1859. High summer in the Points makes Satan's Circus steam like its
must--the very walls seem to sweat and roaches come scuttling out of the plaster,
drawn by the stench of rotting meat below. Outside, garbage piles high and children
scream; Jenny Everdeane can hear glass breaking from just around the corner, as some
far less well-known shopkeeper's front window goes the way of all pavers. The
brittle tinkle of falling shards like the feel of a beautiful mort running her
fingers up and down one's spine, as Bill the Butcher's been apt to remark, whenever
the fancy takes him--an odd metaphor, for sure, yet not one anybody'd ever be like
to question, in the end. 'Specially given its source.
But Jenny's in no state to pay any of that much mind, as of right now--not
splayed and sore like she is, her nipples hard as bone buttons. With only sense
enough left to grip the fine brass headboard of Bill's bed in both whitening fists
and arch up hard, hot sweat from her straining neck to her wide-spread knees,
straight into the fierce crest of her own building climax...
*...oh Lord, oh yes, oh Jesus Christ Almighty...*
Belly quaking with aftershocks in the wake of it, her inner thighs tightening
his still-working jaw. But knowing, somehow, that for the rest of her life--both
whenever she finds herself in similar circumstances, and no matter who she might be
sharing 'em with--it'll always be William Cutting's wicked mouth she finds herself
remembering first: His dragon-hot breath, his seeking serpent tongue, his sharp and
crooked teeth on all the tenderest parts of her.
While thinking also, when she can finally catch her breath long enough
to form the
*And him old enough to be my Pa for real, not just the way we used t'play
must have the constitution of a bloody salamander, to keep his wits in this stifling
heat. Not that I'm complaining over the result, mind you...*
No, not that, not at all. Not--
God, and those long-fingered killer's hands gentling her down, now--so
sure, lightly tracing her spasming leg-muscles even through the seams of her best
stockings' wet, red silk. Bill kisses her one last time, a brief flicker-jolt of
painful pleasure right against the very nub of her; then sits back, wiping his
moustache clean against the heel of one hand, and licks his lips elaborately,
"Damn me, but you're a sweet piece, Jen; fine eatin', the kind no kitchen
match. A feast beyond compare."
A little ragged, not to mention more Irish than she likes to sound when
him: "Kind of yeh to say so, Bill..."
"Oh, well--I'm that, or so's they tell me. Can be, anyroads, when I'm
like to put my
mind to it."
Which is true enough, and strange enough; the both of 'em at once, as
had occasion to observe, close-range. Closer than most others, and longer than any
still left alive--to her own knowledge, at any rate.
She stretches, stiffly, and props herself back against the pillows;
Bill shifts up
at the same time, fitting himself atop her--grin widening far enough to show those
three metal teeth on the scar-hand-side of his smile, even with the glaze of her
drying his moustache-points to his cheeks. Because he likes what he likes, does
Bill, with no shame or reticence at all as regards his own appetites: Likes to see
her in her abandon, red and gasping, as much--if *not* more, truth be told, though
Jenny's never been fool enough to resent this simple fact of life--as he likes to
watch his enemies cough their souls away on the point of any one of his knives.
Contradictory to his bones, that's the Butcher. A gal could share his
bed for years
and never know him any better than if you got no closer to him than the Victory Day
crowd, the Sparrow's Pagoda mob, the length of Paradise Square itself; any one of
the Circus's pet whores is living proof of *that* particular dictum. Black Callie,
Red Annie, Broke-nose Kate...poor Emma Loss with her sad, slant eyes and her
blurring "l"s turned "r"s, always trying to catch him drunk enough to give her that
seal-of-approval first try...
(*Come upstair with me, Birr...*)
Jenny's none of those, though, and knows it. She's special, a singularity
too-same world--the one thing he can't always predict, or control, or cow into
submission. They match each other in occasionally frightening ways, from the quick
flare of their tempers to the theatrically cruel tone of their humor; show-people
both, well-used to performing, which must be why even their most intimate moments
tend to take on a certain staged quality. Ain't for nothing his shop's called
Satan's Circus, with Bill so at pains to paint himself the Points' infernal
The Butterfly, the Wheel of Death, William Tell: Jenny knows all of
and not just the ones he's taught her. She's learned her lessons well, learned to
read him like a half-open book in some foreign, changeable language, learned to
stand up straight and smile, smile, smile. Meet his eye, hit her marks, say her
lines and walk away unscathed--most-times. Mostly. More times, much more, than
But he's never cut her deep, not in these ten years and more. And the
only times he
ever *has* cut her have all been when she's flinched.
Heat rising to fill this attic room of his, hot and still and sultry;
Jenny can hear
Bill's flash gold timepiece tick like a deathwatch-beetle from where it lies open on
the vanity, right next to his tool-belt. Like the beat of her heart against his,
sweat gluing the both of them together, while his stirring manhood drapes a sticky
trail from his unbuttoned fly to her flat, equally sticky, suddenly empty stomach.
"Could send for some grub, you wanted," she suggests, softly, feeling
Like the matter's entirely up to him, which--
--well, which it is, as they both of 'em already understand. For all
sometimes pretend different, up here between themselves, with no one else the wiser.
But: "Could," he agrees, amenably enough. And rolls off her, tucking
again, to see to it.
Later, flanked by the picked corpse of a chicken and some empty cheese-rinds,
watches Jenny--still blithely mother-naked but for her hose, under the influence of
a half-bottle of good gin--put on a solo command performance, making things
disappear for free: Loose coins, her stray hair-pins, his whole watch-fob and chain.
Just spread each hand in turn, show fingers, a final flourish, and...
Oh, and there really is a rush to it, a struck bell-tone like no other:
into wine, wafer into Communion--it's some form of Popish Irish alchemy, for sure
and certain. Same honey-sweet sting she gets whenever she's gliding down some Uptown
street, picking the next fool to fall against; a flash of the teeth, a flirting
quirk of the brow and she's off and away again before they know what's hit 'em,
'sides from a pretty gal they'd like to feel far closer, if they could.
Jenny gives a big smile and pauses for applause, just like he always
said to; Bill
squints, real eye narrowing appreciatively, and grants it freely. Commenting--
"That's magic, that is, 'specially with you stark like you are. You
ain't even got a
place to stash it."
She almost doesn't want to disabuse him, really--it's so seldom that
you see the
Butcher baffled, let alone smiling at the fact. But she's still in that goony
post-coital state when she can refuse him nothing, not even her own trade secrets.
So she flips her firey, disordered mane over towards him, silent, to
show the loot
all twined fast at the base of her nape, right where her curls grow closest. And
hears Bill laugh out loud at the sight, a bark like some throat-kicked alley-dog,
albeit without the whine that'd inevitably follow.
"Ah," he says, at last. "Guess I'd've reckoned 'cross that, eventually.
skillful tramp, Apprentice."
"Nothin' special. You could do it just as well, you only practiced--God
fast hands enough, and all."
He shrugs. "Not for that, I ain't."
Bill isn't comfortable with full nakedness on his own part, and thus
tends to keep
at least his trousers--the violently fashionable yellow-checked ones, in this
case--mostly on; it's a quirk Jenny's come to find oddly endearing, much as it
sometimes leads to discomfort. Just one more thing means "Bill" to her, like his
moustache wax-flavored kisses or his personal smell: Old meat and blood and dirt,
*strong* but not exactly *bad*.
The reason for it's a story in itself, of course, like everything else
lexicon. She still recalls prying it from him, slowly but surely, during the course
of a similarly lazy Satan's Circus afternoon...nice work, in between bouts. Him
holding her fast in front of the vanity's mirror, while he watched her try not to
react--eye avid, hands busy, growling words like a growing fever.
"Was when I was eighteen or so, and there was this one I'd had to slit
off for something; one of Marcus Goodge's old types, who didn't like riskin' his
physog on the say-so of one's his junior. Woodenhead dumbbell used to yell
'Butcher's boy' at me from 'cross the street, like I didn't have no *proper* name,
or he was callin' hogs to slaughter--"
And: *Weren't you, though, back then?* She found herself yearning to
ask, though she
knew far better. For it's the principle of the thing that's always Bill's objection,
even beyond the obvious loss of dignity. Same principle says you can go ahead and
take whatever you want, 'long as you're prepared to pay for it in full...
...or say what you want, to *who* you want--but only if you've got the
sand to back
it up in steel, when the blood starts to flowing.
"What was *his* name?" She recalls asking instead, breathless, as Bill's
lower. To which Bill just shrugged: "No-Nose Jones, might'a been--think I'd waste
space in my idea-pan on such as him?"
"'Course not, Bill."
"Damn right, but that's no-wise to the point. At any rate: So this gamester
up on me in Sparrow's, when I'm intimate in congress with some Chink moll; intimate
as to say in the very stroke of it, you take my meaning? And he claps a pistol to my
head, full-on. Says: 'Tell the Devil hello from me, Mister Bill shit-all Cutting,
you jumped-up kinchin rowster.'"
"Didn't have your knives to hand?"
"Nothin' but my skin."
"And what happened then, I wonder?"
"The piece misfires, blows a cut from his own hand, and down he goes
like a sack of
potatoes. So she's screaming and he's squalling, and while they're both at it I grab
for the blade in *his* boot; had it through his eye, all neat-like, 'fore anyone
even had time to call down for the bouncer." That grin again. "Must've spiked
whatever the fool used for brains straight down its midpart."
"Lucky he had one, I s'pose."
"Sure. But they all do, don't they?"
And that's right enough too, God knows.
Bill, always with the luck of the Devil hard at work in him--or maybe
not, at that.
For as her Ma used to say, it's the man born to die by hanging who needn't fear deep
water. The Butcher won't die so easy, not in anyone's bed, not even his own; Jenny's
known since she was twelve that she'll find him in the street one day, gone down
fighting in his own hot blood with his teeth bared and his dead eye staring. And if
she don't have the fawney on her to pay for his coffin, there's no doubt he'll lie
in that same street 'till he starts to rot, for it's only then will anyone who knew
him alive have the guts to approach him. Not even to steal those fine knives of his,
the kind would fetch a nice price on any market and form the link 'tween starvation
or survival for many a hungry Five Points family...
She shivers at the thought, and sees Bill notice. "Don't tell me you're
"What, in this Hell-pit?"
"That's what I thought. So...c'mere."
And she does, willingly--a way most of those she interacts with on a
would be amazed to see her act, knowing her free contempt and independent spirit as
they do, the predator's shadow beneath her easy charm. Whole world's one mark for
the gulling to Jenny Everdeane, the best bludget ever offered one thing, gave
nothing and took whatever a man might display incautiously before her in return.
But Bill can never be played with thus, not even were she stupid enough
Because what Bill's got, the very center and source of his evil power, ain't
anything a gal could simply lift and walk away with: Part practice, part reputation,
part attendant rowdy-bred glory, his kills hovering 'bout him like a halo of
bloodstained ghosts. And part some still yet more elusive quality, as though he was
born under a darker star than most--singled from birth to bring misery and damnation
into this already-damned world they both of 'em occupy.
In all, too, the Butcher's as fine a man as any she's been with, if
Tempered by battle even far beyond his fortieth year, all muscle with nothing spare.
He burns at a truly furious pace, inside and out. And when he settles her upon him,
like now--with never a thought as to whether she wants him to, and a sharky grin at
the feel of her--well, that's when Jenny catches herself melting, gone loose and wet
around him all in an instant. Her breath come fast and hot, like fever. Or--
Might be. Might, could...be.
But love's an ill-defined thing, at best: Bill's her lord and protector,
her glamour. Her time with the Butcher will cling to her forever in the minds of
most, no matter its eventual end, for at least as long as she stays here in the
Points. Someday, that alone may save her from bad luck, or a bad decision. It's
calculation to a degree, like most of her decisisons...
To a degree. Just how much of one she's not quite sure, not right now.
Should she tell him now, she wonders, as his hands span her stomach
Surely he can already feel it stirring inside her, same as he does...
But no other moll's caught cold from the Butcher's embrace thus far,
that Jenny can
remember--none with sand enough to claim so, anyroads. And there's sure not any
little nippers running 'round Paradise Square with anything like his unmistakable
nose or eye--make that eyes--to cry out such paternity.
A fierce little hellion such a child would be, that's certain; like
lighted brand in your belly for nine months, a dragon's sleeping spawn--something
might rip a gal open with its own claws and teeth, she bore it full to term.
It's some gamble, all right. And Jenny don't have the inclination nor
right now, to consider whether or no it's worth the taking.
"Beautiful Jenny, my bene blowen," Bill calls her, musingly, stroking
her sore and
weeping folds. "Beautiful."
Jenny, rendered instantly breathless once more: "If you--say--so."
"Aw, you know you are, you triflin' jade. And mine, too: Yes?"
(Oh, yes, yes, yes.)
His in this life, his always, like nothing--no matter the tide of man
circumstance--will ever come between. He's set his mark on her, his burning brand,
same as any witch who ever kissed Old Nick's hindquarters and got her name entered
in his book, or danced in her frenzy at the Sabbat after.
But: "*Mine*," Bill repeats, decisively: A wolf's growl, the real eye
upwards, squeezing shut. And Jenny feels that familiar shudder take her, heels to
head--arches back, teeth clicking together, matching his growl with a groan from
somewhere deep in her throat. Then pulls him to her breast by his oil-slick hair,
where his breath and her sweat can meet and mingle.
"William," she says, voice breaking, and he lets her; folds himself
into her, face
pressed to her cleavage, where his tongue can trace her heartbeat's dimming skip and
skitter. While Jenny thinks, dazedly:
*What'll be will be--no help for it, no cure. No...rest...*
(...for the wicked.)
For that's what they are, aren't they, he and she? Two wicked souls
lodged fast on
the Old Fella's own doorstep, grinding against each other like friction alone might
save 'em from the Hot Country's comin' flames. The Points've always been the only
Hell Jenny needs, like Bill's the only devil. For the man of horns is active, and
the Inferno's gates lie always open...
*The devil never took no truly good heart to Hell,* though--that's something
her Ma used to say, as Jenny recalls. Sure, that woman had a saying for everything.
...she'll tell him later. There'll be a time.