THEIR BLOOD BE LAID: PART IV

by - 5/12/2018



Aaaand we're back. 



IV.



“You’re a damn fool who isn’t going to do a thing about it!”
“Sit down.”
I shut the door as softly as I can and slip through the kitchen. Our walls aren’t thin, but I can hear them in the living room, voices rumbling.
Uncle Quinn. My father. My mother trying to calm them both.
The dull ache returns to my chest.
“I’m going to go, I need to go,” Uncle Quinn thunders. “You can’t deny me that.”
“I’m not saying you don’t have the right, I’m saying it’s not wise.”
“This isn’t going on any longer!”
I ease the faucet on and watch watery red drip off my fingers, spiral down the drain. My cheek still burns where Laslo touched it. My chest is still tight from leaving the house again, reliving everything I try to forget most days. Judging by the sound of it, no one’s missed me while I was gone.
Our living room is a scene of war.
Uncle Quinn gestures wildly, as he’s prone to do. The sleek black edge of a gun replaces the usual pistol — something bigger and blunter and ready for bloodshed. The kind that shreds flesh and splinters bones. The kind that turned Cousin Finn’s knee into a pulpy mess.
I shiver.
“I don’t want to argue it,” he continues. His face is red.
My father stands un-moving by the window. In him I can see the curve of my cheekbones and that flash in my eyes and, deep down, the look I’m feeling in my own guts, all the anger and dull hurt. Aunt Katherine is a pale white sliver on the couch to his right, with my mother standing near her, hands fluttering uselessly.
“Quinn, you have to stop,” she says. “What are you going to do, march in there on their own?”
Uncle Quinn laughs. Harsh and loud, grating across my skin. “I’m sure I can find some of the boys to come with!”
“All you’re going to do is make things worse. You know that.”
“So maybe it’s time we had a full-on war, isn’t it? If they’re going to kill our sons?”
Casey held a gun to his own head and he saved Cousin Finn, maybe, and
I swipe uselessly at the blood running down my arm. The patches and stains have re-appeared on that nice plum dress. I thought I was used to it after last time. Now I just want to be sick.
Uncle Quinn’s face turns redder. “Listen—”
“Quinn!” My father steps forward.
I’ve seen them fight before. I’ve seen punches thrown and eyes bruised. So I go back to what I know — being a scared kid.
Dad,” I say.
My voice is small, but he hears it.
Quinn’s hands drop to his sides. “Shit.”
Death just goes around and around and it’s never going to stop.
I meant to use my bloodied girlish face as a weapon, but now there are tears coming to my eyes again, and I can’t stay still. “Dad.”
My father’s jaw tightens.
The grandfather clock on the far side of the room ticks. Back, and forth, counting down the time. There’s always less time than we think.
I love my father and all I can remember now is the blood on his hands spiraling down into the marble sink, blood between his teeth and across his face and smeared across the floor. A spasm of disgust going through him, the names on the newspapers the next morning, the realization that my own dad, too, is capable of terrible and bloodied things and all of them what he thinks is best.
I look at the blood on my own hands and try not to think too hard about how this is all his fault.
“All right,” he says finally. “I think we’ve had enough of this.”
“James,” my mother says like a warning.
“No, we’ve had enough. Someone has to do something.”
Uncle Quinn stands a little taller.
Dad crosses the room, closer to me, something like fear flashing behind his eyes. “You’re all right?”
I nod quietly.
“Good. I’m going to talk to Mullane.”
James.”
“There’s nothing else to do about it. I’m going to talk to him, that’s it. No men. No guns,” he adds, throwing that back toward Quinn. “None that they can see, anyway. We’ve got to come peacefully, if we can afford it. Two people’s enough.”
“Right,” Uncle Quinn says. His hand strays toward his gun.
But my father just holds up a hand and looks to me.
Quinn starts forward. “What’s wrong with you?”
“People tend to be more sympathetic when they see what they’ve done.”
“So you’re going to get down on your knees and beg.”
“You’re going to put our daughter in harm’s way,” my mother adds.
Dad grins. Like he grinned when he came home with bloody clothes and a split lip. Like he grinned when he taught me and my brothers how to shoot and every one of us hit the mark. Like he grins at my mother right before he steals a kiss. People back out of the way when they see him grin like that, and it’s really no wonder. I keep my mouth shut while he pulls out that familiar pistol of his and holds it, handle-first, toward me.
“She’s a smart girl,” he says. “We’re going to use the weapons we’ve got.”


The pistol feels heavy in my hands. It has our name engraved into it, and I run my finger along the grooves as we walk, trying to convince myself that I’m not, in fact, going to drop it by accident. I’ve held guns before. This one, in particular. But this time it’s not for fun. There’s a certain weight behind it that sits heavy in my stomach.
Blood smears across my sleeve.
My father looks straight ahead. We’ve left the house far behind and he navigates the alleyways and streets with ease, pulling his cap low over his face, weaving around garbage and over puddles. Every so often he looks back to make sure I’m beside him. It takes work to keep up with his long strides. Once, if I’m remembering right, he wasn’t at home in the office, dealing with paper and numbers. He ran the streets with this pistol in hand. He came home with bloody hands every other night.
“So we’re…” I start. My mouth is dry. My tongue feels heavy. Summer air closes around my throat.
Dad cuts me off.
“His name’s Connor Mullane,” he says. “Older brother. Slimy bastard. He’s got his fingers all over the shipping companies in New York, whether they’d admit it or not. He’s got a fortune too. Don’t know where he came from, don’t know where he got the money to start out, but we know he’s got a strange-hold on the business, at least until we came along.”
Now’s the time to shut my mouth and listen.
“He likes to pretend he’s left all his family shit behind but there’s something old in him, and he likes to use it like a club. Not very often. But he doesn’t have a problem striking out when he’s got the mood in him. Like this.” He gestures to the blood seeping down my side. “This is personal and whatever knowledge he’s got, he worked it up well for this one.”
“When you killed his brother,” I reply.
People shouldn’t have to think of their dads as killers, as that being a simple fact of life.
Dad nods. “We’ll settle it all now.”
You killed a man and I don’t know why.
“What’re you planning on doing? We’re talking to him, aren’t we?” I clutch the gun tighter. Someone shouts a ways over, and I flinch, but the sound passes on, and we make another turn. I thought I knew the streets well enough. I’m lost now.
I wish I knew Laslo was following me. I shake that thought off while I look up at my father.
He does not look back at me.
“I’m going to tell you some things,” he says, “and we don’t have a lot of time, so I’d like you not to ask any questions. Yeah?”
Blood runs down the back of my dress. Hot, sticky, itching. “Yeah.”
“These kinds of things, they tend to stick, they tend to do what they’re meant to do.” He keeps looking straight ahead. “They tend to stay until the score’s settled. I killed Mullane’s brother so he’s taking my family piece by piece, and he’s doing it from a distance. This is built on blood. You don’t outsmart things like that. You don’t find loopholes in things like that. You settle them.”
“...Yeah.”
“Cillian isn’t going to lead this family.”
“What?” I feel like a kid again, full of questions and horror and headaches.
Dad nods. “You’re going to lose him,” he says. “Not to anything but himself. He’s not going to stay much longer, not after something like this, something that breaks him. He’s not going to take over this family. Give it a few months, but he’ll leave. His heart isn’t in it.”
My heart is pounding so hard I think the entire city can hear it. “What?”
“I told you to listen, didn’t I?”
I’m listening and listening and listening and I don’t like the way things are going. “Dad,” I say.
He keeps on going, not a look toward me, letting the words come as calm as if he’s already practiced them. He must have. He practices everything. He runs as smooth as a machine, most times. Prepared for every occasion. Even what’s dawning on me now. “You let him go, you understand? You don’t press it. You let him go. Your mother, too. You put her somewhere safe and you let her think it’s all over and you let her rest. You give her some space from it.”
Dad.”
“Listen to me. I need you to listen. Your cousins will stay with you, no matter what, so you keep the two of them close. Rian knows what he needs to be doing, he’s run enough himself by now to keep on with it. You listen to Finn more than anyone else. He won’t be doing much more running but he’s got an eye and an ear for the way of things. Him, you know you can trust, and that’s going to save you.”
I stop dead in my tracks. “Dad. I’m not going to do that.”
Blood running down my back, across my face. Fear closing in around my throat until I can’t breathe, I can’t, the heat is suffocating me from every side. I can’t move. I can’t move. I’m not going to move, not going to think, not going to do a thing. “I can’t do that. No.”
“But you understand.”
I hate the look on his face, that I have to see it, that it’s come to this.
“I understand,” I choke. “I know. I — but—”
“But Áine, I need you to listen.” There’s something horribly dark and dangerous in my father’s eyes as he pulls me into a hug. I cling as tight to him as I can, feel him breathing in and out, the panicky beat of his heart, the words that rumble through his chest so I feel more than hear them. “Calm down. Deep breaths. Breathe.”
“Dad.”
Breathe.”
I suck in a ragged breath of air.
“There’s a reason you’re here, a reason I’m asking this of you, so all I need you to do is listen. You’re going to take care of your mother?”
I nod against his chest.
“Good. You’ll do everything the way I taught you?”
Another nod. It’s all I can do, nod, and I think I might lose even that in another moment.
My father speaks slowly, drawing out each word and letting it settle in the summer heat. I think it’s not just for my benefit. I think he might need to remind himself, too.
“There’s lots of things you don’t know yet. Some business things, some money things, but all of that, you’ll get the hang of it. You’re a smart girl. You’ve got everything right there. Your brother, he can help you, for the moment, so you just listen to him. You have people who are going to stick with you. Most of them will. You’ve got that iron grip to keep them there, yeah? Stubborn, you are.”
Don’t cry. Not now.
“Things will happen quickly. You have to stay smart about it. Mullane knows his business and he knows what he wants, and he’s about to get it, so here’s hoping he won’t think too far ahead of that. You know how to shoot, don’t you?”
I nod.
“You should, I taught you. So we settle this proper and then you take that and you shoot him as many times as it takes, girl. You keep at it until you’re damn well out. Listen to me, Áine, don’t cry.”
I’ve all but given up on that.
“You go home, you tell your uncle, you don’t put a stop to it. You let him go out and shred Mullane’s people to ribbons. He won’t need any directions. So long as you keep a hold on things it should all be fine, you’ve just got to keep your eye on it. Oh, and.” He pulls me away from him so he can look me in the eye, and I try frantically to swipe at the tears. It’s hopeless. My hand comes away from my face bloody and I know I’m a withering mess, nothing at all like someone with an iron grip on the family, like someone my father might trust.
“Áine,” he says, “you put some thought into Laslo Hugh.”
Laslo.” I half-choke the words. Something about hearing the name makes me want to laugh — it’s so out of place among everything else. “Dad—”
“You don’t think I know these kinds of things?”
Dad.”
I hug him again, tighter, and we stay that way for longer than we should, out in the open and vulnerable that way. But I can’t let go. I can’t back away. My chest is too tight and the gun is too heavy. Dad is too calm. He’s steady and level-headed and dangerous, like he always is, nothing at all like a dead man, nothing at all like a corpse.
The blood dripping off my hands isn’t my fault but that’s a hell of a thing to believe when you know your father’s about to die.


*****


I wish I were still small and I could let Dad carry me, stay in his arms through all of it, but I’m grown now, and the gun weighs heavy against me under my jacket. It thumps against my ribcage with every step. I try not to wince.
I try not to look up at my father. I’m not so good at that part. I can only imagine the part we look as we approach the warehouses, a place I’ve never been before, a place I’d never have good reason to visit on any other day. My father in his suit, unwrinkled and unworried, sharp and slick-haired against the heat, James Tracey in all his imposing presence. Me, the girl beside him, blood dripping from her hairline and her fingertips and oozing through her skirt, sweating and afraid.
I flinch back when the guns point our way. Dad doesn’t.
“Hold on,” he tells the three men, looking straight past their weapons and right to them. “Not just yet.”
The closest one looks up from beneath his hat and cocks his head. “Not another step, boss.”
“I want to talk to Mullane.”
“No shit!” His gaze slides past my father and down to me, where he recoils for a moment. “The hell—”
I look right back at him and fight the urge to shout. Or scream. Or cry.
“She’s not your concern,” Dad replies smoothly. “I’d like to see Mullane.”
“No Mullane here,” the man replies, his gaze still on me. He’s smudged with dirt and sweat. He’s someone I’d never come near to normally.
“If we could stop wasting time. You go tell him that James Tracey’s here.”
When my father talks, people listen. The man squints and gestures sharply to the other two. “Keep an eye on them. I’ll go get ‘em.”
He jogs off, back toward the closest warehouse, an unassuming metal building that shimmers in the heat.
The guns stay pointed our way. One of the men behind those guns is young, maybe my age, and he gawks at the blood on my face like he’s never seen blood before in his life. I manage a half-smile that makes him clear his throat and look away.
Dad puts his hands in his pockets.
Our smudged friend comes jogging back, a little less proud of himself now, the gun pointed toward the ground instead of at our faces. I force out a breath to relax.
“Quick, then,” he tells us, and spits onto the ground. “Nothing funny. You can come in.”


When it comes to Connor Mullane, I know just a little more than most other people might. I know that before my father came home smeared bloody he had a brother and a partner in business, and we balanced on a thin line with them when our paths began to intersect and our interests began to clash. I know that the threat of a complete bloodbath is all that keeps his family from destroying ours.
I know that I’m bloody and it’s this man’s fault.
It’s all I can do not to move my hand to my gun, just to be sure it’s still there.
“Stay close,” my father whispers to me as we’re led inside. Here, it’s cooler, darker, full of dusty air that smells like mold and heat and dangerous men. I don’t need the advice. There are too many men with guns around for me to want to wander.
They all look at me.
I want to scrub at myself until there’s no more of this blood. The best I can do is wipe it off with my sleeve, and that’s a joke effort.
“Almost there,” Dad mumbles.
Not almost. We’re there.
“Look at that! So nice of you to visit.”
Connor Mullane is shorter than my brother. Just a little taller than me.
Connor Mullane has dirty clothes and rolled-up sleeves and muddied boots.
Connor Mullane’s darting eyes are blue, and he swaggers across the room toward us with all the languid confidence in the world.
This man wants my father dead, I think, and very suddenly, I remember that my father is the only one here without a weapon.
If Dad hoped that bringing me would add some guilt to the situation, he’s already lost that part of the negotiation. Mullane’s face when he gets to me is nothing short of delighted. He claps his hands together and grins the sort of lopsided grin that makes you feel cold and distorted and terrified inside.
“Still having trouble?” he asks. “It looks like you might be having a little trouble. Something bothering you?”
Dad doesn’t blink. “I want to make some amends today.”
“You’ve damn well missed out on that one, Tracey.” He nods to me. “Lovely to meet your daughter, by the way. Aine? I didn’t know we were bringing our little girls into this kind of business now. None of my business, probably.”
“It’s her business now,’ he replies, and gestures down to me and my bloody clothes.
I clasp my hands behind my back and do my best to look pathetic.
“We’ve been at this long enough,” my father continues. “You’ve killed my brother, you’ve killed my nephew, you’re going to kill someone else, now. I think whatever I owe you is more than paid, don’t you?”
Mullane smiles. “I haven’t killed anyone.”
“I’ve done you the courtesy of coming to you personally, Mullane. Don’t bullshit me.”
“You’re the one that killed my brother, with your own two hands, cut his throat and beat him senseless.” Something dangerous sparks in Mullane’s eyes. “I never killed Owen, did I? I never touched him. Or your nephew. Which one was it? You’ve got a nice collection there, lots of family to go through.”
My chest hurts.
My father’s jaw twitches.
“We’re even,” he says. I watch his hands form fists by his sides. We all pretend my father doesn’t have a temper in our family, that just because it never unleashes on us means it never unleashes on anyone. But I can’t shake the feeling that his entire plan is about to fall apart with a few flying fists.
Or maybe…
It’s all I can do to stay in one place. Breathe. One little breath at a time. Focus on the details. Dust floating in the air. A smudge on Mullane’s shoe. My own rattling breathe. Stickiness running down my arm.
Mullane is looking straight at me.
“It’s not so fun, is it?” he says, his lip curling into something like sympathy. “Watching your family bleed out. It’s a little bit distasteful for you.”
“Mullane—”
“Why don’t you tell me how you’re going to make amends, then, and stop wasting everyone’s time. Tell me. How are you going to bring my brother back to life? How are you going to fix that?”
The two men stare at each other until I think I’m going to explode.
I’m still bleeding I’m still bleeding and there are men with guns here and my father is carrying the weight of dead family, weeping mothers. He’s a man of action. He’s a man who knows what he means to do and sticks to it.
He’s a man who, deep down, looks afraid in a way I’ve never seen before.
“Wait,” I blurt out.
The second the words hang in the air I want to snatch them back and forget them. Heat rises to my face. All eyes in the room, my father’s included, go straight to me, hot and piercing, full of questions.
I swallow hard.
“She speaks!” Mullane’s grin splits wider.
I swallow again. My mouth is dry. My hands are sweaty. I know my father is looking at me and I know the look there and it’s all I can do not to look back at him.
But I am his daughter, and I am not here to stand pretty and do nothing.
I look Mullane straight in the eye.
“He’s right,” I say, and try to sound a little louder as I continue. “We’ve more than paid. No one else has to bleed for this.”
I don’t know how he could look more delighted.
“See, girl, I’m not quite sure you know what you’re talking about.”
I won’t back off. I won’t.
“My father killed your brother. You did this.” I hold out my hands. A thin trail of blood runs down my arm and drips onto the ground. We both watch the little red droplets as they puddle between us. “We’ve paid more than enough. Don’t do anything else.”
“Or… you’ll beg me not to. Start crying.”
“Or we’ll ruin you.”
“Ruin me!” Mullane claps his hands together so hard one of his men flinches. “Tell me all about that!”
My father opens his mouth. I rush my own words out before he can speak, get himself shot, anything.
“We’re bigger than you,” I say. “And we have some debts we think should be paid out, now. You killed my uncle Quinn’s son, how well do you think he’s going to take that? How well do you think it’s going to go for you if we let him come in and smear you and your men across the floor? You don’t want that. None of us do. We want this to be over.”
Dad’s eyes are full of panic and if I say another word I’m going to stutter. The whole world has stopped, and Connor Mullane has nothing but a twinkle in his eye.
But I’ve said it.
I can feel the fire behind my eyes.
You’re going to lead this family, you know?
Mullane laughs and shakes his head. My heart drops.
You are a damned pleasure,” he says, “and I’m sorry I played you as the little girl. That’s a compelling argument, there.”
“Áine,” my father starts.
Mullane’s own gun finally appears, and in his hand it’s sleek and flashing and deadly as he points it. “I’m talking to the lady here, if you don’t mind.”
I know for a fact dad’s had a gun to his head more than once before. That doesn’t make it any worse to see right in front of me.
End it,” I say. “Whatever you’ve done, just end it now.”
Please. Please end it. Please let it be over.
“Again, a compelling argument. I’m not in the mood for any killing today, don’t worry yourself about that.”
Dad won’t look at me.
Dad won’t look at anyone.
I can’t take things back fast enough.
“Good,” I say slowly. I’m trying to unravel all the layers behind Mullane’s words but nothing pulls together, nothing that makes any sense.
“If you’d like to leave, now.”
“What?”
“If you’d like to leave,” he replies, and takes a step closer to my father, and then another, until the gun is all but touching his head. “Turn around and walk out. No one here’s in the mood to shoot any bloody girls today. Go home.”
Don’t cry. Don’t wobble. Stand tall. “You said you wouldn’t kill him.”
I don’t wobble. It’s close.
“I said I wasn’t in the mood for killing today,” he replies, that slow smile creeping back over his face. “Tomorrow, though, when you come back with all that hellfire and gunshots you just promised me, that’s fine. I’m looking forward to it.”
“You—”
“I don’t want to hear it!”
I jerk back despite myself.
Mullane’s voice goes back to a normal volume, but it stays tight, wavering on the edge of danger until I can’t breathe anymore. “I don’t want to hear from you that I’ve killed enough, or that it’s time for things to be over,” he says. “And I’m thinking you aren’t understanding what it is that I want here. So you go home, girl, and you bring Quinn and all the rest of you, and you open up a full war. I’ve no doubt you’ve got the numbers. But you’re going to lose some of them, you know? And I have no problem picking off the rest of your family in the process. I imagine you’re used to the blood by now.”
“You—”
“Áine,” my father practically begs.
You aren’t dying today,” Mullane tells him, and presses the gun tight against his head. “It’ll be them first. All of them, and maybe I’ll let your daughter last a while, since she’s the one with the balls to do the talking, and we’ll have a grand time watching everyone bleed. I’ll let you watch all that first. And then, maybe, we’ll be settled.” His eyes land back on me. “You’re still here.”
“You—” I’m a broken machine I need to say something I need to pull the gun I need to
Go,” Mullane says, his voice lower than ever. “Come on, go bring me a war.”
I look back to my father, and I see it in his eyes. I’ve ruined his plan, ruined everything he came here for, and I’ve made him hear this, but he’s not one to give up, and I know before he moves that he’ll —
“And before you try to get yourself killed,” Mullane says, and switches up his aim.
I don’t see the moment of the gunshot. I barely even hear the shot itself — by the time I can think again it’s just my father’s curses and a shattered shout of pain, the blood leaking out from between his fingers.
Go,” Mullane tells me again, and this time I do.

I turn away and leave my father behind and with every step, the gun I never shot gets heavier.

x

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7 Comments

  1. O___________O <--My actual face while reading every single word of this part. I AM DEAD. DEAD DEAD DEAD.

    (Also your writing voice is phenomenal. I seriously can't get over it.)

    ReplyDelete
  2. *stumbles around for awhile before keeling over dead*

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is so intense. You're a bloody brilliant writer!

    ReplyDelete
  4. OH MY GOSH. This was so intense and my emotions are a mess. O_o

    ReplyDelete
  5. I CANNOT HANDLE HOW FLAWLESS YOU ARE.

    this is so incredibly written and i just want to die in a hole now.

    ReplyDelete

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