Black Is The Night
Our gang of twelve headed south on Henry Street, where the strong light from gas lamps made the stars disappear. The smells of manure and vanilla hung heaviest in the air. The vanilla had my head juggling in wonderment as to its origin. My eyes passed over old wood-framed shops and homes, along with newer brick and brownstone buildings. Handfuls of pedestrians strolled on the sidewalks. A few carriages and horsemen clopped and clattered along the cobbled street. It was a Saturday night. Most business and sundry affairs had slowed. I gave up on the mysterious vanilla scent. Bigger problems were afoot.
Of our gang, Gabe the gorilla was the most striking at about 6’4″ in height with muscular arms and shoulders. His scrubbed pink face and big, top-hatted head caught the light from multiple lamps and made him seem even more like a giant among men. Jack was near his height, though was slimmer and tended to walk with a downcast head. Yet many recognized him as the local ward boss and surely knew of his generosity in all matters. Salutations like “Hey Jack!” or “Hello Mr. Jefferies” were uttered with regularity on our way to Black Sullivan’s saloon on Montague Street.
A new three-story brownstone between Cranberry and Orange Street caught all our attention, though we diverted our eyes. It was called Fireman’s Hall and housed a fire brigade. The old warehouse which was home to our brigade was located just a few blocks away on Fulton Street, near the river. Yet we were considered part of the Fireman’s Hall group. I had only been with Jack and the men for a few months, and to the matter, all I can add is that when we met up at fires, we never fought and kindly shared our swizzle.
Tonight our numbers included the meanest and toughest from our fire brigade. Jack wanted us to look like a gang out for blood, which we were. Besides having various sheathed weaponry, most of us wore white cotton shirts, suspenders, and top hats. While old Dan Tucker reached for the pinnacle of b’hoy fashion, wearing a plaid taffeta vest and extended stove pipe hat. He led the way with a marching gait and eyes that jumped from object to object. He kept jawing and talking like an apothecary. To the people he passed, he introduced himself by quacking bits of song like, “I’m old Dan Tucker, I’ve come to town, to sssch-wing the ladies, round and round…” He also kept turning to Jack and myself with mocked looks of concerned. He was barking mad. He put the men even more on edge, which they didn’t need.
In the afternoon, Jack had paid each of the men what amount to about $500 dollars in gold and said to be back at 7 p.m. for a raid which may well spell their deaths. It was a huge sum, which made it clear (to me at least) that Jack thought some of them would not survive. He had proven to be an oracle in these matters, yet still did not fully share his sources or insights with me.
All of the men had returned with the exception of the skinny blacksmith, Dexter O’Malley. His absence only provided levity to the moment. “O’, da’ wife’s got ‘m in her jaws,” was one of the jokes. There was no doubt Dex would meet us later. He loved a good fight almost as much as running into burning buildings.
We turned west onto Montague. It was just a few blocks to the wharves. Black Sullivan’s saloon was near the end of the next block, on the left. A few scrappers hung in doorways. Two or three swaggered on the opposite sidewalk. By their looks, it seemed they were waiting for us, and could smell the impending blood in the air. I know I could.
Our men spread out into the street, which as we neared Black Sullivan’s, was remarkably empty. Some of the scrappers followed us, yet we saw no malice in their eyes, just curiosity. As there were no gentlefolk to be seen, it seemed word had gone out that there would be a harvest of violence.
I can’t say he appeared out of thin air, but a Catholic priest was upon us before anyone saw him. He was dressed in a cassock and held a large iron cross. It was pointed at the top and bottom like a weapon. I recognized him immediately.
“He’s with me!” I said, knowing the men would be quick to strike, even if it was just a vicar come to spoil the pudding. Yet one of our men was already in motion. “Man’s with me, ya toad eater!” I yelled, seeing it was Gabe the gorilla, who walked the highest ropes. I grabbed Gabe’s arm and looked up at Jack. “This is the God’s swaddy, the one I met in Coney a few months ago,” I said, having at that time seen the priest and two Irish brothers deftly kill and dismember a demon. It had been a learning opportunity for me. Since then, I had repeated that same act more than once. But the circumstances, even the creatures I had had hacked up, were pathetic. I think they welcomed “the release.”
“What brings you to us, Father?” I said.
“I thought to lend a hand. But by this murderous looking bunch, I can see, I’m here to give last rights.”
“Oh sure, Father,” I said, and separated from the men and put a hand on the priest’s lower back, guiding him into the middle of the street. “Don’t be scaring the men now.”
“I won’t lie,” he said, his pale green eyes very clear and steady.
“Ok, Father, you’re a fine man. Just be quiet. None of the lot is Catholic.”
“By coming to help you face Toren the Bloody, they all serve the Lord.”
“But not you.”
He stopped and planted his feet. “I’m His living representative here tonight.”
“Ok Father, but I’m going to cut the man down and be done.”
“You can cut Toren into morsels, but he has Lucifer’s blood in him. He’ll be back someday.”
“Good to know.”
“Go with your men; I’ll be here if needed.”
“Don’t follow like an undertaker.”
“Death is here.”
I shifted my eyes, looking for the dark angel known as Death.
“You’re very popular with Old Nick and the split foot gang,” he said, referring to the fact that the Devil and his ilk, knew my name. It was something he had pointed out when I met him in Coney. “Has Death visited you now?”
“Just go away, Father.”
“She may try and work her evil magic, but she is the least of your worries tonight. Black is the one to fear,” he said, then tried to grab my arm, seeming like he wanted a closer look at me.
I pulled away. “I know, I know,” I said, and focused in on the flickering light coming from the windows of Black’s saloon. I could feel the touch of an evil glare.
“I can’t say who or what Black is, but here now, on this block, he owns the night.”
“He owns the night?”
“Easy does it, son.”
“I’m going to kill that gooseberry, Toren. Black too, if I have to,” I said.
“It’s not your men you should be worried about scaring,” he said, clutching my forearm. “It’s you.”
“F–k off, Father,” I said, looking into his eyes.
“Dear God, you’re are white as a ghost and cold as ice.” He ran his hand over mine. “Death already has you in her grasp. Just know that every word she utters is a lie. She has no right over your soul. You’re God’s child.”
I was icy cold, but hardly felt it. Toren’s words came back to me. He had said there could come a time that I would be dead and wouldn’t even know it. While Death had told me that once I killed Toren, I would become her lover. The way I saw things, I was luckless and bound to lose.
Jack came over. “Father Mann is here tonight, because I asked him,” he said. “If Toren or Black get to you, with the Father’s help, we’ll do right by your soul.”
“Kill me and cut me up proper,” I said. “Don’t let me be one of them.”
Someone screamed, and our men cried out in unison. “Charlie!”
Charles Unger, one of Jack’s most trusted servants, stood alone in the street. The handle of a knife stuck out from his chest. Blood spread over his white shirt. Father Mann’s cassock swept over the ground as he rushed to Charlie. The priest grabbed his arm and guided him to the ground.
We formed a circle with our backs to them. I had my knife in hand, ready to strike. Not a soul was nearby. Father Mann was praying, “I call upon the great Archangel Raphael, Master of the Air…”
At the mention of “Raphael,” there came the cry of what sounded like a very unhappy cat.
“… Let the Fire of the Holy Spirit now descend that this being might be awakened to the greater world beyond and the life of earth and be infused with the power of the Holy Spirit…”
The cat-like noise continued as I turned to see the priest close Charlie’s eyes. He made the sign of the cross with a raised right hand.
A man in black dashed into the swinging doors of Black Sullivan’s saloon. The paned glass caught my eye. It seemed red candle wax was dripping down the glass. As we closed in, I saw it wasn’t wax, but looked more like liquid. It looked like blood.
Believing the ghostly man in black was Charlie’s killer, and also aware of the blood weeping in the windows, our men still dutifully filed inside. There was no fear in them. They were a mighty fine bunch.
I tripped on the top step of the porch and stumbled back down to the sidewalk. I was feeling a bit woozy, perhaps because I was so cold and seemingly bloodless.
There was a flurry of movement. A hooded man with a narrow face was upon me. His eyes were like two dots of charcoal only specked by light. It was Toren the Bloody.
I lunged with my knife in hand. He snatched my hand and helped jab the knife into his own gut. He gave a thin-lipped smile. I yanked my hand away, but he held onto it with the strength of a machine. He punctured my flesh with his sharp fingernails. It took much effort not to cry out like a nightingale.
Father Mann charged with the iron cross, rearing and readying to strike with it. Toren swung with his free hand and easily flung the priest aside. He crashed hard upon the cobbles, smacking his head. The cross clanged and went flopping out of his hand. Father Mann was out cold.
There came the purrs and whispers of what seemed many cats. They screeched higher notes as Toren spoke.
“Let’s make a blood pact,” he said and took his free hand and wiped the blood from my wrist. He mixed it with his own blood. He raised that hand to his lips and licked it, then moved his fingers to my mouth. I was so cold, I couldn’t even spit. Toren stuck his bloody fingers, wet with his saliva, into my mouth. “My blood is your blood,” he said.
A dark shadow slipped out of the doors of Black’s saloon. Only when it was upon us, did a somber-faced Black Sullivan materialize. I knew then, he was Charlie’s ghostly killer. He wiped the blood from my wrist and then from Toren’s stomach, then smeared it across his mouth. He bit into his lip, licking and tasting all our blood. He looked at me with eyes that were full of both calm and furry. “You serve me now,” Black said, and spit the bloody mixture in my face.
It wasn’t the taste, but the vapor of the blood that got to my head first. I gasped and drank the scent in. The blood smelled and tasted like the juice of succulent fruits. It was nectar worthy of the immortals.
“You are the night,” Toren said to Black with an air of obedience.
The cat sounds were now harshly melodic.
When I next focused, it was upon Black who stood with shoulders square and head held high. He had the airs of a king. “You are the night,” I said.
“Ah, my boys!” an unseen woman said.
Black Is The Night – (Black Is The Night – The film version)
Forever Evil – (Forever Evil – The film version)