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Gangs of New York: Prelude
By Eppie Black
New York City ca. 1845, The Old Brewery Tenement
In one tiny crowded room of the maze that was the Old Brewery Tenement the
Dead Rabbits held a council of war. Earlier in the night the nativists had
forcibly cleared a vacant lot of its Irish squatters and burned their
Priest Vallon realized that Cutting and his crew had been in the pay of the
legitimate owners of the property - the Irish had indeed been there
illegally. Furthermore, to the credit, however grudging, of Bill Cutting
there had been no loss of life in the incident and only minor injuries. It
was not an encounter to go to war over.
On the other hand, women and children had been terrorized, pride had been
offended, effort wasted and much of the genuine movable property of the
squatters, much of it cherished mementos from the old country or the tools
of skilled trade, had been destroyed. Many of the Rabbits were calling for
Vallon was trying to redirect this understandable energy toward the problem
at hand of finding shelter for the fifty or so displaced squatters while,
at the same time not dampening the warriors' hunger for eventual
confrontation with the Natives.
He was just saying to "Happy" Jack Mulrahney, "We are nothing, Jack, if not
our brothers' keepers." When a loud high-pitched shriek resembling that of
the legendary Banshee reverberated through the subterranean warrens of the
old brewery. This was followed shortly by a cheer from a chorus of mostly
The Dead Rabbits followed their leader out of the room to observe and/or
assist in the restoration of order.
It wasn't suprising to Vallon that things had gotten out of hand. Although
the Rabbits normally did a good job of keeping order inside the Old Brewery
tenement; packing extra people into the already overcrowded building was
bound to cause problems.
He also was not surprised to hear the new commotion emanating from his own
room. Since only he and the boy shared a room that other families would
have made do for six or seven, there was a lot of extra space for emergency
needs in there that had undoubtedly filled up with displaced persons from
the vacant lot.
As he strode commandingly down the hallway, a dark haired boy-child nearly
ran into him at a breakneck speed. Stopping just in time, the boy looked up
at him and said: "Fadder.um Misther Vallon, Sir. Your boy's fightin' a girl
and I 'tink he's losin."
Before Vallon even had time to react to this statement the child resumed
his mad dash, only to be caught by McGloin who gave the child a quick slap
on the rump saying:
"Snitchin' ain't a good survival strategy, boyo."
The child took off again as if nothing had happened.
"Sirroco's, the Tinker's, son." Said McGloin, by way of explanation.
"Soft in the head." Added Jack Mulrhaney.
Priest Vallon surveyed the chaos that was normally his monastically ordered
room. Children crowded the room in some sort of hysterical affray, while
women, the mothers of these children, nipped at the edges of the commotion,
occasionally bringing a few of the children under control.
"Whistle, McGloin." The Dead Rabbit's leader ordered.
McGloin, fingers in mouth whistled loud and sharp. Heads turned and voices
stilled to see Priest Vallon standing there. The general commotion was thus
abated. Except, Vallon was disappointed to see, for.The Boy. His own boy,
who had, it was very apparent, been right in the center of the children's
affray after all. The Boy was pinning to the floor, by the basic expediant
of sitting on her chest, a wild red-haired girl-child who was
considerably older and bigger than him. The girl struggled to either throw
him off or to at least free her hands, to which he was holding on tight.
The gang leaders stared at this odd sight for a moment. Vallon found
himself analyzing the situation from a tactical viewpoint. The Boy always
did have a knack for using larger opponents strength against them, but the
other boy's assessment was probably ultimately correct - he couldn't keep
her hands pinned forever and once they were free she would easily be able
to turn the tables.
Behind Vallon, Mulrhaney and McGloin sniggered.
"The boy's got good taste," Said Mulrhaney, his permanent smirk taking on a
lascivious edge, "she's awfully shiny for a kinchin-mort."
McGloin laughed, nodded his head and added slyly, "I think she like bein'
where she's at."
Vallon decided quickly and silently to redouble his efforts to assert
control over the situation.
"Son," he said decisively. "Get up off that girl now. That is not how you
are to treat a member of the opposite sex."
The boy's reply was distorted by effort and even a touch of fear. "Father,
if I let go of her, she'll murder me dead."
"You bet I will." Growled the girl. "I'll scratch your eyes out. Then I'll
strangle you blue. Thief! Thief! He's a dirty little thief! He tried to
steal my mammy's shawl right off her back!"
For some reason much of the crowd found this outburst hilarious. Vallon
looked around to see if he could discern who was responsible for the girl.
He concluded that her mother must be the shawl wrapped heap passed out
drunk on his own bed. He could see the boy's favorite blanket peeking out
from under her and that seemed to be the gist of the refutations to the
girl's charges his boy was currently loudly pleading.
"Up, both of you." He said to the children, grabbing both of them by their
clothes and hauling them to their feet. The boy looked contrite. As the
girl rose, pouting, something fell from her skirts, hitting the floor with
a metallic clank.
The starring crowd laughed again as Vallon picked up and held for all to
see a gold plated, inlaid silver watch with a long, fancy gold chain. The
girl-child's frown deepened.
"It is me own dead father's watch." She said fiercely.
"I seriously doubt that." Said Vallon evenly, turning the watch so as to
point out the inlaid American Eagle and engraved flag-shield.
"You did take this off a Native as they routed you from your shanty, didn't
you?" Vallon said, rather gently.
The girl nodded, modestly, truthful this time.
Vallon laughed ironically and turned to Jack Mulrhaney: "Well those of you
wanted immediate vengence should me somewhat sated." He said. "If I'm not
mistaken our friend, Butcher Bill, is currently mourning the loss of his
best forty dollar pocket watch."