America was Born in the Streets

Stanley Marlowe

Wretched, ephemeral race, children of chance and tribulation, why do you force me to tell you the very thing which it would be most profitable for you not to hear? The very best thing is utterly beyond your reach: not to have been born, not to be, to be nothing. However, the second best thing for you is: to die soon.

-Aristotle

Chapter One

Walter 'Monk' McGinn looked at the cart go past him, followed by many of his fellow Irish. He himself stood there, arms folded, his shillelagh on the ground beside him.

He had admired the dead man on the cart. Monk had found it ironic that the man had taken a clerical nickname like he himself had done. He had not wanted to fight in this war, but the price the man had offered, and the very fact that he was fighting for people like Monk, made the mercenary decide to join in.

That man was Priest Vallon, former leader of the Dead Rabbits, the most powerful gang leader in the Five Points. Or rather, was. Now it was Bill the Butcher, the man who had led the Nativists to victory in the snow on this bloody day.

Monk sighed to himself as he turned to look at Priest's killer. Bill was leading his companions away in great jubilation, eager to begin their takeover the next day. Monk looked down at his shillelagh; it had killed nine of their men. Nine new notches for his shillelagh. He should have been paid ninety dollars for that. Good money for a bloodbath like this. And he had had one chance to take from this man what was owed.

And he had done the right thing instead. He had taken the man's most precious belonging so that the man's son would be able to inherit it. He had not thought of this before. Not even when the horn rang, signifying the death of the leader. He had made his mind up when he had seen the little son of Priest Vallon weep over his father's body. He had a feeling that the son would avenge the father, and he knew that he would see that day with joy.

He looked down at his shillelagh. It had had eight notches on it before today. Now he would have to add nine more for the men he'd killed. He suddenly wondered how many he'd laid low; he'd seen men crawl away with injuries that wouldn't heal for a month.

Pushing the thoughts of broken men out of his mind, Monk wondered what he would do under the regime of Bill the Butcher. Bill was still young and already a reputation for being a cruel man. Monk had seen the death of Priest, he'd seen how Bill had sneaked up behind Priest and distracted him with a dying man. Bill was certainly a dirty fighter, but somehow tried to keep a sense of honour by refusing any man to touch Priest's body. Now that tall bastard was the top gang leader of New York's Five Points. It was a sad day for the Irish, indeed so it was.

And now Bill would take over, unless the Irish could regroup and fight back. However, the Dead Rabbits were done for until someone could resurrect them. Thinking of that, Monk's thoughts immediately travelled to a small boy who had taken his father's knife and swung it at three Nativists. But it would be years before he could even consider putting young Amsterdam on his father's old throne. And Bill would make sure he was locked away for a while.

Monk growled to himself as he watched the victorious Natives head off to tell the news and begin to carve up the spoils. Things were taking a turn for the worst, Monk thought as he picked up his shillelagh.

Fuck it, he thought. Priest Vallon had been a very good and noble man, but a foolish man. Surely he could not have envisioned a world without enemies? Surely he could not have believed that a faithful heart defeated all else? Bill had received a mighty beating from Priest, but that hadn't stopped Bill from coming back up to kill Priest.

He hurried into line with the rest to bid farewell to his old friend. They had been together far too long, no matter what had happened to them since leaving Ireland together for America as youths. No matter what had passed between them, Monk owed Priest his attendance at the very least.

He walked in line with Hell-Cat Maggie and Happy Jack Mulraney. They were two of Priest's former lieutenants, and the two of them had fought fiercely in countless battles. Monk had fought with them before, and knew that they would not soon forget Priest Vallon.

It was McGloin that Monk distrusted. The Irishman was a mighty fighter but his loyalty had not been as assured as the rest. McGloin had been an Irish born in America, and though he had inherited an Irish accent from his parents, he knew little of Ireland and the old country ways. He might not decide to fight back against the Americans, for he counted himself American more than the others. Priest hadn't minded it, and Monk had always warned him about trusting American-born Irishmen. They were unpredictable.

He looked at the body of Priest. So noble, even in death, he should have died long ago. Monk wondered how much of it was because of his followers and how much of Priest's own fighting ability; both had helped Priest to become the true leader of the immigrant Irish landing in America to carve a living out of its great promise.

Some bloody promise indeed, what with gangs of vicious Natives that would have loved to kill every man, woman, and child that landed on their coast. Bastards, the lot of them.

Monk sighed; he had never believed that the war between these sides would end. He had seen it take his father in Ireland, he had seen it take many lives of good men, such as Priest. This was a war that would not go away soon.

He felt the common razor he had taken from Priest's pocket, and he knew then that he ought to do something about it. Succeed where his friend had failed, and then pass on the legacy to Priest's son when he returned. Monk himself had no children that he knew of, and he didn't want to supplant Priest anyway; just continue what he had been doing, but properly.

Slowly, calmly, Monk sung an old Irish tune for the dead, in the Gaelic language. He wondered how many of these Irish still knew the language, apart from Hell-Cat and Happy Jack. He'd soon find out, he thought, even as the two began singing along with him.

The song spread, until several dozen people were singing in fluent Gaelic. The others were either too caught up in grief to sing, or far more likely, didn't know the traditional Irish language. Monk sang louder to make up for the ignorance.

He'd find a way to undo the damage here. Some way, somehow.