Disclaimer – Not mine, I just make them do bad, bad things.
Much love and thanks to my beta-love, Carrie ZM
and to my pre-readers, Planetblue and Robsmyyummy Cabanaboy
for all the time and energy they've put into this fic.
Also, massive thanks to LaMomo for all the Italian translations.
October 6, 1955
Philly's shoulders sag with relief at my uncle's words. He tries to lower his head, but I gnash my teeth together and press the muzzle harder against his skin.
"Edward." Uncle C approaches me slowly, placing his hand on my forearm. "Not like this."
Everything in me wants to take the shot. All it'd take is one split-second and a quick squeeze of the trigger to end him.
"Please." My uncle's low voice sounds in my ear as his hand covers mine and lowers the gun. "Not like this." My eyes snap to his and I can't quite read his expression. "I'm sorry."
Bending down, he rips the tape off of Philly's mouth and watches him spit his son's eyeball onto the ground before gasping for air. He catches his breath a moment, peering up at my uncle gratefully. "Jesus Christ, thank you, C!"
Patting him on the shoulder, Uncle C nods. "Couldn't let you go out like that, old friend."
I glance back at Emmett, wondering if his old man is losing his marbles. He smirks and takes another drag of his smoke.
"We go way back, me and Philly," Uncle C continues, clapping him on the back. "Since grammar school, I think. Gettin' our hands smacked daily by Sister Mary Eunice."
Smiling now, Philly chuckles. "Chasin' skirts on the playground."
"That too," Uncle C says wistfully, gripping Philly's shoulder once more and looking at me. "You see, Edward, through thick and thin, this one's always been there for me. On my wedding day, he and your father stood by my side." He motions to Emmett. "The day Es gave birth to this one, he was right there."
"You too, kid." Philly jerks his chin at me. "I was there the day you were born too."
"Ya see? No matter what, he was always there. Through the good times ..." Clearing his throat, he stares down at Philly, no longer sounding wistful. "And the bad."
Philly's smile fades.
"Right by your father's side when he was gunned down in front of him."
Shaking his head, that fucking Judas tries to deny it.
"In my ear at his wake, pinnin' his death on some nobody." Sneering now, my uncle's voice goes cold. "Spoon-feedin' me bullshit for years, then sittin' back to watch me tear this city apart. Murderin' innocents in the name of vengeance for my brother's death."
"C, please —"
"For years, old friend," Uncle C snarls, wrapping his hand around Philly's throat, "you watched the grief over losin' my brother eat me alive! So no! A bullet between the eyes ain't enough."
Terror-stricken, Philly pleads for mercy and rasps out apologies that fall on deaf ears.
"It fuckin' ate me alive." Tossing his cane to the ground, Uncle C takes a hold of Philly's hair and chin, gripping it tight and turning it in the direction of the hog-pen. "So it's time for me to return the favor."
Blubbering now, Philly struggles again when my uncle lets him go.
"Strip him down," my uncle orders.
With a flick of his stiletto, Aro cuts through Philly's clothes, careful not to cut his bindings. He chucks his shoes and watch into a pile. "They'll be able to chew through the restraints, so we might wanna take some extra precautions in case he tries to escape."
Shrugging, Aro flings Philly's belt by the rest of his belongings. "I don't know, maybe Felix can give him a Nicky "Whack-Crack" special."
We all burst into laughter. Nicky "Whack-Crack" is an enforcer out of Gage Park. He's a scary fucker we hire from time to time when we want someone maimed, not killed. Eye-witnesses, prosecutors, snitches. One visit from Nicky "Whack-Crack" and they aren't going to make it to court.
Grinning when Uncle C gives him the go-ahead, Felix grabs Philly by the ankle. I turn my head and cringe at the snapping sound.
"Jesus Christ." Em sucks his teeth, watching and wincing with each bone Felix breaks. "You gotta see this, Ed. Knees ain't suppose to go that way."
"Did you forget your Tums, Mary?"
I flip him the bird.
Minutes later, when Philly's ankles, knees, hands, and wrists are no longer functional and his screams become sobs, I turn back around.
Propping his weight on his cane, my uncle dips his chin in my direction. "Anything else you want to say to this piece of shit, Ed?"
I step forward and crouch down beside Philly's now mangled, naked body. Trembling and crying with his face pressed against the ground, his eyes are fixed on something behind me. I glance back and smirk at the dirty blue eyeball.
I almost forgot about that.
With a chuckle, I place my hands on my knees and push myself up to stand. The urge to stomp on it is there, but instead I toe it lightly, enjoying the fact that his face is just as contorted in pain as the rest of his body. Another moment I'll savor. Pressing my foot down slowly, I snuff the eye out like I'm extinguishing a cigarette. His face screws up in anguish when he hears the last piece of his only son squelch between the sole of my shoe and the gravel. "Nah, I'm good, Uncle C."
"Well," my cousin claps his hands, "this is where I leave you, fellas."
The corners of my lips turn up. "Your tummy hurt, Susan?"
"Nah, nothin' like that." He flicks his smoke at Philly. "I've got a gorgeous wife who can't cook for shit. If I watch this, I'll probably starve to death because I won't be able to eat three of the five things she can make."
"Get outta here, Doris," my uncle chimes in, waving him off then motioning to Felix and Aro. "Toss him in."
"No! No! Wait! Please!" Philly tries to thrash in their grip but can't. "Nooooo!"
They throw him in feet first and his screaming begins almost immediately as his body sinks lower and lower into the pen.
I watch his limp hand, the last visible body part disappear completely in the feeding frenzy. Closing my eyes, I do exactly what Bits said and allow myself to fully feel everything about this moment. I take it all in and commit it to memory; everything from the stench of pig-shit and death to the snorts and sounds of teeth tearing into flesh. But mostly, I revel in hearing his piercing shrieks echoing in the crisp, night air. Those sounds are what I'm sure I'll savor most of all.
I stay until his screaming stops and the only noises to be heard are the chomping and gnawing of teeth through bone.
Uncle C clasps his hands on the handle of his cane in front of him. "He's gone."
"I'm sorry for stopping you, I just couldn't—"
"Don't worry 'bout it." I take one last look to the pen. "It's actually better this way."
"Oh yeah?" He sounds amused. "And why's that?"
"I'm the consigliere, Uncle C." I show him my palms and grin. "Gotta keep my hands clean."
Thursday, March 15, 1956
"So, lemme get this straight," Slick says, standing up and scratching his temple. "You don't know what happened to Mikey?"
My brow furrows. "Did somethin' happen to him?"
He lunges forward, grabbing the corners of the table and pushing it out of his way so he can get in my face. "You tell me, asshole."
I smirk. "I'm sorry, officer. I can't help you with that."
Slick goes for my collar, but Glasses intervenes and shoves him back towards his seat. "Cool it, Crowley!"
"Yeah. Cool it, Slick."
"Enough Cullen," Glasses warns, reaching across the table for his folder. "What about this guy?" He pulls out a photo, and with just a glimpse of the beady eyes and smarmy smile, I know who he's asking about. "Your old pal, Philly Neri. You seen him around lately?"
"I haven't." I take the picture from him and stare at it, feigning concern. "His wife is beside herself about it."
"We know. She's in here every other day."
I cluck my tongue. "That's a shame."
"What's a shame?" Slick pipes up from his seat.
"That you two aren't better at your job."
Slick's off his ass with his dukes up in an instant, ready to rumble even as Glasses scrambles to hold him back. Two knocks sound from the door before it swings open and Mr. Banner, a longtime Cullen family attorney, steps inside.
"Gentlemen," he greets coolly, pushing up his specs as he takes in the scene.
Straightening up, Glasses looks sheepish while Slick struggles to calm himself.
"Were you attacking my client, detectives?"
"No sir," Glasses answers.
"Is Mr. Cullen being charged with anything?"
Glaring at me, Slick slips a hand into his pockets. "Not at the moment."
"Not at the moment?" Mr. Banner eyes the detectives skeptically. "Do you or don't you have sufficient evidence or reason to continue to hold my client?"
Glasses sighs. "I wish we did."
"That's that, then." I slap a hand on the table and stand. "I'm sure you both know how the old saying about wishes goes."
Glasses stares at me blankly.
"Wishes are for wells." Smoothing my hair back, I slide my hat on my head and doff it to the boys in blue. "It's been nice bullshittin' with ya, fellas."
Mr. Banner leads me out to the hallway where his associates are springing Emmett, Paulie, Felix, and Uncle C from their respective interrogation rooms. My cousin's wearing a shit-eating grin and rubbing his wrists.
Some suspender-clad prick marches out behind him, pointing a menacing finger. "I'm gonna be on you jerk-offs like stink on shit, you hear me, Cullen?"
"Yeah, yeah, I hear you. Quit your bellyaching, already."
A few more detectives file out of the rooms, including Slick and Glasses who flank Suspenders as he goes ape, tossing files and kicking wastebaskets.
Holding the door open for us, Em tips his hat and winks at Chicago's finest. "We'll see ya in church, boys."
Leaning against his car, Lou nudges Aro when we file out of the building. "Sorry fellas, I would've sprung you sooner," Aro says, stamping his cigarette into the ground and pointing to Mr. Banner who's getting in his car, "but Sleeping Beauty over there wasn't picking up the horn when I called."
Paulie pulls a smoke from behind his ear. "How'd you know we got brought in?"
"The kid called me when he saw the card game get busted up."
"Al?" Uncle C asks.
"Yeah. He told me youse got pinched and would be takin' a tour of county if I didn't get there soon."
My uncle rubs his jaw. "I'm gonna have to give him a little scratch for the good lookin' out."
"Tomorrow's his birthday," I chime in.
"Oh yeah? Maybe we should throw him a party."
I lift a shoulder. "Bitsy was wantin' to make a big deal of it, but doesn't want to step on his mother's toes. She's pickin' up a few things for him, but the kid could really use the cheddar. His family is in a bad way."
Paulie snaps his fingers. "I'm gonna get one of the classy chassis down at the brothel to show him her tits."
"He ain't into that yet."
"What do ya mean? He's a man, ain't he?"
"He's turnin' eleven."
"What eleven-year-old boy wouldn't love to see a pair of real-life cans?"
I wave a finger. "Get him a Playboy if you want him to see jugs so bad, but I don't want any of those loose broads around the kid."
Paulie holds up his hands and chuckles. "Sorry, Dad."
"Enough about the kid," Em cuts in, adjusting his sleeves. "I gotta get home, but first I want to make sure that we all had amnesia up there in those rooms."
We all nod, knowing that the only fate worse than death is dying as a rat-fink-snitch.
"Good." Uncle C taps the bottom of his cane onto the pavement. "Tomorrow mornin' we'll meet up around ten at my house for breakfast and hash out what the cops wanted to know."
"We, uh …" I raise a finger. "We also need to discuss a certain missus who's pourin' her heart out to the authorities."
"Agreed." He nods. "Carmen Neri ain't takin' this layin' down."
"Maybe Tonia should go talk to her," Aro suggests real casual. "One widower to another."
I cast an eyeball in his direction, wondering if he needs his head examined. He can't even keep a straight face and cracks up laughing.
Uncle C snorts. "Tonia would slit her throat for runnin' her mouth."
I do the Sign of the Cross at the thought of my mother alone in a room with the wife of the man who ordered my father's death. I'll bet she'd make Aro and Paulie look like fucking altar boys if she ever got a hold of Carm.
"Eh, doesn't matter," he continues. "I'll slip his missus some coin and maybe spring for a getaway in Palm Springs or somewhere."
Opening the car door, Aro ushers us in while keeping an eye on the gumshoes watching us from the windows. "Let's split before these guys find another reason to throw the book at us."
An hour later, I creep into my own house like a burglar, tiptoeing to avoid the floorboards that creak and gently locking the door behind me so I don't wake my wife. Sleep doesn't come easy to her these days. She tosses and turns at night, trying to find a comfortable position for her and our growing little one.
"Edward?" I hear her feet pad on the wood in the hallway. "Is that you?"
She flips on the light. "Everything all right?"
"Everything's fine, Bits. Go back to bed."
"I wasn't sleeping."
She lifts a shoulder and places a hand on her ever-expanding stomach over her nightgown. "I couldn't."
"I was worried. You told me you'd be home by ten."
"Yeah, well …" I slip my hat off my head and set it on the hook. "Our card game got interrupted by Chicago's finest. They took us downtown for a chat."
Bitsy's eyes narrow and her hands go to her hips. "Any charges?"
"Nah." I dip down and press a kiss to her temple. "Nothin' would stick."
Folding her arms over her chest, she leans against the doorway while I grab the scotch from the drink cart. "What were they trying to pin on you?"
"Ha!" I twist the cap off the bottle. "The better question is what weren't they tryin' to pin on us."
"Did they mention anyone specifically?"
"Yeah a few, but like I said, nothin' would stick." The amber-colored liquid splashes around the hi-ball. "Fuckin' Carm runnin' her mouth, yappin' in their ear."
Bitsy's brows shoot up. "Carmen Neri?"
Nodding, I throw my drink back and wince as it goes down. "Yep. Crazy broad's barkin' up the wrong tree."
"She knows better."
"You'd think so, but …"
I tap my temple. "She's a nice lady, but she's dumber than a doornail for standin' by her man. Philly doesn't deserve that kind of loyalty." Pouring another glass, I glance over and see my wife deep in thought, running her teeth over her bottom lip. "What're you thinkin' over there, Bits?"
"I'm thinking about … loyalty."
"What of it?"
Sighing, she rubs the side of her belly. "Most women have their limits, even the most loyal of us."
"And … what if by chance his loyalty to her is called into question?"
"Perhaps if a pretty little dolly shows up at her doorstep in the family way looking for the man who got her in this predicament ..."
Bringing my glass to my lips, I smile. "Go on."
"Carmen won't be able to deny what's right in front of her." Bella points to her stomach. "And I'm sure one of the girls at the home for unwed mothers in Dyer, Indiana would be happy to provide a nice little story about what her husband's been up to while he's been away."
That could work. "You think that'd be enough for her to drop it?"
"I'm not sure, but I think the shame of it all will be enough to make her keep her mouth shut."
I drain my drink and set my glass on the cart, chuckling as I think back to one of the first lessons my wife taught me.
"What's so funny?"
"I was thinkin' about somethin' you said a long time ago and how true it was, then and now."
Stepping over to her, I hold her face in my hands. "You once told me that humiliation was far more painful than a bullet."
Her face lights up at my words. "I did say that, didn't I?"
"But I forgot to tell you the rest of it."
"If humiliation doesn't work …" She pauses to place a lingering kiss on my lips. "Use the bullet."
Laughing, I swipe my thumbs over the apples of her cheeks. "Good advice. I'll run it by the boss and see how that shakes out."
"Swell." She gives me another smooch. "Now I had a couple of things I wanted to run by you."
Heading over to the hall closet, she opens the door and pulls out a bag. "I picked these up for Al." She holds up a pair of Converse sneakers. "Do you think he'll like these?"
Well, they ain't a set of tits, but … "Yeah, those are nice."
"Good. I got him a few shirts and some pants as well."
"I also got him this because you said he likes sports." She drags a huge hockey stick from the back of the closet. "What do you think?"
My mind goes to him putting a beating on someone with it and I can't help but smile. "He'll love it."
"Phew. That's a relief. I thought I was going to have to go back to Sears again."
Taking a seat on the couch, I lean back and drape my arm over the top. "What else did you wanna run by me?"
"Well," she shoves the items back in the closet and closes the door, "I was talking to my mother earlier this evening and she mentioned she was attending a little fundraising soirée next week."
"O-kay. What's it for?"
"Some charity, I suppose, but I was more interested in who would be there."
"Who is it?"
"A man by the name of Joe Kennedy."
"Joe Kennedy? The fella who owns the Merchandise Mart?"
"The very one."
"From Massachusetts, right? His kid's a senator or somethin' like that?"
"Yes. They're a very powerful family."
I cross my leg, bringing my ankle to my knee. "And what can the Kennedy family do for us?"
Grinning, my wife reaches out to comb her fingers through my hair. "I suspect that largely depends on what you can do for the Kennedy family."
I open my mouth to speak, but Bitsy winces and places a hand back on her stomach.
"Nothing. He's just moving around a lot in there."
Sitting up in my seat, I bring my hands to rest on her belly. "Listen kiddo," I whisper as I rub her sides with my palms. "You need to take it easy on your mother."
"I love it when you do that."
"When you talk to him." She gives me the moon-eyes. "You're going to be the best father."
"I don't know about that."
Her fingers find my hair again. "Because if you love him half as much as you love me, he'll–" Flinching slightly, she sucks her teeth and looks down at her stomach. "My goodness, he's strong."
I drop a kiss on her belly. "You need to cool it in there, wiseguy."
"He's not going to be a wiseguy."
"You sure about that?"
"Of course I'm sure." She places her hands over mine. "He's going to be a great man. Brilliant and handsome and powerful." My eyes flicker to hers only to see her smiling down at me. "And he'll be a saint," she softly touches my cheek, "just like his father."
A/N: That's all folks!
Huge, heartfelt thanks to the ladies who've been gently nudging me to finish this fic for the past few years. I started Burning Saints in October 2014 right after Girl Code wrapped. Now three years later, here we are.
Carrie ZM, Planetblue and Robsmyyummy Cabanaboy – you're all so amazing and I'll never be able to tell you how much I appreciate you ladies for all you've done. Truly, thank you for all the discussions, the encouragement, the hand-holding, the time away from your families, and for every single second and suggestion you put into this process. I'm lucky to have you girls to work with and learn from – but most importantly, for your friendship. I am forever grateful for this fandom for bringing us together.
Fandom, it's been a blast as always. Thanks for reading! LAHM out!