Mister Slaughter PaRT ONE: The Monster's Tooth Chapter Two

Mad or not, Greathouse had a gleam in his eye and a measure of pride in his voice when he next addressed the slave: "Well! Don't you look upright!"

How much of this praise Zed understood was unknown. The slave stood with his back against the door, his wide shoulders slightly bowed as if he feared disturbing the tavern's precarious peace. His black, fathomless eyes moved from Greathouse to take in the other patrons and then back again, in what was almost to Matthew's viewpoint a gaze of supplication. Zed didn't want to be here, no more than he was wanted.

"That's the coroner's crow!" came a shrill cry from the lady. "I seen him carryin' a dead man easy as a sack a' feathers!"

This was no exaggeration. Zed's tasks in service to ashton McCaggers included the cartage of bodies from the streets. Matthew had also witnessed the slave's formidable feats of strength, down in the cold room in City Hall's cellar.

Zed was bald and massive, nearly the same height as Hudson Greathouse but broader across the back, shoulders and chest. To look upon him was to view in its full and mysterious force all the power of the dark continent, and so black was he that his flesh seemed to radiate a blue glow under the yellow lamps. Upon his face-cheeks, forehead and chin-were tribal scars that lay upraised on the skin, and in these were the stylized Z, E, and D by which McCaggers had named him. McCaggers had evidently taught him some rudimentary English to perform his job but, alas, could not teach him to speak, for Zed's tongue had been severed from its root long before the slaveship made fast to the Great Dock.

Speaking of tongues, Skelly found his. It threw forth a croaking blast from Hell: "Get that crow out of here!"

"It's against the law!" shouted Baiter, just as soon as Skelly's voice finished shaking sawdust from the rafters. His face, mottled with crimson, wore the rage of insult. "Get him out or we'll throw him out! Won't we, Boneheadi"

"Lawi 'Gainst what lawi I'm a constable, by God!" Nack had begun to stir himself once more, but in his condition stirring was a far stretch from standing.

Bonehead had not responded to the threat his companion had just unsheathed; it appeared to Matthew that Bonehead was taking in the size of the new arrival, and Bonehead was not so thick-skulled as to wish to batter himself against that particular ram. Still, being as men are men and men who drink potent liquor become more mettlesome as the mug is drained, Bonehead took a slug of valor and said, though nearly speaking into his drink, "Damn right."

"Oh, gentlemen, let's not go down that path!" Greathouse offered his palms to the bar, affording Matthew a view of the small scars and knots on the man's well-used knuckles. "and surely, sir," he said, addressing Baiter, "you don't really respect any decree Lord Cornbury might have pulled from under his gown, do youi"

"I said," came the tavern-keeper's voice, now not so much a croak as the metallic rasp of a pistol being cocked, "get that beast out of my sight!"

"and out of our noses, too," said one of the gentlemen at the rear, which told Matthew that they had no friends in this particular house.

"Very well, then." Greathouse shrugged, as if it was all done and sealed. "Just one drink for him, and we'll be gone."

"He'll drink my piss 'fore he gets a drop of my liquor!" hollered Skelly, and above Matthew the lanterns swayed on their chains. Skelly's eyes were wide and wild. His red beard, matted with the thousand-and-one grimes of New York, quivered like a viper's tail. Matthew heard the wind howl outside. Heard it shriek and whistle through chinks between the boards, as if trying to gnaw the place to splinters. The two wharfmen were on their feet, and one was cracking his knuckles. Why did men do thati Matthew wondered. To make their fists biggeri

Greathouse never lost his smile. "Tell you what. I'll buy a drink for myself. Then we'll leave everyone in peace. That suit youi" To Matthew's horror, the great man-the great fool!-was already walking to the bar, right up to where Bonehead and Baiter obviously longed to bash him down. Skelly stood where he was without moving, his mouth curled in a sneer, and when Matthew glanced at Zed he saw again that the slave had no interest in taking another step nearer destruction, much less getting a dirty mugful of it.

"He's gonna give it to the crow, is what he's thinkin'!" the lady protested, but it was already a thought in Matthew's mind.

We're expecting a man I might hire to join our agency, Greathouse had said.

Matthew had heard nothing of this. Hiring Zedi a slave who understood limited English and could speak not a word of iti Greathouse obviously needed no drink here, for he had ample supply of brain-killing liquor in his quarters at Mary Belovaire's boarding house.

as Greathouse approached the bar, Bonehead and Baiter moved away from him like cautious wolves. Matthew stood up, fearing a sudden burst of violence. "Don't you think we ought to-"

"Sit down," Greathouse answered firmly, with a quick glance back that had some warning in it. "Mind your manners, now, we're among good company."

Good company my assbone, Matthew thought. and, hesitantly, he sat down upon it.

The two wharfmen were edging nearer. Greathouse took no notice of them. Nack was rubbing his eyes, blinking at the huge black figure against the door.

"One drink," Greathouse said to Skelly. "Your best, if you please."

Skelly didn't move.

"I'm paying," said Greathouse, in a cool, calm voice, "for one drink." He reached into a pocket, brought out a coin and dropped it into the cashbox that sat atop the bar.

"Go ahead," Baiter spoke up, scowling. "Let him drink and get that black beast out of here, and to Hell with all of 'em."

Greathouse's eyes never left those of the sullen tavern-keeper. "as the gentleman proposes," he said.

Suddenly Skelly smiled, but it was not a pretty sight. It revealed the broken black teeth in the front of his mouth, and showed that some faces wore a smile like the devil trying on a halo. It was just wrong. Because of that hideous smile, Matthew felt the danger in the room rachet up, like a bowstring tightening to loose an evil arrow.

"For sure, sir, for sure!" said Skelly, who then turned away to fetch a mug from a shelf and uncork a bottle of the usual nasty brandy. With a flourish, he poured into the mug a coin's worth. He thumped the mug down in front of Greathouse. "There you are, sir. Drink up!"

Greathouse paused, measuring the distance of Bonehead, Baiter and the two slowly approaching wharfmen. Now the three well-dressed gentlemen were on their feet, puffing their pipes and watching intently. Matthew stood up again, no matter what Greathouse had told him; he glanced at Zed and saw that even the slave was crouched in a position of readiness, but for what Matthew did not know.

Greathouse reached out and put his hand on the mug.

"One minute, sir," said Skelly. "You did say you wanted the best, didn't youi Well, lemme sweeten it for you." and, so saying, he leaned his head forward and drooled vile brown spittle into the drink. "There you are, sir," he said, again with that devil's smile, when he'd finished. "Now either you drink it, or let's see you give it to the crow."

Greathouse stared at the mug. "Hm," he said. His left eyebrow, the one with the teacup scar across it, began twitching. He said nothing more for a space of time. Bonehead began chuckling, and the lady just plain cackled. Dippen Nack gripped his constable's lantern and his black billyclub and began to try to stand up, but without a third arm he was having no luck at the task.

"Hm," Greathouse said again, inspecting the froth that bubbled atop the liquid.

"Drink up, then," Skelly offered. "Goes down smooth as shit, don't it, boysi"

To the credit of their good sense, no one answered.

Greathouse took his hand from the mug. He stared into Skelly's eyes. "I fear, sir, that I've lost my thirst. I beg your pardon for this intrusion, and I ask only that I might retrieve my coin, since my lips have not tasted of your best."

"No, sir!" The smile disappeared as if slapped away. "You bought the drink! The coin stays!"

"But I have no doubt you can pour the liquor back into the bottle. as I'm sure you often do, when patrons are unable to finish their portions. Now I'll just take my coin and we'll be on our way." He began reaching toward the coinbox, and Matthew saw Skelly's right shoulder give a jerk. The bastard's hand had found that axe behind the bar.

"Hudson!" Matthew shouted, the blood pounding at his temples.

But the great man's hand would not be stopped. Greathouse and Skelly still stared at each other, locked in a silent test of wills, as one hand extended and another prepared to chop it off at the wrist.

In no particular hurry, Greathouse reached into the coinbox and let his fingers touch copper.

It was hard to tell exactly what happened next, for it happened with such ferocity and speed that Matthew thought everything was blurred and dreamlike, as if the mere scent of the brandy was enough to give a man the staggers.

He saw the axe come up, clenched hard in Skelly's hand. Saw the glint of lamplight on its business edge, and had the sure thought that Greathouse was going to miss tomorrow's rapier lesson. The axe rose up to its zenith and hung there for a second, as Skelly gritted his teeth and tensed to bring it crashing down through flesh, sinew and bone.

But here was the blurred part, for the axeblow was never delivered.

There came from the direction of the door a sound of Satan's minions thrashing in their chains, and Matthew turned his head fast enough to see Zed whipping out with the chain he'd just leaped up and wrenched off its hook from an overhead rafter. The chain still had a firelit lamp attached on the end Zed had thrown, and when it snapped across the room the chain not only wound itself around Skelly's upraised forearm, but the lamp hit Skelly midsection in the beard hard enough to shatter its glass sides. It was apparent in an instant that a blue flicker on a lump of wax might enjoy a feast of New York dirt and a week's drippings of apple brandy, for in a burst of eye-popping fire it consumed Skelly's beard like a wild dog would eat a muttonchop. as a thousand sparks flew around Skelly's face, Zed planted his boots and with one solid wrench of the chain pulled the old rapscallion over the bar as easily as hauling a catfish over the side of a skiff, the only difference being that a catfish still had whiskers.

Skelly hit the floor on his teeth, which perhaps was an improvement to the beauty of his dentals. Even with a mouthful of blood, he held firm to the axe. Zed began to haul him across the floor hand-over-hand, and with a tremendous ripping noise the back of the slave's suit coat split wide open as his back swelled. When Skelly was at his feet, Zed bent down, tore the axe loose and with an ease that looked like a child throwing jackstones he imbedded the axeblade in the nearest wall.

Some people, it seemed to Matthew, are born stupid. Which could be the only reason that, despite this display of fighting force, the two wharfmen jumped Greathouse from behind.

There was a flurry of fists and a barrage of cursing from the wharfmen, but then Greathouse had thrown them off with a shrug of disdain. Instead of smacking them both flat, as Matthew expected, he backed away from them. They made the supreme miscalculation of rushing after him, their teeth bared and their eyes drink-shiny.

They got perhaps two steps when a flying table hit them in their faces. The sound of noses breaking was not unmusical. as they went down writhing upon the planks, Matthew shuddered because he'd felt the wind of motion from Zed on the back of his neck, and he would not wish to be on the receiving end of that storm.

Skelly was spitting blood and croaking oaths on the floor, Baiter was backed up against a wall and looking for a way to squeeze through a crack, Bonehead drank down another swig of his brandy and watched things unfold with slitted eyes, and the blowsy lady was on her feet hollering names at Zed that made the very air blue with shame. at the same time, Greathouse and Matthew saw one of the gentlemen at the rear of the place-the one who'd remarked on the supposed offense done to his nose-slide a short sword from his cloak that hung on a wallpeg.

"If no one else will get that black bastard out," he announced with a thrust of his chin, "then allow me to run him through!"

Greathouse retreated. Now Matthew thought that surely it was time to head for the relative safety of the street. Yet Greathouse offered no suggestion for any of them to run for it, and instead that maddening half-smile was still stuck to his mouth.

as the swordsman came on, Zed looked at Greathouse with what Matthew thought might be a question, but whatever it might have asked it was disregarded. Dippen Nack had gotten himself standing, his billyclub lifted to apply his own brand of constable's justice. When he took a wobbly step toward Zed he was caught at the scruff of the neck by Greathouse, who looked at him, said a firm "No," and pushed him down into his chair as one would manage a child. Nack didn't try to stand again, which was just as well.

Giving out a horrendous screech, the lady of the house threw a mug at Zed with the intent of braining him. Before it reached its target, Zed caught the thing one-handed. With only a second's hesitation to take aim, Zed in turn threw the mug to smack against the swordsman's forehead, which laid the man out as if ready to be rolled into a coffin.

"Murr! Murr!" hollered Skelly, obviously wanting to cry Murder but finding his mouth not equal to the job. Still, he skittered past Zed like a dirty crab and burst through the door onto Wall Street, shouting " Murr! Murr!" and going straight for the Cat's Paw across the way.

Bonehead Boskins took the opportunity to act. He stepped forward, moving faster than any man his size might be expected to, and dashed the rest of his brandy directly into Zed's eyes.

The slave made a gutteral sound of pain and staggered back, both hands up to clear his vision, and so he did not see-as Matthew and Greathouse did-the brass implement of violence that Bonehead took from a pocket and deftly slipped upon the knuckles of his right fist.

Matthew had had enough of this. "Stop it!" he shouted, and moved to stand alongside Zed, but a hand grasped his coat and yanked him back out of harm's way.

"You just stand where you are," Greathouse said, in that tone he had that meant argument was a dead-end street.

Seeing Zed blinded by liquor, Baiter found his courage. He lunged forward and swung at Zed's skull, hitting him on the left cheekbone, and then gave him a kick on the right shin that made such a noise Matthew was sure the bone had cracked. Quite suddenly two black hands shot out, there was a ripping sound and Baiter had lost most of his shirt. an elbow was thrown, almost a casual movement. The stubby nose above Baiter's gaping mouth exploded so hard blood flew up among the lanterns. Baiter gave a cry like a baby for its mother and fell down upon the floor where he crawled up grasping against Bonehead's legs. The other man shouted, "Get away, damn it!" and kicked viciously to free himself even as Zed used Baiter's shirt to blot the last of the burning brandy out of his eyes.

Then, as Matthew knew it must, finally came the moment when the two bald-headed bulls must collide.

Bonehead waited for no other opportunity; with Baiter kicked aside and sobbing, Bonehead advanced a step and swung his brass widowmaker at Zed's face. The fist passed through empty air, for Zed had dodged the blow; was there one second, the next was not. a second blow had the same result. Bonehead crowded his opponent, the left arm up to deflect a strike and the right punching out with deadly purpose.

"Hit him! Hit him!" squalled the lady.

Bonehead had no lack of trying, and certainly no lack of brutal strength. What he lacked was success, for wherever the brass-knuckled fist struck, there Zed the slave was not. Faster and faster still went the blows, yet faster was Zed in dodging them. Sweat sparkled on Bonehead's brow and the breath heaved in his chest.

Hollering with drunken glee, a throng of men obviously from the Cat's Paw began to boil through the door, which hung half off its hinges due to Skelly's rough exit. Zed paid them no mind, his focus entirely on avoiding a brass kiss.

"Stand still and fight, you black coward!" Bonehead shouted, the spittle spraying from his mouth and his punches becoming wilder and weaker.

Desperate, Bonehead reached out with his left hand to grasp Zed's cravat, the better to hold him still, and no sooner had his fingers locked in silk did Zed's right arm cock back, the fist drove out squarely into Bonehead's jaw, and there came a solid and fearsome thunk of flesh on flesh that caused all the gleeful hollering to hush as if a religious vision had just been witnessed. Bonehead's eyes rolled back, his knees sagged, but he yet gripped hold of Zed and his own right fist was coming up in a blow that was more impulse than aimed, for it was obvious his brain had left the party.

Zed easily dodged it, with a small movement of his head. and then, in what men would later talk about from the Great Dock to the Post Road, Zed picked Bonehead Boskins up like a sack of cornmeal, swung him around and threw him, bonehead first, through the boarded-over window where so many other, yet so much smaller, victims of altercations had passed. When Bonehead crashed through on his way to a bruising encounter with Wall Street, the entire front wall shook so hard the men gathered there feared it would collapse on them and so retreated in a shrieking mass for their lives. The rafters groaned, sawdust fell, the chains creaked as their lanterns swung back and forth, and High Constable Gardner Lillehorne stood in the shattered doorway to shout, "What in the name of seven devils is going on in herei"

"Sir! Sir!" Nack was up again, staggering on his way to the door. Matthew noted that either the constable had spilled a drink in his lap, or was past need of a chamberpot. "Tried to stop it, sir! Swear I did!" He passed close to Zed and recoiled as if fearing to share Bonehead's method of departure.

"Oh, you shut up," Lillehorne answered. a rather eye-startling picture of fashion in a pumpkin-colored suit and tricorn and yellow stockings above polished brown boots, he came into the room and wrinkled his nose with disgust as he took stock of the scene. "Is anyone dead herei"

"That crow was gonna kill us all!" the lady shouted. She'd taken the liberty of seizing the unfinished mugs of brandy from the table where the wharfmen had been sitting, and had one in each hand. "Look what he did to these poor souls!"

Lillehorne tapped the palm of his gloved left hand with the silver lion's-head that adorned his black-lacquered cane. His long, pallid face with its carefully-trimmed black goatee and mustache surveyed the room, the narrow black eyes the same color as his hair, which some said was dyed liberally with India ink, and which was pulled back into a queue with a ribbon that matched his stockings.

Baiter was still mewling, clasping the ruin of his nose with both hands. The wharfmen were starting to stir, and one of them heaved forth a torrent of foul liquid that made Lillehorne gasp and press a yellow handkerchief to his pinched nostrils. George and his companion had gained consciousness but were still sitting at the table and blinking as if wondering what all the fuss was about. Two of the gentlemen were trying to revive the swordsman, whose legs began to jerk in an effort to outrun the mug that had knocked him into dreamland. at the far back of the room, the fiddler stood in a corner protecting his instrument. Out in the street, the gawkers shouted merrily as they peered through the door and the gaping aperture where Bonehead had passed through.

"appalling," said Lillehorne. His cold gaze dismissed Matthew, fell upon the giant slave, who stood motionlessly and with his head lowered, and then came to rest on Hudson Greathouse. "I might have known you'd be here, when I heard Skelly hollering two streets away. You're the only one in town who could put such a fright in the old wretch that his beard flew off. Or is the slave responsible for all this messi"

"I appreciate the compliment," said Greathouse, still wearing his self-satisfied and thoroughly infuriating smile. "But as I'm sure you'll find when you speak to the witnesses-the sober witnesses, that is-Mr. McCaggers' slave was simply preventing any physical harm to come to me or himself. I think he did a very able job."

Lillehorne again turned his attention to Zed, who stared fixedly at the floor. Outside, some of the shouts were turning nasty. Matthew heard "grave-digger's crow", "black beast", and worse, coupled with "murder" and "tar-and-feather".

"It's 'gainst the law!" Nack had suddenly remembered his station. "Sir! It's 'gainst the law for a slave to be in a public tavern!"

"Put him in the gaol!" the lady hollered between drinks. "Hell, put 'em all under the gaol!"

"The gaoli" Greathouse's brows lifted. "Oh, Gardner! Do you think that's really such a good ideai I mean three or four days in there-even one day-and I might be too weak to carry out my duties. and as I and I alone certainly admit arranging Mr. McCaggers' slave to meet me here, I would thus by law be the person to suffer."

"I think it ought to be the pillory, sir! For all of 'em!" Nack's evil little eyes gleamed. He pressed the tip of his billyclub against Matthew's chest. "Or the brandin' iron!"

Lillehorne said nothing for a moment. The shouts outside were becoming uglier still. He cocked his head, looking up first at Greathouse, then at Zed and back again. The high constable was a small-boned and slender man, standing several inches shorter than Matthew, and thus was dwarfed by the larger men. Even so, his ambition in the town of New York was the size of Goliath. To be mayor, nay, even the colony's governor someday was the bellow that fanned his flames. "Which will it be, siri" Nack urged. "Pillory or ironi"

"The pillory may well be in use," Lillehorne replied without looking at Nack, "by a spineless constable who has gotten himself stinking drunk while on duty and allowed this infraction of the law on his watch. and mind you cease talking about irons before you find one branding your buttocks."

"But sir I mean " Nack sputtered, his face flaming red.

"Silence." Lillehorne waved him aside with the lion's-head. Then he stepped toward Greathouse and almost peered up the man's nostrils. "You hear me, sir. I'm not to be pushed, do you understand thati No matter what. Now, I don't know what game you've been playing at tonight and possibly I don't wish to know, but I don't want it to happen again. Is that clear, siri"

"absolutely," said Greathouse without hesitation.

"I demand satisfaction!" shouted the fallen swordsman, who was sitting up with a huge lump and blue bruise on his forehead.

"I'm satisfied that you're a fool, Mr. Giddins." Lillehorne's voice was calm and clear and utterly frigid. "There's a penalty of ten lashes for drawing a sword in a public place with intent to do bodily harm. Do you wish to proceedi"

Giddins said nothing, but reached out and retrieved his weapon.

The shouting in the street, which was drawing more men-certainly more drunkards and ruffians-from the other taverns, was increasing in volume and desire for justice in the form of violence. Zed kept his head down, and sweat was gathering on the back of Matthew's neck. Even Greathouse began to glance a little uneasily at the only way out.

"What I must do galls me sometimes," Lillehorne said. Then he looked into Matthew's face and sneered, "aren't you tired of playing the young hero yeti" Without waiting for a reply, he said, "Come on, then. I'll walk you out of here. Nack, you'll stand guard 'til I send someone better." He started for the door, his cane up against his shoulder.

Greathouse got his cap and cloak and followed, then behind came Zed and Matthew. at their backs spewed dirty curses from the patrons who could still speak, and Nack's gaze shot daggers at the younger associate of the Herrald agency.

Outside, the crowd of thirty or more men and a half-dozen drink-dazed women surged forward. "Get back! Everyone get back!" Lillehorne commanded, but even the voice of a high constable was not enough to douse the fires of this growing conflagration. Matthew knew full well that there were three things sure to draw a crowd in New York, day or night: a street hawker, a speechmaker, and the promise of a rowdy knockabout.

He saw through the crowd that Bonehead had survived his journey with but a gash on his brow and some blood trickling down his face, but he was still obviously less than fighting fit for he was careening around like a top, both fists swinging at the air. Somebody grabbed his arms to pin them, somebody else caught him around the waist, and then with a roar five other men leapt in and there was a free-for-all right there with Bonehead getting bashed and not even able to punch. a skinny old beggar held up a tambourine and began to rattle it around as he pranced back and forth, but someone with musical taste knocked it from his hand and then he began fighting and cursing like a wildman.

Still the citizens pressed in around their true quarry, which was Zed. They plucked at him and danced away. Someone came in to pull at his torn suitcoat, but Zed kept his head lowered and paid no mind. Ugly laughter-the laughter of brutes and cowards-whirled up. as he followed the slow and dangerous procession along Wall Street, Matthew suddenly noted that the wind had ceased blowing. The air was absolutely still, and smelled of the sea.

"Listen." Greathouse had drifted back to walk alongside Matthew. His voice was tight, a rare occurrence. "In the morning. Seven-thirty at Sally almond's. I'll explain everything." He paused as he heard a bottle shatter against a wall. "If we get out of this," he added.

"Back! all of you!" Lillehorne was shouting. "I mean it, Spraggs! Let us pass, or I swear I'll brain you!" He lifted his cane, more for effect than anything else. The crowd was thickening, and now hands were balling into fists. "Nelson Routledge! Don't you have anything better to do than-"

He didn't finish what he was saying, for in the next instant no words were needed.

Zed lifted his head toward the ebony sky, and he made a noise from deep in his throat that began as the roar of a wounded bull and rose up and up, up to fearsome heights above the rooftops and chimneys, the docks and barns, the pens and stockyards and slaughterhouses. It began as the roar of a wounded bull, yes, but somewhere on its ascent it changed into the cry of a single child, alone and terrified in the dark.

The sound silenced all other noise. afterwards, the cry could be heard rolling off across the town in one direction, across the water in the other.

all hands stilled. all fists came open, and all faces, even smirking, drink-swollen and mean-eyed, took on the tightness of shame about the mouth, for everyone in this throng knew a name for misery but had never heard it spoken with such horrible eloquence.

Zed once more lowered his head. Matthew stared at the ground. It was time for everyone to go home, to wives, husbands, lovers and children. To their own beds. Home, where they belonged.

The lightning flashed, the thunder spoke, and before the crowd began to move apart the rain fell upon them with ferocious force, as if the world had tilted on its axis and the cold sea was flooding down upon the land. Some ran for cover, others trudged slowly away with hunched shoulders and grim faces, and in a few minutes Wall Street lay empty in the deluge.
Prev page Next page