"Are youse the one they're callin' the Butcher?"
Bill stopped, looked up at the man; gave a slow glance from left to right, at the hanging gutted pig carcasses,
then down at his own bloodstained apron. "What do you *think*?" His drawl held amusement leavened with a
dangerous hint of stirring irritation; he held the man's gaze a moment before turning his attention back to the
pork loin he'd been quartering, finishing the process with two quick chops.
The man flushed, round peachfuzzed head reddening. "The Priest wants to see youse, Misther Bill the Butcher.
Bill thunked the cleaver into the cutting board and straightened up, stretching, before turning to call over his
shoulder into the rear of the shop. "Hear that, boys? The Pope's emissary himself wants words with me." Over
the derisive catcalls and laughter that echoed back from the butcher shop's dark, cavernous space, Bill turned
back and folded his arms, staring evenly at the shorter man. "And what's your own name, while we're at it?"
The man looked uncertain for a moment, but Bill's skeptical, amused stare seemed to catch the trigger of his
temper again. "Charles McGloin," he spat defiantly.
"Ah. 'Course. Another Mick. Like I couldn't tell by the way you mangle my language."
McGloin's fists clenched and unclenched at his sides. "If it weren't that the Priest wanted to speak t'ya peaceful,
"Then what?" Bill stretched his arms out behind his back -- then swept one forward and down with lightning
swiftness. McGloin jerked back as a knife appeared in the floor between his feet with a shockingly loud *thunk*.
"You say things like that to me in mine own shop, McGloin, you best look to arm yourself."
McGloin looked down at the knife, then at Bill. His hand twitched a little, but froze as Bill added casually, "Still,
that's betting I can't have your fingers off with another one'a my tools before you even try to pick that one
The Irishman's nostrils flared. But something -- either loyalty to the Priest's wishes, or basic self-preservation --
managed to keep his tongue still. Bill wasn't sure which he would prefer it to be: he disliked attributing any
Irishman with even the minimal good sense not to cross him, but equally unpleasant was the notion that the
Priest could control his men to a degree Bill knew (even if he admitted it only to himself) he could not.
Not as yet, anyway.
"Now. Let's try this again." Bill wrenched the cleaver out of the cutting board and tested its weight casually. "I'll
see your *Mister* Vallon if he asks me nicely, though I ain't about to give him that god-botherer title he affects
under no particular circumstances --mostwise 'cause since I already seen him walkin' with his kid down by that
rat's nest Brewery you squat in, I suspect he ain't really taken holy orders."
"You'll not be makin' remarks about the Priest's devotion! He's a very devout man, Misther Butcher!"
Bill snorted. "Oh, a devout Papist, my mistake; my apologies on bended fuckin' knee to the Great Scarlet Harlot
of Rome. So--speak sharp to speak smart, bog-trotter. What's your *Priest* want with me?"
"Well--*Misther* Cutting--" McGloin set his fists on his hips-- "Misther Vallon has it in his mind as it's more
respectful to treat wi'yeh face to face, concerning the setting of proper bounds for his people. Seems that'd be
of some interest to yeh, surely?"
"You don't presume to guess what's of interest to me, potato-peeler, and any way it's said, you ain't like to see
me run and jump to the summons of any Irish bog-bastard without there be some halfway involved. So go
back and tell your *Priest*, he's gotta *pay* for the pleasure of my company. Like anybody else."
McGloin's breath rasped heavily in and out, but he nodded stiffly after a moment and turned to march down the
stairs to the shopfront.
"Oh--by the way--" Caught off guard, McGloin turned back just
in time to catch a heavy, greasy parcel of
paper. He blinked down at it, then at Bill, who waved his cleaver negligently. "Take your Priest some real meat,
McGloin--that boy of his looks like he needs feedin'."
McGloin snarled, evidently searching for a suitable exit line--but his
brain clearly proved unequal to the task. So
he spun and stormed down the staircase instead, brushing by a tall, colorfully-suited figure coming up, who
turned to watch McGloin leave before finishing his ascent into Bill's work-room.
"Couldn't help but overhear you there, Bill," said the man, and swept off his top hat as Bill took another loin from
the pile next to him and began quartering it. He nudged the knife in the floor with the toe of his boot. "I fully
approve you making sure this Vallon knows the Natives won't jump at his command, but don't you think you
could've drawn it a shade milder?"
"He sends me a message by some Mick ain't got the grasp of English to transmit his own orders," Bill growled,
not looking up, "so's it only makes sense I'm gonna respond in kind. Thought I'd speak him the sort of tongue
even an Irishman would actually understand."
The man shook his head and sighed. "You're a master of your weapons, Bill--no one's denying that. But there
comes a time in every man's life where he realizes he gets more done by putting the weapons down."
Bill stopped chopping, braced his fists on the chopping board and leant on them for a moment. When he finally
looked up it was with a glare. "I don't never lay my weapons down, Marcus. Some of us ain't got that luxury."
He shook himself as if casting off a coat of water and grabbed another chunk of meat. "Some of us, after all,
ain't yet a big uptown cheese like Mr. Marcus Goodge, with his suits and his walking stick an' all."
"Uptown?" Goodge bent and pulled the knife from the floor, the motion revealing the massive breadth of his
shoulders beneath the well-cut jacket. He presented it to Bill hilt-first, flipping it deftly in his fingers. "I still live in
the Points, Bill. And I still know the use of things besides a walking stick. Don't never think I've forgotten."
Bill returned his gaze evenly, then folded his arms and turned away to glower past him at the wall. "So you're
saying I should see this Vallon, then."
"If it costs you nothing, why not?"
"Might cost me my life, I meet him where he wants, when he wants. You taught me that, Marcus."
"True." Goodge acknowledged the point with a nod, his dark eyes thoughtful. "So let's find his errand-boy and
arrange something. His time, our place. We can extend him that courtesy."
"No, Marcus. *You* want to, mindin' you're Chancellor -- " Bill gestured a spiral with the edge of his cleaver --
"that's your call to make, I wouldn't never imply it wasn't. But there's no courtesy in me for any Irishman save
you order it, and you're the only man living has that power. So: That what you're sayin'?"
Goodge hesitated, but his eyes hardened. "Yes, Bill. Yes, I think that's exactly what I'm saying."
Bill shrugged. "Then there's no more to discuss." He gathered up the quartered chops of meat and turned
away, striding towards the back of the workroom to see them packaged and off to their respective destinations.
"What's he like, this Butcher?" His leather armour-collar lying
unbuttoned on the barrelhead beside him, Joyce
Vallon stretched out his long legs with a sigh. One hand was wrapped idly around the heft of a broad, sweating
tankard; the other supported his head as he watched McGloin, hunched on a stool across the room.
McGloin spat. "That man's touched in his mind, for sure."
Vallon laughed. "Well, this does seem to be a country for it,"
he agreed lightly. He brought the tankard to his
mouth and swigged from it, wiping the foam from his moustache. "Are you thinking it was a mistake, then?
Approaching him, rather than this Goodge fella?"
McGloin shook his head, more as if clearing something from his mind
than in disagreement. "I think it was *his*
mistake, Priest, not to pay ye the proper respect." He looked up, his eyes burning, and held up a clenched fist.
"Say the word and I'll put a hurting on him the like of which he'll not forget!"
A snort of mockery came from the door; Vallon looked over, and his eyebrow
went up at the sight of the big
red-haired man standing beside Jack Mulraney. "Monk," he said, then looked past him at Jack. "I mind me as
how I said nobody was to come in, Jack?"
Happy Jack Mulraney twisted his hat nervously between his hands.
"Aye, Priest, that you did, but, ah, Mr.
McGinn here -- " he jerked his head at the big man -- "said he knew what you was about, and that he had words
"Words, have you?" Vallon drew in his legs and pushed himself
upright, a tall, broad-shouldered man betraying
a dangerous grace in his movements. "And why should I be listening to the words of a man who's not taking
any sides at all in this? A man from my own country, yet, who's like as not spying me out, if he claims to know
my business before I've even thought to consult him on it?"
Monk McGinn shrugged and sauntered forward; though he was a bare fraction
shorter than Vallon, he made up
for it and more with his muscular, thick-bodied bulk. "I've a share in knowing how the borders shake down,
same as anyone else," he said. "And I'll wager I can tell you more useful about Mr. William Cutting than your
loyal bulldog, there." A nod to McGloin, whose lip drew back in a silent snarl.
Vallon restrained McGloin with a lifted palm, then folded his arms.
"And what would you be telling me now,
"Ah -- might I, first?" Monk nodded at the half-empty tankard. "Talking's thirsty work."
A slow smile spread over Vallon's face. He did appreciate nerve.
"Consider yourself at home, Monk." He
gestured extravagantly to the chair he'd just abandoned; Monk sank into it with a sigh of relief and emptied the
tankard. McGloin and Jack stared at Vallon as if he'd lost his senses, but he ignored them.
"Well. There's a fair bit you most likely already know," said
Monk at last, lowering the tankard. "He's a fair length
of a fella, for all he's built most like one of them racetrack dogs--can work up an evil speed at a dead run, too, or
so I've heard."
"And he's a great one for the battles, our Butcher Bill?"
"Oh, certain; it's how he made his mark comin' up, and all. If the Butcher
ever gets yez in sights, he'll put you
down hard and kill you for sure. I've seen it, and not just the once, neither."
Vallon's eyes narrowed. "No wife? No children?"
"No, but he's young yet. Owns that shop fair and square, though."
Vallon raised his eyebrows. "And here I'd been thinkin' that name
of his was nought but a street gladiator's
"No, he's a butcher, that's for bitter true," McGloin interrupted, glaring
at Monk. "Only butcher still works the
Points, 'side from them the reformers brings down of a Sunday."
"Huh." Vallon considered McGloin a moment, then very deliberately
turned back to face Monk. As McGloin
reddened at this silent rebuke: "Religious man, is he?"
"Aside from damning Roman Popery every time he draws breath? Not to
show." Monk shook his head. "He's
Orange through and through, to my mind, though I've never yet seen him set foot in any church--but you'd
best press him yourself about it, if you want the details." A pause. "Anywise, he's a man has the courage of his
convictions, narrow though they may be."
He gave Priest a sidelong look. "You two'd have that in common, I'm thinkin'."
Vallon put one finger to his mouth, thinking. At the sight, Jack
started up. "Priest--you're not thinkin' serious
about talking peace with this man? He hates us and everything we brung to these shores."
"Peace, or a more honorable war," said Vallon. "Either will do, Jack."
Spring in the Points brought its share of scents good and bad, what
with the stench of midden heaps and
unwashed flesh warring with sea breezes off the dock and the smell of blossoming greenery. As he slipped in
down the back alley behind Bill's shop, Monk actually found his mouth watering at the rich reek of bloodied
animal flesh that wafted from ahead, and followed it to find the Butcher tipping out a bucket of tripe and other
"unusables" into a series of wooden barrels ranged along the alley wall.
It was charity, of a sort; the poorest of the poor would take that offal
for soup or stew, though the flies were
already buzzing around what little lean meat was left. Still, Monk knew that most in the Points didn't turn up their
noses at what was offered, regardless of who or what they had to fight to get at it. After all, he'd had to settle
for a pass through such leavings a time or two himself--not for a good while now, thankfully; the stick saw to
But he remembered.
Bill knocked the last shreds of meat and meal from the bucket, then
spoke without looking up. "Pickings thin
this week, Monk? I can get you a good deal on some winter mutton--if you care to taste it."
"I think I'll pass on your mutton, Bill. Touch dry for my liking."
"'Course. That's how it lasts." Bill tossed the bucket inside
the shop's back door and leant against the wall, arms
folded. Monk wasn't fooled by the pose; he'd seen how fast Bill's hands could move, and knew that even now
there were probably several knives left on his tool-belt. "So if you ain't here in no professional capacity, what the
fuck do you want with me?"
"You need to learn a few more words, Bill."
"Well, I'll set my mind to *that* when I got the leisure. But
I ain't the one havin' trouble answering a simple
question, Monk: What -- the fuck -- do you want?" Bill pointed at him with a levelled finger.
"I've a message, direct from Priest Vallon this time. A *request*,"
Monk clarified, as he saw muscles tighten in
Bill's jawline. "For a few minutes of your time, at a place of your choosing. Simply to discuss the borders
between the *Dod Rabeidhs* and the Nativists."
"*Dod Rabeidhs*," Monk corrected. "The Mighty Brawlers."
Bill gave a snort that might have been disgust or laughter, followed
through to its proper conclusion. "First thing
you can tell this Priest is he's in America now. Where we speak English, 'case you hadn't heard."
"English is all well and good, Bill, but it's not the only tongue in
the world. Perhaps you should extend yourself to
learn some taste of someone else's language, now and then. Just for a change."
"Why? English was good enough for Jesus Christ Almighty: Read the Bible."
"Oh, I do that, and often. Do you?"
Lines drew taut in Bill's face, and the walrus moustache quivered slightly.
Bill's comparative lack of literacy was a
sore spot, especially given his youthful trip through the 'formatory, and one Monk normally avoided
touching--but even he wasn't prepared to dismiss such a jeering parody of good, honest Gaelic.
"Tell the Priest," Bill said, finally, his voice not quite steady, "I'll
take the air at Paradise Square tomorrow round
about noon--in the company of a few friends. If he should feel the need to speak to me, I would advise him to
grab that same opportunity, 'cause there won't be another one. Now unless you got other business for your
Papist lord and master, scat."
Monk put a look of mock sorrow on his face. "Aw, Bill. And here I was plannin' to buy something."
"Oh yeah? Turns out we ain't exportin' today, Paddy." The Butcher
gestured, and Monk blinked: Light struck
sharp from a bright new blade, though he hadn't even seen Bill start to draw it. "Now *shift*."
To which Monk tipped his head, dignified but careful, eyes still on Bill's pig-sticker. And did.
Bill wasn't sure whether he was grateful for or angered by the unexpected
company: As he'd been shutting up
shop, Marcus Goodge had arrived on his doorstep without warning, making it clear with a few wry comments
that he'd found out about the meeting from his own sources. He didn't seem displeased, but he'd brought a
few of his own boys as well, and clearly expected to take the lead in whatever discussions might ensue.
Bill clasped his hands behind his back, a useful trick learned long
past, in order to keep others from seeing them
shake. Not with fear: with rage.
He was a man who understood fair payment, and he knew exactly what he
owed Goodge, down to the last
copper and service. Goodge had welcomed him into the Nativists during his first year apprenticed to his
predecessor, a fat old man named Poole, and it was Goodge's patronage which had helped raise him to his
current position as warleader and unofficial second in the Confederation. But if Bill hadn't spent the last five
years taking over more and more of Goodge's former duties and actions within the Nativists -- everything
ranging from collection and enforcement to running rival gangs out of the Points -- Goodge would never have
been able to accomplish his own transformation: From back-alley amuser, to gang chieftain, to respected citizen
and "community leader."
Forget this "do as you would be done by" muck the God-botherers tried
to shovel: Out where blade met bone,
Bill often thought, it was payment was everything precious--the be-all and the end-all, the aleph and the zed.
Especially so here in this uncertain vale of tears called the Five Points, the only place Bill had ever known for
himself, or ever wanted to.
Bill cast a glance at the kid gloves on Goodge's hands, the silver knob
of his walking stick. And thought,
glowering: *You owe that finery to ME, Marcus, sure as if I'd bought them things for you with my own
earnings. And you still act like I'm some half-baked lamb fresh out of the 'formatory, that same skinny
fifteen-year-old what you took under your wing...*
Well, he had his full height now, fifty men to his credit, and the whores
were calling *his* name as he passed. Bill
wondered, sometimes, if Goodge even realized what that meant.
The Old Brewery loomed up ahead over the rooftops, and Goodge paused
for a moment, leaning almost
meditatively on his walking-stick. "Well, boys," he said. "There it is. Center of the infestation. What do you
think we should do?'
"Burn it down," said Bill, without smiling.
"And is that any way to be welcoming strangers to the land of freedom
and opportunity?" A lilting voice called
from across the street. Bill whirled, cleaver immediately in hand; even Goodge shifted himself about with some
speed, as Natives and "Rabbits" took their first real look at each other.
The fireplug bruiser McGloin was there, plus a youngish man Bill recognized:
Happy Jack Mulraney, so named for
the scar that pulled one side of his mouth into a perpetual smirk. Between them was a tall man in a long leather
duster, a heavy white collar ringing his neck.
Bill smiled grimly, lowering the cleaver. "You'd be that Vallon calls himself the Priest," he called back.
The man, tall and sandy-haired with a moustache half the size of Bill's
own and small mutton-chop sideburns,
made a scoffing, good-natured sound. "They call me so for my little throat-guard, here," he said, touching the
white collar. "And in praise of a piety no true Christian should ever say he boasted of. But ye may call me Priest
as well, young Mr Cutting, if it suits yeh."
"And this would be Mr. Marcus Goodge?" said Vallon, completely ignoring
Bill's last utterance. Bill's knuckles
whitened on the cleaver.
Goodge tipped his hat. "Mr. Vallon."
"I'm thinking you're a busy man, so let's be at it quick and simple,"
said Vallon. "My *Dod Rabeidhs* are having
no interest in a war, not just yet. But it's clear as Kerry water that there's some misunderstandings going about,
concerning whose streets are whose. So let's you and me name some borders."
Goodge glanced at Bill, then at the other Nativists, and folded his
arms. "Well," he said, "in that case, I think we
can do business, Mr. Vallon. If you'll give me some time to consult a map, I can send over a suggested plan
tomorrow to your place of -- "
"Forgive me, Mr. Goodge." Nothing in Vallon's tone had changed,
to speak of--and yet the smile and
pleasantness had vanished utterly from the Priest's voice by now, replaced by a bristle of danger underlaying
the polite words. "But I've no trust for papers or delays. You lead the Nativists; I lead the *Dod Rabeidhs*.
Let's treat together like men, here and now, face to face. Or not treat at all."
Bill blinked, as Goodge's mouth hardened.
"Mr. Vallon -- Priest -- it's not a question of delays. We have to determine the best mutual arrangement of -- "
"Do you or don't you know your own territory, Mr. Goodge? Is it someone else we should be talking to, then?"
"If it's blood you want, then go to the Butcher," said Bill, stepping
forward, cleaver still in hand. He was not
unaware of the swift glance Goodge cut him from the corner of one eye, nor of the mixed gratitude and anger
in it--but his eye was on his prey, so he ignored both. Telling Vallon, instead:
"You say you don't want no war. How are we supposed to take you
serious, you won't fight for what you
*say* you want?"
"Now, Mr. Cutting," said Vallon. "I never said we wouldn't *fight*,
simply we had no interest in a war. There's a
powerful world of difference between those terms."
"So you *will* fight."
"With a glad heart."
And: *Oh, this is a man to watch,* Bill thought, idly running a thumb
along the edge of his blade, surprised to
find himself grinning. As if in reply, meanwhile, Vallon's own smile came back: Met and matched like two rat-pit
dogs, in that last breathless second before the vermin-master lets his bag drop.
A man to watch indeed. A feast dangled in front of a starving thing,
after so long without true meat even he'd
come to forget his own hunger.
"Let's start with the obvious, then," Bill started, light and calm,
almost as if he were bored of the subject already.
"You Papists want the Church, and we got no interest in that. And the Old Brewery's already full to bursting
with your kind. You get that, and the run of Mulberry between them. That's it."
A pause. Vallon's eyebrows rose. "That's all? There's room enough for all here, surely."
"There's room enough for *Americans*, that's why they call it America.
And you can ask the British about that."
Bill pointed to the roof of the Brewery, then to the dimly visible steeple of the church beyond. "Be very exact
about this: The church, the Brewery, and Mulberry Street between. You don't touch *nothing* else, nowhere,
no-how. Or you and me will have words, Mr. Vallon."
Vallon had placed his hands behind his back, face impassive. "Then
let us have those words now, Mr. Cutting:
What you've said is not enough. Give us the cross-streets on Mulberry between: Oak, and Governor, and
Victory Square. And let me be equal exact in turn: Give us these, or we take them."
Bill's hand tingled; he realized he was squeezing the handle of his
cleaver so hard his fingertips were going numb.
His teeth ground in his skull. But as he opened his mouth to answer--
Bill spun, jaw dropping; Goodge held up his walking stick, then pointed
at Vallon. "The cross-streets. We find
you beyond those, this agreement is broken."
"Done," said Vallon. He nodded to Goodge, then again, more slowly,
to Bill. For a moment something flickered
in his eyes: Respect? Sympathy?
No; not sympathy. That would be entirely too close to pity for Bill to stomach.
As Vallon and the other Irish turned and strolled off down the street,
heading for the Brewery, Bill rounded on
Goodge. Before he could even get a word out: "Shut up, Bill!" Goodge snapped. "You put that cleaver away
you want to talk to me--am I understood?"
"Understood? I'm supposed to understand when you *throw away*
our territory to the filthy bog-bitches and
animals come here to breed swarms of two-legged rats in our streets?"
"Bill--Vallon was *right*." Goodge met the Butcher glare for glare.
"What you gave them wasn't enough for
the people who are already there. If they walked away taking your arrangement, we'd have ended up in a war
by month's end, and that don't suit us all as good as it suits you. Jesus Christ, Bill, some of us got *businesses*
to run. Did you ever think of that?"
"'Course not, Marcus. Ain't like *I* do, or some-such."
"You run your business the way you want to, Bill," Marcus growled.
He struck his breast with his walking stick.
"I'll run the Nativists the way *I* say." He stepped even closer, ignoring the cleaver in Bill's hand, pushing his
greater mass right up against Bill's chest. "Or maybe you'd like to call challenge on me, Bill? Is that it? Is that
how it ends between us?"
Breathing out through his nose, long and harsh, Bill ordered his thoughts.
"No," he said finally. "No, that ain't
how I want it to end. You know that."
"Then you maybe oughtta start adding up your alternate options, Bill."
Goodge drew back and then moved
past him, scowling. And tossed over his shoulder: "You ain't really got the build for a man what's *always*
gotta think with his fists."
Bill made himself put away the cleaver, although a shockingly strong
temptation to hurl it into Goodge's spine
boiled deep in his brain for a moment. "You're making a mistake, Marcus," he said, after a few more breaths.
"You don't know these God-rotten Micks the way I do..."
"And what way's that, Bill?" Goodge called, without looking back.
But there was no easy answer for that.
"I'm still not altogether certain that was the best thinking, Priest,"
said Jack, after a few minutes' silent walking
back towards the Brewery. "Do you want the whole of the Points knowing our business, then?"
"For this, Jack, yes, I do." Vallon nodded firmly. "For
starters, we've made the Nativists commit to an
agreement in public. And even if we're taking away only a small space, it's our own free and clear now--any
Nativist who crosses us in our space will regret it. Goodge will punish him for certain sure, if we don't."
"Goodge?" McGloin looked bewildered. "The man hates us as much as any o' them!"
"Aye, McGloin. You've hit the right of it there. But --
" Vallon raised a finger -- "Goodge prides himself on being
both a man of his word and the man who says what the Natives do, and when. Any Native crosses us in our
streets, he not only breaks Goodge's agreement, he shows the Points Goodge can't control his own. So *we*,
by making him swear to it before all present, have made our names and our faces clear in the minds of all.
They'll remember us now." Vallon smiled grimly. "They'll know the *Dod Rabeidhs* are not to be trifled with."
"They'll know the 'Dead Rabbits' are not to be trifled with," corrected
Jack sourly. "Would you give a tuppenny
fart for which name the folk here'll remember?"
Vallon scowled, then blew out a breath. "Aye, well, if the Dead
Rabbits we must be, then it's the Dead Rabbits
we are. Far from the silliest name I've heard bandied about amongst these folk."
"All this time yeh talk of Goodge, Priest," said McGloin abruptly.
"But yeh saw the way the Butcher near
scuppered the whole deal. D'yeh really think Goodge rules him as solidly as ye're hopin'?"
Vallon smiled. "Ah yes, Mr. Cutting. He's the young man of parts,
isn't he, our sweet William? A fine mind, but a
wicked tongue. And a vengeful, raging heart," he added, his tone almost approving. "It will be quite some thing
to face him down, I foresee, when we come to that at last."
"D'we have to?" Jack asked, glum; McGloin shot him a glare. But the Priest simply nodded.
"Oh, it's an inevitability. Yet we'll study to learn as much as he'll
tell us, beforehand--and he'll let slip a deal, if I
care to press him. For he's one who likes to talk, too, I'll wager...especially so, when he thinks he's finally found
one of his own nature to talk with."
End Part One
Days into nights, weeks into months, months into years: Life in
the Points continued its apparently timeless
course. Lays and beatings, go-girls and she-hes, rat fights and pulls at the All-Sorts barrels (Bill watched these
with great amusement; it had been long since *he'd* had to settle for such vileness). Monk McGinn still made
the rounds of all the Irish gangs, hiring himself out to all those who'd pay for another nick in his stick. And every
day, it seemed, brought a few more Micks on the streets: First Water, then Worth, then Mulberry in turn...
*They'll break that deal of Marcus' clean in half by this Easter,* something
whispered in Bill, deep down. *See if
they don't, you don't put yourself out not to let 'em.*
He took to meandering the edges of the Rabbits' territory whenever he
could afford time away from the shop,
one hand on his belt and the other lodged Napoleon-wise inside the flap of that kingfisher-bright new top-coat
Goodge had made him buy. "For show, William," he'd explained, in that ridiculously rich, Uptownified new voice
"For showin' of *what*, exactly?" Bill had growled, sullen. To which
Goodge had clapped a fatherly hand on his
shoulder, and replied:
"How easy you can afford to, 'course. Or don't you *want* these shit-poor
bastards to take you for a
well-connected, prosperous man of means?"
Well, the latter, obviously. But there was a note of chivvying about
the question that made Bill frankly bridle--put
his back up high in the air, like some alley-cat more apt to snap at the hand that stroked it than to stroke it back
in turn. And neither sensation was one Bill could claim he enjoyed.
Whenever Bill's eyes met those of a Rabbit on these daily promenades
of his, he scowled; most times the
Rabbit--or Rabbits--scowled back, but left it at that. Saving Vallon himself, of course: Because whenever Bill
happened across the now-famous Priest, often as not out walking with his tiny son hoisted up high on his
shoulders, the other man simply smiled and waved jauntily, as if greeting an old friend.
At first, Bill had initially been disgusted to find himself actually
acknowledging these gestures, even if it was with
nothing more than a nod. But his grudging respect for the huge man grew apace, no matter how hard he tried
to keep it in proper check--and thinking on this fact, every now and again, Bill had at last started to see the
pattern of it: For so long, the only man who had met his gaze without any fear at all had been Marcus Goodge,
who still saw him as a second, an apprentice...a boy. And while Vallon might well be mocking Bill, he had never, as
yet, stooped to patronize him.
Of course, that hitherto-inextinguishable good nature of the Priest's
might also have to do with his Rabbits'
ever-growing numbers, not to mention the way they were already drawing allies like flies to Bill's own
garbage-heap: All those other nascent Irish gangs like the Plug Uglies and the O'Connell Guards, the Shirt Tails,
the Kerryonians and the Roach Guards, just to name the ones Bill knew himself for certain. It was impossible to
track numbers with any exactness, but Bill's battle-instincts had been sounding alarms for weeks now;
notwithstanding the Confederation's own usual roster of back-up, it would soon go narrower odds in any full-out
rowdy than even Bill particularly liked, when push came to shove.
Which meant Vallon had every reason to smile jaunty, the sanctimonious Papist prick.
So now here was Goodge once again, descending on Bill's door of a fine
Sunday morning--and Bill'd known,
even before Goodge had opened his mouth, what was in the man's mind. After all: Hadn't Bill himself seen the
fights breaking out all along the Rabbits' borders, for near on two moons now? Hadn't he won more than one
of them, leaving several of the Christ-chewing potato-peelers in no fit state to fight for months, even if
(scrupulously following Goodge's orders) he'd struck to wound rather than kill? Didn't he already know how the
Rabbits were exploiting their alliances with the other gangs in order to go places and reap harvests they'd no
And was he the only one to feel a peculiar, half-conscious disappointment
that the Rabbits had resorted to such
penny-ante trickery...that it was always underlings and hangers-on what got caught doin' it...or that the Priest,
source of all evils, wasn't never involved so direct that Bill could come at him front-wise, like a genuine gladiator?
"He'll insist he never approved any of it, of course," said Goodge as
they strode along, Bill at his side and an even
dozen of the Confederation's toughest soldiers following. "He'll claim it's all misunderstandings an' accidents, and
that's why the Rabbits need more formal territory, with wider borders--to prevent suchlike, 'cause we ain't done
him fair the fisrt time 'round." Goodge's hands rubbed busily along the haft of his stick, as if practicing for
gripping a throat. "And if he tries that nonsense, Bill, by all that's holy--you remind him how we honor our
treaties in the Points, for good and all."
Bill frowned. "Not to gripe, Marcus--but I ain't too sure the Rabbits'll
let me count coup on the Priest, without
there's no formal challenge."
Sharply: "I didn't mean *kill* him, Bill. Just talk him back down, is all."
"Parlay? *Me*? That's rich, that is." Bill snorted. "Anyroads...what
makes you think the Priest'd jump to my
tune, no more'n I would to his?"
"He's spoke of you. Often. You made an impression."
The brief twist of Goodge's lips was like a moment's
palsy, too dry and too quick to really be amused. "I always said you was two of a kind, you and him."
"Not near me, you ain't. And that was some good thought, on your part."
"Just do what I tell you, Bill; I'm tired of this chat. Just find a
place works for the both of you, and get this-all laid
*...before someone else has to do it for you.*
The unsaid appendix lingered behind, echoing, as Goodge turned--stick-top
a-glint in the sunlight, insultingly
casual, even as he showed the Butcher his unprotected back--and strolled away.
No-place in the Points would suit, suffice to say. Instead, after several
days of exchanging messengers and
hashing out suggested meeting sites, Priest and Butcher found themselves momentarily wedged together in
uncomfortable proximity up in the Gods at the legendary Old Bowery Theatre after a night's last show, squinting
down--through a flickering haze of gaslight--on the scene-sweepers already shifting moth-eaten flats off-stage
and collecting rotten produce from the playhall floor.
"Let's us get down to business," Bill began. To which the Priest nodded,
all sweet and reasonable-like--and then
went blithely barrelling right on into as completely separate a subject as Bill could gape at, was he to let himself:
"Cutting. Almost too perfect a name, for a man of your trade, eh? Might I ask the derivation of it, then?"
"My father, my father's father, his father before him. That's all the 'derivation' I need."
"That'd place your family here substantially before the Revolution, wouldn't it?"
Bill made himself take yet one more deep breath, leaning back to gain
what distance he could. "I don't keep
much truck with history," he said after a moment, his voice surprising even him with its evenness. "Usually right
now is important enough for me."
"Meaning we should stick to the subject, uh? Well, that's a commendable
focus yeh have for a young man
of...?" The Priest trailed off, raising his eyebrows.
"I'm thirty-one full years of age. Though it ain't like I see what in *hell* that has to do with -- "
"Ah. Not so young as I thought." Vallon nodded, as if confirming
something. Bill felt a quick rush of heat up the
back of his neck.
"You sayin' I act the stripling, Vallon?"
"Now, why are you always so swift to look for the insult in what a person says, Mr. Cutting?"
"'Cause it's usually there, you look hard enough."
"Aye, and you look hard enough, you'll find it even if none's meant."
Bill traced a dismissive spiral in the air with one hand, eyes narrowing.
Already, the Priest had received the
benefit of more restraint than Bill had shown any man for years; if he didn't wise up to that fact, though, and
"I'm thirty-six myself," Vallon offered, unexpectedly. At Bill's
surprised look: "And permit me to venture a
guess: Not so old as *you* thought, hm?"
"The grey deceived me," said Bill at length, indicating the streaks in Vallon's hair and moustache.
"Aye, it does that." Vallon settled himself more comfortably;
Bill wondered exactly how he managed to pull off
that catlike trick of looking relaxed even in the most awkward postures. "The same as your lack of it deceived
Bill's mouth quirked. *Well, we're not lookin' to marry each other,
that I'm aware, so if we can stop with the
mutual admiration of our coiffures...*
But: "This ain't about you and I," he said. "This is about territory.
What the Natives got, and what the Rabbits
"The old myths held that a man was his land," Vallon mused, looking
down at the stage. "That the health of the
king was the health of the soil. Mayhaps you and I have more to do with this than you'd t'ink."
"I ain't king of this particular domain...."
"Not yet. But you're lookin' to it. Unless I'm very much mistaken."
"Wouldn't you be, you stood where I am?" Bill was fed up with
being the butt of this man's unnervingly acute
insights; it was time to put the shoe on the other foot. He leant forward. "You don't strike me as a man takes
orders well yourself."
Vallon nodded slowly. "Not for a while now, 'tis true. Any
man tries to command me--" He gave Bill an
unflinching look. "--he'd best be ready to back it with steel."
Bill smiled, slowly. Thinking: *Steel I got, Priest. Keep going this route, you'll find that out.*
"So." He leant back, hands behind his head. "Just how much land, exactly, do your Dead Rabbits want?"
"*Dod Rabeidhs,*" Vallon corrected, with the faint grimace of a man growing weary of a running jest.
"I know, I know, spare me the Irish monkey-talk." Bill swept a
palm through the air, as if wiping away Vallon's
words. "How you think youse can count y'selves trustworthy when you say one thing and hold it means
something else? Deal with it, Priest: You and your people are the Dead Rabbits, for now and forever, amen.
That's all most around here will ever remember, anyroad," he added with a smirk.
At least that annoying half-smile was gone, now. But Vallon's
voice remained even and pleasant--and if his eyes
and mouth had hardened, that only pleased Bill the more.
"So a gang should name itself only for what it claims to be, eh?"
"The honest ones--yes."
The Priest steepled his fingers together and peered thoughtfully over
them. "Ah well, now, Bill--that's just not
altogether true, is it? Take the Bowery Boys, for example, with so few of 'em being from the Bowery, and none
of 'em being boys. Or your own Natives, at that, seeing how I never yet noticed any Red Indians in amongst
you. What am I to t'ink of the Natives' honesty, then?"
"You're a great one for the talking, Priest," said Bill after a long
pause, voice dangerously soft. "But talk is cheap,
and I don't trust it."
"Oh aye?" Vallon sat up, looking interested. "Then what do you trust, Bill?"
Bill flicked his arm down, twitching a knife into his hand with flashing
speed; Vallon's eyes widened slightly,
though he betrayed no other reaction. Bill leant forward, brandishing the blade. "I trust this. Especially in mine
own hand. A knife--" he looked at it, turning it so its metal glinted in the light-- "is good, honest steel. It tells no
lies. I look at it, I know right away what it can do."
"Aye, sure--but there's only so much it *can* do."
Bill looked up through narrowed eyes. "It does everything what I need it to."
The Priest nodded slowly. Then: "And is that all you'll *ever* need it to, Bill?"
"My Da once told me that to truly make a man your own, you had to do
two things--show him you could beat
him to the ground, if need be...then show him that you were equal willing to hold a hand out, help him up and
listen to his grievances, after."
"That's a very... instructive little fable." Bill twirled the
knife over his knuckles, almost absently. "My father never
told me nothing similar, unfortunately--which ain't too surprising, seein' how he was dead before I was born,
keepin' people like you out of this glorious country."
And at last, a shot had very definitely gone home; Bill felt a surge
of triumph in his gut as the Priest sat up, eyes
wide and--for much the first time--unshielded.
"People like me?" Vallon's voice was soft, smooth and even, like
a sword being drawn from a well-oiled scabbard.
"*Misther* Cutting, the Irish race know more about conquerors' boot-heels than any man born here ever could,
or will. Seven hundred years we've liven under the British lash, suffering sore beneath the reign of the same
people you-all Americans shrugged away from like a thankless child shutting the gate on his own Grandda. So
you'll forgive me if I'm not moved to pity by *your* plight."
Bill felt the heat rush into his face, like he'd been slapped; he was
out of his seat before either of them knew
better, each hand now filled with a knife-hilt. "What on the face of God's green earth," he rasped, "makes you
dream I give you leave to *pity* me?"
The moment hung between them in the air for a long, quivering instant.
Bill saw the Priest's eyes flicker from
him to the space between them, gauging distance and opportunity, reckoning movement in the feral reflexes he
knew so well. The Priest had the strength, but Bill had the drop--and the mind to use it, this bog-trotting
mother-spreader didn't have the sense to Goddamn well *give way* at long last...
And then, something strange: Vallon closed his eyes, let out a
breath, seemed to deflate in his chair--then
opened his eyes again. And *smiled*.
"Yes," he said, slowly. "Of course. Forgive my imprudence to so speak
out of turn, Mister Cutting. I do
Bill stared at him.
"...and I leave you in the grace and favor of the Lord."
Moving slowly--but more like a man favouring stiffened limbs than a
man taking care not to trigger an attack, as
if nothing untoward had passed between them at all--Vallon rose from his chair, stretched, saluted, then turned
and ambled away.
Bill's hands itched to plant both knives in that broad, leather-covered
trunk. He could do it, without thought,
even at this distance... and if he had been absolutely certain that there was an insult in that apology--that the
mockery his instincts sensed was real, not just his own dislike of the man betraying itself--he would have. Sure as
But he was still ruminating on the right or wrong of it as the Priest's
head sank out of sight down the stairwell.
And Vallon didn't pause to glance back, even the once.
Goodge had paid well for his office in a swank little uptown block well
away from Satan's Circus, a big room full of
space and polished wood designed to soften the impact of Goodge's own man-mountain size. But Bill was of no
mind to notice such things today: Just kicked the door open and stormed in, moustache bristling, striding
across the room to plant his hands on the broad wooden desk and lean right down into Goodge's startled face.
"Is this how it's to be, Marcus? You don't trust me no more?
You put a wife on me without I even *knew* it,
like I was some dumb dog set to bark outside some other bastard's shop!"
Bill pounded his fist on the desk for emphasis, breath rasping through
his clenched teeth. But Goodge had
regained some composure by now, and only nodded coolly at the blue, white, and red sash draped around Bill's
waist and hips.
"Feeling particularly patriotic today, are we, Bill?"
"I don't never need no reason to wear the Stars 'n' Bars, Marcus," Bill
growled. "But seeing as how my own
chieftain saw fit not to include me in his mediations with them goddamned Micks, I figured I could stand with
some reminding what *we* stand for. Or what I *thought* we stood for, anywise," he corrected himself, with
"Bill, I'd have included you if I thought you could hold either your
tongue or your temper," Goodge said flatly.
"But you've proven me wrong on both counts, too many times to reckon." He stood up, matching Bill's height
to return the younger man's hot, bright glare. "You had three days to fix this up with Vallon, and you wasted
the bulk of 'em exchanging insults before you could even settle on a place. Which shows you've only yourself
to blame, if I had to step in to resolve things."
"That man's a disease, a spreading sickness, and it seems now-a-times
so's every swinging jack in the Points is
catching it but me." Bill stepped back, then lifted a shaking finger to point at Goodge. "Do you know--*do you
know*--how I finally come to find out about your little...*peacemakery*?"
"That's a good word," Goodge observed. "Not legit in the dictionary
sense, exactly. But a good word,
"I'm takin' a squad of my best men over to Little Worth," Bill went
on, ignoring Goodge's sally, "where I find
Happy Jack Mulraney and six of the Rabbits already there with a few of the Plug Uglies and the O'Connell
Guards, shakin' down the shops. People been paying toll to the Nativists for ten years and more--since before
*I* joined, for suffering Christ's sake. And Happy Jack smirks his fucking paralytic smirk in my face, tells me as
how it's *their* territory now, and when I gives the orders to lay them out rightwise... *my own men* have to
tell me that things is different from what I thought they was. Do you have any *conceiving* of the kind of
jaw-slap that is, Marcus?" He held his shaking fist up in Goodge's face. "Do you?"
"The word's 'conception'." Unmoved, unflinching, Goodge stared
into Bill's eyes. "You fight, Bill; for all I've tried
to interest you in other aspects of leadership, that's what you're best at. All's I ask is that you trust *me* to tell
you when to do it."
"Do you know why I gave them Little Worth, Bill?" Goodge went
to the office window, drawing back the
shades. "Because the Nativists have better things to do than go door to door like diddling thugs, holding up
diving bells for pennies when we can *run* those same bells for many, many dollars. And because Little
Worth--" he pointed to the skyline, tracing the unseen path of the street with his hand-- "runs directly down to
Satan's Circus, where the Rabbits and their allies will be *spending* the fawney they takes off those shops. And
because over the last few years, those who've bought those shops up have been Irish their own selves."
Goodge turned to face Bill, unsmiling. "It's hard, dirty work no real American should have to slave for. So let
them do it, while we take their money in ways they'll never have the wit to see or know... ways no Nativist has
to spill his blood for."
Bill fought to hold onto his rage, but already he could feel it bleeding
slowly away into the sullen heat of fresh
humiliation. And this kind was worse: For he knew, listening to Marcus, that the older man was right. If Bill had
thought it through, with that same kind of finicky strategizing, he'd have made much the same call--laughed
with Marcus about it afterwards, and been as content with the occasional brawl as before.
But it was in the nature of the Priest to make a man want more than
that. And--Bill felt his heartbeat slow with
dull surprise, as he realized where his thoughts were going--the Priest... *deserved* more than this. A true
warrior deserved the chance to fight for a fair prize --deserved more than to be pawned off with a trinket, like
some tooth-broke alley-hound settling for an old, gnawed bone.
And there was more than that, besides, if he could just find a way to
see it clear. Something felt wrong with this
settlement. Whatever else the Priest was, he wasn't stupid. There was more going on here than Marcus
realized: Bill knew that, instinctively, in no way he could articulate or prove.
"Like rats in a bag," he said aloud. "You're thinking they'll turn on each other, and we rake off the profits."
"Exactly, William. Exactly." At which Goodge grinned...and
that, at least, was the old bloodthirsty grin Bill
remembered from long years ago--when Goodge had carried a board with nails driven through it, rather than an
ebony silver-headed walking stick.
*But you're wrong,* Bill thought, still slow, yet clearer than he had
in months. *Now they got someone to point
them in the right direction...now they got the Priest...they'll turn on US.*
And it was then--in that same moment--he first saw for sure what, eventually, would have to be done.
End Part Two
It took longer for it to come down than Bill had expected: near another
eighteen months of barely controlled
scrapping, one-upmanship and back-and-forth over the border zones, before the eventual accumulation of
immigrant bodies and the growing impudence of the Priest's minions finally drove them to an action that
couldn't be talked away or swept under any given rug. When the Carraheine Building--the derelict four-story
hulk most folk just called Brickbat Mansion, a property nowhere near the Rabbits' holdings, and unequivocally in
Nativist territory--turned up three related families of Irish squatters who'd not been there the week before, three
families who barely even spoke a word of English between them, Bill ordered them watched around the clock,
and went to see the Priest.
He found Vallon playing a game of catch with his young son in the snow
outside the Brewery, both draped
heavily (and appropriately) in rabbit-fur coats. Bill drew his leather duster around him, sliding one hand inside to
rest on his tool-belt, and waited for them to notice him. It didn't take long. The Priest had the same level of
alertness to his surroundings that Bill himself did, and as the chatter of the other Rabbits hanging around the
entrance died away, Vallon looked up to see Bill standing nearby.
The older man's smile shrank, though it didn't disappear. Bill simply nodded to himself.
Obviously, Vallon knew what this was about.
"Go on wi' yeh, now. Go on." Vallon rubbed the boy's head,
then clapped a hand to his shoulder and pointed
inside. The boy gave Bill a keen-eyed, narrow glare; a strange look for such a tiny child, not to mention one
which added years to his countenance. But he took his ball and disappeared inside, without a word.
Vallon watched him go, then turned, putting his hands behind his back
as if in idle repose--not that Bill was
fooled. "Well now, Mr. Cutting," he said, taking a few ambling paces forwards. "And what is it we can be doing
for you, this fine February morn?"
"You can cut the shit, for a start." Bill let his coat-tail fall
sidelong, showing his knives openly. "You know what
I'm here about."
"The Mansion. Aye, I'd gathered you'd not be happy." The
Priest took his hands from behind his back,
spreading them: Strangely, they were empty. "But I trusted ye'd come to me first, afore you did anything."
"That's some trust you got in me, Priest. You think it's merited?"
Before Bill could think of a suitable reply to that, Vallon went on:
"It's true that we knew the Brickbat was yours.
But I swear on the blood of the Blessed Virgin, I didn't find out my own self the Faoiltes had camped there until a
few days ago, and I simply had nowhere else for them to go. Y'see, my thinking was that since there was no
good use being made of it now, even by yourself or Mr. Goodge, mayhap you might not even be bothered one
way or another. An' should you object after all, ye'd come to see me first--and then we could talk a deal. Am I
Bill stared at him, slowly running the ball of his thumb along the back
of his nearest blade. Vallon raised an
eyebrow, doing a commendable job of appearing calm; but there was next to no breath-clouds coming from
him, even in this bitter cold. And his stillness was more poised than relaxed.
"Yeah," said Bill abruptly. "You were wrong. You *been*
wrong, all this time. 'Cause we ain't friends, and I ain't
some puppet to jump to your strings. We ain't talkin' no deal here--not now, not never again."
"And is it Mr. Goodge feels the same way?"
"Mr. Goodge ain't here right now. Priest."
"What is it you think I've done to make you so angry with me, William?"
*William?* thought Bill in astonishment so great it was near-dizzying.
*Do you think you're one of my two-time
gals, you get to call me by my Christian name in front of the whole of Paradise Square?*
"I think you jolly me," he said at last, his voice rising with each
word, "and cozen me, and try to talk your
slippery Mick way 'round me like I was some kinchin moll with her skirts in the air--like I *ain't* a full-grown man
same as you, like I *won't* open your thick throat and spray it all about Paradise Square the very minute I
jimmy just *how* you've all this time been slicin' me fine straight to mine own fuckin' face!" His voice was a roar
now, effortlessly stilling the local din to a shocked silence. "'Priest'! You swear to me on your Blessed Virgin? I
*spit* on your Popish sanctimony." Which he did, hawking a thick gob into the snow at Vallon's feet.
And Christ, but it was *freeing* to have finally said it all aloud--like
a constricting belt had been removed from his
chest, allowing him to breathe deep for the first time in years; like a yoke was off his shoulders. Bill realized he
was grinning, wide and almost crazy. His breath plumed great gusts into the empty air.
Vallon's face was absolutely still, his voice soft and cold, like the
silence that precedes the first rumble of a storm.
"Don't work yourself into a passion, Bill."
Bill laughed. "You sayin' what it sounds like?"
"If it sounds like fair warning," the Priest said, carefully, "...then yes."
"*Bene*." Bill worked the word through his grin, hard, caressing
it as it went by. He popped that nearest knife
free, and pointed its tip straight at Vallon. "Your Irish bog-rats have a day to get the fuck out of the Brickbat,
Vallon--or as to what happens next, I won't be responsible."
"Oh--" even softer now, that black spark of rage Bill knew well in himself
flickering at last in the Priest's mild eyes
-- "I t'ink you will." The accent had thickened, another danger sign.
"Then maybe you do know me, after all," Bill said, and left.
"Butcher! Butcher Bill! You *dirrrty Orangeman meat-cutter*!"
Bill paused in his work for a moment; he knew that voice well, though
he had never heard it raised quite to this
particular bellow before. A small, grim smile touched his lips before his cleaver resumed its quick, efficient motion.
He'd woken early this morning, still seeing the last flickers of red
light from the direction of the Brickbat, plus the
great tower of black and grey smoke sweeping up over the city. And thought muzzily to himself, before turning
over and going back to sleep: *Well, I told them get the potato-peelers out, however they could....*
Goodge wouldn't be happy at losing the building, but it'd work itself
back up again somehow. They always
seemed to, here in the Points.
"*William Cutting! Get your filthy American rat-carcass out here, NOW!*"
At that, Bill actually laughed. "Rat-carcass?" he said out loud.
"Such language, Priest. What kind of example
you gonna set for your boy that way?" He picked up the cuts for the daily orders and began packaging them,
scribbling a few clumsy letters on each to indicate their customer. *TLR*, the Taylors; *JNS* for the
Downstairs, the door crashed inwards with a splintering of wood that
could only be the lockplate tearing
completely out of its frame. Bill flung down the meat in his hands and grabbed for the first knife on his belt, but
the greasy fat on his palms betrayed his grip for that one unrecoverable second, squirting it from his hand. By
the time he'd changed his mind and gone for the cleaver instead, the Priest was already up the stairs--eyes
blazing and face twisted in a bestial snarl, charging at him with a two-foot-long blade in one hand and a fucking
*iron cross* in the other, what the *fuck--?*
Quick as thought, Bill flipped the cleaver straight at Vallon, but the
Priest was already too close; it struck his
duster hilt-first and bounced off, rather than sinking in. The next thing Bill knew, a massive cold weight had
slammed square into him from his right side: The same dangling pig-carcass he'd been at work on, smashed
right off its hook by one sweeping swing of that great Celtic cross. Bill staggered sideways, slipping to one knee
under the congealing bloody mass of meat and bone; he flung it away as Vallon vaulted the countertop,
grabbing for his belt--
One boot came down on his right wrist, and the butt of the cross-staff
thudded solidly into Bill's stomach,
winding him. Tall and furious above him, the white of the collar-guard seeming to glow in the dimness of the
shop, Vallon snarled down at the Butcher: "Do you know what your filthy Nativists have done, Mr. Cutting? Do
you know that there were seven *children* pulled charred from the wreckage of the Brickbat this morning?"
Bill spat blood up at the Priest. "*That* for them!" he shouted. "I warned you, Priest! I warned you fair--!"
The staff struck down again in his stomach; Bill lost his voice and
his breath in one same rush of pain, coughing
rackingly. His head swam with it, so's he only barely heard the Priest's next words:
"You gave them a day, Mr. Cutting," Vallon gritted. "You said
so, and I heard you and all of Paradise bloody
Square heard ye. And the Faoiltes were up and ready to be gone, saving only one last night's sleep. But do
you know when your bully boys fired the place around them, and brought it down on them afore they could
flee? *Do you know?*"
*Well. Obviously not, I'd say--if you gave me a minute to get my breath, and do so.*
"Before the clock struck midnight," Vallon finished. "Less than
a day by any man's measure. And so we see
how 'true Americans' keep... their... word." With each beat, the staff ground harder into Bill's midsection; but
he'd gotten some of his wits back now, and tightened his abdomen against the pressure. He rolled his head
back and forth--as if groping for consciousness--while his left hand slid stealthily down his leg, towards his
"Well. If it's a lesson you've been after all this time, I'm *most*
after teaching you one you'll not forget so
quickly, Mister Cutting--"
Bill's hand touched the knife, tore it from its sheath, and whiplashed
it upwards. With a roar, the Priest
staggered back, one hand clapped to his neck; the knife had embedded itself just under his collarbone, popping
for the artery. Bill moved the instant the pressure was off, diving past Vallon and rolling underneath the counter,
to where the stairwell led downwards. He paused to grab the cleaver from the floor, knowing Vallon would be
bleeding hard and fast; he'd seen for himself where the knife had gone in, reckoned exactly how best to make it
hurt, and count--
The iron staff whickered around with blinding speed, and Bill took the
blow full on the right side of his face. He
felt his jawbone crack and his cheekbone turn to shattered pulp; some of his teeth snapped back right into his
throat, choking off his breath. For half a second, sheer shock held off pain, and he found himself thinking, with
*The leather collar. Tougher than I guessed. Go for the kidneys: that's a kill--*
He thrust blindly with the cleaver, felt it strike hard into something
and glance off: A tearing sensation, but thick,
dead, not the easy give of living flesh--he'd only gashed the Priest's duster, which must have had some kind of
supporting armour underneath. The reaction to the blow pushed him backwards; he went with the movement,
reeling, trying half-consciously to open up some fighting space between them, until--
--one foot came down on empty air: The staircase. Going. Down.
Arms windmilling, Bill went over, managing to curl into a ball and control
his descent by the barest of
margins--but the hard wooden steps cracked against side, and spine, and ribs, and further horrid cracking
sounds echoed up from each impact. Bill felt fiery pain lance him, *inside*, where no good and honest pain
should rightfully be, and he screamed aloud: A raw, maddened, *shocked* cry, cut off by the final blow when
he rolled out into the snow and took the ground in his guts.
Pain was the world. It took all the will he could muster to drag
air into his broken ribcage, and each breath
brought a further agonized lurch. While his mind repeated, repeated, in its blinded daze:
*Remember: Armour at the throat, the sides. Go for the stomach;
the stomach'll bleed and bleed. Come in
from under the arms for the big vessels, for the heart....*
A boot kicked him over onto his back, and all coherent thought fled
from this fresh blast of hurt. His right eye
had already swollen shut, all one bruise, but through the left he could see Vallon scowling down at him. The
thunder of his own heartbeat drowned all sound, but Bill knew like a holy--or unholy--vision what would be
happening: A streetfull of passersby awed and silent, whispers racing from ear to ear, spreading the news of the
Butcher's fall faster than horse could run or pigeon fly.
Firmly, Vallon planted the cross in a snowbank, where it stood slightly
skewed, a steeple knocked awry by a
blundering giant. He leant down, grabbed Bill's bloody shirtfront and hauled him up one-handed, a snarl
rumbling in his throat. Bill coughed again--bile, more blood--and tried to bring his arms up to protect himself,
but only the left one would move, and that feebly. Everything else hurt too much.
Vallon had him hung like a kitten. With his other arm, the Priest lifted
the sword high, poised to stab down into
Bill's chest, aiming straight between the third and fourth rib.
*That's good,* Bill thought, incoherently. *That's a kill. That's proper.*
"Look now at you, who claimed to rule these streets," the Priest hissed.
"Who claimed to be a man to my face,
yet burned women and children in their home, like the lowest kind of beast. Did you think that because I talk
before I fight, I would not protect my own? Did you think there would be no vengeance, Misther Cutting, for
your sins and transgressions? Did you think we would humbly submit to your taunting and torment until the
very end of time?"
And: *Of course not,* Bill tried to whisper, though it lodged
and held in the blood clotting his throat. *This is as
I hoped--that you'd leave your mincing words behind, fight free and true, like a man. Exactly as I hoped...
*...all but for my dying.*
The eye that could still see skittered from the Priest's face to the
snow below, and the pattern of his own blood:
Hieroglyphs on dirty white, a scrawl no man--literate or not--might scry. Weakly, Bill gripped the arm holding
him with his left hand, then lifted it to push faintly at the Priest's face. Thinking:
*But I can't die now. I only got fifty men. I die now, I
might as well have died in the 'formatory, died with my
Ma. This is too soon. Not how it's supposed to end.*
>From the corner of that traitor eye, he watched the sword tip draw back. Hover for a moment in the air.
And then come down... but so slow, so slow, as if Time itself had bogged
down in snow-melt mud. Not for his
chest; for the side of his face, the blinded side. And then a prick of fire, a slicing, cutting movement that might
have hurt like fury, were it not lost in the din of a pain so much greater. Numbed nerves barely detected the
trickle of blood down his jaw, though he saw fresh red drops plop neatly into the snow below him.
The hand released him. Bill plunged ground-ward, breath knocked
out of him yet again; he heard another ugly,
sickening crunching sound from inside him, and the fresh wave of pain was almost dim and faraway by
Shock: He was going into shock. A bad thing. Oh, that was very bad.
"I'll not stain my blade with the soul of one such as you, William Cutting,"
said the Priest. Then raised his voice,
declaiming for an audience: "You will live, Bill the Butcher. You'll live in shame, knowing you couldn't look your
death in the face, like a man."
*No, no, but that's not right, it wasn't like that at all--*
"You'll live in humiliation, knowing that your last act was to order
the burning of women and children before you
were beaten by a true servant of God." Vallon strode to the cross, wrenched it out of the snowbank, then
swung it to point at him. "So don't you never dare to raise your fists, your voice, or your *face* to me again,
Mr. William Cutting--walk in shame for the rest of your days, because God himself knows all your sinful weakness.
And so do I."
After which he sheathed his sword, and spat into the snow beside Bill.
"Now crawl away like the dog you are,
and leave me and my people in peace."
The Priest bent one more time, and Bill felt his hands moving at his
waist; Bill pawed again at Vallon with his one
working hand once he realized the aim of it, but the Priest struck his broken fingers away impatiently, as if
chastising a child. And then the leather was sliding out from around him. Bill made a final weak grab for it before
it slithered free, but it was too late: His belt, his knives, his tools, were gone.
Vallon slung the belt over his shoulder and, without even the courtesy
of a last look at his own handiwork,
At least, Bill thought, dimly--before the world darkened to black around
him--there was far too much blood for
anyone, even himself, to know whether or not he had been crying.
For fourteen days after the beating he'd received at Vallon's hands,
Bill lay in bed, eyes turned up to the ceiling
of his room: Looking at nothing, talking to nobody. Not even Marcus Goodge, who took care to visit regular
enough to set a watch by--Goodge, all lordly, fatherly tones and fine, yammering cant. *Oh, no one blames
YOU, Bill. One defeat in ten years hardly counts for so much. No, no shame at all in it; could've happened to
His vision slowly widening as the swollen flesh shrank to leave his
right eye open once more, a blur sharpening
gradually to painful clarity.
*...'course, you did overstep yourself a little, but we're all behind
you all the same... you're a Native, Bill. Nothing
can change that....*
The white-haired old doctor who came every three days, the best Goodge
could buy, adjusted bandages and
issued peremptory advice, all of which might as well have been rat-squeakings for what Bill cared. But Goodge
followed instructions dutifully, chattering blithely on, just as if he couldn't hear Bill's silent curses:
*Leave me be, damn you. Let me die. What kind of life can I have now?*
The kind he wouldn't care to live, no doubt. Yet would have to.
*...you may find things a little more... streamlined... when you're
out and about again; but you and me, Bill,
OUR places are assured....*
And: *My God, but it should have been the Priest standing here,*
Bill found himself thinking--with bemusing,
amazing simplicity--one long and pain-sodden afternoon, after the doctor's opiates had bled out of him. For
Marcus had been right, though in no way he could have expected or understood: Bill and Vallon really *were*
two of a kind, men who knew what it was to fight for your own, to live most gloriously in those fleeting moments
when you neither knew nor cared that the next might be your last. Men who stood by their own, who knew
the value of *true* honour--not words or pledges or treaties, those slippery, mutable, deceptive things, but that
flame of rageful pride what drove you to take your life in your hands and gamble it in one throw.
To do whatever it took, cost be buggered, to see exactly what you wanted done...done.
The Priest: *There* was a man Bill might have sworn himself to, and
never regretted the bargain. Not Marcus,
whose mind was made of money and coin-tallying machines, and whose waist had thickened over the years
under those so-fine coats and trews. Not Marcus Goodge, that double-talking, triple-dealing *businessman*
who'd forgotten what the Natives truly stood for, now he'd made his piece and was getting out.
*If it had only been the Priest found me instead, those first weeks out of the 'formatory, then maybe....*
But it was useless to follow that thread down its length, for--even
in its invalid state--Bill's mind just couldn't find a
way past that *maybe*: Not now, not never. He would never serve the Priest, and the Priest would have no
man for his master. And the reason Bill knew that so utterly was because he was finally apt to see how he
himself would brook Goodge's rule no longer--not Goodge's, not nobody's. Stand free or die, and take all with
him when he did; that would be Bill Cutting's fresh creed forever-more, once his weak flesh healed up far enough
to let him match the thought with deeds.
And the truth was that there was no trust to be had from a man who could
be neither servant or master; no
faith to be had in one who profited nothing from you, or you from him. There was only the battle, for men
such as Bill and Vallon. When neither could--or would--kneel to the other, there was nothing else but the fight.
Bill and the Priest were men made to kill each other, the Butcher knew
now, with a pure and blazing certainty.
And that would be the finest thing of all their lives, for either.
The stillness--the peace--that realization brought was so encompassing,
it took him some moments to realize the
man standing at the foot of the bed was neither Goodge nor doctor. Bill blinked his half-swollen eyes, bringing
the figure into focus: Round peachfuzzed head, protuberant ears, mouth drawn down in a glower...
"McGloin," he husked at last, feeling oddly as if four years had just
slipped out from his grasp--squirting from his
mind the way that first knife had squirted, not fatally, from his greased, unready grip.
And: "Aye," the man replied, moving forward almost hesitantly. "I, ah, I brung ye summat. From the Priest."
Bill felt a careful weight deposited on his chest. Miraculously,
it didn't hurt. He dredged up a handful of energy
and lifted his head.
His missing toolbelt lay before him once more, still shaped to the phantom
curve of his waist like some discarded
snakeskin, bright with the jutting hilts of his knives.
McGloin gave him a single awkward nod, turned for the door--then stopped
still, held back at the last second by
Bill's rasping whisper, slurred with the loss of his teeth:
"The Priest said..." McGloin cleared his throat. "He said,
he'd no mind to be depriving a man of what he needs
to earn his keep."
Bill stared at the knives. How they shone in the dim light--glittering,
mesmerizing. Like to hold any man's
attention, whether or no they also made him sing and burn with shame...
He neither heard nor saw McGloin depart.
Bill reached up, careful, right-handed: Touched his like-side eye, felt
the swelling puff and bruise fresh beneath his
pads. And left it there, deceptively gentle, while his other hand slid over his stomach to prise his smallest,
sharpest knife free--the joint-piercer, a bare sliver of steel, honed fine to slide between bones, cut sinew and
tendon asunder in one quick tug...
He brought it up in front of him, tilting it back and forth, as if looking
for his own reflection. Thought, with a dull,
*Your sense of distance will go...*
He would have to relearn everything he knew about throwing knives.
But that would be no great task. He'd
done it once.
And when he could do it again, whole and at peace once more--then, then,
he would hold nothing back, ever
again. The whole world would turn flat and bright, exactly as it should be, with no grey areas left in it to distract
him from his chosen purpose.
Without seeming to calculate the movement, he let his hand drift over
to his left eye, as if moving on its own
recognizance: The traitor eye, all but unscathed, innocent of its own vile weakness. Then settled it with the
thumb braced in the inside corner of the socket, a famliar enough sensation. His hand knew these
movements--had performed them many times before in many a fight, if always on somebody else.
Bill took a breath, and let it do its work. A second later, the joint-piercer
followed suit: Clean and quick, one tug,
two cuts. Bill had perhaps half a second to wonder that it hadn't hurt at all, not even so much as the Priest's
--and then he was rolling back and forth on the bed, screaming, one
hand clapped to his left eyesocket as blood
spurted through his fingers, and something small, round and wetly gleaming plopped to the dusty floor, trailing a
shred of severed nervous tissue behind it.
The brown eye stared up back up him, as if shocked to find itself so
suddenly orphaned. And the Butcher took
his last look at this particular part of himself, before closing his bleeding lid fast upon it forever.
The Priest's boy glares into Bill's eyes, both glass and true, meeting
the eagle full-on. He doesn't look away. Bill's
"Give 'im to the law," Bill says. "Make sure he gets a good education."
Three months of recuperation, followed by nine months of the hardest
work he's ever done in his life: Taking the
Natives molding them with his own two hands back into the army they were when first he joined up, same one
he's always known they should be--would
be--once more. And struggling, as he did, to stamp out the memory of Marcus Goodge: Poor, shocked Marcus
come to stare aghast at Bill's gaping eyesocket, stammering, all his fine words finally lost and gone. Nine months
of skirmishes and battles between Natives, Rabbits and respective allies, all pretense of treaty or settlement
And now, finally, a last grand bout to settle for good and all who held
sway over the Five Points: The Natives,
born rightwise to this fine land, or the foreign hordes defiling it.
Defiling it, yes, and for far too long. But...
"Priest Vallon died an honorable death," Bill the Butcher cries aloud,
watching as Hell-Cat Maggie, McGloin and
Happy Jack bear the Priest's body away on a board; the boy's already fled, several cursing Nativist soldiers in
hard pursuit, and Bill regrets that Vallon will cross over without his knife to protect him, after all. Still, this is a
minor matter only, hardly a flaw in the bliss now hazing his thoughts like some holy rain of light...
"An honorable death," he repeats. "But his Dead Rabbits is done, and
*outlawed!* Let no man speak their
name from this day forth!"
*Because that's what you taught me, Priest,* Bill thinks to himself,
his heart like a hammer, his lungs full of blood
and fire. *That when your own is on the line, you do whatever you have to--whatever MUST be done--to see it
through and safe and finished to its fullest, just the way it should be.
*And if I can teach just one person that same lesson you taught me,
anytime from now 'till the very hour of
mine own damnation, my whole life won't never have been lived in vain.*
Leaving the rest of the Natives and the Rabbits to cart away the fallen, Bill walks through the Square towards his
new home, Satan's Circus, which Marcus ceded to him along with the rest of the Natives after he first stared
deep into the ruin of Bill's empty orbit--the scarred wreckage in which Bill's initial triumph over the Priest, over
*himself*, had left him. And the crowd parts for him as he goes: Literally steaming, knives in hand; face flushed
hot and wet with snow, blood, and what might be something else--something salt and silver, leaking slow from
the socket of his glass eye.
"It's all yours now, Bill," Marcus said, with the faintest unsteadiness
in his voice. "Yours, with a full heart. God
knows you've paid the price of ten men, and maybe more, to earn it."
And: "With a full heart,'" Bill found himself repeating. "Yes. I will rise back up with a full heart and bury the Priest
in his own blood. From this day out I'll put any challenger's head on a pike, raise it up high for all to see--so
everyone knows who rules in the Five Points. *Everyone.*"
And if there is a strange hollowness in him, an emptiness beginning
to grow at the core of his triumph, Bill ignores
it. Because it's true: He's won. Won it all. Redeemed himself by paying a price not only in Vallon's blood, but in
his own; made Vallon pay, for good and all. For everything.
He walks like a stalking dragon, thirty-two full years of age and master
of all he surveys, with no more worlds left
to conquer. No more foes worthy of his steel.
Not even having allowed himself a trophy.
With credit and apologies to Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian and Kenneth
Lonergan... and, of course, "Marty". All
elements of the preceding story, with the exception of Marcus Goodge (whom we see as being played by Clancy
Brown), are--to our mind--inherent in the movie as it now stands.
The anal-retentive may find the timeline below, worked out by consulting
the script (which we memorized over
five repeated viewings in the space of two weeks), the original book *The Gangs of New York* by Herbert
Asbury, and that strange thing known as actual history, to be of interest.
1810: Joyce "Priest" Vallon born, Dublin, Ireland.
1814: Bill's father killed in the War of 1812.
1815: February--William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting born, New York City, New York.
1822: Bill's mother, probably working as a prostitute, dies in childbirth (child sired by one of her clients). Bill is
sent to a reformatory.
1829: Bill apprentices to a local butcher in the Five Points.
1829-1840: Bill rises to power amongst the Confederation of Native Americans, eventually buying the butcher's
shop, amassing a war-chest and becoming the Nativists' acknowledged war-leader under their appointed
"chancellor", Marcus Goodge.
1840: Vallon and his son, Amsterdam, arrive in New York (Mrs Vallon also died in childbirth, en route) from Kerry.
1841: Vallon, now known as "the Priest", founds the Dod Rabeidhs, the Mighty Brawlers. He gathers the Irish to
him, mainly by brunt of charisma and shared faith.
1841-1846: The Dead Rabbits and the Natives clash over territory and businesses, plus the continuing influx of
1845: A great defeat for the Natives after Priest beats Bill within an inch of his life. Bill cuts his eye out and sends
it to Priest for Easter. Marcus steps down, giving supreme command of the Nativists to Bill.
1846: The Paradise Square victory. Bill reassembles the Natives and leads them to defeat the Dead Rabbits and
their allies, taking command of the Five Points.
1854: Bill takes Jenny Everdeane in off the street.
1859: Bill and Jenny's father-daughter/mentor-apprentice relationship broadens into a brief but intense sexual
1860: Jenny is left sterile after Bill's baby has to be removed by caesarian section.
1862: Amsterdam Vallon returns to the Five Points from Hellgate.
1863: The Draft Riots.
In memory of the original street corners of the Points: Cross, Anthony, Mulberry, Worth, and Little Water.
End Part Three