Warning: This story contains scenes of torture as well as adult language. Reader discretion is advised.
No son of mine should ever look so ... fragile, he thought in a controlled manner as he tried to dispassionately gaze down on the young man filling the bed near to overflowing and yet somehow looking childlike in his pain. The figure in the bed was a big man in both height and build, nary a spare ounce of fat to be found upon that hulking frame. His black hair was cut short under the bandage that was wrapped around his head, blood showing that the cuts on his head had bled rather freely. They had just finished the cast on his arm, the plaster still drying and adding its scent to the stink of blood and urine and feces not yet washed from his body. The lurid incisions marring his fabulously muscular torso were still open to the air and the blood from the emergency surgery and bruises from his fights last night showed vividly on skin that was even paler than his normal Irish pallor. There were wires and hoses connected to him at the bend of his right arm, his right hand, his nose, and his chest, bringing blood and saline solution to his arteries and carrying the signs of life to the machines that beeped the announcement that he would likely live through his folly.
“I agreed to briefly let you see your boy,” a hard voice said behind him, its accent pure Hell’s Kitchen. “I have also arranged your amnesty for the next twenty-four hours under the conditions we negotiated. Now you must keep your word and leave him to the Grandmaster until he is up and ready to go back to his life.”
The man turned away from the bed, his face shockingly similar to that hidden beneath the bandages and tubes. His black hair was long, cut evenly just below the thick shoulders and styled back from his face. Piercing dark blue eyes narrowed but his head nodded. “And so I will,” his gravelly voice replied formally in a South Boston accent. “And know I appreciate the courtesy you have paid me by fixing this.”
The other man, as tall and thickly muscled as the two men in front of him, smiled as he shook his head, his flaming red hair brushing his own bulging shoulders. “Merely a return of favors, Rory O’Shea. We both know what burning your Cavanaugh identity cost you and part of that cost lies behind you. Part of that was for me and mine and so we return the favor for you and yours.”
O’Shea smiled, shrugging. “Eventually all identities must be burned,” he said philosophically, “one way or another. The cost of this one, however, did sting, cousin. And your namesake nearly lost his life for it. I thank you for validating my sacrifice by mitigating its effects. See to him, Angus. And make sure he does not leave here ignorant.”
The red-haired Angus’ brows rose. “You want me to awaken him? I thought you would want that privilege.”
Rory shook his head. “You have granted me twenty-four hours to complete my business in your city, cousin,” he reminded him harshly. He raised a placating hand when Angus opened his mouth to retort sharply. “I did not mean that as you heard it. I simply meant that my time is limited and Angus will not be awake for several more days, according to the Aesculapians. That means twenty-four hours is all the time I have to insure that my son can go home to his life when he wakens and flees this place, as he will undoubtedly do when you or your people awaken him. Those human scum will know the mistake they made when targeting my son before I leave your lands and my message will be clear enough that even a Gambino will know to leave him be.”
Rory O’Shea took one last look at his unconscious son, feeling the rage build like the bubbling of an expensive champagne, before nodding to his cousin and leaving. He did not look back as he cycled through the airlock into the temporary room and then stalked across the warehouse.
Outside, he inhaled deeply to clear the stench of his son’s near-death; his eyes alight with excitement as he felt the anger boiling in his veins. Unlike his son, who channeled and constrained his “curse,” Rory O’Shea reveled in his. He knew how to control it until he was a walking hormone factory, adrenaline blazing through his body and his mind searching for the target of his rage. Hulking forms converged on him from the shadows where he left them upon entering the warehouse.
“How is Little Angus, boss?” one of them inquired, his concern in his voice.
Rory laughed. “‘Little’ Angus isn’t quite so little anymore, Robert,” he replied, his voice hazed by the state he was in. “As a matter of fact, ‘Little’ Angus may be bigger than ‘Big’ Angus now. How he managed that living with his mother is beyond me. It always amazes me that our genetics burn through even the meekest of upbringings.
“That, however, is not our concern, gentlemen. Cousin Angus has given us our twenty-four hours. Considering what I did for him, I would have thought at least forty-eight would have been fairer,” Rory informed them, a business-like tone burning through his blissed voice. He began walking towards their waiting SUVs. “I understand his terms, though, and the reason for them. So we have tonight and tomorrow to do what we came to do. Have the boys run down our prey for the evening?”
“Jamie says Angus’ Grandmaster arranged for the bodies to be placed in a warehouse in Brooklyn owned by the Gambinos. He suggests that we use the same warehouse,” Robert replied swiftly. “Forge has the Gambino captain in his club. Harry has the Genovese captain in his office. Nathan, Annie, Eddie, Siobhan, Mark, Bridgette, and Domino say their people have the others in their houses at the moment.”
Rory grunted, pleased, as they reached the vehicles. Rory got in the first Escalade with Robert and his two men, the others getting in the three behind them. “And has Janie found us a workshop?”
Danny, Robert’s cousin, chuckled from the back seat. “She found us a meatpacking plant that the FDA closed down for health violations. She says it only cost her a thousand dollars and a guarantee to the inspector that nothing will be found in the plant when we are done.”
“Whose plant was it?”
“The Chinese own it through the Jamaicans.”
Rory nodded with a smile. “Tell Janie she did good and to have it ready for us. Have everyone grab their package and head for the plant. We are moving now.”
Robert started the Escalade and they drove away from the warehouse. Rory gazed at the lights of the Big Apple somewhat bemusedly, sinking into the blissful feeling his body was producing now that the adrenaline was fading. He would have just enough time to let it fade before he needed to focus. It had been two decades since he last caught a glimpse of Angus following his brother home from school. That was the day he was sure Angus was his son. He knew Keith wasn’t his as soon as the boy was born. Mary was a cute, petite woman with whom he had fun on occasion but he also knew she had been with someone before him and that the punk had knocked her up. The math wasn’t right for Keith to be his son.
Angus, though, he was sure as soon as Mary called him in Boston to tell him she was pregnant. He didn’t mean to get her pregnant. Things were a little hectic in Boston and he knew Mary would never leave New Jersey. Especially not for Boston. When he knew he would have to run out on her shortly after Angus’ birth, he made sure his friends in New York looked out for Mary. Nobody would ever mess with her as long as he was out there free. And the FBI would trumpet his arrest, or death, loud enough for the Chinese in Shanghai to hear it. It was the best he could do for Mary and his boy.
From time to time, he would drift through New Jersey on his way back to Boston for business, long enough to check on his son and Mary. That was how he got to see his son’s first fight. It was a moment every Bloody Hand had, that day when he is stressed to the point of flooding his young body with enough adrenaline to trigger his condition. Rory saw Keith’s tormentors start on him, the other children surrounding them in the manner of every schoolyard tussle, the chants of “Fight! Fight! Fight!” and Angus pushing his way through to his brother. The first few punches were wild and raw, but they quickly got more precise and naturally powerful. Angus was still on the scrawny side, for a Bloody Hand. His nature had not announced to the normal humans that here was someone different. By the time he walked across the stage to get his diploma, however, Rory saw the family resemblance quite plainly, despite the lingering sadness over his brother’s recent death. He couldn’t be there for it, but his people made sure he got a tape of the graduation.
He barely watched it, fast forwarding through to the few seconds Angus was on screen and then throwing it away. Why they bothered still puzzled him. I guess they wanted to make sure I knew he was doing well and had graduated, Rory mused as he pondered his son. Angus’ future was going to be interesting. One thing is for sure, he will not be joining me in the business! After what he did tonight, he would probably try to turn me into the FBI as his civic duty. I doubt the other Bloody Hands would have any better chance to recruit him, since he rejected every offer made to him by my human counterparts in New York.
His cell phone rang. “O’Shea,” he said curtly.
“Hey, boss. Janie here,” the spritely voice said, sounding as if she were in a cave. “Everyone but Eddie has arrived. I haven’t heard from him and I thought he would have been the first to get here. He might have run into something since he hasn’t called to explain the delay.”
Rory looked over at Robert. “Where was Eddie going?”
“Bensonhurst. One of the enforcers for the Gambino capo lives there. It should have been an easy pick-up,” the driver replied with a frown.
O’Shea grunted. “Turn around and head to the address. Eddie hasn’t shown up at the plant and Janie is worried that he hasn’t called to tell her why,” he ordered curtly, his adrenaline starting to spike again. He lifted the phone back to his ear. “We are on our way, Janie. Thanks for the heads up. If you don’t hear from us in thirty minutes, wrap everyone up at the plant and put them one ice and then come get us in Bensonhurst because we will probably have run into whatever got Eddie.”
“What got Eddie?” she asked, worried.
He snorted. “I don’t know that anything did, but you were right. He should at least have called by now. Talk to you in thirty.”
“We hope,” she said before he hung up.
“Pick it up a little. Eddie may be young but he is solid,” he said laconically. “He should have known to call if there was a problem and he could get to a phone.”
The neighborhood was slightly north of middle class but not obviously so. The houses were a little bigger. The cars were a little nicer and uniformly newer than most middle class neighborhoods. As they drifted down the street, they saw Eddie’s Escalade skewed half in, half out of the driveway with the driver side door open. Rory nodded to Robert and he cruised to a stop, the head lights already off. The house was a big Tudor with stained glass windows in the second floor and well-manicured flower beds and lawn. The stout oak door was kicked in but other than that there was no sign of life or trouble.
Rory and his men got out of their SUVs and ranged themselves before the house, each inhaling deeply as they sank into their rage. “Watch yourselves. Assume they are expecting us. Seamus, take Eoin and Jack around back. The rest of you with me. Neutralize anyone you come across but I want everyone alive if at all possible. Read me?”
“Read you, boss,” they chorused as they all pulled out weapons ranging from asps to axes.
Rory drew a short sword from beneath his suit jacket and nodded to Robert, leading the way across the lawn to the front door. Three of his men peeled off to circle around back. Rory O’Shea nudged the door open with the point of the sword and darted his head around the doorframe. There was a body lying in a pool of blood just inside the door, evidence that Eddie’s entry, at least, went according to plan. Careful of the blood, he and his men entered, closing the door behind them. The man on the floor looked like street muscle in the lightless entryway. There was a gun in his hand but Danny shook his head when he bent and sniffed the barrel of the gun lying next to him.
Leading the way deeper into the house, Rory felt the emptiness of it. Angelo Fortescu had a wife and four kids. No house inhabited by that many kids should ever be this quiet. There weren’t even the sounds of sleeping people in the house. Just the shush of the furnace trying to heat a house open to the fall air for at least an hour. Rory nodded to his men and they began spreading out, searching room by room and whistling the sharp note signaling all clear. Robert led three men upstairs and soon returned with a puzzled look in his eyes.
A fierce look of genuine rage entered his boss’ eyes for the second time that night. “Whatever happened, he is not here and neither is Fortescu,” Rory told his men. “Somehow, the Romanian got the drop on Eddie. Somehow he knew we would be coming for him.”
A shrill sound pierced the quiet. And again. And again.
They all returned to the entryway and Danny dug around in the dead man’s pockets, coming up with a ringing cell phone. He answered it at the nod from his boss only to scowl and hold out the phone to Rory. “It’s for you, boss. Fortescu asked for you by name. Angus Cavanaugh.”
Not even bothering with preliminaries, O’Shea took the phone and said in a matter-of-fact tone, “You do realize this will only make your fate that much worse, right Angelo.”
A barking laugh answered. “I knew that as soon as I was told who those idiots had rousted, Bloody Hand,” the grating voice on the phone replied. “Hell, I f•©king knew this was going to blow up in my face as soon as those idiots in Organized Crime told me what happened at the club. They may have forgotten who and what you are, but I have not. As a sign that I haven’t, your boy here is alive and relatively unharmed. I want to negotiate a way out of this for me and mine and as a sign of good faith I will be dropping him off in front of your meatpacking plant in about two minutes. I will call back in five so you have a chance to talk to him.”
The line went dead.
“Eddie is fine,” Rory said with a grimace. “Apparently Fortescu is smarter than I remember him being because he is dropping Eddie off at the meatpacking plant. As a gesture of good faith in hopes of getting out of this with his skin, so he says.”
Robert snorted and shook his head. “That’s not brains, boss. That’s just animal cunning and knowing how to survive a hopeless situation,” he said in mild disagreement.
O’Shea chuckled with genuine amusement. “Whatever it is, it might just let Fortescu keep his miserable hide intact,” he growled. “Let’s head for the plant while I await the Angel’s next call. Danny, get Eddie’s car and drive it to the plant with us.”
They drove through the quiet streets of Bensonhurst, the sleeping neighborhood dead to the world. Rory watched the streets flash by while savoring the high this night’s work was earning him. Three minutes after being hung up on by Angelo Fortescu, his own cell phone rang. “O’Shea.”
“Hey, boss. Eddie here,” his cousin said, his voice dejected and apologetic. “I’m sorry, cousin. Fortescu was waiting for us. We got his night guard but he had an ambush set up.”
“That’s the strange part, Rory,” he replied, baffled. “He went to some pains to make sure none of us were hurt too badly. He took their cells and let them go. Janie hasn’t heard from them yet, so they must still be trying to find a pay phone or taxi. Fortescu kept me and gave me a message for you. He said to tell you, ‘Consider your cousin and his men a down payment for your son. The rest I will give you when I call back.’ And with that he dropped me off at the plant and drove away.”
The dead man’s phone rang. “Help Janie with our guests. Has the truck arrived?”
“I’ll be there shortly,” he told the younger man curtly, disconnecting and pulling the corpse’s phone out. “Yes?”
“I know simply not killing your people buys me nothing except maybe the courtesy of a quick death,” Fortescu’s gravelly voice started harshly, “but what would the fact that the fight at Exposé was set up and the name of the guy who told the capos where Mike could be found be worth? Would that maybe be enough to grant me a pardon for my part in this clusterf•©k?”
O’Shea’s face hardened and Robert shivered at he felt the change in the air around his lord, glancing over to see that Rory had flashed into an incandescent rage that promised to carry him through the night whether he planned on it or not. “What do you mean the fight was ‘set up’? I thought it was a three-way clusterf•©k of a coincidence,” Rory’s toneless voice retorted.
A harsh, humorless bark of a laugh coughed out of the cell phone. “That was what I thought, too, when our guy got capped at Sal’s,” Angelo answered, his tone saying louder than words that he was pissed at being lied to. “But when they went after Mike for something that was completely the fault of the idiot assholes who decided to shoot up Sal’s, I started to wonder. And wondering made me ask a few hard questions, which gave me answers that I was both pissed and happy to hear. Pissed, because more than one person lied to me. Happy, because now I had someone else to give up when you came calling. Some of the idiots around here forget why we left Mike and his beautiful mother alone for so many years. They forget there was a reason he could turn down as many job offers as he has gotten without somebody getting insulted or suspicious of him.”
“Who?” Rory growled with quiet, intense rage. “Who decided they could target my son with impunity?”
“Fat Frankie Cantiar.”
Rory was silent for a long minute, his mind whirling with that name. Fat Frankie Cantiar had no official position in the Gambino Family. He had no official position with any of the Families. He was a facilitator, a go-between for them all. He brokered deals, sold information, and arranged services as varied as out-of-town muscle to traceless cleaners to money laundering. He kept his position, and the power it garnered, by being scrupulously neutral; making himself available to all of the Families equally, and the Families alone. He did not work for the Russians or the Chinese or anyone else, no matter what they offered him.
“Why would Fat Frankie target my son? He doesn’t do anything for free and, before this idiocy, I would have said nobody would pay him enough to cross me,” Rory finally said, rising confusion battling with his ire.
“You would have to ask him because I would have said the same thing given the last time you came to town with blood in your eye,” Fortescu replied fervently, a shrug evident in his tone. “I have made some quick inquiries and nobody up top knows what is going on. Whatever this play is, it is either being driven by Fat Frankie or someone at the street level is making a play and using you and your son to do it. I am sure I wasn’t the only one you were grabbing tonight, so you probably have whoever it is that Fat Frankie is dealing with on this. I am sure you have facilities and the skills to ask in a persuasive enough manner to get your answers. What I would like to know is does this square us? Or do I need to arrange travel to the dark side of the moon for me and mine?”
“We’re square,” Rory growled before hanging up and disassembling the phone. He wiped down the GPS chip and tossed it out the window, tucking the rest of the phone away in his coat pocket for later disposal.
The Meat Packing District was still pretty busy that late at night. Or rather, that early in the morning. Plants running late shifts, trucks driving in and out, and workers loading and unloading kept the District humming throughout the night, though at a less frenetic pace than during the day. O’Shea could tell which plant Janie rented because there were inspector’s letters plastered all over the office door along with tape over the loading bay doors. A half dozen SUVs were parked outside, however, with discreet guards on the roofs of several of the neighboring buildings. The plant was a low, long brick building with “Kingston Meats” on a dingy sign over the office door.
As they got out of the SUVs, O’Shea noticed a familiar white box truck heading their way. “Someone head inside and tell them the truck is here,” he ordered absently. “I want everything set up within the hour. If Fortescu is right, we have a busy morning ahead of us and the sooner we wrap this up, the better.” He waited as the truck drove up to the building and then carefully backed up to the loading dock with Robert guiding it in with hand signals.
“Get the gear unloaded and set up, Robert. I’ll be in the office with Janie,” O’Shea ordered curtly, his eyes burning with rage now tinged with anticipation. “I have a few calls to make. There is something afoot and I am not entirely sure all of the players are sapiens. There is the stench of a Grandmaster about all of this and the only Grandmaster in play should be Angus’.”
Janie O’Shea was a statuesque red head with a figure Hugh Heffner would kill to add to his collection. She stood a couple of inches over six feet with a deceptively lean musculature that could nonetheless make her the star of any gym when she worked out. Her red hair was slightly wavy and was cut short in what would once have been called a Farrah Fawcett style. The burnished locks framed a very pixie-like face that was more often than not dancing with impishness. Her bluish green eyes also knew the fire that was the gift/curse of the Bloody Hands and her skills as a manager were surpassed by her deadliness when the rage coursed through her veins. She was Rory O’Shea’s niece and current heir apparent for leadership of the Bloody Hand Clan of O’Shea upon Rory’s death. The discovery of her cousin might put that title in jeopardy, but most who were concerned about such things thought not.
She was on the phone when her uncle and his shieldsmen walked into the office. “Find out for me, Seamus? There’s a good lad. I have to go. Rory is here and in form. I will,” she said with a smile before hanging up. She turned the smile on Rory. “Seamus says hi and reminds you not to have too much fun; you remember what happened last time.”
“What do you have for me?” he replied, taking a seat at the paper-strewn desk.
Janie took out a pad from her black jeans’ back pocket. “We got both capos, the three enforcers (minus Fortescu) and the three muscle boys. I have them all duct taped to chairs on the plant floor,” she told him before grinning impishly. “I figured they would have more fun figuring out what we were planning for them there.”
“Have any of them offered up anything?” he asked, his tone proclaiming his doubt that they had.
Janie snorted and shook her head. “Nothing worth letting them go,” she replied disdainfully. “They were offering up the kind of stuff the Feds might want. Nothing of interest to us.”
“Which is the stupidest of them?” O’Shea inquired, his tone sharpening as his face hardened. He stood and began taking his jacket and shirt off. “And call Robert. Tell him to dig through the truck and bring me my clothes.”
Janie called her cousin, watching her uncle bare his pale, heavily muscled torso. There were tattoos of a Celtic mature on his back; stylized animals done in Celtic knotwork, with two shields bearing crests over scrolls and crossed swords on each shoulder not unlike badges on a military uniform. On his right shoulder the shield bore the crest of the O’Shea Clan of Ireland over a scroll bearing script in Celtic. On the left shoulder was the shield bearing the original Bloody Hand crest that was adopted by the Clan O’Neill, the Irish family from which the High Kings of Ireland came. The scroll under that shield bore more Celtic that translated to, “By the Bloody Hand shall Eire and the World be ruled,” the motto of the Bloody Hand Society. Rory O’Shea’s arms and torso were marred by many obvious bullet and blade scars, mute evidence of his violent life. Few Bloody Hands were without scars left by battle, but Rory O’Shea had seen almost a century’s worth of life and the battles for which a Bloody Hand lived. And his willingness to add to those scars was what made his people so loyal to him. Loyal to the point of being just as willing to bleed, even die, for their Lord.
Janie tore her eyes away from her appreciation of her uncle’s body to look into his amused eyes with a guilty flush. “I assume you want the capos to have the benefit of your education of said moron? Because they are all pretty dumb,” she said with scathing contempt. When he nodded, she shrugged and said, “Benedicto Scoppelli. The man is only employable because he is a sadist who is also OCD. He cleans up after himself obsessively, which is the only reason his is not in prison. He is Gambino muscle and the one they call when they want something messy and clean. Benedicto is essentially a tame serial killer.”
The idea of someone like that anywhere near the mess his son was in did not help Rory control and focus his already simmering rage. His eyes flared with that rage and a dreadful smile curved his lips, making his niece shiver in anticipation of the work to come. “He sounds perfect. While we wait for Robert to bring me my work clothes, have the boys move Scoppelli to one of the tables, bring my tools, and arrange the others so that I might educate them,” he ordered in an arctic tone just as Robert entered carrying a set of coveralls and some raggedy size 16 boots. He wordlessly handed them to his Lord before leaving with Janie to set things up on the plant floor.
Deciding to make his calls later, Rory stripped the rest of his clothes off, underwear and socks included, and put on the coveralls and boots. He took a pair of black rubber gloves out of a pocket and donned them with practiced skill. All of it would be burned when the morning’s festivities were complete. He rotated his neck and shoulders, hearing and feeling them relax with satisfying pops and cracks. Inhaling deeply, he knew it was time to get the show on the road.
The plant floor was a huge expanse of concrete pierced here and there by drains. There were stainless steel tables in two rows down the length of the massive room with meat hooks on rails hanging from the low ceiling. There were two industrial sinks on each of the long, white-tiled walls and two steel freezer doors on each wall as well. Bins made of stainless steel were pushed against the walls. Power saws (looking much like massive chain saws) hung from their places on the ceiling, adding a macabre, horror movie appearance to the scene. Especially to the seven men hanging from meat hooks by their bound hands surrounding an eighth who was nude and bound by steel restraints to one of the steel tables.
Rory grinned as he took in the scene while walking towards the table. “My name, in case you either did not know it or have inconveniently forgotten it,” he began in a stern, stentorian voice, “is Angus Cavanaugh. All of you are here because you seem to have forgotten why my colleagues and enemies named me the Bloody Hand. And, more importantly, you seem to have forgotten just who Angus Michael Fitzkiern’s father is.
“So, consider the next few hours to be something in the nature of an educational experience. An educational experience, should you survive to ever see your families again, the benefits of which I suggest you share with your brethren who also seem to have forgotten who and what I am. And while I am educating you,” he told them, looking each in the eyes with an even grimmer expression, his eyes dead, “search your memories for something that might induce me not to visit the fate of Benedicto Scoppelli upon each and every one of you for your collective temerity concerning you actions towards my son this past night.”
He saw the light dawn in seven pairs of eyes even while the eighth pair widened in fear, Benedicto Scoppelli renewing his struggles against the steel restraints binding him securely to the table. Rory walked up to the table and nodded to Robert, who wheeled over a cart on whose top was laid out an array of tools from various professions, all of which could be used in inventive ways. Ways that Rory O’Shea was intimately familiar. He once more looked at those surrounding the table from their positions dangling from meat hooks by their bound wrists. They, too, were gagged. He casually slapped the still struggling Benedicto, turning his dire gaze upon the stunned man.
“I have chosen you as the example to your fellows for two reasons,” he told the man dispassionately. “First, and foremost, is that you would seem to be the stupidest and least informed of this little gathering. This means that nothing you have to say would be of sufficient value to merit your continued existence. And secondly, and really more personally motivating, is that I am told you are something of a sadist and are the Gambino’s tame serial killer. That you were found in this company could only mean that they meant to unleash you upon my son, which I find repugnant on a number of levels. So, you have earned the honor of being an object lesson to the rest of my former associates here in the city, in general, and in the Genovese and Gambino Families in particular. I have, however, been occasionally misinformed. Therefore, I will remove the gag momentarily. There will be no blustering or threats; you are not in a position to do either. Your fate is likely already sealed. The removal of the gag is your only opportunity to say something that might change that fate. Take it.” He nodded to Janie, who worked the gag loose enough to remove it.