Things Amsterdam Vallon's learned, thus far, under Bill the Butcher's
tuition: Gin makes you cough, but opium makes
you sweat. And gin and opium both together make you float in a sort of constant sweating, coughing haze, sweet as
good pipe-tobacco or a cheroot on the Docks, contemplating a burning raft far off in the harbor's middle distance as
the waves lap soothingly up and down, up and down. Like nothing matters much, except for vague amusement's
It hits him far harder than the Butcher, 'course, who nothing seems to penetrate for long--not even bullets.
Not that either of them really has the experience to know if this is
true or not, but Amsterdam ventures that Bill
would probably have loved being a schoolmaster: His classes would be hands-on, full of profane yet to-the-point
instruction--lots of examples, lots of demonstration. 'Cause for Bill, everything in life's a lesson, even this...
Emma Loss lodged between 'em, already deep-set on Bill--at last! "Upstair"
with the Butcher, her whore's victory
complete--and moaning into Amsterdam's mouth with each movement of Bill's slim, hard hips while Amsterdam hefts
her porcelain breasts one to each palm, the both just a bare, blue-veined handful. With three of Bill's deft, dirty-nailed
fingers lodged knuckle-fast between her thighs, his wet thumb rooting 'round for the pink and slippery pearl that'll
spark her final crisis; Bill's Cain-guilty killer's hand, so deceptively sure and gentle, that can trace a tear's track down
Jenny Everdeane's cheek as soon as slit some fool's overstepping throat in the street.
Emma's mouth is sweet and sour at the same time, all rouge and bad breath
and sticky, sugary smoke. But her
body's soft and hot and Hellish willing, and she's got Amsterdam's fly already unbuttoned to its lowest point, her
sharp fingernail tracing the wet seam where foreskin lifts from cock-head. Amsterdam hears himself gasp at the
touch, his gaze still locked with Bill's over her shoulder--real eye vs. fake, the both of 'em upturned and rolling back,
careless in his enjoyment.
Could reach down for the knife in his boot, right this same moment--same
one as once pierced the Priest's own
heart, so awful long ago--and have that vein cording the bastard's skinny neck open before poor Emma even had
time to scream. And oh, but Amsterdam can almost see it now, a Holy vision breaking bright even through the
opium's haze: Bill's lips drawn back in a snarl of incredulous rage, front teeth bared like a rat in a corner. The terror of
the Five Points hoist on his own petard, killed in bed by the same Mick brat he already trusts enough to share his own
"daughter"'s charms with, in the very stroke of cheating on her with some halfbreed Circus hanger-on...
He'd cough out a jet of blood, bright as liquid dragon-fire; try hard
to pull himself free, maybe even succeed. But
Amsterdam'd be quicker, and the second thrust'd take him full in the chest, the side, whatever was handiest, with
Bill's own remembered voice counselling where best to plant it next:
*Go for the lung, that's good, don't foul ya blade on the rib; the heart,
good--main artery in the throat, bleed him
slow, make 'im think about it for a while. Good.*
...oh, Christ, so *good*...
"Them two are gettin' close enough t'share a chamber-pot," he's heard McGloin say in--what? Disgust? Jealousy?
But it's true enough; he's seen it done, done it himself. Seen Bill
in disarray and unthinking of potential consequences
more times than he can count--the whole of his tall, hard, scarred body from top to toe, in part or in whole. Seen at
least as much of the Butcher as he has of his Apprentice, perhaps even more...though Jenny, too, likes to keep at
least some of her clothes on even when she's pulling you inside of her; just Five Points practicality, probably, more
than anything else. Got to keep your boots handy, if your calling means you always got to be ready to run.
Jenny's Jenny, though, and ain't stopped being so just 'cause Bill's
given his tacit consent to her and Amsterdam's
"union". Ever since that night he told Amsterdam the story on why he keep the Priest's portrait handy (though not
up here, thank Christ--for Amsterdam don't think he could stand being caught in the throes of this particular tussle
under his dead Pa's disapproving eyes), she's still held herself just as free and fly as before; independent to a fault, off
to do her own business elsewheres whenever it strikes her fancy. For she's not a one to be kept by no man, let alone
But if Bill chooses to take his pleasures during her absence, and invite
Amsterdam to share in the same--well, what
does any of it matter, in the final tally? Just one more sin to work off when all this is done and done for, one more in a
flock; much as Amsterdam tries to live in certain hope of resurrection, he knows he'll have to do more'n his share of
time in Purgatory before he can 'scape the Butcher's firey influence completely.
Emma moans, her black braids flopping, and strips Amsterdam all the
harder. As Amsterdam reaches out, slowly, to
touch the shiny pink sore of Bill's half-healed bullet-wound where it peeks from under the sleeve of his waistcoat--not
the same one his assassin wore, for Amsterdam suspects he's saving *that* for February's Victory Day hoy.
And God Almighty, but that night can't come soon enough. Not with half
his time spent practicing throwing the
Paradise Square battle-knife out back of Monk's barbershop, or praying to St. Michael Archangel to guide his hand. Or
sharing close quarters with the same Devil whose blood he yearns to spill, every waking moment: Sharing 'em with a
nod and a smile and a terrible show of "filial" affection, made all the *more* terrible by Amsterdam's creeping fear that
it might be--
--not. Quite. Strictly such a show, anymore.
(Not the way it *should* be, any road.)
Bill plays father with him, like he plays son with Bill--the son the
Butcher never had, shat out of Ireland's
excrementitious arse-end just like everything else Bill professes to hate yet nevertheless seems, by evidence alone, to
cleave to: His beloved enemies (the Priest then, Monk now, for all Monk continually disappoints him by not being
willing to take the vote on who's best street fighter in all the Points to its streets), his closest pawns and tools (McGloin
or Happy Jack, take your pick), his Jenny...
He lets his fingers slip further, pads hoving in fast. Traces the scar
and draws a sudden grunt, Bill's eye opening anew
at the feel of it: Paralytic dragon's glare, bright and keen and slit almost to a knifeblade's width. Looking at
Amsterdam like he's jsut caught him at something, though neither of 'em quite know what.
"Does this still hurt?" Amsterdam asks him.
And: "*Oh* yeah," Bill says. "Always. 'Cause that's the trick of it,
son--everything hurts ya, but nothin' has to hurt
ya for long. Not long as you don't *let* it."
A smile crinkling the edges of his eyes, betrayingly, where those almost-invisible
age-lines nest. Making Amsterdam
remember, much against his will, that surge of anger and pity alike he felt when Bill--flag-wrapped and rocking, scarily
vulnerable--brought himself almost to the brink of tears describing how the Priest had taught him...what? How to
triumph over adversity, to be a man, to never look away? How best to value--and kill--him?
*'Cause you did, didn't you, you New York Yankee son-of-a-bitch? I saw
it. Only thing I still remember clearer than
the warmth of my Pa's hand in mine is seein' him blown out like that candle, fallin' in the bloody snow like a felled
That, and the look on Bill's face as he put that last knife in, slipping
it up under the breastbone like an evil charm. That
same mouth-twisting, eye-narrowing look he got making his confession to Amsterdam--almost the same, in some
horrid way, as the one he's getting now--
Like it hurts, and he likes it. Like he *wants* it to hurt. Like he
wouldn't want it--or nothing else--any other Goddamn
Feeling the fresh new skin bend under his finger, stretching thin like
it's just on the edge of parting once more. And
Amsterdam keeps on pressing, finding a weird rhythm to it--in and out, back and forth like Emma's moaning body,
half-automatic, but more'n half not. Half of it just fuelled and driven by some vague desire to *make* Bill feel
something, to leave his mark on him. Harder, and harder, and *harder*.
Bill opens his good eye wide, hissing loud through that high-set, much-broke nose of his. Demanding, imperious:
"Just what the hell ya think you're doin', boy? Why're ya--"
"You tellin' me to stop, Bill?"
Going in with his thumb as he says it, moving closer still, so Emma's
too crushed even to cry out between 'em. And
seeing the Butcher gasp, then grin--a grin of pleasure and surprise, admixed. Like pleasure's the only thing ever
surprises him, anymore.
A gritty murmur, through his teeth, breath puffing Amsterdam's cheek like a wind out of the Abyss. And--
In out, in out, in out. Just all becomes just part of the same lumbering
machine, driving them both on towards their
respective crises, like they're touching each other *through* poor Emma--Amsterdam shifting to slip inside her from
the front as Bill lifts and separates her, takes her backwise and spreads her wide while he does it, invitingly.
Emma groans at the extra intrusion, lets loose with some half-choked
cry in what Amsterdam can only suppose is her
Ma's language. And slipping inside her is like he's slipping inside *Bill* in some crazy, dreadful sort of way, separated as
he is from him by only a bare, fluttering wall of membrane; Bill pulling him closer with one hand on his wrist and the
other in Amsterdam's hair, gripping him by the braid. Close enough to breathe his breath, close enough to--kiss...
(and can this be *real*? *Is* it?)
Scratch of Bill's moustache against his lips, undeniable, a fierce,
brief grind. The hot lick of Bill's tongue, pasting a shred
of tobacco to Amsterdam's upper lip. And that same grin, gleeful-terrifying, like he's *daring* him to do anything but
roll his own eyes back and come, hard enough to send stars bursting behind his eyelids.
Same grins says: I know who I am, what I'm capable of. Know who *you* are, boyo, even if ya think I don't--
Not know like name-wise, but "know" to the marrow, to the very soul.
Down deep in the very essential lack of him,
the mourning fatherless part where Amsterdam himself fears to look, most-times.
*The way of the transgressor is hard, Mister Vallon...*
Oh, you don't say, Minister. Yes, thank you, very much so: Like Hell
is dark and full of mice, impossible to dig yourself
out of. Easy to come, hard to go, impossible to know just when and how you tripped over its slippery slope. Not 'till
you reach its very, very bottom.
Amsterdam keeps telling himself he don't think he's there quite yet. But after tonight...
...after tonight, he's not so sure he'd know it, if he was. Or if he wasn't.