The worst week of Aristotle’s life started with his birthday, and ended with his son’s.
His birthday was a surprise to him. Shea planned it, of course. As with anything she put her mind to, it turned out well, but he was truly surprised she got so many people to show up. He wasn’t loved; he was feared. That’s enough to keep people away, not enough to get them to show up.
But Shea wasn’t feared. She was a friend to everyone, the funny lady making it big on the joke circuit. Maybe they just showed up to see her, or to do her a favor, but they were still there, at Aristotle’s party. He was touched. Shea celebrated a bit more than everyone else, but they played along. And he had a good time.
In no time at all, they had their second child. A son, Blandinus Nobbs, and as healthy and beautiful a boy as any proud father could hope for.
“I don’t… That is… How can I?” Artimus was at a loss for words that night.
“What is it, honey?” Shea answered. “It can’t be anything bad,” she was smiling serenely, having just finished feeding the new baby. Brutus looked out of his room at them and got up, but just to shut his door angrily and go back to his drawings. It seemed he was displeased with the distraction of their voices.
It’s a strange thing, Aristotle thought to himself, that all he’s done to provide a future for his child must be hidden from that very child. As Brutus grew into a fine young boy, he found himself wondering if all he’d done for the boy was really for the best.
He’d arrived in this country with nothing, pursued by the hounds of hell itself. All he’d done was necessary to ensure he could survive and leave his family better off. True, he’d been driven into the underworld, but until now he’d thought it a needed trade and even a point of pride that he could accomplish so much.
But a little red-headed boy with his mother’s cheeks and his eyes, with a bright smile as he hugged his father to him… That was all it took to make him question himself. To feel shame that he had to hide his life from his boy.
An heir to the Nobbs Legacy. The family would continue. No matter what had happened in Europe, he was alive. The Nobbs lived.
True, it might be a girl. She would be the first, but couldn’t inherit, the old laws were complex; heck, they were downright crazy, but they were traditions he intended to keep. He would still love a girl every bit as much. She would be family. Less worry if it was a boy, though.
His happiness overflowed, he babbled and went on about it. Shea smiled and enjoyed his attention.
Married life was turning into quite a surprise. They’d had a private, very private, ceremony at his home. It was a combination of romance and necessity. This was to be the foundation of the new Nobbs family, and it was only appropriate that they take their vows on the land where they’d live their life and raise their children. And, to be sure, he lacked the money to do anything else, and feared any sort of notoriety.
Despite his best efforts, surprises crept in.
“A comedienne,” Shea answered. Shea Nobbs answered, and he smiled at the thought. “You got a problem with that?
“I like ya’ kid,” the boss said over the phone. No one spoke to the boss in person. Ari knew that by now. He was moving rapidly through the organization, his natural wit and intelligence serving him well. He also knew it wasn’t, quite, the time to push too hard.
“You got a future here,” he continued. “Are ya sure you wanna go this way? It ain’t a good idea. This ain’t the right line o’ work for dames. Maybe in a few years, when we moved ya up into… well, safer work. Supervisory type.”
It was a delicate conversation. He needed the syndicate. They could hide his records, put off his pursuers, protect him and his family. But that was the point, without a family, it was just him they were protecting. He was tired of eating alone, he had a house where he wanted a home.
His new home was, to put it kindly, far less impressive than his old.
The land was undeniably beautiful, but it was also empty. It took every cent he had to his name to put up a shack. And not a very good one at that.
He thought about Adria and felt ashamed. She might not be alive, and if she were, she might be enduring far worse than he was. His thoughts turned aside from his worst fears. If all he had to suffer was the indignity of a shack, he should count himself lucky.
Sadly it was not all he had to endure.
A phone call to “Boss Tweed” did not land him as high as he’d hoped. His name didn’t carry the weight it once did. The Boss was angry at Aristotle, claiming he’d have to “carry” the former rich kid.
“Don’t be an…” he started, but stopped himself in time. “I think you’re taking the short view,” Ari explained. “I have the manners, bearing, and education you’ll need to get into targets you couldn’t even approach otherwise. With my help, you’ll be able to reach targets you couldn’t before. They don’t even have to know they’ve been taken.”