Correspondence Found Inside A Wall, New York, 1945
by Gemma Files & Stephen J. Barringer

"And all at once there leaps a mighty blood."
--Richard Selzer.


Writ for the immediate and beneficial attention of one Mr Amsterdam Vallon, that pig-rutting, hypocritous bog-shat Irish fox, whatever tuppenny dive he may have (as of this moment) gone himself to ground in--

Though my reputation argues otherwise, in this our mutual neighborhood, I certainly cannot count myself as having a monopoly on the knife; there's a dozen men in any street in the Five Points will slit your pipe for the price of a drink, or even half that, truth be told. But for those who crave what Mr Honorable Fucking Tammany Hall Tweed might call a "guarantee of satisfaction", your selection ain't yet so broad. I myself am personally familiar with eight men--and two women--whose formal list of services rendered includes the Big Job, and not for so much as might inconvenience my daily living one jot.

Fortunately for yourself, none of those with whom I've thus far discussed our current situation were able to meet the most important of my requests: Namely, to gut your sorry carcass and bring me your liver in a jar of gin, while somehow accomplishing such without any harm coming to Miss Jennie Everdeane, whose company I can only assume you still keep. That being since I ain't seen her yet, outside of on stage at Sparrow's Pagoda that particular night--smart thinking on her part, probably. But then, she does know me that well.

Just like I know her.

And does that prospect frighten you, my young and former friend? 'Cause it maybe should, as time ticks on and the blood dries on the blade, no matter what she tells you nights: She's got expensive tastes, my Jen, and a mind to see all angles, 'specially when the lay starts to winding down. So, maybe so.

Don't ever doubt I want her left upright, though, same as I want you in wood underclothes. That's because she belongs here, just like I do: Born rightwise in the Points, raised here before and after, no matter what shit-choked part of Ireland her Ma might've set sail from. She fills her place here, in a way you will never.

You maybe might have, at one time, if you'd but wanted. Which is more than I can say for your father, Devil rot or save him--or any other Christ-chewing, Mick monkeyspeak-chattering Dead fucking Rabbit, for that matter.

It is perhaps not without appropriation how Priest Vallon come to choose that name for his lunkheads, as rabbits was among the first things to ever come under my knife--the larger animals being, frankly, unwieldy for my size at the time. Those cuts, those skinnings, they was what taught me never to do nothing to no earthly point: My useful trade (as the God-botherers say), learned first at the 'formatory but soon perfected out here on the streets by dint of personally perilous effort, in true intercourse's heat.

Follow the thread end-wise and it's all about knowing what you can save, sat up straight and measured beside what you know to throw away.

Gazing on those rotting coneys hung up to make your father's standard, meanwhile, I would think: That's two days' food, done to dirt for sinful Papist pride and nothing else. In the Points, meat's as much a thing means life or death as any of my knives to your neck--and sixteen years after, to this very day, it so boils me I can't hardly breathe. Even saying you never learned nothing else from your part in my fond attachment, anyone ever kept my company knows one thing I cannot abide is waste.

Your father, however, is not the issue of this letter.

That night, when they threw you out of Sparrow's, I took to drink and stayed there most of next week. Which means by the time I drew 'round to putting my spies after you, you'd already had time to dig down--a plan in which, I do fancy, I see Jennie's fast fingers at work.

Oh, she's never been no fool, Jennie: My sweet Jen, my bene blowen, game for anything and sharp, so sharp, that bleak mort! Always on the lay, always upping the price of the jest. And that temper of hers, that sudden hell-spark...

It's what I like best in a body, you'll remember.

Twelve if she was a day, that first time I laid eye on her, crouching in her doorway with her face to the dirt. But when McGloin tried to pull her dead Ma's carrion away, she stuck her little hand up under my coat and come out with one of my knives; had it between his ribs, almost, before I'd time to take it back from her. I had to paste her asleep to get her free without harm, and she cursed me like a sailor when she woke back up. That's after she knew who I was, too.

"Sand," there's a word I know you know. There's the definition of it.

And by the by: Did she ever sing you the tale yet how she caged herself off at Sparrow's with the rest, auctioned her lockbox to the highest-bidding key for its virgin turn? Quartered the take with me after, too, though I'd've gladly took less, if appearances didn't count so damnable costly.

So tell me--does your vampire Papist church allow for such as that, Amsterdam? Or would it push her hot-ward for it quick-smart, no matter the circumstance?

But then, it's not like you never whored yourself out, neither, my young friend. Not in the strictest sense.

Any roads, don't never fool yourself I envy you joy of her. 'Cause Jen and me, we've danced the ballum-rancum in ways you'll never fathom--she'll be my left-handed wife yet 'till we're both in clover, and you too, boy. You too.

Now comes the sad part, the old lament. And since you've no doubt seen her skirts more up than down by now, I'm thinking you jimmy of what I speak.

It's true how when her Ma come to dust, I took her in--give her the run of Satan's Circus and let her work the crowd for practice, paid fine chink so's her turtledove duds was good enough to pass muster close up, and the rest. I even learned her her letters, best I could; the ones I knew, anyway, since she got two eyes to crib 'em with.

It's even true--though I'm wondering if she's told you so--that I never laid hand on her without she asked me. I won't say I never looked, when she grew shiny enough for the looking; I ain't made of stone, no more than is any man with true blood in his veins. But it puts a man off, thinking on the fucking of a moll who was almost your get--a girl hard enough to sell herself the once, then not no more, ever. No need to pull in your brass on your back when your two hands can do what's needful--right, Amsterdam? I had all the cunny I wanted without I needed to paddle my own.

Mind you--don't be thinking it was a poetical romance, either. To find Jennie in a man's bed with nothing but skin and smile, it leaves him alamort--no room or need for fancy words, or fine wooing ways. As I am sure you have the pleasure of knowing first-hand, by now. Turns the head all about, does our Jen.

If I was minded to blame her, I might say that's how it happened: Made a mooncalf by a crafty mort who'd broke her leg, and would have to tie her apron higher. But that's not Jennie's way. Craft she's got, all I could teach her, but not the born cat's instinct for making a man a Joseph, to say it's his even when it ain't. Truth was, we both got careless --nothing more to it than that.

And when she was brought to bed, how she cried on me and God and Satan in the same breath, with no let-up: Oh God oh Bill oh Jesus buggering Christ!

The Word teaches us how Eve's sin condemned all females to suffer and cry in labor, much as the serpent's head should be ever bruised by man's heel. But one of the many ways in which I find I differ from our Creator is that I'd never let a man scream like that, for long.

The thing of it is, we allowed ourselves to dream. That's the thing. Our most fatal error: Choosing of names, thinking "girl" or "boy", partitioning of eyes, and such-not. All that useless chat. Of which she knew no better, granted...but I did, damn me. I did, from earliest years.

My mother in her fever, the night before the reformers took us. And a thing which might have grown to prove my own brother, pulled from between her legs in pieces.

Which is why I think like I always thought, then and now: Your dreams breed monsters, Bill. Best keep 'em to yourself.

And after, I give her that guff as to me not fancying her no more, which she well knows is jack--and I know she knows, so don't you never think I don't, my lad. Don't you never.

But better a lie than the truth, even though there's none in the Points don't know it. Long as you've got something else to speak in its place, the ears need never hear what the idea pot ain't got the mercy to forget.

Oh, and if I only could slit time's throat, Mister Priest's-son Vallon, I would. Roll it up, put it away; let things be as they once were, for Jen and me. Or me and you, for that matter.

But we can only do what's possible. You'll learn that, in the event: Life's hardest lesson. That's given we don't kill each other, first.

Get yourself well, and soon. So's we can hoy when next I see you.



Mr. Cutting Sir:

You may laugh at my speaking so formal, given our acquaintanceship, and you'd be right to do so. But as you see above, where my first writing is blotted over, I don't think it's right for me to be calling you "Bill" no more. Not after all that's passed between.

Not that formal speaking is much help, any road, in the thinking of what to say.

I boasted once to Jennie that my thoughts were deep, when first we caught sight of each other's plates on Paradise Square. Leastwise, I thought then 'twas a boast, but appears it's no such thing. For a deep thinker's one has his boot hip-deep in snow: Wet snow and bloody, piled thick with wrecks of men. Barely able to shift himself forward, back or side for the very deepness of his thinking.

I spent long months under your wing, sir, stuck in those deep thoughts. What it meant that I didn't lust after your blood as much as I had, all those long years in Hellsgate. What kind of man I must be, to count my father's ender as a friend. How much truth there was in what I told myself: That a proper killing needed a public show--that I was only waiting for the moment, learning your ways and your secrets, to bring you down as hurtful and as quick as you brought down my life. And day by day crawled by, each with another deep thought to hold down my shoes, to bind my knife in its sheath.

Not like you, Mr. Cutting. You've never let your thought-pan's tricks come between you and the kill a day in your life, for all I know. And that I always envied.

I want things to be square and even between us--I want to owe you nothing. And as you've told me something I did not know, I'll be so kind as to return the favour. For I mind me you said, once, you wished you could have seen my father's face, upon receipt of the eye you cut from your skull for shaming you under his fists. And I thought back on an Easter dinner, the year before my father's death, and knew at last the true meaning of that night.

My ma being dead in my birthing, my father and me had no one else but the Rabbits to celebrate with, and that evening was a proper shin-up: Lasses in the kitchen of the Old Brewery, ale at every place, cuts of meat big enough to stop even Monk McGinn's mouth--more than we'd see the rest of the year, that was certain. My da played the right proper host, checking the kitchen himself with every course, and when I asked to help out--as was only right for the youngest man of the house, I said, very dignified I was--he laughed and let me come along, even carrying plates.

Midway through the dinner a butcher's boy was let in the back entrance, bearing a package for Mr. Priest Vallon himself. No, it was not to be left in the kitchen: Mr. Vallon was to take it personally, was to open it right promptly. And I can still see my father, too pleased with his party to be angry at the interruption; I can hear him praising the boy for being so devoted to his charge. And he grabs a knife from a chopping board, cutting the twine, peeling back the pink and grease-stained paper, still laughing. "Ah!" he says, "it's the rack of lamb, not before time, eh son? And...."

And I recall clear as water the way the smile shrank off his face, how suddenly there was frost in his eyes and the laughter was gone from his mouth, as he unwound a bloodied white strip of paper from something small, round and gleaming. I could see that the paper bore words, though I had not the letters to read them.

Nor did I ever see that message, then. It's only by talking to you, Mr. Cutting, that I know what it must have said:

If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.

You did not make him happy, that night. But do not flatter yourself to think you made him weep or shrink, either. To his great misfortune, you made him pity you.

It was a mistake which I have repeated, aptly enough. Though it's not that that will matter much, in the end.

Rest assured, Butcher: I will give you what you want, when all things find their season. For all you've given me, I can do no less.


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