A/N: any and all criticisms welcomed. Can also be found on SB/SV and AO3, depending on your reading preference.
In Manhattan, on 62 Reade Street in Tribeca, next to where the homeless guy sold Cannoli in summer with little success, Sal's Authentic Stone-Bake Italian was closed. Wretch was inside, and he didn't want to be disturbed.
He looked at his watch, readjusted his suit jacket. He turned both ways, looked at his power-created Made Men, where they loomed in front of walls covered with black and white pictures of The Family, back in simpler times, as if to check they were still there.
"Who are you?" He didn't let the waiter reply. "Do you not see that we are in the middle of a private conversation?" He flicked his hand dismissively. "No, I don't want to talk to you. Where's Sal?"
The thin streak of nothing gulped loudly, a fat droplet of sweat tracin his long face from temple to cheek. "I am Sal's nephew, sir. There's been some sickness."
"Wretch," said a voice to the left.
His mask didn't keep much visibility at the edges, the sides of the mask raised so it looked more menacing but the voice was Clip's, one of the five Family capes who ran south Manhattan under him. He snapped his fingers at the waiter, waving him off, the boy wasn't the real source of his irritation.
"Clip," he said. "Omerta says that youse have good news for me."
Omerta inclined her head, but said nothing, content to let Clip take the lead. Wretch didn't like that. Omerta was his dog, and Clip had ambitions.
Clip was theatrical, his black and white domino mask crinkled where he smiled. The man could swagger standing still. If not for his power, he wouldn't be worth the irritation of dealing with in person.
"Wretch, the boss, soon to be the capo dei capi, the associates have taken Tribeca. Uppercrust's done. His hero team has put out a call for new corporate sponsors." He raised a glass. "I give you Lower Manhattan."
A smile tugged at his lips. He'd sipped already but he raised his glass with the others, regardless. It was good news, and it wouldn't do to be sullen just because it was Clip saying it. It called for a brief speech, as much as he despised them.
He waved a hand at Clip to sit.
"Our Family has struggled, sidelined, irrelevant in the face of parahuman crime. We have been scorned, insulted, minimised. In our city. Where we grew up, where our kids and our grandkids will grow. We've got now what our Family hasn't had since before the golden guy turned up—" There was a buzzing in his suit pocket.
He looked back towards the hulking figures of his Made Men. They didn't react, whatever it was had not gone through his work phones first. "And we're not going to stop here now we've got Uppercrust and his tinkers on the run."
He raised his glass quickly, taking a quick glance at Consigliere while the others followed suit. His brother tapped the red and white check of the tablecloth with a gloved hand then tapped his own jacket breast.
Wiseguy was touchy about phones at dinner. In their world, disrespect could kill faster than one of Omerta's poisons. Wretch covertly peeked at the bright screen inside the pocket of his silk-lining, trying to make out the caller ID: Jacqueline.
It all dropped away. Not Jacqueline. Not his daughter. Without thinking, he was already out the door, plates and balsamic vinegar crashing to the ground behind him, tablecloth caught in his watch. Not Jackie. He said some words to Clip, gave orders to his brother and the rest of the Made Men, and waited in the bitter cold for the Phantom to pull up onto the sidewalk. Wretch shrank the three Made Men who ran after him with a touch so they all fit inside the vehicle.
"Get me to the apartment five minutes ago. Don't worry about the cops. If you gotta drive on the sidewalk, do it!" The Phantom roared as it took off.
Wretch's calls to Jackie went straight to voicemail. His mind was full of images of her mother's last moments. Unfortunately, now it was a waiting game. He thumped the driver's chair hard, urging him to ignore the red traffic light.
They reached the Lower East Side, and Henry Street not long after. High rise apartments, delis, trendy restaurants. He remembered a time this would've been Chinatown. Before the monster. The traffic hadn't changed. "Go around him. Go around!"
His apartment came up on them like a tidal wave, the car screeching to turn onto the ramp.
They spun down the ramp into the block's underground parking. As they exited, he boosted the Made Men as far as he could without losing his edge. Their clothes tore at the seams, their faces distorted so that they looked more like timeworn statues than men.
"You, with me. You two, get to the apartment. Find and protect my daughter." They moved. It was still shocking, even to him, that brutes so big could move so quick. They were in the stairwell before he'd made it to the closer door to the lobby.
Wretch's oxfords clacked over the lobby floor and echoed back to him. Even with the heavy footsteps of the Made Man behind him, and his steely full-face mask, the concierge didn't startle. He tipped his hat at Wretch, and called the elevator.
"Good evening, Mr. Genovese."
Wretch turned his phone over in his hand, again, and again. "Any trouble in the Tower tonight? Have you seen my daughter leave, Art?"
The doors opened with a soft chime. "No, sir. No trouble, and I've not seen Miss Genovese this evening."
Wretch grunted. "I'm not to be disturbed."
An uneasy nod was his reply. The elevator took several minutes to reach the top floor. The time was spent imagining all the worst and dreadful ways that his enemies might discover and trap his daughter. He was rigid and uncompromising in her safety, her existence his dearest secret. It was a Wednesday, and there weren't after-schools, or boyfriends, or even sleepovers that he knew of today. She should have been chauffeured home. If she wasn't at home he'd have no idea where she'd be, if she hadn't been… taken. He steadied himself against the elevator bannister.
He had two associates in the NYPD and one in the NYPRT. If she wasn't home, he'd call them, and damn the deniability. Their positions weren't worth a thing if they weren't made to work for him.
The chime signalled the elevator doors opening onto soft carpet and a heavy steel door.
The skyline of New York at night dominated the floor-to-ceiling window of the far wall. His heart was pierced by ice. Millions of dollars of marble worktops, fine sculptures and 'never heard of them' avant-garde portraits: worthless. She wasn't downstairs. Where were his guys?
"Daddy, I'm here."
He took the spiral staircase two at a time and saw her sitting stiffly in a black leather chair. In a triangle, one at each point, his Made Men were as soundless as usual. She found them creepy. She was in her pyjamas, her hair in a braid, and her laptop in front of her. There were no bruises, nothing out of order, she looked completely fine. She raised an eyebrow.
"What. Can I help you and your little goons?"
He pressed his hands together, raised his head to the sky. Then he stepped past his men and slapped her laptop shut. He shouted until his face turned red. Passed English to Italian, like when she was a little girl, and her mother had been there to dry her tears.
He caught his breath. One of his Made Men offered Jackie a box of tissues. Silent, as always. He looked at the silent giant sideways. Wretch wasn't clear how much was left in there when he made them this big.
"You mustn't abuse Daddy's trust, Jackie. Don't cry wolf." He folded his coat over one arm, before handing it off to another Made Man with a muttered order to take it downstairs.
Jackie swallowed, pressing a tissue to her eyes where her makeup was running. "What have I done?"
There was a tap on his shoulder. The Made Man who had followed him up in the elevator was handing him one of his phones. It was buzzing, continuously. Text message after text message. He opened the most recent.
"Jackie, open your laptop, go to the Youtube. Do it."
He waved off her questions, and told her what to type in. The top video was a live feed from some cellphone in an apartment overlooking Sal's. Smoke poured from broken windows.
"Daddy, they're saying it's a bomb."
There was no sound, but the images kept playing fire licking at the outside walls. There was a man face down on the floor, unrecognisable from here. There weren't any pigs there yet even, it must have happened only minutes ago. He screamed and dashed his work phone against the staircase. He reached into his pocket again for his personal phone and opened his texts.
"Jackie, did you send me this?" He showed her the screen.
She looked at him and shook her head, her eyes wide. "My phone got stolen today, before school. I was going to tell you."
He bowed his head for a moment, just a moment, as it hit him. "Jackie I need you to go to your room, get your things together. We're going to send you to your aunt's." He looked at the largest of his Men. "You, stay with her. I'm going to have to go in to work. Becky'll handle everything but I will call you when everything's ready." He leaned over and kissed her on the head. Who knew when he would see her again.
He went to the staircase and took the stairs down and she caught his eye as he disappeared.
"Daddy, be careful," she said, her eyes fixed on his.
"Principessa," he said, and he slapped his chest with both hands, "I pushed back Barrow, I beat The Elite. Legend himself couldn't bring me in. Whoever this is took their shot, and they missed. Don't you worry." He looked out at New York. "Don't you worry for me."
He passed through the kitchen to the study, flicking his fingers towards the elevator so that one peeled off to stand guard. He left the other outside the door. He never planned to discard a Made Man, but even they shouldn't know all his secrets.
The study was wood panelled, dominated by a large mahogany desk. Pictures of his family, and meetings with famous men across Family cities hung on the wall. A crystal ashtray weighted down loose papers in one corner. He took a key from inside his shirt and unlocked a drawer, pulling out a few small folders.
It had to be The Elite that had misled him. He stopped searching through the papers for a moment. Had Uppercrust really conceded to them? The Elite operated in cells that were more loose-knit than the Mafia they aped. Very little of their wider league had come to help defend Uppercrust's properties, very little did they seem to care for their oldest associate. He had thought Uppercrust had as much to fear from other cells as from him, but had he in fact struck down one head to face two more?
A huge fist knocked on the study's open door in warning. The sound of the elevator as it rose through the floors to the penthouse came from the lounge. Maybe thirty seconds of warning. The notes were stuffed into a briefcase and he picked his gun from the drawer, pushing it shut and locking it.
Quick steps took him to the lounge, where the carpet gave way to the tiles of the kitchen. He covered his body behind a granite worktop that split the kitchen in half, shielded from the elevator. No ducking. He stood tall. He wanted to see who came out.
His largest Made Man was there when the chime sounded. There was the moment of pause, then the mechanism gave a small noise and the doors opened.
There was no one there. It was completely empty.
"Check it out," he called to his man. The giant stooped to enter, looked in the mirror, looked at the ceiling. There was a lurch. A slight give as the elevator slipped half a foot, just long enough for the Made Man to look at him for instruction with dull eyes, then a cannon crack as something snapped and he vanished from sight. The blood drained from Wretch's face. Fuck. If he'd left the Made Man any room, had the power even a shade below its ceiling, the creature would have had enough initiative left to leap clear, and still have been quick enough to do it. It was no use crying over spilled milk.
"On me, on me," he called to the other man. The only one left, except the one with Jackie, upstairs.
The crash of the elevator came half a minute later, still loud even this far away, almost palpable. "We need to take the stairs," he muttered to himself. But clearly, if they had taken out the elevator then they wanted him to take the stairs. He wouldn't fall for it. With one Made Man and Jackie behind him he couldn't chance it. Still, it wasn't safe to leave her here. What was left?
He turned to the great window behind him. There was a shadow and it shattered. Something struck him and he heard a crack as he fell backwards over the counter. His head smacked on the floor, and there was a blinding pain in his hip for a split second before it turned red hot, and throbbed.
The gun was still in his hand. He seemed able to move his hands and feet, and he pulled himself into a crouch.
"On me," he croaked. There were no sounds of footsteps. He looked around and the apartment was spinning. There was blood coming from his scalp, over his eyebrows, half his view was red, and there were shards of not-glass all over the floor. Where was his Made Man? "On me," he said, again.
There was a crunch behind him, he spun and shot in one smooth motion, but his arm was blocked. A hand grasped his forearm and squeezed, and he dropped the gun with a clatter. Another hand took him by the neck, and he was lifted up and slammed down onto the granite worktop, hard.
Something stabbed into his liver, a moment of shock then a blinding pain, and he screamed as it twisted inside. Another blade went through his hand, stabbing into the stone in one effort. The other hand was taken and pulled back, over his head. His wrist was broken in one movement. He screamed, the thrashing twisted the other knives.
Footsteps sounded, heavy, slow footsteps, making their way around the kitchen to stand on the other side of his head. Above him, upside down from where he lay, his attacker leaned over him. The black full head mask speckled with red like a Pollock painting, the tall collar and long leather coat, his attacker was unmistakable. He stared down at Wretch, his breathing was soft but his eyes were bright.
"You," said Wretch.
The attacker inclined his head.
"You're back in America. I'm flattered."
His vision didn't seem so red anymore. All colour in the room seemed to be draining out of the edges of his sight. He strained to make sense of the ceiling. He had seen the egg-speckle white a million times but now it looked grey.
His killer flicked the knife in his gut, there was something on the end of it now. A straw, or a hose. Blood was being sucked through it. He thought of Jackie. She didn't have powers. Would he want her? Things didn't seem to hurt so much any more.
"It's true then," he mumbled, he flicked numb fingers towards the knife to show what he meant, and his tongue worked like he was drunk. "Who did they pay you for?" There was no answer. "All the capes, or...?"
He was sweating, and his heart was beating quickly. He could feel it racing, like he'd just stepped off a treadmill. Jackie. He tried to sit up but there was something stuck, in his middle. Breathing didn't seem to get enough breath.
"My daughter," he said, "Please, my daughter–"
Bloodhound's knife paused. His voice was flat and refined, and soft like it was coming from very far away, across a distance on a day with no wind.
"You know who I am," he said. "You know what I do."