earlobes. The prostitute wiggled her hips and breathed into the guy’s ear. The gentleman seemed to have understood that gesture which was as implicit as Morse code and swept back his dark-green hair that was lathered with hair grease made from bear oil and grabbed the woman’s chin.
“Think about it. It’s rough but soft. Frightening but alluring. It’s that sort of name.”
The woman undid the second button on the man’s shirt and slid her finger inside. I could see a key hanging from the man’s neck along with a tattoo that looked like chains or a choker.
If the woman had some life experience or read some books, then she would have probably known that the answer was Bill, but, unfortunately, it seems the woman’s head was as vacant as the glass I had emptied.
“No, no, no.”
The man shook his index finger. He deliberately waved his finger knowing that the woman’s gaze would lock on to the ring on his finger. He was showboating.
“I give up. I don’t know.”
Giving up after guessing only 3 names? What a rotten personality. I bet you that those 3 names were the names of her first love, the pimp who took care of her when she used to work at a brothel, and the most handsome customer she had recently.
“How could you give up so soon, my adorable kitty?”
The guy let his sunglasses with smoky quartz lenses, normally worn by people with syphilis (syphilis sufferers are sensitive to sunlight), gleam in the light as he grabbed the woman by her chin.
“My name is L⎯O⎯V⎯E.”
It seems the milk I had was expired. I instantly felt sick. If I hadn’t promised beforehand that I wouldn’t interfere, then I would have smashed a chair into that guy’s lower jaw.
“Do you know why my name is Love?”
“I have no idea.”
Honestly, I have a good guess as to how this guy’s cheesy courtship is going to end. Well, it’s a given. How do I know? That’s because···.
He pulled his sunglasses off and grinned.
“Love is blind.”
Boo! Were you surprised?
There was a pair of pitch-black glass eyes in the places where his eyes should have been. He wasn’t syphilitic, he was visually impaired.
The woman was so frightened out of her mind that the already loose swinging door fell off of its hinges as she ran outside. The bartender yelled at her to pay for the door, but the harlot didn’t turn back and ran away so desperately that she was like Lot when he ran away from Sodom.
(TL note: Lot flees from Sodom)
“See? It’s my win.”
I put my hand on the gentleman’s shoulder and grinned.
“This is absurd! There’s no way that a trivial thing like having no eyes could overshadow my glorious charm!”
“How could anyone like you when you go around looking like a person with syphilis?”
“A virgin like you shouldn’t talk about sexually transmitted diseases!”
“It’s not like I never had the chance! I’m simply letting my strength build up! I’m voluntarily avoiding premarital sex!”
“Sure, whatever helps you sleep at night. Let me give you a piece of advice. Don’t tell your future wife that you were letting your strength build up on your first night together. That’ll become the worst punchline 3 minutes later.”
The guy grabbed the handle of his golden cane that was modeled after a die and lightly tapped the floor with it twice.
This guy’s name is Ray Charles. He’s a surveillant that was sent half a year ago by a senile alchemist in order to pressure me to quickly pay back my debt. Well, Ray and I actually have an almost partner-like relationship.
Of course, that’s if you consider my stupid contract with him where he turns a blind eye to my trivial expenditures like alcohol and stuff as long as I buy my guns, bullets, and other sorts of things exclusively from him as a relationship between partners.
He may be a dirty bastard who cares more about his own self-interests rather than carrying out his master’s orders faithfully, but if this half-hearted guy weren’t my surveillant, then I would have gone mad a long time ago.
Of course, since this guy sells his guns and bullets at prices insanely higher than the normal market prices, I can only drink milk this month. So regardless of whether he’s faithful to his orders or not, I can’t even get a sip of alcohol.
On the other hand, if I had to talk about his personality, Ray may be a pain in the ass, but he’s a breath of fresh air since we have a similar sense of humor.
“Honestly, all things considered, I won this bet. She did run away after seeing my eyes, but she didn’t pay even the slightest attention to you. You should try to show off more and wear better clothes. Stop walking around in dirty clothes like some beggar.”
“Do you know how hard it is to hold a gun when you have a bunch of rings on? Don’t act like you don’t know this.”
“If you’re as charming as I am, then even if you put yourself in front of the barrel of a shotgun, a nearby woman will throw her body in front of you and block the bullets.”
It would have been an even better breath of fresh air if this guy were also human. How great would it have been if I could put a bullet in his head every time he ran his mouth? It’s unfortunate that he can’t be killed with bullets.
“Not only do you not have eyes, but you aren’t human either in the first place. The ladies must swoon over you.”
“Look who’s talking. Ever since ‘that day’, you can’t call that body of yours completely human either. You might have even lost your ability to reproduce. Who knows? Why not invite a pretty lady to your room and make sure it still works? Ah, is that too hard for our baby Bill?”
“You piece of shit!”
I swung my fist at Ray’s stomach, but he dodged it with ease.
Interestingly, even though Ray doesn’t have any eyes, he moves around as if he did. More impressively, he’s also an excellent pianist. When I met him for the first time, I wondered how he intended to keep an eye on me when he didn’t have any, but I’ve come to terms with it now. Because⎯
Two shots. The sound of gunfire shook the saloon.
“Hide under a table!”
“There was a murder!”
The smell of smoke and blood made me feel nauseous.
The bartender and the other patrons of the bar had already taken cover by the time I turned to look at them. If you excluded the murderer, then Ray and I were the only two people in the bar who were still standing on two legs.
The person who shot the gun was one of the guys who was playing poker at the table across from me. The person who got shot was the guy who had the two pairs earlier. From what I could tell, it seems he had won big and was about to leave after raking in all of his winnings, but was killed on his way out.
See? I told you that was an unlucky hand.
“How did things turn out like this? Seriously, something bad always happens whenever we come to a saloon.”
Oh, mama mia. A single bullet in both his back and skull. The way his blood and brain matter spilled onto the floor reminded me of some Italian dishes.
Ray overheard my rambling and chuckled. Read the mood, man.
The guy who shot the gun stopped going through the corpse’s pockets and pointed his gun at me and Ray.
“Hey, you syphilis freak! Stop laughing! I’ll kill you!”
Ray promptly shut his mouth. It seems he either couldn’t find a woman nearby who would be his human shield or he had lost faith in his own charm. Bullets do nothing to him, but the criminal’s rough face must have intimidated him.
The man looked back and forth between us and the corpse before going back to looking through the corpse’s pockets.
“What should we do?”
I hate bothersome things. If they aren’t profitable, that is.
“Wait a sec.”
Ray moved his hand carefully so that the man wouldn’t notice and took out a thick stack of papers from his coat.
“Let me look.”
Ray straightened the brown stack of papers before flipping through them.
They were all wanted posters. DEAD OR ALIVE. A list of criminals whose deaths were permitted.
Honestly, I could shoot him dead or disable him right now if I wanted to, but if it turns out that he isn’t on a wanted poster, then the sheriff is going to interrogate me.
Time is money. Needlessly wasting my time during a busy day like this would literally be wasting money. More importantly, I especially didn’t like the idea of making no money from a kill.
In the single wanted poster which Ray had pulled out from his pile, there was a drawing of a man who looked identical to the man who was pointing a gun at us. They looked so similar that if someone were to tell me that a realist painter had drawn this, then I would have believed them.
“Benito Asbaje. He’s from Mexico.”
“I don’t care about that. How much is ‘that’?”
The guy was now glaring at us as he pushed his back against the last remaining swinging door.
“What are you two whispering about?! I’ll kill everyone he⎯”
Before his noisy Mexican accent could kill any more of the fine hair strands in my ears, I fired my 32-20 caliber revolver. A red sauce sprayed out wide and far. Waitress, there’s another serving of lasagna here.
“Also, the first guy who got shot was also wanted. 80 dollars.”
Ray grinned widely.
“Winner winner chicken dinner.”
I rummaged through both of the corpses and took all of their poker winnings. The rule of this match was ‘winner takes all’ and I was the winner.
“Let’s go get our money.”
An unexpected profit; however, if I think about how large my debt is, my joy quickly faded away.
“You aren’t going to buy me a beer?”
“Shut up. Go suck on a barrel.”
The reason why I haven’t shot Ray down is due to the fact that he’s also a materialistic person like me. Traveling with someone who has the same values as you is pleasant in its own way. After all, there’s nothing more important than money. I slipped a bill underneath my empty cup and exited the now quiet saloon.
I pushed open the swinging door, but the last hinge ended up breaking apart. I gave a slight nod to the bartender who was peaking at us over the counter before turning away.
“What a stingy person.”
“I’m going to leave you behind if you keep blabbering. I can find a single ‘girl’ with or without your help.”
“Don’t misunderstand. If my master hadn’t ordered me to keep an eye on you to make sure you paid back your debt earnestly, I wouldn’t be helping you at all.”
“Bullshit. You intend to take a cut from the reward money after we find that girl, right?”
Since we have similar personalities, are both materialistic, and aren’t shy when it comes to talking about money, the type of issues we’d run into often is obvious. Money problems.
“Naturally, I’m going to be compensated for the amount I worked.”
“Not only do you take a rental fee for the guns and put a price tag on the bullets, but you also plan to take some of the reward money?!”
“All right. Then let’s do this. Cigarettes and alcohol are all prohibited now. I’ll report everything to my master.”
“You’re going to threaten me like this?! You dirty crook!”
“If you don’t like it, then go make a lot of money.”
Honestly speaking, though, in this current day and age where I have to compete against famous detective agencies and Fund Managers, going around with a person from the Mojo race who are said to be professionals when it comes to New World alchemy is fortuitous for me. It’s hard to deny that this guy takes quite the amount of money, but Ray’s ability is outstanding enough to make me tolerate it.
One of the drawbacks is the fact that I can’t shoot him dead whenever he annoys me (If you shoot him, the bullet becomes a flower! He’s like a fairy from a fairytale!). However, if it’s just this, then I can bear with it, so it isn’t a problem.
No, as I thought, I still want to shoot him.
“We’ve had a long enough break, so let’s go exchange these corpses and go ‘searching’ again. Some of the bait we had spread out should have been taken by now.”
Once I hauled the two corpses onto my horse’s back, it let out a displeased snort. I know, Mexican people don’t wash that often, so their bodies must smell bad.
But wait a second. This rancid scent is a bit different from the Mexican body odor that I remember.
“Ah, this animal. You relieved yourself on another person’s car again.”
There was a large pile of horse shit next to the tire of a car that was parked next to a utility pole. We better get out of here before the owner of the car returns.
I grabbed the reins and walked along the sides of the cars that were lined up on the road with Ray.
I walked along the road while scratching each prettily painted car door with the barrel of my gun. There’s no real reason as to why I’m doing this. I just don’t like the sight of them.
The street we were walking on was already occupied by 15-stories tall buildings. A long time ago, be it the saloons or the residential households, they were never higher than two floors. As these thoughts went through my head, cars continued to go by while honking their horns.
It looked like everyone was anxious to get somewhere as if they were afraid that they would fall behind to the eastern development.
It’s been a long time since the scouts tracking Native Americans, sheriffs with badges, Texas Rangers, and the gallows had disappeared. I’ve been seeing fewer people on horses and the hat trend has also changed.
The saloon Ray and I were in earlier, which was something you’d normally see in underdeveloped towns during the pioneering age, was actually a bar that had rented the first floor of a high-rise building. Nowadays, people who aren’t able to forget about the fragrance of the previous age would gather in over-the-hill places like this that are decorated in the Old Western style and play cards.
The world has changed. Even while we’re playing cards, there’s a crane somewhere in this city that had its carrying capacity enhanced by Value Granting putting a building together.
I don’t want to admit it, but the romanticism of the pioneering days has vanished and I’m the only one who’s still in the 20th century.
It was 1906 where even the Apache Indians had become civilized and were printing newspapers.
“It’s only been 16 years since the pioneering ended, but this city has developed at quite the terrifying speed.”
I quietly nodded my head. Ray’s a rather laid-back person. ‘Only 16 years’? I momentarily forgot that Mojos live for a very long time. Quite the blessed bunch of people.
“Now then, in a large city with a population of roughly 400,000, how are we going to find a single girl?”
“I don’t know. It’ll probably be difficult. Well, there’s no way that there would be that many girls whose lives are as unfortunate as hers.”
“Fortunately, my main business is finding people.”
“That’s a relief. When I first met you, I thought you were one of those quick shooters from those Wild West shows.”
I shook my head.
Ray shrugged sheepishly.
Well, if I have to be honest, then I did go to the shooting ranges in circuses a couple of times because I wasn’t able to get a meal lately. Nevertheless, that’s just a side gig. My main job is something else.
My main job is finding people. There are probably people out there who’re curious about what I do for a living.
Come to think of it, it seems I haven’t introduced myself yet.
My name is Bill Withers. A bounty hunter living in 1906.
The 20th century can go fuck itself.