|The Tin Soldier and his Ballerina
Author: TheEgyptian26 PM
Richard finds a woman who can love him completely, and she finds the man who can save her from her past. Everyone wears a mask, she tells him. Takes place in what will be Season 3. Rated T for language, war violence, racial slurs and future scenes. Because we can all agree Richard Harrow needs love too!Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Hurt/Comfort - Richard H. & unknown 1 - Chapters: 2 - Words: 7,849 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 6 - Follows: 8 - Published: 08-24-12 - id: 8460532
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Richard stands with Capone and a few of his colleagues in a corner of Babette's. They talk business about Torrio and Chicago, but Richard isn't listening. He is watching a table across the crowd, at which stands a group of men and two women. The younger of whom is Gwen. Richard had spotted her while Capone was telling him about the hit, which turned out to be a fairly basic job. Some bootlegger brothers who owe money to Torrio, their death meant to send a message to their partners about the importance of paying debts. Capone's offering $300 for a one days work, cause he needs it done quick. Richard takes the job, telling Capone to give him their location and when and where he wants it done. He then returns his gaze to Gwen and wonders what she is thinking.
Tonight she wears a long black ankle length dress with a long pearl necklace. He notices she looks bored and uncomfortable and says almost nothing to the men she is with. The woman beside her, a blonde in an orange dress, was hanging off the arm of a prestigious looking man at the table with a thick mustache and heavy brow. He thought the man seemed pompous, and seeing Gwen give him incredulous side-long glances he would guess that she felt the same. He watches her drink glass after glass of Champaign, and even through the smoky haze he sees her cheeks growing darker. With all plans of leaving Capone as soon as possible forgotten, Richard waits for an opportunity to speak with her again to present itself.
A man named Antonio joins the small circle of men where Richard stands, a glass of whiskey in his hand and a cigar in the corner of his mouth. "Eh, Capone!" He shouts merrily "There you are, been lookin' all over for yah. This the guy?" He nods to Richard and chews on his stogy
Al nods too, taking a sip of his own drink, "That's him alright. Scary lookin' fellow, didn't I say?" Al laughs. Richard ignores Capone's jab and inclines his head in greetings, meeting the mans eyes fleetingly.
Antonio surveys him good-naturedly, "Can he get it done fast?"
"Course he can, he's a machine. I mean look at 'em!" Capone thumps Richard on the back.
Antonio takes a sip from his whisky and catches Richard's eye, "I heard about that hit you did a couple months back, the Telcov kid. Shot off his hand before you killed him, in the middle of a park is what I heard."
Richard remembers the job. Telcov had been a former associate of Mr. Horvitz. He'd tried to get the butcher's location out of the boy and shot him in the hand for encouragement. When it proved he could be of no help Richard shot him through the cheek with a mauser 1914 pistol and left him in the park. It had been evening, with dusk just beginning to fall. He'd read later in the newspaper that the body wasn't even found until late the next morning.
Richard nods that this is true. Antonio laughs and holds his large belly. "Damn, boy, you got some nerve."
"Bold. as brass." Richard says jokingly. Capone and Antonio laugh together this time, Antonio taking his cigar out to laugh all the harder.
"Glad to hear it, kid. Anyway, Capone, I got this guy I want you to meet, name's Mann. Some kinda doctor, a smug bastard but he's got a shipment and's hoping to unload. Heroine, the pure stuff, non o' that sand they been shipping in from the south. And he's looking to expand his market out of state."
"That where Lucky gets his stuff?"
Antonio nods, "Apparently Mann cooks the best dope in town, or so says Luciano. That Jew Lansky says they're flush up in New York with the stuff, got more customers than the can handle. Might be worth talkin' to Torrio about when you get back to Chicago. The doc's wantin' to widen his horizons, if you get what I'm saying."
Capone takes a drag of his cigarette and looks skeptical. "I'll do what I can, but I tell yah Torrio ain't took keen on getting in to the dope business. Thinks its tacky."
Antonio chuckles, "That may be true. But lemme tell you this, you could buy a house with what those fools are making in a day."
Capone shrugs and downs the rest of his drink, "Alright then, lets meet the bastard."
"And bring the comedian," Antonio says, gesturing to Richard, "there's some vets over there that might appreciate his humor."
Antonio leads the way through the crowd, Capone and Richard following close behind. Too late he realizes that they are being lead to the table where Gwen stands with the other gentlemen. Richard immediately falls back as Antonio and Capone reach the men, though stays well within earshot of their conversations.
Antonio steps up to the man with the large mustache and says, "Mr. Mann, this here's Capone, Torrio's man-"
The doctor puts up a finger to silence Antonio, who looks momentarily offended. "Hold that thought, boy," He says, "This fine lady here was just about to tell my son why escaping the draft was the best thing he'd ever done." Richard looks up to see Mann gesturing to Gwen, who nods.
"Yes, I was." Her cheeks were red and she had a half empty glass in her hand.
"Could you elaborate on that?" Mann asks. There was a jeer on his face that Richard did not care for. His voice was sarcastic.
Gwen was about to speak when the blonde woman places a steadying hand on her arm, clearly trying to keep the conversation civil, "My friend here was a nurse with the Canadian Medical Corps."
"Ah, a Bluebird," One of the men says, cutting off the blonde, making reference to the nickname given to Canadian nurses. "And under which division did you serve?"
"3rd and 4th." Gwen says curtly. Richard watches her while remaining out of her line of sight, not wanting to interrupt the conversation. He was fascinated by her frankness, no matter if it was brought on by the liquor.
"4th Division, you say? I remember them, fought along side them in the second battle of Somme. I'd never seen so many dejected, sorry souls in all my life."
Richard sees Gwen close her eyes as if praying for patience. The blonde holds her arm tighter and whispers something in her ear. Gwen looks annoyed.
Mann takes a sip from his glass, "Ah, a fine and honorable battle."
The doctor shoots her a glare as the blonde on his arm looks on helplessly. "Something I say amuse you?" He asks.
Gwen looks at her friend, clearly judging her on her choice of company, before turning back to the man "I simply find that the men who speak of the pride and honor of war are also the ones who kept the home fires burning." The men around the table share glances of surprise at her boldness. "I dare say that the soldiers know better." The vets say nothing. Richard knows that they, like him, must whole-heartedly agree.
There is a dangerous smile in the corners of Mann's mouth that did not reach his eyes. "Go on."
Gwen stays silent as her friend holds her arm tighter, wordlessly pleading for her not to continue.
Gwen glances at her then looks down at her hands, her eyes still fierce. "I meant no offence , sir."
"No, please Miss Mackay, a seasoned nurse such as yourself must have stores of knowledge on the subject of war. Elaborate."
Gwen Mackay was her name. Richard glories in at last knowing her surname, and the Mrs. absent from it.
"Gwen," the blonde hisses, pleading.
She snorts once with laughter, "Come now Ann, your fiancee has asked me to elaborate." She says sarcastically, then looks back to Mann "I only meant that there is no room for hero's, contrary to what your story books have told you. Not in the trenches."
"For the men of 3rd and 4th Division, perhaps. But I have seen fine American soldiers return home in the same boots as they left, speaking not a word of complaint. Modest as any man could be at their hard-earned victories." He puffs his chest out like a bird, thinking he has had the last word.
"While your boots stayed warm and dry on home soil." Her voice was so hard and cold that Richard could never have guessed that it belonged to the same woman who had smiled so sweetly at him at the bar a month ago.
Mann looks affronted. "Are you so bold as to imply that I did not do everything that I could for my country?"
"I think I might just be. You are a doctor, yes?"
"But you did not serve?"
"Not that it is your concern but my age would not permit it-"
She cuts in, "How young do you have to be to hold a scalpel?"
Richard sees Antonio and Capone exchange a look, both with their eyebrows raised. All other men at the table averted their eyes awkwardly at the spectacle unfolding before them. The blonde seemed to realize that she was quickly losing control of the situation.
Mann burst, his cheeks puffing like an angry baby, "Ann told me about you, girl. Too battered and craven to be a nurse once you got home, had to move to America to get away from the stigma of your past. You think because you went and got yourself scarred up you now have the right to pass judgment on me?"
"William!" The blonde named Ann says, taken aback. Mann yells over her, "Have you no patriotism?!"
Gwen smacks her glass down on the table, the sound making Ann flinch. "I am riddled with it! For five years I served my men and my country. I gave enough of my life to saving people."
"That is not for a woman like you to decide."
"It sure as hell is!" She shouts. Where before she had shown composure, however cracked, she now seemed unable to hold her anger inside. Richard's eye widened as the young woman looked square into Mann's face with fortitude burning from her dark, feline eyes, "You speak of patriotism? If you had fought in the trenches you would know that there is no such thing. I spent my entire youth cleaning up the mess that rich old men like yourself created. The war was not won by heroes, it was won by boys! You may glorify it all you like, Mr. Mann, but this was not some epic tale to write home about. There were horrors fat men like yourself can not imagine, so you don't. You sweep your broken sons under the rug and call them shell-shocked and crazy. I understand why you do it, life is simpler that way. But do not insult them by saying that their waking hell was honorable."
Mann sputters for words, clearly shocked at what he must perceive as great impertinence.
Gwen continues, a finality in her tone, her eyes still burrowing into his, "Five years I spent in the mud, away from my home. And I'll bet that you never once set foot on foreign land. Who is the true patriot here, I wonder?"
There was a shared intake of breath around the table. Gwen's eyes glaze over, no doubt comprehending the spectacle she has just made. With a mournful sigh she turns to Ann. "Well," Gwen says, looking around the table, "I think I've said enough for one night. Gentlemen, enjoy your stay in Atlantic City. I am sure you will have no trouble keeping yourselves entertained." She nods in farewell to them. "Doctor," She nods curtly to Mann, who is seething. Gwen then turns sadly to Ann, who purses her lips. "Sorry old girl." She whispers.
With that she turns her back to the table and catches sight of Richard, now standing just in front of her. Recognition shows clearly on her face, then her cheeks darken further with embarrassment. Her lips part as if to apologize, but her eyes do not meet his. She shakes her head, abashed, and hurries off through the crowd and out the doorway.
There is an awkward silence in her wake. Ann squeezes Mann's arms affectionately, but he shrugs it off. She looks at her shoes and leaves the table, following the path Gwen had just cut through.
Worried he might lose her again Richard waits a moment before walking after the two women, as he leaves hearing Antonio make a snide comment about how women just cant hold their booze. Richard spots the two women outside the front doors of the club, walking onto the boardwalk. He closes the gap but keeps a wide birth as not to be spotted. Their voices carry over to him where he stands in the darkness.
"You shouldn't have said all that, Gwendolyn."
She huffs, quickly pulling on her coat. "He deserved it. And when the hell did you start calling me Gwendolyn?"
"When you turned back into the hard-headed little girl who cant keep her mouth shut."
Gwen shakes her head incredulously and pinches the bridge of her nose. The women fall into silence. "How can you listen to them talk like that?" Her tone has changed completely, where before it was filled with anger it was now dejected. "I mean for Christ's sake, Charlie fought with the 4th."
Richard hears Ann sigh, "They're the conversations of men, Gwen. They are not meant to for us."
She doesn't say anything to that and a few minutes pass. Finally she speaks, so quietly that Richard has to step further out of the darkness to hear. "Why did you even bring me here? You must have known I wouldn't like him, not a guy like that."
Ann shrugs, "I guess it's because I want your blessing. I want you to be happy for me. I think I deserve that."
Gwen shakes her head, looking tired. She walks to the rail of the boardwalk and leans against it, crossing her arms on top of it. "I wish that I could be, really I do. I wish I could just be the person everyone is wanting me to be." She pauses, "It just hurts… watching you move on without him."
Ann wipes her cheek. "I cant marry a dead man, Gwen."
Richard sees her nod solemnly. "No, I know you cant." She sighs, "I want nothing but love for you Ann, you know that. I hereby give you my blessing, I just hope you know what you're doing. Give my apologies to the doctor, tell him… I don't know, that I'm just some drunk twit who doesn't know what she's talking about. At least he'd understand that."
Gwen sniffs. "I'm sorry our lives turned out like this. I know that you are too."
To this Ann says nothing, and Richard sees tears falling freely down her face. With that she turns away from her friend and starts walking back to the doors of Babette's, ignoring him completely.
A moment passes before Gwen turns to see that Ann is gone and Richard is not quick enough to move out of sight before she spots him. She inhales, surprised. "Hello."
He nods, eye downcast. He's embarrassed that she caught him spying.
She sighs, exasperated. "You heard all that, huh? Inside, I mean."
He nods again.
She turns back to look out over the ocean. "I'm sorry if I offended you."
He walks closer to her. Richard wants to tell her that everything she'd said was true. He couldn't believe she'd been a nurse for the 3rd and 4th Division. He himself had fought no more than a few miles away from them. So intense became his curiosity about what Mann had said, 'Too battered and craven to be a nurse once you got home; Went and got yourself scarred up,' He wonders if the scars he had been referencing were the ones he himself had glimpsed the night they'd met. Richard swallows, "Hmm. I thought you were. well spoken on the subject."
She laughs humorlessly, "Made a fool of myself, more like. I get a little… vocal, when I've been drinking. Must be the Irish in me." Her laugh fades, and she shakes her head. "I shouldn't have done that. I know Ann will never forgive me for it."
"Is she. your sister?"
"Would have been, her and my brother were high school sweethearts. They got engaged just before he shipped out." She pauses, "He died on Vimy Ridge."
"Hmm. I'm sorry."
They fall into silence, Richard unsure of what he should say or do next. The woman was not crying, but still he felt the need to comfort her. He comes to stand beside her and too leans against the rails.
"It's quite a sight, isn't it?" She asks him, gazing out over the sand and water. "I'd never seen a beach before I moved here, not one like this anyway. I've seen oceans, of course, but I never saw anything but the gloomy ports we docked at. Then I visited here with some girlfriends last year. The Sin City, I loved it. Though I cant say I care toomuch for the hustle and bustle of the place. But then again I'm no city girl."
"Hmm, I've lived here for. a few years now… it certainly does take some. getting used to." His voice sounds harsh and raspy in the still night air. She doesn't seem to mind, however, and turns to look at him sweetly. Richard thinks he could stare forever into those dark of her eyes, so unique in their shape, almost Asiatic.
She smirks, "I wager you to be country grown."
Richard clicks his tongue and meets her eyes fleetingly before returning his gaze to the ocean, "How'd you know?"
She shrugs, still watching him. "You don't strike me as the city slicker type. You've got corn fed written all over you. Iowa?"
He shakes his head, "Hrmm, Wisconsin."
"Ah, I was close." She smiles widely. They stare at each other for a long minute, Richard willing himself not to look away. "What's your name"? Her soft voice, so much like a purr, sends a shiver down his spine.
Gwen smiles. "Richard Harrow." She whispers. It was just the way he had imagined she might say it the day they'd met, when he had thought about her later that night.
She inhales and stands straight up, offering her hand. "Well, Mr. Harrow, my name is Gwendolyn Mackay. It is a pleasure to officially meet you."
He is surprised, but takes her hand none the less. It is so soft and warm, and he envelopes it completely in his own. She holds it longer then is necessary, finally releasing it and folding her arms across her chest against the chill wind coming off the water.
"Would you like to sit with me for a while?" She asks, gesturing to a bench on the beach, overlooking the crashing black waves. "Only if you'd like to, of course. I'm sure you have friends waiting for you in there." She nods to Babette's then looks down, biting the inside of her cheek.
All thoughts of Capone and his associates forgotten, he replies "I would like that. very much. Thank you."
Gwen smiles again, and Richard waits for her to start down the boardwalk before moving next to her. They take the few steps down onto the sand and take a seat on the near bench.
She crosses her legs and looks over at him. "So," She smirks, "Tell me everything there is to know about you, Richard Harrow."
They sat there and chatted for hours. She would ask him question after question, and not just about his time in the military, but mostly of his time before and after. She made no mention of his disfigurement, but also said nothing about her own scars. He waited for her to grow impatient with his speech impediment, with each pause and swallow he expected her to roll her eyes, exasperated. Though she never did, she didn't even seem bored. Gwen sat facing him on the bench, her head propped against her arm, and he sat straight ahead, with his spine straight.
It must have been nearly dawn when at last he had built up the courage to ask "How did you get. those scars on your neck?"
She doesn't say anything. He looks at his shoes, abashed, and is about to apologize when she starts to speak.
"I'd been on the Western front for over a year. I wasn't twenty-three yet, so I couldn't serve at the frontlines, but I was working at the No. 7 General Hospital."
No. 7 General Hospital, this stirs something in his memory, but he cant put his finger on it. She continues on.
"There was this kid, Billy King. I'd never heard such a cool name before, told him he should be in show business with a name like that. All the other nurses thought he was sweet on me, but I knew better. I reminded him of his mom, I think. He never said as much, but I knew. He'd been injured when they'd taken back a part of the city the Germans had occupied for a few months. It was nothing too severe, a bullet through the leg, In and out, no permanent damage. We were sitting outside the hospital they'd set up in an old school, just talking, enjoying a cigarette. I was laughing at some stupid thing he'd said, and I turned to take a drag from my smoke. And then... I just remember thinking my ear exploded."
Her eyes are vacant and unseeing, and her hand raises vaguely to cover her left ear. He knew that look very well, and that right now she was back over in France. "A German sniper was held up in one of the buildings across the courtyard. He'd just been waiting for us to stay still long enough to mark us." She falls into a sad silence, one which he doesn't interrupt. He can see the whole scene now as if he had been there. The Crout had probably used an Enfield with telescopic sight, much like the one he himself had used during the war.
Gwen swallows. "It took six hours for the surgeon to pull all the fragments out of my neck. Most of them were too deep to get at with tweezers." Her hand comes to rest on the scars, almost invisible in the darkness. "They said I still have some pieces in there, but I pretend I don't…. I cant breathe sometimes, when I think about how I have bits of Billy King in me. It makes me feel sick."
She goes silent, and he thinks over what she had just said to him, the vulnerability she was showing to him. He feels such a kinship to her in this moment that he hasn't felt for so long. Not since Jimmy and Angela. Since Emma. But then a memory surfaces in his mind.
"Hmm. You said. the No. 7 Hospital?"
Gwen nods, not meeting his eyes. Understanding blossoms in him. He remembers that day, it had been late may of 1918, only a few short weeks before he had received his injury. He was waiting in the tree line across from a Crout camp with two other marksmen. Richard remembered looking up and seeing the great German planes flying overhead, lower then they should be. A few minutes passed before he felt the shudders in the ground and saw huge clouds of smoke billowing up from a spot in the east. He is in shock to think that Gwen had been so close to him then, only a few miles away.
"Were you there. the day it was bombed?" This time it is him staring at her while she looks away.
She nods again, slowly this time. "I'd asked for a short leave away from the Dressing Station I was serving at. I just needed a break from it, all of it, and the hospital was as far away from the front as I could get." She shakes her head, "I wasn't even supposed to be there. I mean god it was supposed to be safe! I'd been bombed before but this… Nothing I'd seen could have prepared me for it, and I thought I had seen everything. It felt like my whole world crumbled around me in under a minute."
A long silence followed her words. It was in no way awkward, nor did Richard feel that he needed to end it. He sees her blink, eyes red and bleary with tiredness. The first speck of light appeared over the horizon as dawn broke the darkness. She squints her eyes against it.
"Hmm. Would you mind if. I walked you home?" He asks, sheepishly.
She turns to him, the soft morning light glancing off her pale skin making her look angelic. Coming back to the present she nods and smiles sweetly, "I would like that very much."