In Brooklyn, when two rather large, well dressed men, came calling to your door, pulling up in a sedan that cost more money than the whole damn city block, it was best to have a gun on hand. And thanks to Bucky and his paranoia, Steve always had a gun or two on hand. It didn’t help that three of his boys had been gunned down earlier that week, the papers for the funeral arrangements laid out on his kitchen table. They couldn’t afford an expensive display, not like those Italian bastards did, with their miniature parades and lavish viewings. No it would just be a small service for the families at this rate, at the Church down the street, maybe some flowers if they could swing it from the florist on Seventh. They probably could, one of the benefits of his business was getting in good with the local shopkeepers, helping them raise business, keeping them safe, paying for needed repairs to keep the neighborhood running smooth, the usual packaged deal.
Steve sighed at the knock on his door. It was heavy, solid, and not meant to be ignored. It wasn’t his boys, they didn’t have a car that nice, and they’d just barge right in with their moonshine and their booming voices and their muddy boots on his floor. He fought down the sickness in his gut at the second knock, praying the way he did every day that it wasn’t someone delivering The News. He hated it when Bucky was gone for more than a day on business, hated not knowing where he was, if he was ok, whether he was going to make it back home. But someone had to take care of the mess down in Jersey and Bucky was his best man, no one better for the job.
Third knock and Steve finally got to his feet, tucking his pistol under his belt and answered the door. The two men were dressed in fine suits, their shoes freshly shined, fedoras atop their heads and a handgun tucked into each of their jackets.
“Can I help you gentlemen?” Steve asked, leaning up against the door frame, fully aware that he was unimpressive in his trousers, suspenders, and undershirt. He hadn’t planned on guests or else he would have been properly dressed.
“You Cap’n Rogers?” The first man asked, beady black eyes taking in his unshaven and rough appearance.
“We’re here on behalf of Mr. Stark. He was hoping you’d join him for dinner,” The second man explained, the displeasure at his own words evident in his voice. “He has a business proposition for you.”
He laughed, because frankly that was the only reaction he saw fitting. “Wait, so, the big bad boss of you Italian boys, wants to see me with a business proposition?” The men just frowned. “Well that’s just hilarious. You two should get a stand up gig together, we could use one down at Patrick’s speakeasy by the bridge.”
“Mr. Stark insists.”
“I’m sure he does.”
“Mr. Stark has noticed the sudden drop in your numbers, Cap’n.” The second man said, shifting. “He believes it’s caused by the same person screwing with his guns and booze.”
He had been losing men lately. Sure there was always the occasional loss, sometimes a guy got a bit too confident and pulled a stunt in front of a copper, others pissed off the wrong person, usually the Italians. Thats who he’d expected to be behind it all, behind the shootings the unprovoked hits and the raiding of two of his whiskey hide outs.
“You mean it’s not you?” Steve asked, trying not to appear interested. He didn’t like Stark, he didn’t like the italians, they didn’t like him, and he was planning to keep it that way as long as possible. He didn’t need Stark’s dogs moving into his town. He already had Manhattan and Long Island and parts of Chicago, he didn’t need Brooklyn.
The first man gave a grunt of indignation. “Well most of them weren’t. Mr. Stark wants to see you, thinks you both can help each other out. This is the…”
“Polite invitation.” The second man offered. “We don’t want to cause a scene, dragging the all powerful Cap’n Rogers from his apartment, we’ve had enough trouble with the Mob as of late. You Irish thugs pack a punch, I’ll give you that. Now, get a goddamn wiggle and let’s go.”
“Give a man a minute to shave, I’ll meet you out on the street.”
“It’d be best if you left the pistol.”
“I’ll take that into consideration.” Steve closed the door and moved to the washroom, shaving and giving his blonde hair a quick brush. He didn’t have a suit fancy enough for Stark’s taste, he was sure of that. Not that he’d ever met the man, but his reputation stretched down the east coast and into parts of Europe. He wasn’t keen on the whole idea of being in his house, surrounded by his dogs, without at least one person to back him up, but hey, what was the worst that could happen.
Maybe he could figure out who was ballsy enough to mess with his business. And maybe he’d get some funds out of Stark. Or maybe just a chance to shoot him. They each sounded like plausible, pleasant options.
Or so he thought.
Now, there were two different kinds of gangs in New York at the time. There were the wealthy, old hat gangs who’d be around for a generation or two, who had money pouring out their ears like wax and who lived in lavish town homes and mansions, and who had summer homes in Long Island and who threw lavish parties with dancers and full bands for no apparent reason. They had Breezers and four or five Moll’s a piece. They dressed in the finest suits, with a different fedora and jacket for each day of the week.
They were the ones who dragged you into a dark alley and slit your throat before dumping you in the Hudson. They were the ones who pulled you into their fancy car and dropped your corpse on your sweetheart’s doorstep, or maybe just bits of you, one at a time. They were the ones who poisoned your drink at a soiree and made you collapsing look like a medical condition, who sent their personal doctors to fool the coppers. They were the cunning, conniving, evil of the city.
Anthony Stark was one of those men.
The second kind of gang was made up of the younger generation who hadn’t had time to build up their own personal treasure hordes, who had yet to buy out most of the city, men who had come home from the war with nothing, no one to take them in, without a cent in their name. They lived in tiny apartments, or the basements of their speakeasy’s or in cramped rooms with three other men and their wives. Almost none of them had cars, and if they had suits they were frayed and old and hand me downs and pawn shopped from the rich Fat Cats uptown, or they were stolen straight from the store. They brewed their own whiskey in their bathrooms and back alleys, they acted like a pack protecting their own, patrolling the streets of their neighborhoods with tire irons and bats and sledgehammers.
They were the ones who, if they wanted you bumped off, cornered you in front of a crowd and proceeded to beat you to death. They were the ones who would be waiting for you when you got home from work at the factory, ready to blow your brains out and not bother to make it look like a suicide. They were the ones who would beat you senseless if they caught you robbing someone and then drop your half dead hide at the Coppers’ office, not bothering to help patch up your wounds. They were the ones who patrolled the speakeasies and fought the coppers when they came calling, with nothing but their bare fists because if they lost that business they had little left. They bribed the coppers with as much as they could and made deals, because someone always had a brother on the force, or a grandmother who needed to be cared for, or a daughter looking for a husband.
Steve Rogers was that kind of man.
There had always been a tension between the gangs in New York, since they’d all moved into town and started setting up shop, the Butcher and his homegrown boys taking on the first wave of Irish and Germans and Chinese, most of whom moved west not long after arriving. Then the Italians had shown up and started digging their teeth into the city and hell had come to earth, everyone picking sides, buying out their peers and neighbors, bribing the politicians and cops and god help you if you weren’t first in line to do so. The initial bloodshed had been, for lack of a better word, disgusting and completely undignified. But after a few years, maybe a decade or two, the Italians settled into their cozy throne in Manhattan, the Germans and a large portion of the Irish focusing on Philly and Boston and other cities that needed manual labor. The Russians snuck in at some point, no one was really sure when, and everyone tried to fit into the odd arrangement of murder, bank robberies, and grudges that lasted lifetimes.
Steve had never met Tony Stark, but he was pretty sure he knew what to expect when the car pulled to a stop outside the mansion. It was on the outskirts of the city, with lush grounds, an ornate iron fence, and several armed men standing out front. He was also pretty sure he wasn’t going to like him. At all.
The foyer was large and, as expected, lavishly decorated with thick red drapes, an oriental rug Stark had probably gotten from the actual Orient, and polished wood floors. Steve felt small standing there, waiting to be shown in and he wasn’t a small man. The two men who had escorted him slipped out of sight, muttering to each other and sneaking wary looks back at Steve. But he knew how to be polite. He was after all a gentleman, he’d been raised that way, and a gentleman never barged into a man’s home unannounced, even if the other man’s home was a haven for a rival gang.
“Captain Rogers, I presume?” A soft voice asked from the stairs.
Steve pulled off his hat and bowed his head. “Yes sir, that’d be me.”
The butler pulled a tight smile and descended the stairs. He looked to be in his fifties, still fit which was surprising, tense and british and dressed in a crisp, pressed black suit, white gloved hands reaching for Steve’s coat and hat. “My name is Edwin Jarvis, sir, Master Anthony’s butler. Drinks are being served in the study, diner will be ready within the hour and Master Anthony will join you shortly.” He turned to lead Steve down one of the grand corridors. “If you would be so kind sir.”
“Not going to take my gun?” Steve asked as he followed.
“No, sir. You’ll find it’s not the butler’s business to be dealing with firearms unless the master says so. And, if I may be frank, the master handles firearms a bit too well for my taste.”
So Steve kept his pistol tucked under his belt and followed Jarvis. The whole house seemed to be decorated in the same pompous and ostentatious fashion, the old Turn of the Century, Belle Epoque designs still clinging to the walls and the carpets and the sculptures that lurked in the corners and the large portraits that stared down at them in condescension. Gave him the heebie-Jeebies in all honesty. His place would never have those kind of Portraits. Some photos sure, but nothing as unnatural as those paintings.
“Master Anthony will be in shortly, sir,” Jarvis said, motioning for Steve to enter the Study.
“Thank you, sir,” Steve said with a nod before turning his attention to the study. Three of the walls were lined with bookshelves, all covered in large dusty volumes. He reached for the nearest shelf and grabbed for a book, a part of him hoping that it was just a box made to look like books. One of the other Italians he had met had filled his library with boxes made to look like books, hoping to impress his guests. But Stark had the real thing, large old volumes of text, with thick parchment pages and faded ink.
“You’ll find they’re all like that, surprisingly.”
The gun was in his hand before Steve realized he was reaching for it, but that was the norm when life was a constant series of shootings and attempted murders. The laughter that followed eased his nerves only slightly.
“Easy there, Grundy, easy. No need to start a Caper.” The man stepped out of the doorway and held up his hands in surrender, eyes running over Steve’s stony face, second hand suit and the gun held steady in his hand.
“Guilty.” He smiled, blue eyes dark and gleaming with mischief. “Well aren’t you a handsome sonnovabitch.”
Steve sighed and lowered the gun, tucking it back under his belt. “You shouldn’t sneak up on a fella like that. You’ll get a bullet in your kisser.”
Tony chuckled. “There are worse things. Drink? I’m having one, you should too, a man should always have a drink.” Steve nodded and Tony set about mixing the cocktails. He wasn’t dressed as flamboyantly as Steve has expected, his white shirt sharp against the gray vest, sleeves rolled up over his elbows, suspenders peeking out from under the vest, trousers well fitted and simple, shoes scuffed. And he was, Steve hadn’t to admit it, a looker, with dark hair, tanned skin and a dashing smile. Made him more dislikable. He was much less intimidating and much less impressive but Steve wasn’t about to just let his guard down. Idiots who did that ended up in the hudson or the meat packing plants.
“Staring isn’t polite, Captain. You are a Captain? That’s ducky, never met an honest to god captain before. At least not one I didn’t shoot I don’t think,” Tony said, handing the drink to Steve who took it with a muttered thanks. “You seem so young though. How old were you in the war?”
Tony blinked. “You and your precious best man, what was his names, Barnes? Barnes, joined the ranks at sixteen?” He laughed. “My kind of men.”
“What can I do for you, Mr. Stark? I highly doubt you had me dragged out here for sheer amusement.” Steve, leaning up against the nearest bookcase and leveling Tony with a steady glare. “And if it’s nothing important, I need to be off, I’ve got a couple funerals to plan.”
Another chuckle. “At ease, Captain. They didn’t drag you did they? I told them not to, I told them to be nice.” his smile was irritatingly infectious. “I’ll smack them around for you then, since they were mean when they weren’t supposed to be.” He took a drink and his air of amusement sobered. “You said funerals?”
“Yes, you killed three of my boys last week,” Steve said, grip tightening on his glass.
Tony’s eyebrow arched high on his forehead. “I killed them? No, sir, I remember who I kill and it’s been three weeks, two days, seven hours, and twenty six minutes since I last bumped someone.” He downed the rest of his drink and went to make another. “That’s actually… want another?” Steve shook his head. “That’s actually what I wanted to see you about.”
Tony dropped into a chair and sighed, crossing his legs and propping his chin on one hand, watching Steve closely. “You’ve been losing a lot of boys lately haven’t you?”
He had been, more than usual. “Yeah. What it’s not your doing?”
“No, sir, if I wanted to take you out, I would have started with you and Barnes and then let the rest fall to shits.” Tony took a drink and shrugged. “But I don’t need Brooklyn and there’s no way in hell I’m giving it to the Germans or the Russians so I figure you were the best bet. I don’t benefit from killing your boys.”
Steve held up a hand. “Wait, you’re saying you gave me Brooklyn? Do you have any idea how much shit I went through to get my turf?”
“And how,” Tony said. “I didn’t give it to you, I’m helping you keep it, that’s what I’m saying. Don’t argue with me, just think about it and everything will start making sense, fall into place, all that jazz.”
He did think about it. The number of hits from the Italians were never more than personal grudges or something provoked, unlike the most recent murders. His boys had been at home, minding their own business, or out on a harmless job that didn’t involve killing anyone.
“You’ve lost two warehouses too, haven’t you?” Tony asked, smirking at him over the rim of his glass. “Pity, you boys make some damn good bootleg.”
“How in the hell-”
“I own most of the city, Captain. I hear and see and smell every damn thing that comes to pass. And when a competitor and possible ally loses business due to an unprovoked raid from an anonymous threat, I start to get concerned.” He shrugged again, like admitting he monetarily owned the majority of the city was nothing more than a day’s work.
“So if you didn’t kill those men and you didn’t raid my warehouses, who did?” Steve asked, setting his half empty glass down and crossing his arms over his chest. He didn’t like where this was going. Stark knew too much and it made him uneasy. And the goddamned cheshire smile was not making it any better.
“Gentlemen,” Jarvis appeared at the door. “Dinner is served in the dining room.”
Tony got swiftly to his feet. “Wonderful! Fetch the good doctor would you, Jarvis dear? I don’t think he’s eaten today and you know how he gets when he doesn’t eat.”
“Of course, sir.”
“Shall we, Captain?” Tony motioned towards the door, hooking his arm through Steve’s and pulling him forward. And Steve, despite himself, chuckled.
The dinning room was large and impressive, the ornate table stretching down the middle of the room, the large french windows looking out onto the man made pond behind the house, surrounded by the garden. It was a beautiful view, one Steve wouldn’t have minded seeing each morning in the sunrise. A Maid brought a out dinner of steak, salad and pasta and set it before them, offering them rich red wine in decorative glasses with gold trim. Steve hadn’t eaten that well in months and Tony, damn him, took notice.
“What is it you spend all your earnings on, Captain? You boys make a decent amount with your Gin Mills and and Bootlegging business.” he asked, reclining in his chair, wine glass at his lips.
“We keep only what we need to live comfortably,” steve said, focusing on his plate. Most mob bosses did live in better conditions than he did, most were at the inbetween of Tony’s ridiculous wealth and Steve’s simple self invoked poverty.
“And the rest?”
“Goes to the city, fixing shops, helping to pay for medicine, buying gifts for the children,” He said with a shrug. “I didn’t get into this business to get rich, Stark.”
This smile was different. It wasn’t triumphant or proud, it was a somber, bemused smile of someone who was impressed. “You’re a good man, Captain. A Good man in an Evil man’s gig.”
“I’m not a good man, Stark.”
Tony just chuckled. “We’ll agree to disagree, then.” He wiped his mouth. “Now, about your warehouses and unfortunately dead men.”
“If it’s not you then who? The russians have no qualms with us and the Germans are more or less our allies.” Steve took a bite of steak. “I thought it was you being, pardon the assumption, a prick and flaunting your power. You claim it wasn’t.”
“It wasn’t Tony,” A timid voice offered from behind him.
Steve turned to see a small man standing by the windows, hands clasped nervously in front of him, shoulders near his ears, dark curly hair messy atop his head, clothes disheveled and a bit too big for him. He looked completely out of place in Stark’s grand dinning room.
“Brucey, Baby!” Tony cooed from the end of the table. “Wonderful, come eat.”
The man, Bruce, nodded and shuffled over to the seat next to Tony, the maid appearing with his dinner. He looked up and offered Steve his hand and a weak smile. “Bruce Banner.”
He nodded. “I patched up a couple of your… Men last week. Mulcahy and O’Leary, I think?”
Mulcahy and O’Leary had been cornered by Coppers last week, trying to move a shipment of Bootleg from Brooklyn to the Bronx. They’d managed to escape with the delivery but they’d been badly injured in the process.
“That’s very kind of you, sir. I believe I now owe you a debt,” Steve said with a grateful smile. “Thank you.”
“J-just doing my job. Not many Doctors will grab mobsters off the street, someone has to.” Bruce picked at his food.
“Bruce is one of a kind, the best damn Doctor and Chemist I’ve ever seen. He can work miracles.” Tony said, leaning over to poke Bruce in the side. “Eat.”
“Hypocrite.” Bruce muttered before shoving a piece of steak into his mouth.
Steve sighed. “So if it isn’t you, who is it?”
Tony sat back in his seat. “Probably the same bastard who stole a shipment of my guns two weeks ago and set fire to one of my bars three nights ago. He’s been messing with the Russians too, but no one seems to know who he is.”
“So how does that help me?”
“Well, we seem to have a common problem. We both have a painful thorn in our side,” Tony said, setting down his glass. “And I fear that if it is not extracted soon, it will fester and become horribly infected.”
“Tony, I’m eating,” Bruce grumbled.
“I’m listening,” Steve said.
Tony smiled, devilish and bright. “It’s simple, Captain. You’ve got the numbers, the muscle, I’ve got the best damn Hitman in the country, a chemist who can recreate any drug in existence,” He motioned to Bruce who flushed and looked away. “The Russian boss calling each Thursday for drinks and a European Giant fighting for me in the Ring. And not to mention I own almost all of the city.”
Steve choked on his wine. “You want me to join you?”
“No, this isn’t a join me and give up your power, hardly, I don’t want your power, how many goddamn times do I need to say this.” Tony sighed. “You and I, we become partners. We become partners, pool our resources, find the scumbag who’s fucking with us, and kill him.”
“We have New York City kneeling at our feet.”
He finished with a dramatic wave of his hands, leaving the idea out in the open for Steve to consider, Bruce nervously glancing from one to the other. Tony was smug, he seemed sure Steve would take the deal and, damn it all, Steve wasn’t sure he’d say no.
He couldn’t afford to lose more men, not when they left widows and orphans behind, he could let that happen. And if they lost another warehouse they’d be behind two months in production and shipment.
“I… I don’t know, Stark.”
Tony laughed. “It’s not an immediate decision. Captain. And please, Tony will suffice. Mr. Stark was my father and he’s an unhappy corpse. Think it over before you decide, talk it out with that precious sniper of yours, who I would like to meet one day, and then get back to me. You don’t have to sign in blood or nothing. Savy?”
With a sigh, Steve nodded. “I suppose.”
“Good,” Tony nodded with a clap of his hands. “Thank you for meeting me, but now I’m afraid I have to see a man about a dog.” He got to his feet and waved to the maid to clear his place, Jarvis appearing with his coat and hat. “Of course, unless you’d like to join me, Captain? Bruce never does, doesn’t suit his weak constitution.”
Steve got to his feet, shaking Bruce’s hand one last time. “I don’t know, St- Tony. I should be heading back to Brooklyn. As I said I have funerals to plan.”
Tony rolled his eyes like a child. “You can plan funerals anytime, come, have some drinks, we’ll make a little Whoopee, paint the town red, having a grand ol’ fucking time. Might help you think about my proposal.” He laughed. “Suit yourself, I’ll be out in the car should you change your mind. Ciao.” And he was off with a quick strut for the door, humming to himself as he slid into his fine sportcoat.
“You should go,” Bruce said in a weak voice.
“He never invites anyone drinking, except for me and, well, Clint, his hitman, invites himself. But he’s never invited a business partner along before.” Bruce glanced up at Steve. “He likes you. And that can always be helpful in the long run.”
It could be helpful, especially if he did agree to the deal in the end, which, even as he stood there, was becoming more and more likely. Swearing, Steve nodded goodbye to Bruce and hurried outside.
Tony was climbing into his car. “Changed your mind then, Sheik? Attaboy!”
Steve rolled his eyes and took his coat from Jarvis. “Your booze better be worth it.”
Tony laughed and pulled Steve into the car. “Oh Darling, and how.”